Letters concerning the English Nation

By Voltaire; Nicholas Cronk | Go to book overview

LETTER VII. On the Socinians, or Arians, or Antitrinitarians.

THERE is a little sect here compos'd of clergymen, and of a few very learned persons among the laity, who, tho' they don't call themselves Arians or Socinians,* do yet dissent entirely from St. Athanasius, with regard to their notions of the Trinity, and declare very frankly, that the Father is greater than the Son.

Do you remember what is related of a certain orthodox bishop, who in order to convince an emperor of the reality of consubstantiation, put his hand under the chin of the monarch's son, and took him by the nose in presence of his sacred majesty? The emperor was going to order his attendants to throw the bishop out of the window, when the good old man gave him this handsome and convincing reason: Since your majesty, says he, is angry when your son has not due respect shown him, what punishment do you think will God the father inflict on those who refuse his son Jesus the titles due to him? The persons I just now mention'd, declare that the holy bishop took a very wrong step; that his argument was inconclusive, and that the emperor should have answer'd him thus: Know that there are two ways by which men may be wanting in respect to me; first, in not doing honour sufficient to my son; and secondly, in paying him the same honour as to me.

Be this as it will, the principles of Arius begin to revive, not only in England but in Holland and Poland. The celebrated sir Isaac Newton honour'd this opinion so far as to countenance it. This philosopher thought that the Unitarians argued more mathematically than we do. But the most sanguine stickler for Arianism is the illustrious Dr. Clark.* This man is rigidly virtuous, and of a mild disposition; is more fond of his tenets than desirous of propagating them; and absorb'd so entirely in problems and calculations, that he is a mere reasoning machine.

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