Diego Lucci is an Associate Professor of History and Philosophy and the Chair of the Department of History and Civilizations at the American University in Bulgaria. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Naples “Federico II” in 2004 and also taught at Boston University and the University of Missouri St. Louis.
He has been awarded research grants and other honors by various academic organizations, including the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the Fulbright Association, the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society, and the Observatory of the Magna Charta Universitatum. He has lectured and done research at many universities and institutes, including the College of William & Mary, Boston College, and Villanova University in the US, the Institute of Historical Research, the University of Oxford, the University of Reading, and Queen’s University Belfast in the UK, the universities of Bologna, Parma, Verona, Insubria, Florence, and the Catholic University of Milan in Italy, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Ruhr University in Bochum, and the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
His research mainly focuses on the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the history of Jewish-Gentile relations. He is the author of two books: Scripture and Deism: The Biblical Criticism of the Eighteenth-Century British Deists (Bern, Lang, 2008) and The Jews, Instructions for Use: Four Eighteenth-Century Projects for the Emancipation of European Jews (co-authored with Paolo L. Bernardini, Boston, Academic Studies Press, 2012). He is also the co-editor of three volumes and the author of approximately thirty book chapters and journal articles, some of which have appeared in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Hebraic Political Studies, and the Intellectual History Review.
involved many intellectuals, including clergymen and scholars who belonged to the Anglican establishment.(18) On the other hand, their doctrines questioned the political status quo and its ideological, or rather theological, foundations. In writings that were meant to have a large circulation, they used to combine their demystifying analyses of the Bible and of the Judeo-Christian tradition with an appearance of Christian piety, in order to dissimulate their intents. Conversely, in manuscripts, private correspondence, and works addressed specifically to the heterodox milieus of the time, their attacks on the Scriptures, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the de jure divino institutions of the Church and the Christian State were more explicit. (19)
As a matter of fact, in public debates and in writings which were meant to have a wide circulation, most deists claimed to be Protestant reformers when attempting to clarify the meaning of the Scriptures, the history of Christianity, and the relationships between Church and State. By using rhetorical and hermeneutical strategies also employed by some Protestant groups (especially by non-Trinitarians like the Socinians, the Arminians, and the English Unitarians), the deists claimed to search for original Christianity and to promote a proper Christian society, modeled on the early Christians’ beliefs and habits. John Toland’s famous and controversial Christianity Not Mysterious (1696), which denounced that the mysteries of the Christian religion have no foundation in the Scriptures and are rather the product of theological speculations and corruptions, was the first deistic writing to exemplify this attitude. His Nazarenus (1718), which compared the fundamental principles of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and considered the three religions as essentially three systems of ethics belonging to the same tradition, was the most emblematic of the deists’ tracts aimed at rediscovering and demystifying early Christianity. And the deists’ rethinking of early Christianity reached its conclusion with Matthew Tindal and his epigones Thomas Morgan, Thomas Chubb, and Peter Annet, who highlighted the similarities between Christ’s message and the “Law of Reason.” (20)
Some precautions were indeed necessary in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, a Christian State where, even after the misnamed Toleration Act of 1689, a number of beliefs and attitudes in matters of religion were still proscribed. In fact, the Toleration Act, which was passed by the English Parliament on May 24, 1689, purposely excluded Catholics and non-Trinitarians, and it did not put an end to many social and political disabilities for Dissenters, although it legalized the practice of certain Protestant cults. The Toleration Act only granted freedom of worship to Nonconformists who believed in the Trinity, rejected transubstantiation, and had taken the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to William III and Mary II, the new monarchs installed during the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89. In the end, the Toleration Act did not establish a regime of extensive religious toleration: conversely, it reasserted the supremacy of the Church of England, thus permitting the continuation of legislation against blasphemy, already widespread during the English Revolution and Cromwell’s Commonwealth and under the last two Stuart kings as well. In this respect, a good example of anti-blasphemy legislation is the best-known Blasphemy Act after the Glorious Revolution, which was approved in 1698 and proscribed the rejection of the Trinity, polytheistic tendencies, the dismissal of Christian truth, and the denial of the Holy Scriptures to be of divine authority.
However, the deists’ claims were not only theological lying. The English deists actually pursued social and political reforms in the context of the Protestant society in which they lived, and they largely referred to, and reasserted in a quite radical manner, some of the basic principles of Protestantism, such as the free interpretation of the Scriptures and the rejection of authority in matters of religious conscience. (21) In fact, Collins’s writings, especially his famous Discourse of Free-Thinking (1713), and Toland’s and Tindal’s political pamphlets, as well as the latter’s Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) present a number of references to Protestant concepts and authors (particularly, but not exclusively, latitudinarians and non-Trinitarians) in order to promote a freer and more tolerant model of society.
The English deists certainly benefited from the Protestant debates of their time on such issues as the return to the purity of original Christianity and the extent and limits of religious toleration. However, it would be wrong to believe that deism was mainly a component, albeit heterodox, of the theological debates that took place within the framework of English Protestantism. In fact, we cannot underestimate the deists’ radical rationalism in matters of natural philosophy, biblical criticism, epistemology, and politics, which clearly distinguished deism from the main currents of religious rationalism in England. For instance, Toland’s natural religion, which he explained in his Letters to Serena (1704), is a form of monistic pantheism asserting the existence of only one Being, which consists of the rational order of nature. In Toland’s philosophy, motion is inherent to the matter, and natural phenomena are, thus, regulated by unchangeable laws, immanent to the world. Toland’s worldview, which decidedly excludes the existence of the transcendent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, reveals Spinoza’s influence on the Irish thinker. Spinoza’s philosophy also attracted Collins, to such an extent that some historians, most prominently David Berman, consider the English philosopher to be an atheist, a materialist, a determinist, and a defender of necessitarianism – and by necessitarianism is meant the theory that not only natural phenomena, but also human actions are determined by a geometrically structured, unchangeable, and inexorable order of nature. (22) Conversely, other historians, most prominently Pascal Taranto and Wayne Hudson, regard Collins as a “freethinker” willing to question any supposed certainty in matters of religion, but unwilling to propose and defend a well-defined philosophical system. On this point, Taranto has observed: “If Collins’s atheism has a meaning, its meaning can only consist of his opposition to the prevailing systems of thought, the grounds of which he aims at undermining. […] Briefly, Collins’s work presents a discussion of prejudices that are commonly asserted as certainties, while they can only be regarded as hypotheses.” (23)
Spinoza’s influence on Toland and Collins was significant particularly in matters of biblical criticism. In such works as Toland’s Origines Judaicae (1709) and Hodegus (1720) and Collins’s Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion (1724), the two philosophers tried to demystify the Scriptures. In their attempts to debunk revealed religion, challenge the system of ecclesiastical and political power of their era, and hence promote the free use of reason, they elaborated naturalistic interpretations of the biblical text and, thus, of the Judeo-Christian tradition as a whole. In a few words, they believed that the Bible is a collection of merely human (and not divinely inspired) texts, and that the whole history of Judaism and Christianity can be explained in light of merely historical, anthropological, social, and cultural dynamics.
