A Lost Cause? The Cause for the Canonization of King James II (Invited Commentary)

Invited Commentary by Andrew Starkie
A Lost Cause? The Cause for the Canonization of King James II
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.1
Cite: Starkie, Andrew. 2019. “A Lost Cause? The Cause for the Canonization of King James II” (Invited Commentary).” Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1 (2): 6-9.

When we venerate St. Edward [the Confessor] we venerate a failure.”1 Ronald Knox’s assessment of this last English king of his dynasty is a reminder that the Christian cult of the saints is more concerned about things eternal than it is with things temporal. Nevertheless, for that very reason, it has important consequences for this present world. Examination must be made into the manner of life and (more important) death of the candidate for sainthood, if he or she is to be (as saints are) held up as an exemplar of Christian living. Once declared a saint, the gravity of immortality attracts future generations of devotees to petition this once frail human being, now a courtier of heaven, a powerful intercessor before the throne of the Almighty.

While Edward the Confessor has been successfully “raised to the altars,” two other English kings have been acclaimed as saints at one time but, despite having begun the required legal process, have not had their cult authenticated by the Catholic Church, and their “cause” appears to be dormant. The first of these, Henry VI, was promoted in Henry VII’s reign but fell by the wayside during Henry VIII’s, after the king disowned papal authority. There was an attempt to revive the cause in the late 1950s, as a result of correspondence in the Catholic press; the cause was even the subject of a leader article as well as several letters in The Times in 1972.2 More recently, the Catholic press has taken notice of that other English (and Scottish and Irish) king who was at one time acclaimed a saint, and whose cause appears not only lost but long forgotten—James II.3

James was educated in the faith of the Church of England, for adherence to which (he understood) his father had been martyred. His early life was overshadowed by civil war, confinement, and exile. The experience of exile had, however, exposed him to a breadth of European Catholic culture. He recounted that while in Flanders he was advised by a nun to pray each day that if “he was not in the right way, [God] would bring him to it.” Not least among the Catholic influences upon James was his mother, Henrietta Maria, whose own Catholic faith was very strong. The exact date of James’s conversion to the Catholic faith is uncertain, though it probably dates from between 1669 and 1672 (from which time he refused to attend any services of the Church of England). It was prompted (with that of his wife, Anne Hyde) by reading Peter Heylyn’s history of the English Reformation—written, ironically, as a defense of the Church of England, though critical of the desecration that characterized the Reformation and sympathetic to the medieval Catholicism that it supplanted.4

James’s conversion to the Catholic faith fiercely divided each of his three kingdoms, threatening to rekindle the embers of the Civil War. The political divisions that characterized English society for over a century were in immediate response to his conversion. Those who opposed his succession to the throne were labeled (as a term of abuse) “whigs”; those who supported it were similarly labeled “tories.”

His brief reign saw the flowering of a native Catholic culture that had lain dormant since the Elizabethan state had all but destroyed it. Catholic Mass was celebrated publicly. Friars walked the streets of London, and the streets of the university towns, in their habits. Catholic works appeared in print without fear of the censor, and they provoked vigorous religious controversy with defenders of the Church of England. James’s visit to the ancient shrine of St. Winefride in Holywell, Flintshire, in 1686 with his second wife, Mary of Modena, to pray for a son and heir, resurrected a tradition of royal pilgrimages that reached back to Henry V’s thanksgiving for the victory at Agincourt and beyond. When the prayers of St. Winefride were answered, the prospect of a succession of Catholicism and popular monarchy (“popery” and “slavery”) led a fearful Protestant aristocracy to resort to arms.

Although becoming a Catholic defined James’s life, and his place in British history, James’s Catholicism was in some ways not typically Catholic. As Hilaire Belloc once noted (in a perceptive study), James “had not the gaiety of the Faith. . . . He had not the tenderness of it.”5 Although, while duke of York, James appeared conscientiously untroubled by his pursuit of mistresses (Charles II famously jested that his brother’s unattractive mistresses were given him by his Jesuit confessor as a penance), there was already an austerity in his spiritual temperament that would later find a home while in exile at Saint Germain in the Abbey of La Trappe.

There is little in James II’s life before his usurpation by William of Orange in 1688 and his exile in Saint Germain en Laye that would warrant the claim of sainthood. After 1688, James devoted himself to penitence and piety. The polemical whig bishop Gilbert Burnet stands at the head of a long tradition of English historiography in which James’s penitence after 1688 appears to be a morbid reaction to his political failure, rather than evidence of heroic virtue.6 James II’s devotional life in exile looks less eccentric, however, taken within the context of European counterreformation Catholicism.

The idea that suffering was a providential means of expiating sin was a normal part of mainstream Catholic thought in the seventeenth century. It gave a redemptive quality to James’s understanding of his sufferings.7 James’s religious life centered on the Mass, which he heard twice a day; he received Holy Communion twice a week and participated in the church’s official prayers each day. He was a member of a popular confraternity Bona Mors (Happy Death), which encouraged members to live well by having an awareness of the fragility of life.8 The Jesuits were a strong influence on his devotional life—something he shared with Mary of Modena—as, too, was the Visitation Convent at Chaillot in Paris, which had been founded by St. Francis de Sales. James continually read from Francis de Sales’s popular works, Treatise on the Love of God and Introduction to the Devout Life, which emphasized practical Christian living and the holiness of the lay vocation.9

It was, however, the Abbey of La Trappe, a place of monastic austerity, that became James’s spiritual home. It had been reformed by the abbot, Armand Jean de Rancé, who turned into something of a spiritual guide to James. Rancé had himself experienced a spiritual conversion, which led him to emphasize the need for manual labor as a penitential element of the monastic life. This enthusiasm was not everywhere well received, and Rancé was unjustly accused of Jansenism by his enemies.10 Despite the polarization of French Catholicism in the public controversy of this era, James does not appear to have had any difficulty in holding together Jesuit, Salesian, and Trappist influences in his own spiritual life. In a letter to Rancé, James confessed, “Til I was with you I did not enjoy that contempt of the world which now I am sencible of.”11 It was by his patience in his exile, his suffering, and, finally, his death in 1701, that James inspired the cult that would lead to calls for his beatification—the first stage on the road to canonization, or recognition as a saint by the Catholic Church.

Canonization is one of those points at which popular devotion and ecclesiastical authority meet. In Catholic teaching, the soul, separated from the body by death, experiences an immediate judgment. If the soul has not been saved by God’s grace, it is consigned to hell (or, if not deserving of hell, “limbo”); if it has reached perfection (for example, through the witness of martyrdom), it is admitted immediately to heaven, to the beatific vision of God; if it is saved but not perfect, it must be purified in purgatory. If a soul is in heaven, then that person is a saint. All canonized saints are in heaven, but not all those in heaven are canonized saints, and it is presumed that many inhabitants of heaven are unknown and unrecognized.12

Popular devotion from the earliest Christian centuries has sought the intercession of the saints, for example, by making pilgrimage to the relics of the martyrs, and especially by seeking miraculous healing. The cult of a saint would be promoted by making images or by writing the life of the saint. If genuine, this cult was understood in Catholic theology to be the work of God, helping people on earth through the example and intercession of the saints in heaven. However, from very early in its history, bishops saw the need to regulate the cult of the saints, in order to prevent the faithful from seeking the help of spurious, fictional, heretical, or scandalous “saints.” Local bishops therefore asserted the right to determine by “beatification” the cult of the saints within their own dioceses. Since about the tenth century, with the centralization of church authority, the papacy asserted its right to determine by “canonization” which saints might be allowed a cult throughout the Catholic Church, and eventually this papal authority extended to “beatification” as well (so that “beatification” became a step on the way to “canonization”). Canon law developed to assess the testimony of witnesses and to determine the genuineness of the miraculous healings that were necessary to demonstrate that the saint was indeed in heaven, and able to intercede powerfully before God.13

