The doctrine of the blessed Trinity, briefly explained in a letter to a friend
Wallis, John, 1616-1703.
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THE DOCTRINE OF THE Blessed Trinity Briefly Explained, In a Letter to a Friend.


THE Doctrine of the Arrians, Socinians, or Anti-Trinitarians, (call them as you please, provided you call them not Orthodox Christians) in opposition to those who believe (according to the Word of God), That the Sacred Trinity, of Father, Son, and Holy-Ghost, are so distinguished each from other, as that the Father is not the Son, or Holy-Ghost; the Son not the Father, or Holy-Ghost; the Holy-Ghost not the Father, or Son; yet so Uni∣ted,Page  2 as that they are all One God; (which, in the Athanasian Creed, is called Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity; or, in common speaking, Three Persons and One God;) is what you were lately discoursing with me, and of which I shall give you some of my present Thoughts.

The Scripture tells us plainly, There are Three that bear record in Heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy-Ghost: and these Three are One, 1 Joh. 5. 7. And the Form of Baptism (Matt. 28. 19.) is, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy-Ghost.

And the Christian Church, from the time of Christ and his Apostles downwards hitherto, as well before as since the Council of Nice, have ever held the Divinity of those Three Per∣sons (as they are commonly called;) and that these Three are but One God. And, that they have so held, hath been, by divers, sufficiently proved from the most ancient christian Writers, which are now extant. Which, therefore, I take for granted, as sufficiently proved by o∣thers, without spending time, at present, to prove it a-new.

Page  3 That these are Three, distinguished each from other, is manifest: And, that this Distin∣ction amongst themselves, is wont to be cal∣led Personality. By which word, we mean, that Distinction (what ever it be) whereby they are distinguished each from other, and thence called Three Persons.

If the word Person do not please, we need not be fond of Words, so the Thing be agreed: Yet is it a good Word, and warranted by Scri∣pture, Heb. 1. 3. where the Son is called, the express image of his Father's Person: (For so we render the Word Hypostasis, which is there u∣sed; and mean by it, what I think to be there meant) And we have no reason to wave the Word, since we know no better to put in the Place of it.

If it be asked, what these Personalities or Characteristicks are, whereby each Person is di∣stinguished from other; I think we have little more thereof in Scripture, than that the Father is said to Beget; the Son, to be Begotten; and the Holy-Ghost, to Proceed.

If it be further asked, what is the full im∣port of these Words (which are but Meta∣phorical), and what is the adequate Meaning Page  4 of them) I think we need not trouble our selves about it: For, since it is a matter purely of Revelation (not of natural Knowledge,) and we know no more of it than what is revea∣led in Scripture, where the Scripture is silent, we may be content to be ignorant. And we who know so little of the Essence of any thing, especially of Spiritual Beings, though finite, need not think it strange that we are not able to comprehend all the Particularities of what concerns that of God, and the Blessed Trinity.

I know that the Fathers, and School-men, and some after them, have imployed their Wits to find out some faint Resemblances, from natural things, whereby to express their im∣perfect Conceptions of the Sacred Trinity: But they do not pretend to give an adequate Ac∣count of it; but only some conjectural Hypo∣theses, rather of what May be, than of what cer∣tainly Is. Nor need we be concerned, to be curiously inquisitive into it, beyond what God hath been pleased to reveal concerning it.

That the Three Persons are distinguished, is evident; (though we do not perfectly un∣derstand what those Distinctions are:) That to each of these, the Scripture ascribes Divinity, Page  5 is abundantly shewed by those who have written on this Subject: That there is but One God, is agreed on all hands: That the Father is said to Beget; the Son, to be Begotten; and the Holy-Ghost, to Proceed; is agreed also; though we do not perfectly understand the full Import of these Words.

And here we might quietly acquiesce (without troubling our selves further,) did not the clamorous Socinians importunely suggest the Impossibility and Inconsistence of these things, insomuch as to tell us, That, how clear so∣ever the Expressions of Scripture be, or can be, to this purpose, they will not believe it, as being inconsistent with natural Reason. And therefore, though they do not yet think fit to give us a bare-fac'd Rejection of Scripture; yet they do (and must, they tell us,) put such a forced Sence on the words of it (be they never so plain) as to make them signify some∣what else.

There is, therefore, in this Doctrine of the Trinity, as in that of the Resurrection from the Dead, a double Inquiry: First, whether it be Possible; and then, whether it be True. And these to be argued (in both Cases) from a very Page  6 different Topick: The one from Natural Reason; the other from Revelation. Yet so, that this latter doth certainly conclude the former, if rightly understood. And though we should not be able to solve all Difficulties; yet must we believe the thing, if revealed; unless we will deny the Authority of such Re∣velation.

