Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

EXPLANATION OF THE TRINITY, ACCORDING TO ABAUZIT.

“We can speak with exactness of the manner in which the union of God and Jesus Christ exists, only by relating the three opinions which exist on this subject, and by making reflections on each of them.

“Opinion of the Orthodox.

“The first opinion is that of the orthodox. They establish, 1st — A distinction of three persons in the divine essence, before the coming of Jesus Christ into the world; 2nd — That the second of these persons is united to the human nature of Jesus Christ; 3rd — That the union is so strict, that by it Jesus Christ is God; that we can attribute to Him the creation of the world, and all divine perfections; and that we can adore Him with a supreme worship.

“Opinion of the Unitarians.

“The second is that of the Unitarians. Not conceiving the distinction of persons in the Divinity, they establish, 1st — That divinity is united to the human nature of Jesus Christ; 2nd — That this union is such that we can say, that Jesus Christ is God; that we can attribute to Him the creation of the world, and all divine perfections, and adore Him with a supreme worship.

“Opinion of the Socinians.

“The third opinion is that of the Socinians, who, like the Unitarians, not conceiving any distinction of persons in the Divinity, establish, 1st — That divinity is united to the human nature of Jesus Christ; 2nd — That this union is very strict; 3rd — That it is not such that we can call Jesus Christ God, or attribute divine perfections and the creation to Him, or adore Him with a supreme worship; and they think that all the passages of Scripture may be explained without admitting any of these things.

Reflections on the First Opinion.

“In the distinction which is made of three persons in the Divinity, we either retain the common idea of persons, or we do not. If we retain the common idea of persons, we establish three gods; that is certain. If we do not establish the ordinary idea of three persons, it is no longer any more than a distinction of properties; which agrees with the second opinion. Or if we will not allow that it is a distinction of persons, properly speaking, we establish a distinction of which we have no idea. There is no appearance, that to imagine a distinction in God, of which we can have no idea, Scripture would put men in danger of becoming idolaters, by multiplying the Divinity. It is besides surprising that this distinction of persons having always existed, it should only be since the coming of Jesus Christ that it has been revealed, and that it is necessary to know them.

“Reflections on the Second Opinion.

“There is not, indeed, so great danger of precipitating men into idolatry in the second opinion as in the first; but it must be confessed that it is not entirely exempt from it. Indeed, as by the nature of the union which it establishes between divinity and the human nature of Jesus Christ, we can call him God and worship him, but there are two objects of adoration — Jesus Christ and God. I confess it may be said, that it is God whom we should worship in Jesus Christ; but who knows not the extreme inclination which men have to change invisible objects of worship into objects which fall under the senses, or at least under the imagination? — an inclination which they will here gratify without the least scruple, since they say that divinity is personally united to the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Reflections on the Third Opinion.

“The third opinion, besides being very simple, and conformable to the ideas of reason, is not subject to any similar danger of throwing men into idolatry. Though by this opinion Jesus Christ can be no more than a simple man, it need not be feared that by that He can be confounded with prophets or saints of the first order. In this sentiment there always remains a difference between them and Him. As we can imagine, almost to the utmost, the degrees of union of divinity with humanity, so we can conceive, that in particular the union of divinity with Jesus Christ has so high a degree of knowledge, power, felicity, perfection, and dignity, that there is always an immense distance between him and the greatest prophets. It remains only to see whether this opinion can agree with Scripture, and whether it be true that the title of God, divine perfections, creation, and supreme worship, are not attributed to Jesus Christ in the Gospels.”

It was for the philosopher Abauzit to see all this. For myself I submit, with my heart and mouth and pen, to all that the Catholic church has decided, and to all that it may decide on any other such dogma. I will add but one word more on the Trinity, which is a decision of Calvin’s that we have on this mystery. This is it:

“In case any person prove heterodox, and scruples using the words Trinity and Person, we believe not that this can be a reason for rejecting him; we should support him without driving him from the Church, and without exposing him to any censure as a heretic.”

It was after such a solemn declaration as this, that John Calvin — the aforesaid Calvin, the son of a cooper of Noyon — caused Michael Servetus to be burned at Geneva by a slow fire with green fagots.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25