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Title: A History of Freedom of Thought
Author: Bury, J. B. (John Bagnell), 1861-1927
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A History of Freedom of Thought" ***

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No. 69


Prof. GILBERT MURRAY, Litt.D., LL.D., F.B.A.



J. B. BURY, M.A., F.B.A







   I Introductory
  II Reason Free (Greece And Rome)
 III Reason in Prison (The Middle Ages)
  IV Prospect of Deliverance (The Renaissance and the Reformation)
   V Religious Toleration
  VI The Growth of Rationalism (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries)
 VII The Progress of Rationalism (Nineteenth Century)
VIII The Justification of Liberty of Thought





IT is a common saying that thought is free. A man can never be hindered
from thinking whatever he chooses so long as he conceals what he thinks.
The working of his mind is limited only by the bounds of his experience
and the power of his imagination. But this natural liberty of private
thinking is of little value. It is unsatisfactory and even painful to
the thinker himself, if he is not permitted to communicate his thoughts
to others, and it is obviously of no value to his neighbours. Moreover
it is extremely difficult to hide thoughts that have any power over the
mind. If a man’s thinking leads him to call in question ideas and
customs which regulate the behaviour of those about him, to reject
beliefs which they hold, to see better ways of life than those they
follow, it is almost

[8] impossible for him, if he is convinced of the truth of his own
reasoning, not to betray by silence, chance words, or general attitude
that he is different from them and does not share their opinions. Some
have preferred, like Socrates, some would prefer to-day, to face death
rather than conceal their thoughts. Thus freedom of thought, in any
valuable sense, includes freedom of speech.

At present, in the most civilized countries, freedom of speech is taken
as a matter of course and seems a perfectly simple thing. We are so
accustomed to it that we look on it as a natural right. But this right
has been acquired only in quite recent times, and the way to its
attainment has lain through lakes of blood. It has taken centuries to
persuade the most enlightened peoples that liberty to publish one’s
opinions and to discuss all questions is a good and not a bad thing.
Human societies (there are some brilliant exceptions) have been
generally opposed to freedom of thought, or, in other words, to new
ideas, and it is easy to see why.

The average brain is naturally lazy and tends to take the line of least
resistance. The mental world of the ordinary man consists of beliefs
which he has accepted without questioning and to which he is firmly
attached; he is instinctively hostile to anything which

[9] would upset the established order of this familiar world. A new
idea, inconsistent with some of the beliefs which he holds, means the
necessity of rearranging his mind; and this process is laborious,
requiring a painful expenditure of brain-energy. To him and his fellows,
who form the vast majority, new ideas, and opinions which cast doubt on
established beliefs and institutions, seem evil because they are

The repugnance due to mere mental laziness is increased by a positive
feeling of fear. The conservative instinct hardens into the conservative
doctrine that the foundations of society are endangered by any
alterations in the structure. It is only recently that men have been
abandoning the belief that the welfare of a state depends on rigid
stability and on the preservation of its traditions and institutions
unchanged. Wherever that belief prevails, novel opinions are felt to be
dangerous as well as annoying, and any one who asks inconvenient
questions about the why and the wherefore of accepted principles is
considered a pestilent person.

The conservative instinct, and the conservative doctrine which is its
consequence, are strengthened by superstition. If the social structure,
including the whole body of customs and opinions, is associated

[10] with religious belief and is supposed to be under divine patronage,
criticism of the social order savours of impiety, while criticism of the
religious belief is a direct challenge to the wrath of supernatural

The psychological motives which produce a conservative spirit hostile to
new ideas are reinforced by the active opposition of certain powerful
sections of the community, such as a class, a caste, or a priesthood,
whose interests are bound up with the maintenance of the established
order and the ideas on which it rests.

Let us suppose, for instance, that a people believes that solar eclipses
are signs employed by their Deity for the special purpose of
communicating useful information to them, and that a clever man
discovers the true cause of eclipses. His compatriots in the first place
dislike his discovery because they find it very difficult to reconcile
with their other ideas; in the second place, it disturbs them, because
it upsets an arrangement which they consider highly advantageous to
their community; finally, it frightens them, as an offence to their
Divinity. The priests, one of whose functions is to interpret the divine
signs, are alarmed and enraged at a doctrine which menaces their power.

In prehistoric days, these motives, operating

[11] strongly, must have made change slow in communities which
progressed, and hindered some communities from progressing at all. But
they have continued to operate more or less throughout history,
obstructing knowledge and progress. We can observe them at work to-day
even in the most advanced societies, where they have no longer the power
to arrest development or repress the publication of revolutionary
opinions. We still meet people who consider a new idea an annoyance and
probably a danger. Of those to whom socialism is repugnant, how many are
there who have never examined the arguments for and against it, but turn
away in disgust simply because the notion disturbs their mental universe
and implies a drastic criticism on the order of things to which they are
accustomed? And how many are there who would refuse to consider any
proposals for altering our imperfect matrimonial institutions, because
such an idea offends a mass of prejudice associated with religious
sanctions? They may be right or not, but if they are, it is not their
fault. They are actuated by the same motives which were a bar to
progress in primitive societies. The existence of people of this
mentality, reared in an atmosphere of freedom, side by side with others
who are always looking out for new ideas and

[12] regretting that there are not more about, enables us to realize
how, when public opinion was formed by the views of such men, thought
was fettered and the impediments to knowledge enormous.

Although the liberty to publish one’s opinions on any subject without
regard to authority or the prejudices of one’s neighbours is now a well-
established principle, I imagine that only the minority of those who
would be ready to fight to the death rather than surrender it could
defend it on rational grounds. We are apt to take for granted that
freedom of speech is a natural and inalienable birthright of man, and
perhaps to think that this is a sufficient answer to all that can be
said on the other side. But it is difficult to see how such a right can
be established.

If a man has any “natural rights,” the right to preserve his life and
the right to reproduce his kind are certainly such. Yet human societies
impose upon their members restrictions in the exercise of both these
rights. A starving man is prohibited from taking food which belongs to
somebody else. Promiscuous reproduction is restricted by various laws or
customs. It is admitted that society is justified in restricting these
elementary rights, because without such restrictions an ordered society
could not exist. If then we

[13] concede that the expression of opinion is a right of the same kind,
it is impossible to contend that on this ground it can claim immunity
from interference or that society acts unjustly in regulating it. But
the concession is too large. For whereas in the other cases the
limitations affect the conduct of every one, restrictions on freedom of
opinion affect only the comparatively small number who have any
opinions, revolutionary or unconventional, to express. The truth is that
no valid argument can be founded on the conception of natural rights,
because it involves an untenable theory of the relations between society
and its members.

On the other hand, those who have the responsibility of governing a
society can argue that it is as incumbent on them to prohibit the
circulation of pernicious opinions as to prohibit any anti-social
actions. They can argue that a man may do far more harm by propagating
anti-social doctrines than by stealing his neighbour’s horse or making
love to his neighbour’s wife. They are responsible for the welfare of
the State, and if they are convinced that an opinion is dangerous, by
menacing the political, religious, or moral assumptions on which the
society is based, it is their duty to protect society against it, as
against any other danger.


The true answer to this argument for limiting freedom of thought will
appear in due course. It was far from obvious. A long time was needed to
arrive at the conclusion that coercion of opinion is a mistake, and only
a part of the world is yet convinced. That conclusion, so far as I can
judge, is the most important ever reached by men. It was the issue of a
continuous struggle between authority and reason—the subject of this
volume. The word authority requires some comment.

If you ask somebody how he knows something, he may say, “I have it on
good authority,” or, “I read it in a book,” or, “It is a matter of
common knowledge,” or, “I learned it at school.” Any of these replies
means that he has accepted information from others, trusting in their
knowledge, without verifying their statements or thinking the matter out
for himself. And the greater part of most men’s knowledge and beliefs is
of this kind, taken without verification from their parents, teachers,
acquaintances, books, newspapers. When an English boy learns French, he
takes the conjugations and the meanings of the words on the authority of
his teacher or his grammar. The fact that in a certain place, marked on
the map, there is a populous city called Calcutta, is for most

[15] people a fact accepted on authority. So is the existence of
Napoleon or Julius Caesar. Familiar astronomical facts are known only in
the same way, except by those who have studied astronomy. It is obvious
that every one’s knowledge would be very limited indeed, if we were not
justified in accepting facts on the authority of others.

But we are justified only under one condition. The facts which we can
safely accept must be capable of demonstration or verification. The
examples I have given belong to this class. The boy can verify when he
goes to France or is able to read a French book that the facts which he
took on authority are true. I am confronted every day with evidence
which proves to me that, if I took the trouble, I could verify the
existence of Calcutta for myself. I cannot convince myself in this way
of the existence of Napoleon, but if I have doubts about it, a simple
process of reasoning shows me that there are hosts of facts which are
incompatible with his non-existence. I have no doubt that the earth is
some 93 millions of miles distant from the sun, because all astronomers
agree that it has been demonstrated, and their agreement is only
explicable on the supposition that this has been demonstrated and that,
if I took the trouble to work out the calculation, I should reach the
same result.


But all our mental furniture is not of this kind. The thoughts of the
average man consist not only of facts open to verification, but also of
many beliefs and opinions which he has accepted on authority and cannot
verify or prove. Belief in the Trinity depends on the authority of the
Church and is clearly of a different order from belief in the existence
of Calcutta. We cannot go behind the authority and verify or prove it.
If we accept it, we do so because we have such implicit faith in the
authority that we credit its assertions though incapable of proof.

The distinction may seem so obvious as to be hardly worth making. But it
is important to be quite clear about it. The primitive man who had
learned from his elders that there were bears in the hills and likewise
evil spirits, soon verified the former statement by seeing a bear, but
if he did not happen to meet an evil spirit, it did not occur to him,
unless he was a prodigy, that there was a distinction between the two
statements; he would rather have argued, if he argued at all, that as
his tribesmen were right about the bears they were sure to be right also
about the spirits. In the Middle Ages a man who believed on authority
that there is a city called Constantinople and that comets are portents
signifying divine wrath, would not

[17] distinguish the nature of the evidence in the two cases. You may
still sometimes hear arguments amounting to this: since I believe in
Calcutta on authority, am I not entitled to believe in the Devil on

Now people at all times have been commanded or expected or invited to
accept on authority alone—the authority, for instance, of public
opinion, or a Church, or a sacred book—doctrines which are not proved or
are not capable of proof. Most beliefs about nature and man, which were
not founded on scientific observation, have served directly or
indirectly religious and social interests, and hence they have been
protected by force against the criticisms of persons who have the
inconvenient habit of using their reason. Nobody minds if his neighbour
disbelieves a demonstrable fact. If a sceptic denies that Napoleon
existed, or that water is composed of oxygen and hydrogen, he causes
amusement or ridicule. But if he denies doctrines which cannot be
demonstrated, such as the existence of a personal God or the immortality
of the soul, he incurs serious disapprobation and at one time he might
have been put to death. Our mediaeval friend would have only been called
a fool if he doubted the existence of Constantinople, but if he had
questioned the significance of comets he

[18] might have got into trouble. It is possible that if he had been so
mad as to deny the existence of Jerusalem he would not have escaped with
ridicule, for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible.

In the Middle Ages a large field was covered by beliefs which authority
claimed to impose as true, and reason was warned off the ground. But
reason cannot recognize arbitrary prohibitions or barriers, without
being untrue to herself. The universe of experience is her province, and
as its parts are all linked together and interdependent, it is
impossible for her to recognize any territory on which she may not
tread, or to surrender any of her rights to an authority whose
credentials she has not examined and approved.

The uncompromising assertion by reason of her absolute rights throughout
the whole domain of thought is termed rationalism, and the slight stigma
which is still attached to the word reflects the bitterness of the
struggle between reason and the forces arrayed against her. The term is
limited to the field of theology, because it was in that field that the
self-assertion of reason was most violently and pertinaciously opposed.
In the same way free thought, the refusal of thought to be controlled by
any authority but its own, has a definitely theological reference.

[19] the conflict, authority has had great advantages. At any time the
people who really care about reason have been a small minority, and
probably will be so for a long time to come. Reason’s only weapon has
been argument. Authority has employed physical and moral violence, legal
coercion and social displeasure. Sometimes she has attempted to use the
sword of her adversary, thereby wounding herself. Indeed the weakest
point in the strategical position of authority was that her champions,
being human, could not help making use of reasoning processes and the
result was that they were divided among themselves. This gave reason her
chance. Operating, as it were, in the enemy’s camp and professedly in
the enemy’s cause, she was preparing her own victory.

It may be objected that there is a legitimate domain for authority,
consisting of doctrines which lie outside human experience and therefore
cannot be proved or verified, but at the same time cannot be disproved.
Of course, any number of propositions can be invented which cannot be
disproved, and it is open to any one who possesses exuberant faith to
believe them; but no one will maintain that they all deserve credence so
long as their falsehood is not demonstrated. And if only some deserve
credence, who, except reason,

[20] is to decide which? If the reply is, Authority, we are confronted
by the difficulty that many beliefs backed by authority have been
finally disproved and are universally abandoned. Yet some people speak
as if we were not justified in rejecting a theological doctrine unless
we can prove it false. But the burden of proof does not lie upon the
rejecter. I remember a conversation in which, when some disrespectful
remark was made about hell, a loyal friend of that establishment said
triumphantly, “But, absurd as it may seem, you cannot disprove it.” If
you were told that in a certain planet revolving round Sirius there is a
race of donkeys who talk the English language and spend their time in
discussing eugenics, you could not disprove the statement, but would it,
on that account, have any claim to be believed? Some minds would be
prepared to accept it, if it were reiterated often enough, through the
potent force of suggestion. This force, exercised largely by emphatic
repetition (the theoretical basis, as has been observed, of the modern
practice of advertising), has played a great part in establishing
authoritative opinions and propagating religious creeds. Reason
fortunately is able to avail herself of the same help.

The following sketch is confined to Western

[21] civilization. It begins with Greece and attempts to indicate the
chief phases. It is the merest introduction to a vast and intricate
subject, which, treated adequately, would involve not only the history
of religion, of the Churches, of heresies, of persecution, but also the
history of philosophy, of the natural sciences and of political
theories. From the sixteenth century to the French Revolution nearly all
important historical events bore in some way on the struggle for freedom
of thought. It would require a lifetime to calculate, and many books to
describe, all the directions and interactions of the intellectual and
social forces which, since the fall of ancient civilization, have
hindered and helped the emancipation of reason. All one can do, all one
could do even in a much bigger volume than this, is to indicate the
general course of the struggle and dwell on some particular aspects
which the writer may happen to have specially studied.




WHEN we are asked to specify the debt which civilization owes to the
Greeks, their

[22] achievements in literature and art naturally occur to us first of
all. But a truer answer may be that our deepest gratitude is due to them
as the originators of liberty of thought and discussion. For this
freedom of spirit was not only the condition of their speculations in
philosophy, their progress in science, their experiments in political
institutions; it was also a condition of their literary and artistic
excellence. Their literature, for instance, could not have been what it
is if they had been debarred from free criticism of life. But apart from
what they actually accomplished, even if they had not achieved the
wonderful things they did in most of the realms of human activity, their
assertion of the principle of liberty would place them in the highest
rank among the benefactors of the race; for it was one of the greatest
steps in human progress.

We do not know enough about the earliest history of the Greeks to
explain how it was that they attained their free outlook upon the world
and came to possess the will and courage to set no bounds to the range
of their criticism and curiosity. We have to take this character as a
fact. But it must be remembered that the Greeks consisted of a large
number of separate peoples, who varied largely in temper, customs and

[23] though they had important features common to all. Some were
conservative, or backward, or unintellectual compared with others. In
this chapter “the Greeks” does not mean all the Greeks, but only those
who count most in the history of civilization, especially the Ionians
and Athenians.

Ionia in Asia Minor was the cradle of free speculation. The history of
European science and European philosophy begins in Ionia. Here (in the
sixth and fifth centuries B.C.) the early philosophers by using their
reason sought to penetrate into the origin and structure of the world.
They could not of course free their minds entirely from received
notions, but they began the work of destroying orthodox views and
religious faiths. Xenophanes may specially be named among these pioneers
of thought (though he was not the most important or the ablest), because
the toleration of his teaching illustrates the freedom of the atmosphere
in which these men lived. He went about from city to city, calling in
question on moral grounds the popular beliefs about the gods and
goddesses, and ridiculing the anthropomorphic conceptions which the
Greeks had formed of their divinities. “If oxen had hands and the
capacities of men, they would make gods in the shape of oxen.” This
attack on received

[24] theology was an attack on the veracity of the old poets, especially
Homer, who was considered the highest authority on mythology. Xenophanes
criticized him severely for ascribing to the gods acts which, committed
by men, would be considered highly disgraceful. We do not hear that any
attempt was made to restrain him from thus assailing traditional beliefs
and branding Homer as immoral. We must remember that the Homeric poems
were never supposed to be the word of God. It has been said that Homer
was the Bible of the Greeks. The remark exactly misses the truth. The
Greeks fortunately had no Bible, and this fact was both an expression
and an important condition of their freedom. Homer’s poems were secular,
not religious, and it may be noted that they are freer from immorality
and savagery than sacred books that one could mention. Their authority
was immense; but it was not binding like the authority of a sacred book,
and so Homeric criticism was never hampered like Biblical criticism.

In this connexion, notice may be taken of another expression and
condition of freedom, the absence of sacerdotalism. The priests of the
temples never became powerful castes, tyrannizing over the community in
their own interests and able to silence voices raised against religious
beliefs. The civil authorities

[25] kept the general control of public worship in their own hands, and,
if some priestly families might have considerable influence, yet as a
rule the priests were virtually State servants whose voice carried no
weight except concerning the technical details of ritual.

To return to the early philosophers, who were mostly materialists, the
record of their speculations is an interesting chapter in the history of
rationalism. Two great names may be selected, Heraclitus and Democritus,
because they did more perhaps than any of the others, by sheer hard
thinking, to train reason to look upon the universe in new ways and to
shock the unreasoned conceptions of common sense. It was startling to be
taught, for the first time, by Heraclitus, that the appearance of
stability and permanence which material things present to our senses is
a false appearance, and that the world and everything in it are changing
every instant. Democritus performed the amazing feat of working out an
atomic theory of the universe, which was revived in the seventeenth
century and is connected, in the history of speculation, with the most
modern physical and chemical theories of matter. No fantastic tales of
creation, imposed by sacred authority, hampered these powerful brains.

All this philosophical speculation prepared

[26] the way for the educationalists who were known as the Sophists.
They begin to appear after the middle of the fifth century. They worked
here and there throughout Greece, constantly travelling, training young
men for public life, and teaching them to use their reason. As educators
they had practical ends in view. They turned away from the problems of
the physical universe to the problems of human life—morality and
polities. Here they were confronted with the difficulty of
distinguishing between truth and error, and the ablest of them
investigated the nature of knowledge, the method of reason—logic— and
the instrument of reason—speech. Whatever their particular theories
might be, their general spirit was that of free inquiry and discussion.
They sought to test everything by reason. The second half of the fifth
century might be called the age of Illumination.

It may be remarked that the knowledge of foreign countries which the
Greeks had acquired had a considerable effect in promoting a sceptical
attitude towards authority. When a man is acquainted only with the
habits of his own country, they seem so much a matter of course that he
ascribes them to nature, but when he travels abroad and finds totally
different habits and standards of conduct prevailing, he begins to

[27] the power of custom; and learns that morality and religion are
matters of latitude. This discovery tends to weaken authority, and to
raise disquieting reflections, as in the case of one who, brought up as
a Christian, comes to realize that, if he had been born on the Ganges or
the Euphrates, he would have firmly believed in entirely different

Of course these movements of intellectual freedom were, as in all ages,
confined to the minority. Everywhere the masses were exceedingly
superstitious. They believed that the safety of their cities depended on
the good-will of their gods. If this superstitious spirit were alarmed,
there was always a danger that philosophical speculations might be
persecuted. And this occurred in Athens. About the middle of the fifth
century Athens had not only become the most powerful State in Greece,
but was also taking the highest place in literature and art. She was a
full-fledged democracy. Political discussion was perfectly free. At this
time she was guided by the statesman Pericles, who was personally a
freethinker, or at least was in touch with all the subversive
speculations of the day. He was especially intimate with the philosopher
Anaxagoras who had come from Ionia to teach at Athens. In regard to the
popular gods Anaxagoras was a thorough-going

[28] unbeliever. The political enemies of Pericles struck at him by
attacking his friend. They introduced and carried a blasphemy law, to
the effect that unbelievers and those who taught theories about the
celestial world might be impeached. It was easy to prove that Anaxagoras
was a blasphemer who taught that the gods were abstractions and that the
sun, to which the ordinary Athenian said prayers morning and evening,
was a mass of flaming matter. The influence of Pericles saved him from
death; he was heavily fined and left Athens for Lampsacus, where he was
treated with consideration and honour.

Other cases are recorded which show that anti-religious thought was
liable to be persecuted. Protagoras, one of the greatest of the
Sophists, published a book On the Gods, the object of which seems to
have been to prove that one cannot know the gods by reason. The first
words ran: “Concerning the gods, I cannot say that they exist nor yet
that they do not exist. There are more reasons than one why we cannot
know. There is the obscurity of the subject and there is the brevity of
human life.” A charge of blasphemy was lodged against him and he fled
from Athens. But there was no systematic policy of suppressing free
thought. Copies of the work of Protagoras were collected and

[29] burned, but the book of Anaxagoras setting forth the views for
which he had been condemned was for sale on the Athenian book-stalls at
a popular price. Rationalistic ideas moreover were venturing to appear
on the stage, though the dramatic performances, at the feasts of the god
Dionysus, were religious solemnities. The poet Euripides was saturated
with modern speculation, and, while different opinions may be held as to
the tendencies of some of his tragedies, he often allows his characters
to express highly unorthodox views. He was prosecuted for impiety by a
popular politician. We may suspect that during the last thirty years of
the fifth century unorthodoxy spread considerably among the educated
classes. There was a large enough section of influential rationalists to
render impossible any organized repression of liberty, and the chief
evil of the blasphemy law was that it could be used for personal or
party reasons. Some of the prosecutions, about which we know, were
certainly due to such motives, others may have been prompted by genuine
bigotry and by the fear lest sceptical thought should extend beyond the
highly educated and leisured class. It was a generally accepted
principle among the Greeks, and afterwards among the Romans, that
religion was a good and necessary thing

[30] for the common people. Men who did not believe in its truth
believed in its usefulness as a political institution, and as a rule
philosophers did not seek to diffuse disturbing “truth” among the
masses. It was the custom, much more than at the present day, for those
who did not believe in the established cults to conform to them
externally. Popular higher education was not an article in the programme
of Greek statesmen or thinkers. And perhaps it may be argued that in the
circumstances of the ancient world it would have been hardly

There was, however, one illustrious Athenian, who thought
differently—Socrates, the philosopher. Socrates was the greatest of the
educationalists, but unlike the others he taught gratuitously, though he
was a poor man. His teaching always took the form of discussion; the
discussion often ended in no positive result, but had the effect of
showing that some received opinion was untenable and that truth is
difficult to ascertain. He had indeed certain definite views about
knowledge and virtue, which are of the highest importance in the history
of philosophy, but for our present purpose his significance lies in his
enthusiasm for discussion and criticism. He taught those with whom he
conversed—and he conversed indiscriminately

[31] with all who would listen to him—to bring all popular beliefs
before the bar of reason, to approach every inquiry with an open mind,
and not to judge by the opinion of majorities or the dictate of
authority; in short to seek for other tests of the truth of an opinion
than the fact that it is held by a great many people. Among his
disciples were all the young men who were to become the leading
philosophers of the next generation and some who played prominent parts
in Athenian history.

If the Athenians had had a daily press, Socrates would have been
denounced by the journalists as a dangerous person. They had a comic
drama, which constantly held up to ridicule philosophers and sophists
and their vain doctrines. We possess one play (the Clouds of
Aristophanes) in which Socrates is pilloried as a typical representative
of impious and destructive speculations. Apart from annoyances of this
kind, Socrates reached old age, pursuing the task of instructing his
fellow-citizens, without any evil befalling him. Then, at the age of
seventy, he was prosecuted as an atheist and corrupter of youth and was
put to death (399 B.C.). It is strange that if the Athenians really
thought him dangerous they should have suffered him so long. There can,
I think, be

[32] little doubt that the motives of the accusation were political. [1]
Socrates, looking at things as he did, could not be sympathetic with
unlimited democracy, or approve of the principle that the will of the
ignorant majority was a good guide. He was probably known to sympathize
with those who wished to limit the franchise. When, after a struggle in
which the constitution had been more than once overthrown, democracy
emerged triumphant (403 B.C.), there was a bitter feeling against those
who had not been its friends, and of these disloyal persons Socrates was
chosen as a victim. If he had wished, he could easily have escaped. If
he had given an undertaking to teach no more, he would almost certainly
have been acquitted. As it was, of the 501 ordinary Athenians who were
his judges, a very large minority voted for his acquittal. Even then, if
he had adopted a different tone, he would not have been condemned to

He rose to the great occasion and vindicated freedom of discussion in a
wonderful unconventional speech. The Apology of Socrates, which was
composed by his most brilliant pupil, Plato the philosopher, reproduces

[33] the general tenor of his defence. It is clear that he was not able
to meet satisfactorily the charge that he did not acknowledge the gods
worshipped by the city, and his explanations on this point are the weak
part of his speech. But he met the accusation that he corrupted the
minds of the young by a splendid plea for free discussion. This is the
most valuable section of the Apology; it is as impressive to-day as
ever. I think the two principal points which he makes are these—

(1) He maintains that the individual should at any cost refuse to be
coerced by any human authority or tribunal into a course which his own
mind condemns as wrong. That is, he asserts the supremacy of the
individual conscience, as we should say, over human law. He represents
his own life-work as a sort of religious quest; he feels convinced that
in devoting himself to philosophical discussion he has done the bidding
of a super-human guide; and he goes to death rather than be untrue to
this personal conviction. “If you propose to acquit me,” he says, “on
condition that I abandon my search for truth, I will say: I thank you, O
Athenians, but I will obey God, who, as I believe, set me this task,
rather than you, and so long as I have breath and strength I will never

[34] cease from my occupation with philosophy. I will continue the
practice of accosting whomever I meet and saying to him, ‘Are you not
ashamed of setting your heart on wealth and honours while you have no
care for wisdom and truth and making your soul better?’ I know not what
death is—it may be a good thing, and I am not afraid of it. But I do
know that it is a bad thing to desert one’s post and I prefer what may
be good to what I know to be bad.”

(2) He insists on the public value of free discussion. “In me you have a
stimulating critic, persistently urging you with persuasion and
reproaches, persistently testing your opinions and trying to show you
that you are really ignorant of what you suppose you know. Daily
discussion of the matters about which you hear me conversing is the
highest good for man. Life that is not tested by such discussion is not
worth living.”

Thus in what we may call the earliest justification of liberty of
thought we have two significant claims affirmed: the indefeasible right
of the conscience of the individual —a claim on which later struggles
for liberty were to turn; and the social importance of discussion and
criticism. The former claim is not based on argument but on intuition;
it rests in fact on the assumption

[35] of some sort of superhuman moral principle, and to those who, not
having the same personal experience as Socrates, reject this assumption,
his pleading does not carry weight. The second claim, after the
experience of more than 2,000 years, can be formulated more
comprehensively now with bearings of which he did not dream.

The circumstances of the trial of Socrates illustrate both the tolerance
and the intolerance which prevailed at Athens. His long immunity, the
fact that he was at last indicted from political motives and perhaps
personal also, the large minority in his favour, all show that thought
was normally free, and that the mass of intolerance which existed was
only fitfully invoked, and perhaps most often to serve other purposes. I
may mention the case of the philosopher Aristotle, who some seventy
years later left Athens because he was menaced by a prosecution for
blasphemy, the charge being a pretext for attacking one who belonged to
a certain political party. The persecution of opinion was never

It may seem curious that to find the persecuting spirit in Greece we
have to turn to the philosophers. Plato, the most brilliant disciple of
Socrates, constructed in his later years an ideal State. In this State
he instituted

[36] a religion considerably different from the current religion, and
proposed to compel all the citizens to believe in his gods on pain of
death or imprisonment. All freedom of discussion was excluded under the
cast-iron system which he conceived. But the point of interest in his
attitude is that he did not care much whether a religion was true, but
only whether it was morally useful; he was prepared to promote morality
by edifying fables; and he condemned the popular mythology not because
it was false, but because it did not make for righteousness.

The outcome of the large freedom permitted at Athens was a series of
philosophies which had a common source in the conversations of Socrates.
Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Sceptics—it may be
maintained that the efforts of thought represented by these names have
had a deeper influence on the progress of man than any other continuous
intellectual movement, at least until the rise of modern science in a
new epoch of liberty.

The doctrines of the Epicureans, Stoics, and Sceptics all aimed at
securing peace and guidance for the individual soul. They were widely
propagated throughout the Greek world from the third century B.C., and
we may say that from this time onward most

[37] well-educated Greeks were more or less rationalists. The teaching
of Epicurus had a distinct anti-religious tendency. He considered fear
to be the fundamental motive of religion, and to free men’s minds from
this fear was a principal object of his teaching. He was a Materialist,
explaining the world by the atomic theory of Democritus and denying any
divine government of the universe. [2] He did indeed hold the existence
of gods, but, so far as men are concerned, his gods are as if they were
not—living in some remote abode and enjoying a “sacred and everlasting
calm.” They just served as an example of the realization of the ideal
Epicurean life.

There was something in this philosophy which had the power to inspire a
poet of singular genius to expound it in verse. The Roman Lucretius
(first century B.C.) regarded Epicurus as the great deliverer of the
human race and determined to proclaim the glad tidings of his philosophy
in a poem On the Nature of the World. [3] With all the fervour

[38] of a religious enthusiast he denounces religion, sounding every
note of defiance, loathing, and contempt, and branding in burning words
the crimes to which it had urged man on. He rides forth as a leader of
the hosts of atheism against the walls of heaven. He explains the
scientific arguments as if they were the radiant revelation of a new
world; and the rapture of his enthusiasm is a strange accompaniment of a
doctrine which aimed at perfect calm. Although the Greek thinkers had
done all the work and the Latin poem is a hymn of triumph over prostrate
deities, yet in the literature of free thought it must always hold an
eminent place by the sincerity of its audacious, defiant spirit. In the
history of rationalism its interest would be greater if it had exploded
in the midst of an orthodox community. But the educated Romans in the
days of Lucretius were sceptical in religious matters, some of them were
Epicureans, and we may suspect that not many of those who read it were
shocked or influenced by the audacities of the champion of irreligion.

The Stoic philosophy made notable contributions to the cause of liberty
and could hardly have flourished in an atmosphere where discussion was
not free. It asserted the rights of individuals against public

[39] authority. Socrates had seen that laws may be unjust and that
peoples may go wrong, but he had found no principle for the guidance of
society. The Stoics discovered it in the law of nature, prior and
superior to all the customs and written laws of peoples, and this
doctrine, spreading outside Stoic circles, caught hold of the Roman
world and affected Roman legislation.

These philosophies have carried us from Greece to Rome. In the later
Roman Republic and the early Empire, no restrictions were imposed on
opinion, and these philosophies, which made the individual the first
consideration, spread widely. Most of the leading men were unbelievers
in the official religion of the State, but they considered it valuable
for the purpose of keeping the uneducated populace in order. A Greek
historian expresses high approval of the Roman policy of cultivating
superstition for the benefit of the masses. This was the attitude of
Cicero, and the view that a false religion is indispensable as a social
machine was general among ancient unbelievers. It is common, in one form
or another, to-day; at least, religions are constantly defended on the
ground not of truth but of utility. This defence belongs to the
statecraft of Machiavelli, who taught that religion is necessary for

[40] and that it may be the duty of a ruler to support a religion which
he believes to be false.