Thus our Saviour, against the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection, Matth. 22. 29. Ye erre (saith he) not knowing the Scriptures, nor the Power of God. The Power of God, if right∣ly understood, was enough (from the Light of Reason) to prove it not impossible: But, whether or no it will be so (which natural Rea∣son could not determine,) was to be argued from Scripture-Revelation.

In like manner, St. Paul before Agrippa, Act. 26. first argues the Possibility of it; Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the Dead? ver. 8. For if Agrip∣pa did believe the Creation of the World, (as many even of the Heathen did, from the light of Nature) he could not think it Impossible for that God (who had at first made all things of nothing) to recollect, out of its Dust or Page  7 Ashes, a Body which once had been. But whether or no he would do so, depended upon another Question, to be after asked, ver. 27. King Agrippa, believest thou the Prophets? For this was purely matter of Revelation, and could not otherwise be known: For, as to the Im∣mortality of the Sou, and a future state hereafter, many of the Heathens went very far, by the Light of Nature; but as to the Resurrection of the Body, I do not find they had any Senti∣ments about it (or but very faint, if any:) And if they had, it may well be supposed to be the remainder of some ancient Tradition from the Jews, or their Predecessors. Nor do I see any foundation in Nature, which should make them think of it (before it was revealed) any more, than of the Redemption of Man∣kind by Christ, (which we should never have thought of, had not God himself contrived and declared it to us.) But, when that of the Resur∣rection was once suggested, there was no pre∣tence of Reason to think it a thing Impossible, and therefore no reason to doubt the Truth of it, when Declared, if we believe the Scri∣ptures, wherein it is revealed; especially those of the New Testament.

Page  8 It is much the same as to the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is a thing we should not have thought of, if it had not been suggested by Divine Writers; but, when suggested, there is nothing in natural Reason (that we know of, or can know of) why it should be thought Impossible; but whether or no it be so, depends only upon Revelation.

And in this case the Revelation seems so clear (to those who believe the Scriptures) that we have not reason to doubt of it, unless the thing be found to be really Impossible, and inconsistent with Reason. Nor do the Anti-Trinitarians insist on any other ground why they deny it, save only, That it seems to them absolutely Impossible; and therefore think them∣selves bound to put another Sence on all Pla∣ces of Scripture (how clear soever they be, or can be) which prove or favour it.

So that the Controversie is now reduced to this single Point, Whether it be Possible or not Possible: Whether it be consistent or inconsi∣stent with Natural Light or Reason. (And to that point therefore I shall confine my Dis∣course.) For it seems agreed on all hands (as to those who believe the Scriptures) that, if Page  9 it be not Impossible, it is sufficiently revea∣led.

Now for us who understand so little of God's infinite Essence, and which it is impossible for us fully to comprehend, who are our selves but finite, and mostly conversant with mate∣rial Objects; in so much that we cannot pre∣tend to understand the Essence of our own Souls; and, when we attempt to explain it, must do it rather by saying what it is not, than what it is; (so hard a matter is it for us to fix in our Mind or Fancy, a Notion, Idea, or Con∣ception of a spiritual Being, which falls not under our Senses:) 'Tis hard, I say, for us (who understand so little of a Spirit) to deter∣mine (of what God is pleased to reveal) that it is Impossible, or inconsistent with his Essence, which Essence we cannot understand.

But what is it that is thus pretended to be Impossible? 'Tis but this, That there be Three Somewhats, which are but One God: (and these Somewhats we commonly call Persons.) Now what Inconsistence is there in all this? That Father, Son, and Holy-Ghost are Three, is mani∣fest; and are in Scripture-Language distin∣guished. That there is but One God is manifest Page  10 also, and all those Three are this God: That the name Person is no incongruous Word, is evident from Heb. 1. 3. where it is used. If it be said, It doth not agree to them exactly in the same Sence in which it is commonly used amongst men; we say so too, nor doth any Word, when applyed to God, signifie just the same as when applyed to men, but only some∣what analogous thereunto.

What kind or degree of Distinction (accor∣ding to our Metaphysicks) this is, we need not be very sollicitous to enquire; or, whether in our Metaphysicks (accommodated to our Notions of Finite Beings) there be any Name for it: 'Tis enough for us if these Three may truly be so distinguished, as that one be not the other, and yet all but One God.

Now, that there is no Inconsistence or Impossi∣bility, that, what in one regard are Three, may in another regard be One, is very manifest from many Instances that may be given even in Finite Beings, such as we converse with; which, though they do not adequately agree with this of the Sacred Trinity, (nor is it to be expected that they should; Finite, with what is Infinite;) yet there is enough in them to shew, there is no such Incon∣sistence as is pretended.

