Matthew Tindal

Last updated

Matthew Tindal (1657 – 16 August 1733) was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.

Contents

Life

Tindal was baptised on 12 May 1657 at Bere Ferrers in Devon, son of the Reverend John Tindal, who was rector of the parish, and his wife Anne Halse. [1] Through his mother, he was a first cousin of Thomas Clifford, 1st Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and therefore descended from the Clifford and Fortescue families.

Tindal studied arts and law at Lincoln College, Oxford, under the high churchman George Hickes, Dean of Worcester, and then at Exeter College, Oxford; in 1678 he was elected fellow of All Souls College. In a timely profession of faith, in 1685 he saw "that upon his High Church notions a separation from the Church of Rome could not be justified," and accordingly he joined the latter. But discerning "the absurdities of popery," he returned to the Church of England at Easter 1688. [2]

Between the early 1690s and his death in 1733, Tindal made major contributions in a various areas. As Deputy Judge Advocate of the Fleet he had a large influence on the case law on piracy, such as his contributions the 16931694 trial of John Golden. [3] His timely pamphlet on the freedom of the press was hugely influential in the ending of the legal requirement that all publications be licensed before being printed. His book Rights of the Christian Church had an immense impact on church/state relations and on the growth of freethinking. Tindal's Christianity as old as the Creation (1730) was the ultimate statement of the deist understanding of Christianity and was highly influential in England and on the Continent.

Works

Early works

His early works were an Essay of Obedience to the Supreme Powers (1694); an Essay on the Power of the Magistrate and the Rights of Mankind in Matters of Religion (1697); and The Liberty of the Press (1698). The first of his two larger works, The Rights of the Christian Church asserted against the Romish and all other priests who claim an independent power over it, pt. i., appeared anonymously in 1706 (2nd ed., 1706; 3rd, 1707; 4th, 1709). The book was regarded in its day as a forcible defence of the Erastian theory of the supremacy of the state over the Church, and at once provoked criticism and abuse.

After several attempts to proscribe the work had failed, a case against the author, publisher and printer succeeded on 14 December 1707, and another against a bookseller for selling a copy the next day. The prosecution did not prevent the issue of a fourth edition and gave the author the opportunity of issuing A Defence of the Rights of the Christian Church, in two parts (2nd ed., 1709). The book was, by order of the House of Commons, burned, along with Sacheverell's sermon, by the common hangman (1710). It continued to be the subject of denunciation for years, and Tindal believed he was charged by Dr Gibson, bishop of London, in a Pastoral Letter, with having undermined religion and promoted atheism and infidelity a charge to which he replied in the anonymous tract, An Address to the Inhabitants of London and Westminster, a second and larger edition of which appeared in 1730. In this tract he makes a valiant defence of the deists, and anticipates here and there his Christianity as Old as the Creation.

Christianity as Old as the Creation

Christianity as Old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature (London, 1730, 2nd ed., 1731; 3rd, 1732; 4th, 1733), came to be regarded as the "Bible" of deism. It was really only the first part of the whole work, and the second, though written and entrusted in manuscript to a friend, never saw the light. The work evoked many replies, of which the ablest were by James Foster (1730), John Conybeare (1732), John Leland (1733) and Bishop Butler (1736).

Christianity as Old as the Creation was translated into German by J. Lorenz Schmidt (1741), and from it dates the influence of English deism on German theology. Tindal had probably adopted the principles it expounds before he wrote his essay of 1697. He claimed the name of "Christian deist",[ dubious ] holding that true Christianity is identical with the eternal religion of nature.

Waring states that Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) "became, very soon after its publication, the focal center of the deist controversy. Because almost every argument, quotation, and issue raised for decades can be found here, the work is often termed 'the deist's Bible'."

Unlike the earlier system of Lord Herbert of Cherbury which relied on the notion of innate ideas, Tindal's system was based on the empirical principles of Locke. It assumed the traditional deistic antitheses of external and internal, positive and natural, revelations and religions. It starts from the assumptions that true religion must, from the nature of God and things, be eternal, universal, simple and perfect; that this religion can consist of nothing but the simple and universal duties towards God and man, the first consisting in the fulfilment of the second—in other words, the practice of morality.