A word must be said of Lucian (second century A.D.), the last Greek man
of letters whose writings appeal to everybody. He attacked the popular
mythology with open ridicule. It is impossible to say whether his
satires had any effect at the time beyond affording enjoyment to
educated infidels who read them. Zeus in a Tragedy Part is one of the
most effective. The situation which Lucian imagined here would be
paralleled if a modern writer were blasphemously to represent the
Persons of the Trinity with some eminent angels and saints discussing in
a celestial smoke-room the alarming growth of unbelief in England and
then by means of a telephonic apparatus overhearing a dispute between a
freethinker and a parson on a public platform in London. The absurdities
of anthropomorphism have never been the subject of more brilliant
jesting than in Lucian’s satires.

The general rule of Roman policy was to tolerate throughout the Empire
all religions and all opinions. Blasphemy was not punished. The
principle was expressed in the maxim of the Emperor Tiberius: “If the
gods are insulted, let them see to it themselves.” An exception to the
rule of tolerance

[41] was made in the case of the Christian sect, and the treatment of
this Oriental religion may be said to have inaugurated religious
persecution in Europe. It is a matter of interest to understand why
Emperors who were able, humane, and not in the least fanatical, adopted
this exceptional policy.

For a long time the Christians were only known to those Romans who
happened to hear of them, as a sect of the Jews. The Jewish was the one
religion which, on account of its exclusiveness and intolerance, was
regarded by the tolerant pagans with disfavour and suspicion. But though
it sometimes came into collision with the Roman authorities and some
ill-advised attacks upon it were made, it was the constant policy of the
Emperors to let it alone and to protect the Jews against the hatred
which their own fanaticism aroused. But while the Jewish religion was
endured so long as it was confined to those who were born into it, the
prospect of its dissemination raised a new question. Grave misgivings
might arise in the mind of a ruler at seeing a creed spreading which was
aggressively hostile to all the other creeds of the world—creeds which
lived together in amity—and had earned for its adherents the reputation
of being the enemies of the human race. Might not its expansion

[42] beyond the Israelites involve ultimately a danger to the Empire?
For its spirit was incompatible with the traditions and basis of Roman
society. The Emperor Domitian seems to have seen the question in this
light, and he took severe measures to hinder the proselytizing of Roman
citizens. Some of those whom he struck may have been Christians, but if
he was aware of the distinction, there was from his point of view no
difference. Christianity resembled Judaism, from which it sprang, in
intolerance and in hostility towards Roman society, but it differed by
the fact that it made many proselytes while Judaism made few.

Under Trajan we find that the principle has been laid down that to be a
Christian is an offence punishable by death. Henceforward Christianity
remained an illegal religion. But in practice the law was not applied
rigorously or logically. The Emperors desired, if possible, to extirpate
Christianity without shedding blood. Trajan laid down that Christians
were not to be sought out, that no anonymous charges were to be noticed,
and that an informer who failed to make good his charge should be liable
to be punished under the laws against calumny. Christians themselves
recognized that this edict practically protected them. There were

[43] some executions in the second century—not many that are well
attested—and Christians courted the pain and glory of martyrdom. There
is evidence to show that when they were arrested their escape was often
connived at. In general, the persecution of the Christians was rather
provoked by the populace than desired by the authorities. The populace
felt a horror of this mysterious Oriental sect which openly hated all
the gods and prayed for the destruction of the world. When floods,
famines, and especially fires occurred they were apt to be attributed to
the black magic of the Christians.

When any one was accused of Christianity, he was required, as a means of
testing the truth of the charge, to offer incense to the gods or to the
statues of deified Emperors. His compliance at once exonerated him. The
objection of the Christians—they and the Jews were the only objectors—to
the worship of the Emperors was, in the eyes of the Romans, one of the
most sinister signs that their religion was dangerous. The purpose of
this worship was to symbolize the unity and solidarity of an Empire
which embraced so many peoples of different beliefs and different gods;
its intention was political, to promote union and loyalty; and it is not
surprising that those who denounced it should

[44] be suspected of a disloyal spirit. But it must be noted that there
was no necessity for any citizen to take part in this worship. No
conformity was required from any inhabitants of the Empire who were not
serving the State as soldiers or civil functionaries. Thus the effect
was to debar Christians from military and official careers.

The Apologies for Christianity which appeared at this period (second
century) might have helped, if the Emperors (to whom some of them were
addressed) had read them, to confirm the view that it was a political
danger. It would have been easy to read between the lines that, if the
Christians ever got the upper hand, they would not spare the cults of
the State. The contemporary work of Tatian (A Discourse to the Greeks)
reveals what the Apologists more or less sought to disguise, invincible
hatred towards the civilization in which they lived. Any reader of the
Christian literature of the time could not fail to see that in a State
where Christians had the power there would be no tolerance of other
religious practices. [4] If the Emperors made an exception to their
tolerant policy in the case of Christianity, their purpose was to
safeguard tolerance.


In the third century the religion, though still forbidden, was quite
openly tolerated; the Church organized itself without concealment;
ecclesiastical councils assembled without interference. There were some
brief and local attempts at repression, there was only one grave
persecution (begun by Decius, A.D. 250, and continued by Valerian). In
fact, throughout this century, there were not many victims, though
afterwards the Christians invented a whole mythology of martyrdoms. Many
cruelties were imputed to Emperors under whom we know that the Church
enjoyed perfect peace.

A long period of civil confusion, in which the Empire seemed to be
tottering to its fall, had been terminated by the Emperor Diocletian,
who, by his radical administrative reforms, helped to preserve the Roman
power in its integrity for another century. He desired to support his
work of political consolidation by reviving the Roman spirit, and he
attempted to infuse new life into the official religion. To this end he
determined to suppress the growing influence of the Christians, who,
though a minority, were very numerous, and he organized a persecution.
It was long, cruel and bloody; it was the most whole-hearted, general
and systematic effort to crush the forbidden faith. It was a

[46] failure, the Christians were now too numerous to be crushed. After
the abdication of Diocletian, the Emperors who reigned in different
parts of the realm did not agree as to the expediency of his policy, and
the persecution ended by edicts of toleration (A.D. 311 and 313). These
documents have an interest for the history of religious liberty.

The first, issued in the eastern provinces, ran as follows:—

“We were particularly desirous of reclaiming into the way of reason and
nature the deluded Christians, who had renounced the religion and
ceremonies instituted by their fathers and, presumptuously despising the
practice of antiquity, had invented extravagant laws and opinions
according to the dictates of their fancy, and had collected a various
society from the different provinces of our Empire. The edicts which we
have published to enforce the worship of the gods, having exposed many
of the Christians to danger and distress, many having suffered death and
many more, who still persist in their impious folly, being left
destitute of any public exercise of religion, we are disposed to extend
to those unhappy men the effects of our wonted clemency. We permit them,
therefore, freely to profess their private opinions, and to assemble in
their conventicles

[47] without fear or molestation, provided always that they preserve a
due respect to the established laws and government.” [5]

The second, of which Constantine was the author, known as the Edict of
Milan, was to a similar effect, and based toleration on the Emperor’s
care for the peace and happiness of his subjects and on the hope of
appeasing the Deity whose seat is in heaven.

The relations between the Roman government and the Christians raised the
general question of persecution and freedom of conscience. A State, with
an official religion, but perfectly tolerant of all creeds and cults,
finds that a society had arisen in its midst which is uncompromisingly
hostile to all creeds but its own and which, if it had the power, would
suppress all but its own. The government, in self-defence, decides to
check the dissemination of these subversive ideas and makes the
profession of that creed a crime, not on account of its particular
tenets, but on account of the social consequences of those tenets. The
members of the society cannot without violating their consciences and
incurring damnation abandon their exclusive doctrine. The principle of
freedom of conscience is asserted as superior to all obligations to the
State, and the State, confronted

[48] by this new claim, is unable to admit it. Persecution is the

Even from the standpoint of an orthodox and loyal pagan the persecution
of the Christians is indefensible, because blood was shed uselessly. In
other words, it was a great mistake because it was unsuccessful. For
persecution is a choice between two evils. The alternatives are violence
(which no reasonable defender of persecution would deny to be an evil in
itself) and the spread of dangerous opinions. The first is chosen simply
to avoid the second, on the ground that the second is the greater evil.
But if the persecution is not so devised and carried out as to
accomplish its end, then you have two evils instead of one, and nothing
can justify this. From their point of view, the Emperors had good
reasons for regarding Christianity as dangerous and anti-social, but
they should either have let it alone or taken systematic measures to
destroy it. If at an early stage they had established a drastic and
systematic inquisition, they might possibly have exterminated it. This
at least would have been statesmanlike. But they had no conception of
extreme measures, and they did not understand —they had no experience to
guide them —the sort of problem they had to deal with. They hoped to
succeed by intimidation.

[49] Their attempts at suppression were vacillating, fitful, and
ridiculously ineffectual. The later persecutions (of A.D. 250 and 303)
had no prospect of success. It is particularly to be observed that no
effort was made to suppress Christian literature.

The higher problem whether persecution, even if it attains the desired
end, is justifiable, was not considered. The struggle hinged on
antagonism between the conscience of the individual and the authority
and supposed interests of the State. It was the question which had been
raised by Socrates, raised now on a wider platform in a more pressing
and formidable shape: what is to happen when obedience to the law is
inconsistent with obedience to an invisible master? Is it incumbent on
the State to respect the conscience of the individual at all costs, or
within what limits? The Christians did not attempt a solution, the
general problem did not interest them. They claimed the right of freedom
exclusively for themselves from a non-Christian government; and it is
hardly going too far to suspect that they would have applauded the
government if it had suppressed the Gnostic sects whom they hated and
calumniated. In any case, when a Christian State was established, they
would completely forget the principle which they

[50] had invoked. The martyrs died for conscience, but not for liberty.
To-day the greatest of the Churches demands freedom of conscience in the
modern States which she does not control, but refuses to admit that,
where she had the power, it would be incumbent on her to concede it.

If we review the history of classical antiquity as a whole, we may
almost say that freedom of thought was like the air men breathed. It was
taken for granted and nobody thought about it. If seven or eight
thinkers at Athens were penalized for heterodoxy, in some and perhaps in
most of these cases heterodoxy was only a pretext. They do not
invalidate the general facts that the advance of knowledge was not
impeded by prejudice, or science retarded by the weight of unscientific
authority. The educated Greeks were tolerant because they were friends
of reason and did not set up any authority to overrule reason. Opinions
were not imposed except by argument; you were not expected to receive
some “kingdom of heaven” like a little child, or to prostrate your
intellect before an authority claiming to be infallible.

But this liberty was not the result of a conscious policy or deliberate
conviction, and therefore it was precarious. The problems

[51] of freedom of thought, religious liberty, toleration, had not been
forced upon society and were never seriously considered. When
Christianity confronted the Roman government, no one saw that in the
treatment of a small, obscure, and, to pagan thinkers, uninteresting or
repugnant sect, a principle of the deepest social importance was
involved. A long experience of the theory and practice of persecution
was required to base securely the theory of freedom of thought. The
lurid policy of coercion which the Christian Church adopted, and its
consequences, would at last compel reason to wrestle with the problem
and discover the justification of intellectual liberty. The spirit of
the Greeks and Romans, alive in their works, would, after a long period
of obscuration, again enlighten the world and aid in re-establishing the
reign of reason, which they had carelessly enjoyed without assuring its

[1] This has been shown very clearly by Professor Jackson in the article
on “Socrates” in the Encyclopoedia Britannica, last edition.

[2] He stated the theological difficulty as to the origin of evil in
this form: God either wishes to abolish evil and cannot, or can and will
not, or neither can nor will, or both can and will. The first three are
unthinkable, if he is a God worthy of the name; therefore the last
alternative must be true. Why then does evil exist? The inference is
that there is no God, in the sense of a governor of the world.

[3] An admirable appreciation of the poem will be found in R. V.
Tyrrell’s Lectures on Latin Poetry.

[4] For the evidence of the Apologists see A. Bouché-Leclercq, Religious
Intolerance and Politics (French, 1911) —a valuable review of the whole

[5] This is Gibbon’s translation.




ABOUT ten years after the Edict of Toleration, Constantine the Great
adopted Christianity. This momentous decision inaugurated

[52] a millennium in which reason was enchained, thought was enslaved,
and knowledge made no progress.

During the two centuries in which they had been a forbidden sect the
Christians had claimed toleration on the ground that religious belief is
voluntary and not a thing which can be enforced. When their faith became
the predominant creed and had the power of the State behind it, they
abandoned this view. They embarked on the hopeful enterprise of bringing
about a complete uniformity in men’s opinions on the mysteries of the
universe, and began a more or less definite policy of coercing thought.
This policy was adopted by Emperors and Governments partly on political
grounds; religious divisions, bitter as they were, seemed dangerous to
the unity of the State. But the fundamental principle lay in the
doctrine that salvation is to be found exclusively in the Christian
Church. The profound conviction that those who did not believe in its
doctrines would be damned eternally, and that God punishes theological
error as if it were the most heinous of crimes, led naturally to
persecution. It was a duty to impose on men the only true doctrine,
seeing that their own eternal interests were at stake, and to hinder
errors from spreading. Heretics were more

[53] than ordinary criminals and the pains that man could inflict on
them were as nothing to the tortures awaiting them in hell. To rid the
earth of men who, however virtuous, were, through their religious
errors, enemies of the Almighty, was a plain duty. Their virtues were no
excuse. We must remember that, according to the humane doctrine of the
Christians, pagan, that is, merely human, virtues were vices, and
infants who died unbaptized passed the rest of time in creeping on the
floor of hell. The intolerance arising from such views could not but
differ in kind and intensity from anything that the world had yet

Besides the logic of its doctrines, the character of its Sacred Book
must also be held partly accountable for the intolerant principles of
the Christian Church. It was unfortunate that the early Christians had
included in their Scripture the Jewish writings which reflect the ideas
of a low stage of civilization and are full of savagery. It would be
difficult to say how much harm has been done, in corrupting the morals
of men, by the precepts and examples of inhumanity, violence, and
bigotry which the reverent reader of the Old Testament, implicitly
believing in its inspiration, is bound to approve. It furnished an
armoury for the theory of

[54] persecution. The truth is that Sacred Books are an obstacle to
moral and intellectual progress, because they consecrate the ideas of a
given epoch, and its customs, as divinely appointed. Christianity, by
adopting books of a long past age, placed in the path of human
development a particularly nasty stumbling-block. It may occur to one to
wonder how history might have been altered —altered it surely would have
been—if the Christians had cut Jehovah out of their programme and,
content with the New Testament, had rejected the inspiration of the Old.

Under Constantine the Great and his successors, edict after edict
fulminated against the worship of the old pagan gods and against
heretical Christian sects. Julian the Apostate, who in his brief reign
(A.D. 361–3) sought to revive the old order of things, proclaimed
universal toleration, but he placed Christians at a disadvantage by
forbidding them to teach in schools. This was only a momentary check.
Paganism was finally shattered by the severe laws of Theodosius I (end
of fourth century). It lingered on here and there for more than another
century, especially at Rome and Athens, but had little importance. The
Christians were more concerned in striving among themselves than in

[55] crushing the prostrate spirit of antiquity. The execution of the
heretic Priscillian in Spain (fourth century) inaugurated the punishment
of heresy by death. It is interesting to see a non-Christian of this age
teaching the Christian sects that they should suffer one another.
Themistius in an address to the Emperor Valens urged him to repeal his
edicts against the Christians with whom he did not agree, and expounded
a theory of toleration. “The religious beliefs of individuals are a
field in which the authority of a government cannot be effective;
compliance can only lead to hypocritical professions. Every faith should
be allowed; the civil government should govern orthodox and heterodox to
the common good. God himself plainly shows that he wishes various forms
of worship; there are many roads by which one can reach him.”

No father of the Church has been more esteemed or enjoyed higher
authority than St. Augustine (died A.D. 410). He formulated the
principle of persecution for the guidance of future generations, basing
it on the firm foundation of Scripture—on words used by Jesus Christ in
one of his parables, “Compel them to come in.” Till the end of the
twelfth century the Church worked hard to suppress heterodoxies. There
was much

[56] persecution, but it was not systematic. There is reason to think
that in the pursuit of heresy the Church was mainly guided by
considerations of its temporal interest, and was roused to severe action
only when the spread of false doctrine threatened to reduce its revenues
or seemed a menace to society. At the end of the twelfth century
Innocent III became Pope and under him the Church of Western Europe
reached the height of its power. He and his immediate successors are
responsible for imagining and beginning an organized movement to sweep
heretics out of Christendom. Languedoc in Southwestern France was
largely populated by heretics, whose opinions were considered
particularly offensive, known as the Albigeois. They were the subjects
of the Count of Toulouse, and were an industrious and respectable
people. But the Church got far too little money out of this anti-
clerical population, and Innocent called upon the Count to extirpate
heresy from his dominion. As he would not obey, the Pope announced a
Crusade against the Albigeois, and offered to all who would bear a hand
the usual rewards granted to Crusaders, including absolution from all
their sins. A series of sanguinary wars followed in which the
Englishman, Simon de Montfort, took part. There were

[57] wholesale burnings and hangings of men, women and children. The
resistance of the people was broken down, though the heresy was not
eradicated, and the struggle ended in 1229 with the complete humiliation
of the Count of Toulouse. The important point of the episode is this:
the Church introduced into the public law of Europe the new principle
that a sovran held his crown on the condition that he should extirpate
heresy. If he hesitated to persecute at the command of the Pope, he must
be coerced; his lands were forfeited; and his dominions were thrown open
to be seized by any one whom the Church could induce to attack him. The
Popes thus established a theocratic system in which all other interests
were to be subordinated to the grand duty of maintaining the purity of
the Faith.

But in order to root out heresy it was necessary to discover it in its
most secret retreats. The Albigeois had been crushed, but the poison of
their doctrine was not yet destroyed. The organized system of searching
out heretics known as the Inquisition was founded by Pope Gregory IX
about A.D. 1233, and fully established by a Bull of Innocent IV (A.D.
1252) which regulated the machinery of persecution “as an integral part
of the social edifice in every city and every

[58] State.” This powerful engine for the suppression of the freedom of
men’s religious opinions is unique in history.

The bishops were not equal to the new talk undertaken by the Church, and
in every ecclesiastical province suitable monks were selected and to
them was delegated the authority of the Pope for discovering heretics.
These inquisitors had unlimited authority, they were subject to no
supervision and responsible to no man. It would not have been easy to
establish this system but for the fact that contemporary secular rulers
had inaugurated independently a merciless legislation against heresy.
The Emperor Frederick II, who was himself undoubtedly a freethinker,
made laws for his extensive dominions in Italy and Germany (between 1220
and 1235), enacting that all heretics should be outlawed, that those who
did not recant should be burned, those who recanted should be
imprisoned, but if they relapsed should be executed; that their property
should be confiscated, their houses destroyed, and their children, to
the second generation, ineligible to positions of emolument unless they
had betrayed their father or some other heretic.

Frederick’s legislation consecrated the stake as the proper punishment
for heresy. This

[59] cruel form of death for that crime seems to have been first
inflicted on heretics by a French king (1017). We must remember that in
the Middle Ages, and much later, crimes of all kinds were punished with
the utmost cruelty. In England in the reign of Henry VIII there is a
case of prisoners being boiled to death. Heresy was the foulest of all
crimes; and to prevail against it was to prevail against the legions of
hell. The cruel enactments against heretics were strongly supported by
the public opinion of the masses.

When the Inquisition was fully developed it covered Western Christendom
with a net from the meshes of which it was difficult for a heretic to
escape. The inquisitors in the various kingdoms co-operated, and
communicated information; there was “a chain of tribunals throughout
continental Europe.” England stood outside the system, but from the age
of Henry IV and Henry V the government repressed heresy by the stake
under a special statute (A.D. 1400; repealed 1533; revived under Mary;
finally repealed in 1676).

In its task of imposing unity of belief the Inquisition was most
successful in Spain. Here towards the end of the fifteenth century a
system was instituted which had peculiarities of its own and was very
jealous of

[60] Roman interference. One of the achievements of the Spanish
Inquisition (which was not abolished till the nineteenth century) was to
expel the Moriscos or converted Moors, who retained many of their old
Mohammedan opinions and customs. It is also said to have eradicated
Judaism and to have preserved the country from the zeal of Protestant
missionaries. But it cannot be proved that it deserves the credit of
having protected Spain against Protestantism, for it is quite possible
that if the seeds of Protestant opinion had been sown they would, in any
case, have fallen dead on an uncongenial soil. Freedom of thought
however was entirely suppressed.

One of the most efficacious means for hunting down heresy was the “Edict
of Faith,” which enlisted the people in the service of the Inquisition
and required every man to be an informer. From time to time a certain
district was visited and an edict issued commanding those who knew
anything of any heresy to come forward and reveal it, under fearful
penalties temporal and spiritual. In consequence, no one was free from
the suspicion of his neighbours or even of his own family. “No more
ingenious device has been invented to subjugate a whole population, to
paralyze its intellect, and to reduce it

[61] to blind obedience. It elevated delation to the rank of high
religious duty.”

The process employed in the trials of those accused of heresy in Spain
rejected every reasonable means for the ascertainment of truth. The
prisoner was assumed to be guilty, the burden of proving his innocence
rested on him; his judge was virtually his prosecutor. All witnesses
against him, however infamous, were admitted. The rules for allowing
witnesses for the prosecution were lax; those for rejecting witnesses
for the defence were rigid. Jews, Moriscos, and servants could give
evidence against the prisoner but not for him, and the same rule applied
to kinsmen to the fourth degree. The principle on which the Inquisition
proceeded was that better a hundred innocent should suffer than one
guilty person escape. Indulgences were granted to any one who
contributed wood to the pile. But the tribunal of the Inquisition did
not itself condemn to the stake, for the Church must not be guilty of
the shedding of blood. The ecclesiastical judge pronounced the prisoner
to be a heretic of whose conversion there was no hope, and handed him
over (“relaxed” him was the official term) to the secular authority,
asking and charging the magistrate “to treat him benignantly and
mercifully.” But this

[62] formal plea for mercy could not be entertained by the civil power;
it had no choice but to inflict death; if it did otherwise, it was a
promoter of heresy. All princes and officials, according to the Canon
Law, must punish duly and promptly heretics handed over to them by the
Inquisition, under pain of excommunication. It is to be noted that the
number of deaths at the stake has been much over-estimated by popular
imagination; but the sum of suffering caused by the methods of the
system and the punishments that fell short of death can hardly be

The legal processes employed by the Church in these persecutions
exercised a corrupting influence on the criminal jurisprudence of the
Continent. Lea, the historian of the Inquisition, observes: “Of all the
curses which the Inquisition brought in its train, this perhaps was the
greatest—that, until the closing years of the eighteenth century,
throughout the greater part of Europe, the inquisitorial process, as
developed for the destruction of heresy, became the customary method of
dealing with all who were under any accusation.”

The Inquisitors who, as Gibbon says, “defended nonsense by cruelties,”
are often regarded as monsters. It may be said for them and for the
kings who did their will that

[63] they were not a bit worse than the priests and monarchs of
primitive ages who sacrificed human beings to their deities. The Greek
king, Agamemnon, who immolated his daughter Iphigenia to obtain
favourable winds from the gods, was perhaps a most affectionate father,
and the seer who advised him to do so may have been a man of high
integrity. They acted according to their beliefs. And so in the Middle
Ages and afterwards men of kindly temper and the purest zeal for
morality were absolutely devoid of mercy where heresy was suspected.
Hatred of heresy was a sort of infectious germ, generated by the
doctrine of exclusive salvation.

It has been observed that this dogma also injured the sense of truth. As
man’s eternal fate was at stake, it seemed plainly legitimate or rather
imperative to use any means to enforce the true belief—even falsehood
and imposture. There was no scruple about the invention of miracles or
any fictions that were edifying. A disinterested appreciation of truth
will not begin to prevail till the seventeenth century.

While this principle, with the associated doctrines of sin, hell, and
the last judgment, led to such consequences, there were other doctrines
and implications in Christianity which, forming a solid rampart against

[64] advance of knowledge, blocked the paths of science in the Middle
Ages, and obstructed its progress till the latter half of the nineteenth
century. In every important field of scientific research, the ground was
occupied by false views which the Church declared to be true on the
infallible authority of the Bible. The Jewish account of Creation and
the Fall of Man, inextricably bound up with the Christian theory of
Redemption, excluded from free inquiry geology, zoology, and
anthropology. The literal interpretation of the Bible involved the truth
that the sun revolves round the earth. The Church condemned the theory
of the antipodes. One of the charges against Servetus (who was burned in
the sixteenth century; see below, p. 79) was that he believed the
statement of a Greek geographer that Judea is a wretched barren country
in spite of the fact that the Bible describes it as a land flowing with
milk and honey. The Greek physician Hippocrates had based the study of
medicine and disease on experience and methodical research. In the
Middle Ages men relapsed to the primitive notions of a barbarous age.
Bodily ailments were ascribed to occult agencies—the malice of the Devil
or the wrath of God. St. Augustine said that the diseases of Christians
were caused by demons,

[65] and Luther in the same way attributed them to Satan. It was only
logical that supernatural remedies should be sought to counteract the
effects of supernatural causes. There was an immense traffic in relics
with miraculous virtues, and this had the advantage of bringing in a
large revenue to the Church. Physicians were often exposed to suspicions
of sorcery and unbelief. Anatomy was forbidden, partly perhaps on
account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The opposition
of ecclesiastics to inoculation in the eighteenth century was a survival
of the mediaeval view of disease. Chemistry (alchemy) was considered a
diabolical art and in 1317 was condemned by the Pope. The long
imprisonment of Roger Bacon (thirteenth century) who, while he professed
zeal for orthodoxy, had an inconvenient instinct for scientific
research, illustrates the mediaeval distrust of science.

It is possible that the knowledge of nature would have progressed
little, even if this distrust of science on theological grounds had not
prevailed. For Greek science had ceased to advance five hundred years
before Christianity became powerful. After about 200 B.C. no important
discoveries were made. The explanation of this decay is not easy, but we
may be sure that it is to be sought in the

[66] social conditions of the Greek and Roman world. And we may suspect
that the social conditions of the Middle Ages would have proved
unfavourable to the scientific spirit— the disinterested quest of
facts—even if the controlling beliefs had not been hostile. We may
suspect that the rebirth of science would in any case have been
postponed till new social conditions, which began to appear in the
thirteenth century (see next Chapter), had reached a certain maturity.
Theological prejudice may have injured knowledge principally by its
survival after the Middle Ages had passed away. In other words, the harm
done by Christian doctrines, in this respect, may lie less in the
obscurantism of the dark interval between ancient and modern
civilization, than in the obstructions which they offered when science
had revived in spite of them and could no longer be crushed.

The firm belief in witchcraft, magic, and demons was inherited by the
Middle Ages from antiquity, but it became far more lurid and made the
world terrible. Men believed that they were surrounded by fiends
watching for every opportunity to harm them, that pestilences, storms,
eclipses, and famines were the work of the Devil; but they believed as
firmly that ecclesiastical rites were capable of coping with these
enemies. Some of the

[67] early Christian Emperors legislated against magic, but till the
fourteenth century there was no systematic attempt to root out
witchcraft. The fearful epidemic, known as the Black Death, which
devastated Europe in that century, seems to have aggravated the haunting
terror of the invisible world of demons. Trials for witchcraft
multiplied, and for three hundred years the discovery of witchcraft and
the destruction of those who were accused of practising it, chiefly
women, was a standing feature of European civilization. Both the theory
and the persecution were supported by Holy Scripture. “Thou shalt not
suffer a witch to live” was the clear injunction of the highest
authority. Pope Innocent VIII issued a Bull on the matter (1484) in
which he asserted that plagues and storms are the work of witches, and
the ablest minds believed in the reality of their devilish powers.

No story is more painful than the persecution of witches, and nowhere
was it more atrocious than in England and Scotland. I mention it because
it was the direct result of theological doctrines, and because, as we
shall see, it was rationalism which brought the long chapter of horrors
to an end.

In the period, then, in which the Church exercised its greatest
influence, reason was

[68] enchained in the prison which Christianity had built around the
human mind. It was not indeed inactive, but its activity took the form
of heresy; or, to pursue the metaphor, those who broke chains were
unable for the most part to scale the walls of the prison; their freedom
extended only so far as to arrive at beliefs, which, like orthodoxy
itself, were based on Christian mythology. There were some exceptions to
the rule. At the end of the twelfth century a stimulus from another
world began to make itself felt. The philosophy of Aristotle became
known to learned men in Western Christendom; their teachers were Jews
and Mohammedans. Among the Mohammedans there was a certain amount of
free thought, provoked by their knowledge of ancient Greek speculation.
The works of the freethinker Averroes (twelfth century) which were based
on Aristotle’s philosophy, propagated a small wave of rationalism in
Christian countries. Averroes held the eternity of matter and denied the
immortality of the soul; his general view may be described as pantheism.
But he sought to avoid difficulties with the orthodox authorities of
Islam by laying down the doctrine of double truth, that is the
coexistence of two independent and contradictory truths, the one
philosophical, and the other religious. This

[69] did not save him from being banished from the court of the Spanish
caliph. In the University of Paris his teaching produced a school of
freethinkers who held that the Creation, the resurrection of the body,
and other essential dogmas, might be true from the standpoint of
religion but are false from the standpoint of reason. To a plain mind
this seems much as if one said that the doctrine of immortality is true
on Sundays but not on week-days, or that the Apostles’ Creed is false in
the drawing-room and true in the kitchen. This dangerous movement was
crushed, and the saving principle of double truth condemned, by Pope
John XXI. The spread of Averroistic and similar speculations called
forth the Theology of Thomas, of Aquino in South Italy (died 1274), a
most subtle thinker, whose mind had a natural turn for scepticism. He
enlisted Aristotle, hitherto the guide of infidelity, on the side of
orthodoxy, and constructed an ingenious Christian philosophy which is
still authoritative in the Roman Church. But Aristotle and reason are
dangerous allies for faith, and the treatise of Thomas is perhaps more
calculated to unsettle a believing mind by the doubts which it
powerfully states than to quiet the scruples of a doubter by its

There must always have been some private

[70] and underground unbelief here and there, which did not lead to any
serious consequences. The blasphemous statement that the world had been
deceived by three impostors, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, was current in
the thirteenth century. It was attributed to the freethinking Emperor
Frederick II (died 1250), who has been described as “the first modern
man.” The same idea, in a milder form, was expressed in the story of the
Three Rings, which is at least as old. A Mohammedan ruler, desiring to
extort money from a rich Jew, summoned him to his court and laid a snare
for him. “My friend,” he said, “I have often heard it reported that thou
art a very wise man. Tell me therefore which of the three religions,
that of the Jews, that of the Mohammedans, and that of the Christians,
thou believest to be the truest.” The Jew saw that a trap was laid for
him and answered as follows: “My lord, there was once a rich man who
among his treasures had a ring of such great value that he wished to
leave it as a perpetual heirloom to his successors. So he made a will
that whichever of his sons should be found in possession of this ring
after his death should be considered his heir. The son to whom he gave
the ring acted in the same way as his father, and so the ring passed
from hand to

[71] hand. At last it came into the possession of a man who had three
sons whom he loved equally. Unable to make up his mind to which of them
he should leave the ring, he promised it to each of them privately, and
then in order to satisfy them all caused a goldsmith to make two other
rings so closely resembling the true ring that he was unable to
distinguish them himself. On his death-bed he gave each of them a ring,
and each claimed to be his heir, but no one could prove his title
because the rings were indistinguishable, and the suit at law lasts till
this day. It is even so, my lord, with the three religions, given by God
to the three peoples. They each think they have the true religion, but
which of them really has it, is a question, like that of the rings,
still undecided.” This sceptical story became famous in the eighteenth
century, when the German poet, Lessing, built upon it his drama Nathan
the Sage, which was intended to show the unreasonableness of




THE intellectual and social movement which was to dispel the darkness of

[72] Middle Ages and prepare the way for those who would ultimately
deliver reason from her prison, began in Italy in the thirteenth
century. The misty veil woven of credulity and infantile naïveté which
had hung over men’s souls and protected them from understanding either
themselves or their relation to the world began to lift. The individual
began to feel his separate individuality, to be conscious of his own
value as a person apart from his race or country (as in the later ages
of Greece and Rome); and the world around him began to emerge from the
mists of mediaeval dreams. The change was due to the political and
social conditions of the little Italian States, of which some were
republics and others governed by tyrants.