Toland and Collins adapted various Christian hermeneutical doctrines to their purposes. In considering the non-Trinitarian theories on the simplicity of primitive Christianity, they stressed that modern Christianity is a corrupt and unreliable system of belief and practices. But, unlike the most important non-Trinitarian Christian groups of the early modern era (i.e. Socinians and Arminians), the deists did not give Christian revelation a privileged status. Moreover, they made reference to the Catholic and Anglican theory that the interpretation of the Bible must be complemented by an accurate analysis of the Church Fathers’ commentaries – a theory that opposed the principle of sola Scriptura held by many Protestant groups, and that was best formulated by the Catholic priest Richard Simon and the Anglican scholar Henry Dodwell the Elder. However, the deists discarded the pious intents that originally characterized this theory: they limited themselves to stigmatizing the interpolations, corruptions, and misinterpretations suffered by the Scriptures over the centuries. (24)
The deists, particularly Toland in Origines Judaicae (1709) and Nazarenus (1718), also borrowed from the seventeenth-century scholarship on the history of religions, especially from Petrus Cunaeus’s, Simone Luzzatto’s, and James Harrington’s interpretations of Mosaic Judaism as a source of philosophical virtue and political republicanism. Moreover, the deists’ tracts on the history of religions, most prominently Blount’s Great is Diana of the Ephesians (1680) and Toland’s Letters to Serena (1704), prove that they also drew on the comparative analysis of ancient pagan religions and Judaism developed, in the seventeenth century, by such scholars as Samuel Bochart, Gerardus Vossius, Pierre-Daniel Huet, and the English Hebraists John Selden, John Lightfoot, John Marsham, and John Spencer.(25) In this case too, the deists deprived those historians’ researches of their original purposes. Most of those scholars (with a few remarkable exceptions, particularly in Selden’s work) considered pagan religions and Judaism in light of Christian truth and, therefore, they interpreted ancient religions as forerunners of Christianity. For instance, the French clergyman Huet, in his famous Demonstratio Evangelica (1679), maintained that the most important pagan deities were modeled after Moses and, thus, all ancient religions originated in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But the deists reversed this strategy and, instead, they used those authors’ observations on the similarities between ancient paganism, Judaism, and Christianity in order to prove that the Judeo-Christian tradition, like pagan religions, has merely human, not divine, origins.
The deists’ demystification of the Scriptures and of the Judeo-Christian tradition was aimed at strengthening their denial of revealed religion. But their rejection of revealed religion was ultimately based on epistemological foundations. In fact, Toland and Collins proposed a drastically rationalist epistemology, consisting of a modified version of John Locke’s empiricism. Locke distinguished between propositions according to reason (that is, perfectly understandable to human reason) and propositions contrary to reason (that is, propositions that human reason, if properly used, can easily refute). However, the empiricist philosopher also admitted propositions above reason, namely, the Scriptural passages, and the theological dogmas based on these passages, that human reason can neither disprove nor comprehend – either because human reason does not have yet the means necessary to understand these revealed “truths,” or because these truths are meant to be forever beyond the grasp of human understanding. In a few words, Toland and Collins “began from Locke’s epistemology […] but drew consequences from this approach which Locke had deliberately avoided.”(26)The clearest description of the two freethinkers’ epistemological methods is provided by Collins in An Essay Concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions (1707). Collins drew on Locke’s “way of ideas” and, thus, described reason as “that faculty of the mind whereby it perceives the truth, falsehood, probability or improbability of propositions.”(27) However, unlike Locke, Collins expressly denied any truth above reason: “All propositions, consider’d as objects of assent and dissent, are adequately divided into propositions agreeable or contrary to reason; and there remains no third idea under which to rank them.”(28) In the end, as Jeffrey Wigelsworth has observed, deism encompassed “a theological position which denies supernatural involvement in the world in a manner occurring outside of the regular order of things.” (29)
Toland’s and Collins’s fascination with Spinoza’s biblical hermeneutics and with his monistic philosophy played an important role in their choice to exclude the supernatural from their reformulation of Locke’s empiricism. In fact, neither non-Trinitarian theologies, nor the hermeneutical doctrines opposing the principle of sola Scriptura denied the divine origin of biblical revelation and the possibility of miraculous events. And Lockean epistemology, in its original version, justified truths above reason and, hence, a dualistic view of the universe, which distinguished between an almighty Creator and his creation and which, therefore, admitted miracles and mysteries.
Lockean epistemology was consistent with Newtonianism, the predominant physico-theological system in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England. Newton maintained that the main task of natural philosophy is to infer the causes of natural phenomena from their effects, up to the first cause. Thus, he accepted the argument from design, already formulated and popularized, in seventeenth-century England, by Robert Boyle. According to the argument from design, the existence of a rational order in nature, based on laws that can be expressed in mathematical terms, proves the existence of a carefully planned design and, thus, of an intelligent designer – that is, God. Briefly, Newtonianism was a dualist system, entailing the existence of a rationally organized universe and a Creator who constantly controls and supervises the course of nature – a Creator who, therefore, can also suspend the natural order and perform supernatural phenomena. Newtonian physico-theology offered a good compromise between the new physico-mathematical rationality and traditional religious concepts. For this reason, Newtonian physico-theology was very popular among the Anglican milieus of the time – despite Locke’s and Newton’s unorthodox views in matter of Christology: in fact, both thinkers questioned the dogma of the Trinity, which, in their opinion, could not be justified on the basis of an unprejudiced reading of the Scriptures (sola Scriptura). The two English thinkers were indeed influenced by Arminianism and were on friendly terms with the Dutch Arminian leaders Jean Le Clerc and Philippe Limborch. This non-Trinitarian current, quite popular among the cultured elites of seventeenth-century Holland, highlighted the sufficiency of the Scriptures for the formulation of a “flexible” system of Christian belief, based on a few and simple moral principles and thus allowing extensive toleration within a national Church. Thanks to its attempts to comprehend and tolerate different theological views within the bosom of a national Church, Arminianism spread in England and generated the Anglican current called latitudinarianism, whose representatives tried to apply the Arminian scheme for comprehension to the Church of England. The latitudinarians’ efforts were eventually frustrated by the Toleration Act of 1689, which, as we have seen, legalized Nonconformist Protestant confessions, albeit with many limits. Nevertheless, Arminian theology continued to have a significant impact on various sections of English culture, both Anglican and unorthodox, also after the Glorious Revolution.