By the eighteenth century a body constituted by the pope known as the Congregation of Rites was responsible for regulating the process of both beatification and canonization. In practice it functioned as a brake on the enthusiasms of popular cults, maintaining a rule that fifty years must have elapsed after a person’s death before canonization, and there were relatively few canonizations in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.14

The cult of James II, which was evident almost immediately upon his death in 1701, drew on an English tradition of devotion to sacred kingship, notably in the cults of Charles I and Edward the Confessor.15 Indeed, it has been argued that devotion to James II “after his death, springs rather more from the Anglican tradition of devotion to the Glorious Royal Martyr Charles I, than from the reputation of James II’s sanctity within a Catholic ambience during his last few years in exile.”[16] Much was made of the fact that the king died at three o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday, the time and day of Christ’s death on the cross, and that his illness was first evident when he fainted in the chapel on Good Friday.17

James’s body was taken to the English Benedictines’ church in Paris, where the prior spoke of receiving “the joyful relics of a most Holy Confessor, perhaps even a Revered Martyr.”18 He was described at his funeral as “a victim for his Church and his Religion.”19 The funerary chapel became a place of pilgrimage, and there were many reports of healings. On 15 June 1702 Cardinal de Noailles, archbishop of Paris, asked Joachim de la Chétardie “to examine ye Truth of ye King’s miracles . . . to serve for his Canonization at Rome.” From the large number of testimonies, de la Chétardie verified nineteen miracles as authentic. Both the English Benedictines in Paris and the Visitation nuns at Chaillot compiled accounts of miracles on behalf of the widowed queen. In one account, an Ursuline nun recounted a cure brought about through a piece of cloth that had been dipped in James’s blood while he was being embalmed, testimony that echoed the accounts of similar relics taken following the beheading of Charles I.20

During the following years, the cause appeared to have lost impetus, but it was renewed in 1734, when the English Benedictine Abbot Southcott drew up “memorials” of the king’s life from eye witnesses, for submission to the Congregation of Rites in Rome. In January 1735 the cause was ready to be transmitted to Rome. When Benedict XIV was elected pope in 1740 the cause was still proceeding, but after that it appears to have quietly lapsed.21

Canonization retains its importance, both for its spiritual purpose and for its wider symbolism, for it seems to give the last word on whether the saint is truly among the sheep or the goats, which in our contemporary dialectical political discourse is an invitation to be outraged.22 James II’s political troubles may not, in our own age, seem compelling reasons for his elevation to the altars. His penitence for his waywardness, however, and his devotion to things eternal, have all the hallmarks of sincerity about them, and a perennial relevance.

The House of Stuart spent several decades of the eighteenth century and considerable resources pursuing the beatification of James II without success. In more recent years one offspring of that dynasty has, however, been beatified. On 25 January 2014 the pope recognized Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy (1812–36) among the Blessed. She was a direct descendent of James II’s sister, Henrietta. Her feast day, 31 January, falls the day after the Anglican commemoration of Charles I.


[1] Philip Caraman, ed., Occasional Sermons of Ronald A. Knox (London: Burns and Oats, 1960), 26

[2] Ralph A. Griffiths, The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 1; see also http://www.henrysixth.com/?page_id=19.

[3] Charles Coulombe, “The Forgotten Canonisation Cause of King James II,” Catholic Herald, 5 March 2019, https://catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2019/03/05/the-forgotten-canonisation-cause-of-king-james-ii/.

[4] Geoffrey Scott, “The Court as a Centre of Catholicism,” in A Court in Exile: The Stuarts in France, 1689–1718, ed. Edward Corp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 235–56, at 241; Peter Heylyn, Ecclesia Restaurata (London, printed for H. Twyford [et al.], 1661).

[5] Hilaire Belloc, James the Second (London: Faber & Faber, 1934), 66.

[6] Scott, “The Court as a Centre of Catholicism,” 237; see, e.g., John Miller, James II: A Study in Kingship (London: Methuen, 1989), 234–35.

[7] B. and M. Cottret, “La sainteté de Jaques II, ou les miracles d’un roi d´funt,” in L’autre exil: Les Jacobites en France au début du XVIIIe siècle, ed. Edward T. Corp (Montpellier: Presses du Languedoc, 1993), 79–106; thanks to Fr Armand de Mallory for help with French.

[8] Scott, “The Court as a Centre of Catholicism,” 245–46.

[9] Scott, “The Court as a Centre of Catholicism,” 247–50.

[10] See A. J. Krailsheimer, Armand-Jean de Rancé, Abbot of La Trappe: His Influence in the Cloister and the World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974).

[11] J. S. Clarke, The Life of James the Second King of England, 2 vols. (1816), 2:614.

[12] The Feast of All Saints (1 November) recognizes the unknown character of many of the saints. Catholics hold that canonization means that the person is indeed in heaven; however, it is still disputed in what sense canonization is an infallible act of the pope.

[13] See Eric W. Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948).

[14] John Callow, King in Exile, James II: Warrior, King and Saint, 1689–1701 (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2004), 390; Callow notes only fifty-five canonizations between 1588 and 1767.

[15] Geoffrey Scott, “Sacredness of Majesty”: The English Benedictines and the Cult of King James II, Royal Stuart Papers, vol. 23 (Huntingdon: Royal Stuart Society, 1984).

[16] Scott, Sacredness of Majesty, 2.

[17] An exact account of the sickness and death of the Late King James II . . . (London, 1701), 3.

[18] Scott, Sacredness of Majesty, 2.

[19] Scott, “The Court as a Centre of Catholicism,” 244.

[20] Scott, Sacredness of Majesty, 3–4.

[21] Scott, Sacredness of Majesty, 9–10; Benedict XIV was, incidentally, the author of an authoritative work on canonization: see Kemp, Canonization, 148–49.

[22] See, for example, press comment on proposals for the beatification of Queen Isabella of Spain: e.g., Kenneth L. Woodward, “Isabella Is No Saint,” New York Times, 6 April 1991; for the sheep and the goats, see Matthew 25.

New Light on Dryden’s Conversion (Invited Commentary)*

Invited Commentary* by Anne Barbeau Gardiner
New Light on Dryden’s Conversion
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.2
Cite: Gardiner, Anne Barbeau. 2019. ” New Light on Dryden’s Conversion” (Invited Commentary).” Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1 (2): 1- 5.

The conversion of John Dryden has perplexed scholars for centuries. Considering Dryden’s literary stature, one can understand the consternation at the time that greeted his becoming a Catholic. The Anglican establishment was especially taken aback when he published The Hind and the Panther (1687), a 2,500-line poem defending the Catholic Church. Many pamphlets were published attacking his conversion as insincere. These unjust attacks on Dryden’s character made Sir Walter Scott call him a “confessor” if not a “martyr” of the Catholic faith.