To the human world, thus unveiling itself, the individual who sought to
make it serve his purposes required a guide; and the guide was found in
the ancient literature of Greece and Rome. Hence the whole
transformation, which presently extended from Italy to Northern Europe,
is known as the Renaissance, or rebirth of classical antiquity. But the
awakened interest in classical literature while it coloured the
character and stimulated the growth of the movement, supplying new
ideals and suggesting new points of view, was only the form in which the
change of spirit

[73] began to express itself in the fourteenth century. The change might
conceivably have taken some other shape. Its true name is Humanism.

At the time men hardly felt that they were passing into a new age of
civilization, nor did the culture of the Renaissance immediately produce
any open or general intellectual rebellion against orthodox beliefs. The
world was gradually assuming an aspect decidedly unfriendly to the
teaching of mediaeval orthodoxy; but there was no explosion of
hostility; it was not till the seventeenth century that war between
religion and authority was systematically waged. The humanists were not
hostile to theological authority or to the claims of religious dogma;
but they had discovered a purely human curiosity about this world and it
absorbed their interest. They idolized pagan literature which abounded
in poisonous germs; the secular side of education became all-important;
religion and theology were kept in a separate compartment. Some
speculative minds, which were sensitive to the contradiction, might seek
to reconcile the old religion with new ideas; but the general tendency
of thinkers in the Renaissance period was to keep the two worlds
distinct, and to practise outward conformity to the creed without any
real intellectual submission.


I may illustrate this double-facedness of the Renaissance by Montaigne
(second half of sixteenth century). His Essays make for rationalism, but
contain frequent professions of orthodox Catholicism, in which he was
perfectly sincere. There is no attempt to reconcile the two points of
view; in fact, he takes the sceptical position that there is no bridge
between reason and religion. The human intellect is incapable in the
domain of theology, and religion must be placed aloft, out of reach and
beyond the interference of reason; to be humbly accepted. But while he
humbly accepted it, on sceptical grounds which would have induced him to
accept Mohammadanism if he had been born in Cairo, his soul was not in
its dominion. It was the philosophers and wise men of antiquity, Cicero,
and Seneca, and Plutarch, who moulded and possessed his mind. It is to
them, and not to the consolations of Christianity, that he turns when he
discusses the problem of death. The religious wars in France which he
witnessed and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) were
calculated to confirm him in his scepticism. His attitude to persecution
is expressed in the remark that “it is setting a high value on one’s
opinions to roast men on account of them.”

The logical results of Montaigne’s scepticism

[75] were made visible by his friend Charron, who published a book On
Wisdom in 1601. Here it is taught that true morality is not founded on
religion, and the author surveys the history of Christianity to show the
evils which it had produced. He says of immortality that it is the most
generally received doctrine, the most usefully believed, and the most
weakly established by human reasons; but he modified this and some other
passages in a second edition. A contemporary Jesuit placed Charron in
the catalogue of the most dangerous and wicked atheists. He was really a
deist; but in those days, and long after, no one scrupled to call a non-
Christian deist an atheist. His book would doubtless have been
suppressed and he would have suffered but for the support of King Henry
IV. It has a particular interest because it transports us directly from
the atmosphere of the Renaissance, represented by Montaigne, into the
new age of more or less aggressive rationalism.

What Humanism did in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries,
at first in Italy, then in other countries, was to create an
intellectual atmosphere in which the emancipation of reason could begin
and knowledge could resume its progress. The period saw the invention of
printing and

[76] the discovery of new parts of the globe, and these things were to
aid powerfully in the future defeat of authority.

But the triumph of freedom depended on other causes also; it was not to
be brought about by the intellect alone. The chief political facts of
the period were the decline of the power of the Pope in Europe, the
decay of the Holy Roman Empire, and the growth of strong monarchies, in
which worldly interests determined and dictated ecclesiastical policy,
and from which the modern State was to develop. The success of the
Reformation was made possible by these conditions. Its victory in North
Germany was due to the secular interest of the princes, who profited by
the confiscation of Church lands. In England there was no popular
movement; the change was carried through by the government for its own

The principal cause of the Reformation was the general corruption of the
Church and the flagrancy of its oppression. For a long time the Papacy
had had no higher aim than to be a secular power exploiting its
spiritual authority for the purpose of promoting its worldly interests,
by which it was exclusively governed. All the European States based
their diplomacy on this assumption. Since the fourteenth century every
one acknowledged

[77] the need of reforming the Church, and reform had been promised, but
things went from bad to worse, and there was no resource but rebellion.
The rebellion led by Luther was the result not of a revolt of reason
against dogmas, but of widely spread anti-clerical feeling due to the
ecclesiastical methods of extorting money, particularly by the sale of
Indulgences, the most glaring abuse of the time. It was his study of the
theory of Papal Indulgences that led Luther on to his theological

It is an elementary error, but one which is still shared by many people
who have read history superficially, that the Reformation established
religious liberty and the right of private judgment. What it did was to
bring about a new set of political and social conditions, under which
religious liberty could ultimately be secured, and, by virtue of its
inherent inconsistencies, to lead to results at which its leaders would
have shuddered. But nothing was further from the minds of the leading
Reformers than the toleration of doctrines differing from their own.
They replaced one authority by another. They set up the authority of the
Bible instead of that of the Church, but it was the Bible according to
Luther or the Bible according to Calvin. So far as the spirit of
intolerance went, there

[78] was nothing to choose between the new and the old Churches. The
religious wars were not for the cause of freedom, but for particular
sets of doctrines; and in France, if the Protestants had been
victorious, it is certain that they would not have given more liberal
terms to the Catholics than the Catholics gave to them.

Luther was quite opposed to liberty of conscience and worship, a
doctrine which was inconsistent with Scripture as he read it. He might
protest against coercion and condemn the burning of heretics, when he
was in fear that he and his party might be victims, but when he was safe
and in power, he asserted his real view that it was the duty of the
State to impose the true doctrine and exterminate heresy, which was an
abomination, that unlimited obedience to their prince in religious as in
other matters was the duty of subjects, and that the end of the State
was to defend the faith. He held that Anabaptists should be put to the
sword. With Protestants and Catholics alike the dogma of exclusive
salvation led to the same place.

Calvin’s fame for intolerance is blackest. He did not, like Luther,
advocate the absolute power of the civil ruler; he stood for the control
of the State by the Church—a form of government which is commonly called

[79] and he established a theocracy at Geneva. Here liberty was
completely crushed; false doctrines were put down by imprisonment,
exile, and death. The punishment of Servetus is the most famous exploit
of Calvin’s warfare against heresy. The Spaniard Servetus, who had
written against the dogma of the Trinity, was imprisoned at Lyons
(partly through the machinations of Calvin) and having escaped came
rashly to Geneva. He was tried for heresy and committed to the flames
(1553), though Geneva had no jurisdiction over him. Melanchthon, who
formulated the principles of persecution, praised this act as a
memorable example to posterity. Posterity however was one day to be
ashamed of that example. In 1903 the Calvinists of Geneva felt impelled
to erect an expiatory monument, in which Calvin “our great Reformer” is
excused as guilty of an error “which was that of his century.”

Thus the Reformers, like the Church from which they parted, cared
nothing for freedom, they only cared for “truth.” If the mediaeval ideal
was to purge the world of heretics, the object of the Protestant was to
exclude all dissidents from his own land. The people at large were to be
driven into a fold, to accept their faith at the command of their
sovran. This was the principle laid down in the

[80] religious peace which (1555) composed the struggle between the
Catholic Emperor and the Protestant German princes. It was recognized by
Catherine de’ Medici when she massacred the French Protestants and
signified to Queen Elizabeth that she might do likewise with English

Nor did the Protestant creeds represent enlightenment. The Reformation
on the Continent was as hostile to enlightenment as it was to liberty;
and science, if it seemed to contradict the Bible, has as little chance
with Luther as with the Pope. The Bible, interpreted by the Protestants
or the Roman Church, was equally fatal to witches. In Germany the
development of learning received a long set-back.

Yet the Reformation involuntarily helped the cause of liberty. The
result was contrary to the intentions of its leaders, was indirect, and
long delayed. In the first place, the great rent in Western
Christianity, substituting a number of theological authorities instead
of one—several gods, we may say, instead of one God—produced a weakening
of ecclesiastical authority in general. The religious tradition was
broken. In the second place, in the Protestant States, the supreme
ecclesiastical power was vested in the sovran; the sovran had other
interests besides those of

[81] the Church to consider; and political reasons would compel him
sooner or later to modify the principle of ecclesiastical intolerance.
Catholic States in the same way were forced to depart from the duty of
not suffering heretics. The religious wars in France ended in a limited
toleration of Protestants. The policy of Cardinal Richelieu, who
supported the Protestant cause in Germany, illustrates how secular
interests obstructed the cause of faith.

Again, the intellectual justification of the Protestant rebellion
against the Church had been the right of private judgment, that is, the
principle of religious liberty. But the Reformers had asserted it only
for themselves, and as soon as they had framed their own articles of
faith, they had practically repudiated it. This was the most glaring
inconsistency in the Protestant position; and the claim which they had
thrust aside could not be permanently suppressed. Once more, the
Protestant doctrines rested on an insecure foundation which no logic
could defend, and inevitably led from one untenable position to another.
If we are to believe on authority, why should we prefer the upstart
dictation of the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg or the English Thirty-
nine Articles to the venerable authority of the Church of Rome? If we
decide against Rome, we must do so by means

[82] of reason; but once we exercise reason in the matter, why should we
stop where Luther or Calvin or any of the other rebels stopped, unless
we assume that one of them was inspired? If we reject superstitions
which they rejected, there is nothing except their authority to prevent
us from rejecting all or some of the superstitions which they retained.
Moreover, their Bible-worship promoted results which they did not
foresee. [1] The inspired record on which the creeds depend became an
open book. Public attention was directed to it as never before, though
it cannot be said to have been universally read before the nineteenth
century. Study led to criticism, the difficulties of the dogma of
inspiration were appreciated, and the Bible was ultimately to be
submitted to a remorseless dissection which has altered at least the
quality of its authority in the eyes of intelligent believers. This
process of Biblical criticism has been conducted mainly in a Protestant
atmosphere and the new position in which the Bible was placed by the
Reformation must be held partly accountable. In these ways,
Protestantism was adapted to be a stepping-stone to rationalism, and
thus served the cause of freedom.


That cause however was powerfully and directly promoted by one sect of
Reformers, who in the eyes of all the others were blasphemers and of
whom most people never think when they talk of the Reformation. I mean
the Socinians. Of their far-reaching influence something will be said in
the next chapter.

Another result of the Reformation has still to be mentioned, its
renovating effect on the Roman Church, which had now to fight for its
existence. A new series of Popes who were in earnest about religion
began with Paul III (1534) and reorganized the Papacy and its resources
for a struggle of centuries. [2] The institution of the Jesuit order,
the establishment of the Inquisition at Rome, the Council of Trent, the
censorship of the Press (Index of Forbidden Books) were the expression
of the new spirit and the means to cope with the new situation. The
reformed Papacy was good fortune for believing children of the Church,
but what here concerns us is that one of its chief objects was to
repress freedom more effectually. Savonarola who preached right living
at Florence had been executed (1498) under Pope Alexander VI who was a
notorious profligate. If Savonarola had lived

[84] in the new era he might have been canonized, but Giordano Bruno was

Giordano Bruno had constructed a religious philosophy, based partly upon
Epicurus, from whom he took the theory of the infinity of the universe.
But Epicurean materialism was transformed into a pantheistic mysticism
by the doctrine that God is the soul of matter. Accepting the recent
discovery of Copernicus, which Catholics and Protestants alike rejected,
that the earth revolves round the sun, Bruno took the further step of
regarding the fixed stars as suns, each with its invisible satellites.
He sought to come to an understanding with the Bible, which (he held)
being intended for the vulgar had to accommodate itself to their
prejudices. Leaving Italy, because he was suspected of heresy, he lived
successively in Switzerland, France, England, and Germany, and in 1592,
induced by a false friend to return to Venice he was seized by order of
the Inquisition. Finally condemned in Rome, he was burned (1600) in the
Campo de’ Fiori, where a monument now stands in his honour, erected some
years ago, to the great chagrin of the Roman Church.

Much is made of the fate of Bruno because he is one of the world’s
famous men. No country has so illustrious a victim of that era to
commemorate as Italy, but in other lands

[85] blood just as innocent was shed for heterodox opinions. In France
there was rather more freedom than elsewhere under the relatively
tolerant government of Henry IV and of the Cardinals Richelieu and
Mazarin, till about 1660. But at Toulouse (1619) Lucilio Vanini, a
learned Italian who like Bruno wandered about Europe, was convicted as
an atheist and blasphemer; his tongue was torn out and he was burned.
Protestant England, under Elizabeth and James I, did not lag behind the
Roman Inquisition, but on account of the obscurity of the victims her
zeal for faith has been unduly forgotten. Yet, but for an accident, she
might have covered herself with the glory of having done to death a
heretic not less famous than Giordano Bruno. The poet Marlowe was
accused of atheism, but while the prosecution was hanging over him he
was killed in a sordid quarrel in a tavern (1593). Another dramatist
(Kyd) who was implicated in the charge was put to the torture. At the
same time Sir Walter Raleigh was prosecuted for unbelief but not
convicted. Others were not so fortunate. Three or four persons were
burned at Norwich in the reign of Elizabeth for unchristian doctrines,
among them Francis Kett who had been a Fellow of Corpus Christi,
Cambridge. Under James I, who

[86] interested himself personally in such matters, Bartholomew Legate
was charged with holding various pestilent opinions. The king summoned
him to his presence and asked him whether he did not pray daily to Jesus
Christ. Legate replied he had prayed to Christ in the days of his
ignorance, but not for the last seven years. “Away, base fellow,” said
James, spurning him with his foot, “it shall never be said that one
stayeth in my palace that hath never prayed to our Saviour for seven
years together.” Legate, having been imprisoned for some time in
Newgate, was declared an incorrigible heretic and burned at Smithfield
(1611). Just a month later, one Wightman was burned at Lichfield, by the
Bishop of Coventry, for heterodox doctrines. It is possible that public
opinion was shocked by these two burnings. They were the last cases in
England of death for unbelief. Puritan intolerance, indeed, passed an
ordinance in 1648, by which all who denied the Trinity, Christ’s
divinity, the inspiration of Scripture, or a future state, were liable
to death, and persons guilty of other heresies, to imprisonment. But
this did not lead to any executions.

The Renaissance age saw the first signs of the beginning of modern
science, but the mediaeval prejudices against the investigation

[87] of nature were not dissipated till the seventeenth century, and in
Italy they continued to a much later period. The history of modern
astronomy begins in 1543, with the publication of the work of Copernicus
revealing the truth about the motions of the earth. The appearance of
this work is important in the history of free thought, because it raised
a clear and definite issue between science and Scripture; and Osiander,
who edited it (Copernicus was dying), forseeing the outcry it would
raise, stated untruly in the preface that the earth’s motion was put
forward only as a hypothesis. The theory was denounced by Catholics and
Reformers, and it did not convince some men (e.g. Bacon) who were not
influenced by theological prejudice. The observations of the Italian
astronomer Galileo de’ Galilei demonstrated the Copernican theory beyond
question. His telescope discovered the moons of Jupiter, and his
observation of the spots in the sun confirmed the earth’s rotation. In
the pulpits of Florence, where he lived under the protection of the
Grand Duke, his sensational discoveries were condemned. “Men of Galilee,
why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” He was then denounced to the Holy
Office of the Inquisition by two Dominican monks. Learning that his
investigations were being considered

[88] at Rome, Galileo went thither, confident that he would be able to
convince the ecclesiastical authorities of the manifest truth of
Copernicanism. He did not realize what theology was capable of. In
February 1616 the Holy Office decided that the Copernican system was in
itself absurd, and, in respect of Scripture, heretical. Cardinal
Bellarmin, by the Pope’s direction, summoned Galileo and officially
admonished him to abandon his opinion and cease to teach it, otherwise
the Inquisition would proceed against him. Galileo promised to obey. The
book of Copernicus was placed on the Index. It has been remarked that
Galileo’s book on Solar Spots contains no mention of Scripture, and thus
the Holy Office, in its decree which related to that book, passed
judgment on a scientific, not a theological, question.

Galileo was silenced for a while, but it was impossible for him to be
mute for ever. Under a new Pope (Urban VIII) he looked for greater
liberty, and there were many in the Papal circle who were well disposed
to him. He hoped to avoid difficulties by the device of placing the
arguments for the old and the new theories side by side, and pretending
not to judge between them. He wrote a treatise on the two systems (the
Ptolemaic and the Copernican) in the form

[89] of Dialogues, of which the preface declares that the purpose is to
explain the pros and cons of the two views. But the spirit of the work
is Copernican. He received permission, quite definite as he thought,
from Father Riccardi (master of the Sacred Palace) to print it, and it
appeared in 1632. The Pope however disapproved of it, the book was
examined by a commission, and Galileo was summoned before the
Inquisition. He was old and ill, and the humiliations which he had to
endure are a painful story. He would probably have been more severely
treated, if one of the members of the tribunal had not been a man of
scientific training (Macolano, a Dominican), who was able to appreciate
his ability. Under examination, Galileo denied that he had upheld the
motion of the earth in the Dialogues, and asserted that he had shown the
reasons of Copernicus to be inconclusive. This defence was in accordance
with the statement in his preface, but contradicted his deepest
conviction. In struggling with such a tribunal, it was the only line
which a man who was not a hero could take. At a later session, he forced
himself ignominiously to confess that some of the arguments on the
Copernican side had been put too strongly and to declare himself ready
to confute the

[90] theory. In the final examination, he was threatened with torture.
He said that before the decree of 1616 he had held the truth of the
Copernican system to be arguable, but since then he had held the
Ptolemaic to be true. Next day, he publicly abjured the scientific truth
which he had demonstrated. He was allowed to retire to the country, on
condition that he saw no one. In the last months of his life he wrote to
a friend to this effect: “The falsity of the Copernican system cannot be
doubted, especially by us Catholics. It is refuted by the irrefragable
authority of Scripture. The conjectures of Copernicus and his disciples
were all disposed of by the one solid argument: God’s omnipotence can
operate in infinitely various ways. If something appears to our
observation to happen in one particular way, we must not curtail God’s
arm, and sustain a thing in which we may be deceived.” The irony is

Rome did not permit the truth about the solar system to be taught till
after the middle of the eighteenth century, and Galileo’s books remained
on the Index till 1835. The prohibition was fatal to the study of
natural science in Italy.

The Roman Index reminds us of the significance of the invention of
printing in the struggle for freedom of thought, by making

[91] it easy to propagate new ideas far and wide. Authority speedily
realized the danger, and took measures to place its yoke on the new
contrivance, which promised to be such a powerful ally of reason. Pope
Alexander VI inaugurated censorship of the Press by his Bull against
unlicensed printing (1501). In France King Henry II made printing
without official permission punishable by death. In Germany, censorship
was introduced in 1529. In England, under Elizabeth, books could not be
printed without a license, and printing presses were not allowed except
in London, Oxford, and Cambridge; the regulation of the Press was under
the authority of the Star Chamber. Nowhere did the Press become really
free till the nineteenth century.

While the Reformation and the renovated Roman Church meant a reaction
against the Renaissance, the vital changes which the Renaissance
signified—individualism, a new intellectual attitude to the world, the
cultivation of secular knowledge—were permanent and destined to lead,
amid the competing intolerances of Catholic and Protestant powers, to
the goal of liberty. We shall see how reason and the growth of knowledge
undermined the bases of theological authority. At each step in this
process, in which philosophical speculation, historical

[92] criticism, natural science have all taken part, the opposition
between reason and faith deepened; doubt, clear or vague, increased; and
secularism, derived from the Humanists, and always implying scepticism,
whether latent or conscious, substituted an interest in the fortunes of
the human race upon earth for the interest in a future world. And along
with this steady intellectual advance, toleration gained ground and
freedom won more champions. In the meantime the force of political
circumstances was compelling governments to mitigate their maintenance
of one religious creed by measures of relief to other Christian sects,
and the principle of exclusiveness was broken down for reasons of
worldly expediency. Religious liberty was an important step towards
complete freedom of opinion.

[1] The danger, however, was felt in Germany, and in the seventeenth
century the study of Scripture was not encouraged at German

[2] See Barry, Papacy and Modern Times (in this series), 113 seq.



IN the third century B.C. the Indian king Asoka, a man of religious zeal
but of tolerant spirit, confronted by the struggle between two hostile
religions (Brahmanism and Buddhism), decided that both should be equally
privileged and honoured in his dominions. His ordinances on the matter
are memorable

[93] as the earliest existing Edicts of toleration. In Europe, as we
saw, the principle of toleration was for the first time definitely
expressed in the Roman Imperial Edicts which terminated the persecution
of the Christians.

The religious strife of the sixteenth century raised the question in its
modern form, and for many generations it was one of the chief problems
of statesmen and the subject of endless controversial pamphlets.
Toleration means incomplete religious liberty, and there are many
degrees of it. It might be granted to certain Christian sects; it might
be granted to Christian sects, but these alone; it might be granted to
all religions, but not to freethinkers; or to deists, but not to
atheists. It might mean the concession of some civil rights, but not of
others; it might mean the exclusion of those who are tolerated from
public offices or from certain professions. The religious liberty now
enjoyed in Western lands has been gained through various stages of

We owe the modern principle of toleration to the Italian group of
Reformers, who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and were the fathers
of Unitarianism. The Reformation movement had spread to Italy, but Rome
was successful in suppressing it, and many heretics fled to Switzerland.
The anti-Trinitarian

[94] group were forced by the intolerance of Calvin to flee to
Transylvania and Poland where they propagated their doctrines. The
Unitarian creed was moulded by Fausto Sozzini, generally known as
Socinus, and in the catechism of his sect (1574) persecution is
condemned. This repudiation of the use of force in the interest of
religion is a consequence of the Socinian doctrines. For, unlike Luther
and Calvin, the Socinians conceded such a wide room to individual
judgment in the interpretation of Scripture that to impose Socinianism
would have been inconsistent with its principles. In other words, there
was a strong rationalistic element which was lacking in the Trinitarian

It was under the influence of the Socinian spirit that Castellion of
Savoy sounded the trumpet of toleration in a pamphlet denouncing the
burning of Servetus, whereby he earned the malignant hatred of Calvin.
He maintained the innocence of error and ridiculed the importance which
the Churches laid on obscure questions such as predestination and the
Trinity. “To discuss the difference between the Law and the Gospel,
gratuitous remission of sins or imputed righteousness, is as if a man
were to discuss whether a prince was to come on horseback,

[95] or in a chariot, or dressed in white or in red.” [1] Religion is a
curse if persecution is a necessary part of it.

For a long time the Socinians and those who came under their influence
when, driven from Poland, they passed into Germany and Holland, were the
only sects which advocated toleration. It was adopted from them by the
Anabaptists and by the Arminian section of the Reformed Church of
Holland. And in Holland, the founder of the English Congregationalists,
who (under the name of Independents) played such an important part in
the history of the Civil War and the Commonwealth, learned the principle
of liberty of conscience.

Socinus thought that this principle could be realized without abolishing
the State Church. He contemplated a close union between the State and
the prevailing Church, combined with complete toleration for other
sects. It is under this system (which has been called jurisdictional)
that religious liberty has been realized in European States. But there
is another and simpler method, that of separating Church from State and
placing all religions on an equality. This was the solution which the
Anabaptists would have preferred. They detested the State; and the
doctrine of religious liberty was not

[96] precious to them. Their ideal system would have been an Anabaptist
theocracy; separation was the second best.

In Europe, public opinion was not ripe for separation, inasmuch as the
most powerful religious bodies were alike in regarding toleration as
wicked indifference. But it was introduced in a small corner of the new
world beyond the Atlantic in the seventeenth century. The Puritans who
fled from the intolerance of the English Church and State and founded
colonies in New England, were themselves equally intolerant, not only to
Anglicans and Catholics, but to Baptists and Quakers. They set up
theocratical governments from which all who did not belong to their own
sect were excluded. Roger Williams had imbibed from the Dutch Arminians
the idea of separation of Church from State. On account of this heresy
he was driven from Massachusetts, and he founded Providence to be a
refuge for those whom the Puritan colonists persecuted. Here he set up a
democratic constitution in which the magistrates had power only in civil
matters and could not interfere with religion. Other towns were
presently founded in Rhode Island, and a charter of Charles II (1663)
confirmed the constitution, which secured to all citizens professing
Christianity, of whatever

[97] form, the full enjoyment of political rights. Non-Christians were
tolerated, but were not admitted to the political rights of Christians.
So far, the new State fell short of perfect liberty. But the fact that
Jews were soon admitted, notwithstanding, to full citizenship shows how
free the atmosphere was. To Roger Williams belongs the glory of having
founded the first modern State which was really tolerant and was based
on the principle of taking the control of religious matters entirely out
of the hands of the civil government.

Toleration was also established in the Roman Catholic colony of
Maryland, but in a different way. Through the influence of Lord
Baltimore an Act of Toleration was passed in 1649, notable as the first
decree, voted by a legal assembly, granting complete freedom to all
Christians. No one professing faith in Christ was to be molested in
regard to his religion. But the law was heavy on all outside this pale.
Any one who blasphemed God or attacked the Trinity or any member of the
Trinity was threatened by the penalty of death. The tolerance of
Maryland attracted so many Protestant settlers from Virginia that the
Protestants became a majority, and as soon as they won political
preponderance, they introduced an Act (1654)

[98] excluding Papists and Prelatists from toleration. The rule of the
Baltimores was restored after 1660, and the old religious freedom was
revived, but with the accession of William III the Protestants again
came into power and the toleration which the Catholics had instituted in
Maryland came to an end.

It will be observed that in both these cases freedom was incomplete; but
it was much larger and more fundamental in Rhode Island, where it had
been ultimately derived from the doctrine of Socinus. [2] When the
colonies became independent of England the Federal Constitution which
they set up was absolutely secular, but it was left to each member of
the Union to adopt Separation or not (1789). If separation has become
the rule in the American States, it may be largely due to the fact that
on any other system the governments would have found it difficult to
impose mutual tolerance on the sects. It must be added that in Maryland
and a few southern States atheists still suffer from some political

In England, the experiment of Separation would have been tried under the
Commonwealth, if the Independents had had their way. This policy was
overruled by Cromwell.

[99] The new national Church included Presbyterians, Independents, and
Baptists, but liberty of worship was granted to all Christian sects,
except Roman Catholics and Anglicans. If the parliament had had the
power, this toleration would have been a mere name. The Presbyterians
regarded toleration as a work of the Devil, and would have persecuted
the Independents if they could. But under Cromwell’s autocratic rule
even the Anglicans lived in peace, and toleration was extended to the
Jews. In these days, voices were raised from various quarters advocating
toleration on general grounds. [3] The most illustrious advocate was
Milton, the poet, who was in favour of the severance of Church from

In Milton’s Areopagitica: a speech for the liberty of unlicensed
printing (1644), the freedom of the Press is eloquently sustained by
arguments which are valid for freedom of thought in general. It is shown
that the censorship will conduce “to the discouragement of all learning
and the stop of truth, not only by disexercising and blunting our
abilities in what we know already, but by hindering and cropping the
discovery that might be yet further made, both in religious

[100] and civil wisdom.” For knowledge is advanced through the utterance
of new opinions, and truth is discovered by free discussion. If the
waters of truth “flow not in a perpetual progression they sicken into a
muddy pool of conformity and tradition.” Books which are authorized by
the licensers are apt to be, as Bacon said, “but the language of the
times,” and do not contribute to progress. The examples of the countries
where the censorship is severe do not suggest that it is useful for
morals: “look into Italy and Spain, whether those places be one scruple
the better, the honester, the wiser, the chaster, since all the
inquisitional rigour that hath been executed upon books.” Spain indeed
could reply, “We are, what is more important, more orthodox.” It is
interesting to notice that Milton places freedom of thought above civil
liberty: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely
according to conscience, above all other liberties.”

With the restoration of the Monarchy and the Anglican Church, religious
liberty was extinguished by a series of laws against Dissenters. To the
Revolution we owe the Act of Toleration (1689) from which the religious
freedom which England enjoys at present is derived. It granted freedom
of worship to Presbyterians, Congregationalists,

[101] Baptists and Quakers, but only to these; Catholics and Unitarians
were expressly excepted and the repressive legislation of Charles II
remained in force against them. It was a characteristically English
measure, logically inconsistent and absurd, a mixture of tolerance and
intolerance, but suitable to the circumstances and the state of public
opinion at the time.

In the same year John Locke’s famous (first) Letter concerning
Toleration appeared in Latin. Three subsequent letters developed and
illustrated his thesis. The main argument is based on the principle that
the business of civil government is quite distinct from that of
religion, that the State is a society constituted only for preserving
and promoting the civil interests of its members —civil interests
meaning life, liberty, health, and the possession of property. The care
of souls is not committed to magistrates more than to other men. For the
magistrate can only use outward force; but true religion means the
inward persuasion of the mind, and the mind is so made that force cannot
compel it to believe. So too it is absurd for a State to make laws to
enforce a religion, for laws are useless without penalties, and
penalties are impertinent because they cannot convince.

Moreover, even if penalties could change

[102] men’s beliefs, this would not conduce to the salvation of souls.
Would more men be saved if all blindly resigned themselves to the will
of their rulers and accepted the religion of their country? For as the
princes of the world are divided in religion, one country alone would be
in the right, and all the rest of the world would have to follow their
princes to destruction; “and that which heightens the absurdity, and
very ill suits the notion of a deity, men would owe their eternal
happiness or their eternal misery to the places of their nativity.” This
is a principle on which Locke repeatedly insists. If a State is
justified in imposing a creed, it follows that in all the lands, except
the one or few in which the true faith prevails, it is the duty of the
subjects to embrace a false religion. If Protestantism is promoted in
England, Popery by the same rule will be promoted in France. “What is
true and good in England will be true and good at Rome too, in China, or
Geneva.” Toleration is the principle which gives to the true faith the
best chance of prevailing.

