Thomas Jefferson Notes on Religion October 1776

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Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Growth of Religious Societies (Click to enlarge)

“To preserve the peace of our fellow citizens, promote their prosperity and happiness, reunite opinion, cultivate a spirit of candor, moderation, charity and forbearance toward one another, are objects calling for the efforts and sacrifices of every good man and patriot. Our religion enjoins it; our happiness demands it: and no sacrifice is requisite but of passions hostile to both.”—Thomas Jefferson to The Rhode Island Assembly; 1801

See also:
Thomas Jefferson Biography
RELIGIOUS VIEWS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON; source: The Jefferson Bible
Jefferson Foresaw and Prophesied about This Time in American History

JEFFERSON’S NOTES ON RELIGION. [These are endorsed by Jefferson: “scraps early in the revolution.” They were probably materials and notes for his speeches in the House of Delegates on the petitions for the disestablishment of the Episcopal church. Owing to the rebinding it is practically impossible to say if any order was intended.]

  1. Mss.

[Oct. 1776?]

Sabellians Christian heretics. That there is but one person in the Godhead. That the ‘ Word’ & holy spirit are only virtues, emanations or functions of the deity.

Sorcinians. Christian heretics. That the Father is the one only god. That the Word is no more than an expression of ye godhead & had not existed from all eternity; that Jesus Christ was god no otherwise than by his superiority above all creatures who were put in subjection to him by the father. That he was not a mediator, but sent to be a pattern of conduct to men. That the punishments of hell are not eternal.

Arminians. They think with the Romish church (against the Calvinists) that there is an universal grace given to all men, & that man is always free & at liberty to receive or reject grace. That God creates men free, that his justice would not permit him to punish men for crimes they are predestinated to commit. They admit the presence of god, but distinguish between fore-knowing & predestinating. All the fathers before St. Austin were of this opinion. The church of England founded her article of predestination on his authority.

Arians. Christian heretics. They avow there was a time when the Son was not, that he was created in time mutable in nature, & like the angels liable to sin; they deny the three persons in the trinity to be of the same essence. Erasmus and Grotius were Arians.

Apollinarians. Christian heretics. They affirm there was but one nature in Christ, that his body as well as soul was impassive & immortal, & that his birth, death, & resurrection was only in appearance.

Macedonians. Christian heretics. They teach that the Holy ghost was a mere creature, but superior in excellence to the Angels. See Broughton, verbo ‘ Heretics,’ an enumeration of 48. sects of Christians pronounced Heretics.

Thomas Jefferson Concerning those who Misinterpreted his Religious views (Click to enlarge)

Thomas Jefferson Concerning those who Misinterpreted his Religious views (Click to enlarge)

Locke’s system of Christianity is this: Adam was created happy & immortal; but his happiness was to have been Earthly & Earthly immortality. By sin he lost this—so that he became subject to total death (like that of brutes) to the crosses & unhappiness of this life. At the intercession however of the son of god this sentence was in part remitted. A life conformable to the law was to restore them again to immortality. And moreover to them who believed their faith was to be counted for righteousness. Not that faith without works was to save them; St. James, chapter 2. says expressly the contrary; & all make the fundamental pillars of Christianity to be faith & repentance. So that a reformation of life (included under repentance) was essential, & defects in this would be made up by their faith; i. e. their faith should be counted for righteousness. As to that part of mankind who never had the gospel preached to them, they are 1. Jews.—2. Pagans, or Gentiles. The Jews had the law of works revealed to them. By this therefore they were to be saved: & a lively faith in god’s promises to send the Messiah would supply small defects. 2. The Gentiles. St. Pa. says—Rom. 2. 13. ‘the Gentiles have the law written in their hearts, i. e. the law of nature: to which adding a faith in God & his attributes that on their repentance he would pardon them, they also would be justified. This then explains the text ‘there is no other name under heaven by which a man may be saved,’ i.e. the defects in good works shall not be supplied by a faith in Mahomet Foe, [?] or any other except Christ.

Thomas Jefferson Concerning Rights of Conscience (Click to enlarge)

Thomas Jefferson Concerning Rights of Conscience (Click to enlarge)

The fundamentals of Christianity as found in the gospels are 1. Faith, 2. Repentance. That faith is every [where ?] explained to be a belief that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised. Repentance was to be proved sincerely by good works. The advantages accruing to mankind from our Saviour’s mission are these.