Despite their rationalism and the stress they put on the moral character of Christ’s message, the Dutch Arminians and their English followers still manifested apologetic aims and proposed a markedly Christian, Protestant worldview, reasserting the power of a transcendent Creator over the world. The same thing can be said of the English Unitarians, that is, Stephen Nye, Arthur Bury, William Freke, and others who borrowed from Socinianism, a non-Trinitarian current that had developed in Continental Europe, particularly in Poland and Transylvania, since the sixteenth century and had reached England during the Puritan Revolution. In the so-called “Unitarian Controversy” of the 1690s (namely, between the Toleration Act of 1689, which excluded non-Trinitarians from toleration, and the Blasphemy Act of 1698, which categorically reasserted the proscription of non-Trinitarianism), the English Socinians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, denied Jesus’ pre-existence, disagreed with the propitiatory view of atonement (i.e. the theory that Christ suffered and died on the cross to remit the sins of mankind), and refused the doctrine of the original sin, in a vain attempt to reform the Church of England. However, they still conceived of Jesus as the Messiah, considered his teaching as a message of salvation for mankind, and believed in the afterlife. (30)
Conversely, Toland’s and Collins’s philosophies were not in line with a Christian worldview, and their readings of Locke’s epistemology excluded the supernatural: such a significant modification of Locke’s empiricism was also aimed at depriving Newtonian dualism of its epistemological foundations.(31) Moreover, this operation had considerable political implications, given that Newtonianism asserted the existence of the transcendent and almighty God of the Judeo-Christian tradition and, thus, it supported the traditional institutions of the Church and the Christian State, which claimed to be justified by that God’s will and power. (32) Nevertheless, the deists did not reject Newtonianism in toto. Various deist authors (not only Toland and Collins, but also Chubb and Morgan) used to select, incorporate, and reinterpret elements of Newton’s scientific thought into their discourses, and they adopted, and modified, Newtonian concepts and theories in their attempts to comprehend the laws of nature. (33)
At any rate, the deists differed from Locke, the Newtonians, the latitudinarians, and the main currents of non-Trinitarianism mainly for their denial of biblical authority and their rejection of the supernatural, which also characterize Matthew Tindal’s views on Christianity and natural religion. However, Tindal, unlike Toland and Collins, did not employ Lockean epistemology in his attack on revelation. He preferred to reassert Herbert’s doctrine of natural religion and presented Christ’s moral teaching as a mere confirmation of natural law. In doing so, he reversed a strategy largely adopted by Arminians and latitudinarians, who used to reduce natural religion to merely a forerunner of Christian revelation. In fact, in Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), Tindal maintained that “there’s a Law of Reason, antecedent to any external Revelation, that God can’t dispense, either with his Creatures or himself, for not observing; and [...] no external Revelation can be true, that in the least Circumstance, or minutest Point, is inconsistent with it.”(34) Briefly, although Tindal viewed Christ’s precepts as essentially a system of morality consistent with the “Law of Reason,” he presented revealed religion as secondary and superfluous in relation to the universal and sufficient religion of nature.
Tindal’s most important followers, Thomas Morgan, Thomas Chubb, and Peter Annet, confirmed his interpretive scheme of Christianity. Moreover, Morgan and Annet bitterly attacked any supernatural revelation, the hierarchical organization of Christian churches, and especially the Old Testament, which they considered irrelevant to Christian truth. Tindal himself considered Judaism as a system of belief and practices essentially consistent with natural religion. On the other hand, he regarded Judaism as obsolete, in that its rituals and norms could be practiced only in the specific conditions in which the ancient Hebrews lived. The deists who drew on his interpretation of natural religion put an even stronger emphasis on the consistency of Christ’s message with the law of nature and, thus, they led an open attack on Judaism. Morgan openly attempted to disconnect true religion, which was confirmed by Jesus’ teachings, from the Judeo-Christian tradition: in The Moral Philosopher (1737), he distinguished between “Christian Jews,” who believe in revealed religion, and “Christian Deists,” who abide by natural religion. Moreover, Peter Annet maintained that true Christianity “was before Judaism, and is independent of it: [...] true Christianity is as old as the Creation. […] Christianity is not created in the moveable Sands, which Winds and Waves may blow down and wash away; but […] it is built on a Rock; on the Rock of Nature.”(35) Briefly, the so-called “Christian deists” held a concept of reason which was inspired by Herbert of Cherbury’s philosophy – a concept that Locke and later Hume discredited as a form of “innatism” (and by “innatism” is meant the theory that human beings possess some ideas since birth). However, the Christian deists’ attacks on revealed religion were as harsh and corrosive as Toland’s and Collins’s demystifying analyses of the Scriptures, naturalistic interpretations of positive religions, and empiricist strategy to deny the supernatural.
In conclusion, the most prominent English deists of the eighteenth century paid particular attention to the proper use of reason, although they held different concepts of reason. Moreover, they made an “impious” use of Christian hermeneutical doctrines and methods, including the non-Trinitarian theories on the purity of early Christianity and on the process of corruption of the Christian religion and Simon’s and Dodwell’s stress on the obscurities, inconsistencies, and interpolations in the biblical text. Finally, the deists were strongly interested in, and influenced by, Spinozism and other Continental European currents: for instance, Cartesian philosophy, mostly through the medium of Dutch Cartesianism, had a significant impact on English deism, by reason of its emphasis on the necessity of evidence to discuss any phenomenon, be it natural, historical, or social.
As a matter of fact, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, several sectors of English culture were engaged in a dynamic exchange of ideas with the Continent, particularly with the Netherlands. Thus, various currents of the English Enlightenment emerged on the grounds of intellectual and cultural processes in which England was all but isolated from the rest of Europe. The relationships between some significant sectors of Continental European culture and the learned milieus, both orthodox and heterodox, of England is indeed one of the main issues in the current historiographical debate on English deism and, more generally, on the English Enlightenment and its nature and position in the Age of Enlightenment. For this reason, in the next section of this paper, I will examine the main trends in the debate and infer conclusions based on a critical consideration of recent historiography on the English Enlightenment.
English Deism in the Current Historiographical Debate on the Age of Enlightenment
In the past twenty years or so, the debate on the nature and historical significance of deism has taken place in the context of the wider debate on the Age of Enlightenment, particularly on the English Enlightenment, and on its various elements and characteristics. Two concepts in particular play an important role in the current historiographical debate on the English Enlightenment – the concepts of “Radical Enlightenment,” proposed by Margaret Jacob in the 1980s and reformulated by Jonathan Israel in his three-volume history of the Enlightenment published between 2001 and 2011, and J.G.A. Pocock’s notion of “Protestant Enlightenment.” In recent years, other scholars, most prominently Wayne Hudson, have advanced a very interesting suggestion, namely to “develop a via media between those, like J.G.A. Pocock, who emphasize the existence of multiple Enlightenments, and those such as Jonathan Israel,” who contend that “there is a role for a more structural notion of Enlightenment.” (36)
The interpretations of deism as mainly a component of the Protestant universe of early modern England focus particularly on the deists’ participation in, and borrowings from, the English cultural, religious, and political debates of the time. On the other hand, the thesis that deism was a prominent element of the Radical Enlightenment emphasizes that the deists’ theories and goals were deeply corrosive of the status quo. However, it is exactly the fundamental ambiguity of deism that can help us to achieve a more nuanced, structural, and coherent interpretation of this intellectual movement. In fact, the two above said aspects of deism complemented, and contributed to, each other. The deists’ involvement in the public debates of the time makes sense only if one considers that they aimed at modifying or, rather, overcoming the then existing system of political and cultural power. On the other hand, the deists’ “radical” philosophical and political doctrines also resulted from their involvement in the Protestant theological, philosophical, cultural, and political debates of their time. An analysis of the main interpretations of deism in the current historiographical debate can enable us to clarify the multiple, polyvalent character of this intellectual movement.
