Front Page Titles (by Subject) TRINITY. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VII (Philosophical Dictionary Part 5)
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TRINITY. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VII (Philosophical Dictionary Part 5) 
The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. VII.
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The first among the Westerns who spoke of the Trinity was Timæus of Locri, in his “Soul of the World.” First came the Idea, the perpetual model or archetype of all things engendered; that is to say, the first “Word,” the internal and intelligible “Word.” Afterwards, the unformed mode, the second word, or the word spoken. Lastly, the “son,” or sensible world, or the spirit of the world. These three qualities constitute the entire world, which world is the Son of God “Monogenes.” He has a soul and possessed reason; he is “empsukos, logikos.”
God, wishing to make a very fine God, has engendered one: “Touton epoie theon genaton.”
It is difficult clearly to comprehend the system of Timæus, which he perhaps derived from the Egyptians or Brahmins. I know not whether it was well understood in his time. It is like decayed and rusty medals, the motto of which is effaced: it could be read formerly; at present, we put what construction we please upon it.
It does not appear that this sublime balderdash made much progress until the time of Plato. It was buried in oblivion, and Plato raised it up. He constructed his edifice in the air, but on the model of Timæus. He admits three divine essences: the Father, the Supreme Creator, the Parent of other gods, is the first essence. The second is the visible God, the minister of the invisible one, the “Word,” the understanding, the great spirit. The third is the world.
It is true, that Plato sometimes says quite different and even quite contrary things; it is the privilege of the Greek philosophers; and Plato has made use of his right more than any of the ancients or moderns. A Greek wind wafted these philosophical clouds from Athens to Alexandria, a town prodigiously infatuated with two things—money and chimeras. There were Jews in Alexandria who, having made their fortunes, turned philosophers.
Metaphysics have this advantage, that they require no very troublesome preliminaries. We may know all about them without having learned anything; and a little to those who have at once subtle and very false minds, will go a great way. Philo the Jew was a philosopher of this kind; he was contemporary with Jesus Christ; but he has the misfortune of not knowing Him any more than Josephus the historian. These two considerable men, employed in the chaos of affairs of state, were too far distant from the dawning light. This Philo had quite a metaphysical, allegorical, mystical head. It was he who said that God must have formed the world in six days; he formed it, according to Zoroaster, in six times, “because three is the half of six and two is the third of it; and this number is male and female.”
This same man, infatuated with the ideas of Plato, says, in speaking of drunkenness, that God and wisdom married, and that wisdom was delivered of a well-beloved son, which son is the world. He calls the angels the words of God, and the world the word of God—“logon tou Theou.”
As to Flavius Josephus, he was a man of war who had never heard of the logos, and who held to the dogmas of the Pharisees, who were solely attached to their traditions. From the Jews of Alexandria, this Platonic philosophy proceeded to those of Jerusalem. Soon, all the school of Alexandria, which was the only learned one, was Platonic; and Christians who philosophized, no longer spoke of anything but the logos.
We know that it was in disputes of that time the same as in those of the present. To one badly understood passage, was tacked another unintelligible one to which it had no relation. A second was inferred from them, a third was falsified, and they fabricated whole books which they attributed to authors respected by the multitude. We have seen a hundred examples of it in the article on “Apocrypha.”
Dear reader, for heaven’s sake cast your eyes on this passage of Clement the Alexandrian: “When Plato says, that it is difficult to know the Father of the universe, he demonstrates by that, not only that the world has been engendered, but that it has been engendered as the Son of God.”
Do you understand these logomachies, these equivoques? Do you see the least light in this chaos of obscure expressions? Oh, Locke! Locke! come and define these terms. In all these Platonic disputes I believe there was not a single one understood. They distinguished two words, the “logos endiathetos”—the word in thought, and the word produced—“logos prophorikos.” They had the eternity from one word, and the prolation, the emanation from another word.
The book of “Apostolic Constitutions,” an ancient monument of fraud, but also an ancient depository of these obscure times, expresses itself thus: “The Father, who is anterior to all generation, all commencement, having created all by His only Son, has engendered this Son without a medium, by His will and His power.”
Afterwards Origen advanced, that the Holy Spirit was created by the Son, by the word. After that came Eusebius of Cæsarea, who taught that the spirit paraclete is neither of Father nor Son. The advocate Lactantius flourished in that time.
“The Son of God,” says he, “is the word, as the other angels are the spirits of God. The word is a spirit uttered by a significant voice, the spirit proceeding from the nose, and the word from the mouth. It follows, that there is a difference between the Son of God and the other angels; those being emanated like tacit and silent spirits; while the Son, being a spirit proceeding from the mouth, possesses sound and voice to preach to the people.”
It must be confessed, that Lactantius pleaded his cause in a strange manner. It was truly reasoning à la Plato, and very powerful reasoning. It was about this time that, among the very violent disputes on the Trinity, this famous verse was inserted in the First Epistle of St. John: “There are three that bear witness in earth—the word or spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.”
Those who pretend that this verse is truly St. John’s, are much more embarrassed than those who deny it; for they must explain it. St. Augustine says, that the spirit signifies the Father, water the Holy Ghost, and by blood is meant the Word. This explanation is fine, but it still leaves a little confusion.
St Irenæus goes much farther; he says, that Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, in concealing three spies of the people of God, concealed the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; which is strong, but not consistent. On the other hand, the great and learned Origen confounds us in a different way. The following is one of many of his passages: “The Son is as much below the Father as He and the Holy Ghost are above the most noble creatures.”
What can be said after that? How can we help confessing, with grief, that nobody understands it? How can we help confessing, that from the first—from the primitive Christians, the Ebionites, those men so mortified and so pious, who always revered Jesus though they believed Him to be the son of Joseph—until the great controversy of Athanasius, the Platonism of the Trinity was always a subject of quarrels. A supreme judge was absolutely required to decide, and he was at last found in the Council of Nice, which council afterwards produced new factions and wars.
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.