Locke would concede full liberty to idolaters, by whom he means the
Indians of North America, and he makes some scathing remarks on the
ecclesiastical zeal which forced these “innocent pagans” to forsake

[103] their ancient religion. But his toleration, though it extends
beyond the Christian pale, is not complete. He excepts in the first
place Roman Catholics, not on account of their theological dogmas but
because they “teach that faith is not to be kept with heretics,” that
“kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms,” and because
they deliver themselves up to the protection and service of a foreign
prince—the Pope. In other words, they are politically dangerous. His
other exception is atheists. “Those are not all to be tolerated who deny
the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of
human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God,
though but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by
their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence
of religion to challenge the privilege of a Toleration.”

Thus Locke is not free from the prejudices of his time. These exceptions
contradict his own principle that “it is absurd that things should be
enjoined by laws which are not in men’s power to perform. And to believe
this or that to be true does not depend upon our will.” This applies to
Roman Catholics as to Protestants, to atheists as to deists. Locke,
however, perhaps thought

[104] that the speculative opinion of atheism, which was uncommon in his
day, does depend on the will. He would have excluded from his State his
great contemporary Spinoza.

But in spite of its limitations Locke’s Toleration is a work of the
highest value, and its argument takes us further than its author went.
It asserts unrestrictedly the secular principle, and its logical issue
is Disestablishment. A Church is merely “a free and voluntary society.”
I may notice the remark that if infidels were to be converted by force,
it was easier for God to do it “with armies of heavenly legions than for
any son of the Church, how potent soever, with all his dragoons.” This
is a polite way of stating a maxim analogous to that of the Emperor
Tiberius (above, p. 41). If false beliefs are an offence to God, it is,
really, his affair.

The toleration of Nonconformists was far from pleasing extreme
Anglicans, and the influence of this party at the beginning of the
eighteenth century menaced the liberty of Dissenters. The situation
provoked Defoe, who was a zealous Nonconformist, to write his pamphlet,
The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702), an ironical attack upon the
principle of toleration. It pretends to show that the Dissenters are at
heart incorrigible rebels, that a gentle policy is useless, and suggests

[105] that all preachers at conventicles should be hanged and all
persons found attending such meetings should be banished. This
exceedingly amusing but terribly earnest caricature of the sentiments of
the High Anglican party at first deceived and alarmed the Dissenters
themselves. But the High Churchmen were furious. Defoe was fined,
exposed in the pillory three times, and sent to Newgate prison.

But the Tory reaction was only temporary. During the eighteenth century
a relatively tolerant spirit prevailed among the Christian sects and new
sects were founded. The official Church became less fanatical; many of
its leading divines were influenced by rationalistic thought. If it had
not been for the opposition of King George III, the Catholics might have
been freed from their disabilities before the end of the century. This
measure, eloquently advocated by Burke and desired by Pitt, was not
carried till 1829, and then under the threat of a revolution in Ireland.
In the meantime legal toleration had been extended to the Unitarians in
1813, but they were not relieved from all disabilities till the forties.
Jews were not admitted to the full rights of citizenship till 1858.

The achievement of religious liberty in England in the nineteenth
century has been mainly the work of Liberals. The Liberal

[106] party has been moving towards the ultimate goal of complete
secularization and the separation of the Church from the State— the
logical results of Locke’s theory of civil government. The
Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland in 1869 partly realized this
ideal, and now more than forty years later the Liberal party is seeking
to apply the principle to Wales. It is highly characteristic of English
politics and English psychology that the change should be carried out in
this piecemeal fashion. In the other countries of the British Empire the
system of Separation prevails; there is no connection between the State
and any sect; no Church is anything more than a voluntary society. But
secularization has advanced under the State Church system. It is enough
to mention the Education Act of 1870 and the abolition of religious
tests at Universities (1871). Other gains for freedom will be noticed
when I come to speak in another chapter of the progress of rationalism.

If we compare the religious situation in France in the seventeenth with
that in the eighteenth century, it seems to be sharply contrasted with
the development in England. In England there was a great advance towards
religious liberty, in France there was a falling away. Until 1676 the
French Protestants

[107] (Huguenots) were tolerated; for the next hundred years they were
outlaws. But the toleration, which their charter (the Edict of Nantes,
1598) secured them, was of a limited kind. They were excluded, for
instance, from the army; they were excluded from Paris and other cities
and districts. And the liberty which they enjoyed was confined to them;
it was not granted to any other sect. The charter was faithfully
maintained by the two great Cardinals (Richelieu and Mazarin) who
governed France under Louis XIII and Louis XIV, but when the latter
assumed the active power in 1661 he began a series of laws against the
Protestants which culminated in the revoking of the charter (1676) and
the beginning of a Protestant persecution.

The French clergy justified this policy by the notorious text “Compel
them to come in,” and appealed to St. Augustine. Their arguments evoked
a defence of toleration by Bayle, a French Protestant who had taken
refuge in Holland. It was entitled a Philosophical Commentary on the
text “Compel them to come in” (1686) and in importance stands beside
Locke’s work which was being composed at the same time. Many of the
arguments urged by the two writers are identical. They agreed, and for
the same reasons, in excluding Roman Catholics. The

[108] most characteristic thing in Bayle’s treatise is his sceptical
argument that, even if it were a right principle to suppress error by
force, no truth is certain enough to justify us in applying the theory.
We shall see (next chapter) this eminent scholar’s contribution to

Though there was an immense exodus of Protestants from France, Louis did
not succeed in his design of extirpating heresy from his lands. In the
eighteenth century, under Louis XV, the presence of Protestants was
tolerated though they were outlaws; their marriages were not recognized
as legal, and they were liable at any moment to persecution. About the
middle of the century a literary agitation began, conducted mainly by
rationalists, but finally supported by enlightened Catholics, to relieve
the affliction of the oppressed sect. It resulted at last in an Edict of
Toleration (1787), which made the position of the Protestants endurable,
though it excluded them from certain careers.

The most energetic and forceful leader in the campaign against
intolerance was Voltaire (see next chapter), and his exposure of some
glaring cases of unjust persecution did more than general arguments to
achieve the object. The most infamous case was that of Jean Calas, a
Protestant merchant of Toulouse, whose son committed suicide. A report

[109] was set abroad that the young man had decided to join the Catholic
Church, and that his father, mother, and brother, filled with Protestant
bigotry, killed him, with the help of a friend. They were all put in
irons, tried, and condemned, though there were no arguments for their
guilt, except the conjecture of bigotry. Jean Calas was broken on the
wheel, his son and daughter cast into convents, his wife left to starve.
Through the activity of Voltaire, then living near Geneva, the widow was
induced to go to Paris, where she was kindly received, and assisted by
eminent lawyers; a judicial inquiry was made; the Toulouse sentence was
reversed and the King granted pensions to those who had suffered. This
scandal could only have happened in the provinces, according to
Voltaire: “at Paris,” he says, “fanaticism, powerful though it may be,
is always controlled by reason.”

The case of Sirven, though it did not end tragically, was similar, and
the government of Toulouse was again responsible. He was accused of
having drowned his daughter in a well to hinder her from becoming a
Catholic, and was, with his wife, sentenced to death. Fortunately he and
his family had escaped to Switzerland, where they persuaded Voltaire of
their innocence. To get the sentence reversed was the work of nine
years, and this

[110] time it was reversed at Toulouse. When Voltaire visited Paris in
1778 he was acclaimed by crowds as the “defender of Calas and the
Sirvens.” His disinterested practical activity against persecution was
of far more value than the treatise on Toleration which he wrote in
connexion with the Calas episode. It is a poor work compared with those
of Locke and Bayle. The tolerance which he advocates is of a limited
kind; he would confine public offices and dignities to those who belong
to the State religion.

But if Voltaire’s system of toleration is limited, it is wide compared
with the religious establishment advocated by his contemporary,
Rousseau. Though of Swiss birth, Rousseau belongs to the literature and
history of France; but it was not for nothing that he was brought up in
the traditions of Calvinistic Geneva. His ideal State would, in its way,
have been little better than any theocracy. He proposed to establish a
“civil religion” which was to be a sort of undogmatic Christianity. But
certain dogmas, which he considered essential, were to be imposed on all
citizens on pain of banishment. Such were the existence of a deity, the
future bliss of the good and punishment of the bad, the duty of
tolerance towards all those who accepted the fundamental

[111] articles of faith. It may be said that a State founded on this
basis would be fairly inclusive—that all Christian sects and many deists
could find a place in it. But by imposing indispensable beliefs, it
denies the principle of toleration. The importance of Rousseau’s idea
lies in the fact that it inspired one of the experiments in religious
policy which were made during the French Revolution.

The Revolution established religious liberty in France. Most of the
leaders were unorthodox. Their rationalism was naturally of the
eighteenth-century type, and in the preamble to the Declaration of
Rights (1789) deism was asserted by the words “in the presence and under
the auspices of the Supreme Being” (against which only one voice
protested). The Declaration laid down that no one was to be vexed on
account of his religious opinions provided he did not thereby trouble
public order. Catholicism was retained as the “dominant” religion;
Protestants (but not Jews) were admitted to public office. Mirabeau, the
greatest statesman of the day, protested strongly against the use of
words like “tolerance” and “dominant.” He said: “The most unlimited
liberty of religion is in my eyes a right so sacred that to express it
by the word ‘toleration’ seems to me itself a sort of tyranny,

[112] since the authority which tolerates might also not tolerate.” The
same protest was made in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man which appeared two
years later: “Toleration is not the opposite of Intolerance, but is the
counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes itself the right
of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it.”
Paine was an ardent deist, and he added: “Were a bill brought into any
parliament, entitled ‘An Act to tolerate or grant liberty to the
Almighty to receive the worship of a Jew or a Turk,’ or ‘to prohibit the
Almighty from receiving it,’ all men would startle and call it
blasphemy. There would be an uproar. The presumption of toleration in
religious matters would then present itself unmasked.”

The Revolution began well, but the spirit of Mirabeau was not in the
ascendant throughout its course. The vicissitudes in religious policy
from 1789 to 1801 have a particular interest, because they show that the
principle of liberty of conscience was far from possessing the minds of
the men who were proud of abolishing the intolerance of the government
which they had overthrown. The State Church was reorganized by the Civil
Constitution of the Clergy (1790), by which French citizens were
forbidden to acknowledge the authority of the Pope and

[113] the appointment of Bishops was transferred to the Electors of the
Departments, so that the commanding influence passed from the Crown to
the nation. Doctrine and worship were not touched. Under the democratic
Republic which succeeded the fall of the monarchy (1792–5) this
Constitution was maintained, but a movement to dechristianize France was
inaugurated, and the Commune of Paris ordered the churches of all
religions to be closed. The worship of Reason, with rites modelled on
the Catholic, was organized in Paris and the provinces. The government,
violently anti-Catholic, did not care to use force against the prevalent
faith; direct persecution would have weakened the national defence and
scandalized Europe. They naïvely hoped that the superstition would
disappear by degrees. Robespierre declared against the policy of
unchristianizing France, and when he had the power (April, 1795), he
established as a State religion the worship of the Supreme Being. “The
French people recognizes the existence of the Supreme Being and the
immortality of the Soul”; the liberty of other cults was maintained.
Thus, for a few months, Rousseau’s idea was more or less realized. It
meant intolerance. Atheism was regarded as a vice, and “all were
atheists who did not think like Robespierre.”


The democratic was succeeded by the middle-class Republic (1795–9), and
the policy of its government was to hinder the preponderance of any one
religious group; to hold the balance among all the creeds, but with a
certain partiality against the strongest, the Catholic, which
threatened, as was thought, to destroy the others or even the Republic.
The plan was to favour the growth of new rationalistic cults, and to
undermine revealed religion by a secular system of education.
Accordingly the Church was separated from the State by the Constitution
of 1795, which affirmed the liberty of all worship and withdrew from the
Catholic clergy the salaries which the State had hitherto paid. The
elementary schools were laicized. The Declaration of Rights, the
articles of the Constitution, and republican morality were taught
instead of religion. An enthusiast declared that “the religion of
Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero would soon be the religion of the

A new rationalistic religion was introduced under the name of
Theophilanthropy. It was the “natural religion” of the philosophers and
poets of the century, of Voltaire and the English deists—not the
purified Christianity of Rousseau, but anterior and superior to
Christianity. Its doctrines, briefly formulated,

[115] were: God, immortality, fraternity, humanity; no attacks on other
religions, but respect and honour towards all; gatherings in a family,
or in a temple, to encourage one another to practise morality. Protected
by the government sometimes secretly, sometimes openly, it had a certain
success among the cultivated classes.

The idea of the lay State was popularized under this rule, and by the
end of the century there was virtually religious peace in France. Under
the Consulate (from 1799) the same system continued, but Napoleon ceased
to protect Theophilanthropy. In 1801, though there seems to have been
little discontent with the existing arrangement, Napoleon decided to
upset it and bring the Pope upon the scene. The Catholic religion, as
that of the majority, was again taken under the special protection of
the State, the salaries of the clergy again paid by the nation, and the
Papal authority over the Church again recognized within well-defined
limits; while full toleration of other religions was maintained. This
was the effect of the Concordat between the French Republic and the
Pope. It is the judgment of a high authority that the nation, if it had
been consulted, would have pronounced against the change. It may be
doubted whether this is true. But Napoleon’s policy

[116] seems to have been prompted by the calculation that, using the
Pope as an instrument, he could control the consciences of men, and more
easily carry out his plans of empire.

Apart from its ecclesiastical policies and its experiments in new creeds
based on the principles of rationalistic thinkers, the French Revolution
itself has an interest, in connexion with our subject, as an example of
the coercion of reason by an intolerant faith.

The leaders believed that, by applying certain principles, they could
regenerate France and show the world how the lasting happiness of
mankind can be secured. They acted in the name of reason, but their
principles were articles of faith, which were accepted just as blindly
and irrationally as the dogmas of any supernatural creed. One of these
dogmas was the false doctrine of Rousseau that man is a being who is
naturally good and loves justice and order. Another was the illusion
that all men are equal by nature. The puerile conviction prevailed that
legislation could completely blot out the past and radically transform
the character of a society. “Liberty, equality, and fraternity” was as
much a creed as the Creed of the Apostles; it hypnotized men’s minds
like a revelation from on high; and reason had as little part in its
propagation as in the spread

[117] of Christianity or of Protestantism. It meant anything but
equality, fraternity, or liberty, especially liberty, when it was
translated into action by the fanatical apostles of “Reason,” who were
blind to the facts of human nature and defied the facts of econnomics.
Terror, the usual instrument in propagating religions, was never more
mercilessly applied. Any one who questioned the doctrines was a heretic
and deserved a heretic’s fate. And, as in most religious movements, the
milder and less unreasonable spirits succumbed to the fanatics. Never
was the name of reason more grievously abused than by those who believed
they were inaugurating her reign.

Religious liberty, however, among other good things, did emerge from the
Revolution, at first in the form of Separation, and then under the
Concordat. The Concordat lasted for more than a century, under
monarchies and republics, till it was abolished in December, 1905, when
the system of Separation was introduced again.

In the German States the history of religious liberty differs in many
ways, but it resembles the development in France in so far as toleration
in a limited form was at first brought about by war. The Thirty Years’
War, which divided Germany in the first half

[118] of the seventeenth century, and in which, as in the English Civil
War, religion and politics were mixed, was terminated by the Peace of
Westphalia (1648). By this act, three religions, the Catholic, the
Lutheran, and the Reformed [4] were legally recognized by the Holy Roman
Empire, and placed on an equality; all other religious were excluded.
But it was left to each of the German States, of which the Empire
consisted, to tolerate or not any religion it pleased. That is, every
prince could impose on his subjects whichever of the three religions he
chose, and refuse to tolerate the others in his territory. But he might
also admit one or both of the others, and he might allow the followers
of other creeds to reside in his dominion, and practise their religion
within the precincts of their own houses. Thus toleration varied, from
State to State, according to the policy of each particular prince.

As elsewhere, so in Germany, considerations of political expediency
promoted the growth of toleration, especially in Prussia; and as
elsewhere, theoretical advocates exercised great influence on public
opinion. But the case for toleration was based by its German defenders
chiefly on legal, not, as in

[119] England and France, on moral and intellectual grounds. They
regarded it as a question of law, and discussed it from the point of
view of the legal relations between State and Church. It had been
considered long ago from this standpoint by an original Italian thinker,
Marsilius of Padua (thirteenth century), who had maintained that the
Church had no power to employ physical coercion, and that if the lay
authority punished heretics, the punishment was inflicted for the
violation not of divine ordinances but of the law of the State, which
excluded heretics from its territory.

Christian Thomasius may be taken as a leading exponent of the theory
that religious liberty logically follows from a right conception of law.
He laid down in a series of pamphlets (1693–1697) that the prince, who
alone has the power of coercion, has no right to interfere in spiritual
matters, while the clergy step beyond their province if they interfere
in secular matters or defend their faith by any other means than
teaching. But the secular power has no legal right to coerce heretics
unless heresy is a crime. And heresy is not a crime, but an error; for
it is not a matter of will. Thomasius, moreover, urges the view that the
public welfare has nothing to gain from unity of faith, that it makes no

[120] difference what faith a man professes so long as he is loyal to
the State. His toleration indeed is not complete. He was much influenced
by the writings of his contemporary Locke, and he excepts from the
benefit of toleration the same classes which Locke excepted.

Besides the influence of the jurists, we may note that the Pietistic
movement—a reaction of religious enthusiasm against the formal theology
of the Lutheran divines—was animated by a spirit favourable to
toleration; and that the cause was promoted by the leading men of
letters, especially by Lessing, in the second half of the eighteenth

But perhaps the most important fact of all in hastening the realization
of religious liberty in Germany was the accession of a rationalist to
the throne of Prussia, in the person of Frederick the Great. A few
months after his accession (1740) he wrote in the margin of a State
paper, in which a question of religious policy occurred, that every one
should be allowed to get to heaven in his own way. His view that
morality was independent of religion and therefore compatible with all
religions, and that thus a man could be a good citizen—the only thing
which the State was entitled to demand—whatever faith he might profess,
led to the logical consequence of complete religious liberty. Catholics

[121] were placed on an equality with Protestants, and the Treaty of
Westphalia was violated by the extension of full toleration to all the
forbidden sects. Frederick even conceived the idea of introducing
Mohammedan settlers into some parts of his realm. Contrast England under
George III, France under Louis XV, Italy under the shadow of the Popes.
It is an important fact in history, which has hardly been duly
emphasized, that full religious liberty was for the first time, in any
country in modern Europe, realized under a free-thinking ruler, the
friend of the great “blasphemer” Voltaire.

The policy and principles of Frederick were formulated in the Prussian
Territorial Code of 1794, by which unrestricted liberty of conscience
was guaranteed, and the three chief religions, the Lutheran, the
Reformed, and the Catholic, were placed on the same footing and enjoyed
the same privileges. The system is “jurisdictional”; only, three
Churches here occupy the position which the Anglican Church alone
occupies in England. The rest of Germany did not begin to move in the
direction pointed out by Prussia until, by one of the last acts of the
Holy Roman Empire (1803), the Westphalian settlement had been modified.
Before the foundation of the new Empire (1870), freedom was established
throughout Germany.


In Austria, the Emperor Joseph II issued an Edict of Toleration in 1781,
which may be considered a broad measure for a Catholic State at that
time. Joseph was a sincere Catholic, but he was not impervious to the
enlightened ideas of his age; he was an admirer of Frederick, and his
edict was prompted by a genuinely tolerant spirit, such as had not
inspired the English Act of 1689. It extended only to the Lutheran and
Reformed sects and the communities of the Greek Church which had entered
into union with Rome, and it was of a limited kind. Religious liberty
was not established till 1867.

The measure of Joseph applied to the Austrian States in Italy, and
helped to prepare that country for the idea of religious freedom. It is
notable that in Italy in the eighteenth century toleration found its
advocate, not in a rationalist or a philosopher, but in a Catholic
ecclesiastic, Tamburinni, who (under the name of his friend
Trautmansdorf) published a work On Ecclesiastical and Civil Toleration
(1783). A sharp line is drawn between the provinces of the Church and
the State, persecution and the Inquisition are condemned, coercion of
conscience is declared inconsistent with the Christian spirit, and the
principle is laid down that the sovran should only exercise coercion

[123] the interests of public safety are concerned. Like Locke, the
author thinks that atheism is a legitimate case for such coercion.

The new States which Napoleon set up in Italy exhibited toleration in
various degrees, but real liberty was first introduced in Piedmont by
Cavour (1848), a measure which prepared the way for the full liberty
which was one of the first-fruits of the foundation of the Italian
kingdom in 1870. The union of Italy, with all that it meant, is the most
signal and dramatic act in the triumph of the ideas of the modern State
over the traditional principles of the Christian Church. Rome, which
preserved those principles most faithfully, has offered a steadfast, we
may say a heroic, resistance to the liberal ideas which swept Europe in
the nineteenth century. The guides of her policy grasped thoroughly the
danger which liberal thought meant for an institution which, founded in
a remote past, claimed to be unchangeable and never out of date. Gregory
XVI issued a solemn protest maintaining authority against freedom, the
mediaeval against the modern ideal, in an Encyclical Letter (1832),
which was intended as a rebuke to some young French Catholics (Lamennais
and his friends) who had conceived the promising idea of transforming
the Church by the Liberal spirit

[124] of the day. The Pope denounces “the absurd and erroneous maxim, or
rather insanity, that liberty of conscience should be procured and
guaranteed to every one. The path to this pernicious error is prepared
by that full and unlimited liberty of thought which is spread abroad to
the misfortune of Church and State and which certain persons, with
excessive impudence, venture to represent as an advantage for religion.
Hence comes the corruption of youth, contempt for religion and for the
most venerable laws, and a general mental change in the world—in short
the most deadly scourge of society; since the experience of history has
shown that the States which have shone by their wealth and power and
glory have perished just by this evil— immoderate freedom of opinion,
licence of conversation, and love of novelties. With this is connected
the liberty of publishing any writing of any kind. This is a deadly and
execrable liberty for which we cannot feel sufficient horror, though
some men dare to acclaim it noisily and enthusiastically.” A generation
later Pius IX was to astonish the world by a similar manifesto—his
Syllabus of Modern Errors (1864). Yet, notwithstanding the fundamental
antagonism between the principles of the Church and the drift of modern
civilization, the Papacy survives,

[125] powerful and respected, in a world where the ideas which it
condemned have become the commonplace conditions of life.

The progress of Western nations from the system of unity which prevailed
in the fifteenth, to the system of liberty which was the rule in the
nineteenth century, was slow and painful, illogical and wavering,
generally dictated by political necessities, seldom inspired by
deliberate conviction. We have seen how religious liberty has been
realized, so far as the law is concerned, under two distinct systems,
“Jurisdiction” and “Separation.” But legal toleration may coexist with
much practical intolerance, and liberty before the law is compatible
with serious disabilities of which the law cannot take account. For
instance, the expression of unorthodox opinions may exclude a man from
obtaining a secular post or hinder his advancement. The question has
been asked, which of the two systems is more favourable to the creation
of a tolerant social atmosphere? Ruffini (of whose excellent work on
Religious Liberty I have made much use in this chapter) decides in
favour of Jurisdiction. He points out that while Socinus, a true friend
of liberty of thought, contemplated this system, the Anabaptists, whose
spirit was intolerant, sought Separation. More important

[126] is the observation that in Germany, England, and Italy, where the
most powerful Church or Churches are under the control of the State,
there is more freedom, more tolerance of opinion, than in many of the
American States where Separation prevails. A hundred years ago the
Americans showed appalling ingratitude to Thomas Paine, who had done
them eminent service in the War of Independence, simply because he
published a very unorthodox book. It is notorious that free thought is
still a serious hindrance and handicap to an American, even in most of
the Universities. This proves that Separation is not an infallible
receipt for producing tolerance. But I see no reason to suppose that
public opinion in America would be different, if either the Federal
Republic or the particular States had adopted Jurisdiction. Given legal
liberty under either system, I should say that the tolerance of public
opinion depends on social conditions and especially on the degree of
culture among the educated classes.

From this sketch it will be seen that toleration was the outcome of new
political circumstances and necessities, brought about by the disunion
of the Church through the Reformation. But it meant that in those States
which granted toleration the opinion of

[127] a sufficiently influential group of the governing class was ripe
for the change, and this new mental attitude was in a great measure due
to the scepticism and rationalism which were diffused by the Renaissance
movement, and which subtly and unconsciously had affected the minds of
many who were sincerely devoted to rigidly orthodox beliefs; so
effective is the force of suggestion. In the next two chapters the
advance of reason at the expense of faith will be traced through the
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

[1] Translated by Lecky.

[2] Complete toleration was established by Penn in the Quaker Colony of
Pennsylvania in 1682.

[3] Especially Chillingworth’s Religion of Protestants (1637), and
Jeremy Taylor’s Liberty of Prophesying (1646).

[4] The Reformed Church consists of the followers of Calvin and Zwingli.




DURING the last three hundred years reason has been slowly but steadily
destroying Christian mythology and exposing the pretensions of
supernatural revelation. The progress of rationalism falls naturally
into two periods. (1) In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries those
thinkers who rejected Christian theology and the book on which it relies
were mainly influenced by the inconsistencies, contradictions, and
absurdities which they discovered in the evidence, and by the moral

[128] difficulties of the creed. Some scientific facts were known which
seemed to reflect on the accuracy of Revelation, but arguments based on
science were subsidiary. (2) In the nineteenth century the discoveries
of science in many fields bore with full force upon fabrics which had
been constructed in a naïve and ignorant age; and historical criticism
undermined methodically the authority of the sacred documents which had
hitherto been exposed chiefly to the acute but unmethodical criticisms
of common sense.

A disinterested love of facts, without any regard to the bearing which
those facts may have on one’s hopes or fears or destiny, is a rare
quality in all ages, and it had been very rare indeed since the ancient
days of Greece and Rome. It means the scientific spirit. Now in the
seventeenth century we may say (without disrespect to a few precursors)
that the modern study of natural science began, and in the same period
we have a series of famous thinkers who were guided by a disinterested
love of truth. Of the most acute minds some reached the conclusion that
the Christian scheme of the world is irrational, and according to their
temperament some rejected it, whilst others, like the great Frenchman
Pascal, fell back upon an unreasoning act of faith. Bacon, who professed

[129] orthodoxy, was perhaps at heart a deist, but in any case the whole
spirit of his writings was to exclude authority from the domain of
scientific investigation which he did so much to stimulate. Descartes,
illustrious not only as the founder of modern metaphysics but also by
his original contributions to science, might seek to conciliate the
ecclesiastical authorities—his temper was timid— but his philosophical
method was a powerful incentive to rationalistic thought. The general
tendency of superior intellects was to exalt reason at the expense of
authority; and in England this principle was established so firmly by
Locke, that throughout the theological warfare of the eighteenth century
both parties relied on reason, and no theologian of repute assumed faith
to be a higher faculty.

A striking illustration of the gradual encroachments of reason is the
change which was silently wrought in public opinion on the subject of
witchcraft. The famous efforts of James I to carry out the Biblical
command, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” were outdone by the
zeal of the Puritans under the Commonwealth to suppress the wicked old
women who had commerce with Satan. After the Restoration, the belief in
witchcraft declined among educated people—though

[130] some able writers maintained it—and there were few executions. The
last trial of a witch was in 1712, when some clergymen in Hertfordshire
prosecuted Jane Wenham. The jury found her guilty, but the judge, who
had summed up in her favour, was able to procure the remission of her
sentence; and the laws against witchcraft were repealed in 1735. John
Wesley said with perfect truth that to disbelieve in witchcraft is to
disbelieve in the Bible. In France and in Holland the decline of belief
and interest in this particular form of Satan’s activity was
simultaneous. In Scotland, where theology was very powerful, a woman was
burnt in 1722. It can be no mere coincidence that the general decline of
this superstition belongs to the age which saw the rise of modern
science and modern philosophy.

Hobbes, who was perhaps the most brilliant English thinker of the
seventeenth century, was a freethinker and materialist. He had come
under the influence of his friend the French philosopher Gassendi, who
had revived materialism in its Epicurean shape. Yet he was a champion
not of freedom of conscience but of coercion in its most uncompromising
form. In the political theory which he expounded in Leviathan, the
sovran has autocratic power in the domain of doctrine,

[131] as in everything else, and it is the duty of subjects to conform
to the religion which the sovran imposes. Religious persecution is thus
defended, but no independent power is left to the Church. But the
principles on which Hobbes built up his theory were rationalistic. He
separated morality from religion and identified “the true moral
philosophy” with the “true doctrine of the laws of nature.” What he
really thought of religion could be inferred from his remark that the
fanciful fear of things invisible (due to ignorance) is the natural seed
of that feeling which, in himself, a man calls religion, but, in those
who fear or worship the invisible power differently, superstition. In
the reign of Charles II Hobbes was silenced and his books were burned.

Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher of Holland, owed a great deal to
Descartes and (in political speculation) to Hobbes, but his philosophy
meant a far wider and more open breach with orthodox opinion than either
of his masters had ventured on. He conceived ultimate reality, which he
called God, as an absolutely perfect, impersonal Being, a substance
whose nature is constituted by two “attributes”— thought and spatial
extension. When Spinoza speaks of love of God, in which he considered
happiness to consist, he means knowledge

[132] and contemplation of the order of nature, including human nature,
which is subject to fixed, invariable laws. He rejects free-will and the
“superstition,” as he calls it, of final causes in nature. If we want to
label his philosophy, we may say that it is a form of pantheism. It has
often been described as atheism. If atheism means, as I suppose in
ordinary use it is generally taken to mean, rejection of a personal God,
Spinoza was an atheist. It should be observed that in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries atheist was used in the wildest way as a term
of abuse for freethinkers, and when we read of atheists (except in
careful writers) we may generally assume that the persons so stigmatized
were really deists, that is, they believed in a personal God but not in
Revelation. [1]

Spinoza’s daring philosophy was not in harmony with the general trend of
speculation at the time, and did not exert any profound influence on
thought till a much later period. The thinker whose writings appealed
most to the men of his age and were most opportune and effective was
John Locke, who professed more or less orthodox Anglicanism. His great
contribution to philosophy is equivalent to a very powerful defence

[133] of reason against the usurpations of authority. The object of his
Essay on the Human Understanding (1690) is to show that all knowledge is
derived from experience. He subordinated faith completely to reason.
While he accepted the Christian revelation, he held that revelation if
it contradicted the higher tribunal of reason must be rejected, and that
revelation cannot give us knowledge as certain as the knowledge which
reason gives. “He that takes away reason to make room for revelation
puts out the light of both; and does much what the same as if he would
persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote
light of an invisible star by a telescope.” He wrote a book to show that
the Christian revelation is not contrary to reason, and its title, The
Reasonableness of Christianity, sounds the note of all religious
controversy in England during the next hundred years. Both the orthodox
and their opponents warmly agreed that reasonableness was the only test
of the claims of revealed religion. It was under the direct influence of
Locke that Toland, an Irishman who had been converted from Roman
Catholicism, composed a sensational book, Christianity Not Mysterious
(1696). He assumes that Christianity is true and argues that there can
be no mysteries in it, because mysteries, that

[134] is, unintelligible dogmas, cannot be accepted by reason. And if a
reasonable Deity gave a revelation, its purpose must be to enlighten,
not to puzzle. The assumption of the truth of Christianity was a mere
pretence, as an intelligent reader could not fail to see. The work was
important because it drew the logical inference from Locke’s philosophy,
and it had a wide circulation. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu met a Turkish
Effendi at Belgrade who asked her for news of Mr. Toland.