As I will explain, however, some of these pamphlets offer a very important insight into Dryden’s motives. They inform us of his great admiration for the works of Abraham Woodhead, a fellow of University College, Oxford (1609–78). I find it fitting that a poet of such high intellect was drawn to his era’s most learned defender of the Catholic Church. In 1961, Thomas Birrell showed that Dryden’s acquaintance with Woodhead can be dated from at least 1680, when Dryden purchased Woodhead’s Ancient Church Government (1662) at the sale of Digby’s library.1 Dryden was already a firm supporter of lawful succession and continuity in civil government, but now, as seen in Religio Laici, he began also to support lawful succession and continuity in Church Government.

In his diaries, the Oxford University historian Anthony Wood (1632–95) mentions that in 1685 Woodhead’s Life and Death of Jesus Christ was published anonymously by Oxford University Press.2 Both the Anglican bishop of Oxford and the vice chancellor disliked it and forbade it to be sold, because of passages savoring of “popery,” like the one on Mary’s perpetual virginity.3 Wood notes that in October of that year, King James II told Nathaniel Boysethat he had “seen a book lately come out by one that was Head of University College [meaning Obadiah Walker] and that it was a very good book and wondered how anyone should find fault with it.”4 The king was mistaken about the identity of the author, but not about its Catholic tenor.

October 1685 marks the beginning of the king’s interest in Obadiah Walker, master of University College (1616–99). In January of 1686, Walker went to London for a month and spoke privately with King James. After he returned to Oxford, he and some of his friends received a royal dispensation to absent themselves without penalty from Anglican services. Wood writes in his diaries that, by March 1686, Obadiah Walker’s conversion was “discoursed of over all the nation,” so much so that he became “a by-word to all—Obadiah Ave Maria.”5 In May or June of 1686, Wood adds, the poet Laureate Dryden also “turned papist.” In 1686, Mass was sung in the master’s lodgings until 15 August, but on that day Walker opened a little Catholic chapel near the front gate. After news of this chapel spread, a riot broke out at the gate on 12 September, the cries and shouts of the “rabble” disrupting the celebration of the Mass. Some scholars “laughed and grinned and showed a great deal of scorn” at the Mass and had to be ejected from the chapel. A similar riot broke out on 9 December.

In May 1686, the king gave Walker a unique license, valid for twenty-one years, and lots of paper to print 36 titles at Oxford, without incurring any penalty from the anti-Catholic laws. No one realized at the time (and even in modern times) that all those abbreviated titles listed in that license were the works of Abraham Woodhead, who had been Walker’s great and admired colleague at University College, and who had written those works in what Anthony Wood calls his “priory” at Hoxton where he was educating a few Catholic youths in his “principles.” Woodhead had been obliged to quit his fellowship in the early 1660s when his conversion to Catholicism was suspected. Unfortunately, some works listed in the king’s license were lost in the revolution of 1688, such as the one on Islam called Greater Antichrist. Many of Woodhead’s manuscripts also perished in the fire at the Spanish Embassy (1688), where they had been stored for safety. The high regard King James had for Woodhead can be seen in his plans to honor him in Oxford with a monument, of which only the inscription survives in Simon Berington’s biography, prefixed to Woodhead’s Church Government, Part III (1736).6

The royal license made no difference to the Anglican bishop of Oxford, who refused to let Obadiah Walker print those 36 books at the university press, saying he “would as soon part with his bed from under him.”7 Walker then hired a printer in Lichfield, who betrayed him by secretly giving the work “sheet by sheet”8 to Protestant adversaries so their answers could appear in the university press at the same time the Catholic book came out. And so, Walker was obliged to set up a printing press in his own master’s lodgings at University College and begin publishing Woodhead’s works under his own supervision. The title pages did not provide an author’s name, but said “printed in Oxford,” and so writers across England began speaking of the unknown author (Woodhead) as “that learned Oxford discourser” and “the Oxford author.”9 Most thought those works were written by Walker himself or else by a “fraternity” of Oxford Catholics.10 That these books were emanating from Oxford stirred up much anger there, as seen when Henry Aldrich worried that Woodhead’s writings on the Real Presence might pass for a “specimen of the University’s judgment.”11

Could Dryden have read Woodhead’s works hot off the press? It seems likely, because one of his sons appears to have been studying at Oxford under Walker at this very time and perhaps helping him to prepare Woodhead’s manuscripts for publication. Thomas Shadwell, in a satire on the poet called The Address of John Dryden (1689), calls his son, John Dryden, Jr., an “Oxford nursling” comparable in zeal to St. Robert Bellarmine: this lad, he says, was “Designed for a new Bellarmine Goliah / Under the great Gamaliel Obadiah.”12 We must believe Shadwell on this point. He had inside knowledge because his own son John Shadwell, the godson of Samuel Pepys, was matriculated at University College at that very time and was probably in sympathy with Walker, because the notoriety surrounding Walker’s conversion and printing of Catholic books didn’t make him leave the college. Later in the 1690s, John Shadwell was a physician working in Paris and was friendly with English Catholics, as seen in his correspondence with his godfather Pepys.

One lampoon on Dryden’s conversion, called “A Heroic Scene,” has the poet confess “One son turned me, I turned the other two.”13 If this be true, it seems likely that the son who converted his father was John Dryden, Jr. It certainly took great zeal and courage for him to enter Magdalen College as an intruded Catholic fellow in 1688. And in order for him to be appointed a fellow of Magdalen College, across the street from University College, the young man had to have received a solid education in the previous years without taking the anti-Catholic oaths. Possibly he received that education from Walker himself. When I looked for proof of Dryden’s son having resided at University College in 1686–87, I found that the “buttery books” listing the students who were eating there in those years were missing. A librarian assured me, however, that John Dryden, Jr. could have been Walker’s servitor or private student because the master’s lodgings were quite large.

Some contemporary attacks on Dryden made an explicit link between the poet’s conversion in 1686 and Woodhead’s writings, but they did not attribute those writings to Woodhead, who was later dubbed “the Invisible Man” because he never signed his works.14 In their lampoon The Hind and the Panther Transversed, Matthew Prior and Charles Montague, who knew the poet well, portray him as actually pestering his acquaintances to read two of Woodhead’s major works: “Mr. Johnson, you are a man of parts, let me desire you to read The Guide of Controversy, and Mr. Smith, I would recommend to you The Considerations on the Council of Trent [this was the Fifth Discourse of The Guide in Controversies].15 Here Dryden is portrayed as an enthusiastic admirer of Woodhead’s learned histories of Church Government.

