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Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Letter To John Adams - Monticello, April 11, 1823


        _To John Adams_
        _Monticello, April 11, 1823_


        DEAR SIR, -- The wishes expressed, in your last favor, that I
may continue in life and health until I become a Calvinist, at least
in his exclamation of `_mon Dieu!_ jusque a quand'! would make me
immortal.  I can never join Calvin in addressing _his god._ He was
indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was
Daemonism.  If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.  The being
described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege
and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a
daemon of malignant spirit.  It would be more pardonable to believe
in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes
of Calvin.  Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great
handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation,
there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god.  Now one
sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five
sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian
revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god!  This
gives compleatly a gain de cause to the disciples of Ocellus,
Timaeus, Spinosa, Diderot and D'Holbach.  The argument which they
rest on as triumphant and unanswerable is that, in every hypothesis
of Cosmogony you must admit an eternal pre-existence of something;
and according to the rule of sound philosophy, you are never to
employ two principles to solve a difficulty when one will suffice.
They say then that it is more simple to believe at once in the
eternal pre-existence of the world, as it is now going on, and may
for ever go on by the principle of reproduction which we see and
witness, than to believe in the eternal pre-existence of an ulterior
cause, or Creator of the world, a being whom we see not, and know
not, of whose form substance and mode or place of existence, or of
action no sense informs us, no power of the mind enables us to
delineate or comprehend.  On the contrary I hold (without appeal to
revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's parts
general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to
percieve and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and
indefinite power in every atom of it's composition.  The movements of
the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance
of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth
itself, with it's distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere,
animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest
particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as
man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it
is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there
is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a
fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and
regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their
regenerator into new and other forms.  We see, too, evident proofs of
the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in
it's course and order.  Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones
have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run
foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws;
certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no
restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by
one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos.  So
irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent
that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro' all time,
they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit,
in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather
than in that of a self-existent Universe.  Surely this unanimous
sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the
other hypothesis.  Some early Christians indeed have believed in the
coeternal pre-existance of both the Creator and the world, without
changing their relation of cause and effect.  That this was the
opinion of St. Thomas, we are informed by Cardinal Toleto, in these
words `Deus ab aeterno fuit jam omnipotens, sicut cum produxit
mundum.  Ab aeterno potuit producere mundum. -- Si sol ab aeterno
esset, lumen ab aeterno esset; et si pes, similiter vestigium.  At
lumen et vestigium effectus sunt efficientis solis et pedis; potuit
ergo cum causa aeterna effectus coaeterna esse.  Cujus sententiae est
S. Thomas Theologorum primus' Cardinal Toleta.


        Of the nature of this being we know nothing.  Jesus tells us
that `God is a spirit.' 4. John 24. but without defining what a
spirit is {pneyma o Theos}.  Down to the 3d. century we know that it
was still deemed material; but of a lighter subtler matter than our
gross bodies.  So says Origen.  `Deus igitur, cui anima similis est,
juxta Originem, reapte corporalis est; sed graviorum tantum ratione
corporum incorporeus.' These are the words of Huet in his commentary
on Origen.  Origen himself says `appelatio {asomaton} apud nostros
scriptores est inusitata et incognita.' So also Tertullian `quis
autem negabit Deum esse corpus, etsi deus spiritus?  Spiritus etiam
corporis sui generis, in sua effigie.' Tertullian.  These two fathers
were of the 3d. century.  Calvin's character of this supreme being
seems chiefly copied from that of the Jews.  But the reformation of
these blasphemous attributes, and substitution of those more worthy,
pure and sublime, seems to have been the chief object of Jesus in his
discources to the Jews: and his doctrine of the Cosmogony of the
world is very clearly laid down in the 3 first verses of the 1st.
chapter of John, in these words, `{en arche en o logos, kai o logos
en pros ton Theon kai Theos en o logos. `otos en en arche pros ton
Theon.  Panta de ayto egeneto, kai choris ayto egeneto ode en, o
gegonen}.  Which truly translated means `in the beginning God
existed, and reason (or mind) was with God, and that mind was God.
This was in the beginning with God.  All things were created by it,
and without it was made not one thing which was made'.  Yet this
text, so plainly declaring the doctrine of Jesus that the world was
created by the supreme, intelligent being, has been perverted by
modern Christians to build up a second person of their tritheism by a
mistranslation of the word {logos}.  One of it's legitimate meanings
indeed is `a word.' But, in that sense, it makes an unmeaning jargon:
while the other meaning `reason', equally legitimate, explains
rationally the eternal preexistence of God, and his creation of the
world.  Knowing how incomprehensible it was that `a word,' the mere
action or articulation of the voice and organs of speech could create
a world, they undertake to make of this articulation a second
preexisting being, and ascribe to him, and not to God, the creation
of the universe.  The Atheist here plumes himself on the uselessness
of such a God, and the simpler hypothesis of a self-existent
universe.  The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of
Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have
perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely
incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words.
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the
supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed
with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in
these United States will do away with all this artificial
scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of
this the most venerated reformer of human errors.


        So much for your quotation of Calvin's `mon dieu! jusqu'a
quand' in which, when addressed to the God of Jesus, and our God, I
join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness
than reluctance.  May we meet there again, in Congress, with our
antient Colleagues, and recieve with them the seal of approbation
`Well done, good and faithful servants.'