'Prisca theologia'


'Let us detest all priestcraft' was the rallying cry of the early English enlightenment.[1] The achievement of the Republican Freethinkers was to separate the idea of 'true religion' from the sociological example of seventeenth-century Christianity. This enterprise was fundamental to the Enlightenment, but (as we shall see) although presented with the rhetoric of liberty of reason, it was conducted in the name of true religion. Such a claim was the premise for David Hume's Natural History of Religion (1758) and the more vociferous anticlericalism of Voltaire and d'Holbach. Echoing Paolo Rossi's work, The Dark Abyss of Time, which has disinterred the pre-history of Vico's New Science, this chapter will explore the texts that enabled Hume to write such a work. Contrary to popular belief Hume's Natural History of Religion was no innovative landmark in the history of the sociology of religion. The elements of this work (the tension between monotheism and polytheism, the corrosive influence of the priesthood, and the parallelism of pagan with Christian superstition) were all forged in the seventeenth century by such scholars and critics as Herbert of Cherbury, <134> Charles Blount, John Toland and John Spencer.[2] Rather than treating religious belief, ceremony and ritual as transcendent principles, these men cultivated an idea of religion as a social and historical institution, a tradition that could be traced back through Machiavelli to the classical analysis of Cicero in De Natura Deorum. In treating religion as a manifestation of social and political structures, as the product both of human psychology and priestly manipulation, the radicals were committed to an historical investigation of its causes and effects. With these historical enquiries such men as Blount and Toland developed their civil theologies as necessary adjuncts to their social and political prescriptions. These historical scrutinies drew upon a wide variety of polemic and scholarship. The most visible manifestation of this approach was inspired by an anticlerical tradition rooted in the ambivalent rhetoric of Reformation humanism and which can be most easily identified in the thought of Thomas Hobbes.[3] The study of Hobbes has suffered from a tendency to secularize his thought. His theological unorthodoxy has been too often read as an indication of a distaste for all things religious (rather than all things popish) and proof of his modernity. Hobbes, the anticlerical deconstructor of priestly fraud, was a crucial instrument in the development of a radical history of religion that laid the foundation for the Enlightenment. The radicals were not inspired by the absolutist Hobbes of Books I and II of Leviathan (1651) but the anticlericalist of the little studied second half of the work. The Freethinkers anathematized Hobbist principles of absolute sovereignty, preferring a neo-Harringtonian analysis <135> of political authority. Men such as Charles Blount, John Trenchard, and Thomas Gordon consistently applauded Hobbes' deconstruction of priestly fraud.[4] In Books III and IV of Leviathan Hobbes had argued for a rigorous Erastianism. The clergy were subject to the jurisdiction of the civil sovereign and could claim no independent authority. In his notions of 'personation' and an unorthodox reading of the Trinity Hobbes devalued the social and political role of the clerical order. Repeatedly citing Christ's dictum that his kingdom is not of this world, Hobbes argued that the priesthood were only adept as promoters of morality.[5] Throughout the second half of Leviathan Hobbes combined theological commentary, sacred hermeneutics and historical narrative to arraign the misdeeds of the 'unpleasing priests' who had usurped the authority of true religion for their own temporal ends. He narrated the tying of the three knots on Christian liberty and applauded the theological freedom of the Interregnum.[6] While the second half of Leviathan <136> is an important anticlerical tract, its hostility towards the ghostly estate is muted by the sheer length and complexity of the arraignment. A far more accessible source for Hobbes' anticlerical tenets is his poetic history A True Ecclesiastical History from Moses to the Time of Martin Luther, originally published in Latin in 1688, and translated and prefaced by Thomas Rymer in 1722.[7]

In this work Hobbes provided a simplified historical treatment of the decline of religion and the rise of priestcraft. Primitive Christianity is a simplistic and natural religion intent upon establishing morality rather than worldly advancement. Christ's yoke was easy and innocent of persecution. From this pristine original the priesthood with the corrupt apparatus of pagan philosophy and scholastic 'jargon' turned religion into a trade. False miracles, idolatry, ghosts and goblins created a priestly empire over the minds of the laity. The clergy 'deified their dreams'. In this manner the sacerdotal order set up an independent interest, creating a double kingdom upon which they forged a tyranny that extended to civil affairs. It was this triple analysis (of an original primitive natural religion, of priestly corruption and priestly tyranny) that was to form the backbone of the Freethinking impeachment of the Church.[8]

One of the most articulate promoters of Freethought and religious toleration of the 1690s was Matthew Tindal of All Saints College, Oxford. In his Rights of the Christian Church Asserted (1706) he resisted the High Church claims of such men as Francis Atterbury and Charles Leslie.[9] Tindal, <137> following Harrington's analysis, considered the Church as a democratic society. The clergy could only have authority based on the consent of the members of this Church. Clerical authority was an exact analogue of civil authority, both being premised on the consent of society.[10] The clergy could claim no sacerdos from the apostolic succession, but only a character based upon their perceived ability to effect honour to God, and good for mankind. As soon as these conditions were violated their legitimacy crumbled.[11] Since the Church of England was the epitome of persecution and intolerance, Tindal needed to provide some account of when, why and how the ecclesiastical establishment had deviated from the legitimate mean.

Tindal, as Hobbes before him, turned to an historical investigation to illustrate the passage and causes of corruption. He pointed to the history of heathen religion and argued that the priestly creation of mystery and ceremony had resulted in a malformed conception of religion. The High Church Anglican clergy were the inheritors of this manipulative tradition. He wrote: 'Nothing would expose Priestcraft more, than an Historical account, how, and upon what motives the clergy vary'd in their notions and practices concerning thy Lord's Supper: at first, how they made it a mystery in the Heathenish sense of that word and for Heathenish reasons that they might have the same power as the priests of the idols had.'[12]

While Hobbes and Tindal presented general historical argument as an indictment of priestly manipulation there was a vast corpus of knowledge, historical, anthropological and hermeneutical, which presented more specific assaults on clerical deviance and corrupt religion. Many of these learned investigations were conducted in terms of examinations of pre-Christian and heathen religions. Although many writers denied their researches intended any covert assault upon the true religion, hostile implications were often very apparent. By analogy an indictment of heathenism insinuated against the status of all religion. A popular vulgarization of this polemic, and one which will locate the parameters of this tradition, was Sir Robert Howard's A History of Religion (1694).


Robert Howard, dramatist, brother-in-law to Dryden, staunch Whig and Privy Councillor was described by John Evelyn as, 'a gentleman pretending to all manner of Arts and Sciences'.[13] In the History of Religion (1694) he exhibited both his wide variety of reading and his inherent distaste for <138> priestcraft. The original subtitle of the work, 'The History of Religion, as it has been abused by Priestcraft', indicated his anticlericalism.[14] The premise of the work was that while all societies had some form of religious institution (it was this that distinguished man from beast) in many cases a variety of folly had been substituted for a correct pattern of theology.[15] Howard suggested that religion (almost from the beginning) had been corrupted by priestly artifice, mystery and metaphysical obscurity.[16] This was illustrated by a series of historical case studies. Arguing for a euhemeristic interpretation of the origin of religion (that is that the heathen gods were originally deified men) Howard presented the reader with a collection of pagan examples of penates or 'household gods'. The pagan priests had fabricated gods to serve their own purposes. The point was extended into a Christian context by Howard's repeated parallel of pagan worship with Catholic equivalents. The pagan Hades was the Catholic purgatory, heathen demonology was the pattern for Christian worship of saints, and gentile sacrifices were a model for Christian practice.[17] Priests of all types had employed the two instruments of 'mystery' and 'persecution' to establish their false dominion. Drawing a comparison between contemporary practice and the Egyptian temple of Isis and the god of silence, Harpocrates, Howard followed Grotius in insisting that theological mystery was the essential 'art' of deviant religion.[18] The History of Religion argued for the continuity of heathen and Christian priestcraft.

Howard was insistent that his text was only directed at the modern paganism evident in the Roman Catholic Church. Both the work and its reception belie this claim.[19] Although reviling popish priests in particular, Howard made the general point that all priests tended to create doctrinal obscurity to ensure their own interpretative monopoly. The priesthood alone was to be the interpreter of the 'dark subtilties' of religion. This was a contemporary issue, he explained, 'the learned now a days have for their obscure writings, and dark gibberish even to keep the (prophane) vulgar from daring to use their own understandings about matters which they do see to be so perplex'd and intricate'.[20] The prime example was the doctrine of the Trinity. Francis Atterbury pounced upon these subversive implications in a sermon before Queen Mary at Whitehall, The Scorner Incapable of True Wisdom (1694). He rebutted Howard's 'pretended histories of religion' arguing that he was 'so possess'd with the notion of priestcraft, and pious frauds, as to apply it indifferently to all religions, and to everything in religion'.[21] Charles Leslie in his Charge of Socinianism against Dr Tillotson <139> Considered (1695) echoed this complaint, 'he ridicules all reveal'd religion, and turns it into what he calls priestcraft'. According to Leslie, Howard implicated not only popish doctrines like transubstantiation but also true doctrines like 'the Trinity, Incarnation, Divinity, and Sacrifice of Christ'. Importantly, Leslie suggested that Howard had plagiarized his arguments from the infidel Charles Blount who, in his Great is Diana (1680), had ridiculed the Christian priesthood under the 'cobweb veil' of the heathen priests. In his account of the original of sacrifices and idolatry Howard followed Blount.[22] Leslie noted that both men reduced religious action to the level of 'inward repentance' and morality.

Although Howard had reviled contemporary Christianity in his History of Religion he did not deny the value of religious experience but prescribed a model for reformation. Citing with approval the example of Archbishop Tillotson, he argued that Christ had established 'a religion which consults not only the eternal salvation of mens souls; but their temporal peace and security, their comfort and happiness in this world'. Howard proposed a theology of practice rather than proposition. The nature of religion necessarily linked it to 'moral righteousness' and could be resolved into the social injunction to do 'as we would be done by'.[23] In his Twofold Vindication (1696) Howard re-emphasized these points. His concern was to promote the 'moral religion' and the 'moral Gospel' of Christ. Morality and revelation were much the same thing, simply 'diverse names, under which the same things are denoted'. Christianity was a 'perfect system of all the laws of nature'. With the corruption of the Mosaic law Christ had been sent to restore the 'old moral religion'.[24] Importantly in this defence Howard acknowledged some of the works which had formed the foundations of his own. Charles Blount was an influence, although Howard pointed out that he hoped his own research was presented in a more temperate and respectable manner. The other named text was John Spencer's De Legibus Hebraeorum (1685), a massive work of erudition comparing pagan and Judaic ritual. Spencer's work was employed by Howard to argue that sacrifices were no part of divine religion, 'the true religion which is acceptable to God on its own account dwells in the mind, exerts itself in praises of, and prayers to God, in acts of temperance, justice, and mercy, this needs not multitudes of pompous rites to recommend it'.[25]

Howard's work is important not as original research but because it acts as a neat summary of previous polemic and erudition. Without being directly <140> plagiaristic it relies heavily on an extensive corpus of prior investigation of which Blount's Great is Diana and Spencer's De Legibus Hebraeorum are notable examples. It is to this bulk of infidel scholarship that we will now turn.


Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) and his De Religione Gentillium (published posthumously by Isaac Vossius at Amsterdam in 1663) are of particular importance in the development of this deistical history of religion. A second Latin edition of this work was published in 1700, and an English translation made by William Lewis in 1705. The Antient Religion of the Gentiles (1705) and the later Dialogue between a Tutor and His Pupil (1768) firmly identify Herbert's relationship with deism.[26] Herbert's Antient Religion of the Gentiles was premised upon the epistemological assertions of his two earlier works De Veritate (Paris, 1624) and De Religione Laici (1645). In both these works Herbert had evolved and expanded his idea of five fundamental and common notions which contained the natural premises of religion. These were the perception of a supreme God, the existence of rewards and punishments in a future estate, the injunction to worship God by virtuous action, and the importance of repentance.[27] In the Antient Religion Herbert set out to examine the complicity of pagan religion with this universal scheme.