It is characteristic of this stage of the struggle between reason and
authority that (excepting the leading French thinkers in the eighteenth
century) the rationalists, who attacked theology, generally feigned to
acknowledge the truth of the ideas which they were assailing. They
pretended that their speculations did not affect religion; they could
separate the domains of reason and of faith; they could show that
Revelation was superfluous without questioning it; they could do homage
to orthodoxy and lay down views with which orthodoxy was irreconcilable.
The errors which they exposed in the sphere of reason were ironically
allowed to be truths in the sphere of theology. The mediaeval principle
of double truth and other shifts were resorted to, in self-protection

[135] against the tyranny of orthodoxy—though they did not always avail;
and in reading much of the rationalistic literature of this period we
have to read between the lines. Bayle is an interesting instance.

If Locke’s philosophy, by setting authority in its place and deriving
all knowledge from experience, was a powerful aid to rationalism, his
contemporary Bayle worked in the same direction by the investigation of
history. Driven from France (see above, p. 107), he lived at Amsterdam,
where he published his Philosophical Dictionary. He was really a
freethinker, but he never dropped the disguise of orthodoxy, and this
lends a particular piquancy to his work. He takes a delight in
marshalling all the objections which heretics had made to essential
Christian dogmas. He exposed without mercy the crimes and brutalities of
David, and showed that this favourite of the Almighty was a person with
whom one would refuse to shake hands. There was a great outcry at this
unedifying candour. Bayle, in replying, adopted the attitude of
Montaigne and Pascal, and opposed faith to reason.

The theological virtue of faith, he said, consists in believing revealed
truths simply and solely on God’s authority. If you believe in the
immortality of the soul for

[136] philosophical reasons, you are orthodox, but you have no part in
faith. The merit of faith becomes greater, in proportion as the revealed
truth surpasses all the powers of our mind; the more incomprehensible
the truth and the more repugnant to reason, the greater is the sacrifice
we make in accepting it, the deeper our submission to God. Therefore a
merciless inventory of the objections which reason has to urge against
fundamental doctrines serves to exalt the merits of faith.

The Dictionary was also criticized for the justice done to the moral
excellencies of persons who denied the existence of God. Bayle replies
that if he had been able to find any atheistical thinkers who lived bad
lives, he would have been delighted to dwell on their vices, but he knew
of none such. As for the criminals you meet in history, whose abominable
actions make you tremble, their impieties and blasphemies prove they
believed in a Divinity. This is a natural consequence of the theological
doctrine that the Devil, who is incapable of atheism, is the instigator
of all the sins of men. For man’s wickedness must clearly resemble that
of the Devil and must therefore be joined to a belief in God’s
existence, since the Devil is not an atheist. And is it not a proof of
the infinite wisdom of God that the worst criminals

[137] are not atheists, and that most of the atheists whose names are
recorded have been honest men? By this arrangement Providence sets
bounds to the corruption of man; for if atheism and moral wickedness
were united in the same persons, the societies of earth would be exposed
to a fatal inundation of sin.

There was much more in the same vein; and the upshot was, under the thin
veil of serving faith, to show that the Christian dogmas were
essentially unreasonable.

Bayle’s work, marked by scholarship and extraordinary learning, had a
great influence in England as well as in France. It supplied weapons to
assailants of Christianity in both countries. At first the assault was
carried on with most vigour and ability by the English deists, who,
though their writings are little read now, did memorable work by their
polemic against the authority of revealed religion.

The controversy between the deists and their orthodox opponents turned
on the question whether the Deity of natural religion —the God whose
existence, as was thought, could be proved by reason—can be identified
with the author of the Christian revelation. To the deists this seemed
impossible. The nature of the alleged revelation seemed inconsistent
with the character

[138] of the God to whom reason pointed. The defenders of revelation, at
least all the most competent, agreed with the deists in making reason
supreme, and through this reliance on reason some of them fell into
heresies. Clarke, for instance, one of the ablest, was very unsound on
the dogma of the Trinity. It is also to be noticed that with both
sections the interest of morality was the principal motive. The orthodox
held that the revealed doctrine of future rewards and punishments is
necessary for morality; the deists, that morality depends on reason
alone, and that revelation contains a great deal that is repugnant to
moral ideals. Throughout the eighteenth century morality was the guiding
consideration with Anglican Churchmen, and religious emotion, finding no
satisfaction within the Church, was driven, as it were, outside, and
sought an outlet in the Methodism of Wesley and Whitefield.

Spinoza had laid down the principle that Scripture must be interpreted
like any other book (1670), [2] and with the deists this principle was
fundamental. In order to avoid persecution they generally veiled their

[139] under sufficiently thin disguises. Hitherto the Press Licensing
Act (1662) had very effectually prevented the publication of heterodox
works, and it is from orthodox works denouncing infidel opinions that we
know how rationalism was spreading. But in 1695, the Press Law was
allowed to drop, and immediately deistic literature began to appear.
There was, however, the danger of prosecution under the Blasphemy laws.
There were three legal weapons for coercing those who attacked
Christianity: (1) The Ecclesiastical Courts had and have the power of
imprisoning for a maximum term of six months, for atheism, blasphemy,
heresy, and damnable opinions. (2) The common law as interpreted by Lord
Chief Justice Hale in 1676, when a certain Taylor was charged with
having said that religion was a cheat and blasphemed against Christ. The
accused was condemned to a fine and the pillory by the Judge, who ruled
that the Court of King’s Bench has jurisdiction in such a case, inasmuch
as blasphemous words of the kind are an offence against the laws and the
State, and to speak against Christianity is to speak in subversion of
the law, since Christianity is “parcel of the laws of England.” (3) The
statute of 1698 enacts that if any person educated in the Christian
religion “shall by

[140] writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking deny any one of
the persons in the Holy Trinity to be God, or shall assert or maintain
there are more gods than one, or shall deny the Christian religion to be
true, or shall deny the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to
be of divine authority,” is convicted, he shall for the first offence be
adjudged incapable to hold any public offices or employments, and on the
second shall lose his civil rights and be imprisoned for three years.
This Statute expressly states as its motive the fact that “many persons
have of late years openly avowed and published many blasphemous and
impious opinions contrary to the doctrine and principles of the
Christian religion.”

As a matter of fact, most trials for blasphemy during the past two
hundred years fall under the second head. But the new Statute of 1698
was very intimidating, and we can easily understand how it drove
heterodox writers to ambiguous disguises. One of these disguises was
allegorical interpretation of Scripture. They showed that literal
interpretation led to absurdities or to inconsistencies with the wisdom
and justice of God, and pretended to infer that allegorical
interpretation must be substituted. But they meant the reader to reject
their pretended

[141] solution and draw a conclusion damaging to Revelation.

Among the arguments used in favour of the truth of Revelation the
fulfilment of prophecies and the miracles of the New Testament were
conspicuous. Anthony Collins, a country gentleman who was a disciple of
Locke, published in 1733 his Discourse on the Grounds and Reasons of the
Christian Religion, in which he drastically exposed the weakness of the
evidence for fulfilment of prophecy, depending as it does on forced and
unnatural figurative interpretations. Twenty years before he had written
a Discourse of Free-thinking (in which Bayle’s influence is evident)
pleading for free discussion and the reference of all religious
questions to reason. He complained of the general intolerance which
prevailed; but the same facts which testify to intolerance testify also
to the spread of unbelief.

Collins escaped with comparative impunity, but Thomas Woolston, a Fellow
of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, who wrote six aggressive Discourses
on the Miracles of our Saviour (1727—1730) paid the penalty for his
audacity. Deprived of his Fellowship, he was prosecuted for libel, and
sentenced to a fine of £100 and a year’s imprisonment. Unable to pay, he
died in prison. He does

[142] not adopt the line of arguing that miracles are incredible or
impossible. He examines the chief miracles related in the Gospels, and
shows with great ability and shrewd common sense that they are absurd or
unworthy of the performer. He pointed out, as Huxley was to point out in
a controversy with Gladstone, that the miraculous driving of devils into
a herd of swine was an unwarrantable injury to somebody’s property. On
the story of the Divine blasting of the fig tree, he remarks: “What if a
yeoman of Kent should go to look for pippins in his orchard at Easter
(the supposed time that Jesus sought for these figs) and because of a
disappointment cut down his trees? What then would his neighbours make
of him? Nothing less than a laughing-stock; and if the story got into
our Publick News, he would be the jest and ridicule of mankind.”

Or take his comment on the miracle of the Pool of Bethesda, where an
angel used to trouble the waters and the man who first entered the pool
was cured of his infirmity. “An odd and a merry way of conferring a
Divine mercy. And one would think that the angels of God did this for
their own diversion more than to do good to mankind. Just as some throw
a bone among a kennel of hounds for the pleasure of seeing them

[143] quarrel for it, or as others cast a piece of money among a company
of boys for the sport of seeing them scramble for it, so was the pastime
of the angels here.” In dealing with the healing of the woman who
suffered from a bloody flux, he asks: “What if we had been told of the
Pope’s curing an haemorrhage like this before us, what would Protestants
have said to it? Why, ‘that a foolish, credulous, and superstitious
woman had fancied herself cured of some slight indisposition, and the
crafty Pope and his adherents, aspiring after popular applause,
magnified the presumed cure into a miracle.’ The application of such a
supposed story of a miracle wrought by the Pope is easy; and if
Infidels, Jews, and Mahometans, who have no better opinion of Jesus than
we have of the Pope, should make it, there’s no help for it.”

Woolston professed no doubts of the inspiration of Scripture. While he
argued that it was out of the question to suppose the miracles literally
true, he pretended to believe in the fantastic theory that they were
intended allegorically as figures of Christ’s mysterious operations in
the soul of man. Origen, a not very orthodox Christian Father, had
employed the allegorical method, and Woolston quotes him in his favour.

[144] vigorous criticisms vary in value, but many of them hit the nail
on the head, and the fashion of some modern critics to pass over
Woolston’s productions as unimportant because they are “ribald” or
coarse, is perfectly unjust. The pamphlets had an enormous sale, and
Woolston’s notoriety is illustrated by the anecdote of the “jolly young
woman” who met him walking abroad and accosted him with “You old rogue,
are you not hanged yet?” Mr. Woolston answered, “Good woman, I know you
not; pray what have I done to offend you?” “You have writ against my
Saviour,” she said; “what would become of my poor sinful soul if it was
not for my dear Saviour?”

About the same time, Matthew Tindal (a Fellow of All Souls) attacked
Revelation from a more general point of view. In his Christianity as old
as the Creation (1730) he undertook to show that the Bible as a
revelation is superfluous, for it adds nothing to natural religion,
which God revealed to man from the very first by the sole light of
reason. He argues that those who defend Revealed religion by its
agreement with Natural religion, and thus set up a double government of
reason and authority, fall between the two. “It ’s an odd jumble,” he
observes, “to prove the truth of a book by the truth

[145] of the doctrines it contains, and at the same time conclude those
doctrines to be true because contained in that book.” He goes on to
criticize the Bible in detail. In order to maintain its infallibility,
without doing violence to reason, you have, when you find irrational
statements, to torture them and depart from the literal sense. Would you
think that a Mohammedan was governed by his Koran, who on all occasions
departed from the literal sense? “Nay, would you not tell him that his
inspired book fell infinitely short of Cicero’s uninspired writings,
where there is no such occasion to recede from the letter?”

As to chronological and physical errors, which seemed to endanger the
infallibility of the Scriptures, a bishop had met the argument by
saying, reasonably enough, that in the Bible God speaks according to the
conceptions of those to whom he speaks, and that it is not the business
of Revelation to rectify their opinions in such matters. Tindal made
this rejoinder:—

“Is there no difference between God’s not rectifying men’s sentiments in
those matters and using himself such sentiments as needs be rectified;
or between God’s not mending men’s logic and rhetoric where ’t is
defective and using such himself; or between God’s

[146] not contradicting vulgar notions and confirming them by speaking
according to them? Can infinite wisdom despair of gaining or keeping
people’s affections without having recourse to such mean acts?”

He exposes with considerable effect the monstrosity of the doctrine of
exclusive salvation. Must we not consider, he asks, whether one can be
said to be sent as a Saviour of mankind, if he comes to shut Heaven’s
gate against those to whom, before he came, it was open provided they
followed the dictates of their reason? He criticizes the inconsistency
of the impartial and universal goodness of God, known to us by the light
of nature, with acts committed by Jehovah or his prophets. Take the
cases in which the order of nature is violated to punish men for crimes
of which they were not guilty, such as Elijah’s hindering rain from
falling for three years and a half. If God could break in upon the
ordinary rules of his providence to punish the innocent for the guilty,
we have no guarantee that if he deals thus with us in this life, he will
not act in the same way in the life to come, “since if the eternal rules
of justice are once broken how can we imagine any stop?” But the ideals
of holiness and justice in the Old Testament are strange indeed. The
holier men

[147] are represented to be, the more cruel they seem and the more
addicted to cursing. How surprising to find the holy prophet Elisha
cursing in the name of the Lord little children for calling him Bald-
pate! And, what is still more surprising, two she-bears immediately
devoured forty-two little children.

I have remarked that theologians at this time generally took the line of
basing Christianity on reason and not on faith. An interesting little
book, Christianity not founded on Argument, couched in the form of a
letter to a young gentleman at Oxford, by Henry Dodwell (Junior),
appeared in 1741, and pointed out the dangers of such confidence in
reason. It is an ironical development of the principle of Bayle, working
out the thesis that Christianity is essentially unreasonable, and that
if you want to believe, reasoning is fatal. The cultivation of faith and
reasoning produce contrary effects; the philosopher is disqualified for
Divine influences by his very progress in carnal wisdom; the Gospel must
be received with all the obsequious submission of a babe who has no
other disposition but to learn his lesson. Christ did not propose his
doctrines to investigation; he did not lay the arguments for his mission
before his disciples and give them time to consider

[148] calmly of their force, and liberty to determine as their reason
should direct them; the apostles had no qualifications for the task,
being the most artless and illiterate persons living. Dodwell exposes
the absurdity of the Protestant position. To give all men liberty to
judge for themselves and to expect at the same time that they shall be
of the Preacher’s mind is such a scheme for unanimity as one would
scarcely imagine any one could be weak enough to devise in speculation
and much less that any could ever be found hardy enough to avow and
propose it to practice. The men of Rome “shall rise up in the judgment
(of all considering persons) against this generation and shall condemn
it; for they invented but the one absurdity of infallibility, and behold
a greater absurdity than infallibility is here.”

I have still to speak of the (Third) Earl of Shaftesbury, whose style
has rescued his writings from entire neglect. His special interest was
ethics. While the valuable work of most of the heterodox writers of this
period lay in their destructive criticism of supernatural religion, they
clung, as we have seen, to what was called natural religion— the belief
in a kind and wise personal God, who created the world, governs it by
natural laws, and desires our happiness. The idea

[149] was derived from ancient philosophers and had been revived by Lord
Herbert of Cherbury in his Latin treatise On Truth (in the reign of
James I). The deists contended that this was a sufficient basis for
morality and that the Christian inducements to good behaviour were
unnecessary. Shaftesbury in his Inquiry concerning Virtue (1699) debated
the question and argued that the scheme of heaven and hell, with the
selfish hopes and fears which they inspire, corrupts morality and that
the only worthy motive for conduct is the beauty of virtue in itself. He
does not even consider deism a necessary assumption for a moral code; he
admits that the opinion of atheists does not undermine ethics. But he
thinks that the belief in a good governor of the universe is a powerful
support to the practice of virtue. He is a thorough optimist, and is
perfectly satisfied with the admirable adaptation of means to ends,
whereby it is the function of one animal to be food for another. He
makes no attempt to reconcile the red claws and teeth of nature with the
beneficence of its powerful artist. “In the main all things are kindly
and well disposed.” The atheist might have said that he preferred to be
at the mercy of blind chance than in the hands of an autocrat who, if he
pleased Lord Shaftesbury’s sense

[150] of order, had created flies to be devoured by spiders. But this
was an aspect of the universe which did not much trouble thinkers in the
eighteenth century. On the other hand, the character of the God of the
Old Testament roused Shaftesbury’s aversion. He attacks Scripture not
directly, but by allusion or with irony. He hints that if there is a
God, he would be less displeased with atheists than with those who
accepted him in the guise of Jehovah. As Plutarch said, “I had rather
men should say of me that there neither is nor ever was such a one as
Plutarch, than they should say ‘There was a Plutarch, an unsteady,
changeable, easily provokable and revengeful man.’ ” Shaftesbury’s
significance is that he built up a positive theory of morals, and
although it had no philosophical depth, his influence on French and
German thinkers of the eighteenth century was immense.

In some ways perhaps the ablest of the deists, and certainly the most
scholarly, was Rev. Conyers Middleton, who remained within the Church.
He supported Christianity on grounds of utility. Even if it is an
imposture, he said, it would be wrong to destroy it. For it is
established by law and it has a long tradition behind it. Some
traditional religion is necessary and it would

[151] be hopeless to supplant Christianity by reason. But his writings
contain effective arguments which go to undermine Revelation. The most
important was his Free Inquiry into Christian miracles (1748), which put
in a new and dangerous light an old question: At what time did the
Church cease to have the power of performing miracles? We shall see
presently how Gibbon applied Middleton’s method.

The leading adversaries of the deists appealed, like them, to reason,
and, in appealing to reason, did much to undermine authority. The ablest
defence of the faith, Bishop Butler’s Analogy (1736), is suspected of
having raised more doubts than it appeased. This was the experience of
William Pitt the Younger, and the Analogy made James Mill (the
utilitarian) an unbeliever. The deists, argued that the unjust and cruel
God of Revelation could not be the God of nature; Butler pointed to
nature and said, There you behold cruelty and injustice. The argument
was perfectly good against the optimism of Shaftesbury, but it plainly
admitted of the conclusion—opposite to that which Butler wished to
establish—that a just and beneficent God does not exist. Butler is
driven to fall back on the sceptical argument that we are extremely
ignorant; that all things

[152] are possible, even eternal hell fire; and that therefore the safe
and prudent course is to accept the Christian doctrine. It may be
remarked that this reasoning, with a few modifications, could be used in
favour of other religions, at Mecca or at Timbuctoo. He has, in effect,
revived the argument used by Pascal that if there is one chance in any
very large number that Christianity is true, it is a man’s interest to
be a Christian; for, if it prove false, it will do him no harm to have
believed it; if it prove true, he will be infinitely the gainer. Butler
seeks indeed to show that the chances in favour amount to a probability,
but his argument is essentially of the same intellectual and moral value
as Pascal’s. It has been pointed out that it leads by an easy logical
step from the Anglican to the Roman Church. Catholics and Protestants
(as King Henry IV of France argued) agree that a Catholic may be saved;
the Catholics assert that a Protestant will be damned; therefore the
safe course is to embrace Catholicism. [3]

I have dwelt at some length upon some of the English deists, because,
while they occupy an important place in the history of

[153] rationalism in England, they also supplied, along with Bayle, a
great deal of the thought which, manipulated by brilliant writers on the
other side of the Channel, captured the educated classes in France. We
are now in the age of Voltaire. He was a convinced deist. He considered
that the nature of the universe proved that it was made by a conscious
architect, he held that God was required in the interests of conduct,
and he ardently combated atheism. His great achievements were his
efficacious labour in the cause of toleration, and his systematic
warfare against superstitions. He was profoundly influenced by English
thinkers, especially Locke and Bolingbroke. This statesman had concealed
his infidelity during his lifetime except from his intimates; he had
lived long as an exile in France; and his rationalistic essays were
published (1754) after his death. Voltaire, whose literary genius
converted the work of the English thinkers into a world-force, did not
begin his campaign against Christianity till after the middle of the
century, when superstitious practices and religious persecutions were
becoming a scandal in his country. He assailed the Catholic Church in
every field with ridicule and satire. In a little work called The Tomb
of Fanaticism (written 1736,

[154] published 1767), he begins by observing that a man who accepts his
religion (as most people do) without examining it is like an ox which
allows itself to be harnessed, and proceeds to review the difficulties
in the Bible, the rise of Christianity, and the course of Church
history; from which he concludes that every sensible man should hold the
Christian sect in horror. “Men are blind to prefer an absurd and
sanguinary creed, supported by executioners and surrounded by fiery
faggots, a creed which can only be approved by those to whom it gives
power and riches, a particular creed only accepted in a small part of
the world—to a simple and universal religion.” In the Sermon of the
Fifty and the Questions of Zapata we can see what he owed to Bayle and
English critics, but his touch is lighter and his irony more telling.
His comment on geographical mistakes in the Old Testament is: “God was
evidently not strong in geography.” Having called attention to the
“horrible crime” of Lot’s wife in looking backward, and her conversion
into a pillar of salt, he hopes that the stories of Scripture will make
us better, if they do not make us more enlightened. One of his favourite
methods is to approach Christian doctrines as a person who had just
heard of the existence of Christians or Jews for the first time in his


His drama, Saul (1763), which the police tried to suppress, presents the
career of David, the man after God’s own heart, in all its naked horror.
The scene in which Samuel reproves Saul for not having slain Agag will
give an idea of the spirit of the piece. SAMUEL: God commands me to tell
you that he repents of having made you king. SAUL: God repents! Only
they who commit errors repent. His eternal wisdom cannot be unwise. God
cannot commit errors. SAMUEL: He can repent of having set on the throne
those who do. SAUL: Well, who does not? Tell me, what is my fault?
SAMUEL: You have pardoned a king. AGAG: What! Is the fairest of virtues
considered a crime in Judea? SAMUEL (to Agag): Silence! do not
blaspheme. (To Saul). Saul, formerly king of the Jews, did not God
command you by my mouth to destroy all the Amalekites, without sparing
women, or maidens, or children at the breast? AGAG: Your god—gave such a
command! You are mistaken, you meant to say, your devil. SAMUEL: Saul,
did you obey God? SAUL: I did not suppose such a command

[156] was positive. I thought that goodness was the first attribute of
the Supreme Being, and that a compassionate heart could not displease
him. SAMUEL: You are mistaken, unbeliever. God reproves you, your
sceptre will pass into other hands.

Perhaps no writer has ever roused more hatred in Christendom than
Voltaire. He was looked on as a sort of anti-Christ. That was natural;
his attacks were so tremendously effective at the time. But he has been
sometimes decried on the ground that he only demolished and made no
effort to build up where he had pulled down. This is a narrow complaint.
It might be replied that when a sewer is spreading plague in a town, we
cannot wait to remove it till we have a new system of drains, and it may
fairly be said that religion as practised in contemporary France was a
poisonous sewer. But the true answer is that knowledge, and therefore
civilization, are advanced by criticism and negation, as well as by
construction and positive discovery. When a man has the talent to attack
with effect falsehood, prejudice, and imposture, it is his duty, if
there are any social duties, to use it.

For constructive thinking we must go to the other great leader of French

[157] Rousseau, who contributed to the growth of freedom in a different
way. He was a deist, but his deism, unlike that of Voltaire, was
religious and emotional. He regarded Christianity with a sort of
reverent scepticism. But his thought was revolutionary and repugnant to
orthodoxy; it made against authority in every sphere; and it had an
enormous influence. The clergy perhaps dreaded his theories more than
the scoffs and negations of Voltaire. For some years he was a fugitive
on the face of the earth. Émile, his brilliant contribution to the
theory of education, appeared in 1762. It contains some remarkable pages
on religion, “the profession of faith of a Savoyard vicar,” in which the
author’s deistic faith is strongly affirmed and revelation and theology
rejected. The book was publicly burned in Paris and an order issued for
Rousseau’s arrest. Forced by his friends to flee, he was debarred from
returning to Geneva, for the government of that canton followed the
example of Paris. He sought refuge in the canton of Bern and was ordered
to quit. He then fled to the principality of Neufchâtel which belonged
to Prussia. Frederick the Great, the one really tolerant ruler of the
age, gave him protection, but he was persecuted and calumniated by the
local clergy, who but for Frederick would

[158] have expelled him, and he went to England for a few months (1766),
then returning to France, where he was left unmolested till his death.
The religious views of Rousseau are only a minor point in his heretical
speculations. It was by his daring social and political theories that he
set the world on fire. His Social Contract in which these theories were
set forth was burned at Geneva. Though his principles will not stand
criticism for a moment, and though his doctrine worked mischief by its
extraordinary power of turning men into fanatics, yet it contributed to
progress, by helping to discredit privilege and to establish the view
that the object of a State is to secure the wellbeing of all its

Deism—whether in the semi-Christian form of Rousseau or the anti-
Christian form of Voltaire—was a house built on the sand, and thinkers
arose in France, England, and Germany to shatter its foundations. In
France, it proved to be only a half-way inn to atheism. In 1770, French
readers were startled by the appearance of Baron D’Holbach’s System of
Nature, in which God’s existence and the immortality of the soul were
denied and the world declared to be matter spontaneously moving.

Holbach was a friend of Diderot, who had also come to reject deism. All
the leading

[159] ideas in the revolt against the Church had a place in Diderot’s
great work, the Encyclopedia, in which a number of leading thinkers
collaborated with him. It was not merely a scientific book of reference.
It was representative of the whole movement of the enemies of faith. It
was intended to lead men from Christianity with its original sin to a
new conception of the world as a place which can be made agreeable and
in which the actual evils are due not to radical faults of human nature
but to perverse institutions and perverse education. To divert interest
from the dogmas of religion to the improvement of society, to persuade
the world that man’s felicity depends not on Revelation but on social
transformation—this was what Diderot and Rousseau in their different
ways did so much to effect. And their work influenced those who did not
abandon orthodoxy; it affected the spirit of the Church itself. Contrast
the Catholic Church in France in the eighteenth and in the nineteenth
century. Without the work of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and their
fellow-combatants, would it have been reformed? “The Christian Churches”
(I quote Lord Morley) “are assimilating as rapidly as their formulae
will permit, the new light and the more generous moral ideas and the
higher spirituality of

[160] teachers who have abandoned all churches and who are
systematically denounced as enemies of the souls of men.”

In England the prevalent deistic thought did not lead to the same
intellectual consequences as in France; yet Hume, the greatest English
philosopher of the century, showed that the arguments commonly adduced
for a personal God were untenable. I may first speak of his discussion
on miracles in his Essay on Miracles and in his philosophical Inquiry
concerning Human Understanding (1748). Hitherto the credibility of
miracles had not been submitted to a general examination independent of
theological assumptions. Hume, pointing out that there must be a uniform
experience against every miraculous event (otherwise it would not merit
the name of miracle), and that it will require stronger testimony to
establish a miracle than an event which is not contrary to experience,
lays down the general maxim that “no testimony is sufficient to
establish a miracle unless the testimony is of such a kind that its
falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to
establish.” But, as a matter of fact, no testimony exists of which the
falsehood would be a prodigy. We cannot find in history any miracle
attested by a sufficient number of men of such unquestionable good

[161] sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all
delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity as to place them
beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit in
the eyes of mankind as to have a great deal to lose in case of their
being detected in any falsehood, and at the same time attesting facts
performed in such a public manner as to render detection unavoidable
—all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in
the testimony of men.

In the Dialogues on Natural Religion which were not published till after
his death (1776), Hume made an attack on the “argument from design,” on
which deists and Christians alike relied to prove the existence of a
Deity. The argument is that the world presents clear marks of design,
endless adaptation of means to ends, which can only be explained as due
to the deliberate plan of a powerful intelligence. Hume disputes the
inference on the ground that a mere intelligent being is not a
sufficient cause to explain the effect. For the argument must be that
the system of the material world demands as a cause a corresponding
system of interconnected ideas; but such a mental system would demand an
explanation of its existence just as much as the material world; and
thus we find ourselves

[162] committed to an endless series of causes. But in any case, even if
the argument held, it would prove only the existence of a Deity whose
powers, though superior to man’s, might be very limited and whose
workmanship might be very imperfect. For this world may be very faulty,
compared to a superior standard. It may be the first rude experiment “of
some infant Deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame
performance”; or the work of some inferior Deity at which his superior
would scoff; or the production of some old superannuated Deity which
since his death has pursued an adventurous career from the first impulse
which he gave it. An argument which leaves such deities in the running
is worse than useless for the purposes of Deism or of Christianity.

The sceptical philosophy of Hume had less influence on the general
public than Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Of the
numerous freethinking books that appeared in England in the eighteenth
century, this is the only one which is still a widely read classic. In
what a lady friend of Dr. Johnson called “the two offensive chapters”
(XV and XVI) the causes of the rise and success of Christianity are for
the first time critically investigated as a simple historical
phenomenon. Like most freethinkers of the

[163] time Gibbon thought it well to protect himself and his work
against the possibility of prosecution by paying ironical lip-homage to
the orthodox creed. But even if there had been no such danger, he could
not have chosen a more incisive weapon for his merciless criticism of
orthodox opinion than the irony which he wielded with superb ease.
Having pointed out that the victory of Christianity is obviously and
satisfactorily explained by the convincing evidence of the doctrine and
by the ruling providence of its great Author, he proceeds “with becoming
submission” to inquire into the secondary causes. He traces the history
of the faith up to the time of Constantine in such a way as clearly to
suggest that the hypothesis of divine interposition is superfluous and
that we have to do with a purely human development. He marshals, with
ironical protests, the obvious objections to the alleged evidence for
supernatural control. He does not himself criticize Moses and the
prophets, but he reproduces the objections which were made against their
authority by “the vain science of the gnostics.” He notes that the
doctrine of immortality is omitted in the law of Moses, but this
doubtless was a mysterious dispensation of Providence. We cannot
entirely remove “the imputation of ignorance and

[164] obscurity which has been so arrogantly cast on the first
proselytes of Christianity,” but we must “convert the occasion of
scandal into a subject of edification” and remember that “the lower we
depress the temporal condition of the first Christians, the more reason
we shall find to admire their merit and success.”

Gibbon’s treatment of miracles from the purely historical point of view
(he owed a great deal to Middleton, see above, p. 150) was particularly
disconcerting. In the early age of Christianity “the laws of nature were
frequently suspended for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of
Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the
ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any
alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the
reign of Tiberius the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of
the Roman Empire, was involved in a praeternatural darkness of three
hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the
wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without
notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime
of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate
effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of

[165] philosophers in a laborious work has recorded all the great
phenomena of nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which
his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other
have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye
has been witness since the creation of the globe.” How “shall we excuse
the supine inattention of the pagan and philosophic world to those
evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their
reason, but to their senses?”

Again, if every believer is convinced of the reality of miracles, every
reasonable man is convinced of their cessation. Yet every age bears
testimony to miracles, and the testimony seems no less respectable than
that of the preceding generation. When did they cease? How was it that
the generation which saw the last genuine miracles performed could not
distinguish them from the impostures which followed? Had men so soon
forgotten “the style of the divine artist”? The inference is that
genuine and spurious miracles are indistinguishable. But the credulity
or “softness of temper” among early believers was beneficial to the
cause of truth and religion. “In modern times, a latent and even
involuntary scepticism adheres to the most pious dispositions. Their

[166] admission of supernatural truths is much less an active consent
than a cold and passive acquiescence. Accustomed long since to observe
and to respect the invariable order of nature, our reason, or at least
our imagination, is not sufficiently prepared to sustain the visible
action of the Deity.”

Gibbon had not the advantage of the minute critical labours which in the
following century were expended on his sources of information, but his
masterly exposure of the conventional history of the early Church
remains in many of its most important points perfectly valid to-day. I
suspect that his artillery has produced more effect on intelligent minds
in subsequent generations than the archery of Voltaire. For his book
became indispensable as the great history of the Middle Ages; the most
orthodox could not do without it; and the poison must have often worked.

