Leibniz on the Trinity and the Incarnation

Leibniz on the Trinity and the Incarnation: Reason and Revelation in the Seventeenth Century

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Leibniz on the Trinity and the Incarnation
    Book Description:

    Throughout his long intellectual life, Leibniz penned his reflections on Christian theology, yet this wealth of material has never been systematically gathered or studied. This book addresses an important and central aspect of these neglected materials-Leibniz's writings on two mysteries central to Christian thought, the Trinity and the Incarnation.

    From Antognazza's study emerges a portrait of a thinker surprisingly receptive to traditional Christian theology and profoundly committed to defending the legitimacy of truths beyond the full grasp of human reason. This view of Leibniz differs strikingly from traditional perceptions of the philosopher as a "hard" rationalist and quasi-deist. Antognazza also sets Leibniz's writings in the context of the important theological controversies of his day.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14498-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on the English Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the dissemination of Socinian theology sparked lively debates across Europe. Rejecting the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation as irrational, the Socinians became the principal target of those who sought to defend these mysteries, central to traditional Christian theology. Although theological in origin, these Trinitarian debates were interwoven with many philosophical problems, such as the relationship between reason and revelation, knowledge and faith; the issue of the limits of human understanding, of the degrees of knowledge, and of the epistemological status of belief; the question of the scope and validity of the...

  6. Part I Early Writings (1663–1671)
    • 1 Leibniz’s Program: The Plan of Catholic Demonstrations
      (pp. 3-15)

      When he was just twenty-two years old, Leibniz drew up a “plan of catholic demonstrations” (Demonstrationum Catholicarum Conspectus) so wide ranging that it included not only the whole of theology but also, as prolegomena, the first principles of metaphysics, logic, mathematics, physics, and politics.¹ This vast project was never completed by the young Leibniz; and even in his later years he did not succeed in composing a systematic work along these lines, including all theProlegomenaand the chapters already minutely outlined in theConspectus.Yet theConspectusnevertheless represents a leitmotif in Leibniz’s life, a project to which he...

    • 2 The Early Polemic against the Socinians
      (pp. 16-33)

      The “Depulsio Telorum Socinianorum” (“Driving Away of the Darts of the Socinians”), to which Leibniz committed himself in theConspectus,concentrates in this youthful period above all on the defense of the Trinity and the Incarnation against the objections of two important exponents of Socinianism: Andreas Wissowatius and Daniel Zwicker. Although both Antitrinitarians, Wissowatius and Zwicker were very different from one another: the former, the nephew on his mother’s side of Faustus Socinus, was a recognized representative of the Socinian church;¹ the latter, though linked to the Socinians, declared that he considered himself merely a Christian and hoped for a...

    • 3 The Inquiry into the Mind
      (pp. 34-47)

      “I therefore intend to compose the Elements of Mind [Elementa de Mente], just as Euclid did with regard to Magnitude and Shape, and Hobbes with regard to the Body or Motion.”¹ So writes Leibniz in a brief “Discourse” entitledDe Usu et Necessitate Demonstrationum Immortalitatis Animae(On the Use and Need of the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul), sent to Duke Johann Friedrich together with his letter of 21 May 1671.² The promisedElementa de Mente(Elements of Mind), Leibniz goes on, “will be small in size, but great in worth.”³ In fact, besides containing the first principles...

    • 4 The Relation between Revelation and Knowledge
      (pp. 48-64)

      In the mysteries, “we also try toelevatewhat we understand of the ordinary development of Creatures to something more sublime that can correspond to them in relation to the Divine Nature and Power, without being able to conceive in them anything sufficiently distinct and sufficiently appropriate to form an entirely intelligible Definition. It is also for the same reason that, down here, one cannot perfectly account for these Mysteries, nor understand them entirely. There is [in them] something more than mere Words, but nevertheless one cannot obtain an exact explanation of the Terms.”¹ So Leibniz writes in 1708 in...

  7. Part II Fragments of a System (1672–1692)
    • 5 The Conformity of Faith with Reason
      (pp. 67-73)

      The twenty years that follow Leibniz’s first writings contain the scattered pieces of a puzzle called theDemonstrationes Catholicae.With the general outline of theConspectusfresh in his mind, Leibniz develops the individual components of his theological system in notes or brief epistolary reflections. In 1686 many, though certainly not all, of the ideas thus elaborated are collected in theExamen Religionis Christianae(Examination of the Christian Religion). Although only a partial realization of Leibniz’s catholic plan, the scope and organization of this work were sufficiently comprehensive and coherent for it to become known as Leibniz’sSystema Theologicum(Theological...

    • 6 Sola Scriptura? The Interpretation of the Scriptures and the Authority of Tradition
      (pp. 74-76)

      Already in the earlyCommentatiuncula de Judice ControversiarumLeibniz’s position regarding the relationship between scripture and tradition could not be defined as rigorously ‘textualist’; yet in the following years his position shifts in a direction that is clearly different from the Protestant principle ofsola scriptura(scripture alone). Mainstream Protestants typically regarded scripture as the primary, absolute, and sufficient rule of doctrine, and they granted only a secondary role to tradition as a useful but not decisive guide.¹ Leibniz by contrast seems to come closer to the position defined by the treatises of the van Walenburch brothers, who wrote that...