The deists’ stress on the free and unprejudiced use of reason, the unorthodox use they made of Christian texts and theories, and their interest in Continental currents of thought have led several historians to assume a dichotomy between deism and what the late Roy Porter has called the English conservative Enlightenment. In order to draw a clear distinction between English deism and the main currents of Protestant rationalism in England, such scholars as Peter Gay, Margaret Jacob, and Jonathan Israel have highlighted the deists’ attempts to deconstruct the essentials of positive religions. They have also emphasized the deists’ political ideas, which were largely inspired by Spinoza’s view of a free and democratic state – that is, a state where “every man can think what he wants, and say what he thinks” and, thus, freely pursue truth and actively take part in political life, as the Dutch philosopher maintained in the final chapter of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670). In a few words, these scholars have interpreted deism as an integrating part of an all-European movement, the so-called “Radical Enlightenment,” which consisted of the series of currents that, from Spinoza to the Age of Revolution, significantly contributed to the rise of reason and the making of modern democratic societies. (37) In fact, in matters of natural philosophy and religion, the thinkers of the Radical Enlightenment (i.e. Spinoza, Bayle, Fontenelle, the deists, the encyclopaedists, etc.) refused traditional Christian views and endorsed the free, unprejudiced, and unconstrained use of reason in the search for truth. As a consequence, in matters of politics they aimed at overcoming the de jure divino institutions of the Christian State and the Church, and they pursued a rationalization of the social and political structures. Therefore, both Margaret Jacob and Jonathan Israel view English deism as a fundamental element of the secularization process of Western civilization, which ultimately achieved the separation of philosophy, ethics, politics, law, and the natural sciences from theology, biblical hermeneutics, and ecclesiology. This interpretation has the merit to point out the Continental roots, European significance, and epoch-making outcomes of English deism. Nevertheless, it entails the risk to “look forward teleologically to the Age of Reason” and undervalue “the religious infrastructure of the deists’ context.”(38) In fact, the deists still claimed to search for “true religion” when they attempted to enhance reason and to present the proper use of reason as the only acceptable source of faith. Moreover, they were actively involved in debates that were far from discarding the use of theological concepts in constructing a meaningful worldview. Those debates involved intellectuals who had different backgrounds and divergent attitudes towards the established religious, political, and social order. And in those debates the orthodox and the radical exchanged ideas (and often challenged each others’ thinking in interminable controversies) in order to define the views of God, human life, and the world, and hence the systems of morality and politics, that could be accepted as the most appropriate to human nature. For all these reasons, as J.G.A. Pocock has observed, in England the “Enlightenment remained religious even when irreligious.” (39)
Some historians have tried to highlight the peculiar nature of the English Enlightenment in the context of late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Accordingly, they have interpreted the major philosophical and religious currents of Enlightenment England, including deism, as essentially autochthonous. The opinion that deism was a movement having mainly English origins was indeed predominant for a long time. In its most extreme version, which dates back to the above mentioned Presbyterian divine John Leland and whose echo can still be perceived in Brian Young’s and the late Roy Porter’s studies on the English Enlightenment, deism is considered to have originated in the English theological debate of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, both Young and Porter have presented the deists as different and separate from the main cultural milieus of late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English culture. Young has explicitly talked of a “radical separateness” of deism from what he called the English “clerical Enlightenment,” while Porter has used the term “conservative Enlightenment” in order to emphasize the essentially religious and conservative nature of most currents of the English Enlightenment, namely latitudinarianism, Cambridge Platonism, Unitarianism, Boylean and Lockean epistemologies, and Newtonian physico-theology.(40) In fact, although these currents held unorthodox positions in matters of biblical exegesis, Christology, and religious toleration, their representatives did not question the authority of the Bible and Christian revelation, and some of them, most prominently the Newtonians, aimed at finding a compromise between a Christian worldview and the then rising physico-mathematical rationality. Thus, Porter has maintained that, unlike the representatives of the “conservative Enlightenment,” the deists took a distance from traditional, Christian ways of conceiving of life and the world, given that they rejected the foundational role of revelation in the search for “true” religion. Nevertheless, Young’s and Porter’s interpretations of deism are strange, for, on the one hand, they argue that the English Enlightenment was clerical and conservative in nature, and on the other they claim that such a peculiar movement as deism had its main roots in England. In fact, while highlighting the deists’ “radical separateness” from the main currents of Christian rationalism in Enlightenment England, both Young and Porter have underrated the Continental sources and influences of English deism. But it is mainly its Continental roots that made deism essentially different from the main currents of Anglican rationalism and led the deists to “impiously” reformulate various epistemological, historical, and hermeneutical methods.
The interpretation of deism as rooted prominently in English culture has also produced another, albeit more consistent, view of this intellectual movement. Such scholars as Robert Sullivan and Frederick Beiser, though admitting Continental influences on deism, have focused on the “radical” use that the deists made of the English Unitarians’ and latitudinarians’ moralistic, irenic, and rationalist proposals.(41) According to this opinion, deism was “part of a theological worldview,”(42) but it was essentially heterodox, anti-dogmatic, and tending to disbelief (and by disbelief I mean the conviction that traditionally held religious tenets are ill-grounded, while unbelief can be defined as the inability to accept strong religious tenets).(43) In this respect, J.G.A. Pocock’s observations on what he has called “the Protestant Enlightenment” can be helpful to our analysis.