We have seen how theological controversy in the first half of the
eighteenth century had turned on the question whether the revealed
religion was consistent and compatible with natural religion. The
deistic attacks, on this line, were almost exhausted by the middle of
the century, and the orthodox thought that they had been satisfactorily
answered. But it was not enough to show that the revelation

[167] is reasonable; it was necessary to prove that it is real and rests
on a solid historical basis. This was the question raised in an acute
form by the criticisms of Hume and Middleton (1748) on miracles. The
ablest answer was given by Paley in his Evidences of Christianity
(1794), the only one of the apologies of that age which is still read,
though it has ceased to have any value. Paley’s theology illustrates how
orthodox opinions are coloured, unconsciously, by the spirit of the
time. He proved (in his Natural Theology) the existence of God by the
argument from design —without taking any account of the criticisms of
Hume on that argument. Just as a watchmaker is inferred from a watch, so
a divine workman is inferred from contrivances in nature. Paley takes
his instances of such contrivance largely from the organs and
constitution of the human body. His idea of God is that of an ingenious
contriver dealing with rather obstinate material. Paley’s “God” (Mr.
Leslie Stephen remarked) “has been civilized like man; he has become
scientific and ingenious; he is superior to Watt or Priestley in
devising mechanical and chemical contrivances, and is therefore made in
the image of that generation of which Watt and Priestley were
conspicuous lights.” When a God of this kind

[168] is established there is no difficulty about miracles, and it is on
miracles that Paley bases the case for Christianity—all other arguments
are subsidiary. And his proof of the New Testament miracles is that the
apostles who were eye-witnesses believed in them, for otherwise they
would not have acted and suffered in the cause of their new religion.
Paley’s defence is the performance of an able legal adviser to the

The list of the English deistic writers of the eighteenth century closes
with one whose name is more familiar than any of his predecessors,
Thomas Paine. A Norfolk man, he migrated to America and played a leading
part in the Revolution. Then he returned to England and in 1791
published his Rights of Man in two parts. I have been considering,
almost exclusively, freedom of thought in religion, because it may be
taken as the thermometer for freedom of thought in general. At this
period it was as dangerous to publish revolutionary opinions in politics
as in theology. Paine was an enthusiastic admirer of the American
Constitution and a supporter of the French Revolution (in which also he
was to play a part). His Rights of Man is an indictment of the
monarchical form of government, and a plea for representative democracy.
It had an enormous

[169] sale, a cheap edition was issued, and the government, finding that
it was accessible to the poorer classes, decided to prosecute. Paine
escaped to France, and received a brilliant ovation at Calais, which
returned him as deputy to the National Convention. His trial for high
treason came on at the end of 1792. Among the passages in his book, on
which the charge was founded, were these: “All hereditary government is
in its nature tyranny.” “The time is not very distant when England will
laugh at itself for sending to Holland, Hanover, Zell, or Brunswick for
men” [meaning King William III and King George I] “at the expense of a
million a year who understood neither her laws, her language, nor her
interest, and whose capacities would scarcely have fitted them for the
office of a parish constable. If government could be trusted to such
hands, it must be some easy and simple thing indeed, and materials fit
for all the purposes may be found in every town and village in England.”
Erskine was Paine’s counsel, and he made a fine oration in defence of
freedom of speech.

“Constraint,” he said, “is the natural parent of resistance, and a
pregnant proof that reason is not on the side of those who use it. You
must all remember, gentlemen, Lucian’s pleasant story: Jupiter and a

[170] were walking together, conversing with great freedom and
familiarity upon the subject of heaven and earth. The countryman
listened with attention and acquiescence while Jupiter strove only to
convince him; but happening to hint a doubt, Jupiter turned hastily
around and threatened him with his thunder. ‘Ah, ha!’ says the
countryman, ‘now, Jupiter, I know that you are wrong; you are always
wrong when you appeal to your thunder.’ This is the case with me. I can
reason with the people of England, but I cannot fight against the
thunder of authority.”

Paine was found guilty and outlawed. He soon committed a new offence by
the publication of an anti-Christian work, The Age of Reason (1794 and
1796), which he began to write in the Paris prison into which he had
been thrown by Robespierre. This book is remarkable as the first
important English publication in which the Christian scheme of salvation
and the Bible are assailed in plain language without any disguise or
reserve. In the second place it was written in such a way as to reach
the masses. And, thirdly, while the criticisms on the Bible are in the
same vein as those of the earlier deists, Paine is the first to present
with force the incongruity of the Christian scheme with the conception
of the universe attained by astronomical science.


“Though it is not a direct article of the Christian system that this
world that we inhabit is the whole of the inhabitable globe, yet it is
so worked up therewith—from what is called the Mosaic account of the
creation, the story of Eve and the apple, and the counterpart of that
story, the death of the Son of God—that to believe otherwise (that is,
to believe that God created a plurality of worlds at least as numerous
as what we call stars) renders the Christian system of faith at once
little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the
air. The two beliefs cannot be held together in the same mind; and he
who thinks that he believes both has thought but little of either.”

As an ardent deist, who regarded nature as God’s revelation, Paine was
able to press this argument with particular force. Referring to some of
the tales in the Old Testament, he says: “When we contemplate the
immensity of that Being who directs and governs the incomprehensible
Whole, of which the utmost ken of human sight can discover but a part,
we ought to feel shame at calling such paltry stories the Word of God.”

The book drew a reply from Bishop Watson, one of those admirable
eighteenth-century divines, who admitted the right of private judgment
and thought that argument

[172] should be met by argument and not by force. His reply had the
rather significant title, An Apology for the Bible. George III remarked
that he was not aware that any apology was needed for that book. It is a
weak defence, but is remarkable for the concessions which it makes to
several of Paine’s criticisms of Scripture—admissions which were
calculated to damage the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible.

It was doubtless in consequence of the enormous circulation of the Age
of Reason that a Society for the Suppression of Vice decided to
prosecute the publisher. Unbelief was common among the ruling class, but
the view was firmly held that religion was necessary for the populace
and that any attempt to disseminate unbelief among the lower classes
must be suppressed. Religion was regarded as a valuable instrument to
keep the poor in order. It is notable that of the earlier rationalists
(apart from the case of Woolston) the only one who was punished was
Peter Annet, a schoolmaster, who tried to popularize freethought and was
sentenced for diffusing “diabolical” opinions to the pillory and hard
labour (1763). Paine held that the people at large had the right of
access to all new ideas, and he wrote so as to reach the people. Hence
his book must be suppressed.

[173] At the trial (1797) the judge placed every obstacle in the way of
the defence. The publisher was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

This was not the end of Paine prosecutions. In 1811 a Third Part of the
Age of Reason appeared, and Eaton the publisher was condemned to
eighteen months’ imprisonment and to stand in the pillory once a month.
The judge, Lord Ellenborough, said in his charge, that “to deny the
truths of the book which is the foundation of our faith has never been
permitted.” The poet Shelley addressed to Lord Ellenborough a scathing
letter. “Do you think to convert Mr. Eaton to your religion by
embittering his existence? You might force him by torture to profess
your tenets, but he could not believe them except you should make them
credible, which perhaps exceeds your power. Do you think to please the
God you worship by this exhibition of your zeal? If so, the demon to
whom some nations offer human hecatombs is less barbarous than the deity
of civilized society!” In 1819 Richard Carlisle was prosecuted for
publishing the Age of Reason and sentenced to a large fine and three
years’ imprisonment. Unable to pay the fine he was kept in prison for
three years. His wife and sister, who carried on the business

[174] and continued to sell the book, were fined and imprisoned soon
afterwards and a whole host of shop assistants.

If his publishers suffered in England, the author himself suffered in
America where bigotry did all it could to make the last years of his
life bitter.

The age of enlightenment began in Germany in the middle of the
eighteenth century. In most of the German States, thought was
considerably less free than in England. Under Frederick the Great’s
father, the philosopher Wolff was banished from Prussia for according to
the moral teachings of the Chinese sage Confucius a praise which, it was
thought, ought to be reserved for Christianity. He returned after the
accession of Frederick, under whose tolerant rule Prussia was an asylum
for those writers who suffered for their opinions in neighbouring
States. Frederick, indeed, held the view which was held by so many
English rationalists of the time, and is still held widely enough, that
freethought is not desirable for the multitude, because they are
incapable of understanding philosophy. Germany felt the influence of the
English Deists, of the French freethinkers, and of Spinoza; but in the
German rationalistic propaganda of this period there is nothing very
original or interesting.

[175] The names of Edelmann and Bahrdt may be mentioned. The works of
Edelmann, who attacked the inspiration of the Bible, were burned in
various cities, and he was forced to seek Frederick’s protection at
Berlin. Bahrdt was more aggressive than any other writer of the time.
Originally a preacher, it was by slow degrees that he moved away from
the orthodox faith. His translation of the New Testament cut short his
ecclesiastical career. His last years were spent as an inn-keeper. His
writings, for instance his popular Letters on the Bible, must have had a
considerable effect, if we may judge by the hatred which he excited
among theologians.

It was not, however, in direct rationalistic propaganda, but in
literature and philosophy, that the German enlightenment of this century
expressed itself. The most illustrious men of letters, Goethe (who was
profoundly influenced by Spinoza) and Schiller, stood outside the
Churches, and the effect of their writings and of the whole literary
movement of the time made for the freest treatment of human experience.

One German thinker shook the world—the philosopher Kant. His Critic of
Pure Reason demonstrated that when we attempt to prove by the fight of
the intellect the existence of

[176] God and the immortality of the Soul, we fall helplessly into
contradictions. His destructive criticism of the argument from design
and all natural theology was more complete than that of Hume; and his
philosophy, different though his system was, issued in the same
practical result as that of Locke, to confine knowledge to experience.
It is true that afterwards, in the interest of ethics, he tried to
smuggle in by a back-door the Deity whom he had turned out by the front
gate, but the attempt was not a success. His philosophy—while it led to
new speculative systems in which the name of God was used to mean
something very different from the Deistic conception—was a significant
step further in the deliverance of reason from the yoke of authority.

[1] For the sake of simplicity I use “deist” in this sense throughout,
though “theist” is now the usual term.

[2] Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise, which deals with the
interpretation of Scripture, was translated into English in 1689.

[3] See Benn, Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century, vol. i, p. 138
seq., for a good exposure of the fallacies and sophistries of Butler.




MODERN science, heralded by the researches of Copernicus, was founded in
the seventeenth century, which saw the demonstration of the Copernican
theory, the discovery of gravitation, the discovery of the circulation
of the blood, and the foundation

[177] of modern chemistry and physics. The true nature of comets was
ascertained, and they ceased to be regarded as signs of heavenly wrath.
But several generations were to pass before science became, in
Protestant countries, an involuntary arch-enemy of theology. Till the
nineteenth century, it was only in minor points, such as the movement of
the earth, that proved scientific facts seemed to conflict with
Scripture, and it was easy enough to explain away these inconsistencies
by a new interpretation of the sacred texts. Yet remarkable facts were
accumulating which, though not explained by science, seemed to menace
the credibility of Biblical history. If the story of Noah’s Ark and the
Flood is true, how was it that beasts unable to swim or fly inhabit
America and the islands of the Ocean? And what about the new species
which were constantly being found in the New World and did not exist in
the Old? Where did the kangaroos of Australia drop from? The only
explanation compatible with received theology seemed to be the
hypothesis of innumerable new acts of creation, later than the Flood. It
was in the field of natural history that scientific men of the
eighteenth century suffered most from the coercion of authority.
Linnaeus felt it in Sweden, Buffon

[178] in France. Buffon was compelled to retract hypotheses which he put
forward about the formation of the earth in his Natural History (1749),
and to state that he believed implicitly in the Bible account of

At the beginning of the nineteenth century Laplace worked out the
mechanics of the universe, on the nebular hypothesis. His results
dispensed, as he said to Napoleon, with the hypothesis of God, and were
duly denounced. His theory involved a long physical process before the
earth and solar system came to be formed; but this was not fatal, for a
little ingenuity might preserve the credit of the first chapter of
Genesis. Geology was to prove a more formidable enemy to the Biblical
story of the Creation and the Deluge. The theory of a French naturalist
(Cuvier) that the earth had repeatedly experienced catastrophes, each of
which necessitated a new creative act, helped for a time to save the
belief in divine intervention, and Lyell, in his Principles of Geology
(1830), while he undermined the assumption of catastrophes, by showing
that the earth’s history could be explained by the ordinary processes
which we still see in operation, yet held fast to successive acts of
creation. It was not till 1863 that he presented fully, in his Antiquity
of Man, the

[179] evidence which showed that the human race had inhabited the earth
for a far longer period than could be reconciled with the record of
Scripture. That record might be adapted to the results of science in
regard not only to the earth itself but also to the plants and lower
animals, by explaining the word “day” in the Jewish story of creation to
signify some long period of time. But this way out was impossible in the
case of the creation of man, for the sacred chronology is quite
definite. An English divine of the seventeenth century ingeniously
calculated that man was created by the Trinity on October 23, B.C. 4004,
at 9 o’clock in the morning, and no reckoning of the Bible dates could
put the event much further back. Other evidence reinforced the
conclusions from geology, but geology alone was sufficient to damage
irretrievably the historical truth of the Jewish legend of Creation. The
only means of rescuing it was to suppose that God had created misleading
evidence for the express purpose of deceiving man.

Geology shook the infallibility of the Bible, but left the creation of
some prehistoric Adam and Eve a still admissible hypothesis. Here
however zoology stepped in, and pronounced upon the origin of man. It
was an old conjecture that the higher forms of life, including

[180] man, had developed out of lower forms, and advanced thinkers had
been reaching the conclusion that the universe, as we find it, is the
result of a continuous process, unbroken by supernatural interference,
and explicable by uniform natural laws. But while the reign of law in
the world of non-living matter seemed to be established, the world of
life could be considered a field in which the theory of divine
intervention is perfectly valid, so long as science failed to assign
satisfactory causes for the origination of the various kinds of animals
and plants. The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 is,
therefore, a landmark not only in science but in the war between science
and theology. When this book appeared, Bishop Wilberforce truly said
that “the principle of natural selection is incompatible with the word
of God,” and theologians in Germany and France as well as in England
cried aloud against the threatened dethronement of the Deity. The
appearance of the Descent of Man (1871), in which the evidence for the
pedigree of the human race from lower animals was marshalled with
masterly force, renewed the outcry. The Bible said that God created man
in his own image, Darwin said that man descended from an ape. The
feelings of the orthodox world may be

[181] expressed in the words of Mr. Gladstone: “Upon the grounds of what
is called evolution God is relieved of the labour of creation, and in
the name of unchangeable laws is discharged from governing the world.”
It was a discharge which, as Spencer observed, had begun with Newton’s
discovery of gravitation. If Darwin did not, as is now recognized,
supply a complete explanation of the origin of species, his researches
shattered the supernatural theory and confirmed the view to which many
able thinkers had been led that development is continuous in the living
as in the non-living world. Another nail was driven into the coffin of
Creation and the Fall of Adam, and the doctrine of redemption could only
be rescued by making it independent of the Jewish fable on which it was

Darwinism, as it is called, has had the larger effect of discrediting
the theory of the adaptation of means to ends in nature by an external
and infinitely powerful intelligence. The inadequacy of the argument
from design, as a proof of God’s existence, had been shown by the logic
of Hume and Kant; but the observation of the life-processes of nature
shows that the very analogy between nature and art, on which the
argument depends, breaks down. The impropriety of the analogy has been

[182] pointed out, in a telling way, by a German writer (Lange). If a
man wants to shoot a hare which is in a certain field, he does not
procure thousands of guns, surround the field, and cause them all to be
fired off; or if he wants a house to live in, he does not build a whole
town and abandon to weather and decay all the houses but one. If he did
either of these things we should say he was mad or amazingly
unintelligent; his actions certainly would not be held to indicate a
powerful mind, expert in adapting means to ends. But these are the sort
of things that nature does. Her wastefulness in the propagation of life
is reckless. For the production of one life she sacrifices innumerable
germs. The “end” is achieved in one case out of thousands; the rule is
destruction and failure. If intelligence had anything to do with this
bungling process, it would be an intelligence infinitely low. And the
finished product, if regarded as a work of design, points to
incompetence in the designer. Take the human eye. An illustrious man of
science (Helmholtz) said, “If an optician sent it to me as an
instrument, I should send it back with reproaches for the carelessness
of his work and demand the return of my money. Darwin showed how the
phenomena might be explained as events not brought about

[183] intentionally, but due to exceptional concurrences of

The phenomena of nature are a system of things which co-exist and follow
each other according to invariable laws. This deadly proposition was
asserted early in the nineteenth century to be an axiom of science. It
was formulated by Mill (in his System of Logic, 1843) as the foundation
on which scientific induction rests. It means that at any moment the
state of the whole universe is the effect of its state at the preceding
moment; the casual sequence between two successive states is not broken
by any arbitrary interference suppressing or altering the relation
between cause and effect. Some ancient Greek philosophers were convinced
of this principle; the work done by modern science in every field seems
to be a verification of it. But it need not be stated in such an
absolute form. Recently, scientific men have been inclined to express
the axiom with more reserve and less dogmatically. They are prepared to
recognize that it is simply a postulate without which the scientific
comprehension of the universe would be impossible, and they are inclined
to state it not as a law of causation—for the idea of causation leads
into metaphysics—but rather as uniformity of experience. But they are

[184] readier to admit exceptions to this uniformity than their
predecessors were to admit exceptions to the law of causation.

The idea of development has been applied not only to nature, but to the
mind of man and to the history of civilization, including thought and
religion. The first who attempted to apply this idea methodically to the
whole universe was not a student of natural science, but a
metaphysician, Hegel. His extremely difficult philosophy had such a wide
influence on thought that a few words must be said about its tendency.
He conceived the whole of existence as what he called the Absolute Idea,
which is not in space or time and is compelled by the laws of its being
to manifest itself in the process of the world, first externalizing
itself in nature, and then becoming conscious of itself as spirit in
individual minds. His system is hence called Absolute Idealism. The
attraction which it exercised has probably been in great measure due to
the fact that it was in harmony with nineteenth-century thought, in so
far as it conceived the process of the world, both in nature and spirit,
as a necessary development from lower to higher stages. In this respect
indeed Hegel’s vision was limited. He treats the process as if it were
practically complete already, and does not take into account

[185] the probability of further development in the future, to which
other thinkers of his own time were turning their attention. But what
concerns us here is that, while Hegel’s system is “idealistic,” finding
the explanation of the universe in thought and not in matter, it tended
as powerfully as any materialistic system to subvert orthodox beliefs.
It is true that some have claimed it as supporting Christianity. A
certain colour is lent to this by Hegel’s view that the Christian creed,
as the highest religion, contains doctrines which express imperfectly
some of the ideas of the highest philosophy—his own; along with the fact
that he sometimes speaks of the Absolute Idea as if it were a person,
though personality would be a limitation inconsistent with his
conception of it. But it is sufficient to observe that, whatever value
be assigned to Christianity, he regarded it from the superior standpoint
of a purely intellectual philosophy, not as a special revelation of
truth, but as a certain approximation to the truth which philosophy
alone can reach; and it may be said with some confidence that any one
who comes under Hegel’s spell feels that he is in possession of a theory
of the universe which relieves him from the need or desire of any
revealed religion. His influence in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere has
entirely made for highly unorthodox thought.


Hegel was not aggressive, he was superior. His French contemporary,
Comte, who also thought out a comprehensive system, aggressively and
explicitly rejected theology as an obsolete way of explaining the
universe. He rejected metaphysics likewise, and all that Hegel stood
for, as equally useless, on the ground that metaphysicians explain
nothing, but merely describe phenomena in abstract terms, and that
questions about the origin of the world and why it exists are quite
beyond the reach of reason. Both theology and metaphysics are superseded
by science—the investigation of causes and effects and coexistences; and
the future progress of society will be guided by the scientific view of
the world which confines itself to the positive data of experience.
Comte was convinced that religion is a social necessity, and, to supply
the place of the theological religions which he pronounced to be doomed,
he invented a new religion—the religion of Humanity. It differs from the
great religions of the world in having no supernatural or non-rational
articles of belief, and on that account he had few adherents. But the
“Positive Philosophy” of Comte has exercised great influence, not least
in England, where its principles have been promulgated especially by Mr.
Frederic Harrison, who in the latter

[187] half of the nineteenth century has been one of the most
indefatigable workers in the cause of reason against authority.

Another comprehensive system was worked out by an Englishman, Herbert
Spencer. Like Comte’s, it was based on science, and attempts to show
how, starting with a nebular universe, the whole knowable world,
psychical and social as well as physical, can be deduced. His Synthetic
Philosophy perhaps did more than anything else to make the idea of
evolution familiar in England.

I must mention one other modern explanation of the world, that of
Haeckel, the zoologist, professor at Jena, who may be called the prophet
of evolution. His Creation of Man (1868) covered the same ground as
Darwin’s Descent, had an enormous circulation, and was translated, I
believe, into fourteen languages. His World-riddles (1899) enjoys the
same popularity. He has taught, like Spencer, that the principle of
evolution applies not only to the history of nature, but also to human
civilization and human thought. He differs from Spencer and Comte in not
assuming any unknowable reality behind natural phenomena. His
adversaries commonly stigmatize his theory as materialism, but this is a
mistake. Like Spinoza he recognizes matter and mind, body and thought,

[188] two inseparable sides of ultimate reality, which he calls God; in
fact, he identifies his philosophy with that of Spinoza. And he
logically proceeds to conceive material atoms as thinking. His idea of
the physical world is based on the old mechanical conception of matter,
which in recent years has been discredited. But Haeckel’s Monism, [1] as
he called his doctrine, has lately been reshaped and in its new form
promises to exercise wide influence on thoughtful people in Germany. I
will return later to this Monistic movement.

It had been a fundamental principle of Comte that human actions and
human history are as strictly subject as nature is, to the law of
causation. Two psychological works appeared in England in 1855 (Bain’s
Senses and Intellect and Spencer’s Principles of Psychology), which
taught that our volitions are completely determined, being the
inevitable consequences of chains of causes and effects. But a far
deeper impression was produced two years later by the first volume of
Buckle’s History of Civilization in England (a work of much less
permanent value), which attempted to apply this principle to history.
Men act in consequence of motives; their motives are the results of
preceding facts; so that “if we were acquainted with the whole of the

[189] and with all the laws of their movements, we could with unerring
certainty predict the whole of their immediate results.” Thus history is
an unbroken chain of causes and effects. Chance is excluded; it is a
mere name for the defects of our knowledge. Mysterious and providential
interference is excluded. Buckle maintained God’s existence, but
eliminated him from history; and his book dealt a resounding blow at the
theory that human actions are not submitted to the law of universal

The science of anthropology has in recent years aroused wide interest.
Inquiries into the condition of early man have shown (independently of
Darwinism) that there is nothing to be said for the view that he fell
from a higher to a lower state; the evidence points to a slow rise from
mere animality. The origin of religious beliefs has been investigated,
with results disquieting for orthodoxy. The researches of students of
anthropology and comparative religion—such as Tylor, Robertson Smith,
and Frazer—have gone to show that mysterious ideas and dogma and rites
which were held to be peculiar to the Christian revelation are derived
from the crude ideas of primitive religions. That the mystery of the
Eucharist comes from the common savage rite of eating a dead god,

[190] that the death and resurrection of a god in human form, which form
the central fact of Christianity, and the miraculous birth of a Saviour
are features which it has in common with pagan religions—such
conclusions are supremely unedifying. It may be said that in themselves
they are not fatal to the claims of the current theology. It may be
held, for instance, that, as part of Christian revelation, such ideas
acquired a new significance and that God wisely availed himself of
familiar beliefs—which, though false and leading to cruel practices, he
himself had inspired and permitted—in order to construct a scheme of
redemption which should appeal to the prejudices of man. Some minds may
find satisfaction in this sort of explanation, but it may be suspected
that most of the few who study modern researches into the origin of
religious beliefs will feel the lines which were supposed to mark off
the Christian from all other faiths dissolving before their eyes.

The general result of the advance of science, including anthropology,
has been to create a coherent view of the world, in which the Christian
scheme, based on the notions of an unscientific age and on the arrogant
assumption that the universe was made for man, has no suitable or
reasonable place. If Paine felt this a hundred years ago, it is far

[191] more apparent now. All minds however are not equally impressed
with this incongruity. There are many who will admit the proofs
furnished by science that the Biblical record as to the antiquity of man
is false, but are not affected by the incongruity between the scientific
and theological conceptions of the world.

For such minds science has only succeeded in carrying some
entrenchments, which may be abandoned without much harm. It has made the
old orthodox view of the infallibility of the Bible untenable, and upset
the doctrine of the Creation and Fall. But it would still be possible
for Christianity to maintain the supernatural claim, by modifying its
theory of the authority of the Bible and revising its theory of
redemption, if the evidence of natural science were the only group of
facts with which it collided. It might be argued that the law of
universal causation is a hypothesis inferred from experience, but that
experience includes the testimonies of history and must therefore take
account of the clear evidence of miraculous occurrences in the New
Testament (evidence which is valid, even if that book was not inspired).
Thus, a stand could be taken against the generalization of science on
the firm ground of historical fact. That solid ground, however, has

[192] way, undermined by historical criticism, which has been more
deadly than the common-sense criticism of the eighteenth century.

The methodical examination of the records contained in the Bible,
dealing with them as if they were purely human documents, is the work of
the nineteenth century. Something, indeed, had already been done.
Spinoza, for instance (above, p. 138), and Simon, a Frenchman whose
books were burnt, were pioneers; and the modern criticism of the Old
Testament was begun by Astruc (professor of medicine at Paris), who
discovered an important clue for distinguishing different documents used
by the compiler of the Book of Genesis (1753). His German contemporary,
Reimarus, a student of the New Testament, anticipated the modern
conclusion that Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion, and
saw that the Gospel of St. John presents a different figure from the
Jesus of the other evangelists.

But in the nineteenth century the methods of criticism, applied by
German scholars to Homer and to the records of early Roman history, were
extended to the investigation of the Bible. The work has been done
principally in Germany. The old tradition that the Pentateuch was
written by Moses has been completely discredited. It is now

[193] agreed unanimously by all who have studied the facts that the
Pentateuch was put together from a number of different documents of
different ages, the earliest dating from the ninth, the last from the
fifth, century B.C.; and there are later minor additions. An important,
though undesigned, contribution was made to this exposure by an
Englishman, Colenso, Bishop of Natal. It had been held that the oldest
of the documents which had been distinguished was a narrative which
begins in Genesis, Chapter I, but there was the difficulty that this
narrative seemed to be closely associated with the legislation of
Leviticus which could be proved to belong to the fifth century. In 1862
Colenso published the first part of his Pentateuch and the Book of
Joshua Critically Examined. His doubts of the truth of Old Testament
history had been awakened by a converted Zulu who asked the intelligent
question whether he could really believe in the story of the Flood,
“that all the beasts and birds and creeping things upon the earth, large
and small, from hot countries and cold, came thus by pairs and entered
into the ark with Noah? And did Noah gather food for them all, for the
beasts and birds of prey as well as the rest?” The Bishop then proceeded
to test the accuracy of the inspired books by examining

[194] the numerical statements which they contain. The results were
fatal to them as historical records. Quite apart from miracles (the
possibility of which he did not question), he showed that the whole
story of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt and the wilderness was
full of absurdities and impossibilities. Colenso’s book raised a storm
of indignation in England—he was known as “the wicked bishop”; but on
the Continent its reception was very different. The portions of the
Pentateuch and Joshua, which he proved to be unhistorical, belonged
precisely to the narrative which had caused perplexity; and critics were
led by his results to conclude that, like the Levitical laws with which
it was connected, it was as late as the fifth century.

One of the most striking results of the researches on the Old Testament
has been that the Jews themselves handled their traditions freely. Each
of the successive documents, which were afterwards woven together, was
written by men who adopted a perfectly free attitude towards the older
traditions, and having no suspicion that they were of divine origin did
not bow down before their authority. It was reserved for the Christians
to invest with infallible authority the whole indiscriminate lump of
these Jewish documents, inconsistent not

[195] only in their tendencies (since they reflect the spirit of
different ages), but also in some respects in substance. The examination
of most of the other Old Testament books has led to conclusions likewise
adverse to the orthodox view of their origin and character. New
knowledge on many points has been derived from the Babylonian literature
which has been recovered during the last half century. One of the
earliest (1872) and most sensational discoveries was that the Jews got
their story of the Flood from Babylonian mythology.

Modern criticism of the New Testament began with the stimulating works
of Baur and of Strauss, whose Life of Jesus (1835), in which the
supernatural was entirely rejected, had an immense success and caused
furious controversy. Both these rationalists were influenced by Hegel.
At the same time a classical scholar, Lachmann, laid the foundations of
the criticism of the Greek text of the New Testament, by issuing the
first scientific edition. Since then seventy years of work have led to
some certain results which are generally accepted.

In the first place, no intelligent person who has studied modern
criticism holds the old view that each of the four biographies of Jesus
is an independent work and an independent

[196] testimony to the facts which are related. It is acknowledged that
those portions which are common to more than one and are written in
identical language have the same origin and represent only one
testimony. In the second place, it is allowed that the first Gospel is
not the oldest and that the apostle Matthew was not its author. There is
also a pretty general agreement that Mark’s book is the oldest. The
authorship of the fourth Gospel, which like the first was supposed to
have been written by an eye-witness, is still contested, but even those
who adhere to the tradition admit that it represents a theory about
Jesus which is widely different from the view of the three other

The result is that it can no longer be said that for the life of Jesus
there is the evidence of eye-witnesses. The oldest account (Mark) was
composed at the earliest some thirty years after the Crucifixion. If
such evidence is considered good enough to establish the supernatural
events described in that document, there are few alleged supernatural
occurrences which we shall not be equally entitled to believe. As a
matter of fact, an interval of thirty years makes little difference, for
we know that legends require little time to grow. In the East, you will
hear of miracles which happened the day before

[197] yesterday. The birth of religions is always enveloped in legend,
and the miraculous thing would be, as M. Salomon Reinach has observed,
if the story of the birth of Christianity were pure history.

Another disturbing result of unprejudiced examination of the first three
Gospels is that, if you take the recorded words of Jesus to be genuine
tradition, he had no idea of founding a new religion. And he was fully
persuaded that the end of the world was at hand. At present, the chief
problem of advanced criticism seems to be whether his entire teaching
was not determined by this delusive conviction.

It may be said that the advance of knowledge has thrown no light on one
of the most important beliefs that we are asked to accept on authority,
the doctrine of immortality. Physiology and psychology have indeed
emphasized the difficulties of conceiving a thinking mind without a
nervous system. Some are sanguine enough to think that, by scientific
examination of psychical phenomena, we may possibly come to know whether
the “spirits” of dead people exist. If the existence of such a world of
spirits were ever established, it would possibly be the greatest blow
ever sustained by Christianity. For the great appeal of this and of some
other religions

[198] lies in the promise of a future life of which otherwise we should
have no knowledge. If existence after death were proved and became a
scientific fact like the law of gravitation, a revealed religion might
lose its power. For the whole point of a revealed religion is that it is
not based on scientific facts. So far as I know, those who are
convinced, by spiritualistic experiments, that they have actual converse
with spirits of the dead, and for whom this converse, however delusive
the evidence may be, is a fact proved by experience, cease to feel any
interest in religion. They possess knowledge and can dispense with

The havoc which science and historical criticism have wrought among
orthodox beliefs during the last hundred years was not tamely submitted
to, and controversy was not the only weapon employed. Strauss was
deprived of his professorship at Tübingen, and his career was ruined.
Renan, whose sensational Life of Jesus also rejected the supernatural,
lost his chair in the Collège de France. Büchner was driven from
Tübingen (1855) for his book on Force and Matter, which, appealing to
the general public, set forth the futility of supernatural explanations
of the universe. An attempt was made to chase Haeckel from Jena. In
recent years,

[199] a French Catholic, the Abbé Loisy, has made notable contributions
to the study of the New Testament and he was rewarded by major
excommunication in 1907.