  1. The knowledge of one god only.

2. A clear knowledge of their duty, or system of morality, delivered on such authority as to give it sanction.

  1. The outward forms of religious worship wanted to be purged of that farcical pomp & nonsense with which they were loaded.

4. An inducement to a pious life, by revealing clearly a future existence in bliss, & that it was to be the reward of the virtuous.

The Epistles were written to persons already Christians. A person might be a Christian then before they were written. Consequently the fundamentals of Christianity were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. These fundamentals are to be found in the epistles dropped here & there, & promiscuously mixed with other truths. But these other truths are not to be made fundamentals. They serve for edification indeed & explaining to us matters in worship & morality, but being written occasionally it will readily be seen that their explanations are adapted to the notions & customs of the people they were written to. But yet every sentence in them (tho the writers were inspired) must not be taken up & made a fundamental, without assent to which a man is not to be admitted a member of the Christian church here, or to his kingdom hereafter. The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation, & consequently to a communion.

Contrary to what Liberals, Democrats, popular culture & other would have you believe Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and others were far from deists or atheists (Click to enlarge)

Contrary to what Liberals, Democrats, popular culture & others would have you believe Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and others were far from deists or atheists (Click to enlarge)

Shaftesbury Character. As the Ancients tolerated visionaries & enthusiasts of all kinds so they permitted a free scope to philosophy as a balance. As the Pythagoreans & latter Platonists joined with the superstition of their times the Epicureans & Academics were allowed all the use of wit & raillery against it. Thus matters were balanced; reason had play & science flourished. These contrarieties produced harmony. Superstition & enthusiasm thus let alone never raged to bloodshed, persecution &c. But now a new sort of policy, which considers the future lives & happiness of men rather than the present, has taught to distress one another, & raised an antipathy which if temporal interest could ever do now uniformity of opinion, a hopeful project! is looked on as the only remedy agt. this evil & is made the very object of government itself. If magistracy had vouchsafed to interpose thus in other sciences, we should have as bad logic, mathematics & philosophy as we have divinity in countries where the law settles orthodoxy.

Suppose the state should take into head that there should be an uniformity of countenance. Men would be obliged to put an artificial bump or swelling here, a patch there &c. but this would be merely hypocritical, or if the alternative was given of wearing a mask, 99% must immediately mask. Would this add to the beauty of nature? Why otherwise in opinions? In the middle ages of Christianity opposition to the State opinions was hushed. The consequence was, Christianity became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion. 2 Cor. 1. 24. the apostles declare they had no dominion over the faith.

A heretic is an impugner of fundamentals. What are fundamentals? The protestants will say those doctrines which are clearly & precisely delivered in the holy Scriptures. Dr. Vaterland would say the Trinity. But how far this character of being clearly delivered will suit the doctrine of the trinity I leave others to determine. It is nowhere expressly declared by any of the earliest fathers, & was never affirmed or taught by the Church before the Council of Nice (Chillingas Pre/. § 18. 33.) Iranaeus says “who are the clean? those who go on firmly, believing in the Father & in the Son.” The fundamental doctrine or the firmness of the Christian faith in this early age then was to believe in the Father & Son. Constantine wrote to Arius & Alexander treating the question “as vain foolish & impertinent as a dispute of words without sense which none could explain nor any comprehend &c.’ This line is commended by Eusebius (Vit. Constant 1. r. c. 64 &c.) and Socrates (Hist. Eccles. 1. i. c. 7) as excellent admirable & full of wisdom. 2 Middleton. 115. remarks on the story of St. John & [illegible] ” Le saint concil (de Niece anno 630) ayant defini que le fils de dieu est de meme substance que son pere & qu’il est eternel comme lui, composa une Simbole (the Nicene creed) ou il explique la divinite du pere et du fils et qu’il finit par ces paroles ‘dont le regne n’aura point de fin.’car la doctrine que regarde le Saint Esprit ne fut ajoutee que dans la seconde concile tenu contre les erreurs de Macedoniens, ou ces questions furent agitees.” Zonaras par Coussin. Ann. 330. The second council meant by Zonaras was that of Constantinople ann. 381. D’hist. Prim. Christianity. pref. xxxvm. 2d app. to pref. 49. The Council of Antioch ann [ ] expressly affirms of our Saviour οὐϰ ἐστιν ὁμουσιοϛ that he was not consubstantial to the father. The Council of Nice affirmed the direct contrary. Dhist. Prim. Xty. Pref. cxxv.

