[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


I will now adduce the evidence which is brought by Professor Sparks from early ecclesiastical writers. He says : “Let us see, in the next place, how this result (at the conclusion of the last letter) agrees with some of the early fathers. We shall here find almost a universal opinion that the deity of Christ was not plainly taught in the Scriptures; and as for a Trinity of persons, nothing is heard of it, till the deity of the Holy Spirit was decreed by the council of Constantinople, near the close of the fourth century. A few passages shall be here introduced, merely to substantiate the fact, that in their opinion the Trinity was not explicitly taught, either in the Old Testament or the New.”

“Athanasius allows, that Christ did not make known his deity to the Jews, and endeavors to account for it, by intimating, that the world could not yet bear such a doctrine. And he adds, ‘I venture to affirm, that even the blessed disciples themselves had not a clear knowledge of his deity till the Holy Spirit came on them at the day of Pentecost.’ [1] This passage has a comprehensive import, and proves most clearly, that, in the opinion of Athanasius, the deity of Christ was not known even to the Apostles till after his death. Theodoret speaks to the same purpose. ‘Before his death and sufferings, the Lord Christ, did not appear as God either to the Jews generally or to his Apostles.’ [2] Chrysostom often intimates, that Christ made but an imperfect indication of his deity to his disciples. On one occasion he observes, ‘Christ did not immediately reveal his deity; at first he was thought to be a prophet, Christ, simply a man, but at last from his works and sayings, it appeared what he was.’ [3] Chrysostom further says, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not herself know the secret of his being the Supreme God.” [4]

“The Fathers, also, acknowledged, that after the death of Christ the Apostles did not teach this doctrine openly; as we learn from the hypothesis framed by them to account for the fact. They profess to consider it a mark of prudence and caution in the Apostles to avoid promulgating so unpopular a tenet. It would shock the prejudices of the Jews, on the one hand, who thought the unity of God a vital doctrine; and on the other hand, it would encourage the heathens in their polytheism and idolatry; and thus serious obstacles would be thrown in the way of their converting either the Jews or Gentiles to Christianity. It was deemed wise, therefore, to conceal for a time a doctrine of such dangerous tendency.

“Let the Fathers speak on this point. Chrysostom acquaints us, that our Saviour confined himself to instructions concerning his human powers, by reason of the ‘weakness of his hearers, and the inability of those who saw and heard him for the first time, to receive more sublime discourses.’ [5] He makes the same remark in commenting on the introductory words of the Epistle to the Hebrews. [6] Ecumenius says, in remarking on the text, There is one God. the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, that ‘the Apostle speaks cautiously of the Father and the Son, calling the Father one God, lest they should think there were two Gods, and the Son one Lord, lest they should think there were two Lords.’[7] In commenting on another text, we have the following remark of Theophylact; ‘Because polytheism then prevailed, the Apostle did not speak plainly of the deity of Christ, lest he should be thought to introduce many Gods.’ [8] Again, ‘As others had made no mention of the existence of the Logos before the ages, John taught this doctrine, lest the Logos of God should be thought to be a mere man.’” [9]

“From these sentiments of the Fathers, it may justly be inferred, that, in their opinion, no such doctrine as the Trinity, nor even the deity of Christ, is plainly set forth in the Scriptures. They all agree that our Saviour did not thus teach, and Athanasius represents the Apostles as ignorant of his deity, till the day of Pentecost, which was some time after his death. And when instructed in this sublime truth, they are described as studiously avoiding to divulge it, lest offense might be given to weak minds, and to the unconverted. We must remember that these were the opinions of men, who for the most part believed in the divinity of Christ in some sense, and were solicitous to find a reason why the Scriptures were so silent upon the subject. The circumstance of their forming an hypothesis makes it evident, that they did not see the Trinity in the writings of the Apostles. Theophylact, it is true, and some others, believed John to have been more bold, and to have spoken more to the point in regard to this doctrine; but this is no other than saying, that it is not taught anywhere else, for John was the last of the sacred writers.