Loisy is the most prominent figure in a growing movement within the
Catholic Church known as Modernism—a movement which some think is the
gravest crisis in the history of the Church since the thirteenth
century. The Modernists do not form an organized party; they have no
programme. They are devoted to the Church, to its traditions and
associations, but they look on Christianity as a religion which has
developed, and whose vitality depends upon its continuing to develop.
They are bent on reinterpreting the dogmas in the light of modern
science and criticism. The idea of development had already been applied
by Cardinal Newman to Catholic theology. He taught that it was a
natural, and therefore legitimate, development of the primitive creed.
But he did not draw the conclusion which the Modernists draw that if
Catholicism is not to lose its power of growth and die, it must
assimilate some of the results of modern thought. This is what they are
attempting to do for it.

Pope Pius X has made every effort to suppress the Modernists. In 1907
(July) he

[200] issued a decree denouncing various results of modern Biblical
criticism which are defended in Loisy’s works. The two fundamental
propositions that “the organic constitution of the Church is not
immutable, but that Christian society is subject, like every human
society, to a perpetual evolution,” and that “the dogmas which the
Church regards as revealed are not fallen from heaven but are an
interpretation of religious facts at which the human mind laboriously
arrived”—both of which might be deduced from Newman’s writings—are
condemned. Three months later the Pope issued a long Encyclical letter,
containing an elaborate study of Modernist opinions, and ordaining
various measures for stamping out the evil. No Modernist would admit
that this document represents his views fairly. Yet some of the remarks
seem very much to the point. Take one of their books: “one page might be
signed by a Catholic; turn over and you think you are reading the work
of a rationalist. In writing history, they make no mention of Christ’s
divinity; in the pulpit, they proclaim it loudly.”

A plain man may be puzzled by these attempts to retain the letter of old
dogmas emptied of their old meaning, and may think it natural enough
that the head of the Catholic

[201] Church should take a clear and definite stand against the new
learning which, seems fatal to its fundamental doctrines. For many years
past, liberal divines in the Protestant Churches have been doing what
the Modernists are doing. The phrase “Divinity of Christ” is used, but
is interpreted so as not to imply a miraculous birth. The Resurrection
is preached, but is interpreted so as not to imply a miraculous bodily
resurrection. The Bible is said to be an inspired book, but inspiration
is used in a vague sense, much as when one says that Plato was inspired;
and the vagueness of this new idea of inspiration is even put forward as
a merit. Between the extreme views which discard the miraculous
altogether, and the old orthodoxy, there are many gradations of belief.
In the Church of England to-day it would be difficult to say what is the
minimum belief required either from its members or from its clergy.
Probably every leading ecclesiastic would give a different answer.

The rise of rationalism within the English Church is interesting and
illustrates the relations between Church and State.

The pietistic movement known as Evangelicalism, which Wilberforce’s
Practical View of Christianity (1797) did much to make popular,
introduced the spirit of Methodism

[202] within the Anglican Church, and soon put an end to the delightful
type of eighteenth-century divine, who, as Gibbon says, “subscribed with
a sigh or a smile” the articles of faith. The rigorous taboo of the
Sabbath was revived, the theatre was denounced, the corruption of human
nature became the dominant theme, and the Bible more a fetish than ever.
The success of this religious “reaction,” as it is called, was aided,
though not caused, by the common belief that the French Revolution had
been mainly due to infidelity; the Revolution was taken for an object
lesson showing the value of religion for keeping the people in order.
There was also a religious “reaction” in France itself. But in both
cases this means not that free thought was less prevalent, but that the
beliefs of the majority were more aggressive and had powerful spokesmen,
while the eighteenth-century form of rationalism fell out of fashion. A
new form of rationalism, which sought to interpret orthodoxy in such a
liberal way as to reconcile it with philosophy, was represented by
Coleridge, who was influenced by German philosophers. Coleridge was a
supporter of the Church, and he contributed to the foundation of a
school of liberal theology which was to make itself felt after the
middle of the century.

[203] Newman, the most eminent of the new High Church party, said that
he indulged in a liberty of speculation which no Christian could
tolerate. The High Church movement which marked the second quarter of
the century was as hostile as Evangelicalism to the freedom of religious

The change came after the middle of the century, when the effects of the
philosophies of Hegel and Comte, and of foreign Biblical criticism,
began to make themselves felt within the English Church. Two remarkable
freethinking books appeared at this period which were widely read, F. W.
Newman’s Phases of Faith and W. R. Greg’s Creed of Christendom (both in
1850). Newman (brother of Cardinal Newman) entirely broke with
Christianity, and in his book he describes the mental process by which
he came to abandon the beliefs he had once held. Perhaps the most
interesting point he makes is the deficiency of the New Testament
teaching as a system of morals. Greg was a Unitarian. He rejected dogma
and inspiration, but he regarded himself as a Christian. Sir J. F.
Stephen wittily described his position as that of a disciple “who had
heard the Sermon on the Mount, whose attention had not been called to
the Miracles, and who died before the Resurrection.”


There were a few English clergymen (chiefly Oxford men) who were
interested in German criticism and leaned to broad views, which to the
Evangelicals and High Churchmen seemed indistinguishable from
infidelity. We may call them the Broad Church—though the name did not
come in till later. In 1855 Jowett (afterwards Master of Balliol)
published an edition of some of St. Paul’s Epistles, in which he showed
the cloven hoof. It contained an annihilating criticism of the doctrine
of the Atonement, an explicit rejection of original sin, and a
rationalistic discussion of the question of God’s existence. But this
and some other unorthodox works of liberal theologians attracted little
public attention, though their authors had to endure petty persecution.
Five years later, Jowett and some other members of the small liberal
group decided to defy the “abominable system of terrorism which prevents
the statement of the plainest fact,” and issued a volume of Essays and
Reviews (1860) by seven writers of whom six were clergymen. The views
advocated in these essays seem mild enough to-day, and many of them
would be accepted by most well-educated clergymen, but at the time they
produced a very painful impression. The authors were called the “Seven
against Christ.” It was

[205] laid down that the Bible is to be interpreted like any other book.
“It is not a useful lesson for the young student to apply to Scripture
principles which he would hesitate to apply to other books; to make
formal reconcilements of discrepancies which he would not think of
reconciling in ordinary history; to divide simple words into double
meanings; to adopt the fancies or conjectures of Fathers and
Commentators as real knowledge.” It is suggested that the Hebrew
prophecies do not contain the element of prediction. Contradictory
accounts, or accounts which can only be reconciled by conjecture, cannot
possibly have been dictated by God. The discrepancies between the
genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, or between the accounts of the
Resurrection, can be attributed “neither to any defect in our capacities
nor to any reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, nor to any
partial spiritual endowments in the narrators.” The orthodox arguments
which lay stress on the assertion of witnesses as the supreme evidence
of fact, in support of miraculous occurrences, are set aside on the
ground that testimony is a blind guide and can avail nothing against
reason and the strong grounds we have for believing in permanent order.
It is argued that, under the Thirty-nine

[206] Articles, it is permissible to accept as “parable or poetry or
legend” such stories as that of an ass speaking with a man’s voice, of
waters standing in a solid heap, of witches and a variety of
apparitions, and to judge for ourselves of such questions as the
personality of Satan or the primeval institution of the Sabbath. The
whole spirit of this volume is perhaps expressed in the observation that
if any one perceives “to how great an extent the origin itself of
Christianity rests upon probable evidence, his principle will relieve
him from many difficulties which might otherwise be very disturbing. For
relations which may repose on doubtful grounds as matters of history,
and, as history, be incapable of being ascertained or verified, may yet
be equally suggestive of true ideas with facts absolutely certain”—that
is, they may have a spiritual significance although they are
historically false.

The most daring Essay was the Rev. Baden Powell’s Study of the Evidences
of Christianity. He was a believer in evolution, who accepted Darwinism,
and considered miracles impossible. The volume was denounced by the
Bishops, and in 1862 two of the contributors, who were beneficed
clergymen and thus open to a legal attack, were prosecuted and tried in
the Ecclesiastical Court. Condemned on

[207] certain points, acquitted on others, they were sentenced to be
suspended for a year, and they appealed to the Privy Council. Lord
Westbury (Lord Chancellor) pronounced the judgment of the Judicial
Committee of the Council, which reversed the decision of the
Ecclesiastical Court. The Committee held, among other things, that it is
not essential for a clergyman to believe in eternal punishment. This
prompted the following epitaph on Lord Westbury: “Towards the close of
his earthly career he dismissed Hell with costs and took away from
Orthodox members of the Church of England their last hope of everlasting

This was a great triumph for the Broad Church party, and it is an
interesting event in the history of the English State-Church. Laymen
decided (overruling the opinion of the Archbishops of Canterbury and
York) what theological doctrines are and are not binding on a clergyman,
and granted within the Church a liberty of opinion which the majority of
the Church’s representatives regarded as pernicious. This liberty was
formally established in 1865 by an Act of Parliament, which altered the
form in which clergymen were required to subscribe the Thirty-nine
Articles. The episode of Essays and Reviews is a landmark in the history
of religious thought in England.


The liberal views of the Broad Churchmen and their attitude to the Bible
gradually produced some effect upon those who differed most from them;
and nowadays there is probably no one who would not admit, at least,
that such a passage as Genesis, Chapter XIX, might have been composed
without the direct inspiration of the Deity.

During the next few years orthodox public opinion was shocked or
disturbed by the appearance of several remarkable books which
criticized, ignored, or defied authority—Lyell’s Antiquity of Man,
Seeley’s Ecce Homo (which the pious Lord Shaftesbury said was “vomited
from the jaws of hell”), Lecky’s History of Rationalism. And a new poet
of liberty arose who did not fear to sound the loudest notes of defiance
against all that authority held sacred. All the great poets of the
nineteenth century were more or less unorthodox; Wordsworth in the years
of his highest inspiration was a pantheist; and the greatest of all,
Shelley, was a declared atheist. In fearless utterance, in unfaltering
zeal against the tyranny of Gods and Governments, Swinburne was like
Shelley. His drama Atalanta in Calydon (1865), even though a poet is
strictly not answerable for what the persons in his drama say, yet with
its denunciation of “the supreme evil, God,” heralded the coming

[209] of a new champion who would defy the fortresses of authority. And
in the following year his Poems and Ballads expressed the spirit of a
pagan who flouted all the prejudices and sanctities of the Christian

But the most intense and exciting period of literary warfare against
orthodoxy in England began about 1869, and lasted for about a dozen
years, during which enemies of dogma, of all complexions, were less
reticent and more aggressive than at any other time in the century. Lord
Morley has observed that “the force of speculative literature always
hangs on practical opportuneness,” and this remark is illustrated by the
rationalistic literature of the seventies. It was a time of hope and
fear, of progress and danger. Secularists and rationalists were
encouraged by the Disestablishment of the Church in Ireland (1869), by
the Act which allowed atheists to give evidence in a court of justice
(1869), by the abolition of religious tests at all the universities (a
measure frequently attempted in vain) in 1871. On the other hand, the
Education Act of 1870, progressive though it was, disappointed the
advocates of secular education, and was an unwelcome sign of the
strength of ecclesiastical influence. Then there was the general alarm
felt in Europe by all outside the Roman Church,

[210] and by some within it, at the decree of the infallibility of the
Pope (by the Vatican Council 1869–70), and an Englishman (Cardinal
Manning) was one of the most active spirits in bringing about this
decree. It would perhaps have caused less alarm if the Pope’s
denunciation of modern errors had not been fresh in men’s memories. At
the end of 1864 he startled the world by issuing a Syllabus “embracing
the principal errors of our age.” Among these were the propositions,
that every man is free to adopt and profess the religion he considers
true, according to the light of reason; that the Church has no right to
employ force; that metaphysics can and ought to be pursued without
reference to divine and ecclesiastical authority; that Catholic states
are right to allow foreign immigrants to exercise their own religion in
public; that the Pope ought to make terms with progress, liberalism, and
modern civilization. The document was taken as a declaration of war
against enlightenment, and the Vatican Council as the first strategic
move of the hosts of darkness. It seemed that the powers of obscurantism
were lifting up their heads with a new menace, and there was an
instinctive feeling that all the forces of reason should be brought into
the field. The history of the last forty years shows that the theory of

[211] Infallibility, since it has become a dogma, is not more harmful
than it was before. But the efforts of the Catholic Church in the years
following the Council to overthrow the French Republic and to rupture
the new German Empire were sufficiently disquieting. Against this was to
be set the destruction of the temporal power of the Popes and the
complete freedom of Italy. This event was the sunrise of Swinburne’s
Songs before Sunrise (which appeared in 1871), a seedplot of atheism and
revolution, sown with implacable hatred of creeds and tyrants. The most
wonderful poem in the volume, the Hymn of Man, was written while the
Vatican Council was sitting. It is a song of triumph over the God of the
priests, stricken by the doom of the Pope’s temporal power. The
concluding verses will show the spirit.

“By thy name that in hellfire was written, and burned at the point of
thy sword, Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten; thy death is
upon thee, O Lord. And the lovesong of earth as thou diest resounds
through the wind of her wings— Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is
the master of things.”


The fact that such a volume could appear with impunity vividly
illustrates the English policy of enforcing the laws for blasphemy only
in the case of publications addressed to the masses.

Political circumstances thus invited and stimulated rationalists to come
forward boldly, but we must not leave out of account the influence of
the Broad Church movement and of Darwinism. The Descent of Man appeared
precisely in 1871. A new, undogmatic Christianity was being preached in
pulpits. Mr. Leslie Stephen remarked (1873) that “it may be said, with
little exaggeration, that there is not only no article in the creeds
which may not be contradicted with impunity, but that there is none
which may not be contradicted in a sermon calculated to win the
reputation of orthodoxy and be regarded as a judicious bid for a
bishopric. The popular state of mind seems to be typified in the well-
known anecdote of the cautious churchwarden, who, whilst commending the
general tendency of his incumbent’s sermon, felt bound to hazard a
protest upon one point. ‘You see, sir,’ as he apologetically explained,
‘I think there be a God.’ He thought it an error of taste or perhaps of
judgment, to hint a doubt as to the first article of the creed.”

The influence exerted among the cultivated

[213] classes by the aesthetic movement (Ruskin, Morris, the Pre-
Raphaelite painters; then Pater’s Lectures on the Renaissance, 1873) was
also a sign of the times. For the attitude of these critics, artists,
and poets was essentially pagan. The saving truths of theology were for
them as if they did not exist. The ideal of happiness was found in a
region in which heaven was ignored.

The time then seemed opportune for speaking out. Of the unorthodox books
and essays, [2] which influenced the young and alarmed believers, in
these exciting years, most were the works of men who may be most fairly
described by the comprehensive term agnostics—a name which had been
recently invented by Professor Huxley.

The agnostic holds that there are limits to human reason, and that
theology lies outside those limits. Within those limits lies the world
with which science (including psychology) deals. Science deals entirely
with phenomena, and has nothing to say to the nature of the ultimate
reality which may lie behind phenomena. There are four possible

[214] attitudes to this ultimate reality. There is the attitude of the
metaphysician and theologian, who are convinced not only that it exists
but that it can be at least partly known. There is the attitude of the
man who denies that it exists; but he must be also a metaphysician, for
its existence can only be disproved by metaphysical arguments. Then
there are those who assert that it exists but deny that we can know
anything about it. And finally there are those who say that we cannot
know whether it exists or not. These last are “agnostics” in the strict
sense of the term, men who profess not to know. The third class go
beyond phenomena in so far as they assert that there is an ultimate
though unknowable reality beneath phenomena. But agnostic is commonly
used in a wide sense so as to include the third as well as the fourth
class—those who assume an unknowable, as well as those who do not know
whether there is an unknowable or not. Comte and Spencer, for instance,
who believed in an unknowable, are counted as agnostics. The difference
between an agnostic and an atheist is that the atheist positively denies
the existence of a personal God, the agnostic does not believe in it.

The writer of this period who held agnosticism

[215] in its purest form, and who turned the dry light of reason on to
theological opinions with the most merciless logic, was Mr. Leslie
Stephen. His best-known essay, “An Agnostic’s Apology” (Fortnightly
Review, 1876), raises the question, have the dogmas of orthodox
theologians any meaning? Do they offer, for this is what we want, an
intelligible reconciliation of the discords in the universe? It is shown
in detail that the various theological explanations of the dealings of
God with man, when logically pressed, issue in a confession of
ignorance. And what is this but agnosticism? You may call your doubt a
mystery, but mystery is only the theological phrase for agnosticism.
“Why, when no honest man will deny in private that every ultimate
problem is wrapped in the profoundest mystery, do honest men proclaim in
pulpits that unhesitating certainty is the duty of the most foolish and
ignorant? We are a company of ignorant beings, dimly discerning light
enough for our daily needs, but hopelessly differing whenever we attempt
to describe the ultimate origin or end of our paths; and yet, when one
of us ventures to declare that we don’t know the map of the Universe as
well as the map of our infinitesimal parish, he is hooted, reviled,

[216] and perhaps told that he will be damned to all eternity for his
faithlessness.” The characteristic of Leslie Stephen’s essays is that
they are less directed to showing that orthodox theology is untrue as
that there is no reality about it, and that its solutions of
difficulties are sham solutions. If it solved any part of the mystery,
it would be welcome, but it does not, it only adds new difficulties. It
is “a mere edifice of moonshine.” The writer makes no attempt to prove
by logic that ultimate reality lies outside the limits of human reason.
He bases this conclusion on the fact that all philosophers hopelessly
contradict one another; if the subject-matter of philosophy were, like
physical science, within the reach of the intelligence, some agreement
must have been reached.

The Broad Church movement, the attempts to liberalize Christianity, to
pour its old wine into new bottles, to make it unsectarian and
undogmatic, to find compromises between theology and science, found no
favour in Leslie Stephen’s eyes, and he criticized all this with a
certain contempt. There was a controversy about the efficacy of prayer.
Is it reasonable, for instance, to pray for rain? Here science and
theology were at issue on a practical

[217] point which comes within the domain of science. Some theologians
adopted the compromise that to pray against an eclipse would be foolish,
but to pray for rain might be sensible. “One phenomenon,” Stephen wrote,
“is just as much the result of fixed causes as the other; but it is
easier for the imagination to suppose the interference of a divine agent
to be hidden away somewhere amidst the infinitely complex play of
forces, which elude our calculations in meteorological phenomena, than
to believe in it where the forces are simple enough to admit of
prediction. The distinction is of course invalid in a scientific sense.
Almighty power can interfere as easily with the events which are, as
with those which are not, in the Nautical Almanac. One cannot suppose
that God retreats as science advances, and that he spoke in thunder and
lightning till Franklin unravelled the laws of their phenomena.”

Again, when a controversy about hell engaged public attention, and some
otherwise orthodox theologians bethought themselves that eternal
punishment was a horrible doctrine and then found that the evidence for
it was not quite conclusive and were bold enough to say so, Leslie
Stephen stepped in to point out that, if so, historical

[218] Christianity deserves all that its most virulent enemies have said
about it in this respect. When the Christian creed really ruled men’s
consciences, nobody could utter a word against the truth of the dogma of
hell. If that dogma had not an intimate organic connection with the
creed, if it had been a mere unimportant accident, it could not have
been so vigorous and persistent wherever Christianity was strongest. The
attempt to eliminate it or soften it down is a sign of decline. “Now, at
last, your creed is decaying. People have discovered that you know
nothing about it; that heaven and hell belong to dreamland; that the
impertinent young curate who tells me that I shall be burnt
everlastingly for not sharing his superstition is just as ignorant as I
am myself, and that I know as much as my dog. And then you calmly say
again, ‘It is all a mistake. Only believe in a something —and we will
make it as easy for you as possible. Hell shall have no more than a fine
equable temperature, really good for the constitution; there shall be
nobody in it except Judas Iscariot and one or two others; and even the
poor Devil shall have a chance if he will resolve to mend his ways.’ ”

Mr. Matthew Arnold may, I suppose, be numbered among the agnostics, but
he was

[219] of a very different type. He introduced a new kind of criticism of
the Bible—literary criticism. Deeply concerned for morality and
religion, a supporter of the Established Church, he took the Bible under
his special protection, and in three works, St. Paul and Protestantism,
1870, Literature and Dogma, 1873, and God and the Bible, 1875, he
endeavoured to rescue that book from its orthodox exponents, whom he
regarded as the corrupters of Christianity. It would be just, he says,
“but hardly perhaps Christian,” to fling back the word infidel at the
orthodox theologians for their bad literary and scientific criticisms of
the Bible and to speak of “the torrent of infidelity which pours every
Sunday from our pulpits!” The corruption of Christianity has been due to
theology “with its insane licence of affirmation about God, its insane
licence of affirmation about immortality”; to the hypothesis of “a
magnified and non-natural man at the head of mankind’s and the world’s
affairs”; and the fancy account of God “made up by putting scattered
expressions of the Bible together and taking them literally.” He
chastises with urbane persiflage the knowledge which the orthodox think
they possess about the proceedings and plans of God. “To think they know
what passed in the Council of the

[220] Trinity is not hard to them; they could easily think they even
knew what were the hangings of the Trinity’s council-chamber.” Yet “the
very expression, the Trinity, jars with the whole idea and character of
Bible-religion; but, lest the Socinian should be unduly elated at
hearing this, let us hasten to add that so too, and just as much, does
the expression, a great Personal First Cause.” He uses God as the least
inadequate name for that universal order which the intellect feels after
as a law, and the heart feels after as a benefit; and defines it as “the
stream of tendency by which all things strive to fulfil the law of their
being.” He defined it further as a Power that makes for righteousness,
and thus went considerably beyond the agnostic position. He was
impatient of the minute criticism which analyzes the Biblical documents
and discovers inconsistencies and absurdities, and he did not appreciate
the importance of the comparative study of religions. But when we read
of a dignitary in a recent Church congress laying down that the
narratives in the books of Jonah and Daniel must be accepted because
Jesus quoted them, we may wish that Arnold were here to reproach the
orthodox for “want of intellectual seriousness.”

These years also saw the appearance of

[221] Mr. John Morley’s sympathetic studies of the French freethinkers
of the eighteenth century, Voltaire (1872), Rousseau (1873), and Diderot
(1878). He edited the Fortnightly Review, and for some years this
journal was distinguished by brilliant criticisms on the popular
religion, contributed by able men writing from many points of view. A
part of the book which he afterwards published under the title
Compromise appeared in the Fortnightly in 1874. In Compromise, “the
whole system of objective propositions which make up the popular belief
of the day” is condemned as mischievous, and it is urged that those who
disbelieve should speak out plainly. Speaking out is an intellectual
duty. Englishmen have a strong sense of political responsibility, and a
correspondingly weak sense of intellectual responsibility. Even minds
that are not commonplace are affected for the worse by the political
spirit which “is the great force in throwing love of truth and accurate
reasoning into a secondary place.” And the principles which have
prevailed in politics have been adopted by theology for her own use. In
the one case, convenience first, truth second; in the other, emotional
comfort first, truth second. If the immorality is less gross in the case
of religion,

[222] there is “the stain of intellectual improbity.” And this is a
crime against society, for “they who tamper with veracity from whatever
motive are tampering with the vital force of human progress.” The
intellectual insincerity which is here blamed is just as prevalent to-
day. The English have not changed their nature, the “political” spirit
is still rampant, and we are ruled by the view that because compromise
is necessary in politics it is also a good thing in the intellectual

The Fortnightly under Mr. Morley’s guidance was an effective organ of
enlightenment. I have no space to touch on the works of other men of
letters and of men of science in these combative years, but it is to be
noted that, while denunciations of modern thought poured from the
pulpits, a popular diffusion of freethought was carried on, especially
by Mr. Bradlaugh in public lectures and in his paper, the National
Reformer, not without collisions with the civil authorities.

If we take the cases in which the civil authorities in England have
intervened to repress the publication of unorthodox opinions during the
last two centuries, we find that the object has always been to prevent
the spread of freethought among the masses.

[223] The victims have been either poor, uneducated people, or men who
propagated freethought in a popular form. I touched upon this before in
speaking of Paine, and it is borne out by the prosecutions of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The unconfessed motive has been fear
of the people. Theology has been regarded as a good instrument for
keeping the poor in order, and unbelief as a cause or accompaniment of
dangerous political opinions. The idea has not altogether disappeared
that free thought is peculiarly indecent in the poor, that it is highly
desirable to keep them superstitious in order to keep them contented,
that they should be duly thankful for all the theological as well as
social arrangements which have been made for them by their betters. I
may quote from an essay of Mr. Frederic Harrison an anecdote which
admirably expresses the becoming attitude of the poor towards
ecclesiastical institutions. “The master of a workhouse in Essex was
once called in to act as chaplain to a dying pauper. The poor soul
faintly murmured some hopes of heaven. But this the master abruptly cut
short and warned him to turn his last thoughts towards hell. ‘And
thankful you ought to be,’ said he, ‘that you have a hell to go to.’ ”


The most important English freethinkers who appealed to the masses were
Holyoake, [3] the apostle of “secularism,” and Bradlaugh. The great
achievement for which Bradlaugh will be best remembered was the securing
of the right of unbelievers to sit in Parliament without taking an oath
(1888). The chief work to which Holyoake (who in his early years was
imprisoned for blasphemy) contributed was the abolition of taxes on the
Press, which seriously hampered the popular diffusion of knowledge. [4]
In England, censorship of the Press had long ago disappeared (above, p.
139); in most other European countries it was abolished in the course of
the nineteenth century. [5]

In the progressive countries of Europe there has been a marked growth of
tolerance (I do not mean legal toleration, but the tolerance

[225] of public opinion) during the last thirty years. A generation ago
Lord Morley wrote: “The preliminary stage has scarcely been reached—the
stage in which public opinion grants to every one the unrestricted right
of shaping his own beliefs, independently of those of the people who
surround him.” I think this preliminary stage has now been passed. Take
England. We are now far from the days when Dr. Arnold would have sent
the elder Mill to Botany Bay for irreligious opinions. But we are also
far from the days when Darwin’s Descent created an uproar. Darwin has
been buried in Westminster Abbey. To-day books can appear denying the
historical existence of Jesus without causing any commotion. It may be
doubted whether what Lord Acton wrote in 1877 would be true now: “There
are in our day many educated men who think it right to persecute.” In
1895, Lecky was a candidate for the representation of Dublin University.
His rationalistic opinions were indeed brought up against him, but he
was successful, though the majority of the constituents were orthodox.
In the seventies his candidature would have been hopeless. The old
commonplace that a freethinker is sure to be immoral is no longer heard.
We may say that we have now

[226] reached a stage at which it is admitted by every one who counts
(except at the Vatican), that there is nothing in earth or heaven which
may not legitimately be treated without any of the assumptions which in
old days authority used to impose.

In this brief review of the triumphs of reason in the nineteenth
century, we have been considering the discoveries of science and
criticism which made the old orthodoxy logically untenable. But the
advance in freedom of thought, the marked difference in the general
attitude of men in all lands towards theological authority to-day from
the attitude of a hundred years ago, cannot altogether be explained by
the power of logic. It is not so much criticism of old ideas as the
appearance of new ideas and interests that changes the views of men at
large. It is not logical demonstrations but new social conceptions that
bring about a general transformation of attitude towards ultimate
problems. Now the idea of the progress of the human race must, I think,
be held largely answerable for this change of attitude. It must, I
think, be held to have operated powerfully as a solvent of theological
beliefs. I have spoken of the teaching of Diderot and his friends that
man’s energies should be devoted to making the earth pleasant. A

[227] new ideal was substituted for the old ideal based on theological
propositions. It inspired the English Utilitarian philosophers (Bentham,
James Mill, J. S. Mill, Grote) who preached the greatest happiness of
the greatest number as the supreme object of action and the basis of
morality. This ideal was powerfully reinforced by the doctrine of
historical progress, which was started in France (1750) by Turgot, who
made progress the organic principle of history. It was developed by
Condorcet (1793), and put forward by Priestley in England. The idea was
seized upon by the French socialistic philosophers, Saint-Simon and
Fourier. The optimism of Fourier went so far as to anticipate the time
when the sea would be turned by man’s ingenuity into lemonade, when
there would be 37 million poets as great as Homer, 37 million writers as
great as Molière, 37 million men of science equal to Newton. But it was
Comte who gave the doctrine weight and power. His social philosophy and
his religion of Humanity are based upon it. The triumphs of science
endorsed it; it has been associated with, though it is not necessarily
implied in, the scientific theory of evolution; and it is perhaps fair
to say that it has been the guiding spiritual force of the nineteenth
century. It has introduced

[228] the new ethical principle of duty to posterity. We shall hardly be
far wrong if we say that the new interest in the future and the progress
of the race has done a great deal to undermine unconsciously the old
interest in a life beyond the grave; and it has dissolved the blighting
doctrine of the radical corruption of man.

Nowhere has the theory of progress been more emphatically recognized
than in the Monistic movement which has been exciting great interest in
Germany (1910–12). This movement is based on the ideas of Haeckel, who
is looked up to as the master; but those ideas have been considerably
changed under the influence of Ostwald, the new leader. While Haeckel is
a biologist, Ostwald’s brilliant work was done in chemistry and physics.
The new Monism differs from the old, in the first place, in being much
less dogmatic. It declares that all that is in our experience can be the
object of a corresponding science. It is much more a method than a
system, for its sole ultimate object is to comprehend all human
experience in unified knowledge. Secondly, while it maintains, with
Haeckel, evolution as the guiding principle in the history of living
things, it rejects his pantheism and his theory of thinking atoms. The
old mechanical theory of the

[229] physical world has been gradually supplanted by the theory of
energy, and Ostwald, who was one of the foremost exponents of energy,
has made it a leading idea of Monism. What has been called matter is, so
far as we know now, simply a complex of energies, and he has sought to
extend the “energetic” principle from physical or chemical to
biological, psychical, and social phenomena. But it is to be observed
that no finality is claimed for the conception of energy; it is simply
an hypothesis which corresponds to our present stage of knowledge, and
may, as knowledge advances, be superseded.

