Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Platonic and Christian Trinity
By Samuel Horsley (17331806)
From A Charge to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of St. Albans
THE INQUIRY becomes more important, when it is discovered that these notions were by no means peculiar to the Platonic school; that the Platonists pretended to be no more than the expositors of a more ancient doctrine, which is traced from Plato to Parmenides, from Parmenides to his masters of the Pythagorean sect, from the Pythagoreans to Orpheus the earliest of the Grecian mystagogues, from Orpheus to the secret lore of the Egyptian priests, in which the foundations of the Orphic Theology were laid. Similar notions of a triple principle prevailed in the Persian and Chaldean theology; and vestiges even of the worship of a Trinity were discernible in the Roman superstition in a very late age. This worship the Romans had received from their Trojan ancestors. For the Trojans brought it with them into Italy from Phrygia. In Phrygia it was introduced by Dardanus so early as the ninth century after Noahs flood. Dardanus carried it with him from Samothrace; where the personages, that were the objects of it, were worshipped under the Hebrew name of the Cabirim. Who these Cabirim might be has been the matter of unsuccessful inquiry to many learned men. The utmost that is known with certainty is, that they were originally Three, and were called by way of eminence, the Great or Mighty ones: for that is the import of the Hebrew name. And of the like import is their Latin appellation, Penates. Dii per quos penitus spiramus, per quos habemus corpus, per quos rationem animi possidemus. Dii qui sunt intrinsecus atque in intimis penetralibus cli.1 Thus the joint worship of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, the Triad of the Roman Capitol, is traced to that of the THREE MIGHTY ONES in Samothrace; which was established in that island, at what precise time it is impossible to determine, but earlier, if Eusebius may be credited, than the days of Abraham.
The notion therefore of a Trinity, more or less removed from the purity of the Christian faith, is found to have been a leading principle in all the ancient schools of philosophy, and in the religions of almost all nations; and traces of an early popular belief of it appear even in the abominable rites of idolatrous worship. If reason was insufficient for this great discovery, what could be the means of information, but what the Platonists themselves assign, [Greek]. A theology delivered from the gods, i.e., a Revelation. This is the account which Platonists, who were no Christians, have given of the origin of their masters doctrine. But from what Revelation could they derive their information, who lived before the Christian, and had no light from the Mosaic? For whatever some of the early fathers may have imagined, there is no evidence that Plato or Pythagoras were at all acquainted with the Mosaic writings; not to insist, that the worship of a Trinity is traced to an earlier age than that of Plato or of Pythagoras, or even of Moses. Their information could be only drawn from traditions founded upon earlier revelations; from scattered fragments of the ancient patriarchal creed; that creed, which was universal before the defection of the first idolaters, which the corruptions of idolatry, gross and enormous as they were, could never totally obliterate. Thus the doctrine of the Trinity is rather confirmed than discredited by the suffrage of the heathen sages; since the resemblance of the Christian faith and the pagan philosophy in this article, when fairly interpreted, appears to be nothing less than the consent of the latest and the earliest revelations.
Note 1. Dii per quos penitus, etc. Gods, to whom we owe our inmost breath, through whom we have our body, and by whom we possess reason. Gods who dwell altogether and in the inmost shrines of heaven. [back]