In The Late Converts, another contemporary attack on Dryden, Thomas Brown makes three connections between the poet and the writings of Woodhead, whom he calls “that learned author.”16 First he says that The Spirit of Martin Luther turned Dryden against the entire Reformation. This is the work in which Woodhead closely examines Luther’s account of his many conversations with the Devil in 1523 about the Sacrifice of the Mass. According to Brown, Dryden declared that from “reading Mr. Walker’s book of Oxford,” he imbibed “such prejudices” against Luther that nothing could ever remove them. If we are to believe Brown, Dryden was unaware of the real author of the works he was recommending, but I find this doubtful. Second, Brown depicts Dryden as having read all five of Woodhead’s works on Church Government. He does this in a scene where “Crites” asks the poet to explain “what Dr. Walker meant by his five theses of Church Government.”17 This request implies that the poet is a known expert on the subject. Third, Brown traces Dryden’s new regard for celibacy to Woodhead’s Discourse concerning the Celibacy of the Clergy when he says that the defense of celibacy in The Hind and the Panther is the “quintessence” of what a “modern Author has advanced for the cause.”18

Similarly, in a letter to his friend Obadiah Walker, dated 25 May 1688, Dr. John Radcliffe refers to Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther as “one of your new Converts’ poems.”19 Like so many others, Radcliffe thinks that Walker is the author of Woodhead’s works and that reading them has been the cause of Dryden’s conversion. The link between Woodhead and Dryden is evident throughout The Hind and the Panther, but here let me call attention only to the two epigraphs in front of this magisterial poem. The first one is “Antiquam exquirite matrem,” a line from Virgil’s Aeneid (3: 96) applied to the Catholic Church. This is inspired by The Guide in Controversies, in which Woodhead cites passages from Luther and Calvin that express contempt for the Ancient Church and then asks the reader to “search” for himself which of “the two present Churches,” Catholic or Protestant, most resembles his Ancient Mother and then to “cast himself into her arms”:

After which search diligently made (as it much concerns him), let him again review and compare which of these two, in its constitution and economy, hath more resemblance of that Church described in the New Testament and acting in Primitive times . . . ; and then that of the two which, by its greater likeness in government and manners to this ancient Church, he takes to be his Catholic Mother, let him securely cast himself into her arms and communion…20

This is likewise how Dryden portrays the true Mother Church:

See how his Church adorned with every grace
With open arms, a kind forgiving face,
Stands ready to prevent her long lost sons embrace. (The Hind and the Panther, 2:639–41)

In both cases, the Ancient Mother awaits with open arms to embrace her English sons.

The second epigraph of Dryden’s poem is, “Et vera, incessu, patuit Dea (Aeneid 1:405), as applied to the Catholic Church. This passage is also inspired by Woodhead, who sees the church’s smooth unbroken motion from age to age as a sign of her being invested with divine authority. He writes thus in Guide in Controversies: “If there be a Catholic Church still . . . invested with that authority that our Lord bestowed on the apostles and which the former [Ancient] Church practiced; then, seeing that all other Christian societies do renounce and not pretend at all to such authority,” it follows that she “must be the sole Church-Catholic that thus bears witness to itself.”21 Addressing the Anglican Church, Dryden makes the very same argument in the following lines of The Hind and the Panther:

For petty royalties you raise debate;
But this unfailing universal state
You shun; nor dare succeed to such a glorious weight,
And for that cause those promises detest
With which our Saviour did his church invest:
But strive t’evade, and fear to find ’em true,
As conscious they were never meant to you:
All which the Mother Church asserts her own
And with unrivalled claim ascends the throne. (2:490–98)

Here the poet even uses the same term “invest” that Woodhead used. Also, the phrase “unrivalled claim” parallels Woodhead’s “sole Church-Catholic.”

In the Guide, Woodhead states that it is not the letter of scripture but its “traditive sense” that is God’s word, because the text can never make itself more “intelligible.” Ancient Church councils, he says, appealed to “former Tradition, not argument.”22 Again Dryden follow his mentor closely, even using the adjective “traditive,” a common adjective in Woodhead, but one rarely used at the time and only once in Dryden’s poetry. The poet writes that when Protestants and Catholics divide on “things traditive” and “quarrel with the sense” of scripture, the matter cannot be resolved by examining the words.23 The Nicene Fathers used tradition to confute the Arian heretics who vainly marshaled “squadrons of texts”:

The good old Bishops took a simpler way
Each asked but what he heard his Father say,
Or how he was instructed in his youth,
And by Tradition’s force upheld the truth. (The Hind and the Panther, 2:164–67)

Dryden continues that in church history, “every age does on another move, / And trusts no farther than the next above.”24 This is the smooth, unbroken motion of the Goddess in Dryden’s epigraph, from “sire to son,” from ancient to modern times. Since I have read virtually all of Woodhead’s works and have extensive notes on them, I may in the future write an essay about how Dr. Radcliffe and other contemporaries were right to say that Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther reflects those works printed by Walker at University College under the Catholic king’s license.

As a result of the 1688 revolution, Obadiah Walker, aged seventy-two, was sent to prison, charged with treason. He was released in 1690. As he was dying, Walker wrote a letter to Francis Nicolson, one of his former students now in religious life, and asked him to ensure that a correct edition of Woodhead’s works would be published. Sadly only one more work was published in 1736. Woodhead’s works have now fallen into oblivion.

However, the name of Obadiah Walker is not forgotten at University College. When I was doing research there, three persons residing at the college told me on separate occasions that in the middle of the night Walker’s ghost comes screaming down a certain stairway. I replied that it could not be Walker, since he was laid to rest in 1699 near his friend Abraham Woodhead in Old St. Pancras churchyard, London, where a great many Catholics in that era were illegally laid to rest by torchlight. On the third occasion, I was outside, standing in front of the stairway, and asked the fellow who told me about the screaming ghost, “What was the room next to these stairs used for in the days of Dr. Walker?” He replied, “It was the Catholic chapel.” Then I remembered reading in Anthony Wood’s diaries about the riots at the nearby gate, and of this episode from 4 August 1688: “A boy going to Mr. Walker’s chapel, while Mass was singing, with a cat under his coat, which he sometimes pinching and other times pulling by the tail made her make such noise that it put them to some disorder.”


* Portions of this commentary appeared previously in Anne Barbeau Gardiner, “Abraham Woodhead, ‘The Invisible Man,’” Recusant History 26, no. 4 (2003), 570–88.

[1] Thomas Birrell, “John Dryden’s Purchases at Two Book Auctions, 1680 and 1682,” English Studies 42 (1961), 192–217.

[2] Anthony Wood, MS Wood Diaries #24, 30, 31, 32, Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

[3] The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, ed. Andrew Clark, 5 vols., Vol. 3 : 1682–1695 (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1894), 164.

[4] Life and Times, 3: 165.

[5] Life and Times, 3 : 176, 196.

[6]  Simon Berington, “The Preface: Giving a succinct Account of Mr. Woodhead’s Writings and Life,” in Ancient Church Government. Part III ([London], 1736), lxvii, quoting the antiquarian Thomas Hearne, from a letter of 8 April 1734. This preface will be cited as “Life.”

[7] Life and Times, 3: 198.

[8] Life and Times, 3: 209.

[9] [C. Hutchinson], Of the Authority of Councils and the Rule of Faith (London : R. Clavel, W. Rogers, and S. Smith, 1687), 101, 102 ; and Joshua Basset, Reason and Authority (London : Henry Hills, 1687), 73, 76, 77, 83, 89, 99, 116, 119.

[10] [Henry Aldrich], A Reply to Two Discourses Lately Printed at Oxford Concerning the Adoration of Our Blessed Savior in the Holy Eucharist (Oxford: at the Theatre, 1687), 2. This came out, Wood says (3: 220) on 30 May, 1687.

[11] Reply to Two Discourses, 68.

[12] Thomas Shadwell, “The Address of John Dryden, Laureat to His Highness the Prince of Orange” (1689), in The Complete Works of Thomas Shadwell, 5 vols., ed. Montague Summers (London: Fortune Press, 1927), 5: 350.

[13] Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714, Volume 4: 1685–1688, ed. by Galbraith M. Crump (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1968), 84, line 103.

[14] Berington, “Life,” lix.