Episcopy. Gr. ‘πρεσβύτης, presbítes. Lat. Episcopus. Ital. Vescovo. Fr. Evesque. Saxon, Byscop. Bishop (overseer). The epistles of Paul to Timothy & Titus are relied on (together with Tradition) for the Apostolic institution of bishops.

As to tradition, if we are protestants we reject all tradition, & rely on the scripture alone, for that is the essence & common principle of all the protestant churches.

As to Scripture. 1.Tim.3.2. ‘a bishop must be blameless &c. Eπιςκoπoς.’ v. 8. ‘likewise must the deacons be grave &c. Διακονος’ (ministros) c.5.v.6. he calls Timothy a ‘minister’ Διακονος’ c.4.v.14. ‘neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy with the laying on the hands of the presbytery, πρεςβυτεριον.’ c.5. ‘rebuke not an elder πρεςβντερω.’

5.17. ‘let the elders that rule well &c. πρεςβντεροι.’

[5.] 19. ‘against an elder (πρεςβντερον) receive nt. an accusan.’

5.22. ‘lay hands suddenly on no man χειρας επιτιΘει’

6.11. he calls Timothy ‘man of god ανΘρωπε τον Θεον.’

2.Tim.1.6. ‘stir up the gift of god which is in thee by the putting on of my hands επιΘεςεως των χειρων μον.’ but ante c.4. v.14. he said it was by the hands of the presbytery. This imposition of hands then was some ceremony or custom frequently repeated, & certainly is as good a proof that Timothy was ordained by the elders (& consequently that they might ordain) as that it was by Paul.

1.11. Paul calls himself ‘a preacher’ ‘an apostle’ ‘a teacher.’ ‘κηρνξ και αποςτολος και διδαςκαλος.’ here he designates himself by several synonims as he had before done Timothy. does this prove that every synonim authorizes a different order of ecclesiastics. 4.5. ‘do the work of an Evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry εργον ποιηςον εναγγελιςτον, την διακονιαν ςον πληροϕορηςον.’ Timothy then is called ‘επιςκοπος, διακονος, εναγγελιςτος. ανΘρωπος Θεον.’

4.11. he tells Tim. to bring Mark with him for ‘he is profitable to me for the ministry Διακονια’

Epistle to Titus 1.1. he calls himself ‘a servant of god δονλος Θεον.’ 1.5. ‘for this cause left I thee in Crete that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain (καταςτηςης) elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. if any be blameless the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot or unruly for a bishop must be blameless as the steward of god &c.’ here then it appears that as the elders appointed the bishops, so the bishops appointed the elders. i.e. they are synonims. again when telling Titus to appoint elders in every city he tells him what kind of men they must be, for said he a bishop must be &c. so that in the same sentence he calls elders bishops.

3.10: ‘a man that is an heretic after the first & second admonition, reject. αιρετικον.’

James.5.14. ‘is any sick among you? let him call for the elders (π ρεςβντερονς) of the church, & let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the lord.’

Another plea for Episcopal government in Religion in England is it’s similarity to the political government by a king. No bishop, no king. This then with us is a plea for government by a presbytery which resembles republican government.

The clergy have ever seen this. The bishops were always mere tools of the crown.

The Presbyterian spirit is known to be so congenial with friendly liberty, that the patriots after the restoration finding that the humour of people was running too strongly to exalt the prerogative of the crown promoted the dissenting interest as a check and balance, & thus was produced the Toleration Act.

St. Peter gave the title of clergy to all god’s people till Pope Higinus & ye succeeding prelates took it from them & appropriated it to priests only, 1 Milt. 230.

Origen, being yet a layman, expounded the scriptures publickly & was therein defended by Alexander of Jerusalem & Theoctistus of Caesarea producing in his behalf divers examples that the privilege of teaching was anciently permitted to laymen. the first Nicene council called on the assistance of many learned lay brethren. ib.230.

Bishops were elected by the hands of the whole church. Ignatius (the most ant’ of the extant fathers) writing to the Philadelphians says ‘ that it belongs to them as to the church of god to choose a bishop.’ Camden in his description of Scotland says ‘that over all the world bps had no certain diocese till pope Dionysius about the year 268 did cut them out, & that the bps of Scotland extended their function in what place soever they came, indifferently till temp Malcolm 3. 1070.’

Cyprian, epistle. 68. says ‘ the people chiefly hath power either of choosing worthy or refusing unworthy bps the council of Nice contrary to the African churches exhorts them to choose orthodox bishops in the place of the dead.’ 1 Milt. 254.

