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- Author: Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth x
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This book explores at length the French and English Catholic literary revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These parallel but mostly independent movements include writers such as Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, J. K. Huysmans, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton and Lionel Johnson. Rejecting critical approaches that tend to treat Catholic writings as exotic marginalia, the book makes extensive use of secularisation theory to confront these Catholic writings with the preoccupations of secularism and modernity. It compares individual and societal secularisation in France and England and examines how French and English Catholic writers understood and contested secular mores, ideologies and praxis, in the individual, societal and religious domains. The book also addresses the extent to which some Catholic writers succumbed to the seduction of secular instincts, even paradoxically in themes that are considered to be emblematic of Catholic literature. Its breadth will make it a useful guide for students wishing to become familiar with a wide range of such writings in France and England during this period.
The two episodes of the Tinkler Ducket trial illustrate the contemporary and frequent modern perception of deism and deists in England. The deists seemed to be godless, enemies of Newtonian philosophy, and a disruptive force in society. This chapter explores the question of who they really were. Any study of deism must be sensitive to conceptions of eighteenth-century intellectual thought, known as Enlightenment. The monarchy, the Church of England, and Newtonian natural philosophy, endorsed the institutions that characterise the establishment of the five deists in England. The chapter also explores the changing meaning of ‘Enlightenment’ in England changing its meaning, and revisits what it meant to be deist in this environment. It explains that deists in England absolutely believed in a particular view of God and this led to a deist theology. This theology supported both their political and their natural philosophical writings. Furthermore, the chapter presents a portrait of deism in England by examining the writings of five specific deists: John Toland, Anthony Collins, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Morgan and Thomas Chubb and aims to demonstrate the crucial importance of theology to their work.
The arrival and coronation of William III were a cause for great optimism and trepidation in the realms of English religion and politics. John Toland believed that the Revolutionary Settlement of 1689 would remove the veil of mystery from the Church of England and usher an era where politics would be freed from party sentiment hoping that this environment might provide him a chance to participate in the nation's governance. Matthew Tindal wrote strong defences of the new king against the Jacobites and High Church Tories, whom he saw as impediments to the advancement of England under William. Both Tindal and Toland anchored their interpretations of 1689 with similar conceptions of God and theological beliefs. Conservatives feared the outcome of 1689 and pointed to the writings of Toland and Tindal as evidence of the danger posed by permitting too much toleration in matters of religion. The deists inserted themselves into the impending political events and used theology as the basis for their arguments. It was against this backdrop of religious uncertainty that the deists wrote and in their own way, attempted to help England chart a new course in politics and theology.
The question of the successor to William III occupied the minds of many during the early years of the eighteenth century. As per the Act of Settlement, Queen Anne, daughter of James II, came to the throne. John Toland joined the debate early in 1701 with his Anglia Libera, in which he supported the passing of the crown to the House of Hanover. His Hanoverian enthusiasm and pro-Whig arguments made him the topic of political gossip abroad and the target of many High Church Tories at home. Tindal's involvement in debates regarding the requirements for fellows reflects the great extent to which deism and national politics were intertwined. This college matter demonstrated how fragile the religious peace in England was. The deists sought to help England chart a course into smoother political and theological waters, which avoided the waves caused by High Church policies. Other deists too attempted to find a place within the fast-moving events of the day through their political writings.
Newton envisaged an immaterial, all-powerful, and active God at the head of the universe. The difference between deist and non-deist presentation of contemporary natural philosophy is indistinguishable in the middle of the eighteenth century. It is also worth noting at this stage, that many of the views advanced by the deists are not reducible to one representative. Tindal saw unfounded appropriation of the soul's care as a defining aspect of priestcraft. Collins and his fellow deists proposed that total human freedom was the basis for the liberty enjoyed by all Britons. Many saw Collins writings as emblematic of deism. Any accurate picture of deism or deists is found in the writings of the individual deists themselves. They were more than owners of a meaningless pejorative designation hurled at them by the godly. One of the most vocal opponents of deism was Henry Sacheverell DD, who in 1709 created much controversy with his inflammatory oratory.
The deists figured prominently in the turbulent theological politics during 1709–19, contributing to the discourses that analysed contemporary politics along with other observers. Political controversies such as the Bangorian Controversy, the ending of the War of the Spanish Succession, and the split of the Whigs in the House of Commons inspired deists' publications. The second decade of the eighteenth century saw Anthony Collins begin to emerge as the most visible deist in England. The same years brought Thomas Chubb and Thomas Morgan on to the political and theological stage. The politics advanced by all the deists during this period was Whig. Deist fortunes seemed on the rise in 1718 when the Whig ministry of Stanhope and Sunderland introduced a bill repealing the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts. While Parliament debated the implications of ending the ban on occasional conformity, the deists continued their attempts to describe the natural world.
This chapter reviews Morgan's work, which incorporated and anticipated contemporary views of Newton. A material aether received considerable attention in the years after the publication of Physico-theology. Newton suggested that all of nature may be nothing but various contextures of some certain aetherial spirits of vapours condensed by precipitation. He then advised that aether might cause gravity because bodies will ‘get out and give way to the finer parts of aether below, which cannot be without the bodies descending to make room above for it to go out into’. Thus aether seemed a key component of the operation of nature. In this regard, Robinson also argued that the phenomena of nature were caused by a spiritual aether, which filled the universe and had both ‘Activity and Power’. This position bears striking resemblance to that advanced by Morgan, though Robinson's aether was spirit and Morgan's was the material light of the Opticks. Eighteenth-century Newtonianism was shaped by appeals to aethers and material fluids and predicated upon the materiality of light.
This chapter outlines the theological and political writings of the deists, conceived during a period described as political stability. While England dealt with yet another European war, deism as a perceived threat to political and theological stability faded from the collective mindset of the nation. Though deism continued to find advocates after Morgan died in 1743, the new followers failed to inflame passions as their predecessors had. One religious threat replaced another and theological concerns and sensibilities continued to play a role in the intellectual scene of the day. Some overall conclusions are apparent regarding the deists' conception of God and politics. The deists clearly believed in a God who created the universe and enacted certain relationships between himself and humanity. These consistencies existed in both the natural philosophical and political realms. The deists argued for an accountable government; as God must always act in accordance with the laws of nature, the monarch must rule within the boundaries of national law. They also argued that God, who acted only for the benefit of humanity, provided the correct model of government, which must place the well being of citizens before its own designs on maintaining power.
Steven Shapin described the interlocking spheres of intellectual enquiry in early modern England as theology, politics and natural philosophy. These overlapped because they were connected in legitimations, justifications and criticisms, especially in the use of conceptions of God and nature to comment upon political order. This chapter presents these relationships by reconstructing the intertwined erudite endeavours of John Toland, Anthony Collins, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Chubb and Thomas Morgan. At this point the perceived threat of deism is acknowledged to have declined in Britain. Furthermore, this chapter explores the generally held view of English deists. The deists were not modern. Nonetheless, generations of Enlightenment historians have positioned them as the founding fathers of the movement leading to the French Revolution and modernity. If the portrait of deism is accepted, then a reassessment of deism in England is necessary, especially in light of the characterizations of the English Enlightenment as clerical and strongly religious.