Christmas Eve (Isaac) Newton blogging: My man Izzy’s War on Christmas.

Isaac Newton should be a Christmas icon. Born on December 25, 1642, it seemed unlikely that he would live to see Epiphany. He was tiny — possibly premature — and in his old age told a family connection that “he was so little they could put him into a quart pot.” Initially, he was thought so little likely to live that he was not baptized until he was seen to be out of immediate danger, on January 1, 1643.He came into the world already a half an orphan — his father, also Isaac, had died three months earlier, leaving the infant with another symbolic connection to Jesus, being born of woman in the absence of a visible father. So — a Christmas birth for the greatest scientific mind in history. Or not…England was late, slow, backward, and even as late as 1641, still preferred the old Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian one we now use. To any of his European colleagues, his birthday would have been January 4, 1643, a day on which neither Western Christians nor Orthodox ones celebrated the birth of the Son of Man. Still, Isaac himself would have marked his birthday on the day his countrymen celebrated Christmas — which fuels the irony of Isaac’s view of the more famous figure with whom he shared the day. Isaac Newton was a heretic — specifically, an Arian. He very quietly but emphatically denied Jesus’s co-equal divinity with God the Father. He conceded the special status of Jesus, “next in dignity to God.” Jesus was the redeemer, the lamb of God, the greatest of all the Father’s servants — but not consubstantial, not equivalent to the almighty ruler of all heaven and earth. (This is not to say that Newton was in any form an atheist. His belief in an all powerful God was absolute, confirmed, for him, in all the details of the system of the world his science allowed him to discover. He denied the Trinity, in its orthodox form — but never God.) Had Newton’s heretical views become public knowledge, it would have gone hard with him; he would have lost his university position at the very least, with worse, possibly to follow. He kept his views secret, writing only to highly trusted friends — John Locke for one — and shunning in public those with whom he agreed in private, but who had so far forgot themselves as to let their unorthodoxy become known. All of which means that if one wanted to be wholly anachronistic, and snark from the past: Isaac Newton had his own personal war on Christmas, if that day were viewed as the birthday of that part of the Trinity that lived and died on earth.It’s true then: Newtonian gravity, and modern science in general derive from someone whose view of the meaning of Christmas is entirely at odds with that of Bill O’Reilly…for which I, as a minor Newtonian, am on this day, truly grateful. Happy Birthday Isaac! (Now or the fourth — I don’t care.)

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2 Comments on “Christmas Eve (Isaac) Newton blogging: My man Izzy’s War on Christmas.”

  1. I recalled that George Washington was born before the British changed to the Gregorian calendar, so his birthday in the year he was born was Feb. 11, not the Feb. 22 date we used to celebrate before we switched to Mondays. But I had forgotten that Jan. 1 to March 24 were at the time regarded as the end of the old year rather than the beginning of the new.

    And we can’t even convert to metric.

  2. mhasegawa Says:

    Thanks for the additional story about Issac. And having studied both Newton and Locke, I hadn’t known they were friends.

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