“Dr. Horsley thought to weaken the force of the above conclusion, by supposing that it was the unbelieving Jews only, towards whom the caution, or, as he prefers to call it, the ‘sagacity’ of the Apostles was exercised. To persons of the description the plainer parts of the Christian faith were preached, and when they had become partially initiated, the deeper mysteries of the Trinity were brought to their knowledge. A conjecture so forced hardly deserved the notice which Dr. Priestly condescended to give it. [10] Where do we hear of the Apostles preaching in private? They preached openly to Jews and Gentiles, converted and unconverted. Were not their writings intended for the instruction of the whole Christian world? And is it to be admitted, that the most essential parts of the true faith were left out to accommodate the unbelieving Jews of that day? [11] “From the Fathers we may descend to the later writers in the Catholic church, who were ardent defenders of the Trinity, but have not considered it a Scripture doctrine. On this subject Chillingworth says to a Catholic, ‘As for Scripture, your men deny very plainly and frequently, that this doctrine can be proved by it.’ [12] But the dogma of the Trinity was in the creeds, and therefore must be defended. Tradition was invoked with success. but without any appeal to the authority of Scripture. Wolzogenius has collected the sentiments of several writers of the Romish Church, a few specimens of which shall be here adduced.

“Petavius, in his celebrated work on the Trinity, speaks as follows: ‘Concerning the three persons of the divinity, and their essence, nothing was fully written or known, before the council of Nice, because this mystery was not revealed and confirmed, till after the conflict between the Arians and Catholics,’ [13] Sacroboscus tells us, also, that as the Arians appealed to the Scriptures in support of their opinions, they were not condemned by the Scriptures, but by tradition.. [14] The Jesuit Scarga writes, that the ‘Apostles were at first accustomed to conceal the dogma of the Trinity on account of its difficulty;’ and that Paul did not preach the deity of Christ to the Athenians, lest they should think he meant to introduce a multitude of Gods. [15] According to Bellarmine, ‘since the Arians could not be convinced out of the Scriptures, because they interpreted them differently from the Catholics, they were condemned by the unwritten word of God, piously understood.’ [16] In commenting on the text, in which Christ tells his disciples, that he has many things to say to them, which they cannot hear, Salmeron says he refers to the three persons in one God, and the two natures in Christ. [17] Remundus warns the Lutherans and Calvinists, that if they rely on the Scriptures alone, they will be obliged to yield to modern Arians, not less than were the Fathers to the Arians of old, and he admonishes them to take refuge in tradition, and the consent of the church. [18]

“From these sentiments of Trinitarian writers, it is obvious, that, whatever may have been their zeal for a Trinity, it was a common opinion in the Catholic Church, that this doctrine was not to be supported from the Scriptures. Let all due allowance be made for their love of tradition, it will hardly be urged, that this fondness would make them contented with resting so important a dogma on tradition alone, if they felt secure in having a just claim to the additional and irresistible weight of the revealed word of God. And least of all, as Wolzogenius observes, would they have used this argument to those, who put no confidence in any tradition not sanctioned by the plain language of the Bible. All parties held up the Scriptures as their standard, and if the Catholic doctors had believed them to contain the Trinity, it would seem the part of wisdom and policy, if nothing else, first to entrench themselves with this authority, and then to build up the outworks of tradition.

“Many distinguished Trinitarian writers among the early Lutherans, were of opinion, that their doctrine could not be found in the Old Testament. Wolzogenius mentions particularly the learned Calixtus, professor of theology at Helmstadt, and also Dreger, Leterman, Behm, and some others.”

Professor Sparks next brings forward the Arminian writers in proof of the same point; but as you have classed them with Unitarians and Infidels, I suppose you would not give much weight to their authority. Passing over, then, such unworthy witnesses, we come next to the Calvinists and Trinitarians of later times. Among these, says Professor Sparks, there have not been wanting “those, who confessed the silence, or at least the obscurity of the Bible on this subject. The zealous and violently orthodox Jurieu, who ranked a denial of the Trinity among the greatest possible heresies, did not pretend, that this doctrine was known in its proper shape till the council of Nice. He proves from the ancients, that, during the three first centuries, the opinion was universal, that the Son was not equal to the Father, nor his existence of the same duration. [19]