Monism resembles the positive philosophy and religion of Comte in so far
as it means an outlook on life based entirely on science and excluding
theology, mysticism, and metaphysics. It may be called a religion, if we
adopt Mr. MacTaggart’s definition of religion as “an emotion resting on
a conviction of the harmony between ourselves and the universe at
large.” But it is much better not to use the word religion in connexion
with it, and the Monists have no thought of finding a Monistic, as Comte
founded a Positivist, church. They insist upon the sharp opposition
between the outlook of science and the outlook of religion, and find the
mark of spiritual progress in the fact that religion is

[230] gradually becoming less indispensable. The further we go back in
the past, the more valuable is religion as an element in civilization;
as we advance, it retreats more and more into the background, to be
replaced by science. Religions have been, in principle, pessimistic, so
far as the present world is concerned; Monism is, in principle,
optimistic, for it recognizes that the process of his evolution has
overcome, in increasing measure, the bad element in man, and will go on
overcoming it still more. Monism proclaims that development and progress
are the practical principles of human conduct, while the Churches,
especially the Catholic Church, have been steadily conservative, and
though they have been unable to put a stop to progress have endeavoured
to suppress its symptoms—to bottle up the steam. [6] The Monistic
congress at Hamburg in 1911 had a success which surprised its promoters.
The movement bids fair to be a powerful influence in diffusing
rationalistic thought. [7]

If we take the three large States of

[231] Western Europe, in which the majority of Christians are Catholics,
we see how the ideal of progress, freedom of thought, and the decline of
ecclesiastical power go together. In Spain, where the Church has
enormous power and wealth and can still dictate to the Court and the
politicians, the idea of progress, which is vital in France and Italy,
has not yet made its influence seriously felt. Liberal thought indeed is
widely spread in the small educated class, but the great majority of the
whole population are illiterate, and it is the interest of the Church to
keep them so. The education of the people, as all enlightened Spaniards
confess, is the pressing need of the country. How formidable are the
obstacles which will have to be overcome before modern education is
allowed to spread was shown four years ago by the tragedy of Francisco
Ferrer, which reminded everybody that in one corner of Western Europe
the mediaeval spirit is still vigorous. Ferrer had devoted himself to
the founding of modern schools in the province of Catalonia (since
1901). He was a rationalist, and his schools, which had a marked
success, were entirely secular. The ecclesiastical authorities execrated
him, and in the summer of 1909 chance gave them the means of destroying
him. A strike of workmen at

[232] Barcelona developed into a violent revolution, Ferrer happened to
be in Barcelona for some days at the beginning of the movement, with
which he had no connection whatever, and his enemies seized the
opportunity to make him responsible for it. False evidence (including
forged documents) was manufactured. Evidence which would have helped his
case was suppressed. The Catholic papers agitated against him, and the
leading ecclesiastics of Barcelona urged the Government not to spare the
man who founded the modern schools, the root of all the trouble. Ferrer
was condemned by a military tribunal and shot (Oct. 13). He suffered in
the cause of reason and freedom of thought, though, as there is no
longer an Inquisition, his enemies had to kill him under the false
charge of anarchy and treason. It is possible that the indignation which
was felt in Europe and was most loudly expressed in France may prevent
the repetition of such extreme measures, but almost anything may happen
in a country where the Church is so powerful and so bigoted, and the
politicians so corrupt.

[1] From Greek monos, alone.

[2] Besides the works referred to in the text, may be mentioned: Winwood
Reade, Martyrdom of Man, 1871; Mill, Three Essays on Religion; W. R.
Cassels, Supernatural Religion; Tyndall, Address to British Association
at Belfast; Huxley, Animal Automatism; W. K. Clifford, Body and Mind;
all in 1874.

[3] It may be noted that Holyoake towards the end of his life helped to
found the Rationalist Press Association, of which Mr. Edward Clodd has
been for many years Chairman. This is the chief society in England for
propagating rationalism, and its main object is to diffuse in a cheap
form the works of freethinkers of mark (cp. Bibliography). I understand
that more than two million copies of its cheap reprints have been sold.

[4] The advertisement tax was abolished in 1853, the stamp tax in 1855,
the paper duty in 1861, and the optional duty in 1870.

[5] In Austria-Hungary the police have the power to suppress printed
matter provisionally. In Russia the Press was declared free in 1905 by
an Imperial decree, which, however, has become a dead letter. The
newspapers are completely under the control of the police.

[6] I have taken these points, illustrating the Monistic attitude to the
Churches, from Ostwald’s Monistic Sunday Sermons (German), 1911, 1912.

[7] I may note here that, as this is not a history of thought, I make no
reference to recent philosophical speculations (in America, England, and
France) which are sometimes claimed as tending to bolster up theology.
But they are all profoundly unorthodox.




MOST men who have been brought up in the free atmosphere of a modern
State sympathize with liberty in its long struggle with authority and
may find it difficult to see that anything can be said for the
tyrannical, and as they think extraordinarily perverse, policy by which
communities and governments persistently sought to stifle new ideas and
suppress free speculation. The conflict sketched in these pages appears
as a war between light and darkness. We exclaim that altar and throne
formed a sinister conspiracy against the progress of humanity. We look
back with horror at the things which so many champions of reason endured
at the hands of blind, if not malignant, bearers of authority.

But a more or less plausible case can be made out for coercion. Let us
take the most limited view of the lawful powers of society over its
individual members. Let us lay down, with Mill, that “the sole end for
which mankind are warranted, individually and collectively, in
interfering with the liberty of action of any of their members is self-
protection,” and that coercion is only justified

[234] for the prevention of harm to others. This is the minimum claim
the State can make, and it will be admitted that it is not only the
right but the duty of the State to prevent harm to its members. That is
what it is for. Now no abstract or independent principle is
discoverable, why liberty of speech should be a privileged form of
liberty of action, or why society should lay down its arms of defence
and fold its hands, when it is persuaded that harm is threatened to it
through the speech of any of its members. The Government has to judge of
the danger, and its judgment may be wrong; but if it is convinced that
harm is being done, is it not its plain duty to interfere?

This argument supplies an apology for the suppression of free opinion by
Governments in ancient and modern times. It can be urged for the
Inquisition, for Censorship of the Press, for Blasphemy laws, for all
coercive measures of the kind, that, if excessive or ill-judged, they
were intended to protect society against what their authors sincerely
believed to be grave injury, and were simple acts of duty. (This
apology, of course, does not extend to acts done for the sake of the
alleged good of the victims themselves, namely, to secure their future

Nowadays we condemn all such measures

[235] and disallow the right of the State to interfere with the free
expression of opinion. So deeply is the doctrine of liberty seated in
our minds that we find it difficult to make allowances for the coercive
practices of our misguided ancestors. How is this doctrine justified? It
rests on no abstract basis, on no principle independent of society
itself, but entirely on considerations of utility.

We saw how Socrates indicated the social value of freedom of discussion.
We saw how Milton observed that such freedom was necessary for the
advance of knowledge. But in the period during which the cause of
toleration was fought for and practically won, the argument more
generally used was the injustice of punishing a man for opinions which
he honestly held and could not help holding, since conviction is not a
matter of will; in other words, the argument that error is not a crime
and that it is therefore unjust to punish it. This argument, however,
does not prove the case for freedom of discussion. The advocate of
coercion may reply: We admit that it is unjust to punish a man for
private erroneous beliefs; but it is not unjust to forbid the
propagation of such beliefs if we are convinced that they are harmful;
it is not unjust to punish him, not for holding them, but for publishing
them. The truth

[236] is that, in examining principles, the word just is misleading. All
the virtues are based on experience, physiological or social, and
justice is no exception. Just designates a class of rules or principles
of which the social utility has been found by experience to be paramount
and which are recognized to be so important as to override all
considerations of immediate expediency. And social utility is the only
test. It is futile, therefore, to say to a Government that it acts
unjustly in coercing opinion, unless it is shown that freedom of opinion
is a principle of such overmastering social utility as to render other
considerations negligible. Socrates had a true instinct in taking the
line that freedom is valuable to society.

The reasoned justification of liberty of thought is due to J. S. Mill,
who set it forth in his work On Liberty, published in 1859. This book
treats of liberty in general, and attempts to fix the frontier of the
region in which individual freedom should be considered absolute and
unassailable. The second chapter considers liberty of thought and
discussion, and if many may think that Mill unduly minimized the
functions of society, underrating its claims as against the individual,
few will deny the justice of the chief arguments or question the general
soundness of his conclusions.


Pointing out that no fixed standard was recognized for testing the
propriety of the interference on the part of the community with its
individual members, he finds the test in self-protection, that is, the
prevention of harm to others. He bases the proposition not on abstract
rights, but on “utility, in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent
interests of man as a progressive being.” He then uses the following
argument to show that to silence opinion and discussion is always
contrary to those permanent interests. Those who would suppress an
opinion (it is assumed that they are honest) deny its truth, but they
are not infallible. They may be wrong, or right, or partly wrong and
partly right. (1) If they are wrong and the opinion they would crush is
true, they have robbed, or done their utmost to rob, mankind of a truth.
They will say: But we were justified, for we exercised our judgment to
the best of our ability, and are we to be told that because our judgment
is fallible we are not to use it? We forbade the propagation of an
opinion which we were sure was false and pernicious; this implies no
greater claim to infallibility than any act done by public authority. If
we are to act at all, we must assume our own opinion to be true. To this
Mill acutely replies: “There is the greatest difference

[238] between assuming an opinion to be true, because with every
opportunity for contesting it it has not been refuted, and assuming its
truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty
of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which
justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action, and on no
other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance
of being right.”

(2) If the received opinion which it is sought to protect against the
intrusion of error is true, the suppression of discussion is still
contrary to general utility. A received opinion may happen to be true
(it is very seldom entirely true); but a rational certainty that it is
so can only be secured by the fact that it has been fully canvassed but
has not been shaken.

Commoner and more important is (3) the case where the conflicting
doctrines share the truth between them. Here Mill has little difficulty
in proving the utility of supplementing one-sided popular truths by
other truths which popular opinion omits to consider. And he observes
that if either of the opinions which share the truth has a claim not
merely to be tolerated but to be encouraged, it is the one which happens
to be held by the minority, since this is the one “which

[239] for the time being represents the neglected interests.” He takes
the doctrines of Rousseau, which might conceivably have been suppressed
as pernicious. To the self-complacent eighteenth century those doctrines
came as “a salutary shock, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided
opinion.” The current opinions were indeed nearer to the truth than
Rousseau’s, they contained much less of error; “nevertheless there lay
in Rousseau’s doctrine, and has floated down the stream of opinion along
with it, a considerable amount of exactly those truths which the popular
opinion wanted; and these are the deposit which we left behind when the
flood subsided.”

Such is the drift of Mill’s main argument. The present writer would
prefer to state the justification of freedom of opinion in a somewhat
different form, though in accordance with Mill’s reasoning. The progress
of civilization, if it is partly conditioned by circumstances beyond
man’s control, depends more, and in an increasing measure, on things
which are within his own power. Prominent among these are the
advancement of knowledge and the deliberate adaptation of his habits and
institutions to new conditions. To advance knowledge and to correct
errors, unrestricted freedom of discussion is required.

[240] History shows that knowledge grew when speculation was perfectly
free in Greece, and that in modern times, since restrictions on inquiry
have been entirely removed, it has advanced with a velocity which would
seem diabolical to the slaves of the mediaeval Church. Then, it is
obvious that in order to readjust social customs, institutions, and
methods to new needs and circumstances, there must be unlimited freedom
of canvassing and criticizing them, of expressing the most unpopular
opinions, no matter how offensive to prevailing sentiment they may be.
If the history of civilization has any lesson to teach it is this: there
is one supreme condition of mental and moral progress which it is
completely within the power of man himself to secure, and that is
perfect liberty of thought and discussion. The establishment of this
liberty may be considered the most valuable achievement of modern
civilization, and as a condition of social progress it should be deemed
fundamental. The considerations of permanent utility on which it rests
must outweigh any calculations of present advantage which from time to
time might be thought to demand its violation.

It is evident that this whole argument depends on the assumption that
the progress of the race, its intellectual and moral development,

[241] is a reality and is valuable. The argument will not appeal to any
one who holds with Cardinal Newman that “our race’s progress and
perfectibility is a dream, because revelation contradicts it”; and he
may consistently subscribe to the same writer’s conviction that “it
would be a gain to this country were it vastly more superstitious, more
bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion, than at present it
shows itself to be.”

While Mill was writing his brilliant Essay, which every one should read,
the English Government of the day (1858) instituted prosecutions for the
circulation of the doctrine that it is lawful to put tyrants to death,
on the ground that the doctrine is immoral. Fortunately the prosecutions
were not persisted in. Mill refers to the matter, and maintains that
such a doctrine as tyrannicide (and, let us add, anarchy) does not form
any exception to the rule that “there ought to exist the fullest liberty
of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any
doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”

Exceptions, cases where the interference of the authorities is proper,
are only apparent, for they really come under another rule. For
instance, if there is a direct instigation

[242] to particular acts of violence, there may be a legitimate case for
interference. But the incitement must be deliberate and direct. If I
write a book condemning existing societies and defending a theory of
anarchy, and a man who reads it presently commits an outrage, it may
clearly be established that my book made the man an anarchist and
induced him to commit the crime, but it would be illegitimate to punish
me or suppress the book unless it contained a direct incitement to the
specific crime which he committed.

It is conceivable that difficult cases might arise where a government
might be strongly tempted, and might be urged by public clamour, to
violate the principle of liberty. Let us suppose a case, very
improbable, but which will make the issue clear and definite. Imagine
that a man of highly magnetic personality, endowed with a wonderful
power of infecting others with his own ideas however irrational, in
short a typical religious leader, is convinced that the world will come
to an end in the course of a few months. He goes about the country
preaching and distributing pamphlets; his words have an electrical
effect; and the masses of the uneducated and half-educated are persuaded
that they have indeed only a few weeks to prepare for the day of
Judgment. Multitudes leave their

[243] occupations, abandon their work, in order to spend the short time
that remains in prayer and listening to the exhortations of the prophet.
The country is paralyzed by the gigantic strike; traffic and industries
come to a standstill. The people have a perfect legal right to give up
their work, and the prophet has a perfect legal right to propagate his
opinion that the end of the world is at hand —an opinion which Jesus
Christ and his followers in their day held quite as erroneously. It
would be said that desperate ills have desperate remedies, and there
would be a strong temptation to suppress the fanatic. But to arrest a
man who is not breaking the law or exhorting any one to break it, or
causing a breach of the peace, would be an act of glaring tyranny. Many
will hold that the evil of setting back the clock of liberty would out-
balance all the temporary evils, great as they might be, caused by the
propagation of a delusion. It would be absurd to deny that liberty of
speech may sometimes cause particular harm. Every good thing sometimes
does harm. Government, for instance, which makes fatal mistakes; law,
which so often bears hardly and inequitably in individual cases. And can
the Christians urge any other plea for their religion when they are
unpleasantly reminded that it has caused untold

[244] suffering by its principle of exclusive salvation?

Once the principle of liberty of thought is accepted as a supreme
condition of social progress, it passes from the sphere of ordinary
expediency into the sphere of higher expediency which we call justice.
In other words it becomes a right on which every man should be able to
count. The fact that this right is ultimately based on utility does not
justify a government in curtailing it, on the ground of utility, in
particular cases.

The recent rather alarming inflictions of penalties for blasphemy in
England illustrate this point. It was commonly supposed that the
Blasphemy laws (see above, p. 139), though unrepealed, were a dead
letter. But since December, 1911, half a dozen persons have been
imprisoned for this offence. In these cases Christian doctrines were
attacked by poor and more or less uneducated persons in language which
may be described as coarse and offensive. Some of the judges seem to
have taken the line that it is not blasphemy to attack the fundamental
doctrines provided “the decencies of controversy” are preserved, but
that “indecent” attacks constitute blasphemy. This implies a new
definition of legal blasphemy, and is entirely contrary to the intention
of the laws. Sir

[245] J. F. Stephen pointed out that the decisions of judges from the
time of Lord Hale (XVIIth century) to the trial of Foote (1883) laid
down the same doctrine and based it on the same principle: the doctrine
being that it is a crime either to deny the truth of the fundamental
doctrines of the Christian religion or to hold them up to contempt or
ridicule; and the principle being that Christianity is a part of the law
of the land.

The apology offered for such prosecutions is that their object is to
protect religious sentiment from insult and ridicule. Sir J. F. Stephen
observed: “If the law were really impartial and punished blasphemy only,
because it offends the feelings of believers, it ought also to punish
such preaching as offends the feelings of unbelievers. All the more
earnest and enthusiastic forms of religion are extremely offensive to
those who do not believe them.” If the law does not in any sense
recognize the truth of Christian doctrine, it would have to apply the
same rule to the Salvation Army. In fact the law “can be explained and
justified only on what I regard as its true principle—the principle of
persecution.” The opponents of Christianity may justly say: If
Christianity is false, why is it to be attacked only in polite language?
Its goodness depends on its truth. If you

[246] grant its falsehood, you cannot maintain that it deserves special
protection. But the law imposes no restraint on the Christian, however
offensive his teaching may be to those who do not agree with him;
therefore it is not based on an impartial desire to prevent the use of
language which causes offence; therefore it is based on the hypothesis
that Christianity is true; and therefore its principle is persecution.

Of course, the present administration of the common law in regard to
blasphemy does not endanger the liberty of those unbelievers who have
the capacity for contributing to progress. But it violates the supreme
principle of liberty of opinion and discussion. It hinders uneducated
people from saying in the only ways in which they know how to say it,
what those who have been brought up differently say, with impunity, far
more effectively and far more insidiously. Some of the men who have been
imprisoned during the last two years, only uttered in language of
deplorable taste views that are expressed more or less politely in books
which are in the library of a bishop unless he is a very ignorant
person, and against which the law, if it has any validity, ought to have
been enforced. Thus the law, as now administered, simply penalizes bad
taste and places disabilities

[247] upon uneducated freethinkers. If their words offend their audience
so far as to cause a disturbance, they should be prosecuted for a breach
of public order, [1] not because their words are blasphemous. A man who
robs or injures a church, or even an episcopal palace, is not prosecuted
for sacrilege, but for larceny or malicious damage or something of the

The abolition of penalties for blasphemy was proposed in the House of
Commons (by Bradlaugh) in 1889 and rejected. The reform is urgently
needed. It would “prevent the recurrence at irregular intervals of
scandalous prosecutions which have never in any one instance benefited
any one, least of all the cause which they were intended to serve, and
which sometimes afford a channel for the gratification of private malice
under the cloak of religion.” [2]

The struggle of reason against authority has ended in what appears now
to be a decisive and permanent victory for liberty. In the most
civilized and progressive countries, freedom of discussion is recognized
as a

[248] fundamental principle. In fact, we may say it is accepted as a
test of enlightenment, and the man in the street is forward in
acknowledging that countries like Russia and Spain, where opinion is
more or less fettered, must on that account be considered less civilized
than their neighbours. All intellectual people who count take it for
granted that there is no subject in heaven or earth which ought not to
be investigated without any deference or reference to theological
assumptions. No man of science has any fear of publishing his
researches, whatever consequences they may involve for current beliefs.
Criticism of religious doctrines and of political and social
institutions is free. Hopeful people may feel confident that the victory
is permanent; that intellectual freedom is now assured to mankind as a
possession for ever; that the future will see the collapse of those
forces which still work against it and its gradual diffusion in the more
backward parts of the earth. Yet history may suggest that this prospect
is not assured. Can we be certain that there may not come a great set-
back? For freedom of discussion and speculation was, as we saw, fully
realized in the Greek and Roman world, and then an unforeseen force, in
the shape of Christianity, came in and laid chains upon the human mind

[249] suppressed freedom and imposed upon man a weary struggle to
recover the freedom which he had lost. Is it not conceivable that
something of the same kind may occur again? that some new force,
emerging from the unknown, may surprise the world and cause a similar

The possibility cannot be denied, but there are some considerations
which render it improbable (apart from a catastrophe sweeping away
European culture). There are certain radical differences between the
intellectual situation now and in antiquity. The facts known to the
Greeks about the nature of the physical universe were few. Much that was
taught was not proved. Compare what they knew and what we know about
astronomy and geography—to take the two branches in which (besides
mathematics) they made most progress. When there were so few
demonstrated facts to work upon, there was the widest room for
speculation. Now to suppress a number of rival theories in favour of one
is a very different thing from suppressing whole systems of established
facts. If one school of astronomers holds that the earth goes round the
sun, another that the sun goes round the earth, but neither is able to
demonstrate its proposition, it is easy for an authority, which has
coercive power,

[250] to suppress one of them successfully. But once it is agreed by all
astronomers that the earth goes round the sun, it is a hopeless task for
any authority to compel men to accept a false view. In short, because
she is in possession of a vast mass of ascertained facts about the
nature of the universe, reason holds a much stronger position now than
at the time when Christian theology led her captive. All these facts are
her fortifications. Again, it is difficult to see what can arrest the
continuous progress of knowledge in the future. In ancient times this
progress depended on a few; nowadays, many nations take part in the
work. A general conviction of the importance of science prevails to-day,
which did not prevail in Greece. And the circumstance that the advance
of material civilization depends on science is perhaps a practical
guarantee that scientific research will not come to an abrupt halt. In
fact science is now a social institution, as much as religion.

But if science seems pretty safe, it is always possible that in
countries where the scientific spirit is held in honour, nevertheless,
serious restrictions may be laid on speculations touching social,
political, and religious questions. Russia has men of science inferior
to none, and Russia has its notorious censorship. It

[251] is by no means inconceivable that in lands where opinion is now
free coercion might be introduced. If a revolutionary social movement
prevailed, led by men inspired by faith in formulas (like the men of the
French Revolution) and resolved to impose their creed, experience shows
that coercion would almost inevitably be resorted to. Nevertheless,
while it would be silly to suppose that attempts may not be made in the
future to put back the clock, liberty is in a far more favourable
position now than under the Roman Empire. For at that time the social
importance of freedom of opinion was not appreciated, whereas now, in
consequence of the long conflict which was necessary in order to re-
establish it, men consciously realize its value. Perhaps this conviction
will be strong enough to resist all conspiracies against liberty.
Meanwhile, nothing should be left undone to impress upon the young that
freedom of thought is an axiom of human progress. It may be feared,
however, that this is not likely to be done for a long time to come. For
our methods of early education are founded on authority. It is true that
children are sometimes exhorted to think for themselves. But the parent
or instructor who gives this excellent advice is confident that the
results of the child’s thinking for

[252] himself will agree with the opinions which his elders consider
desirable. It is assumed that he will reason from principles which have
already been instilled into him by authority. But if his thinking for
himself takes the form of questioning these principles, whether moral or
religious, his parents and teachers, unless they are very exceptional
persons, will be extremely displeased, and will certainly discourage
him. It is, of course, only singularly promising children whose freedom
of thought will go so far. In this sense it might be said that “distrust
thy father and mother” is the first commandment with promise. It should
be a part of education to explain to children, as soon as they are old
enough to understand, when it is reasonable, and when it is not, to
accept what they are told, on authority.

[1] Blasphemy is an offence in Germany; but it must be proved that
offence has actually been given, and the penalty does not exceed
imprisonment for three days.

[2] The quotations are from Sir J. F. Stephen’s article, “Blasphemy and
Blasphemous Libel,” in the Fortnightly Review, March, 1884, pp. 289–318.



Lecky, W. E. H., History of the Rise and Influence of the
   Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, 2 vols. (originally published
   in 1865). White, A. D., A History of the Warfare
   of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols., 1896.
   Robertson, J. M., A Short History of Free-thought, Ancient
   and Modern, 2 vols., 1906.       [Comprehensive, but the
   notices of the leading freethinkers are necessarily brief, as
   the field covered is so large.   The judgments are always
   independent.]    Benn, A. W., The History of English
   Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols., 1906.
   [Very full and valuable]

        Greek Thought
Gomperz, Th., Greek Thinkers (English translation), 4 vols.

        English Deists
Stephen, Leslie, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth
   Century, vol. i, 1881.

        French Freethinkers of Eighteenth Century
Morley,   J., Voltaire; Diderot     and     the Encyclopaedists;
   Rousseau (see above, Chapter VI).

        Rationalistic Criticism of the Bible
           (Nineteenth Century)
Articles in Encyclopoedia Biblica, 4 vols.  Duff, A., History of
   Old Testament Criticism, 1910.   Conybeare, F. C., History
   of New Testament Criticism, 1910.

        Persecution and Inquisition
Lea, H., A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 3
   vols., 1888; A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols.,
   1906.  Haynes, E. S. P., Religious Persecution, 1904.
   For the case of Ferrer see Archer, W., The Life, Trial
   and Death of Francisco Ferrer, 1911, and McCabe, J.,
   The Martyrdom of Ferrer, 1909.

Ruffini, F., Religious Liberty (English translation), 1912.
   The essays of L. Luzzatti. Liberty of Conscience and
   Science (Italian), are suggestive.



Aesthetic movement, 213
Agnosticism, meaning of, 213 sq.
Albigeois, persecution of, 58
Anabaptists, 78, 95, 125
Anatomy, 65
Anaxagoras, 27
Annet, Peter, 172
Anthropology, 189
Anthropomorphism. 23
Aristotle, 35, 68, 69
Arnold, Matthew, 218 sqq.
Asoka, 92
Astronomy, 87—90
Atheism, 103, 113, 123, 132, 158
Athens, 27 sqq.
Augustine, St., 55
Austria-Hungary, 122, 224
Authority, meaning of, 14 sqq.
Averroism, 88

Bacon, Roger, 85
Bahrdt, 175
Rain, A., 188
Bayle, 107 sq., 135 sqq.
Benn, A. W, 152
Bible, O. T., 192 sqq.; N. T., 195 sqq
Bible-worship, 82, 201
Blasphemy laws, 23, 88, 139 sq., 244 sqq.
Bolingbroke, 153
Bradlaugh, 228, 247
Bruno, Giordano, 84
Büchner, 188
Buckle, 188
Butler, Bishop, Analogy, 151 sq.

Calvin, 78
Cassels, W
Castellion, 94
Causation, Law of, 183 sq.
Charron. 75
Cicero, 39
Clifford, W. K., 213
Clodd, Edward, 224
Colenso, Bishop, 193
Collins, Anthony, 141
Comte, Auguste. 188 sq., 229
Concordat of 1801, French, 115

Condorcet, 227
Congregationalists (Independents), 95, 99, 100
Constantine I, Emperor, 47, 51
Copernicus, 87

Darwin; Darwinism, 180, 182, 225
Defoe, Daniel, 104 sq.
Deism, 137 sqq.
Democritus, 25
Descartes, 129, 131
Design, argument from, 181, 178
D’Holbach, 158
Diderot, 158 sq.
Diocletian, Emperor, 45
Disestablishment, 104, 108
Dodwell, Henry, 147
Domitian, Emperor, 42
Double Truth, 68 sq., 134

Edelmann, 175
Epicureanism, 36 sqq., 84
Essays and Review, 204 sqq.
Euripides, 29
Exclusive salvation, 52 sq., 63, 78

Ferrer, Francisco, 231 sq.
Fortnightly Review, 221
Fourier, 227
France, 74, 100 sqq., 152 sqq.
Frederick the Great, 120 sq.
Frederick II, Emperor, 58, 70
Free thought, meaning of, 18

Galileo de’ Galilei, 87 sqq.
Gassendi, 130
Geology, 178 sq.
Germany, 78 sqq., 117 sqq., 174 sqq.
Gibbon, 82, 162 sqq.
Goethe, 175
Greg, W. R., 203
Gregory IX, Pope, 57
Gregory XVI, Encyclical of, 123 sq.

Haeckel, 187, 228
Hale, Lord Chief Justice, 139
Harrison, Frederic, 188, 223
Hegel, 184 sqq.
Hell, controversy on, 217

Helmholtz, 182
Heraclitus, 25
Herbert of Cherbury, Lord, 149
Hippocrates, 64
Hobbes, 130 sq.
Holland, 95, 107, 130, 131
Holyoake, 224
Homer, 24
Hume, 160 sqq.
Huxley, 213

Independents, 95, 98 sq.
Infallibility, Papal, 210 sq.
Innocent III, Pope, 56
Innocent IV, Pope, 57
Innocent VIII, Pope, 67
Inquisition, 57 sqq.;  Spanish, 59 sqq.; Roman, 83, 84, 87 sqq.
Italy, 122 sqq., 210

James I (England). 85 sq.
Jews, 41 sqq., 68, 99, 105, 111, 194
Joseph II, Emperor, 122
Jowett, Benjamin, 204 sq.
Julian, Emperor, 54
Justice, arguments from, 235

Kant, 175 sq.
Kett, Francis, 85
Kyd, 85

Laplace, 178
Lecky. W. H., 208, 225
Legate, Bartholomew, 86
Lessing, 71, 120
Linnaeus, 177
Locke, 101 sqq., 120, 132 sq.
Loisy, Abbé, 200 sq.
Lucian, 40
Lucretius, 37 sq.
Luther, 77 sq., 81
Lyell, 178, 208

Manning, Cardinal, 210
Marlowe, Christopher, 85
Marsilius, 119
Maryland, 97 sq.
Mazarin, Cardinal, 85, 107
Middleton, Conyers, 150, 164
Mill, James, 151, 227
Mill, J. S., 182, 213, 227, 233, 235 sqq.
Milton, 99 sq.
Mirabeau, 112
Miracles, 141 sqq., 151, 180, 164 sq., 206
Modernism, 199 sqq.
Mohammedan free thought, 68
Monism, 188, 228 sqq.

Montaigne, 74
Morley, Lord (Mr. John), 159, 209, 221 sq., 225

Nantes, Edict of, 107
Napoleon I, 115
Newman, Cardinal, 199, 241
Newman, F. W., 203

Ostwald, Professor, 228 sqq.

Paine, Thomas, 112, 168 sqq.
Paley, 167 sqq.
Pascal, 123, 152 sq.
Pater, 213
Pentateuch, 192 sq.
Pericles, 27
Persecution, theory of, 47 sqq., 232 sqq.
Pitt, William, 151
Pius IX, Syllabus, 210 sq.
Pius X, Pope, 199 sq.
Plato, 36 sq.
Plutarch, 150
Prayer, controversy on, 216
Press, censorship, 91 sq., 224 sq.
Priestley, 227
Priscillian, 55
Progress, idea of, 226 sqq.
Protagoras, 25

Raleigh, Sir W., 85
Rationalism, meaning of, 18
Reade, Winwood, 213
Reinach, S., 197
Renan, 198
Revolution, French, 111 sqq.
Rhode Island, 98
Richelieu, Cardinal, 85, 107
Rousseau. 111, 156 sqq., 239
Ruffini, Professor, 125
Russia, 224

Sacred books, 24, 53 sq., 191
Science, physical, 64 sq., 176 sqq.
Secularism, 224
Seeley, J. R., 208
Servetus, 79
Shaftesbury. 148 sqq., 151
Shelley, 173, 208
Socinianism, 83, 93 sqq.
Socrates, 30 sqq., 39, 235, 236
Sophists, Greek, 26
Spain, 59 sqq., 231 sq.
Spencer, Herbert. 187
Spinoza, 131 sq., 138, 191
Stephen. Leslie, 167, 215 sqq.
Stephen, J. F.. 203, 245 sq., 247
Stoicism, 36, 38 sq.

Strauss, David, 195, 198
Swinburne. 208, 211 sq.

Tamburini. 122
Tatian, 44
Themistius, 55
Theodosius I, Emperor, 54
Theophilanthropy, 114 sq.
Thomas Aquinas, 69
Thomasius, Chr., 119
Three Rings, story of, 70
Tiherius, Emperor, 40
Tindal, Matthew, 144 sqq.
Toland, 133 sq.
Toleration, 46 sqq., 92 sqq.
Trajan, Emperor, 42
Turgot, 227
Tyndall, 213

Unitarians, 93, 105
United States, 96 sqq., 128
Universities, tests at, 108
Utilitarianism, 227

Vanini, Lucilio, 85
Vatican Council (1869—70), 210
Voltaire, 108 sqq., 114, 121, 153 sqq.

Wesley, 130
Westbury, Lord, 207
Wilberforce, 201
Williams, Roger, 96 sq.
Witchcraft, 66 sq., 80, 129 sq.
Woolston, 141 sqq.

Xenophanes, 23 sq.

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