Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Trial of William Whiston, Part 3

(Continuation of Part 2)

Judge - What witness would you call in next?

Mr. Whiston - Call in Peter the Apostle. 

Judge - What question would you ask him?

Mr. Whiston - I desire he may be asked what he thinks of the doctrine of the Trinity?

Judge - You hear the question, Mr. Peter.

Peter the Apostle - I do my Lord. But as I never heard the word before this moment, I protest I cannot guess what it means.

Judge - Mr. Whiston, you have put the question in too general a manner. You should have opened it a little, and explained the point in dispute.

Mr. Whiston - I must beg to be excused, my Lord, for it is not my business to explain my adversary's doctrine. Besides, I am not really able to do it.

Judge - Dr. Tr—p, you must explain your Trinity, the witness here does not know what to make of it.

Dr. Tr—p - The Trinity, Sir, is the sublimest mystery in the Christian dispensation, the touchstone of an orthodox faith, and one of the greatest essentials towards the obtaining of everlasting life. It is a doctrine collected out of the sacred Scriptures, by our holy Mother the Church, which has appointed us to tell the people that there is one God the Father, and one God the Son, and one God the Holy Ghost; but that these three are not three Gods, but one God. That the Son is neither made nor created, but begotten, and that the Holy Ghost is neither made, nor begotten, but proceeds. Or thus, Sir, the Father is the supreme God, and Jesus Christ is the supreme God, but not the same supreme God that the Father is. And the Holy Ghost is the supreme God, but not the same supreme God that the Father is, or that Jesus Christ is. And that notwithstanding they are not the same supreme God, yet they are not the supreme Gods. And in this Trinity none is afore or after the other, but the Son is begotten by an eternal generation. And though eternally generating, has been generated from all eternity. Likewise the Holy Ghost is by eternal procession, eternally proceeding, yet Almighty from all eternity.

This is Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity: Three in one, and one in three. Not three, but one, nor one, but three. The first is first, the second is from the first, and the third is from the second and the first. The first is not before the second, nor the second before the third. But the first is first, the second is first, and the third is first, neither confounding nor dividing, one and three, or three and one. Now this is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he shall perish everlastingly. This is all, Sir, which to be sure you knew, as well as we, though you did not reduce it to a regular system, and make it one of the articles of your credential which, for very wise ends, the Church has prudently done since.

In short, Sir, you have nothing to do but to tell the court that you are of the same opinion with the Church, and at the same time you will establish your own character, and our authority.

Peter - I am so far from being of your opinion that, I profess, I don't understand you.

Dr. Tr—p - Not understand me! Why nothing is plainer. You are to believe no more than this, that there are three persons and one God, and that every person is very God.

Peter - So you only modestly desire me to believe that there are four Gods.

Dr. Tr—p - Sir, you entirely mistake the matter. For though every person is God, yet every person is not a particular God, for they all subsist in the same essence, which constitutes the unity. And the Trine-Personality, subsisting in the unity, constitutes the Trinity. Sir, this is so clear and easy, that we do not scruple to teach it our women and children.

Peter - Though your women and children are so easily satisfied, I must be much better instructed, before I can be satisfied. Wherefore I shall take the liberty of desiring you to explain what you mean by person and essence? 

Dr. Tr—p - With all my heart, sir: Why, person, Sir, is a nominal idea of an unsubstantial, uncreated, incomprehensibly begotten, or proceeding subsistence, purely and simply taken in itself, a non-entity, but really and potentially distinguishing entities. And essence, being an occult, immaterial substance, necessarily containing all those accidents, without which it could not possibly subsist, the person subsisting in the essence, dialectically and logically speaking, may be said to be the accident of the substance, differing in name and nature indeed, though co-equal, co-essential, and co-eternal. "Wer't thou a teacher in Israel, and knowest not these things?"

Peter - Is that to be wondered at, if these things have been invented since I was a teacher? For the people in my time had too much sense to be the inventors of such unintelligible stuff, and too much honesty to sufit, but thy tribe, etc.

Judge - Gentlemen, it will be impossible to come to a conclusion, unless we put a stop to this senseless, unmeaning jargon of the schools. Wherefore, as it is my business to keep you to the point, I will propose the question myself.

Dr. Codex - With humble submission, my Lord, as the prisoner stand indicted for blasphemy against the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, as explained by the Reverend Doctor Tr—p, I insist upon it, that the witness's evidence must speak directly to that, and must declare to the court whether he thinks Tr—p's Trinity an orthothox Trinity, or not. Mr. Peter, pray tell my Lord what you think of Tr—p's Trinity.

Peter - Though I was bred but a poor fisherman, there is no reason I should be ridiculed, and have a strange jumble of stuff proposed to me, because I was not brought up to learning. How indifferent soever these great doctors may think of my understanding, Christ did not think me unworthy of matters of the greatest importance. I never understood quibbles and riddles, nor do I understand these.

