Monotheism (from μόνος, one, and θεός, God) is the belief in and worship of one only God, in opposition to polytheism, which acknowledges a plurality of gods. All the different mythologies have, among the host of gods with which they people heaven and earth, some, superior or supreme deity, more or less defined, but in every case distinguished above the others; and in the history of all the different nations where polytheism has obtained we may trace a period when the idea of one God was more or less prevalent. The most ancient traditions concur with the testimony of sacred Scripture in representing this as the primary and uncorrupted religion of mankind. M. Renan, in his Histoire Generale et Systeme compare des Langues Semitiques (Par. 1858, 2d ed.), and Nouvelles Considerations sur le caractere general des Peuples Semitiques et en particulier sur leur tendance au Monotheisme (Par. 1859), takes the ground that the Shemitic nations of the world are the propagators of the doctrine of the unity of God — indeed, that "of all the races of mankind, the Shemitic race alone was endowed with the instinct of monotheism... a religious instinct analogous to the instinct which led each race to the formation of its own language" (page 73). Max Miller, however, takes exception to this position, and insists upon it that the primitive intuition of God was in itself neither monotheistic nor polytheistic, but consisted solely in that simplest article of faith — that God is God. "This must have been the faith of the ancestors of mankind previously to any division of race or confusion of tongues... It is too often forgotten by those who believe that a polytheistic worship was the most natural unfolding of religious life, that polytheism must everywhere have been preceded by a more or less conscious theism. In no language does the plural exist before the singular. No human mind could have conceived the idea of gods without having previously conceived the idea of a god... There are, however, in reality two kinds of oneness which, when we enter into metaphysical discussions, must be carefully distinguished, and which for practical purposes are well kept separate by the definite and indefinite articles... If an expression had been given to that primitive intuition of the Deity, which is the mainspring of all later religion, it would have been, 'There is a God,' but not yet 'There is but one God.' The latter form of faith, the belief in one God, is properly called monotheism, whereas the term henotheism would best express the faith in a single God" (Chips, 1:348-50). This kind of monotheism, according to Miller, "forms the birthright of every human being... In some form or other, the feeling of dependence on a higher power breaks through in all the religions of the world, and explains to us the meaning of St. Paul, 'that God, though in times past he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, nevertheless left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.' This primitive intuition of God, and this ineradicable feeling of dependence on God, could only have been the result of a primitive revelation, in the truest sense of that word" (pages 346-8, see also pages 363, 374; comp. Gould, Origin of Religious Belief, 1:267277). In this respect Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism agree.
"Two facts," says Gould, "arrest our attention... the prevalence of monotheism, and the tendency of civilization towards it. Monotheism is at present the creed of a large section of the human race. The Christian, the Jew, and the Mohammedan hold the unity of the great cause with varying distinctness, according to their powers of abstraction" (Origin of Religious Belief, 1:238). But in regard to the Trinity they seriously differ, the Mohammedan and the Jew rejecting with vehemence the least approach to a trinitarian conception of the Deity. "The monotheism of the Mohammedan," says J.F. Clarke, "is that which makes of God pure will; that is, which exaggerates personality (since personality is in will), making the divine One an infinite Free Will or an infinite I. But will divorced from reason and love is wilfulness, or a purely arbitrary will. The monotheism of the Jews differed from this in that it combined with the idea of will the idea of justice. God not only does what he chooses, but he chooses to do only what is right. Righteousness is an attribute of God, with which the Jewish books are saturated. Both of these systems leave God outside of the world; above all as its Creator and Ruler, above all as its Judge; but not through all and in all. The idea of an infinite love must be added and made supreme, in order to give us a Being who is not only above all, but also through all and in all. This is the Christian monotheism... Mohammed teaches a God above us; Moses teaches a God above us, and yet with us; Jesus teaches God above us, God with us, and God in us" (Ten Great Religions, pages 481-83). See Jahrb. deutsch. Theol. (1860), 4:669; Brit. Quar. Rev. (April 1873), art. 2; Lond. Quar. Rev. volume 127. SEE UNITY OF GOD.
Gould holds to a gradual development of monotheism. Recognising a Jewish, Mohammedan, and Christian monotheism. he traces first the development of the Jewish, which, under Moses, received "its final and complete form as a system, and embraced four leading doctrines:
(1) the absolute being of God; (2) the absolute unity of his being; (3) the difference in kind of matter from God; (4) the subjection of matter to God" (1:262; comp. SEE MOSAISM ). The Mohammedan's monotheism he recognises as "the offspring of Jewish monotheism." Yet has the pure deism proved inferior to the Jewish, for "as a working system it annihilates morality. Before the almighty power of God the creature is nothing. Man, ox, ass, are on a level; and if the notion be humbling to him, he may recover a little self-respect when he remembers that the archangels are in no better plight. Between man and God is a profound and wide abyss, and no bridge spans it. Too far above man to sympathize in any way with him, God can yet crush him with his jealousy. If man attempt to attribute to himself anything that is of God, and appear to encroach on his all. engrossing majesty by ever so little, the wrath of God is kindled and man is levelled with the dust" (1:265). "It is," says Palgrave, "his singular satisfaction to let created beings continually feel that they are nothing else than his slaves, tools, and contemptible tools also, that thus they may the better acknowledge his superiority, and know his power to be above their power, his cunning above their cunning, his will above their will, his pride above their pride; or, rather, that there is no power, cunning, will, or pride save his own. But he himself, in his inaccessible height, neither loving aught save his own and self-measured decree, without son, companion, or counsellor, is no less barren for himself than for his creatures, and his own barrenness and lone egoism in himself is the cause and rule of his indifferent and unregarding despotism around" (Arabia, 1:366). SEE POLYTHEISM.
Christian monotheism Gould excludes from comparison with the Jewish and Mohammedan, because "its doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation remove it from the class to which which Mosaism and Islamism... belong" (1:277). SEE GOD; SEE TRINITY. See besides Gould, Clarke, Max Miller, and Renan; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 1:330; Christlieb, Modern Doubt and Christian Belief (N.Y. 1875, 8vo), lect. 3 and 4; Lewes, Hist. Philos. volume 2 (see Index); Liddon, Divinity of Christ, pages 67, 76, 95, 270, 307; and the literature appended to the article THEISM SEE THEISM .