There is a small sect here composed of priests
and a few very clever laymen who do not adopt the name of Arians nor of
Socinians, but are not at all of the opinion of St Athanasius in the
matter of the Trinity, but tell you straight out that the Father is
greater than the Son.
Do you remember a certain orthodox bishop who, to convince an
Emperor about consubstantiation, took it into his head to chuck the Emperor's
son under the chin and tweak his nose in the presence of His Sacred
Majesty ? The Emperor was on the point of being very angry with the bishop
when the old boy utters these fine, convincing words : 'My Lord, if
your Majesty is angry because I am showing lack of respect for your son,
how do you think God will treat those who refuse Jesus Christ the
titles that are His due ?' The people I am telling you about say that the
holy bishop was very unwise, that his argument was anything but
conclusive, and that the Emperor should have answered : 'Note that there are two
ways of lacking respect for me, the first by not paying enough honour
to my son, and the second by paying as much to him as to me.'
However that may be, the Arian faction is beginning to revive in
England as well as in Holland and Poland. The great Mr Newton honoured
this opinion by favouring it : this philosopher thought that the
Unitarians reasoned more mathematically than we do. But the strongest upholder of the Arian doctrine is the illustrious Dr. Clarke. This is a man of
unswerving virtue and a gentle disposition, more interested in his opinions
than excited about making converts, solely concerned with calculations
and demonstrations — a real reasoning machine.
He is the author of a little understood but much admired book on
the existence of God, and of another, better understood but rather looked
down upon, about the truth of the Christian faith.
He has taken no part in fine scholastic controversies which our
friend . . . calls hoary old nonsense, but has confined
himself to publishing a book containing all the arguments in early
;times for and against the Unitarians, leaving to the reader the
responsibility of counting the votes and deciding. This book of the Doctor's has
gained him many supporters, but prevented him from becoming Archbishop
of Canterbury. I think the Doctor has has miscalculated and that it
would have been better to be Primate of England than an Arian parish
You see what revolutions take place in opinions as they do in
Empires. The Arian faction, after three hundred years of triumph and twelve
centuries of oblivion, is at last being reborn from its ashes, but it
chooses a bad time to reappear in a period when everybody is sick and
tired of sectarian disputes. This sect is still too small to have freedom
of public assembly, but it will no doubt obtain it if it gets more
numerous. However, just now people are so indifferent to all this that
there is not much chance of success for a new religion or a revived one. Is
it not amusing that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, writers nobody can read,
have founded sects that divide up Europe, that the ignorant Mahomet has
given a religion to Asia and Africa, but that Newton, Clarke, Locke,
Leclerc, the greatest thinkers and finest writers of their age, have
hardly managed to establish a little flock, and even that dwindles day by
That is what it means to come into the world at the right moment. If
Cardinal de Retz reappeared today he would not collect together ten
women in Paris.
If Cromwell, the man who had his King's head cut off and made himself
sovereign, were born again, he would be an ordinary London merchant.
Penguin 1980, pp. 42-43.