Pocock’s thesis is that “a process of Enlightenment” was at work across “multiple Enlightenments” and, therefore, “we can no longer write satisfactorily of ‘the Enlightenment’ as a unified and universal intellectual movement.”(44) In the context of his reflection on the “multiple Enlightenments,” Pocock has formulated the notion of “Protestant Enlightenment” – a more extensive concept than Young’s and Porter’s notions of “clerical” and “conservative” Enlightenment. To Pocock, the Protestant Enlightenment consisted of a dynamic socio-political and cultural context, which allowed the emergence of less hegemonic forms of political and social relations, and thus of cultural debate, in some Protestant countries, especially in the Netherlands and England. For the whole seventeenth century, the English cultural elites exchanged ideas and resources with scholars based in Continental Europe, mainly, but not exclusively, in Protestant countries. With the Glorious revolution of 1688–89, which put an end to absolute monarchy and avoided the threat of a Catholic dynasty on the throne of England, new incentives were offered to further increase cultural exchange and widen the scope of intellectual debate. After the Glorious Revolution, the Anglican Church still retained its supremacy over religious, political, and cultural life. Therefore, the English State, though developing in the direction of a constitutional monarchy, still remained a Christian State, as proven by the limits of the Toleration Act and by the enforcement of several anti-blasphemy acts. However, under the new government, cultural exchange with other countries, especially with the Netherlands, and the diffusion of heterodox ways of thinking, not in line with the dogmas of the national Church and the principles justifying a Christian State, could occur more easily than in many other regions of Europe. For all these reasons, England after the Glorious Revolution was characterized by “relative religious freedom” and “unusual political and social stability.” (45)
In England, deism could develop in a historical framework that, albeit not devoid of tensions, was incomparably more open to economic, social, and cultural innovations than most European countries at the time. This milieu of limited toleration allowed the deists to develop their critical and methodological discourses, which were aimed at undercutting the basic principles of “a prevailing system of authority and cultural power represented by the de jure divino (divine right) institutions of church and state.”(46) The deists’ attacks on the fundamentals of the de jure divino system of authority, which they considered unsuitable to human nature, were not the only criticisms of the system of political and cultural power of the time. After the proclamation of the Toleration Act, Nonconformist Protestants still pushed for more extensive toleration, which could lead to a regime of true religious pluralism. On the other hand, currents of thought internal to the Anglican Church, such as latitudinarianism and Unitarianism, though frustrated by the Toleration Act for different reasons, continued to ask for more flexible criteria for inclusion in the Church of England. However, a more tolerant society which would merely produce religious pluralism, either with the presence of many religious organizations or within a national Church, was not the deists’ ultimate goal. In fact, the deists refrained from what Toland called “indifference of temper” and, as Justin Champion has pointed out, they “did not […] abandon all to intellectual and religious pluralism. […] Civil society needed a didactic institution that could educate individual reason into a perception of true rationality. Reason was enshrined, for the radicals, not simply because it endowed each individual with a potential political and ethical autonomy, but because to be rational was to have achieved the highest state of human existence. True religion and reason became one and the same thing.” (47)
Briefly, the deists fought against the divine right system of political and cultural power in a struggle not only for toleration, but, on the example of Spinoza, for a truly free political society – a political society that would foster the proper use of reason and, thus, the free search for truth. For this reason, they significantly contributed to the “making of modernity.” On the other hand, the deists’ “radical” doctrines (i.e. their different theories of natural religion, attacks on revelation, naturalistic interpretations of the Bible and of the Judeo-Christian tradition, etc.) were still part of discourses that revolved around theological concepts and that used theological categories and terminologies. For instance, Toland and Collins still employed a theological notion when presenting reason as the basis of “true faith” – or, in other words, as the only criterion to ascertain the reality or probability of a proposition. Furthermore, the deists’ heterodox worldviews also resulted from the dynamic context of the English Protestant Enlightenment, which permitted a broad circulation of ideas, cultural exchange with other countries, an intense, albeit often polemical, interaction between the radical and the orthodox, and a relative freedom of thought to the learned.
In conclusion, English deism is to be regarded as an essentially hybrid movement. In fact, the deists benefited from the atmosphere of relative toleration typical of Enlightenment England, but English deism was also indebted to a number of heterodox or even “radical” doctrines, mostly coming from Continental Europe. Moreover, the deists took part in public debates on religious as well as political issues, but they were also involved in the clandestine circulation of ideas among the radical circles of England and Europe. Finally, they drew on theories, methods, and discourses popularized in the context of the English controversies of the time, but their ideas were also of European significance, given that the alternatives they proposed also furthered philosophical, political, and religious debate in other countries and ultimately contributed to the shaping of modern Western society. (48)
Renaissance philosopher like Herbert of Cherbury, the Spinozist thinker Charles Blount, the “freethinkers” John Toland and Anthony Collins, and the so-called “Christian deists,” namely, Matthew Tindal and his followers Thomas Morgan, Thomas Chubb, and Peter Annet. Not to mention other, and less famous, authors, such as the eclectic writer Charles Gildon with the intellectual circle that he led with Blount, Thomas Woolston with his attacks on miracles, and the Hebraist William Wollaston with his comparison of deism and Jewish rationalism.
The difficulty in defining deism is mainly due to the variety of epistemological, historical and hermeneutical methods, concepts of reason, doctrines of natural religion, considerations on revealed religion, and political ideas that characterize the writings of the authors who were labeled “deists” in their time or, later, in historiography. It is perhaps because of its “elusiveness” and complexity that, in the last few decades, deism has been one of the most researched and debated intellectual movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.(4) Therefore, this paper aims at contributing to reassess the nature and historical significance of English deism and its position in the Age of Enlightenment, in light of the historiographical debate on this current. The paper first analyzes the origins, developments, and different meanings of the term “deism.” Then, the paper outlines the history of English deism, with special focus on the socio-political and cultural context of Enlightenment England and on the sources and influences of deist thought. Finally, the concluding section of this paper examines the historiographical debate on this philosophical movement, particularly over the last two decades. In this respect, the paper takes into account the historiographical category of Radical Enlightenment, as formulated by Margaret Jacob and Jonathan Israel, and the concepts of religious, Protestant, clerical, and conservative Enlightenment, which play an important role in the interpretations of the English Enlightenment proposed by such historians as J.G.A. Pocock, Brian Young, and the late Roy Porter. In the conclusion, I also explain my viewpoint on English deism, its role in the Age of Enlightenment, and its historical importance. In this regard, my analysis is indebted to Wayne Hudson’s proposal to formulate a structural interpretation of English deism – an interpretation that takes into account the nuanced nature of the Age of Enlightenment and the multiple and polyvalent character of deism.
By the term “English deism” is commonly meant an intellectual movement that had its heyday in the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century. The categorization of this movement in the history of Western philosophy is, however, still an issue for debate. Several historians have highlighted the difficulty in defining the fundamental elements of deism. For instance, James Force has maintained that the term “deism” is still very hard to define, (2) while Robert Sullivan has underscored the “elusiveness of deism.”(3) It is indeed hard to answer such questions as: “What were the core principles of English deism?” or: “What was the essence of deism?” And it is difficult to find and describe the elements in common to the various authors called “deists” by contemporaries or historians. In fact, there are significant differences between a late
The Term “Deism” from the Early Modern Era to the Twentieth Century
In order to appreciate the nature, role, and significance of English deism, the first step to be taken is an analysis of the meanings given to the terms “deism” and “deist,” both in polemical works and in early historiography on this intellectual movement, from the early modern era to the first half of the twentieth century.
