Letters concerning the English Nation/Letter VII
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.
'Tis he who wrote a book which is much esteem'd and little understood, on the existence of God; and another more intelligible, but pretty much contemned, on the truth of Christian religion.
He never engag'd in scholastic disputes, which our friend calls venerable trifles. He only publish'd a work containing all the testimomes of the primitive ages, for and against the Unitarians, and leaves to the reader the counting of the voices, and the liberty of forming a judgment. This book won the doctor a great number of partizans, and lost him the See of Canterbury: But in my humble opinion, he was out in his calculation, and had better have been Primate of all England than meerly an Arian parson.
You see that opinions are subject to revolutions as well as Empires. Arianism after having triumph'd during three centuries, and been forgot twelve, rises at last out of its own ashes; but it has chose a very improper season to make its appearance in, the present age being quite cloy'd with disputes and Sests. The members of this Sect are, besides, too few to be indulg'd the liberty of holding public assemblies, which however they will doubtless be permitted to do, in case they spread considerably. But people are now so very cold with respest to all things of this kind, that there is little probability any new religion, or old one that may be reviv'd, will meet with favour. Is it not whimsical enough that Luther, Calvin and Zuinglius, all of 'em wretched authors, should have founded Sects which are now spread over a great part of Europe; that Mahomet, tho' so ignorant, should have given a religion to Asia and Africa; and that Sir Isaac Newton, Dr. Clark, Mr. Locke, Mr.Le Clerc &c. the greatest philosophers, as well as the ablesl writers of their ages, should scarce have been able to raise a little flock, which even decreases daily.
This it is to be born at a proper period of time. Were Cardinal de Retz to return again into the world, neither his eloquence nor his intrigues would draw together ten women in Paris.