Page  11 I shall spare to instance in many Resemblan∣ces which have been given long since by Fa∣thers and Schoolmen, or by later Writers. Which though they are not pretended to be adequately the same with that of the Sacred Trinity, (as neither will any thing else be that we can take from finite Beings;) yet are they sufficient to shew that there is no Inconsistence in it. (Which is all that is here incumbent on us to prove.) I shall only name a few.

I will begin with what concerns the most gross of Finite Beings, that is, Material Bo∣dies.

Suppose we then a Cubical Body, (which what it is, every one knows, that knows a Dy.) In this are Three Dimensions, (Length, Breadth, and Heighth) and yet but One Cube. Its Length (suppose be∣tween

East and West) A. B. Its Breadth (suppose between North and South) C. D. Its Heighth (between Bottom and Top) E. F. Here are Three Local Dimensi∣ons, truly Distinguished each from other, (not only imaginarily:) The distance between East and West (whether we think or think not Page  12 of it) is not that between North and South; nor be either of these that between Top and Bottom. The Length is not the Breadth, or Heighth; the Breadth is not the Length, or Heighth; and the Heighth is not the Length, or Breadth: But they are Three Divisions, truly distinct each from other: Yet are all these but One Cube: And if any one of the Three were wanting it were not a Cube. There is no Inconsistence therefore, that what in one re∣gard are Three (three Dimensions) may, in another regard, be so united as to be but One, (one Cube.) And if it may be so in Corpore∣als, much more in Spirituals.

Suppose we further, Each of these Dimen∣sions infinitely continued; the Length infi∣nitely Eastward and Westward, the Breadth infinitely Northward and Southward, the Heighth infinitely Upward and Downward: Here are Three infinite Dimensions, and but One infinite Cube; and these Three Dimensions (though distinct) are equal each to other (else it were not a Cube;) and though we should allow, that a Cube cannot be infinite (because a Body, and therefore a finite Creature:) Yet a Spirit may; such as is the Infinite God. And Page  13 therefore no Inconsistence; that there be Three Personalities (each infinite, and all equal), and yet but One Infinite God, essentially the same with those Three Persons.

I add further, That such Infinite Cube, can therefore be but One, and those Three Di∣mensions can be but Three, (not more nor few∣er:) For, if Infinite as to its Length (Eastward and Westward), and as to its Breadth (North∣ward and Southward), and as to its Heighth (Upward and Downward); it will take up all i∣maginary space possible, and leave no room ei∣ther for more Cubes or more Dimensions: And if this infinite Cube were (and shall be) Eter∣nally so, its Dimensions also must be Infinite and Co-eternal.

I say further, If in this (supposed) Cube, (we suppose in Order, not in Time) its first Dimension, that of Length, as A. B., and to this Length be given an equal Breadth (which is the true generation of a Square) as C. D., which compleats the square Basis of this Cube; and to this Basis (of Length and Breadth) be given (as by a further Procession from Both) an equal Heighth E. F., which compleats the Cube; and all this eternally, Page  14 (for such is the Cube supposed to be,) here is a fair Resemblance (if we may parvis componere magna) of the Father, (as the Fountain or Ori∣ginal;) of the Son, (as generated of him from all Eternity;) and of the Holy-Ghost, (as eter∣nally Proceeding from Both:) And all this without any Inconsistence. This longum, latum, profundum, (Long, Broad, and Tall,) is but One Cube; of Three Dimensions, and yet but One Body: And this Father, Son, and Holy-Ghost; Three Persons, and yet but One God. And as, there, the Dimensions are not (in the Ab∣stract) predicated or affirmed each of other, or the Cube of either, (the Length is not the Breadth or Heighth, nor either of these a Cube;) but (in the Concrete) Cube is affirmed of all; this longum, latum, profundum, is a Cube, and the same Cube: So here, (in the Abstract) the Personality of the Father is not that of the Son, nor either of these that of the Holy-Ghost, nor the Deity or Godhead any of these; but (in the Concrete) though the Personalities are not, yet the Persons are, each of them God and the same God.

If it be objected, that those Concretes are Affirmed or Predicated each of other; (that Page  15longum is also latum and profundum, (this Long is Broad and Tall;) but not so here, the Father is not the Son or Holy-Ghost: I answer, That, if the words be rightly considered, the Ana∣logy holds here also: For when we say, this Long is Broad and Tall (where Cube or Body is understood) the full meaning is plainly thus; This Body, which, as to one Dimension (that of Length), is said to be a long Body, is the same Body, which, as to another Dimension (that of Breadth), is said to be a broad Body, and which, as to a third Dimension (that of Heighth), is said to be a tall Body. So here, That God, which (as to one Personality) is God the Father, is the same God, which (as to another Personality) is God the Son, and which (as to a third Personality) is God the Holy-Ghost. So the Analogy holds every way, nor is there any Inconsistence in either Case.