[15] Charles Montagu and Matthew Prior, “The Hind and the Panther Transversed,” in Poems on Affairs of State, 4: 123.

[16] Thomas Brown, The Late Converts Exposed Part II (London, 1690), 28.

[17] Late Converts, 45.

[18] Late Converts, 11.

[19] [William Pittis], Dr. [John] Radcliffe’s Life and Letters. 4th ed. (London: A Bettesworth, E. Curll, and J. Pemberton, 1736), 16.

[20] R. H., A Rational Account of the Doctrine of Roman Catholicks Concerning the Ecclesiastical Guide in Controversies, second edition (n. p., 1673), 223–4.

[21] Guide in Controversies, 213.

[22] Guide in Controversies, 144–5,111, 129.

[23] Hind and the Panther, 2: 196.

[24] Hind and the Panther, 2: 217–19.

Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century: Volume I: Morals, Politics, Art, Religion, edited by Aaron Garrett and James A. Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. 482. $100. ISBN: 9780199560677.

Reviewed by Mark G. Spencer
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.8
Cite: Mark G. Spencer, review of Scottish Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century: Volume I: Morals, Politics, Art, Religion, edited by Aaron Garrett and James A. Harris, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 28-32, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.8.

This is a volume in the Oxford series A History of Scottish Philosophy. Its scope is quite broad, as its subtitle’s reference to “morals, politics, art, [and] religion” hints. The volume’s editors, Aaron Garrett (Boston University) and James Harris (University of St. Andrews), are recognized authorities in the field, and they have assembled an expert team of contributors who together have delivered a very useful volume, if one that is sometimes uneven in coverage. The contributors are notably interdisciplinary. In fact, while the book’s co-editors are philosophers, only a minority of the thirteen contributors (among whom the editors are counted) are from philosophy departments. Six of the thirteen are from departments of history, but English literature and political science are also represented. This lineup is not accidental; it reflects the intention of the editors, who point out in their introductory chapter that “it is a peculiar feature of the history of philosophy that it is written primarily by philosophers” (2). The result is that “usually the history of philosophy is the work of those who are philosophers first and historians second” (2). The editors’ choice of authors suggests a different, more historical, approach, something also evident in the volume’s content.

The book’s introduction does a good job of summarizing the state of modern scholarship on the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment.[1] It also offers a synopsis of each of the book’s chapters. Some are devoted to the star players of the Scottish Enlightenment—Hume, of course, but also Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid—but most of the chapters engage in thematic approaches that include discussions of groups of philosophers. Following is a listing of the volume’s contents along with a few words of summary on each:

Chapter 1, “The World in Which the Scottish Enlightenment Took Shape,” by Roger L. Emerson, provides a splendid survey of the setting for Scottish intellectual life at the close of the seventeenth century. An underlying theme of the chapter is that the Scots’ orientation was toward the continent rather than toward England, as is sometimes thought. “Dutch models and universities were of great importance and Dutch influences long persisted” (22). Emerson concludes that “the Scottish Enlightenment was not principally about politeness or civic humanism but something more basic, the remaking of a society so that it could produce men able to compete in every way in a rapidly changing world” (31). That theme is taken up in several of the following chapters. The Scottish Enlightenment defined in this volume is very much one that is concerned with improvement in people’s daily lives, a guiding theme of much that Emerson has researched and argued over the years.

Chapter 2, “Francis Hutcheson’s Philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment: Reception, Reputation, and Legacy,” by Daniel Carey, provides an overview of Hutcheson’s life and writings. Considerable attention is given to Hutcheson’s critics, of which there were many. As Carey puts it, “The attention he [Hutcheson] received did not always imply agreement with his position but rather a recognition that his views merited consideration and the awareness of readers” (65). Interestingly, “even among the Scottish figures who disputed his analysis he managed to shift the locus of discussion away from either a rational or self-interested orientation to one attendant to ‘sensitive’ internal reactions and the moral psychology of passions and affections” (71). While Carey makes brief mention of Hutcheson’s American influence, it would have been interesting to hear more about that aspect of his reception, reputation, and legacy.

Chapter 3, “Moral Philosophy: Practical and Speculative,” by Aaron Garrett and Colin Heydt, offers an overview of eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosophy as it related to conceptions of human nature and as it compared to earlier traditions of moral motivation (Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Butler, Clarke) and natural law theory (Pufendorf, Grotius, Barbeyrac, Cumberland, Carmichael). Garrett and Heydt shed light on some works that are typically overlooked, such as David Fordyce’s Elements of Moral Philosophy, a book that had a remarkably long shelf life, not only in Britain (where sections were reprinted in the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, as the authors point out), but also in revolutionary America (where sections were reprinted in the newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Spy). The chapter provides an extended discussion of the relation and interplay between duties, rights, and virtues for eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosophers.

In chapter 4, “Beauty, Taste, Rhetoric, and Language,” Gordon Graham focuses on Scottish aesthetics in the eighteenth century. Graham explores “four principal themes”: “the question of ‘taste’ and its relation to the perception and reality of beauty,” “aesthetic criticism,” “the rhetorical use of language,” and “the study of the origins of language.” He shows that “on each of these topics, the Scottish philosophers had interesting, insightful, and in some cases enduringly important things to say” (134). Still, much more time goes to beauty and taste than to rhetoric and language. Hume’s essays “Of Tragedy” and “Of the Standard of Taste” figure prominently, although some may think that Hume accords more power to “imagination” and “judgment” than Graham’s account of a rather “passive” Hume permits. With considerable attention to George Campbell, Graham’s reference list surely ought to have included Jeffrey M. Suderman’s Orthodoxy and Enlightenment: George Campbell in the Eighteenth Century (2001), which has comments on relevant themes.

In chapter 5, “Hume In and Out of Scottish Context,” by James A. Harris and Mikko Tolonen, Hume’s writing career is surveyed with an eye to where Hume was resident when he wrote, what Hume explicitly wrote about Scotland, and how Scottish (or not) Hume’s perspective really was. While Harris and Tolonen find that Scotland was “never far from Hume’s mind,” they also submit that he was consistently cosmopolitan in

his concerns and approach. Some, no doubt, will question Harris and Tolonen’s claim that “insofar as it is possible responsibly to form any hypothesis at all about Hume’s intellectual influences in the early 1730s, it would seem that it was Bernard Mandeville who played the most important role” (166) in his writing. It may be more useful to see Mandeville as one influence of many. Indeed, the eclecticism of the early Hume may be thought to be something that unites the Hume of the Treatise with the later and equally eclectic Hume of the History of England. The later work is not often discussed in works on Scottish philosophy, and this chapter illuminates it in interesting ways.

Chapter 6, “Religion and Philosophy,” by Jeffry M. Suderman, approaches enlightened Scots as another group of Europeans who were “dealing with religious problems left over from the Reformation” (198). The philosophy of the Moderates in Scotland “fully embraced the new style of learning” (217). Important here were Hutcheson and Turnbull, but also Fordyce. All three and others of their ilk were more representative of their times than was Hume, who “managed without a benevolent guarantor God” (235). Suderman finds that the “Enlightenment in Scotland was a fundamentally Christian Enlightenment” (235). Like the Moderates, Hume wished “to apply the emerging techniques of the social sciences to the study of human thought and behavior” (224), although without a Christian gloss. We should see that Hume shared common ground with many of his critics, even some of his harshest ones, like George Campbell. As well, “Campbell answered Hume not as an outraged Calvinist minister but as an empirical philosopher, maintaining that belief in miracles is not only possible in the light of the structure of human belief but perfectly defensible in terms of the historical evidences available to reasonable men in an enlightened age” (229).