When these gentlemen are in earnest, and will ask me any thing that I can make any sense of, I will give them as satisfactory an answer as I am able. For this seems to be nothing but jingling with words. Surely, my Lord, these fellows must be a pack of impudent cheats, for they cannot possibly believe what they would impose upon the rest of mankind. Have you no laws against such hypocrites?

Dr. Codex - If your Lordship can hear the sacred character of churchmen thus scurrilously treated, I cannot. We are likely indeed to expect justice, when the court is corrupted against the priesthood! It is not the first time that the earth has opened, and fire from heaven has consumed such, etc.

Judge - Jailor, take away that mad, persecuting bell-weather, and let us go on with the Trial. Mr. Peter, the court has too great a regard for your character to countenance any ludicrous impositions upon you. And these divines are in earnest, I assure you, for let it appear ever so unintelligible and absurd to you this is the faith which we must subscribe to, or suffer the most rigorous persecution here, and be devoted by the Church to eternal tortures hereafter.

Peter - My surprize, my Lord, is so astonishing, that I must beg a moment's indulgence, till I recover my self. —— Am I asked if this creed is Apostolical? If the most glaring nonsense, and the most manifest contradictions be Apostolical! Is there a man of common sense, common modesty, or common honesty, that could ever have imagined, or promulged, such silly and impious notions of the Deity? Have not all the Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles continually ascribed all might, majesty and power to the Father alone? And has not Christ as often declared to you that he never did any thing, nor ever could do any thing, without the authority and assistance of the Father? And does not he take hold of every opportunity of ascribing every action to the Father only? Or can any man shew me where he has given the least hint, that he himself was the supreme God?

And since I am called upon for my opinion, upon this occasion, both for the satisfaction of mankind, and for my own justification, I will now repeat a part of what I have formerly wrote relating to this subject. In a public assembly at Casarea, I spoke thus: "Ye know Jesus of Nazareth, whom God hath anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing those that were possessed by the Devil, because God was with him. This person God raised from the dead the third day, and commanded us to preach, and testify to the people, that this very person was decreed and determined to be the judge of the living and the dead." Is this describing Christ as the supreme God? Is not here a strong assertion of a power delegated to him from the Father, to enable him to perform those works, for which he was sent into the world? Had he been God-man, he could neither have wanted nor received such power. It is absurd therefore to suppose it to be sent where it could be of no use. If Christ had been the supreme God, I must have described him in a manner directly contray to this. Then I must have said, Jesus Christ is God of Gods, he is the Omnipotent, has all power originally in himself, and cannot possibly derive it from any other being.

But how manifestly would this contradict and clam with what went before? Nay, it would not only contradict what I have said of him, but give the lye to every description of him, through the whole New Testament. And I do here insist upon it that the assertions of the Trinitarians, in respect to Christ's divinity, are absolutely incompatible with the descriptions of him in the Gospel. Another passage, in confirmation of the same principle, is as follows: "We made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were witnesses of his majesty, for he received from God honour and glory." I shall not trouble you with any more proofs, but only beg leave to put this last into the form of an argument, as thus: The omnipotent God cannot receive honour and glory: But Jesus Christ did receive honour and glory. Therefore Jesus Christ cannot be the omnipotent God. Which proposition, Gentlemen, do you deny?

Dr. Trap - Dost thou imagine that doctors of divinity will have so little regard to their dignity, as to dispute with such an ignorant, beggarly fellow as thou art? What university wert thou bred at? Go to Billinsgate, fellow, and there you will meet with company that will suit you. For deans, spiritual lords and doctors, do not use to talk to fishermen.

Peter - I cannnot pretend indeed to a learned education. But in recompense, I was bred at the fountainhead of humility, mercy, justice, and every virtue that can render men happier or better, and shall not envy even real acquisitions, that are accompanied with vanity and insolence.

Judge - Have you done with the witness?

Mr. Whiston - Yes, my Lord. 

Judge - Who would you call next? 

Mr. Whiston -Paul the Apostle of Tarsus. 

Judge - What would you ask of Paul?

Mr. Whiston - I would have asked him the same question that was put to Peter, if I were not thoroughly persuaded, I should have a repetition of the same answer. Wherefore I shall only ask him whether he believes Jesus Christ to be the supreme God? And what was the doctrine he taught concerning his nature, office, and being?

