Locke and the Trinity

  • Diego Lucci American University in Bulgaria
Keywords: arianism, christology, messiah, socinianism, Trinity


In The Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures (1695), John Locke described faith in Jesus the Messiah, repentance for sin, and obedience to the divine moral law as the fundamentals of the Christian religion. According to Locke, adherence to these fundamentals, along with the diligent study of the Bible, is what the Christian Law of Faith prescribes as essential to salvation. All other beliefs and practices are non-fundamental and, hence, irrelevant to salvation. Thus, Locke did not cover non- fundamentals in the Reasonableness. One of the beliefs omitted from Locke’s elucidation of Christianity is the belief in the Trinity. This omission implicitly made belief in the Trinity unnecessary to salvation and was surprising to many, given also that the Reasonableness appeared in the middle of the Trinitarian controversy of the late seventeenth century. Therefore, some critics accused Locke of anti-Trinitarianism and Socinianism and also pressured him to explain his position on the Trinitarian doctrine. Although Locke abstained from publicly clarifying his views on the Trinity, he expressed, unsystematically and at times ambiguously, his views on Christ’s nature and mission in the Reasonableness, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul, and several theological manuscripts. Moreover, he focused on Trinitarian issues in “Adversaria Theologica”, “Lemmata Ethica”, and various other manuscripts. Locke’s public as well as private writings denote a Messianic and non-Trinitarian Christology, which, although presenting Socinian and Arian elements, was essentially grounded in Locke’s own reading of Scripture. Nevertheless, irenic and prudential reasons led him to avoid public discussion of the Trinitarian dogma, for he deemed it inappropriate and immoral to fuel pointless and divisive debates and he considered it unwise to cause himself unnecessary troubles with the authorities.