Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Leviathan: Latin Appendix I.1–55

Council of Nicea

Latin Appendix I.1–55

Perhaps in an attempt to respond to the persistent charges of atheism, Hobbes wrote a line-by-line exposition of the Nicene Creed which captures the scattered theological arguments found throughout the Leviathan in one place. Just for reference, here is a modern translation of the creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

We won’t be able to hit everything Hobbes discusses, but we’ll try to get the high points.

First, Hobbes emphasizes the reality of God. When we say we believe in “one God, Father almighty,” Hobbes argues we are confessing that “God is a being… or… something real, and not a mere phantasm, such as what is called a spectre, or like the demons the Gentiles worshipped…” (I.4). The confession of God’s reality carries with it the confession of specific attributes as well—namely God’s simplicity, immutability, and eternality, as well as his position as the one who creates from nothing (I.8). This in contrast to Aristotle, who holds that matter is coeternal and so shares these attributes.

Second, Hobbes argues that the confession that Christ was “begotten” implies that unlike the rest of creation, there was not a time when Christ was not. (Other than in the very specific terms of the Incarnation.) Hobbes is somewhat more charitable to the theologians of the early church than he had been to the late-medieval Scholastics earlier in the Leviathan. He suggests that although their attempts to explain how Christ could be both fully God and fully man end up in a rhetorical and theological quagmire, their motivation—”to make the mystery of the Trinity intelligible to all Christians”—was a noble one (I.14). Nevertheless,

It seems to me that they were not right to want to explain that mystery. For what do you do when you explain a mystery except destroy it, or make of a mystery what is not a mystery? For faith, converted to knowledge, perishes, leaving only hope and charity. (I.15)

And as far as it goes, Hobbes is correct. The heresies that plagued the early church were mostly (not all, of course) the result of attempts to explain the mechanics of the Incarnation.

Third, we run into the same problem when we try to explain where heaven and hell are in geographic terms, and when we try to work out the place of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. Hobbes admits that he doesn’t understand how to properly interpret either of these statements in the creed. But this may be acceptable, so long as we don’t try to rationalize them using pagan philosophy (I.27). In part, the problem may be with the creeds themselves, which don’t always use the same language—and may have been historically tampered with (I.36–40).

Finally, Hobbes explores the nature of resurrection, especially the difference between the Apostle’s Creed’s “resurrection of the dead” and the Nicene Creed’s “resurrection of the flesh” (I.41). Hobbes again takes the position that these are the same thing, and are also the only kind of resurrection—he does not believe that it is possible to separate the body and soul, even temporarily. This separation, Hobbes argues, is a doctrine drawn from philosophy and not from scripture. What we see in scripture (Hobbes says) is that when we die, we are actually fully dead both body and soul. And when God resurrects us it is as whole people being re-created, not as bodies being re-created and rejoined with souls that had been in storage somewhere. In an argument that I don’t remember seeing earlier in the Leviathan, Hobbes says that this actually makes us focus on the cross rather than on creation:

…the way to the tree of life (i.e., to eternal life) has been opened by the sacrifice of Christ. What need is there, then, for a pious man to attribute his immortality to creation (i.e., [his] nature), rather than to redemption? (I.55)

In other words, if we are looking for the principle cause of human immortality, we err if we search for it within ourselves as created beings. Human immortality must be found in God, and he has decreed that it will only come to his people through the work of Christ on the cross. And if Hobbes had said nothing beyond that, we wouldn’t have a theological bone to pick with him. However, he takes this so specifically literally that it ends up setting him apart from most theologians in a way that I’ve never seen before.

We’ll pick up Hobbes’s argument here in the next post.


Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.

3 Responses to “Leviathan: Latin Appendix I.1–55”

  1. gabe

    “for a pious man to attribute his immortality to creation (i.e., [his] nature), rather than to redemption? (I.55)”

    That is a rather nice and, I think, profound thought and I think, with the exception of the early Zoroastrians who also believed / professed redemption, is a rather accurate description of mankind’s understanding of his place in the universe prior to Christianity.

    Coyle: BTW, while reading comments on the Trinity I was reminded of a piece in today’s NRO on difference between Islam and Christianity. You may like it.

    take care


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