As Justin Champion observed in a brilliant article on deism published in 1999, the French term “déiste” was initially “a pejorative label first coined by Pierre Viret (1511–1571) in the context of mid-sixteenth-century confessional debate to indict
those who, on the authority of their own consciences, took it upon themselves to challenge the articles of Calvinist orthodoxy.”(5) This term was later adopted, in mid-seventeenth-century England and particularly after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, by many defenders of Anglicanism in their attacks on disparate sorts of theological heterodoxy, including Puritanism, Catholicism, Arminianism, Socinianism, non-Trinitarianism in general, Hobbesianism, Spinozism, skepticism, atheism, and materialism. From the late 1670s onward, following the publication of A Letter to a Deist (1677) by the influential Anglican clergyman and theologian Edward Stillingfleet, the label “deist” was applied to those who lay in “a mean esteem of the Scriptures and the Christian Religion.”(6) Almost thirty years later, in a Boyle Lecture delivered in 1705 and entitled The Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion, the Newtonian thinker Samuel Clarke divided the so-called deists into four categories. The first category was composed of those who regarded God as “an Eternal, Infinite, Independent, Intelligent Being.” According to Clarke, those deists believed that God had “made the World” but “does not at all concern himself in the government of the World nor has any regard to, or care of, what is done therein.” The deists of Clarke’s second category believed in a Supreme Being, but they thought that divine providence acted only in the sphere of “every natural thing that is done in the world,” whereas God “takes no notice of the morally good or evil Actions of Men.” The third category consisted of deists who acknowledged that divine providence could act in the field of human affairs. On the other hand, they ruled out immortality, the transcendence of the soul, and some of God’s attributes, such as justice and goodness. Clarke finally defined the deists of the fourth, and most extreme, category as people who “believe only so far, as it is discoverable by the Light of Nature alone; without believing any Divine Revelation.” (7)
Stillingfleet’s and Clarke’s interpretations proved to be very influential in the conceptualization of deism in the eighteenth century. In fact, criticism of revealed religion soon became the “distinguishing feature” of deism in the early attempts to describe it. In 1728, Ephraim Chambers wrote that “the appellation Deist is more particularly given to such as are not altogether without religion, but reject all revelation as an imposition, and believe no more than what natural light discovers to them.”(8) And in the 1750s Samuel Johnson defined deism as “the opinion of those that only acknowledge one God, without the reception of any revealed religion.”(9) A contemporary of Johnson, the Presbyterian minister John Leland, wrote the first comprehensive study on English deism in order to refute the theories of those whom he called “the Principal Deistical Writers.” In his two-volume treatise, Leland declared that the deists tried “to set aside revelation, and to substitute mere natural religion, or, which seems to have been the intention of some of them, no religion at all, in its room.”(10) As regards the status of revelation in deist thought, the early interpreters of deism accurately distinguished between the traditional Protestant theory that revelation had ceased in the apostolic age and the deists’ idea that no sort of revelation, be it Jewish, Christian, Mohammedan or pagan, could be accepted as the origin and foundation of true religion. In fact, to the English deists, “true religion” could only coincide with some sort of natural religion and, thus, it could only be based on reason, not on revelation.
Leland interpreted deism as a rationalist movement established in England by Edward Herbert of Cherbury and continued, in the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century, by such heterodox authors as Blount, Toland, Collins, Tindal, and others who were influenced especially by Tindal’s masterpiece, Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730). Leland’s thesis met with large and lasting success. In the 1840s, the German scholar Gotthard Lechler still maintained that “deism is essentially an elevation of natural religion, supported by free examination, to the norm and rule of all positive religions”(11) (and by “positive religions” is meant religions that are based on some allegedly divine revelation, present a core of indisputable theological dogmas, and are institutionalized by means of ecclesiastical structures). In fact, one of the main goals of the English deists was to downgrade the significance of revealed religion and, consequently, of the de jure divino (divine right) system of cultural and political power of their time. As historian Peter Byrne has pointed out, “if any one thing unites the thinkers now called ‘deists,’it is their readiness to question aspects of traditional, revealed religion.”(12) Nevertheless, it would be misleading to reduce the essence of deism to merely the rejection of revealed religion. It is indeed necessary to concentrate on the multiple aspects of deist thought in order to properly appreciate the nature and objectives of this intellectual movement.
A more intriguing interpretation of deism was offered by Arthur Lovejoy in The Parallel of Deism and Classicism, a seminal essay published in 1948. In enumerating the essentials of English deism, Lovejoy focused on the deists’ anti-dogmatic view of religion, radical rationalism, appeal to a consensus gentium, cosmopolitanism, dislike for religious fanaticism, and negative idea of history, which they considered as a process of corruption of human nature. Briefly, Lovejoy realized that, in order to comprehend the nature and purposes of English deism, one must take into account the multiple roots, motivations, and developments of the movement, as well as the theoretical proposals, epistemological methods, and political aims characterizing the works of the various authors who have traditionally been labeled “deists.” (13)
At least since the 1950s, the historiographical debate on English deism and its position in the Age of Enlightenment has concentrated on the complexity of this intellectual movement. However, the particularly complex nature of deism, resulting from the multiplicity of its roots, manifestations, and developments, has led to different, and seemingly irreconcilable, interpretations. In order to appreciate and compare these divergent views, and to reach a sort of “compromise solution” or rather a “via media” for interpreting English deism, it is necessary to explore the development and different manifestations of deism in Enlightenment England.
Edward Herbert of Cherbury
English Deism, Its Sources, and Its Context
Edward Herbert of Cherbury, who lived and wrote in the first half of the seventeenth century, is commonly considered the first deist thinker in England. He was strongly influenced by Stoicism and the Renaissance theories on religious “concordia.” In De veritate (1624), Herbert maintained that human beings are able to comprehend the fundamentals of natural religion, which consist of a few and simple principles, namely, a Supreme Being exists and must be worshipped, the respect of moral values is at the core of true religion, and rewards and punishments exist in the afterlife – an idea that implies the belief in the immortality of the soul. Herbert asserted the universality, necessity, and sufficiency of natural religion. He aimed at proving that the basic principles of religion are
extremely simple and comprehensible to human reason, while all particular dogmas, ceremonies, and ecclesiastical institutions are secondary in comparison with the religion of nature. However, positive religions can still make sense if they are based on revelations consistent with the notions of natural religion, or on the need to adapt the law of nature to specific cultural and social contexts, as Herbert maintained in both De veritate and De religione gentilium (1663, posth.). This is the case, for instance, of both Judaism and Christianity, since the essentials of the Mosaic Law are consistent with the law of nature, and Jesus’ moral precepts, which are at the basis of the Christian religion, are in harmony with the tenets of natural religion. An important point to underscore is that Herbert’s theory had mainly irenic purposes. In fact, according to Herbert, if men comply with the few, simple principles of natural religion and consider only these principles to be essential to the worship of God, they may avoid clashing with one another because of disagreements in matters of religious belief or practice. (14)