The crucial premise of the Antient Religion was Herbert's conception of a 'just' deity. A just God could take no pleasure in 'the eternal reprobation of those to whom he never afforded any means of salvation'. Thus even though <141> the pagans had no specific divine revelation, 'universal divine providence' implied that they must have had some natural access to true religion.[28] Traditional Christian thought had treated all heathen religion as an epitome of diabolical superstition, idolatry and irreligion. Herbert, with a typical Erasmian optimism, argued that all non-Judaeo-Christian societies had some form of true religious worship because human nature had an innate tendency to worship the supreme deity without the commodious aid of revelation. Although admitting that paganism had become corrupt Herbert wondered whether 'amongst those heaps of Ethical Superstitions, a thread of truth might be found'. By historical investigation he set out to examine the origins of religion. This was ultimately to be located in the yearning of man's noble mind to find a state of eternal repose, 'for God inspiring all men with a desire of an eternal and more happy state, he tacitly discovered himself, who is eternal life, and perfectly happy'. This natural recognition of the deity was translated into an adoration of the stars which in their constancy and order resembled the permanence of the supreme god.[29] This 'Deus Optimus Maximus' was identified with the Christian God. From this minimalistic premise Herbert displayed the multiplicity of pagan adoration of the stars, planets and lesser deities. In order to defend the merits of heathen religion Herbert presented the distinction between cultus symbolicus and cultus proprius borrowed from Gerard Vossius' magisterial De Origine ac Progressu Idololatriae (Amsterdam, 1641) a work which provided the Antient Religion with a vital and comprehensive source account of heathen religious worship.[30] Herbert explained the distinction between a proper and symbolic worship: 'Proper worship is, the adoration of the Supreme God, the Sun, the Moon, Heaven, or the whole world, particularly and respectively in themselves: Symbolical, is the worshipping the Supreme God in the Sun, Heaven, or World.'[31] Proper worship was due to God alone. Symbolical worship which epitomized the heathen practice was acceptable because au fond it was a pious adoration of the true God. For example, Herbert pointed out that pagan worship of the sun was valuable because it terminated in the proper worship of God: the sun was appreciated as 'that noble emblem of the Supreme God'.[32]

Herbert's appraisal of the history of pagan religion did not simply consist <142> of straightforward commendation. In Chapter 16, 'A censure of the religion of the Heathens and the occasion of it', he expanded on a theme that runs throughout the whole work: that superstition and idolatry had often corrupted true worship due to the ambitious manipulations of the priesthood. Religious ceremony was necessary only to 'lay a more strict obligation on men, to do that which they were oblig'd before to do voluntarily'. The priesthood rather than corroborate these natural instincts did 'debilitate and enervate these truths'.[33] The 'crafty priests' created a plurality of divinities, ceremonies and mysteries to further their own power. By creating specious theologies and systems of sacrifice, expiation and penance, the priesthood established a monopoly over religion. By deceitful tricks and forgery of revelation the heathen priest imposed an implicit faith upon the laity to seduce them from true worship to a false sacerdotal alternative. The natural inclination to repentance was changed into a collection of 'dark rites and ceremonies' calculated to elevate the authority of the priest.[34] Ceremony and ritual was thus the product of priestcraft. The originally pure symbolic worship was corrupted by the figments of clerical imagination.[35] The implications of this historical argument were unorthodox. Herbert argued that religion in its original and uncorrupt form was both a natural and moral action which could be conducted without the mediating caste of an hierocratic order between man and God. Although religious ceremony could be employed to facilitate this natural worship the most rational and true form was to be found in a 'pure mind and a Holy life'. The sound parts of heathen religion, their 'virtue, faith, hope and love', should be commended by all Christians, for 'the Antients agree with us, who allow no means of salvation can benefit or advantage us without the mind, virtue, piety and faith'.[36] This description of the origins and decline of heathen religion, and the radical implications of this model, were adapted and adopted by many later infidel writers but primarily by Charles Blount (1654-93), a professed disciple.

Blount is a much vilified and underestimated theorist. Rather than lay emphasis upon his plagiarism, his poor style and unoriginality, it would be more fruitful to consider his work as crucial polemics in the formation and dissemination of Enlightenment perceptions of religion. Throughout the entire corpus of his published works, from the Anima Mundi (1679) to the Oracles of Reason (1693), Blount intentionally publicized the widest variety of unorthodox thinkers ranging from ancient texts (men like Cicero, Seneca and Tacitus), through the Renaissance (Vanini, Cardan and Pomponazzi), to the atheistical moderns (Hobbes and Spinoza). It is thus as a publicist rather than a plagiarist that Blount should be appreciated, and in this guise as a <143> wellspring of the Enlightenment. Blount's transmission of Herbert's thought was crucial to this enterprise.[37]

Blount's indebtedness to Herbert is in tandem both easy to recognize and difficult to assess. He openly acknowledged his admiration for Herbert's notions. In his Religio Laici (1683), an adapted and partially translated version of Herbert's De Religione Laici (1645), Blount noted that he 'often made use of, and grounded the chief of my discourse upon his five Catholick or Universal principles'.[38] Certainly in his 'Summary Account of the Deists Religion' and 'Of Natural Religion', both short essays in the Oracles of Reason (1693), Blount openly referred to Herbert's five notions, the historical universality of natural religion, and the proscription of images, sacrifices and priestly mediators from the practice of true religion, which was identified with morality and the rule of right reason rather than priestly mystery. Blount stressed the anticlerical tenor of Herbert's work. In Religio Laici (1683), following Herbert's third notion that, 'vertue, goodness, and piety, accompanied with faith in, and love to God, are the best ways of worshipping him' Blount rejected all 'rites, mysteries and sacras'.[39] Supplementary testimony to Blount's borrowings from Herbert has been traditionally adduced in the suggestion that a Herbert manuscript (which was published in Herbert's name as A Dialogue between a Tutor and His Pupil in 1768) was used by Blount in his footnoted edition of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius Tyaneus (1680). Pierre Bayle was the first to make the claim in his entry on Apollonius in the General and Historical Dictionary, and this assertion has become a scholarly commonplace. H. R. Hutcheson in his edition of Herbert's De Religione Laici has been the most forceful and recent proponent of this thesis.[40] It is apparent from Hutcheson's language that he held a certain distaste for both Blount's character and his work. He <144> commented that 'Blount has received altogether too much credit from the historians of deism'. On the charges of plagiarism he noted that such charges 'acquire a definiteness which is at first startling and soon monotonous'. Blount's 'thefts' from Herbert are established with both 'certainty and boredom'. This portrayal is opposite to that presented in the Biographia Britannicae which insisted that Blount was a man of 'wit, learning, and zeal'. Although Hutcheson allows for the possibility that Blount may have been the author of the Dialogue between a Tutor and his Pupil (1768), he is firmly convinced by a textual comparison of Blount's Life of Apollonius (1680) and the Oracles of Reason (1693) with the Dialogue not only that Blount borrowed from this source, but that the dialogue was the fruit of Herbert's pen.

There is no direct material evidence to suggest a definitive attribution of the authorship of the Dialogue to either Blount or Herbert. It is certain that the work was constructed within a Herbertian framework of the five common notions of natural religion.[41] The Tutor and the Pupil set out to discuss the varying status of different revelations in terms of a distinction between the 'serious part' of religion depending on 'notions written in our Souls' and 'the religious manners, forms, and rites … depending … on tradition, apparition, pretended revelation, mysteries and the like, which grew up in latter times, and for the most part were but the inventions of priests'.[42] The text echoes Herbert's insistence that, 'before religion (i.e.) rites, ceremonies, pretended revelations and the like were invented, there was no worship of God but in a rational way'. The prescriptive model was the ancient unsacerdotal pattern. The Dialogue is certainly indebted to Herbert's Antient Religion: apart from general argument there are passages directly transcribed from the earlier work, for example the discussion of the priestly manipulation of repentance.[43] Even with the acknowledgement that the Dialogue was composed with Herbert's Antient Religion as a source, and accepting that there are some direct (although scattered and disordered) textual links between Blount's work and the dialogue, my suggestion is that there are textual references and arguments in the later work which simply were not available to Herbert. These references can be attributed to Blount's eclectic anticlericalism.

The structure of the Dialogue is between a Tutor and a Pupil. The former is more learned and restrained (Blount's characterization of Herbert's thought), while the latter is hot-headed and vehement in his indictment of the priesthood, almost always presenting the most extreme anticlerical implications of the Tutor's theses (Blount's self-characterization). The general theme of the work is an extended history of how the five common notions of <145> natural religion became corrupted by priestcraft. For each topic under consideration a wide variety of illustration is mustered: this eclecticism smacks rather of Blount's digressive style than the more ponderous prose of Herbert. Unlike Herbert's Antient Religion the hostility of the Dialogue against the clerical order is extended from a purely pagan context into an explicit condemnation of the 'modern priests'.[44] The dialogue also contains a considerable body of biblical criticism that was simply unavailable to Herbert. For example, the discussion of the Mosaic account of the Creation, which the Dialogue argued that the Judaic legislator had recounted from ancient tradition.[45] More importantly the dialogue notes that Moses' writings were destroyed during the Babylonian captivity and that the Pentateuch had been retranscribed from memory by the prophet Esdras. This hermeneutic claim had been first made by Isaac La Peyrère and Spinoza in publications after Herbert's death.[46]

The Dialogue contains extensive reference to the historical pattern of Islam: it appears that the text borrows directly from Henry Stubbe's manuscript account of Mahomet when discussing the politic proscription of eating swine's flesh in order to prevent leprosy. Once again this argument would have been unavailable to Herbert (Stubbe's text was written c. 1671) while we know that Blount copied passages of the manuscript to send to Rochester which were also published in the Oracles of Reason.[47] There is yet further evidence that the bulk of the Dialogue was composed after Herbert's death. The Dialogue contains extensive discussion of pagan oracles which could most likely have been drawn from Bernard Fontenelle's History of Oracles (1688). The text echoes precisely Fontenelle's argument which suggested the persistence of oracles three hundred years after Christ, and that the Primitive Church Fathers employed 'officious lies' and oracular prophecy to facilitate the reception of Christ among the pagans.[48] The last piece of evidence against Herbert's authorship is the references to the gentile origins of the Jewish dispensation contained in the Dialogue. In the Antient Religion Herbert had dismissed the issue. He wrote, 'nor will it be much material, if according to ancient writers, they had many of their religious rites from the Egyptians'. The Dialogue is replete with references asserting the Egyptian origins of the Mosaic law. Abraham and Moses had learned their religious <146> opinions in Egypt. Christ himself had travelled to the East in search of knowledge. The general point was that the Mosaic institution was raised upon gentile and Egyptian foundations. From this premise the author insisted that Judaic obligations continued in force during the early years of Christianity, and that many 'modern Christians' held ceremonial practices in common with the ancient Jews and Egyptians.[49] Although there may have been classical sources from which Herbert might have derived such arguments it seems that Blount is the more likely candidate for the authorship of these passages. The evidence is circumstantial but twofold. The argument of the Dialogue is a condensed version of the grand thesis proposed by John Spencer in his De Legibus Hebraeorum (1685): no one before this work had presented such a convincing case for the Egyptian origins of Jewish ritual. Blount certainly read this work, and himself discussed the issue in print. In a letter to 'Major A' printed in the Oracles of Reason Blount presented Moses as a man learned in Egyptian religion and philosophy. Tutored in Eastern arcana, 'Moses and the Jews took diverse of their customs from the Egyptians; as for instance, their circumcision'. Again following Spencer (and perhaps John Aubrey) Blount asserted that the 'ancient Jews, and Modern Christians, have many rites and ceremonies common with the Gentiles'.[50]

This evidence redresses the authorship of the Dialogue in favour of Blount. The Dialogue is still testimony to Blount's indebtedness to Herbert's work: but it betrays also Blount's radicalization of Herbert's originally eirenic intentions. Blount extended Herbert's original thesis on the value of heathenism into a full-blooded indictment of established religion. This radical anticlericalism was evident in Blount's own works Anima Mundi (1679) and Great is Diana (1680). The premise of both these works was that true religion consisted of rational unpriestly worship and that theological and ceremonial superstructures were usually unnecessary and frequently corrupt. In Anima Mundi; or an historical Narration of the Opinion of the Ancients concerning Mans Soul after this life (1679) Blount conducted an historical examination of the generation and function of the idea of the soul's immortality. Blount rather feebly denied that his work held any implications for Christian doctrine. The idea of a future state was a natural inclination, 'implanted in everyman's heart'. From this innate premise many doctrines had been created by philosophers and priests. Some argued that the soul was separate from the body, others that they were in necessary unity. Some suggested upon death the soul returned to the soul of the world, others that it perished with the body.[51] Blount insisted that many, both priests and <147> legislators, had played upon this belief and man's natural fear of the unknown to create systems of fable to keep the vulgar in social order. For example the Islamic idea of paradise had been constructed to induce the Arabs to the new religion.[52] Blount's polemical purpose became more evident when he dealt with Seneca and Pomponazzi who had denied any future state but still proposed a life of virtue. Such men maintained the existence of a supreme God, and a belief in providence in earthly affairs if not in an afterlife.[53] Men could lead religious lives without a belief in the immortal soul, although in many cases such a doctrine even if not true could induce men to religious virtue. The same point was reiterated in a letter published in the Oracles of Reason 'To Strephon concerning the Immortal Soul'. The letter was an extended commentary upon Blount's favourite Senecan dictum 'Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil'. Blount argued here in favour of the death of the soul citing both classical authors like Pliny and scriptural passages. The idea of an immortal soul could only be defended in heuristic terms: some men could follow the pattern of true religion unaided, most needed to be encouraged. Following Plato and Averroes, Blount justified the opinion as a necessary fiction, from the 'absolute necessity and convenience that it should be so'.[54]