Chapter 7, “Adam Smith: History and Impartiality,” by Aaron Garrett and Ryan Hanley, gives “a general overview of the philosophy of Adam Smith through examining the place of history and of impartiality in his philosophy” (239). Seeing Smith as a “second-generation philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment” (276) brings to the fore his borrowings from Hutcheson, Hume, Kames, and Butler at the same time that it highlights a central place for history in Smith’s thought. Garrett and Hanley are surely right to emphasize this historical dimension to Smith’s thought. They are also right to follow Istvan Hont, who recommended “taking Smith seriously as a political thinker and . . . abandoning the attempt to try to pigeon-hole his work as merely historical sociology” (253). Like Hont, Garrett and Hanley see Hume as “a creative normative theorist” (253). The Smith presented here, in other words, “was governed less by a mere concern to survey the past than by a deep and abiding concern to assist his contemporaries in their efforts to understand the unique conditions of their present, and thereby to prepare them for effective practical action that might optimally shape their future” (253). Looking to the contemporary reception of Smith’s work might have helped to drive that point home. Edmund Burke in his review of the Wealth of Nations for the Annual Review, for instance, could write: “The growth and decay of nations have frequently afforded topics of admiration and complaint to the moralist and declaimer: they have sometimes exercised the speculations of the politician; but they have seldom been considered in all their causes and combinations by the philosopher.”[2] Burke was correct: Smith did that.

Chapter 8, “The Rise of Human Sciences,” by Christopher J. Berry, aims “to explore, across various dimensions, a key focal characteristic of the Scottish Enlightenment, namely, its delineation of how a ‘science of man’ can inform and structure an account of ‘society’” (283). This is a subject that the author knows well, having published books on it and related fields. His books include Social Theory of the Scottish Enlightenment (1997) and, more recently, The Idea of Commercial Society in the Scottish Enlightenment (2013). In this chapter, Berry highlights what he refers to as “the Scots’ scientific realism” (295) in order to better understand their approach to social change. He concludes that “whether it be political sociology, the sociology of religion or literature, political economy, social anthropology, or an account of the forces and fault-lines of social change, eighteenth-century Scottish thinkers gave considerable impetus to the emergence of the human sciences” (318).

Chapter 9, “Barbarism and Republicanism,” by Silvia Sebastiani, attempts “to map out some of the views of the Scottish historians and moralists concerning human progress and commercial societies” (326). Sebastiani gives particular attention to Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun and Adam Ferguson, whose civic republicanism is said to have differentiated them from Hume and Smith (and William Robertson). For Hume, “as well as for Smith, with the progress of society manners improved and social passions were tamed” (332; Hume, of course, saw limits to this progress, as his correspondence with Turgot shows clearly). A central concern of Sebastiani’s chapter is to show that for many of the Scots, the “condition of women” was taken “as a benchmark and measure of the degree of development attained by societies” (325). That line of argument might be pursued further in some of the sources Sebastiani lists in her references (including her own work), as well as in the work of others not listed, such as Rosemarie Zagarri.

Chapter 10, “Revolution,” by Emma Macleod, discusses “the views expressed by the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers on the subject of political resistance and revolution in the later eighteenth century—in practical terms, the revolutions in America and France” (361). Macleod provides a thorough and smart survey of the historical record with reference to published works and private correspondence of Ferguson, Smith, Hume, Kames, and others. She finds that “contrary to the general perception . . . the Scottish philosophers did not present a straightforward or unanimous response in opposition to the American Revolution” (385). Nevertheless, while “their responses to revolution were by no means uniform . . . they upheld a theoretical right to resist tyrannical government” (397); and, “they were reluctant to bury that right in practice in the face of the upheaval caused to Britain by these two actual examples of resistance to government” (398).

Chapter 11, “Thomas Reid and the Common Sense School,” by Paul Wood, uses Reid as a jumping-off point to discuss “the scope of philosophy in eighteenth-century Scotland, the role of philosophy in the curricula of the Scottish universities, the supposed existence of a ‘school’ of commonsense philosophy, and the nature of the Scottish Enlightenment” (404) more generally. Wood gives particular attention to George Turnbull and to the origins of the concept of “common sense,” demonstrating “the interplay of metaphysics, mathematics, and natural philosophy” in Reid’s writings (443). For Wood, Reid’s Enlightenment world—much like the early Enlightenment world Emerson sketches at the beginning of the volume—“was a cosmopolitan one which embraced the Republic of Letters in the Atlantic World as a whole” (446).

The volume concludes with a short postscript, also by Paul Wood, “On Writing the History of Scottish Philosophy in the Age of Enlightenment.” Here, in a few gracefully written pages, Wood identifies some of the difficulties inherent in that exercise, including the problem of deciding “what is meant by ‘the Scottish Enlightenment’” (457). That problem, he argues, may not be an easy one to solve, but seeking informed answers remains a worthwhile exercise. The essay concludes with an appropriate quotation from Lucien Febvre: “a historian is not one who knows, he is one who sees” (464).

All in all, this volume is a remarkable achievement. It provides a useful statement of the current state of the field, offering summaries of much that has been written about the Scottish Enlightenment and the place of moral philosophy in it. At the same time it offers many new points of interpretation and invitations for future exploration. For these reasons, it ought to be in every university library and will surely be the starting point for much scholarship to come. In the meantime, we should all look forward to the publication of volume 2, which is expected to deal with metaphysics, logic, and natural philosophy, subjects that are largely absent from this volume.


[1] A correction might be offered to the editors’ claim that a new edition of “the complete works of Hume” has “been initiated” (1). The Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume has no plan to include Hume’s  History of England, a work that shows how Hume used his philosophy in historical explanations and in so doing conveyed it to the “conversible world.” Given the editors’ historiographical aims in this volume, that is worth mentioning.

[2] Edmund Burke, “An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. By Adam Smith L.L.D. F.R.S. 2 vols. quarto” in “Account of Books for 1776,” The Annual Register, or A View of the History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1776 (London: J. Dodsley, 1777), p. 241.


New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment, edited by Brett C. McInelly and Paul E. Kerry. Lanham, MD: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, 2018. Pp. 416. $100.79. ISBN: 9781683931614. electronic ISBN: 9781683931621.

Reviewed by Brijraj Singh 
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.7
Cite: Brijraj Singh, review of New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment, edited by Brett C. McInelly and Paul E. Kerry, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 22-27, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.7 .

The twenty-first century has seen the reestablishment of religion at the center of Enlightenment studies. If there was a belief toward the end of the twentieth century that the growing modernization of society in the eighteenth century resulted in a fading of religious influence on people’s lives,1 it is being increasingly asserted now that even this secularization was not free of religious influence.2 As the blurb on the back cover of New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment states, while people still believe that the Enlightenment led to a growing secularization of society, the fact is that religion not only continued to occupy a central position in all aspects of eighteenth-century life but also “shaped the Enlightenment project itself in significant and meaningful ways.” The fourteen essays by as many writers in this book continue the exploration of the interweaving of religious and Enlightenment concepts. They do not all follow the same definition of religion or indeed even of the Enlightenment; in fact, none attempts a definition of these contentious terms. But many exhibit originality of argument as well as deep and thorough scholarship, and all are written in a clear, very readable, sometimes elegant style.