The author's moral system, is essentially utilitarian. True revealed religion is simply a republication of the religion of nature or reason, and Christianity, if it is the perfect religion, can only be that republication, and must be as old as creation. The special mission of Christianity, therefore, is simply to deliver men from the superstition which had perverted the religion of nature. True Christianity must be a perfectly "reasonable service," reason must be supreme, and the Scriptures as well as all religious doctrines must submit; only those writings can be regarded as divine Scripture which tend to the honour of God and the good of man.

Tindal's 'deist Bible' redefined the foundation of deist epistemology as knowledge based on experience or human reason. This effectively widened the gap between traditional Christians and what he called "Christian deists" since this new foundation required that revealed truth be validated through human reason. In Christianity as Old as the Creation, Tindal articulates many prominent facets of deism that have continued to characterize that belief through subsequent centuries unto the present day:

Notes

  1. Bere Ferrers Parish Register South West Heritage Trust, Archive 1237A/PR/1/1 cited at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Tindal-104 A genealogy published in Vol IX of the Literary Anecdotes of John Nichol and written by Tindal's nephew, the historian Rev Nicolas Tindal, states that John was the son of Sir John Tyndall of Maplestead Magna, a Master of Chancery who was murdered in 1617. This is clearly mistaken.
  2. Chisholm 1911.
  3. Neocleous, Mark (2016). The Universal Adversary: Security, Capital and 'The Enemies of All Mankind'. New York: Routledge. pp. 116–117. ISBN   9781317355434 . Retrieved 11 January 2018.

Related Research Articles

Deism is the philosophical position that rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to establish the existence of a Supreme Being or creator of the universe.

<i>The Age of Reason</i> Work by Thomas Paine, published 1794, 1795 and 1807

The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a work by English and American political activist Thomas Paine, arguing for the philosophical position of deism. It follows in the tradition of 18th-century British deism, and challenges institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible. It was published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807.

Joseph Butler English Anglican bishop, theologian, apologist, and philosopher (1692–1752)

Joseph Butler was an English Anglican bishop, theologian, apologist, and philosopher. He was born in Wantage in the English county of Berkshire. He is known, among other things, for his critique of Deism, Thomas Hobbes's egoism, and John Locke's theory of personal identity. Butler influenced many philosophers and religious thinkers, including David Hume, Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, Henry Sidgwick, John Henry Newman, and C. D. Broad, and is widely considered "as one of the preeminent English moralists." He also played an important, though underappreciated, role in the development of eighteenth-century economic discourse, greatly influencing the Dean of Gloucester and political economist Josiah Tucker.

Samuel Chandler

Samuel Chandler was a British Nonconformist minister and polemicist pamphleteer. He has been called the 'uncrowned patriarch of Dissent' in the latter part of George II's reign.

John Leland (Presbyterian)

John Leland (1691–1766) was an English Presbyterian minister and author of theological works.

A personal god, or personal goddess, is a deity who can be related to as a person, instead of as an impersonal force, such as the Absolute, "the All", or the "Ground of Being".

Thomas Chubb English Deist writer

Thomas Chubb was a lay English Deist writer born near Salisbury. He saw Christ as a divine teacher, but held reason to be sovereign over religion. He questioned the morality of religions, while defending Christianity on rational grounds. Despite little schooling, Chubb was well up on the religious controversies. His The True Gospel of Jesus Christ, Asserted sets out to distinguish the teaching of Jesus from that of the Evangelists. Chubb's views on free will and determinism, expressed in A Collection of Tracts on Various Subjects (1730), were extensively criticised by Jonathan Edwards in Freedom of the Will (1754).

Religious views of George Washington Washingtons views regarding religion, based on his writings and observed activity

The religious views of George Washington have long been debated. While some of the other Founding Fathers of the United States, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry, were noted for writing about religion, Washington rarely discussed his religious and philosophical views.

Thomas Morgan was an English deist.