“Dr. Watts, while he was yet a Trinitarian, confesses, that our Saviour spoke of himself with reserve, when alluding to the mystery of his nature. When the young man called Jesus good master, he said in reply, ‘Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, and that is God.’ [20] Since he chides the young man for ascribing to him an attribute, which he tells him belongs only to the Supreme Being, no words could be more explicit in testifying that he was not himself that Being. Dr. Watts felt the difficulty, and ventured on the following explanation. “Our Saviour did not choose to publish his own divinity, or oneness with God, in plain and express terms to the people, but generally by such methods of inquiry and insinuation.’ [21] That is, according to this example, by insinuating, that he was not what he actually was. And the same will follow from many other parts of Scripture, where, if Christ were God, his language was calculated to deceive the people, Watts does not stop with the Trinity, but extends the designed ambiguity of our Saviour’s language to other doctrines, and especially to the atonement. When he preached this doctrine, says Watts, it was ‘rather in secret to his disciples, or, if in public it was generally in dark sayings, and parables, and mystical expressions.’ [22] In most cases, such a mode of explanation and defense would be thought no better than giving up the point. Watts, however, in imitation of the Fathers, makes a merit of his difficulties, and charges them all to the prudence and caution of the Saviour. One of the most remarkable things about the matter is, that he could not persuade his conscience to approve the exercise of Christian charity towards those, who could not see as he did this doctrine taught by the Saviour only in secret in dark sayings, and mystical expressions. There never was a more striking instance of the power of orthodoxy to narrow the mind, and shut up the heart. [23]

“In Bishop Smalridge’s Sermon on the use of Reason, after speaking of the Trinity as described in Articles, Liturgy, and Creeds, he observes : ‘It must be owned that this doctrine is not in so many words taught in the Holy Scriptures. What we profess in our prayers, we nowhere read in Scripture, that the one God, the one Lord, is not only one person, but three persons in one substance. But although these truths are not read in Scripture, yet they may easily, regularly, and undeniably be inferred from Scripture. If, indeed, it can be shown, that these inferences are wrong, they may safely be rejected.’ [24] Atterbury advances similar sentiments, and seems to think it an advantage to Christianity that this doctrine and others should be expressed so obscurely. It affords a trial of our faith, which we could not have, if all were plain and positive; and, therefore, it is rather a benefit, than otherwise, that the Trinity should be partially and darkly made known in the Scriptures. [25]

“Such have been the opinions of many of the most learned and respectable Trinitarians in all ages of the Christian Church; they have defended the Trinity, not on the ground of its being clearly taught, but solely as a doctrine of tradition, or of inference. Some have inclined to one, and some to the other, according to the period and country in which they lived. When tradition was more in vogue than at present, this was made to bear the burden of proof; but when, in the progress of inquiry and knowledge, this refuge of the dark ages was stripped of its authority, a broader foundation was to be sought out for the Trinity. The Bible was now taken up in earnest; where the Trinity was once seen darkly, even by the keen eyes of wisdom and learning, it now came out in such bright and imposing colors as to be distinctly perceived by the shortest vision; it was discovered to be at the bottom of every religious truth; from the first verse of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, the whole Bible was full of the Trinity.

“It is worthy of special observation, however, that it has never been formally defended as a plain doctrine of Scripture; nor in Christendom is there a creed in which it is expressed in Scripture language; nor is it ever defined in this language by those who are loudest in proclaiming it a plain Scripture doctrine. It is deduced by inference, and inference only. When the matter is brought to the test, it is not pretended that Christ was ever called God, the same Being as the Father, or the Supreme Jehovah. All that is pretended comes to no more than this, that many things are said of Christ, which it is supposed could not be said of him if he were not God. This is called an argument, and then follows the inference, that he was God. So in regard to the Holy Spirit, to which certain characteristics are ascribed, that are supposed to be peculiar to the Supreme Being, and Hence comes the inference, that the Holy Spirit is God. Hitherto we have three Gods, and the labor of inferring must be continued, or the unity will be destroyed. It must be inferred, that the Son is the same Being as the Father; and again it must be inferred, that the Holy Spirit is the same Being as the Father, and also the same Being as the Son. We are now arrived at what is called a Trinity in Unity, and the point has been gained by building up inference on inference with very little aid from the express words of Scripture.”

