This linked question What was Isaac Newton's view of the Trinity? was useful with the answer giving one quote from John Byl's article 'Newton and the Trinity' where Newton said that the great apostasy was not Romanism, but trinitarianism, "the false infernal religion".

However, the claim was made that "Newton's published works do not contain clear statements of this nature". Yet in this link, it appears that Newton did make some statements of this nature at the end of his Principia Mathematica: https://isaac-newton.org/articles/

Under the heading "Theology of General Scholium" it says,

"This essay, published in Osiris in 2001, reveals that the most famous book in the history of science (Newton’s Principia) concludes with an account of biblical monotheism and an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity."

However, I cannot get the link to open up the actual essay. This is why I am asking this question, to see if anyone can help establish that this published work shows disagreement with the Trinity doctrine, and - further - to see if his anti-trinitarianism shows any links to the Socinianism that predated his Principia Mathematica by at least 80 years.

I have this about Socinianism and The Polish Brethren, with which Stephen David Snobelen identifies Newton in the above link. The quote below is from E.H. Broadbent in The Pilgrim Church, pp224-5:

“One form of prevalent error which Calvin hoped to suppress by his strict rule [in Geneva] was Unitarian in character. It was of ancient origin, resembling Arianism in some respects, but at this time began to be described as Socinianism on account of the association with it of Lelio (1525-62) and Faustus (1539-1604) Sozini, uncle and nephew, natives of Siena in Italy. The latter lived much in Poland, since there as in Transylvania, Unitarian teaching was permitted and was wide-spread. He united the divided sections of Unitarians in Poland; they were called “Polish Brethren” and the “Racovian” Catechism expressed their views. Socinianism spread from them as a centre. It early affected some in the Protestant churches...”

So, my question is, Does Newton end his Principia Mathematica with anti-trinitarian claims as suggested in Snobelen's web-page, and is Newton's anti-trinitarianism a form of Socinianism?

  • From both answers, it is now seen that what Newton said at the end of his Principia Mathematica was not “clear”. And, deliberately so. It took scholarly research centuries later (after his religious writings were eventually released into the public domain) to bring into focus what Newton was hinting at. It is also clear that Newton was, indeed, influenced by Socinianism. – Anne Oct 3 '20 at 17:46

It seems to me that Newton is 'sitting on the fence' and acting as a spectator to the arguments regarding the Person and the Deity of Christ. He writes that he can observe in the early Church (due to the presence of what he calls 'Nazarenes') that two camps existed and accepted one another's presence in the early Church, so he maintains :

The Nazarenes, as Newton explains in this manuscript, did not believe Christ existed before his birth in Bethlehem. Although Newton crossed it out and chose a passive verb instead, his original words “I do not” are revealing. He goes on to point out that those “who believed that Jesus took his beginning from the Virgin Mary” and those “who believed that Jesus was before the world began … conversed together as brethren & communicated with one another as members of the Church catholick till the days of Justin Martyr, without falling out about their different opinions.”

Isaac Newton - Socinianism and the One True God p281

This is a common argument in many matters of division, to suggest that the argument, does not, in fact, matter and that whichever side of the division one may wish to choose makes no difference to one's spiritual state.

This attitude gives the impression of being 'charitable' - avoiding conflict by argument - but the apostle James discounts this view by making it clear that one is to 'earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints'.

All heresies can be excused if one can argue that both sides of a division were allowed in the early Church and both parties had mutual fellowship and communion.

Further, the article goes on to state that Newton uses an argument which is also used by Socinians, regarding the terms 'God' and 'Lord' expressed in the Old Testament writings.