I proceed to the Consideration of somewhat more Spiritual, and less Material than that of a Body locally extended.

Suppose we then a Created Angel, or Hu∣mane Soul: at least if those who deny the Blessed Trinity will allow that there are such Be∣ings; but if they be Sadducees, who do not Page  16 acknowledge either Angel or Spirit, or that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, which testifie both, (which I doubt is the case of some of them) let them speak out, that so we may know whom we have to deal with; and not pretend to nibble only at the Athanasi∣an Creed, or some Expressions therein, while the quarrel is indeed at somewhat higher, (though, ad amoliendam invidiam, they think fit to dissemble it,) and that they do but faintly believe (if at all) that the Holy Scriptures) are the Word of God, or the Doctrines there∣in contained to be such. And we have reason to suspect it, when they spare not to let us know, that, were this Doctrine of the Trinity therein delivered in Words as express as could be, they would not believe it.

But suppose we, (what they would seem to grant, and what I am so charitable as to think divers of them do believe) That there are Spiritual Beings, such as Angels and the Souls of Men; and that these Spiritual Beings are endued with Knowledge (or Wisdom) and Force (or an executive Power) to act accor∣ding to that Knowledge. That there is some such thing, at least in Man, (whether Body Page  17 or Soul) they cannot but acknowledge; for themselves be, and know, and do. And though we cannot fully comprehend, much less ex∣press in Words, how all this is so; (for we are here at a loss, as well as in higher things:) Yet, that it is, they cannot deny, though they do not know How.

Now, to Be, and to Know, and to Do, are certainly distinct each from other, (though per∣haps we are not all agreed, of what kind, or in what degree this Distinction is:) To be is not the same as to know, for that may be were this is not; and to do is (for the same reason) some∣what different from both those, for a Man may Be and may Know what he doth not Do; yet 'tis one and the same Soul (at least one and the same Man) which Is, and Knows, and Does. There is therefore no Impossibility or Inconsi∣stence in it, That what in one regard are Three, may in another regard be One. Thus in the Sacred Trinity, if we conceive of the Father as the Original or First Person, who begets the Son; the Son as the Wisdom of the Father, begotten of Him; and the Holy-Ghost as the Spirit of the Father and the Son, as proceeding from Both, and yet the same God with both; (or what other Di∣stinction Page  18 there may be of these Three Persons, who are but One God, that we do not know;) there is no Inconsistence in it, that these Three may be One; Three in one regard, and One in another.

I might shew the same as to the Understand∣ing, Will, and Meaning, which are all the same Soul: And the known Metaphysical Terms of Unum, Verum, Bonum, which are all but the same Ens. And many other Instances of like Nature.

But we hold (it will be said) a greater Di∣stinction (than that of Unum, Verum, Bonum) between the Three Persons in the Sacred Trinity. Be it so. (But what that greater Distinction is, we do not pretend to comprehend.) How∣ever, it is from all these Instances evident, that there is no Impossibility, or Inconsistence with Reason, that what in one regard are Three, may in another Regard be One. Which is what we undertook to shew.

'Tis true, that not any, nor all of these In∣stances, nor any of those given by other Lear∣ned Mendo adequately express the Distinction and Unity of the Persons in the Sacred Trinity, (for neither hath God distinctly declared it to us, Page  19 nor are we able fully to comprehend it, nor is it necessary for us to know.) But because we do not knowaHow the bones grow in the womb of her that is with child, shall we therefore say they do not grow there? Or, becausebWe cannot by searching find out God, because we cannot find out the Almighty to perfection, shall we therefore say, things cannot be, when God says they are, only because we know not How? If God say, cThese Three are One? shall we say, they are not? If God say,dThe word was God, and, The word was made Flesh, shall we say, Not so, only becaue we cannot tell How? It is safer to say It is, when God says It is, though we know not (in particular) How it is. Especially when there be so many Instances in Nature, to shew it not to be Im∣possible or Inconsistent with Reason. The thing is sufficiently revealed to those who are willing to be taught, andereceive the truth in the love of it. (Nor is it denyed, by those who gainsay it, but that, if the thing be possible, it is sufficiently revea∣led; there being no other Exception made, as to the Revelation, but the Impossibility of Page  20 the thing.)fBut if any man list to be contentious, and togquarrel about words, it is no wonder ifhhear∣ing they do hear and not understand; and that Godigive them over to be∣lieve a lye, who do not love the truth. Butkthe humble he will teach his way. And, while we be so, we be safe.

August 11. 1690.

Yours, Iohn Wallis.