In the second half of the seventeenth century, Charles Blount used Herbert’s theories for much more corrosive purposes than Herbert’s irenic goals. In reasserting the doctrine of natural religion, Blount pointed out that positive religions are superfluous, useless, unnecessary, and anti-humanistic. In Great is Diana of the Ephesians (1680), he stigmatized the frequent misinterpretations and corruptions of the law of nature, mainly caused by priestly frauds, in the process of formation of positive religions. He led an indirect attack on the Judeo-Christian tradition by stressing that ancient pagan religions, and thus positive religion tout court, originate merely in corruptions of natural religion. Moreover, in deconstructing the history of positive religions, Blount was influenced by Spinoza’s biblical criticism, particularly by the Dutch philosopher’s attempt to separate philosophy, politics, law, and science from ecclesiology and biblical hermeneutics. Spinoza’s influence on the English thinker is evident in Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature (1683), in which Blount considers miracles to be the results of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Scriptures, due to the highly imaginative style of the biblical text. Furthermore, in his tract on miracles, Blount points out that the ancient Hebrews who composed the Scriptures often omitted details that were superfluous in their time, but are now necessary to understand the origins and nature of an event. Last but not least, some events are reported as miraculous in the Bible because the ancients lacked the means and knowledge to comprehend natural phenomena and, thus, they believed that some unusual events had a supernatural character. Briefly, Blount combined Herbert’s philosophy of nature with a Spinozan approach to revealed religion in order to reject the supernatural and, hence, to question the power of dishonest sacerdotal and political classes, which utilized the alleged “mysteries” of religion to perpetuate their rule over the bulk of mankind. (15)
Spinoza had such a strong influence on deists like Blount, Toland, and Collins that, in the nineteenth century, Leslie Stephen wrote: “The whole essence of the deist position may be found in Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.” (16) However, those deists drew not only on Spinoza’s philosophy and biblical exegesis, but also on various other epistemological, historical, and hermeneutical methods. They actually had what Wayne Hudson has recently defined “multiple identities,” for they wrote about a number of philosophical, historical, scientific, religious, and political issues, and they addressed different audiences.(17) The English deists published several political pamphlets, especially regarding religious toleration and freedom of conscience, for a large audience. Moreover, they tried to bring about changes in the political, social, and cultural situation of their time by taking part in public debates which
1) This article is partly based on a paper that I delivered at the Institute of Historical Research (School of Advanced Study, University of London) in March 2011. I am grateful to the scholars who attended my lecture in London and gave me some useful suggestions to revise and complete this essay. I also want to express my gratitude to Prof. Wayne Hudson (Charles Sturt University, Australia), Dr. Jeffrey Wigelsworth (Red Deer College, Canada), and Dr. Ariel Hessayon (Goldsmiths – University of London, United Kingdom): this paper has benefited significantly from their input and recommendations. Last but not least, I am grateful to Alfio Squillaci for inviting me to submit this paper to La Frusta Letteraria.
2 ) See James E. Force, “The Newtonians and Deism,” in Essays on the Context, Nature and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, eds. James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), pp. 43–74.
See Robert E. Sullivan, John Toland and the Deist Controversy: A Study in Adaptations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 205–234.
3) See Robert E. Sullivan, John Toland and the Deist Controversy: A Study in Adaptations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 205–234.
4) The most recent books on deism are: Diego Lucci, Scripture and Deism: The Biblical Criticism of the Eighteenth-Century British Deists (Bern: Lang, 2008); Wayne Hudson, The English Deists: Studies in Early Enlightenment (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009); Id., Enlightenment and Modernity: The English Deists and Reform (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009); Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth, Deism in Enlightenment England: Theology, Politics, and Newtonian Public Science (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009). As regards books on individual deist authors published since 2000, see Pascal Taranto, Du déisme à l’athéisme: la libre pensée d’Anthony Collins (Paris: Champion, 2000); Justin Champion, Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, 1696–1722 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); Dario Pfanner, Tra scetticismo e libertinismo: Charles Blount (1654–1693) e la cultura del libero pensiero nell’Inghilterra degli ultimi Stuart (Napoli: Vivarium, 2004); Stephen Lalor, Matthew Tindal, Freethinker: An Eighteenth-century Assault on Religion (New York: Continuum, 2006); Daniel C. Fouke, Philosophy and Theology in a Burlesque Mode: John Toland and the Way of Paradox (Amherst: Prometheus, 2007); Giovanni Tarantino, Lo scrittoio di Anthony Collins (1676-1729). I libri e i tempi di un libero pensatore (Milano: Franco Angeli, 2007); Michael Brown, A Political Biography of John Toland (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012).
5) Justin Champion, “Deism,” in The Columbia History of Western Philosophy, ed. Richard H. Popkin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 438. For the first occurrence of the term “déiste,” see Pierre Viret, Familière et ample instruction en la doctrine chrétienne et principalement touchant la divine providence et predestination faite en forme de dialogues (Genève: Jean Rivery, 1559).
7) See Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion (London: Knapton, 1706), pp. 19–37.
8) See Ephraim Chambers, “Deists,” in Id., Cyclopaedia, 2 vols. (London: Knapton, 1728), vol. 1, p. 179.
9) See Samuel Johnson, “Deism,” in Id., A Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (London: Knapton, 1755), vol. 1, n. pag.
10)John Leland, A View of the Principal Deistical Writers, 2 vols. (London: Dod, 1757), vol. 1, p. 2.
11) Gotthard V. Lechler, Geschichte des Englischen Deismus (Stuttgart: Cotta’scher Verlag, 1841), p. 460.
12 Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion: The Legacy of Deism (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 79.
13) See Arthur O. Lovejoy, “The Parallel of Deism and Classicism,” in Id., Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1948), pp. 79–88.
14) On Herbert of Cherbury’s thought, see Ronald D. Bedford, The Defense of Truth: Herbert of Cherbury and the Seventeenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1979); John A. Butler, Lord Herbert of Chirbury (1582–1648): An Intellectual Biography (Lewiston: Mellen, 1990).
15) On Blount’s work, see Ugo Bonanate, Charles Blount. Libertinismo e deismo nel Seicento inglese (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1972); Pfanner, Tra scetticismo e libertinismo.
16) Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. (London: Smith and Elder, 1876), vol. 1, p. 33. On the reception of Spinoza’s work in England, see Rosalie L. Colie, “Spinoza and the Early English Deists,” Journal of the History of Ideas 20 (1959): pp. 23–46; Ead., “Spinoza in England, 1665-1730,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107 (1963): pp. 183–219; Luisa Simonutti, “Spinoza and the English Thinkers: Criticism on Prophecies and Miracles: Blount, Gildon, Earbery,” in Disguised and Overt Spinozism around 1700, eds. Wiep Van Bunge and W.N.A. Klever (Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 191–211.
18) As regards the deists’ writings on toleration and freedom of conscience, see Matthew Tindal, An Essay Concerning the Obedience to the Supreme Powers (London: Baldwin, 1694); Id., An Essay Concerning the Power of the Magistrate and the Rights of Mankind in Matters of Religion (London: Bell, 1697); Id., The Liberty of the Press, in Id., Four Discourses (London: s.n., 1709); John Toland, Anglia Libera (London: Lintott, 1701); Id., Socinianism Truly Stated (London: s.n., 1705); Id., Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland (London: Roberts, 1714); Id., Nazarenus: Or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity (London: Brotherton / Roberts, 1718); Anthony Collins, Priestcraft in Perfection (London: Bragg, 1710); Id., A Discourse of Free-Thinking (London: s.n., 1713).
