The Life of Isaac Newton
In the other end of the notebook, Newton entered a new set of headings under which he recorded notes from other theological readings, mostly from early fathers of the church. The nature of the headings (e.g., 'De Trinitate,' 'De Athanasio,' 'De Arrianis et Eunomianis et Macedonianis,' 'De Haerisibus et Haereticis'), together with a couple of citations of fathers at the end of headings in the other end, strongly implies that this end of the notebook involved new reading undertaken to explore the questions already raised. The content of the notes exercised lasting influence over Newton's life. He drew up an index to facilitate access to them, and a number of entries in later hands demonstrate that he did return to them. The convictions that solidified as he collected the notes remained unaltered undl his death.
The longest entry, 'De Trinitate' (Concerning the Trinity), filled nine pages. The passage was studious rather than contentious. Newton returned to the works of the men who had formulated trinitarianism-Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Jerome, Augustine, and others-to inform himself correctly about the doctrine. Other 'Observations upon Athanasius's works,' together with notes elsewhere, contributed to the same goal. More than the doctrine interested him. He became fascinated with the man Athanasius and with the history of the church in the fourth century, when a passionate and bloody conflict raged between Athanasius and his followers, the founders of what became Christian orthodoxy, on the one hand, and Arius and his followers, who denied the trinity and the status of Christ in the Godhead, on the other; and he read extensively about them. Indeed, once started, Newton set himself the task of mastering the whole corpus of patristic literature. In addition to those mentioned previously, Newton cited in the notebook Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Eusebius, Eutychius, Sulpidus Severus, Clement, Origen, Basil, John Chrysostom, Alexander of Alexandria, Epiphanius, Hilary, Theodoret, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo I, Victorinus Afer, Rufinus, Manentius, Prudentius, and others. He seemed to know all the works of prolific theologians such as Augustine, Athanasius, and Origen. There was no single patristic writer of importance whose works he did not devour. And always, his eye was on the allied problems of the nature of Christ and the nature of God.
The conviction began to possess him that a massive fraud, which began in the fourth and fifth centuries, had perverted the legacy of the early church. Central to the fraud were the Scriptures, which Newton began to believe had been corrupted to support trinitarianism. It is impossible to say exactly when the conviction fastened upon him. The original notes themselves testify to early doubts. Far from silencing the doubts, he let them possess him. 'For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.' Such is the wording of 1 John 5:7, which he read in his Bible. 'It is not read thus in the Syrian Bible,' Newton discovered. 'Not by Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertull. Origen, Athanas. Nazianzen Didym Chrysostom, Hilarius, Augustine, Beda, and others. Perhaps Jerome is the first who reads it thus.' 'And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh...' Thus 1 Timothy 3:16, in the orthodox version. The word God is obviously critical to the usefulness of the verse to support trinitarianism. Newton found that early versions did not contain the word but read only, 'great is the mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh.' 'Furthermore in the fourth and fifth centuries,' he noted, 'this place was not cited against the Arians.'
The corruptions of Scripture came relatively late. The earlier corruption of doctrine, which called for the corruption of Scripture to support it, occurred in the fourth century, when the triumph of Athanasius over Arius imposed the false doctrine of the trinity on Christianity. Central to trinitarianism was the adjective homoousios, which was used to assert that the Son is consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father. Newton tended to call the Athanasians 'homousians.' In an early sketch of the history of the church in the fourth century, he described how the opponents of Arius in the Council of Nicaea wanted to base their argument solely on scriptural citations as they rejected Arianism and affirmed their own convictions that the Son is the eternal uncreated logos. However, the debate drove them to assert that the Son is homoousios with the Father even though that word is not in Scripture. 'That is, when the Fathers were not able to assert the position of Alexander (the Bishop of Alexandria, who had charged Arius with heresy] from the scriptures, they preferred to desert the scriptures than not to condemn Arius.' Eusebius of Nicomedia had introduced the word homoousios into the debate as a clearly heretical, intolerable consequence of the anti-Arian position.
Thus you see these fathers took ye word not from tradition but from Eusebius's letter, in wch though he urged it as a consequence from Alexander's doctrin which he thought so far from ye sense of ye Church yt even they themselves would not admit of it, yet they chose it for it's being opposite to Arius.