But this is not all. In the third (1726) edition of the Principia, Newton added a note on the word “God” that expands his meaning:

Dr. Pocock derives the Latin word Deus from the Arabic du (in the oblique case di,) which signifies Lord. And in this sense Princes are called Gods, Psal. lxxxii. ver. 6; and John x. ver. 35. And Moses is called a God to his brother Aaron, and a God to Pharaoh (Exod. iv. ver. 16; and vii. ver. 1 [sic; 8]). And in the same sense the souls of dead princes were formerly, by the Heathens, called gods, but falsely, because of their want of dominion.182 In equating the term “God” with “Lord” (a word that straightforwardly refers to dominion), Newton once again stresses that the chief characteristic of “God” or “gods” is dominion. This attempt to present the terms “God” and “Lord” as equivalent mirrors the already-quoted lines from the Racovian Catechism on the God of dominion. The position that persons other than the True God can be termed “God” is a also standard Socinian position and it is expressed in the very same chapter of Crell’s De Deo specified in 1714 by John Edwards.

For both Newton and the Socinians, this conception of dominion also explained how the Son of God could be called God and not be “very God” in the Nicene formulation. Three out of the four biblical passages used by Newton in this note are also utilised by Crell for the same purpose in the same chapter of De Deo. 184 Additionally, the point about false and imaginary Gods can be located in similar form in Crell’s Concerning One God the Father. 185 Finally, the argument on the communicability of the term “God”, along with the scriptural references used by Newton in the note on God, can be found commonly elsewhere in the Socinian corpus.

From my reading of this article, I am left with the distinct impression that Isaac Newton believed both Trinitarians and Socinians fellowshipped together in the early Church and that Isaac Newton appears to regard Deity as monotheistic, yet he does not explicitly say so.

It seems from the article that Isaac Newton did not regard himself under any obligation nor did he have any personal motivation in, himself, declaring his own faith regarding Jesus Christ.

He appears to be stating, that it does not matter and therefore he is not going to reveal what he, himself, believes.

  • 1
    This is a suitably charitable answer. There may have been pragmatic reasons for Newton to not openly reveal what he personally believed, for he seemed to deliberately strive to ensure that his personal views on such matters were not revealed until after his death. But God knows his motives and is his judge. Yet it remains true that the Bible is beyond the comprehension of mortal man. Newton appears to flounder and fail as he sits on the fence, treating Christianity as a subject to be 'scrutinised' - as it were through an out-of-focus microscope. The Holy Spirit leads into all truth, Jn 17:13 – Anne Oct 3 '20 at 17:38

Yes, there appears to be a link between Socinianism and Sir Isaac Newton’s views on the Trinity. I say “appears” because Newton was careful to conceal his theology. Extracts taken from this link https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/theology-of-general-scholium.pdf present evidence from recent studies to show that Newton supported Samuel Clarke, “whose unorthodox Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity had appeared in 1712”.

The document is a pre-publication version of Stephen D. Snobelen’s “’God of gods, and Lord of lords’: the theology of Isaac Newton’s General Scholium to the Principia”, published by Osiris 16 (2001).

Newton not only must have intended the General Scholium to present unorthodox theological, philosophical and linguistic argumentation, but that in so doing was informed by one of the most heretical movements of the period. (p. 3)

The theology presented in the Scholium is certainly compatible with Arianism—which taught a Supreme High God and a lesser created god Christ—and we know from his manuscripts that the Christology at which Newton arrived closely resembled this fourth-century doctrinal position. (p. 18)

Calvinist John Edwards claimed that Newton had taken his arguments about God from chapter 13 of the Socinian Johann Crell’s De Deo et ejus attributis (Concerning God and his attributes). Edwards implied that Newton

shares his usage of the epithet “Supreme God” (Deus summus) in the General Scholium with not only the Arians but also the Socinians, both of whom need to employ the qualification summus “to distinguish the Father from the Son, who they hold to be an Inferior God”. (pp 19-20)

Newton himself owned at least eight Socinian books... Put another way, Newton and the Socinians shared a common theological ethos. (p.21)

Snobelen concludes that the General Scholium “was constructed with exoteric and esoteric text” and that “the deeper meanings of the General Scholium were not meant for everyone.” Newton had to exercise care “in matters of religious heterodoxy”.

From the evidence presented in the article partially quoted above, it is clear that Newton's anti-trinitarianism is a form of Socinianism. It also appears that Newton went to considerable lengths to keep his Arian and anti-trinitarian views hidden so as to avoid public criticism.

  • This indicates to me that Newton wasn't sure. – Mike Borden Oct 1 '20 at 22:31

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