Paul - When I endeavoured to convert the Jews and the Gentiles, I always spoke of our saviour in the clearest and most intelligible manner I was able. Nor can I conceive that any thing I either said or wrote could give the least handle for any one to imagine that I believed Jesus Christ to be the supreme God. For almost in the beginning of every epistle, I have distinguished him from the supreme Being, by giving the title of God to the Father, and that of Lord to our Saviour. Which distinction runs through the whole work, except in one passage or two. And then the circumstances in the description distinguish them more effectually than the very terms themselves, which have been made use of for that purpose. As, for instance, in my Epistle to the Hebrews, where I tell them that "God, who spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets, in these last days has spoken to us by his son, whom he hath made the heir of all things, and by whom he made the worlds. Who being the splendor of his glory, and the character of his substance, carrying all things by the power of his word, making the purification of our sins by himself, he sat upon the right hand of greatness in the highest. Being made so much more excellent than the angels, by as much as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they; for to whom of the angels did he ever say, 'Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?'  And again, 'I shall be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son!' But when he brings his firstborn again into the world, he says 'And let all the angels of God worship him.' And to the angels he saith, 'Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire.' But to the Son, 'Thy Throne, O God, is for ever. The scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity. Wherefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."

Have I not said in other places ye have the same relation to Christ, that Christ has to God, that Christ is the firstborn of every creature, that he died, and was raised again from the dead by God? Have not I said, as plain as words can express, that there is no other God but one. For although there are such beings as are called Gods, whether in Heaven or in Earth, yet to us Christians, there is but one God, viz. the Father, from whom are all things, and we in him. And one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. I will have you know also, that Christ is the head of every man; man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ. Then shall be the end, when he shall deliver up his kingdom to God the Father. Then shall Christ be submitted to him that hath put all things under him, that God may be all in all. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath put all things under his feet, and made him the head of all things to the church.

From what I have just now said, I shall make it as clear as is possible for words to express, that my doctrine about Christ is diametrically contrary to that which these learned doctors so vehemently contend for. Nor will that trite and pitiful distinction of the divine and human nature, in the least avail them here. For they will not only be driven from that weak hold, but be cutoff even from chicanery itself. As they have hitherto admitted that Christ existed in his highest capacity before the worlds were made, I shall argue upon that supposition. Is there any thing then more clear and apparent than that the supreme God made that very person heir of all things, by whom he made the worlds? Is it not the same person that sits down at the right hand of greatness, and that is made more excellent than the angels? Is it not still the same person whom he calls by the eminent appellation of God, and whose God hath anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows? When this divine person therefore was made heir of all things, did not he receive dignity, power, or some advantage at least, which he did possess before? When God made the worlds by this person, did he not use him as an agent or instrument, and consequently employ him as an inferior being?

Again, Christ, you say, is the supreme God. But Christ is also the firstborn of every creature. Therefore the supreme God, according to you, is the firstborn of every creature. Here again, most conscientious and reverend divines, your old trick of playing fast and loose with the divine and human nature fails you. For certainly Christ was not the firstborn of every human creature, for then he must have been born before his mother. I hope, Gentlemen, that you will have the modesty to grant me this.

And, in a line or two farther, I have shewed you that my calling Christ God is not the least proof in the world that he must be the supreme God. For this is a common expression in the Old Testament, and is frequently applied to other beings, as well as to the Supreme, who therefore is distinguished by the title of the God of Gods. For, in the Old Testament, even Moses and the judges were called gods. And this I have taken care to assert and explain in such a manner as makes it impossible for the Son to be the supreme God, if the positive assertion of an apostle may be allowed as a proof. For I have solemnly affirmed that to us Christians there is but one God, which is God the Father. Consequently unless they can prove the Son to be the Father, he cannot possibly be that one God. And I have also told you that to us Christians there is Lord, which is Jesus Christ. Therefore, as I have said above, if Jesus Christ is not the Father, he cannot be the supreme God.

Now I will submit it to the determination of every honest man whether the doctrine of the modern apostles is not directly contradictory to mine, and consequently to that of all the sacred writers. But what are not those men capable of, that can tell you that the eternal God was begotten, and that the firstborn of every creature was not created? Or what absurdity can be equal to the following, viz. That God died to make infinite satisfaction to God? Here is the immortal eternal God dies to appease himself. Is it to be imagined that if I had known Jesus Christ to have been the Supreme God, that I should not have worshiped him as devoutly, adored him with as much reverence, and described him with as much majesty, as the modern apostles? Would not it have been my duty, as well as theirs, to have told the people, (whom I was to convert and instruct in the Christian faith) that the supreme God was come down from heaven to be born of a virgin, and to take humanity upon him. And that Jesus Christ, being God-man, was this Supreme Being. And that, while John was baptizing the Supreme God, the Supreme came down from heaven, in the form of a dove, and sanctified the Supreme God. And that he cured the lame and the blind, and raised the dead by his own omnipotent power, and not by that of the Father.

But had I said this, I should have spoke most extravagant nonsense, uttered a most audacious falsehood, and have impudently contradicted Christ himself. And for which I should deserve to be treated like an execrable villain.

(Go to Part 4)

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