    • 7 On the Triune God and On the Person of Christ
      (pp. 77-88)

      The recognition of the authority of tradition takes concrete shape in the formulation of a theology of the Trinity and a Christology steeped in the teachings of the church fathers and the Scholastics. It is by no means coincidental that Leibniz’s most complete sketch of a “theological system”—theExamen Religionis Christianae(Examination of the Christian Religion)—is strewn with references to Christian antiquity and the universal church.¹ This does not mean, however, that Leibniz does not make his choices among the many voices of a tradition reinterpreted variously by Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic ‘orthodoxies.’ Without abandoning his adherence to...

  8. Part III English Trinitarian Polemics (1693–1705)
    • 8 Between Tritheism and Modalism
      (pp. 91-110)

      From the early 1690s onward, Leibniz’s attention was repeatedly drawn to debates surrounding the “Sociniens d’Angleterre.”¹ This growing interest in the Trinitarian polemics that agitated England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not surprising. The caliber of the persons involved in them was impressive: the combatants range from John Locke, to Ralph Cudworth and John Toland, to the renowned mathematician John Wallis. No less impressive was the importance of the topics discussed: these included the controversy surrounding the concepts of substance, essence, and person unleashed by the theories of William Sherlock; the question of the use of the mathematical...

    • 9 The Case of Freke: On the Mathematical Method in Theology
      (pp. 111-119)

      In December 1693, the envoy to London from the House of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Wilhelm de Beyrie, reported on the latest scandal in the English Parliament: “Some days ago certain little books, in which the dogma of the Trinity is attacked as strongly as possible, were secretly distributed to each member of Parliament. Upon which, the Parliament ordered that they be burned by the executioner and that a search be made for the Author, the Printers and those who published them.”¹ The one who caused the furor was the Antitrinitarian William Freke, the anonymous author of a little book divided into two...

    • 10 Stillingfleet versus Locke and Toland: On Clear and Distinct Ideas
      (pp. 120-134)

      The debates surrounding Nye and Freke did not exhaust Leibniz’s attention to the English Trinitarian discussions. From the end of 1696 on, John Locke was in the eye of the storm. This time the polemic was triggered by the publication ofA Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity¹ by the bishop of Worcester, Edward Stillingfleet, who exposed the danger for the mystery of the Trinity implicit in the epistemological doctrine set forth in Locke’sEssay concerning Human Understanding.² Once again, Thomas Burnett of Kemney played a central mediating role: besides informing Leibniz on the development of the affair³ and...

  9. Part IV The Last Years (1706–1716)
    • 11 Islam, Kabbalah, and the Trinity: The Polemic regarding the Historical Dissertations by M. V. de La Croze
      (pp. 137-149)

      Leibniz would certainly never have expected that, after so many explicit declarations of war against the Socinians, he himself, during the last decade of his life, would be the target of an accusation of Antitrinitarianism.

      But let us proceed one step at a time. In 1707 Mathurin Veyssières de La Croze published a volume composed of threeDissertations historiques.¹ The polemical intention of the author was to show “which Heresies are more pernicious to the Church, those of Socinianism, or those of the Jesuits.”² The plan begins to take shape in the first dissertation, dedicated to a comparison between Islam...

    • 12 The Socinians Again
      (pp. 150-160)

      Around 1706, Leibniz encountered unawares an old acquaintance: the Socinian Andreas Wissowatius.¹ In a book entitledVernünfftige Religion / Das ist Gründlicher Beweiss / dass man das Urtheil gesunder Vernunfft auch in der Theologie, und in Erörterung der Religions-Fragen gebrauchen müsse(Rational Religion, That Is, a Thorough Proof That the Judgment of Sound Reason Must Also Be Used in Theology and in the Discussion of Religious Questions), the adversary he had fought in his youth lay hidden under the pseudonym of Arsenius Sophianus. The work, published in 1703 in Halle,² is actually the translation into German of Wissowatius’sReligio Rationalis,...

    • 13 The Curtain Call
      (pp. 161-168)

      The famous “Preliminary Discourse on the Conformity of Faith with Reason” prefixed to theTheodicycan certainly be considered Leibniz’s literary manifesto of the relationship between faith and reason. Into it flow thoughts matured in the course of a lifetime: in a single overview—sometimes hurried, sometimes in a more focused way—Leibniz considers characters, works, and positions discussed in previous years, starting from his very earliest writings. Although the direct antagonist of Leibniz in this case is Pierre Bayle, there are many fronts in Leibniz’s battle, aimed at establishing the extent, as well as the limits, of the use...

  10. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 169-170)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-284)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-308)
  13. Index
    (pp. 309-322)