In Great is Diana of the Ephesians (1680) Blount expanded his historical investigation into a general consideration of the origins and causes of idolatry, in particular of religious sacrifices. While acknowledging that the only true form of sacrifice was 'sit pura mente colendus: a pure undefiled spirit' Blount narrated the priestly corruption of this original. Relying upon an euhemeristic interpretation Blount argued that worship and sacrifice stemmed from the adoration of dead heroes and princes. Ninus had worshipped Nimrod as 'Bel' or 'Belus', that is God. The initial innocent veneration for a prince and his posterity developed with the collaboration of the civil and spiritual estates into a fabricated theology. As these theologies expanded so did the power and authority of the priesthood. Blount commented, 'the original of sacrifices, seems to be as ancient as religion itself; for no sooner had man found out there was a God, but a priest stept up and said, that this God had taught them in what manner he should be worshipped'.[55] The priesthood, exploiting the innate insecurity and fear of humanity, constructed a suitable system of superstition to enthral the vulgar. By ritual and prayer, setting these ceremonies in dark thick groves, the spirit of devotion was naturalized into the people.[56]

Blount's history of religion was, as we have seen, ultimately indebted to Herbert's arguments: this indebtedness was not slavish. Through Blount's <148> reworking of Herbert's research the history of pagan religion became a far more radical tool directed against the Christian priesthood. While the tenor of Herbert's Antient Religion was to defend the possibility of heathen virtue, and only by implication to indict the priesthood, Blount's work is directed specifically at the corruptions of the seventeenth-century Christian priests. Blount's intention was not only to defend the merits of pagan virtue but to recommend the pattern of virtue as a replacement for idolatry. This same radical redefinition of religion was displayed in the work of John Toland.

Toland's most important contribution was his Letters to Serena (1704) where he discussed both the origins of idolatry, and the history of the soul's immortality. Toland was indebted to both Herbert and Blount: but this was not mere plagiarism. Although Toland borrowed phrases, examples, and illustrations from the two earlier thinkers his writings have an eloquence and erudition that is entirely original. While in Blount's work it is often difficult to discern the author's own beliefs in the deliberate morass of different and conflicting positions presented, in Toland's work his opinion is unequivocally clear.

In the 'History of the Souls Immortality among the Heathens' Toland made explicit Blount's theme of treating the soul as 'an opinion' that 'had a beginning at a certain time, or from a certain author'. Toland gave a brief résumé of the history of Greek materialism. Following Aristotle, he argued that the Greeks originally did not believe in any 'principle or actuating spirit in the Universe itself … but explain'd all the phænomena of nature by matter and local motion, levity and gravity, or the like'. For Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes the universe was infinite and matter eternal. It was Anaxagoras who was the first philosopher among the Greeks to determine the separate idea of 'mind' which was the 'mover and disposer of matter'. From this premise Phercydes and his disciple Pythagoras argued for the immortality of human souls, a doctrine which was greedily embraced by Plato and his followers.[57] Toland followed this unorthodoxy with an even more irreligious claim: Anaxagoras 'borrow'd' his invention from earlier Egyptian tradition. Citing Macrobius and Diodorus Siculus, Toland argued that ancient Egypt was the 'mother of all sciences'. Denying the traditional thesis that all Egyptian learning was gained from the Patriarch Abraham, Toland insisted that the doctrine originated in the theologies of Persian magi and Egyptian priests. It was from this source that Moses gained his knowledge, and similar resonances could be found in ancient British druidical tradition.[58]


The Egyptians had framed their opinions from funeral rites and 'their historical method of preserving the memory of deserving persons'. Following Diodorus Siculus, Toland displayed the euhemeristic account of religion: from the commemoration of the dead the idea of an afterlife, the Elysian fields and the reward of good and punishment of evil was evolved.[59] The originally pure system of commemoration was perverted into a corrupt theology by priestly manipulation of man's natural desire 'to continue their existence beyond the grave'. Such notions soon became part of 'all men's education'. Wise legislators had recognized the value of the doctrine as a means of social discipline, as Timus Locrus noted, 'we keep the minds of men in order by false reasons, if they will not be governed by true ones'. As Blount did, so too did Toland accept the immortality of the soul as a 'beneficial or convenient' device. Citing both Seneca and Pliny (as Blount had done) Toland argued that tales of hell and an afterlife might only be 'senseless tales and empty words', but if used correctly were valuable.[60]

In the 'Origin of Idolatry' Toland, as Blount and Herbert had done, turned to a more general account of superstition and the corruption of religion. This letter followed Herbert's Antient Religion in many details, although this was combined with material from the classical writers on religion such as Cicero's De Natura Deorum, Plutarch on superstition, and Diodorus Siculus' histories.[61] Unlike Herbert, Toland directed his criticism at all priests, both ancient and modern. He applauded the euhemeristic explanation of the origins of religion, and accepted Herbert's symbolical interpretation of the ancient theologies but reserved the full force of his venom to indict the corrupt priesthood who had perverted this practice into useless superstition. While legislators attempted to restrain the barbarities of the populace, the priest duped their reason to establish a spiritual tyranny which became the foundation for civil tyranny. The modern example of the papacy and the idea of a de jure divino monarchy was testimony to the continuity of 'ancient and modern Heathenism'.[62] The Christian priesthood followed the same corrupt practices of antiquity: for example the 'new idolatry of the Christians', the worship of saints, was grounded upon the same principles as the heathen worship of the dead.

Underlying this polemic was the distinction between the injunctions of the law of nature and 'all positive institutions', and a model of historical change <150> in which an originally pristine theology is corrupted, and then renovated by politic and learned legislators. As with the earlier thinkers true worship was identified with the practice of virtue and the rule of right reason and found in the historical example of the prisca theologia of Egyptian religion. As Toland explained: 'The most ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, the first Patriarchs of the Hebrews with several other Nations and sects, had no sacred images or Statues, no peculiar places or costly fashions of worship; the plain easiness of their religion being the most agreeable to the simplicity of the divine nature.'[63] Toland's interest in the works of Giordano Bruno, proponent of the Egyptian prisca theologia, is particularly interesting.

It has been an historical commonplace that John Toland was deeply involved in the propagation, translation and circulation of many subversive manuscripts.[64] One of his most accomplished clandestine achievements was the dissemination of an account of the life and works of Giordano Bruno, the late-sixteenth century magus, philosopher and religious reformer. In 1698 Toland purchased a number of Bruno's works from the library of Francis Bernard: bound with copies of De La Causa, Principo et Uno, and Le Cena de la Cenari was a copy of Bruno's Spaccio della Bestia Trionfante (London, 1584).[65] It is commonly accepted that Toland circulated covert manuscript works on Bruno's life and thought, both in England and on the Continent, such as the Life of Bruno, a translation of Bruno's Asse and Bruno's Sermon.[66]

I wish to focus upon Toland's dealings with the Spaccio in particular. Toland certainly possessed a copy of this work.[67] This same copy may have been presented to the Electress Sophia of Hanover.[68] Toland was publicly associated with the publication of the translated edition in 1713.[69] The <151> authorship of this translation is obscure: the British Museum catalogue attributes the translation to one William Morehead, 'half brother of John Toland'. Margaret Jacob supports this suggestion, and argues that the translation was originally undertaken for the private use of the Freethinker and colleague of Toland, Anthony Collins.[70] Toland has been accused of stealing this manuscript from Collin's library.[71] With our knowledge of Toland's penchant for purloining manuscripts, and his mischievous ability to claim other people's original scholarship for his own, it might seem likely that Morehead was indeed the translator. I should like to present evidence that may redress the balance in Toland's favour: it certainly suggests his deep involvement in the publication of the Spaccio. The evidence is an undated letter 'To Mr ***'. The work was probably written between 1705 and 1708, and was printed in both posthumous collections of Toland's work and correspondence. Despite its availability the piece, rather curiously, has gone unnoticed.[72] The opening sentence of the letter is the telling point in favour of Toland's role as translator. Toland argued that the piece that has so excited 'Dr Morelli' was no contrivance of his own, but that he was the 'Master' of it.[73] This has two implications: first that Toland does acknowl <152> edge his role in the production of the work, but that he does not attempt to claim it as an original composition. Secondly we can deduce that Dr Morelli thought the work was typical of Toland's work, so much so that he had accused him of deliberate fabrication. Although this evidence is somewhat speculative, I suggest that in combination with the rest of the letter it does point to Toland's authorship. The letter clearly indicates Toland's interest and knowledge of the genesis and composition of the Spaccio.

The bulk of the letter is a precis and synopsis of Bruno's original work. This condensed version could be the substance of the short dissertation that Toland sent to his colleagues on the Continent, such as Georg Leibnitz. He wrote to the latter: 'I confess something more particular ought to have been said concerning the Spaccio, which of a printed work, is I believe the rarest in the world but on the other hand it is not a secret to be communicated to everybody.'[74] The dissertation Toland sent to Leibnitz contained a 'most circumstantial account of the Book itself, and secondly a specimen of it, containing three articles out of forty eight'. It seems likely that this letter to Leibnitz was accompanied by a version of Toland's description of the Spaccio.

Toland's letter is a succinct description of the content and importance of Bruno's Spaccio. The work is presented as an extended dissertation upon the corruption of ancient religion, and of the need to reform it to the prescriptions of the 'intelligible, useful, necessary, and unalterable Law of Nature'. Bruno's work is presented as an injunction to replace vice with virtue, by reforming the symbolic meanings of astral worship. One obvious question which must be addressed is how far this description of the Spaccio is accurate. Bruno's work was written as part of a quest for moral reformation.[75] In place of vice, imposture and crime, truth, prudence and order must be established.[76] In the third dialogue Bruno explored the shape of true religious worship, defending unpopular Egyptian ritual as prescriptive.[77] The Egyptians ascended to a true worship of God 'through nature'; they worshipped 'Divinity' in natural objects, rather than the objects themselves <153> as divine.[78] Bruno insisted that modern theology was a corruption of this pantheistic original.[79] Throughout the Spaccio there is one persistent and simple theme: that religion must be employed to further morality and the temperant injunctions of nature. Bruno gestures to the legislator tradition of Numa, who employed religion to civilize the barbarian Romans. The corruptions of modern theology must be replaced by 'Industry, military training, and military art, through which the Peace and authority of the Fatherland may be maintained, barbarians be fought, beaten and converted to civilised life and human society, and inhuman, porcine, savage and bestial cults, religions, sacrifices, and laws be annihiliated'.[80] Modern theology was nothing but 'useless and pernicious fable' which ought to be replaced by 'righteous simplicity and the moral Fable'.[81] Bruno in the Spaccio presented a version of the Egyptian prisca theologia as his prescription for a civil theology.

Margaret Jacob has been the most recent commentator on Bruno's influence on Toland.[82] She argues that 'Bruno's thought remains the main source for the development of Toland's philosophy'. While not wishing to underestimate the value and integrity of Jacob's work, I suggest this is an overstated claim.[83] For example, Jacob argues that Bruno is the major influence upon Toland's most cogent work, Letters to Serena (1704); Toland himself ascribed the central influence and inspiration to Cicero's De Legibus.[84] The general tenor of Jacob's argument is that Bruno provided Toland with his conceptions of natural philosophy. The Spaccio informed Toland's notions of the constant motion of matter, the world and the infinite universe. Bruno is characterized as giving Toland a natural philosophy suited to the development of his pantheism.[85] My objection to this thesis is that Jacob has confined her assessment of Bruno's influence on Toland to too narrow an area in only exploring issues of natural philosophy. The religious context, I suggest,is a far more illuminating concern to illustrate Bruno's value to Toland.[86]

Toland's central claim for the value of the Spaccio is that it is a superb <154> device for exploding the machinery of priestcraft and superstition. He wrote: 'In one continu'd thread and contexture it contains the whole doctrine of the sphere, the learning and history of the antient Superstition, the confutation of modern imposture, and a compleat system of Ethicks.' Toland noted that many had misinterpreted the purpose of Bruno's work: the Spaccio was not a singular assault upon the papacy, for the triumphant beast was not analogous to the notion of the pope as antichrist. He explained:

Au lieu que par la bête il entend toute religion revelée en general, de quelque nature qu'elle sôit et de quelque maniere que se foit qu'elle triomphe dans le monde. Sôit la religion Päienne, sôit la judaique, ou la chretienne, il les attaque, les tourne en ridicule, et les rejette egalement sans aucune cérémonie et sans exception.[87]

In Toland's perspective, Bruno was considered first and foremost as an advocate of anticlericalism, he assaulted the malformed consequences of hierocratic and corrupted religion.

