The Heresy of Deism, the Enlightenment, & the Trinity

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

-“Thomas Jefferson”, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, official Presidential portrait, my favorite image of the sage of Monticello

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs… In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
-letter to James Smith discussing Jefferson’s hate of the doctrine of the Christian trinity, December 8 1822

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I am torn as a Catholic when it comes to its founder’s theology.  I really do not like Mr. Jefferson’s, as he is called on grounds, theology.  It does not ring true for me, nor many others, I confidently suspect, but it is a bellwether of Enlightenment thinking in which the USA was founded, for woe or weal, and does serve as an excellent example of Deism.

Deism/Theism

Deism combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.  The Trinity is only known through Scriptural revelation, hence the Deist’s denial of this divinely revealed truth.

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world but rather allows it to function according to the laws of nature.

Fides et Ratio

Catholic “Fides et Ratio”, Faith and Reason, holds that both faith, natural and revealed, should not contradict reason.  If there is an apparent contradiction, there is a requirement to go deeper in our theology or our science to more profoundly understand, and that the two systems of thought will come into alignment and congruity once again, for a time, until another apparent contradiction offers us the opportunity to go further still.

Truth is known through a combination of faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man’s ability to know himself, the world and God. Human reason seeks the truth, but the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.

To the Deist/Theist, only reason may or need be applied, the over-emphasis of reason over every other consideration.  The motivation was to move beyond the perceived “superstitious” Middle Ages.  Revelation is not a primary font, nor is historical Christianity, hence, heresy.

Trinity

“God is love.” (Jn 3:16)  It is antithetical, we know, that (the Father’s) love should remain unreciprocated.  So we know there must be a beloved (the Son).  Because there is this great love between the divine lover and the divine beloved, it is so great, it is so intense, another person is “generated” (the Holy Spirit), hence the Trinity, known from Revelation, not from reason.  Sounds like a family to me.

“My Venerable Brother Bishops, Health and the Apostolic Blessing. Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” –JPII, Fides et Ratio

Pope St John Paul II
Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ, who constantly frees creation from slavery to corruption and leads it toward liberty, for the glory of the children of God. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness.” We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written. This initiative restores in us our true humanity; it restores in us our unique dignity. Yes, we are brought into the higher dignity of the children of God, the children of God who are the hope of all creation.

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be.”

Love,
Matthew

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