Theistic rationalism is a hybrid of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, in which rationalism is the predominant element. According to Henry Clarence Thiessen, the concept of theistic rationalism first developed during the eighteenth century as a form of English and German Deism. The term "theistic rationalism" occurs as early as 1856, in the English translation of a German work on recent religious history. Some scholars have argued that the term properly describes the beliefs of some of the prominent Founding Fathers of the United States, including George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson.

Religious views of Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jeffersons religious views

The religious views of Thomas Jefferson diverged widely from the traditional Christianity of his era. Throughout his life, Jefferson was intensely interested in theology, religious studies, and morality. Jefferson was most comfortable with Deism, rational religion, Theistic rationalism, and Unitarianism. He was sympathetic to and in general agreement with the moral precepts of Christianity. He considered the teachings of Jesus as having "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man," yet he held that the pure teachings of Jesus appeared to have been appropriated by some of Jesus' early followers, resulting in a Bible that contained both "diamonds" of wisdom and the "dung" of ancient political agendas.

Atheism during the Age of Enlightenment Aspect of history

Atheism, as defined by the entry in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, is "the opinion of those who deny the existence of a God in the world. The simple ignorance of God doesn't constitute atheism. To be charged with the odious title of atheism one must have the notion of God and reject it." In the period of the Enlightenment, avowed and open atheism was made possible by the advance of religious toleration, but was also far from encouraged.

Christian deism

Christian deism is a standpoint in the philosophy of religion stemming from Christianity. It refers to a deist who believes in the moral teachings—but not divinity—of Jesus. Corbett and Corbett (1999) cite John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as exemplars.

Deism, the religious attitude typical of the Enlightenment, especially in France and England, holds that the only way the existence of God can be proven is to combine the application of reason with observation of the world. A Deist is defined as "One who believes in the existence of a God or Supreme Being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason." Deism was often synonymous with so-called natural religion because its principles are drawn from nature and human reasoning. In contrast to Deism there are many cultural religions or revealed religions, such as Judaism, Trinitarian Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and others, which believe in supernatural intervention of God in the world; while Deism denies any supernatural intervention and emphasizes that the world is operated by natural laws of the Supreme Being.

Pandeism Theological doctrine which combines aspects of pantheism with aspects of deism

Pandeism, a theological doctrine first delineated in the 18th century, combines aspects of pantheism with aspects of deism. It holds that a creator deity became the universe and ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity. Pandeism is proposed to explain why God would create a universe and then appear to abandon it, and an origin and purpose of the universe.

Jacob Ilive was an English type-founder, printer and author. He was a religious radical, who developed neognostic views based on deism. He spent time in prison, convicted of blasphemy.

A number of Christian writers have examined the concept of pandeism, and these have generally found it to be inconsistent with core principles of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, condemned the Periphyseon of John Scotus Eriugena, later identified by physicist and philosopher Max Bernhard Weinstein as presenting a pandeistic theology, as appearing to obscure the separation of God and creation. The Church similarly condemned elements of the thought of Giordano Bruno which Weinstein and others determined to be pandeistic.

An Appeal to All that Doubt

An Appeal to all that Doubt or Disbelieve the Truths of the Gospel, whether they be Deists, Arians, Socinians, or nominal Christians, or short An Appeal was written by William Law in 1742. Law lived in the Age of Enlightenment centering on reason in which there were controversies between Catholics and Protestants, Deists, Socinians, Arians etc. which caused conflicts that worried him. The Appeal was heavily influenced by the works of the seventeenth-century German philosopher, Lutheran theologian and mystic writer Jakob Boehme.

Catholicism and Deism are two theologies that have opposed each other in matters of the role of God in the world. Deism is the philosophical belief which posits that although God exists as the uncaused First Cause, responsible for the creation of the universe, God does not interact directly with that subsequently created world. As deism is not organized, its adherents differ widely in important matters of belief, but all are in agreement in denying the significance of revelation in Catholic Scripture and Tradition. Deists argue against Catholicism by either, only considering Scripture to be a helpful moral tool, or denying: its divine character, the infallibility of the Church and Traditions, and the validity of its evidence as a complete manifestation of the will of God. Deism is first considered to have manifested itself in England towards the latter end of the seventeenth century.

References