The classical allusions, the councils of gods and astral reformation all had great appeal for Toland given his favourable disposition towards the civil theologies of antiquity. Bruno was cited because of his approval of the moral value of heathen religion over the vice of modern superstition: 'Mais ce qui lui fait le plus de peine, c'est que leurs successeurs sont mille fois pires, les anciens heros etant infiniment preferable aux saints modernes, et la nouvelle superstition bien moins supportable que l'ancienne.'[88] Toland applauded Bruno's scheme for astral reformation because he believed it was a valuable method of inculcating morality in the masses. It was in effect a popular theology. In this manner the Spaccio was understood in terms of Toland's espousal of the distinction between esoteric and exoteric philosophy. The Spaccio was the result of 'private conferences' where everything was discussed 'freely and without a veil, being secure from the censures or mistakes of the prophane vulgar'.[89] Toland chose to appreciate Bruno, not simply as Jacob's natural philosopher, but more importantly as a civil theologian. Toland's interest in Giordano Bruno's Spaccio, and approval of a pre-Judaeo-Christian pattern of religious worship, illustrates the radical attempt to undermine the historical traditions of orthodox religion.[90]

The strategy of Herbert, Blount and Toland was to indict contemporary <155> religion by presenting histories of heathenism. To have launched a direct polemical assault upon sacred history would have been a foolhardy attempt. John Spencer (1630-93), Dean of Ely and Master of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, in his De Legibus Hebraeorum (1685) made just this challenge against the Mosaic dispensation, although carefully disguised under a weighty volume of erudition and innovative scholarship. Spencer was foremost an Hebraist of distinction. In 1669 he published at Cambridge his Dissertatio de Urim et Thummim which argued that Jewish methods of prophecy were derived from earlier Egyptian auguries. This simple theme, of the continuity of Egyptian and Jewish ceremony, was to form the backbone of his massive later work. De Legibus Hebraeorum has been justly applauded as the founding text in the study of comparative religions: its theses were still academically acceptable to early twentieth-century scholarship. It consisted of three parts: the first two books gave the rational, moral and ethical grounds for Moses' ceremonial and sacrificial prescriptions. In general Moses established such ritual to ward the Jewish nation from the idolatrous practices of such peoples as the Zabians. According to Diodorus Siculus and Herodotus the ritual of circumcision originated in ancient Egyptian tradition, 'Ideoque gentibus illis, ex antiqua traditione in usu est, ut circumcidant statim a purtu, pueros, ritu ab Aegyptii derivato'.[91] It was in the assertions of Book III 'qua generalius agitur de ritibus et gentium moribus in legem translatis' that Spencer revealed his inherent unorthodoxy. Focusing upon the expansion of Semitic ritual after the original and minimal patriarchal prescription, Spencer argued that the priesthood had encouraged superstitious and idolatrous practice for their own ends. It was Moses' intention to lead the ignorant Israelites away from such corrupt ritual. Spencer argued that the Jewish people through continual correspondence with the idolatrous Gentiles by the process of acculturation had become accustomed to many of their religious habits. Moses accommodated these superstitious inclinations in the creation of his law. Spencer illustrated the correspondence and affinity between Egyptian and Jewish ritual, arguing that the superiority of Egyptian civilization made it unlikely that they should model their theologies upon the actions of the barbarous and itinerant Jews.[92] Sacrifices, communion, temples, festivals, lustrations, priestly vest <156> ments and tithes had all been borrowed from Egyptian sources. To justify this accommodation thesis Spencer displayed a variety of authorities including such ubiquitous classical authors as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch, Church fathers like Eusebius and Josephus, but most importantly the Jewish writer Maimonides who in his More Nevechim (a section of the Guide to the Perplexed) advanced this very thesis. William Warburton pointed out that De Legibus Hebraeorum was 'no other than paraphrase and comment on' Maimonides' work.[93]

Spencer's work received an hostile reception. The general opinion was succinctly summed up in the description of it as 'a very learned, but a very dangerous work'.[94] While the first published assaults are to be found in Continental reviews, the Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres (April 1686) was untypical in giving the work extensive and impartial applause, describing it as 'un magazin d'érudition sacrée et profane'. The review speculated that Spencer had composed the work to argue against the 'fanatiques' in England who refused to join the Anglican settlement, 'sous pretexte qu'elle mêle dans le service Divin plusieurs cérémonies d'invention humaine'.[95] The subversive implications of Spencer's work which argued that the Mosaic law was devised for political reasons rather than divine inspiration was identified, and taken up in the more hostile treatment in the Bibliotheque Universelle. Here the reviews contradicted Spencer: the Mosaic dispensation was of divine origin calculated against all the corruptions of Egyptian idolatry. Any complicity between the rituals was because the idolaters had used the divine Judaic pattern for their own purposes. Jewish law was necessarily a divine original since it was a type or 'shadow' of Christianity. Spencer had been led into error by incorrect hermeneutical principle in relying too much on the corrupt authority of classical sources. As the review pointed out: to undermine the divinity of Moses was to threaten Christ himself.[96]

These criticisms were reflected in the English reception of De Legibus Hebraeorum. John Edwards, in his Complete History or Survey of all the Dispensations and Methods of Religion (1699), refuted Spencer's argument <157> with simple counter-assertion. The thesis that God had to comply with the errors of human nature and indulge the Jews in 'pagan folly' was contradictory. As Edwards explained: 'Is it to be credited that God forbad and abhorred the Gentile practices, and yet at the same time appointed his people several rites which the Gentile used, yea because they were Gentile rites, and practic'd by the Idolatrous nations, as this author expressly asserts?'[97] A more erudite, but still hostile, appreciation of Spencer's work was made by John Woodward (1665-1728), a correspondent of Edwards, in a manuscript work 'Of the Wisdom of the Ancient Egyptians' which was eventually published in Archaeologia (1777), but was in circulation in the early 1700s.[98] Woodward noted with disgust the stir Spencer's work had created: 'No sooner did this work come out but it pleased and took mightily with some, in so much that it became a fashion to ridicule the Jews, slight the Mosaic oeconomy, and represent it as only moulded after the pattern of the Gentiles.' While agreeing that Spencer's work was an epitome of learning, 'he has with infinite industry made a most accurate collation of the Jewish and Pagan constitutions' he denied that De Legibus Hebraeorum was little more use than an handbook because, 'when he comes to apply the collation he has made with all that pain and exactness, he falls into the greatest and most erroneous paradox that a man well could, and runs it quite through his whole undertaking. Because of this consent and affinity, he infers that the 'Jews had those parts of their laws and rites, in which the two nations agree, from the Egyptians'.[99] Woodward denied that Moses was of the same politic lineage as Mahomet, Apollonius Tyaneus, and other 'politicians'. Spencer's thesis of the priority and superiority of Egyptian civilization was rebutted in a long and detailed description of the superstitious practices of these ancients which 'was undoubtedly the wildest and most fantastic that the sun ever saw'. While Moses had been born, bred and educated in Egypt this merely confirmed his revulsion for such a ridiculous worship: this aversion displayed itself in the Mosaic law calculated by God to revile the gentile pattern.[100]

The issues at debate here were a crucible in which the Enlightenment idea of religion, as a natural foundation with a political superstructure, was forged. While orthodox Christians were content to consider Judaism as a type or precursor of Christianity, men of Spencer's and Toland's ilk <158> (following Spinoza) took one step back from this tradition and treated Old Testament Judaism not as part of a faith but as a specific historical manifestation of 'religion' set in particular cultural and political circumstances. Woodward had complained that to undermine the Jewish religion was a direct threat to the Christian establishment. While Spencer had confined himself to a consideration of the historical transition from gentilism to Judaism, Bernard Fontenelle undertook to examine the translation from Judaism and paganism to Christianity. Bernard Fontenelle's The History of Oracles and the Cheats of Pagan Priests was translated into English in 1688 by Aphra Behn, friend of Charles Blount, Rochester and Buckingham. Fontenelle's work was a popularization of a Dutch work by the anabaptist A. Vandale, De Oraculis Ethicarum. He commented on his edition: 'In fine, I have new cast and modelled the whole work.' The work was answered two decades later in 1709 in An Answer to Mr De Fontenelle's History of Oracles 'By a priest of the Church of England' and prefaced by a letter of the non-juror George Hickes. Fontenelle's work (with wit, charm and style) refuted the Anglican position 'that the ancient Oracles were delivered by Daemons, and that they ceased wholly at the coming of Jesus Christ'.[101] George Hickes argued that the silencing of the oracles was 'one of the most eminent Miracles that attended the propagation of Christianity'.[102]

Fontenelle's work involved not only an analysis of the nature of the transition from heathen religion to Christian, but also scurrilous reflections upon the conduct of the early Church Fathers. Fontenelle suggested that the Christian polemicists had been willing to accept the existence of daemoniacal oracles because the argument was commodious to their supernatural conception of the deity. It was easier to posit a God more powerful supernaturally than the pagan daemons, than to attempt directly to undermine pagan beliefs. Fontenelle wrote:

So, that to gain a little upon the pagans, there was a necessity of yielding to them what they maintained with so much obstinacy, and to let them see, that tho' there might be something supernatural in the Oracles, yet there was no reason to say, that there was a true divinity concerned in them; and so Daemons were to be brought upon the stage.[103]

The crux of the debate was whether or not pagan religion was merely human imposture, or a supernaturally inspired form of irreligion. Fontenelle's position was that the oracles and ceremonial content of heathen religion <159> were the product of priestly imposture. In this framework the historical demise of paganism and the rise of Christianity were not causatively and supernaturally linked. Oracles were the product of priestly artifice imposing on a credulous populace. The demise of this imposture was due to human action; i.e. the exposure of priestcraft and the extirpation of heathenism by the Christian emperors.[104]

Fontenelle rebutted the orthodox claim that the oracles had ceased with the advent of Christ due to some supernatural/magical quality. He catalogued the persistence of oracles after the birth of Christ: Julian the Apostate was able to consult the oracle of Delphi about his Persian expedition.[105] Fontenelle gave sociological or political explanations, rather than prophetic, for the decline of heathenism. Thus Fontenelle's apparently uncontentious research into the historical pattern of heathenism had distinctly subversive implications for the nature of the Christian religion. The author of the Answer dealt with the charge that the demise of oracles had been due to 'a method intirely Human and natural, and that nothing is to be found in it which ought to be attributed to the power of Christ'. According to the author Fontenelle had been less than fair when he asserted that the Christian tradition maintained that the demise of the oracles had occurred immediately at the birth of Christ. The Anglican position was that silence was rendered 'little by little, as he made himself known to Men, and as the world was inlightened by the bright Beams of the Gospel'.[106] The oracles were created and influenced by daemons. These daemons were banished by the supernatural legacy of Christ and invocation of his name. The very presence of Christians by some spiritual means 'bid the oracles to silence, and drove the devils out of them'. This quasi-magical power remained in the Christian Church: the miraculous story of Prudentius who, by his very presence, hindered Julian the Apostate's attempted daemoniacal sacrifice, was retold.[107]

The author of the Answer suggested that this magical power was implicit within all Christians, 'this power always has and always will subsist in the Church; 'tis a mark whereby she is distinguished from all sects of Hereticks'.[108] Fontenelle's portrayal of the Christian Church was essentially de-spiritualized, a body of doctrine rather than a corpus mysticum. All claims to supernatural power in Fontenelle's work were the achievements of imposture. The reply to his work was to insist upon a conception of the <160> world as a battle between divine and impious supernatural forces, with the Christian Church as the bastion of religion.


The radical critique examined the progress and decline of heathen religion, describing the dynamic of this process as the result of priestly manipulation. This critique was essentially historical: but it was supplemented by an analysis of the 'origins' of religion not in a temporal sense, but in terms of human psychology. These explications were phrased in sociological and epistemological terms. The importance of this analysis was that the writers made generalized statements about the nature of society, human psychology and the generation of belief systems. Although ostensibly the commentaries were passed upon historical structures they clearly had relevance for contemporary society, and were a reflection upon similar manifestations in that culture.