19) On the deists’ and particularly Toland’s involvement in the circulation of clandestine manuscripts, see Justin Champion, “Publié mais non imprimés. John Toland et la circulation des manuscripts, 1700–1722,” La Lettre Clandestine 7 (1998): pp. 301–341.
20) On Christianity Not Mysterious, see John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays, eds. Philip McGuinness, Alan Harrison, Richard Kearney (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1997). On Nazarenus, see Justin Champion, “Introduction” to John Toland, Nazarenus, ed. Justin Champion (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1999), pp. 1–106; Diego Lucci, “Cristianesimo e islam secondo John Toland.
21) This aspect of the deists’ works has been highlighted especially in: Hudson, The English Deists; Id., Enlightenment and Modernity. Hudson’s thesis questions, in particular, David Berman’s insistence on the deists’ theological lying: see David Berman, “Deism, Immortality and the Art of Theological Lying,” in Deism, Masonry and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge, ed. J.A. Leo Lemay (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987), pp. 61–78; Id., “Disclaimers as Offence Mechanisms in Charles Blount and John Toland,” in Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, eds. Michael Hunter and David Wootton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 255–272.
22) See David Berman, “Anthony Collins and the Question of Atheism in the Early Part of the Eighteenth Century,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 75, 5 (1975): pp. 85–102: Id., “Anthony Collins: Aspects of His Thought and Writings,” Hermathena 119 (1975): pp. 49–70.
23) Taranto, Du déisme à l’athéisme, p. 20. Also, see Hudson, The English Deists, p. 106.
24) The best example of the deists’ irreligious use of both non-Trinitarian doctrines and Patristic, aimed at disproving Christian claims of exclusivity and providing a historical basis for religious toleration, is Toland’s above mentioned Nazarenus (1718). On the deists’ use of Christian hermeneutical doctrines and methods, see Gerard S.J. Reedy, “Socinians, John Toland, and the Anglican Rationalists,” Harvard Theological Review 70 (1977): pp. 285–304; Sullivan, John Toland and the Deist Controversy, pp. 82–108; Henning G. Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (London: SCM Press, 1984); Lucci, Scripture and Deism. On the impact of Richard Simon’s theories on biblical criticism in England, see Justin Champion, “Père Richard Simon and English Biblical Criticism, 1680–1700,” in Everything Connects: In Conference with Richard H. Popkin: Essays in His Honor, eds. James E. Force and David S. Katz (Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 37–61.
25) On the development of Judaic studies and the roots of “comparative religion” in seventeenth-century Europe, see especially Frank Manuel, The Broken Staff: Judaism through Christian Eyes (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992); Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political thought (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010); Stephen G. Burnett, Christian Hebraism in the Reformation Era (1500–1660): Authors, Books, and the Transmission of Jewish Learning (Leiden: Brill, 2012).
26) Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible, p. 354.
27) Anthony Collins, Essay Concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions, the Evidence whereof depends upon Human Testimony (London: s.n., 1707), p. 3.
Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth, “A Sheep in the Midst of Wolves: Reassessing Newton and English Deists,” Enlightenment and Dissent 25 (2009): p. 263.
30) On the impact of Socinianism on English culture, see John McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (London: Oxford University Press, 1951); Martin Mulsow and Jan Rohls (eds.), Socinianism and Cultural Exchange: The European Dimension of Antitrinitarian and Arminian Networks, 1650–1720 (Leiden: Brill, 2005); Stephen D. Snobelen, “‘To Us There Is but One God, the Father:’ Antitrinitarian Textual Criticism in Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England,” in Scripture and Scholarship in Early Modern England, eds. Ariel Hessayon and Nicholas Keene (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 116–136; Sarah Mortimer, Reason and Religion in the English Revolution: The Challenge of Socinanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
31) On Newtonianism and deism, besides Jeffrey Wigelsworth’s above mentioned studies, see Margaret C. Jacob, “John Toland and the Newtonian Ideology,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 32 (1969): pp. 301–331; Ead., The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689–1720 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), pp. 201–250; James E. Force, “Newton and Deism,” in Science and Religion, eds. Anne Bäumer and Manfred Büttner (Bochum: Brockmeyer, 1989), pp. 120–132; Id., “The Newtonians and Deism;” Id., “Biblical Interpretation, Newton, and English Deism,” in Scepticism and Irreligion in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, eds. Richard H. Popkin and Arjo Vanderjagt (Leiden: Brill, 1993), pp. 282–305.
32) On the political elements of Newtonianism, see James E. Force, “Newton’s God of Dominion: The Unity of Newton’s Theological, Scientific and Political Thought,” in Newton and Religion: Context, Nature, and Influence, eds. James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999), pp. 76–102.
33) On this aspect of the deists’ consideration of Newtonian thought, see Wigelsworth, “A Sheep in the Midst of Wolves,” 260–286; Id., “The Disputed Root of Salvation in Eighteenth-Century English Deism: Thomas Chubb and Thomas Morgan Debate the Impact of the Fall,” Intellectual History Review 19, 1 (2009): pp. 29–43.
34) Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation (London: s.n., 1730), pp. 166–167.
35) Peter Annet, The Free Enquirer (London: Carlile, 1826), p. 20. On the deists’ views on Judaism, see Diego Lucci, “Judaism and the Jews in the British Deists’ Attacks on Revealed Religion, in Hebraic Political Studies,” Hebraic Political Studies 3, 2 (2008): pp. 177–214.
36) See Hudson, Enlightenment and Modernity, p. 23.
37) See Peter Gay, “Introduction” to Deism: An Anthology, ed. Peter Gay (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1963); Jacob, The Newtonians and the English Revolution; Ead., The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981); Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; Id., Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man, 1670–1752 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). For an accurate and thorough analysis of the concept of Radical Enlightenment, see Giuseppe Ricuperati, “In margine al Radical Enlightenment di Jonathan I. Israel,” Rivista Storica Italiana 115, 1 (2003): pp. 285–329.
39) J.G.A. Pocock, “Enthusiasm: The Antiself of Enlightenment,” The Huntington Library Quarterly, 60, 1 (1997): p. 26.
40) See Brian W. Young, Religion and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England: Theological Debates from Locke to Burke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (London: Allen Lane, 2000).
41) See Sullivan, John Toland and the Deist Controversy; Frederick C. Beiser, The Sovereignty of Reason: The Defense of Rationality in the Early English Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).
43) On the distinction between disbelief and unbelief, see Hudson, Enlightenment and Modernity, p. 17.
44) See J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, 5 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999–2011), vol. 1: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1764, p. 13. On Pocock’s “multiple Enlightenments,” see John Robertson, “The Enlightenments of J.G.A. Pocock,” Storia della storiografia 39 (2001): pp. 140–151
45) See James A. Herrick, The Radical Rhetoric of the English Deists: The Discourse of Skepticism, 1680–1750 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), pp. 1–22.
47) Justin Champion, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England and its Enemies, 1660–1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 230.
48) On the influence of English deism on the Enlightenment discourse on reason and religion, from the French philosophes to the German Aufklärung and Kant, see Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion.