(Note: For those not familiar with Voltaire's style, this entire essay is written tongue-in-cheek, i.e. he is being sarcastic.)
There are heretics who might not be regarded as Christians. Nevertheless, they recognize Jesus to be saviour and mediator; but they dare to maintain . . .
From all this they conclude that it would be wiser to abide by the authority of the apostles, who never spoke of the Trinity, and to banish from religion for ever all terms which are not in the scriptures, such as Trinity, person, essence, hypostasis, hypostatic and personal union, incarnation, generation, procession, and so many more like them, which, being absolutely meaningless, since they have no real representative in nature, can provoke only false, vague, obscure and incomplete ideas in the understanding.
- That nothing is more contrary to strict reason than what is taught among Christians about the Trinity of persons in a single divine essence, the second of which was begotten by the first, and the third of which proceeds from the two others.
- That this unintelligible doctrine is nowhere found in scripture.
- That no passage can be produced that authorizes it and to which, without in any way departing from the spirit of the text, a clearer, more natural meaning cannot be given, one more consistent with common sense and the basic and immutable truths.
- That to maintain, as do their adversaries, that there are several distinct "persons" in the Divine Essence, and that it is not the eternal who is the only True God, but that the Son and the Holy Ghost must be added to them, is to introduce the crudest and most dangerous error into the church of Jesus Christ, since it manifestly encourages polytheism.
- That it implies a contradiction to say that there is only one God and that nevertheless there are three "persons", each of which is truly God.
- That this distinction, one essence and three persons, was never in scripture.
- That it is obviously false, since it is certain that there are no fewer "essences" than "persons", nor "persons" than "essences".
- That the three persons of the Trinity are either three different substances, or accidents of the divine essence, or that same essence without distinction.
- That in the first case three gods are created.
- That in the second case God is composed of accidents and one worships accidents and metamorphoses accidents into persons.
- That in the third case an indivisible subject is uselessly and groundlessly divided, and what is not distinguished in itself is distinguished into "three".
- That if it is said that the three "personalities" are neither different substances in the divine essence, nor accidents of that essence, one would have to be at some pains to convince oneself that they are anything.
- That it must not be believed that the most rigid and the most convinced "Trinitarians" themselves have any clear idea of the manner in which the three "hypostases" subsist in God without dividing his substance and consequently without multiplying it.
- That Saint Augustine himself, after he had advanced a thousand reasonings as false as they are obscure on this subject, was obliged to admit that nothing intelligible could be said about it. Then they quote this father's words, which are in fact very singular: "When it is asked," says he, "what are the three, human language is found inadequate, and there are no terms to express them: yet it is said that there are "three persons", not in order to say something, but because we must speak and not remain silent. "Dictum est tres personae, non ut aliquid diceretur, sed ne taceretur"." (De Trinitate, V. ix).
- That the modern theologians have not elucidated this matter any better.
- That when they are asked what they understand by this word "person", they explain it only by saying that it is a certain incomprehensible distinction that causes one to distinguish in a numerically single nature a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost.
- That the explanation they give of the terms "to beget" and "to proceed" is not more satisfactory since it comes down to saying that these terms indicate certain incomprehensible relationships between the three persons of the Trinity.
- That from all this we can gather that the basic argument between them and the orthodox turns on the question whether there are in god three distinctions of which we have no notion and between which there are certain relationships of which we do not have any notion either.
Let us add to this article what Dom Calmet says in his dissertation on this passage from the epistle of John the Evangelist: "There are three who bear witness on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one. There are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit; and these three are one." Dom Calmet admits that these two passages are not in any ancient "Bible"; and it would indeed have been strange if Saint John had spoken of the Trinity in a letter, without saying a single word about it in his gospel. No trace of this dogma is to be found in the canonical gospels, nor in the apocryphal ones. All these reasons could excuse the anti-Trinitarians had the councils not taken their decisions. But as heretics make light of councils, we are at a loss to know how to confound them. Let us simply believe and hope that they believe.
The Trinitarian Controversy - by William C. Rusch
Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity - by Gregory A. Boyd
A Short History of Christian Thought - by Linwood Urban