Yet in his hostility to the antiquity of the doctrine of the Trinity, Newton was taking a position in opposition to that of other prominent Dutch and English writers of the mid- to late seventeenth century. Vossius and Grotius had made detailed studies of pagan religious practices, and claimed to show how they all had their origins in Judaeo-Christian belief. Newton’s Cambridge colleagues Ralph Cudworth and Henry More both defended the antiquity of the Trinity. Cudworth’s reading of the ancient sources indicated to him that trinitarian theology could be found in Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato, and in the arcane theology of the Egyptians, Persians, and Romans.
Nevertheless, there was growing opposition in Newton’s day to the authenticity of Trinitarianism. In 1690 in Vindication of the Unitarians the Oxford-educated lawyer William Freke had defined the Trinity as ‘the stumbling block in Christianity’. Similarly in 1695 the Cambridge-educated theologian Stephen Nye—who had already claimed that Socinianism (an antitrinitarian heresy similar to Arianism) was the heir to pristine monotheistic Christianity—argued in a counter-argument to Cudworth that trinitarian Christianity could claim to have no ancient tradition. It was, rather, made up of ‘Novelties, corruptions, and depravities of genuine Christianity’. This controversy was largely silenced by the terms of the Blasphemy Act of 1697, but the trinitarian question re-emerged in the second decade of the eighteenth century when Clarke and Whiston both publicly expounded and published antitrinitarian opinions they had learnt from Newton.
* John Brooke & Ian Maclean,
Heterodoxy in early modern science and religion
[Ετεροδοξία στην πρωτονεωτερική επιστήμη και θρησκεία]
Oxford University Press , 2005,
pp./σσ. 311, 312.