An anonymous and enigmatic text Averroeana (1695), containing the medical opinions of Averroes and the religious opinions of Pythagoras, epitomizes the analysis of the radical critique, 'tradition and vain customs rule over most nations; and men are so highly graduated in them, that most of them will not only kill others for not observing their customs, and believing in their prophets; but they will die themselves, rather than leave an evil custom to embrace a good one'.[109] Thomas Hobbes in chapter 12 'Of Religion' in Leviathan argued that fear, the essential psychological engine of human motivation, was the root of religious belief. Man's prying desire for knowledge of the future and 'anxiety of the time to come, was the foundation of religion. This facet of existence led to a fear of the power of invisible things.[110] These fears and beliefs could be generated and manipulated by men in authority (usually priests and kings) for their own interests. This stoic psychology was the premise of the radical critique of established religion. Spinoza laid similar emphasis upon fear as part of the human condition and an explanatory cause in the origin of superstition and political authority.[111]

John Trenchard in his Natural History of Superstition (1709) gave the Hobbist theme extended treatment. He wrote that 'there is something innate in our constitution made us easily to be susceptible of wrong impressions, subject to panick fears, and prone to Superstition and Error, and therefore it is incumbent upon us, first of all to examine into the frame and constitution <161> of our own bodies, and search into the causes of our passions and infirmities'.[112] Trenchard continued, echoing Hobbes:

I take this wholly to proceed from our ignorance of causes, and yet curiosity to know them, it being impossible for any man to go {so} far to divest himself of concern for his own happiness, as not to endeavour to promote it, and consequently to avoid what he thinks may hurt him; and since there must be causes in nature for everything that does or will happen, either here or hereafter, it is hard to avoid solicitude till we think we know them.[113]

The origin of causes is mostly hidden from our view, thus there are three alternatives that face man: to abandon the enquiry; to substitute for the true causes ideas of our own, 'Such … as our own imaginations or prejudices suggest to us', or to rely on other people whom we think more competent. All three alternatives offer grave problems. Man could not exist happily without such enquiry and was thus forced into the arms either of his own imagination or someone else's. To rely on one's own senses and imagination within a context of their infallibility could often result in religious enthusiasm. The alternative posed the problems of fraudulent manipulation by the clergy.[114]

Premised on the idea that people have to arrive at some conceptual scheme in order to understand their existence and the telos of their lives, the radical critique made the connection between 'interest' and 'opinion' resulting in the idea of 'prejudice'. The production of an individual's ideas, beliefs or opinions was determined socially. The executive in this social determination of ideas was attributed to the clergy. One of the most lucid texts in articulating this proposition was John Toland's 'The Origin and Force of Prejudices' in Letters to Serena (1704).

Toland's central point, citing Cicero's De Legibus, was that 'Neither parents … or Nurse, or Schoolmaster, or Poet, or Playhouse depraves our senses nor can the Consent of the Multitude mislead them; But all sorts of traps are laid to seduce our understandings … by those whom I just now mentioned, who when they receive us tender and ignorant, infect and bend us as they please.' The determination and moulding of an individual's ideas commenced as soon as he entered the world, if not before, 'the foundation of our prejudices is very strongly laid before we are born' i.e. in the womb. Trenchard had also commented that 'the Frights and longings of Women with Child stamp images and impressions, of the things feared or desired, on the faetus's, which last long after they are born, and sometimes as long as they exist'.[115] The influence of priestcraft was present at birth, 'we no sooner see the light, but the grand cheat begins to delude us from every quarter. The <162> very midwife hands us into the world with superstitious ceremonies.' Childhood sees the nurse weaning the understanding on to a diet of superstition. These fables were originally affected to 'keep children under government': the effects continued into adulthood. They 'lay a large foundation for future Credulity, insensibly acquiring a disposition for hearing things rare and wonderful, to imagine we believe what we only dread or desire, to think that we are but puzzl'd that we are convinc'd, and to swallow what we cannot comprehend'. This process was continued throughout school and university, 'the most fertile nursery of prejudices'. Prejudice is then reinforced by whatever activity the individual undertakes, 'hence not only every profession, but also every rank of men, have their particular language, which is thought by others to contain very extraordinary matters, much above the common capacity or comprehension'.[116]

Toland described a vision of society permeated with webs of conflicting value systems. The overburdening directors of these systems of 'false' ideas were the clergy. Charles Blount in Religio Laici (1683) pinpointed the issue of the social formation of ideas. He wrote: 'We denominate good and evil only from our particular interest; so that perhaps our vertues may prove but false money, of no intrinsick value, although it bear the stamp of our approbation on it'. Men are guided by 'the primary appetite of nature' to establish their own well-being; the perception of this well-being is directed by 'judgement'. This faculty is a product of 'the temper of our brain, & our education' and thus beyond individual control. Blount commented on these factors, 'all which (it is manifest) are not in our own power, but proceeds from the temper of our parents, the diet, climate and customs of our country, with diversity of occurrents and conjunctures of the times'. In this way the patterns of ideas created by the priests for their own interest, in complicity with what Blount called 'this tribunal in the minds of men' (the security-seeking psychology of human nature) became traditions and customs.[117]

The Freethinker's theory of knowledge restructured traditional sceptical epistemology into what could be termed political or cultural epistemology. Their scepticism was to concentrate on the notion of a 'commonsense philosophy'. They argued that this process of creating morally certain knowledge was fraught with the distorting idols of interest, prejudice and the burden of custom. This socially generated knowledge (reified into custom) was what the radicals attempted to undermine. Fontenelle acknowledged the difficulty of someone attempting to step out of the streams of custom 'for we have need of strength to resist a torrent, but we need not to follow it'. Trenchard commented upon the entrenched nature of beliefs that determined world views for 'when men have imbibed strong prejudices, which serve their <163> present interest, or strike forcibly upon their hopes and fears, everything in nature shall be made to contribute to their system'. Blount was still more scathing over how the majority of people came to have opinions: 'Most men (like Carrier Horses) follow one another in a track, where if the fore-horse goes wrong, all the rest succeed him in his errour: not considering that he who comes behind, may take an advantage to avoid that pit, which those that went before are fallen into.' For Toland the majority of people were martyrs to habit, rather than any religious truth.[118]

The manipulation of Scripture, according to the Freethinking critique, was one of the most effective promoters of priestcraft.[119] The analysis focused upon two interrelated issues, about the type of knowledge proposed in the Bible, and to what purpose it was to be used. The second point was that the clergy, by abusing the sanctity of Scripture for their own interests, had falsely represented it. The Anglican accepted Scriptural accounts as 'true' representations of historical reality. The Bible was the oldest history in the world, recounting in specific, 'true' detail the exact chronology of the historical <164> creation and evolution of the world. Writing upon the Mosaic account of the creation Dr John Woodward commented that 'his historical relations are … exact; everywhere clear strong and simple'. Woodward's attitude was that if Moses' account was untrue physiologically 'we could with no reason or security have relied upon him in matters historical, moral, or religious … And all know how great a superstructure is raised upon his foundation which would assuredly have been in a very shaken and tottering condition, had his accounts of nature proved erroneous.'[120]

The most relevant and influential statements made by opponents of the ecclesiastical establishment were Spinoza's Treatise Partly Theological (1689), in particular chapters 1-2 'Of Prophecy' and 'Of Prophets', and Thomas Burnet's Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692). The Burnet tract originally written in Latin was in part translated into English in the year of its publication. The following year saw Charles Blount in his Oracles of Reason (1693) publish a defence of Burnet's work, coupled with the republication of the first two chapters of the 1692 English translation of the Archaeologiae. Spinoza and Burnet share the same premise. Spinoza argued that when God revealed knowledge to his prophets it was according to their capacities and imaginations. Prophets were individuals who 'had some particular extraordinary Vertue above other men, and were persons very eminent for their constant Piety'. The prophets had no internalized ability of prophesying.[121] Spinoza separated philosophy and theology. Statements in Scripture did not have an epistemological truth value, they were hypothetical constructs to achieve the extension of the divine message. He insisted that God adapted revelations to the understandings and opinions of the prophets, and that in matters of theory (without bearing on charity or morality) the prophets could be, and in fact were, ignorant. It was with this analysis that Spinoza rejected the 'real' existence of miracles. The accounts of miraculous occurrences in the sacred history were not true physical accounts but designed to appeal to human imagination to inculcate divine doctrine and produce devotion. Thus the accounts were not 'so much to convince our reason, as to affect and possess our minds, and our Imaginations'. Scripture was a fiction calculated to induce men to morality. The value of Holy Writ was not so much the very words and phrases of Scripture, but the intended injunction to virtue.[122]

Thomas Burnet, Master of Charterhouse, followed the Spinozist hermeneutic in his Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692). Burnet concentrated upon the Mosaic account of the creation of the world and the narrative of Adam's fall. Burnet's central theme was that the Mosaic hexameron was not a true philosophical discourse upon the origin of the world (he considered <165> that this had been effected in his Sacred Theory). Moses in his account had followed the 'popular system' in order to gain acceptance for his divine precepts. He wrote 'that it was not this Sacred author's design to represent the beginning of the world, exactly according to the physical truth; (which would have been no use to the common people who were incapable of being philosophers) but to expound the first originals of things after such a method, as might breed in the minds of men Piety, and a worshipping of the true God'. Moses' intention was not to explain the origin of the universe but to give an explanation adapted to the capacities of the people 'that he might the better help the imagination of the people, to comprehend the first original of things'.[123]

Burnet executed a similar interpretation of Genesis suggesting that, as a physical account, it was fundamentally absurd. Moses' discourse was 'artifically figurative' in order to explain the degenerate nature of man 'as also the Paradisiac State of infant Nature'. The notion of the Garden of Eden was created 'because it was more suitable to the genius and understanding of the Vulgar, to conceive a pleasant Garden or a single field, than that the whole globe of the Earth should put on a new face and new nature, entirely different from what we now enjoy'. In a similar fashion the notion that Eve was created from Adam's spare rib has no physiological truth but was suggested by Moses 'to breed mutual love between sexes & also render efficacious his institution of marriage'. Man's expulsion from this symbolic paradise for the small crime of eating an apple was described by Moses 'only to the end he might procure the greater deference and authority to his own Laws'.[124] Spinoza himself considered the history of the first man as a 'parable' rather than a 'plain and Simple narration'.[125]

How did the Freethinkers' treatment of Revelation interlock with their critique of priestcraft? They argued that Scripture had been composed in terms of an exoteric philosophy or popular theology. This originally accessible knowledge had been veiled and masked by the corrupt influence of the priesthood into 'mystery'. The Freethinkers described the history of this division of knowledge into two social forms: the exoteric and esoteric in <166> order to indict priestly manipulation.[126] The most articulate and popular history of 'mystery' was John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious (1696).

In this work he documented in detail the priestly construction of mystery into a self-interested theology. Scripture contained nothing mysterious in itself. True religion had been rendered enigmatic by the priesthood who encumbered pure religion with cabbalism and ritual.[127] We must examine the abstract underpinnings of this popular polemic.

The Freethinkers argued that the clergy had made a claim to be the possessors of a hidden true knowledge when in fact they had erected a false system to promote their own self-interest. Charles Blount appealed to the patterns of pagan antiquity and wrote that in the 'First Ages … all things were full of Fables, Aenigmas, Parables, and Similies of all sorts, whereby they sought to teach and expound knowledge to the Vulgar'. Tales of fortune and mystery were created to 'Induce us to Virtue, piety, and Religion, [such] as the wonderful pleasures of the Elesian Fields'. John Toland in Letters to Serena (1704) appealed to the original of Pythagoras suggesting that the philosopher's notion of the transmigration of souls was in effect the veneer of his 'internal or secret Doctrine' of 'the eternal Revolution of Forms in matter'. Toland generalized, 'for most of the Philosophers … had two sorts of Doctrine, the one internal and the other external, or the one private and the other publick; the latter to be indifferently communicated to all the world, and the former only very cautiously to their best friends'. A work which may have been composed by Toland, Two Essays sent in a Letter from Oxford to a Nobleman in London (1695), probed the origins of such activity. Fiction was originally mixed with truth in Egypt; the 'mythological' works of Aesop, Homer, Hesiod or Orpheus had their generation in the 'Romantick vein' of communication prevalent in Egypt. These seeds of fiction, transplanted into Greece, found the soil very fertile and luxuriant. The Greeks 'addicted to Poetry and Invention, ran upon all figures, Fables and Parable'. The importation of ideas and methods had been facilitated by the fact that both Plato and Pythagoras had visited Egypt and received tuition from Eastern priests. Sacred authors complied with this 'Humour of Parables and fiction, the Holy Scripture being altogether Mysterious, Allegorical and Enigmatical; and our Saviour Himself gave his precepts under this veil'.[128] The letter continues to decry how this division was put to the employ of self-interested monks and the clerical order.

Cherbury's study of heathen religion was founded on the premise of a popular/philosophical distinction. The theme of the work had been that the <167> religious worship of the pagans had been 'symbolical'; the stars were fables of divinities, and ceremonies had been cultus symbolicus rather than cultus proprius. This was to say that the populace had been unable to conceive of true divinity so they had worshipped it indirectly; that when the stars were worshipped it was not for themselves but for them as a representation of the supreme being. Cherbury wrote that it was necessary 'always to observe that many things which we call Superstitions, were intended by them only to signifie the mystical and occult Adoration of some unknown Deity; and others we esteem Idolatrous, were a Symbolical way of worshipping the Supream God'. Cherbury cited Varro, who determined that there were 'three kinds of theology'. The triple division was 'Mystical, Natural, and Civil'. The mystical part of theology was composed of poets' attributions of qualities of the immortal Gods; the second part was natural philosophy; the third was that which 'the citizens and Priests especially, ought to understand and perform; this contains what sacrifices are to be performed by everyone'. Cherbury asserted that this third sort of theology which ought to have been 'to the city' had become the 'Inventions of Priests'. The rites and ceremonies 'tended more to external Pageantry than the honour of the Supream God, they debauched the Minds of men from the internal Worship of God, sometimes to a magnificent Pomp, and at others to meer empty Ceremonies, to the overthrow of True and Sound Religion'.[129] In Archaeologiae Philosophicae Burnet employed an identical Varroistic analysis of the three-fold theology. To justify his treatment of Genesis he had asserted 'who if they will but with me consider the usage and Genius of the Primitive Ages, more especially among the Oriental nations (whose custom it was to deliver their decrees and doctrine by Symbols, Similitudes, and Parables) if they do not conceive with, will yet at least not be prejudiced against those who explain Ancient things after this manner'. As with Cherbury, Burnet cited Varro's analysis; he divided the 'antient Theology into three parts, the fabulous, Civil, and Philosophical. This last was useless to the common people; and the fabulous hurtful; therefore they instituted a middle sort … for the benefit of the common people, and advantage of human life'.[130]

In 1720 John Toland published his Clidophorus, Or Of the Exoteric and Esoteric Philosophy; the subtitle indicates the intention of the work 'That is of the External and Internal Doctrine of the Ancients: The one open and <168> Publick, accommodated to popular prejudices and the religions established by law; the other private and secret, wherein, to the few capable and discrete, was taught the real truth stript of all disguises'. Toland discussed the notion of Isis in Egyptian theology, pointing out that while the vulgar conceived of a fabulous queen the natural meaning was concerned with 'the nature of all things', that is, the notion of the universe as God. The 'double manner of teaching' was employed throughout the oriental nations: the Ethiopians, Babylonians, Syrians and Persians who were instructed by Zoroaster. A similar tradition was continued with the Gaulish and British Druids.[131] Toland cited Strabo, Parmenides, Pythagoras and the ubiquitous Varro to uphold his thesis that there must be variant forms of knowledge according to the capacities of those concerned. Toland, however, was more explicit in cataloguing the result of this dual system of truth. While acknowledging that this system might have been useful when employed to legitimate ends 'whereby to keep in order the Silly part of mankind', Toland wished to maintain that it had ultimately proved detrimental. He wrote: 'but granting that Superstition had at any time proved beneficial to the public, yet at other times without number, and in things of incomparably greater importance, it will be found detrimental, destructive, and utterly pernicious; nor advantageous to any, excepting Priests or Princes, who dextrously turn it to their own interest.'

Toland described a dynamic where the priests in tandem with a tyrannous secular authority managed to create a 'mystery' to influence the populace for their own ends. Toland upheld the use of metaphor and symbol in explaining and discussing the divine nature and attributes, indeed in regard to the latter it was 'even absolutely necessary'. The clergy rejected any assault upon their usurped position and thus employed force to prevent that being told 'which shows the multitude to be ridiculous, or their guides Impostors'. Toland objected that what had originated as a pragmatic device of administration had been converted into a tool of interest by the clergy. It was now the philosophers who suffered at the hands of the priests for attempting to search after the truth. Toland's tract finished with an impassioned plea for the uninhibited exposition of the truth, with the eirenic and subversive suggest <169> ion that the division of religions was the product of the priests and the ignorance of the people, while in reality 'all wise men are of the same religion'.[132] One of the major facets of the distinction between the esoteric and exoteric philosophy was that the Freethinkers considered the practice legitimate if it was to effect the public good. If the process was to establish the rule of virtue then it was valid. This argument involved a redefinition of the nature of religion and its relationship with society. The Freethinkers, although they considered religion as a form of morality, did not treat it simply as a politic device. They attempted to reunite the heavenly and earthly cities.

[1] The intention is to stress the English Republican contribution to the Enlightenment (see following chapters); this can be most readily identified in the adoption of Harringtonian civil theologies by such thinkers and actors as Rousseau and Robespierre: for a general discussion see N. Hampson, Will and Circumstance (1983). On this theme Engels has some illuminating comments, see Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 386-7, 395, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works (Moscow, 1968). See also F. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, 1959), and The Changing of the Gods, (Hanover, 1983), especially chapter 2, 'Deists on True and False Gods'; P. Hazard, The European Mind 1680-1715 (1973); C. J. Betts, Early Deism in France (The Hague, 1984); D. C. Allen, Doubt's Boundless Sea: Scepticism and Faith in the Renaissance (Baltimore, 1964); N. L. Torry, Voltaire and the English Deists (Yale, 1967); D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell (1964); I. O. Wade, The Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment (Princeton, 1971); L. Althusser, Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx (1982).


See D. Hume, The Natural History of Religion, ed. A. W. Colver (Oxford, 1976); P. Rossi, The Dark Abyss of Time (Chicago, 1985); D. A. Paulin, Attitudes to Other Religions (Manchester, 1984); on Hume, see for example J. C. A. Gaskin, Hume's Philosophy of Religion (1978), at 146:

Although the authorities and evidence which Hume produced for his conclusions in the N[atural H[istory of] R[eligion] are almost all drawn from the observations of ancient authors, the problem which he discusses - the psychological and anthropological causes and origins of religious belief and its effects - is, as Mossner observes, essentially modern, and to Hume should go the credit for being the first great modern to treat of it systematically. From it arises much modern thinking on the subject.

Gaskin continues to describe the Natural History of Religion as the 'first move in what might now be called the sociology of religion'. For a fine destruction of such Whiggish notions in the history of anthropology, see J. A. Boon, Other Tribes, Other Scribes (Cambridge, 1982). The origin of different attitudes to religion has been usefully explored by J. S. Preus in his recent Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (Yale, 1987). This work is a sound study, based on the premise that (at x), 'it is not necessary to believe in order to understand, indeed that suspension of belief is probably a condition for understanding'. While the general argument of his case is persuasive, Preus prefers to emphasize the French contribution over the English, suggesting that the English investigation was essentially epistemological (following Herbert of Cherbury) while the French was sociological. This chapter intends to investigate the sociological dimensions of the English tradition.

[3] For an important study of the legacy of the Reformation see H. Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (1984) in particular Parts II and III. For the most recent and persuasive account of Hobbes' religious thought, see R. Tuck, 'The Christian Atheism of Thomas Hobbes' in Hunter and Wootton (eds.), Atheism.

[4] To give an exhaustive bibliographical footnote on the state of scholarship on the thought of Hobbes is impossible here. The fault with all the works detailed here is a failure to examine the explicit and implied anticlericalism of Hobbes' thought. See L. Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, (Oxford, 1936); A. E. Taylor, 'The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes' in K. Brown (ed.), Hobbes Studies (Oxford, 1965); M. Oakeshott, 'Introduction' to Leviathan (Oxford, 1946); H. Warrender, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Oxford, 1957); C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford, 1962); K. Thomas, 'The Social Origins of Hobbes' Political Thought' in K. Brown, (ed.), Hobbes Studies; F. C. Hood, The Divine Politics of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, 1964); M. M. Goldsmith, Hobbes' Science of Politics (1966); F. McNeilly, The Anatomy of Leviathan (1968); D. P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan (Oxford, 1969); Q. Skinner, 'History and Ideology in the English Revolution', HJ 8 (1965), and 'Conquest and Consent: Thomas Hobbes and the Engagement Controversy' in G. E. Aylmer (ed.), The Interregnum (1972).

[5] Hobbes, Leviathan, III, chapter 41, 'Of the Office of our Blessed Saviour' at 512-21. See J. G. A. Pocock, 'Time, History, and Eschatology in Thomas Hobbes' in Politics, Language and Time (1972); P. Springborg, 'Leviathan, the Christian Commonwealth Incorporated', Political Studies 24 (1976), 171-83; L. Strauss, Spinoza's Critique of Religion (New York, 1965), 86-104. Recently there has been new interest in Hobbes' religious thought, for example, E. J. Eisenach, 'Hobbes on Church, State, and Religion', History of Political Thought 3 (1982), 215-44, and D. Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformation (Princeton, 1986), 114-15, 117, 134, 147-50, 183. It is interesting to note that the study of Hobbes' religious thought is currently flourishing in the Soviet Union: see J. Thrower, The Marxist-Leninist Scientific Atheism (Berlin, 1983), especially chapter 6, 'The History of Atheism, Freethinking, and Humanism' at 288-308, which gives a detailed bibliography of Soviet studies, plus a list of university courses on Hobbes' anticlericalism (404, 468).


See Hobbes' Leviathan, IV, chapter 47, 385:

First, the power of the Popes was dissolved totally by Queen Elizabeth; and before the Bishops, who before exercised their functions in right of the Pope, did afterwards exercise the same right of the Queen and her successours … And so was untied the first knot. After this the Presbyterians lately in England obtained the putting down of Episcopacy: And so was the second knot dissolved: and almost at the same time, the power was taken also from the Presbyterians: and so we are reduced to the Independency of the Primitive Christians to follow Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, every man as he liketh best: Which if it be without contention, and without measuring the doctrine of Christ, by our affection to the Person of <136> his Minister, (the fault which the Apostle reprehended in the Corinthians) is perhaps the best.

[7] This work has gone largely unnoticed in commentaries upon Hobbes. See H. Macdonald and M. Hargreaves, Thomas Hobbes: A Bibliography (1952), 75. See also J. Aubrey's reference to the work in Remaines of Gentilism and Judaisme in J. Buchanan-Brown (ed.), Three Prose Works of John Aubrey (Sussex, 1972), 13-137, citing Hobbes, Historia Ecclesiastica, 62. Aubrey, particularly in his Brief Lives (2 volumes edited by A. Clarke, Oxford, 1898), stresses the anticlerical Hobbes: see Aubrey, Brief Lives, I, 338-9, 358, 364, 382, where he makes reference to the Ecclesiastical History in commenting on Hobbes' fear of episcopal retribution in the Restoration. He wrote: 'Which he fearing that his papers might be search't by their order, and he told me he had burnt part of them; among other things a poeme, in Latin hexameter and pentameter, of the encroachment of the clergie (both Roman and Reformed) on the Civil power.'

[8] T. Hobbes, A True Ecclesiastical History (1722), 34-6, 89-90, 94-5, 105-6, 110-14, 150. For one example of the later influence of Books III-IV of Leviathan, see M. Tindal, Rights of the Christian Church (1706), especially chapter 6, 190-232, which indicts the 'labyrinth of words' and 'transcendent metaphysics' created by the priestly manipulation of Aristotelian 'jargon'.

[9] It has been suggested that this work was an adaption of a Dutch Spinozist work, De jure Ecclesiasticorum published in Amsterdam 1665. See R. S. Colie, 'Spinoza and the Early English Deists', JHI 20 (1959), and 'Spinoza in England 1665-1730', Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 107 (1963). Contemporary reaction to Tindal's reputation can be gauged from the treatment of F. Littleton, Fellow of All Souls, who was refused his MA because it was known he favoured the Rights. See Hearne, Remarks and Collections, II, 94.

[10] 'All things relating to Religion are either Means or ends; the last as carrying real worth with 'em, are to be embraced on their own Account: but the first as having no such Excellency are obligatory for the sake of the last only; and consequently are to be continued or chang'd, as serves best to promote these Ends for which they were instituted' (Tindal, Rights, 122, 80).

[11] Ibid., 123, 84.

[12] Ibid., 43, 98, 101.

[13] J. Evelyn, Diary, II, 215.

[14] R. Howard, A Twofold Vindication of the Late Archbishop of Canterbury and the Author of the History of Religion (1696), 27.