Nicephorus Phocas the Greek emperor Ann. 1000 first enacted that no bps should be chosen without his will. Ignatius in his epistle to those of Tra [mutilated] confesseth that the presbyters are his fellow-sellers & fellow henchers & Cyprian in the 6. 4. 52. epst. calls the presbyters, ‘his com-presbyters’ yet he was a bps.—A modern bps to be molded into a primitive one must be elected by the people, undiocest, unrevenued, unlorded. 1 Milt. 255. From the dissensions among sects themselves arises necessarily a right of choosing & necessity of deliberating to which we will conform, but if we choose for ourselves, we must allow others to choose also, & to reciprocally. This establishes religious liberty.

Why require those things in order to eccliastical communion which Christ does not require in order to life eternal? How can that be the church of Christ which excludes such persons from its communion as he will one day receive into the kingdom of heaven.

The arms of a religious society or church are exhortations, admonitions & advice, & ultimately expulsion or excommunication. This last is the utmost limit of power.

How far does the duty of toleration extend?

  1. No church is bound by the duty of toleration to retain within her bosom obstinate offenders against her laws.

2. We have no right to prejudice another in his civil enjoyments because he is of another church. If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee; nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life because thou supposeth he will be miserable in that which is to come—on the contrary according to the spirit of the gospel, charity, bounty, liberality is due to him.

Each church being free, no one can have jurisdiction over another one, not even when the civil magistrate joins it. It neither acquires the right of the sword by the magistrate’s coming to it, nor does it lose the rights of instruction or excommunication by his going from it. It cannot by the accession of any new member acquire jurisdiction over those who do not accede. He brings only himself, having no power to bring others. Suppose for instance two churches, one of Arminians another of Calvinists in Constantinople, has either any right over the other? Will it be said the orthodox one has? Every church is to itself orthodox ; to others erroneous or heretical.

No man complains of his neighbor for ill management of his affairs, for an error in sowing his land, or marrying his daughter, for consuming his substance in taverns, pulling down building &c in all these he has his liberty: but if he do not frequent the church, or there conform to ceremonies, there is an immediate uproar.

The care of every man’s soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well what if he neglect the care of his health or estate, which more nearly relate to the state. Will the magistrate make a law that he shall not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.

If I be marching on with my utmost vigour in that way which according to the sacred geography leads to Jerusalem straight, why am I beaten & ill used by others because my hair is not of the right cut; because I have not been dresseth right, because I eat flesh on the road, because I avoid certain by-ways which seem to lead into briars, because among several paths I take that which seems shortest & cleanest, because I avoid travellers less grave & keep company with others who are more sour & austere, or because I follow a guide crowned with a mitre & cloathed in white, yet these are the frivolous things which keep Christianity at war.

If the magistrate command me to bring my commodity to a publick store house I bring it because he can indemnify me if he erred & I thereby lose it; but what indemnification can he give one for the kingdom of heaven?

I cannot give up my guidance to the magistrates, because he knows no more of the way to heaven than I do, & is less concerned to direct me right than I am to go right. If the Jews had followed their Kings, among so many, what number would have led them to idolatry? Consider the vicissitudes among the Emperors, Arians, Athana &c. or among our princes. H. 8. E. 6. Mary. Elizabeth. Locke’s Works 2d vol.

Why persecute for difference in religious opinion?

1. For love to the person.

  1. Because of tendency of these opinions to dis[illegible].

1. When I see them persecute their nearest connection & acquaintance for gross vices, I shall believe it may proceed from love. Till they do this I appeal to their own consciences if they will examine, wh. ye do not find some other principle.

  1. Because of tendency. Why not then level persecution at the crimes you fear will be introduced? Burn or hang the adulterer, cheat &c. Or exclude them from offices. Strange should be so zealous against things which tend to produce immorality & yet so indulgent to the immorality when produced. These moral vices all men acknowledge to be diametrically against Christianity & obstructive of salvation of souls, but the fantastical points for which we generally persecute are often very questionable; as we may be assured by the very different conclusions of people. Our Savior chose not to propagate his religion by temporal punishments or civil incapacitation, if he had, it was in his almighty power. But he chose to extend it by its influence on reason, there by showing to others how they should proceed.

The commonwealth is ‘a Society of men constituted for protecting their civil interests.’

Civil interests are ‘ life, health, indolency of body, liberty and property.’ That the magistrate’s jurisdiction extends only to civil rights appears from these considerations.

  1. The magistrate has no power but what ye people gave.

The people have not given him the care of souls because ye could not, ye could not, because no man has right to abandon the care of his salvation to another.

No man has power to let another prescribe his faith. Faith is not faith without believing. No man can conform his faith to the dictates of another. The life & essence of religion consists in the internal persuasion or belief of the mind. External forms of worship, when against our belief are hypocrisy & impiety. Rom. 14. 23. “he that doubteth is damned, if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin?”

  1. If it be said the magistrate may make use of arguments & so draw the heterodox to truth, I answer, every man has a commission to admonish, exhort, convince another of error.

12. A church is ‘a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the public worshipping of god in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him & effectual to the salvation of their souls.’ It is voluntary because no man is by nature bound to any church. The hope of salvation is the cause of his entering into it. If he find anything wrong in it, he should be as free to go out as he was to come in.

13. What is the power of that church. As it is a society it must have some laws for its regulation. Time & place of meeting. Admitting & excluding members &c Must be regulated but as it was a spontaneous joining of members, it follows that it’s laws extend to its own members only, not to those of any other voluntary society, for then by the same rule some other voluntary society might usurp power over them. Christ has said ‘wheresoever 2 or 3 are gathered together in his name he will be in the midst of them.’ This is his definition of a society. He does not make it essential that a bishop or presbyter govern them. Without them it suffices for the salvation of souls.

Compulsion in religion is distinguished peculiarly from compulsion in every other thing. I may grow rich by art I am compelled to follow, I may recover health by medicines I am compelled to take against my own judgment, but I cannot be saved by a worship I disbelieve & abhor.

Whatsoever is lawful in the Commonwealth, or permitted to the subject in the ordinary way, cannot be forbidden to him for religious uses: & whatsoever is prejudicial to the Commonwealth in their ordinary uses & therefore prohibited by the laws, ought not to be permitted to churches in their sacred rites. For instance it is unlawful in the ordinary course of things or in a private house to murder a child. It should not be permitted any sect then to sacrifice children: it is ordinarily lawful (or temporarily lawful) to kill calves or lambs. They may therefore be religiously sacrificed, but if the good of the state required a temporary suspension of killing lambs, as during a siege, sacrifices of them may then be rightfully suspended also. This is the true extent of toleration.

Truth will do well enough if left to shift for herself. She seldom has received much aid from the power of great men to whom she is rarely known & seldom welcome. She has no need of force to procure entrance into the minds of men. Error indeed has often prevailed by the assistance of power or force. Truth is the proper & sufficient antagonist to error. If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace, let it be punished in the same manner & no otherwise than as if it had happened in a fair or market. These meetings ought not to be sanctuaries for faction & flagitiousness.

Locke denies toleration to those who entertain opinions contrary to those moral rules necessary for the preservation of society; as for instance, that faith is not to be kept with those of another persuasion, that Kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns, that dominion is founded in grace, or that obedience is due to some foreign prince, or who will not own & teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of religion, or who deny the existence of a god (it was a great thing to go so far—as he himself says of the parliament, who framed the act of toleration but where he stopped short we may go on.) [A footnote by TJ follows, reading: “will not his own excellent rule be sufficient here too; to punish these as civil offences. e. gr. to assert that a foreign prince has power within this commonwealth is a misdemeanor. the other opinions. may be despised. Perhaps the single thing which may be required to others before toleration to them would be an oath that they would allow toleration to others.”]

He says ‘neither Pagan nor Mahomedan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.’ Shall we suffer a Pagan to deal with us and not suffer him to pray to his god? Why have Christians been distinguished above all people who have ever lived, for persecutions? Is it because it is the genius of their religion? No, it’s genius is the reverse. It is the refusing toleration to those of a different opinion which has produced all the bustles and wars on account of religion. It was the misfortune of mankind that during the darker centuries the Christian priests following their ambition and avarice combining with the magistrate to divide the spoils of the people, could establish the notion that schismatics might be ousted of their possessions & destroyed. This notion we have not yet cleared ourselves from. In this case no wonder the oppressed should rebel, & they will continue to rebel & raise disturbance until their civil rights are fully restored to them & all partial distinctions, exclusions & incapacitations removed.

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2 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson Notes on Religion October 1776

  1. Pingback: James Madison Regarding Religious Duty & Religious Liberty | The Patriot Brotherhood From Sea to Shining Sea

  2. Pingback: For a people who are free, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security ~ Jefferson | Foundation Truths

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