In a collection such as this it is inevitable that while certain subjects are dealt with, others perhaps equally important have to be left out. New Approaches offers illumination into little-known recesses and crevices of the eighteenth century’s religious concerns, but in the process bypasses certain major issues. Thus we have a very fine essay by Kevin Cope on insecto-theology, but nothing on the development and spread of Methodism in Britain and the United States, its influence on the lives of the working classes, and its contribution to the Industrial Revolution. The late Bob Tennant contributed a very scholarly study of the work of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in the Isles of Scilly, a far-flung corner of England that was little visited in the eighteenth century, but the book has nothing about Christian missionary work further afield in India, China, or Japan. There is an essay on the Jewish scholar Daniil Avraamovich Khvol’son, who converted to the Orthodox Russian Church, but nothing about any of the three important British writers and religious thinkers, Swift, Johnson, or Blake, or about August Herman Francke and the Halle Pietists. The occasional essay refers to eighteenth-century sermons. Sermons formed an important part of the publications of that period: they were widely read, and it was in them that major theological positions were advanced or controverted. However, no essay in the book deals with them. The result is that while the topics addressed in New Approaches make it a valuable research tool for the specialized scholar, they also limit its appeal for the general student who wishes to find out more about significant religious developments in the age of Enlightenment.

Collections of this sort usually have a broadly defined focus, generally thematic, though they can sometimes follow other organizing principles, and the essays themselves tend to be prefaced by the editor(s) laying out the aims and purposes of the book. Such an introductory essay is absent from this volume. It does have a one-and-a-half page preface in which the editor, Brett McInelly, states that the essays demonstrate “a breadth of disciplinary perspectives” on the study of religion in the Enlightenment, but the blurb on the back cover is more useful in explaining the essays’ purpose.

In the absence of any guidance or direction from the editor at the outset, and lacking a theme, however broad, the book is less like other collections and more like a high-class scholarly journal that includes many outstanding essays on widely disparate subjects, not all of them having to do fully with religion or indeed even the very long eighteenth century. (Khvol’son, the subject of one of the essays, died in 1911.)3 Essay follows essay without any sense of theme, national boundaries, or chronology; they seldom talk to one another, and if they do, it is only by accident. One peculiar and ironical consequence is that the whole book is somehow less than the individual essays that make it up. Therefore perhaps the best way to review it might be to consider the essays individually, noticing where they might show some convergence.

Those who have heard or read Kevin Cope will agree that of all contemporary eighteenth-century scholars he has the most distinctive style. I can characterize this style best in words that Sir John Denham applied to the Thames in “Cooper’s Hill”: “Though deep, yet clear,” and “without overflowing, full.” This style is on display in Cope’s essay on Pierre Lyonnet’s 1799 commentary on Friedrich Christian Lesser’s Insecto-Theology as an example of the argument from design: God exists because without Him the complex designs and subtle interrelationships we perceive in the world of insects would not be possible. Both these entomologists, Cope maintains, hold that the structure of an object corresponds “to some greater structure in the cosmos,” (6) that in the minute parts of an insect and their interconnectedness one can perceive the hand of a master Creator. But while Lesser bases his reasoning on a rather simple taxonomical analog, Lyonnet, fully conscious of contradictions and discrepancies in Lesser’s argument, proposes what may be called a more complex ecological model that perceives the wholeness of relationships between all life forms. All of them, even the meanest, have intelligence, and thus are participants in the creation of God’s design. But, though Cope does not say so, this God is not necessarily a Christian God; He is more akin to the deists’ God, who has created a perfect and complex world which now keeps ticking on its own. This is an ironical conclusion, given that Lesser was a parish priest and Lyonnet well read in theology.

On the other hand, Samuel Clarke visualizes a Christian God. A Newtonian and a latitudinarian, he argued in his Boyle lectures, as Jonathan Pike demonstrates, that human beings have free will because God has it and He has endowed them with it. So, like the entomologists, Clarke sees a relationship between God and the nature of human beings. However, God, being good, cannot choose but to do good. However, human beings in their post-postlapsarian state, though capable of making the right use of free will, are free to choose wrong; and this is what makes them moral agents. This view takes God away from the deists and allies Him closer to a more generally accepted Christian view, even as Clarke clarifies and adds to the discussion of free will and human intelligence.

Andrew Kloes shows that in Britain, America, and Germany there existed an anti-Enlightenment movement that can be labeled as the evangelical revival and that saw history as an ongoing spiritual war between the devil and the people of God. The Enlightenment was the work of the devil. So were all revolutions, for though they tried to usher in a better society, it was not truly better because it was not based on religion. Kloes’s essay, unfortunately, suffers from overkill: he piles example upon example and gives quotation after quotation to prove what is ultimately a simple and clear point.

The evangelical revival was represented in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Mathers, father and son; Newtonian science and rationality had Thomas Brattle as their spokesman. In his essay entitled “Tale of the Comet,” Douglass M. Furrh maintains that Increase Mather thought that the 1680 comet presaged destruction: it was a sign of God’s anger. So he asked people to repent and reform. Brattle, on the other hand, saw it as a natural phenomenon that needed to be studied scientifically and explained rationally. These divergences were to fracture the political stability of the Colony, for Increase’s attitudes led eventually to the Salem witch trials in which his son Cotton played a leading part, instigating the execution of the accused. Ultimately Brattle’s scientific attitude prevailed. The Mathers were expelled from Harvard College, the curriculum was secularized, and a nature-based theology emerged in the Colony. Enlightenment ideas won out over superstition-laden religious beliefs.

Two essays in New Approaches deal with religion in Russia. Andrew C. Reed, in “An Apostate Maskil,” offers an account of the life and achievements of Daniil Avraamovich Khvol’son. In the 1830s Nicholas I started a project of encouraging Jewish children to get an education, partly to suppress any danger of uprisings and partly to get qualified people to serve the state. Khvol’son took full advantage. He went to study in Germany, where he was exposed to Enlightenment ideas. He obtained a doctorate from Munich; his book on the Sabians was greatly praised, and on returning to Russia he was appointed a professor in St. Petersburg. He converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming what Shulamit Magnus has called a “good bad Jew,” one who gave up his religion but then used his newly gained position of importance to help former coreligionists. The essay demonstrates the influence of German Enlightenment thought in modernizing Russia.

Andreas Berg’s essay is also concerned with modernizing Russia. He discusses Mikhail M. Kheraskov’s belief that religious sensibility is crucial in transforming a nation from rudeness to civilization. Russian Orthodoxy, Kheraskov thought, was incapable of inculcating civic morality in its followers. Only to a select few individuals of pure lives were God’s truths revealed, and they then spread these truths among the general people, a point which he argued in his novel Numa Pompilius. Numa, Rome’s ruler and founder of the Roman religion, realized that though the State may legislate a religion which, in turn, may lead to civic virtue, this religion has to be grounded in spiritual values that belong only to the pure at heart, for spiritualism is within the purview of the individual alone, not of the State. Historically Numa’s religion had transformed Roman society into a virtuous one; and Kheraskov hoped that if Russian rulers could be virtuous like Numa, they would, without opposing existing rituals, be able to create new ones that would inculcate civic morality.