[15] R. Howard, History of Religion (1694), 1-2.

[16] Ibid., Preface, iv; text, 22, 43.

[17] Ibid., 52, 28-9, 35-6.

[18] Ibid., 53-4, 56.

[19] Ibid., Preface, vii.

[20] Ibid., 80, Preface, xii-xiii.

[21] F. Atterbury, The Scorner Incapable of True Wisdom (1694), 10, 16.

[22] Leslie, Charge of Socinianism, 'A Supplement', in Theological Works, 635-8. Note that Leslie pointed out that there was some discrepancy in the work of the two infidels, in particular over whether the priesthood or civil tyranny was the ultimate cause of idolatry. See Blount, Great is Diana, 7, and Howard, History of Religion, 6.

[23] Ibid., xx-xxii, 64, 102.

[24] Howard, Twofold Vindication, 159, 162-4.

[25] Ibid., 113-19, 122, 122-4.

[26] On Herbert, see D. P. Walker, The Ancient Theology (1972). It will be implicit in my argument that Walker's thesis that Herbert was an espouser of an ancient astral worship is misguided: to counter this argument I would suggest Herbert's anticlericalism is a much more fruitful tradition to explore. See also B. Willey, The Seventeenth-Century Background (1979), 111-23; C. J. Webb, Studies in the History of Natural Theology (Oxford, 1915), 344-59. R. Bedford, The Defence of Truth (Manchester, 1979), 258-9, has a useful discussion about whether Herbert is to be considered a man of the Renaissance or of eighteenth-century deism; note that Bedford (178-9) rejects Walker's astral thesis, but overemphasizes the epistemological, rather than anticlerical, polemics of Herbert's work. See H. R. Hutcheson (ed.), Lord Herbert of Cherbury's De Religione Laici (Yale, 1944); D. A. Paulin 'Herbert of Cherbury and the Deists', The Expository Times 94 (April 1983). Note that the traditional argument that Herbert was the founding father of deism is found in John Leland's A View of the Principle Deistical Writers (1764). See D. A. Paulin, Attitudes to Other Religions (Manchester, 1984), which argues this point. Paulin does not, however, stress the anticlerical content and intention of Herbert's work. See also E. J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History (1975), especially 2-5 and 15-20; and L. Salvatorelli, 'From Locke to Reitzenstein: The Historical Investigation of the Origins of Christianity', The Harvard Theological Review 22 (1929); A. J. Kuhn 'English Deism, and the Development of Romantic Mythological Syncretism', PMLA 71 (1956).

[27] Herbert, Antient Religion, 3.

[28] Ibid., 5-6.

[29] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 79.

[30] Vossius' work is cited throughout Herbert's work on at least forty-two occasions, in places in extenso. It is important to note that Cherbury manipulated Vossius' distinction. It had been the Dutch scholar's argument that the pagans had worshipped the stars as cultus proprius not cultus symbolicus. Cherbury's insistence on the symbolic nature of astral worship rather undermines Walker's point about his supposedly hermetic religion. On Vossius, see J. N. Wickenden, 'Early Modern Historiography as Illustrated by the work of G. J. Vossius 1577-1649' (2 volumes, unpublished Ph.D., Cambridge, 1963), and C. S. M. Rademaker, The Life and Works of Gerardus Joannes Vossius 1577-1649 (Assen, 1981).

[31] Herbert, Antient Religion, 295.

[32] Ibid., 44.

[33] Ibid., 366-8.

[34] Ibid., 274-82, 282-90, 316-20.

[35] Ibid., 12-16, 31, 138.

[36] Ibid., 11, 299, 316-18.

[37] Blount's dissemination of Renaissance anticlericalism and the English reception of the thought of such men as Vanini and Pomponazzi is understudied. For general accounts, see P. O. Kristeller, 'The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and French Freethought', Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 (1968); C. B. Schmitt, 'Renaissance Averroism Studied through the Venetian editions of Aristotle-Averroes', Atti Dei Convegni Lincei 40 (1979), 121-42; E. Cassirer, P. O. Kristeller and J. H. Randall (eds.), The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago, 1948); W. B. Fleischmann, Lucretius and English Literature 1580-1740 (Paris, 1964); J. Owens, Sceptics of the Italian Renaissance (New York, 1893); P. O. Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (California, 1964), chapter 5 on Pomponazzi; Anon., The Life of Lucilio Vanini … with an Abstract of His Writings (1730). See J. A. Redwood, 'Charles Blount, Deism, and English Freethought', JHI (1976), and Reason, Ridicule, and Religion (1979); Mysticus, Charles Blount, gent: His Life and Opinions (1917); U. Bonante, Charles Blount: Libertismo e Deismo nel Seicento Inglese (Florence, 1972); P. Villey, 'L'Influence de Montaigne sur Charles Blount et sur les deistes anglais', Revue du Seizième Siècle 1 (1913).

[38] Blount, Religio Laici (1683), Epistle Dedicatory, Sig. A8v-A9r.

[39] Ibid., 48, 52-4.

[40] H. R. Hutcheson (ed.), Lord Herbert of Cherbury's De Religione Laici (Yale, 1944), 48, 71-4. Note that Bedford, Defence of Truth, 189, points out that the earlier Italian scholar Rossi also doubted the authenticity of Herbert's authorship of the Dialogue.

[41] A Dialogue, 7-8.

[42] Ibid., 27.

[43] Ibid., 27, 42, 53, 73; 187-8 follows Herbert, Antient Religion, 316-20.

[44] A Dialogue, 99-100, 102.

[45] A Dialogue, 17-18. Note that the first extended presentation of this thesis was by Thomas Burnet in his Archaeologiae Philosophicae, a text which Blount translated and defended in his Oracles of Reason (1693).

[46] See R. H. Popkin, Isaac La Peyrère 1576-1676 (Brill, 1987).

[47] A Dialogue, 68, 70; see H. Stubbe, An Account of Mahomet, 76, 153-5, 167-9. Note that this passage was also employed by Boulainvilliers in his Life of Mahomet (1731), and that the Biographia Britannicae notes Blount's design 'of writing the life of Mohammed, the Turkish Prophet'.

[48] A Dialogue, 130-4.

[49] Herbert, Antient Religion, 23-4; A Dialogue, 15, 29, 67-8, 247-8.

[50] Blount, Oracles of Reason, 133-5; also Blount, Great is Diana, 38-9, on Spencer's accommodation thesis. See also J. Aubrey, 'Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme' in Three Prose Works, 131-309.

[51] Blount, Anima Mundi, 11, 14, 17-37.

[52] Ibid., 36-7, 46-50, 64, 85.

[53] Ibid., 94, 97-9, 100, 104, 105-9.

[54] Blount, Oracles of Reason, 118, 121, 124-6.

[55] Blount, Great is Diana, 6, 14.

[56] Ibid., 41ff.

[57] Toland, Letters to Serena, 21-3, 28-9.

[58] Ibid., 29-30, 33-8, 40, 42-3. Note that in referring to the druidical tradition Toland was borrowing directly from Blount's Great is Diana, 10-12. It is important to note that Toland was to conduct his own original researches into the history of the druids.

[59] Toland, Letters to Serena, 45-52, 95.

[60] Ibid., 53, 55, 58, 60, 67. Note that Toland uses Blount's favourite passages from Seneca ('Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil') and Pliny (Letters to Serena, 63-6 is the same passage of Pliny as Blount, Oracles of Reason, 121-3).

[61] On Toland's borrowing from Herbert are Letters to Serena, 78ff. (on Egyptian Astrology), 93ff. (on the Philosophical worship of the four elements), 109ff. (on the 'Dii majorem gentilium, Dii Minorum gentilium').

[62] Toland, Letters to Serena, 84, 86, 91-2, 98-102, 123, 127.

[63] Toland, Letters to Serena, 19, 71; see Herbert, Antient Religion, 314, 'the most ancient temples amongst the Egyptians, were without Statues or images'.


See BL Add. 4295, folio 43:

Manuscripts of Mine abroad - 'Horroke *** / Life of Jordanus Bruno / Mr Laney Revelation no Rule / Mr Robinson Piece of Ye Roman Education / Mr Hewet History of the Canon [this entry is crossed out - presumably the work had been returned] / Mr(s) Lane A Letter about Error / Mr Wrottesley A piece of Dr Chamberlain's / Mr Hewet Revelation No Rule Lord Castleton The Cloud & Pillar [crossed out] / Mr Jonvine Toland's perigrinans Mr Hewet Translation of Bruno's Assera Dialogues / Mr Lord The Creed no Apostolick My Lord Molesworth Specimen of Ye History of Ye Druids / Mr Hewet Specimen of Ye History of Ye Druids / Ld Castleton Shaftesbury's Letters [crossed out] / Lady Carmine Part of Ye History of Ye Druids [crossed out] / Rd Aylmer Bruno Sermon [crossed out].

[65] See Jacob, Newtonians, 228; and BL Add. 12062, 12063.

[66] See Jacob, Newtonians, 246; BL Add. 4295 f. 43; F. H. Heinemann, 'Prolegomena to a Toland Bibliography' in Notes and Queries 185 (1943), 184.

[67] It may have been Elizabeth I's own copy. See Daniel, Toland, 3, 10.

[68] See Jacob, Newtonians, 231.

[69] See Jacob, Newtonians, 245; A. D. Imerti (ed.), The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (Rutgers, 1964), 22.

[70] Jacob, Newtonians, 245; see D. W. Singer, Bruno, His Life (New York, 1950), 192n. There is a large corpus of Italian literature on Toland and in particular on his relationship with Bruno. The primary Italian work is the indispensable bibliography by Carabelli, but see also G. Aquilecchia, 'Schedu Bruniana: la traduzione 'Tolandiana' dello Spaccio' in Giornale Storico della Litteratura Italiana 152 (1975); G. Carabelli (ed.), 'John Toland e G. W. Leibnitz: otto lettere', Rivista Critica di Storia della Filosophia 29 (1974); and C. Giuntini, 'Toland e Bruno: ermetismo rivoluzionario', Rivista di Filosophia 66 (1975). Carabelli, Tolandiana (1975), 170-1, presents the evidence for William Morehead (1637-92) as translator. There are two arguments against Morehead. The first is that from the only biographical details we have of any William Morehead (in the DNB) he seems an unlikely character even to have associated with Anthony Collins, or to have translated such a subversive work. The second argument is that the ascription of Morehead's authorship comes from the testimony of a bookseller, Samuel Paterson (1728-1802), who makes the claim in a sale catalogue of 1750. Without further supporting testimony Paterson's account appears to be based on mere speculation.

[71] Worden, Ludlow, 24: see S. Paterson (ed.), Bibliotheca Westiana (1773), 44; flyleaf of James Martineau's copy of this translation in Manchester College, Oxford; R. Watt (ed.), Bibliotheca Britannica (4 volumes, Edinburgh, 1824), I, 162.

[72] See Toland, Collections, II, 376-81. Carabelli, the most assiduous bibliographer of Toland's works, makes no concrete reference to this letter, although he does to a close version of the piece in citing the publication of a Toland letter of 1710 in A General Dictionary, Historical and Critical (1735), III, 622-3; see the article on 'Brunus, Jordanus'. A version of the same is employed in F. H. Heinemann, 'John Toland and the Age of Enlightenment' (Oxford, 1949). Here Heinemann makes use of a 'Lettre de Mr Toland sur le Spaccio della Bestia Trionfante, Paris 1584' which was printed in Nova Bibliotheca Lubencesis, VII (Lubucae, 1756), 158-62. This piece bears a close resemblance to the letter under consideration: although they share common passages they also diverge from each other in elements of composition.

[73] Biographical details of the mysterious Dr Morelli are sparse. R. H. Popkin has established that Morelli was a close friend of Spinoza's. It is clear that Morelli left Holland in the 1670s and moved in the libertine circle of St Evremond in England. That Toland knew Morelli is <152> perhaps a significant influence upon the former's Spinozism. See J. Hayward (ed.), The Letters of Saint Evremond (1930) 322-4; R. H. Popkin, 'Serendipity at the Clark: Spinoza and the Prince of Condé', The Clark Newsletter 10 (1986); R. T. Gunther, Early Science in Oxford 14 (Oxford, 1945); Edward Llwyd to Mr John Lloyd (3 March 1691) on Morelli as an anatomist, at 135-6. Importantly the sale-catalogue of Morelli's library survives, Bibliotheca Morelliana (1715) (BL SC.292(7)).

[74] Toland, Collections, II, 395. The letter was probably composed after 1710.

