Letters on England
7. On The Socinians, Or Arians, Or Antitrinitarians
There is a little sect here composed of clergymen, and of a few very learned
persons among the laity, who, though they do not 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
mentioned declare that the holy bishop took a very wrong step, that his argument
was inconclusive, and that the emperor should have answered 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 honoured 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 absorbed so
entirely in problems and calculations that he is a mere reasoning machine.
It is he who wrote a book which is much esteemed and little understood, on the
existence of God, and another, more intelligible, but pretty much contemned, on
the truth of the Christian religion.
He never engaged in scholastic disputes, which our friend calls venerable trifles.
He only published a work containing all the testimonies 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 partisans, 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
merely an Arian parson.
You see that opinions are subject to revolutions as well as empires. Arianism,
after having triumphed during three centuries, and been forgot twelve, rises at
last out of its own ashes; but it has chosen a very improper season to make its