I have now, my dear Sir, completed my extensive quotations on a certain point; and you must at least acknowledge that a vast number of Trinitarian writers have not been able to discern as plainly as you seem to discern, the doctrine of the Trinity, even in the phrase used by our Saviour, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]


1. Serm. Major de Fid. Montf. Coll. Vol. II, p. 39. Back to top

2. Opera, Vol. III, p. 15. Ed. Hal. Back to top

3. Opera, Vol. VIII. p. 20. Back to top

4. Ibid. Vol. III. p. 289. Back to top

5. Opera, Vol. I. p. 409. Back to top

6. Ibid. Vol. X. p. 1756, in Heb. Cap. I. Back to top

7. Opera, Vol. I. p. 492, Ed. Lutet. 1631. Back to top

8. Comment. in 1 Tim. II. 5. Back to top

9. Comment. in Matt. Praef. p. 1, 2. The original of all the above passages, as well as many others of the same kind, may be seen in Priestley’s History of Early Opinions, Vol. III. B. 3. Back to top

10. Letters to Dr. Horsley, p. 45. London, 1815. Back to top

11. “In resorting to this device, Dr. Horsley concedes the main point after all, which is, that Athanasius could not find the Trinity in the writings of the Apostles. ‘In their public sermons,’ says Dr. Horsley, ‘addressed to the unbelieving multitude, they were content to maintain that Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified, was risen from the dead; without touching his divinity otherwise than in remote allusions: but to suppose, that they carried their converts no greater length, is to suppose that their private instruction was not more particular, than their public.’ Letters in reply to Dr. Priestley, p. 200, American Ed. 1821. The only difference between Priestley and Horsley seems to be, that Priestley thought the Apostles did not teach at all any important doctrines not contained in their writings; and Horsley conjectured that these were taught secretly.” “Jamieson labors this point with his usual prolixity. By quoting largely from Athanasius, he succeeds in proving, that he was accustomed to contradict himself, and from the circumstance seems half inclined to doubt the import of the passage, which made Priestley and Horsley believe, that Athanasius did not think the Trinity openly taught by the Apostles. As for the innumerable specimens of corroborative testimony collected by Dr. Priestley from other Fathers, Jamieson says, ‘It would serve no good purpose to follow him through this labyrinth.’ Vindication, Vol. I, p. 293. This was a summary mode of laying out of the account some of the strongest parts of the work, which he was engaged to answer. He actually admits, as Horsley had done, the main point at issue, and proceeds to commend the judgment and prudence of the Apostles in keeping the Trinity a secret. He takes up the clue of the unbelieving Jews, which Horsley had dropped, and pursues it with great diligence.” Ibid. p. 294-313. Back to top

12. Preface to the Author of Charity Maintained, sec. 17. In support of this assertion, Chillingworth refers to Hosius De Author. Sec. I. iii. p. 53; to Huntlaeus, De Verbo Dei, c. 19; to Gretserus, Zannerus, Vega, Possevin, Wickus, and others. Back to top

13. De Trinitate, lib. i. cap. 1, sec. 3. Back to top

14. Concilii Nicaeni Patres ex doctrina non scripta, sed per manus Patrum sibi tradita, eos damnurant. Defensio Trid. Concil. cap. 6. Back to top

15. Apostoli dogma trinitatis initio reticere soliti sunt, propter ipsius difficultatum. Back to top

16. De Verbo Dei. lib. IV. cap. 3. Back to top

17. Comment. in Joh. xvi. 12. Back to top

18. Historia de Ortu et Progressu Haeres. part I. lib. 2, cap. 15. For these tesimonies, and others to the same purpose, see Wolzogen’s Praeparat. ad Util. Section. Librorum Nov. Test. cap. 29. See, also, Unitarian Miscellany. Vol. I. p. 329-332; vol. II. p. 81-90. Back to top

19. Ben Mord. Apol., Vol. I. p. 46. Jortin’s remarks on Ecclesiastical History, Vol. II. p. 29. Back to top

20. Matt. xix. 17. Back to top

21. Watts’s Works, Vol. III. p. 621. Lond. 1810 4to. Back to top

22. Watts’s Works, Vol. III. p. 637. Back to top

23. Ibid. Vol. III. p. 578. Back to top

24. Smalridge’s Sermons, Folio, p. 348. Back to top

25. Atterbury’s Sermons and Discourses on several subjects and occasions, Vol. III. pp. 266, 267. Back to top

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