[75] See Pierre Bayle in Nova Bibliotheca Lubecensis, 11, 149. 'Ce livre de Bruno est une traité de morale bizarrement dirigée: car on y expose la nature des vices et des vertues sous l'embleme des constellations celestes chassées du firmement pour faire place a de nouveaux astres, mais qui representent la verité, la bonté'; Bruno in Imerti (ed.), The Expulsion, 115: 'We must purify ourselves internally and externally'; see also 74-89.

[76] See Imerti, The Expulsion, 139-45.

[77] Ibid., 204, 236-48.

[78] Ibid., 235, 'Natura est Deus in rebus'.

[79] Ibid., 242ff.; consider, for example, Bruno's assault upon the Trinity, where he argues that Orion/Christ was maleficent in maintaining a bifurcation and contrariety between divinity and nature.

[80] Ibid., 149-50, 257-8. There seems to be a Machiavellian element in these statements.

[81] Ibid., 270ff.; Bruno continued: 'From where the altar stands let superstition, Faithlessness and impiety depart; and there let religion, which is not vain, Faith which is not foolish, and true and sincere Piety soujourn.'

[82] See Jacob, Newtonians, 205, 226-9, 232-4, 245-6 and Radical Enlightenment, 35-40, 41, 47, 61, 87, 202.

[83] As I argue above, the crucial influence on Toland's thought was the work of Cicero and the Stoics. Perhaps there is a similar case to be made for the influences of antiquity upon Bruno.

[84] Jacob, Newtonians, 234; on Toland's claim see BL, Add. 4465 f. 7 and & sect. 10 of Letters to Serena.

[85] Jacob, Newtonians, 233-8.

[86] It is interesting to note that in both letters concerning Bruno's Spaccio, Toland makes no reference to notions of natural philosophy.

[87] Nova Bibliotheca, 159.

[88] Ibid., 160.

[89] One is reminded of Toland's descriptions of his Socratic club in Pantheisticon (1720).

[90] For a discussion of the history of philosophy, and the idea of the Egyptian origins of the philosophia perennis in the Renaissance, see: C. A. Patrides, The Cambridge Platonists (Cambridge, 1969), 1-42; G. Aspelin, 'Ralph Cudworth's Interpretation of Greek Philosophy', Götesborgs Hogkolas Årsskrirft 49 (1943). For an interesting and influential contemporary text, see Thomas Stanley's History of Philosophy (1655-62). See also J. Godwin, Athanasius Kircher: A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge (1979); E. Iverson, The Myth of Egypt and Its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition (Copenhagen, 1961); and L. Dieckmann, Hieroglyphs: The History of a Literary Symbol (Washington and St Louis, 1970).

[91] J. Spencer, De Legibus Hebraeorum, I, chapter 4, sections iii-vi, 45-59, at 48. See W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (3rd edition 1927), xiv, and H. P. Smith, Essays in Biblical Interpretation (1921). M. Bernal, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation (1987) discusses at length what he terms the 'ancient model' of the history of philosophy and religion which (as he shows convincingly) argued for the primacy of the Egyptians. Although the work is ambitious in both its arguments and its evidence, it is surprising to note that Bernal makes no reference to either Spencer or Marsham, two of Egypt's most scholarly defenders.

[92] Spencer, De Legibus Hebraeorum, 519-20, 521-30, 531-3. Note that Newton in 'the Philosophical Origins of Gentile Religion' (Yahuda 17.3) wrote that Spencer's De Legibus <156> Hebraeorum 'amply shows … that the Mosaic rituals were drawn from the Egyptians'. Many thanks to R. Iliffe, who is currently working on similar themes in Newton's thought, for this reference.

[93] W. Warburton, Divine Legation of Moses, (4 volumes, 4th edition, 1765), IV, 25. See also Bibliotheque Universelle 25 (1693), 432-3, which makes the same point. Spencer acknowledges this debt in De Legibus Hebraeorum, III, 527, where he cites the crucial passage (Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed (Chicago, 1963), III, chapter 32, 526). See also, J. Townley, The Reasons of the Laws of Moses (1827).

[94] W. Orme, Bibliotheca Biblica (1824), 417.

[95] Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres 5 (April, 1686), 438, 444.

[96] Bibliotheque Universelle 24 (1693) (2nd edition, Amsterdam, 1699), 288, 291-5, 297-8, 300.

[97] J. Edwards, Complete History of Religion (2 volumes, 1699), I, 250, see also 247-9.

[98] See Holmes and Jones, The London Diaries, 271, entry for 5 January 1705, where Nicolson describes dining at Woodward's and perusing his manuscript where 'he takes occasion to run down the Egyptians, as mistaken masters of ancient learning'. See also Anon. to Woodward, 12 July (?), CUL Add. 7647.145.

[99] J. Woodward, 'Of the Wisdom of the Ancient Egyptians', Archaeologia 4 (1777), 271, 280-1.

[100] Ibid., 238-260, 262, 264-8, 282.

[101] Fontenelle, The History of Oracles, Preface, Sigs. A6r, A7v. Aphra Behn also translated Fontenelle's Plurality of Worlds. Note that Toland in Letters to Serena also referred to the Dutch scholar's works with admiration.

[102] Anon., An Answer to Fontenelle, 'A Letter written by Dr George Hickes', Sig. A3r.

[103] Fontenelle, The History of Oracles, 82-3.

[104] Ibid., 112, 161-95, 223.

[105] Ibid., 173, 194. The last efforts of paganism were terminated under the reigns of the Emperors Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius.

[106] Anon. An Answer to Fontenelle, 159, 169.

[107] Ibid., 71, 78, 186. This very theme was to form the subject of a work written by William Warburton in the mid-eighteenth century to justify the authority of the Church.

[108] Ibid., 195.

[109] Anon. Averroeana (1695), 102.

[110] Hobbes, Leviathan, 168-9, 172-3. On Hobbes' psychological notions see M. V. Deporte, Nightmares and Hobbyhorses: Swift, Sterne and Augustan Ideas of Madness (San Marillo, 1974).

[111] Spinoza, Treatise Partly Theological, 2-6.

[112] Trenchard, Natural History of Superstition, 9; Howard, A History of Religion (1696); Blount, The Life of Apollonius (1680), 23, 30, 151. Note that d'Holbach translated portions of the Natural History as La Contagion sacrée (1767), II, chapters 12-13.

[113] Trenchard, Natural History of Superstition, 9-10.

[114] Ibid., 10, 12-14, 16.

[115] Toland, Letters to Serena, Preface, Sig. B4r, 2; Trenchard, Natural History, 25.

[116] Toland, Letters to Serena, 2-3, 6, 7, 11.

[117] Blount, Religio Laici, 58-9; and Great is Diana, 22.

[118] Blount, Life of Apollonius, 19, 22; Fontenelle, Oracles, 77; Trenchard, Natural History, 33; Toland, Serena, 12-13. One of the 'prejudices' that received attention was the belief in miracles. Blount's work Miracles No Violation of the Laws of Nature (1683) is of especial interest as it represents a confluence of the thought of Thomas Hobbes, Spinoza and Thomas Burnet. The work was a combination of extracts from Spinoza's Treatise Partly Theological and Hobbes' Leviathan, with a preface lifted from Burnet's Telluris Theoria Sacra. Blount's Anglican adversary, Thomas Browne, replied in the same year with his Miracles Works Above and Contrary to Nature deriding the work as a proponent of deism and atheism. See also J. Spink, French Freethought from Gassendi to Voltaire (1961) for a discussion of Pierre Bayle's Pensées sur la comete (1683) which proposes a similar analysis.

[119] The history of the origins of seventeenth-century biblical hermeneutics is sparse, and there are many areas that need further detailed investigation. The reception and usage of the French work of Richard Simon is in need of examination. General works are H. Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (1984); W. G. Kummel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of its Problems (Nashville, 1972) and G. Reedy, The Bible and Reason: Anglicans and Scripture in Late Seventeenth-Century England (Philadelphia, 1985). There are interesting accounts of radical biblical criticism in L. Strauss, Spinoza's Critique of Religion (New York, 1965), in particular 66-77 on Isaac La Peyrère, and 251-68, and 311-27 on Spinoza's sources. See also R. H. Popkin, 'The Development of Religious Scepticism and the Influences of Isaac La Peyrère's Pre-Adamism and Bible Criticism' in R. R. Bolgar (ed.), Classical Influences on European Culture AD 1500-1700 (Cambridge, 1976), and 'Some New Light on the Roots of Spinoza's Science of Bible Study' in M. Grene (ed.), Spinoza and the Sciences, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 91 (1986). Toland's research on the canon in The Life of John Milton (1698) and Amyntor: Or a Defence of Milton's Life (1699), especially 25-78, was received with great hostility by the Anglican orthodoxy. A similar reaction was directed against the Arian conclusion of William Whiston's research, which argued that the Apostolic Constitutions was the oldest Christian document, see Primitive Christianity Reviv'd (5 volumes, 1711). On Whiston, see 0. C. Krabbe, The Apostolic Constitutions (New York, 1848); E. Duffy, 'Whiston's Affair: The trial of a Primitive Christian 1709-1714', Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1976); J. E. Force, William Whiston: Honest Newtonian (Cambridge, 1985). Further study should focus upon John Mill's edition of the New Testament of 1707 and its hostile reception. See Hearne, Remarks and Collections, I, 22, 28 and II, 20, 25, 186; and A. Fox, John Mill and Richard Bentley (Oxford, 1954).

[120] Woodward, 'Egyptians', 262, 277.

[121] Spinoza, Treatise Partly Theological, 23.

[122] Ibid., 30, 34, 40-1, 53, 55, 140-4.

[123] T. Burnet, Archaeologiae Philosophicae, 41-2.

[124] Ibid., 5-7, 8-9, 11, 23.

[125] Spinoza, Treatise Partly Theological, 99. William Whiston, in his Discourse Concerning the Nature, Stile and Extent of the Mosaick History of the Creation which prefaced his New Theory of the Earth (1696), took issue with Burnet's notion. He considered those who have 'been so sensible of the wildness and unreasonableness of That (Scripture), that they have ventured to exclude it from any just sense at all; asserting it to be a meer Popular, Parabolick, or Mythological relation; in which the plain letter is no more to be accounted for or believ'd, than the fabulous representations of Aesop, or at best the Mistical Parables of our Saviour', were executing a mischievous design. Whiston's argument with Burnet's interpretation of Scripture is convoluted and in some ways contradictory.

[126] For a similar analysis of the notion of the 'expert', but in the area of scientific knowledge, see. S. Schaffer, 'The Political Theology of Seventeenth-Century Natural Science' in Ideas and Production (1983).

[127] Toland, CNM, II, 68-9, 72-3, 158-70.

[128] Blount, Life of Apollonius, 64; Toland, Serena 56, 57, and Two Essays (1695), 30, 31, 37.

[129] Cherbury, Antient Religion, 381, 382, 384-5. M. Terentius Varro (116-27 BC), described by Augustine as 'the greatest of Roman scholars, the weightiest authority', was a writer of enormous output, most of which is now lost. Varro's notions were, however, available via Augustine's commentary on his thought in The City of God; see D. Knowles (ed.), Book VI, 229-35.

[130] Burnet, Archaeologiae, vii, 24, 61, 63-5, 72-4, 74-5. C. Ginsburg, 'High and Low Knowledge in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries', PP 73 (1976), 28-41; Walker, Ancient Theology, 186-8.

[131] On the 'history' of Druids, see Toland's A Critical History of the Celtic Religion and Learning, published in his Collections, but originally written in letter form to Robert Molesworth. See also Toland's relationship with John Aubrey and the 'history' of Druids in M. Hunter, John Aubrey and the Realm of Learning (1975), 59, 205n, 212; and S. Piggott, The Druids (1974), 120, 124, 127, 134, 157. J. M. S. Tomkins, 'In Yonder Grave a Druid Lies', The Review of English Studies 22 (1946), 1-16; A. L. Owen, The Famous Druids. A Survey of Three Centuries of English Literature on Druids (Oxford, 1962), 108-9, 112-17, 121. See also BL Add. 4295, folio 27, A letter from J. Chamberlayne to Toland 21 June 1718: 'I saw my Lord Chanc. yesterday, who among other papers gave me your project of a History of the Druids, which he told me he did not understand, but which he suspected to be level'd agst Christian Priests.'

[132] Toland, Clidophorus, 68, 71, 72, 82, 88, 94-5, 96. See Toland, the history of Hypatia (1720) and Toland, Pantheisticon (1751), 93-110, 'Of a Twofold Philosophy of the Pantheists'. It is important to note that the eso/exoteric distinction also informs Toland's Letters to Serena.

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Professor Rob Iliffe
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