In his essay on George Whitefield and John Wesley, Glen O’Brien says that in many ways Whitefield was less liberal than Wesley. Whitefield supported the Hanoverians because he thought that their Anglicanism represented a spirit of freedom that the Stuarts had tried to suppress. He upheld slavery and himself owned slaves, though he wanted their conditions ameliorated. On the other hand, Wesley opposed slavery and saw the hypocrisy of American freedom fighters who owned slaves. But the revolutionaries adulated Whitefield while castigating Wesley because the former supported war while the latter, though detesting tyranny, opposed it. Whitefield was afraid that Britain would impose an episcopacy on America and held that this should be opposed by violence; Wesley saw an organic unity between the Crown, Parliament, and the people, and he opposed the revolutionaries for wanting to disrupt this unity.

In one of the finest essays in the collection, John J. Burke Jr. discusses Milton, Dryden, and the politics of biblical interpretation. His two texts are Milton’s Samson Agonistes (1671) and, written only a decade later, Dryden’s very different Absalom and Achitophel (1681), and his argument is that both Milton and Dryden used the Old Testament, especially the story of Samson, to different religious and political ends. In Milton, Samson destroys the Philistines as the poet hoped his works would destroy kingship and the Anglican Church in favor of a puritan orthodoxy. Dryden’s Absalom, too, tries to destroy the kingdom in order to fulfill his political ambitions. Ultimately neither Samson nor the man who would be like Samson, the Duke of Monmouth, succeeds. This is a barebones summary of an essay that is well written, clearly and compellingly argued, and richly documented. A marvelous teaching essay for anyone teaching Milton and Dryden or the Restoration period generally, it is also a model for those who wish to write about the creative use of sources, especially the Bible.

Two essays deal with women writers. Robin Runia disagrees that Sarah Fielding’s Volume the Last (1753), which was intended as a sequel to her earlier The Adventures of David Simple (1744), views death as the only escape from the pain of this world while the earlier novel had extolled the pleasures to be gained from tenderness and benevolence. Rather, Runia sees Volume the Last as an extension of its predecessor and says that both novels argue that Christian faith must be grounded in rational principle while also claiming “the potential for women’s intellect to justify their moral exemplarity” (229). She makes her points by examining various incidents in David Simple to show that reason has to be an essential element in a true Christian life, and that Christian reasoning is different from secular or “Human Reason” because it is based on an acceptance of God’s will. Using Milton, Sarah Fielding also argues for women’s superior Christian intellect which enables Cynthia to repulse the Satan-like Atheist. By depicting her triumph, Fielding offers Cynthia up as a new Eve who is capable of a life of “principled piety.”

Contrasting Aphra Behn’s treatment of Isabella in The History of the Nun with her later treatment by Thomas Southerne and David Garrick in their plays, Lisa Sikkink claims that Behn’s Isabella has agency, which Southerne and Garrick’s Isabellas lack. This agency is the result of her religious faith: in spite of her many sins (including bigamy and murder) she always returns to prayer and penitence and thus regains her spiritual equilibrium. It is this quality that enables her to accept her punishment of death at the end and yet remain in good standing with her community, while Southerne and Garrick’s heroines, who lack this religious faith, are passive victims whose only solution is to commit suicide. I thought that this essay, wholly competent though perhaps the slightest in the collection, was also a trifle repetitious. Given that the author was finishing her PhD dissertation when the essay was written, it is good to see that the editors reached out to one just beginning her career in the profession.

Séverine Collignon-Ward analyzes the Mémoires, published in 1757, of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe, who served as a galley slave from 1700 to 1713 because of his religion. The Mémoires may be approached as an example of the Protestant Memoir, stories of French Protestants who suffered persecution on account of their religion in the reign of Louis XIV, but they are also a plea for religious tolerance in the manner of the philosophes. Marteilhe, like the philosophes, recognized that fanaticism prevailed in France, but he also believed that France could be saved, and the publication of the Mémoires was aimed at bringing about greater toleration. Collignon-Ward examines the rhetorical features that the memoirist used to make his work credible and interesting and concludes that these features were similar to those used by the philosophes.

Toleration and harmonious coexistence between different faiths is also the theme of Paul Kerry’s study of four new translations of Schiller and Goethe. In the first piece by Schiller, “Jesuit Rule in Paraguay,” the author attacks the intrigue, machinations, and spiritual bankruptcy of the Jesuits and their exploitation of indigenous South American populations. In his account of the Duke of Alba at breakfast in the Rudolstadt Castle in 1547 Schiller shows how the firmness and foresightedness of the hostess, Catherine of Swartzburg, was able to save her poor peasants from depredation by the Spanish army. Goethe, in response to a question by some students as to how he might have completed his epic Die Geheimnisse (The Mysteries) wrote an essay in which he laid out the scheme of the poem. There would be twelve men, each representing a different religious tradition, gathered around a man called Humanus. The twelve would honor and respect one another, and each would have found his own way to God. Through this fiction Goethe hoped to preach not only religious tolerance but also religious appreciation and the view that each faith can lead to God. Tolerance and respect for other religions is also the theme of his essay “On the Reformation Festival” (1817). He realized that if Germany were to celebrate the tercentenary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses to the doors of the church at Wittenberg, it would alienate the Roman Catholics. So he proposed that Germany should celebrate instead its victory at Leipzig in the battle known as the Volkerschlacht (the Battle of the Nations, 1813), which would bring the whole nation together. Once again, respect for other religions was emphasized.

Monika Renate Barget’s essay on British caricatures of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion is excellent and skillfully analyzes the satirical prints and caricatures that both sides, the Hanoverians and the Jacobites, produced. But it has nothing to do with religion except in the most obvious sense that the Jacobites represented a Roman Catholic threat to the Anglicanism of the Hanoverians.

The last essay in New Approaches, Bob Tennant’s on the SPCK in the Scilly Isles, 1796–1819, based on solid archival research, shows the extent and nature of the control that the society exercised on the Anglican establishment of the islands, and the kind of competition that the Anglican church had to face from the Methodists. It examines two incidents, one related to staffing and the other to the inhabitants’ economic and political relationship to the government and to the Duke of Leeds, who was the lord proprietor, in order to establish that economic, political, and ecclesiastical issues are inextricably interwoven in missionary activity.

New Approaches to Religion and the Enlightenment concludes with a thirty-six-page bibliography (365–90), which is exhaustive and will prove a great boon to all students and researchers. The book is well bound and got up and will withstand a lot of handling in libraries.

It is well printed on good quality paper. I was able to detect only two very insignificant typos, both in the last essay: islands spelled with an o (353), and was as as (367).


[1] This view was most forcefully expressed by Peter Gay in his two-volume The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Knopf, 1966, 1969).

[2] See, inter alia, Jonathan Clark, “Providence, Predestination and Progress: or, did the Enlightenment Fail?” Albion, 35 (2003): 559–89; Stephen J. Barnett, Enlightenment and Religion: Myths of Modernity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003); and David Sorkin, The Religious Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008). A good recent summary of the subject can be found in Simon Grote, “Review-Essay: Religion and Enlightenment,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75, no. 1 (January 2014): 137–60.

[3] After submitting this review to the editor I learned that the essays were, in fact, originally slated for inclusion in Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, a learned journal published by AMS Press. Following the death of the owner, Gabriel Hornstein, and the dissolution of the press, it became necessary to find a new home for them, and they have been accommodated in book form by Fairleigh Dickinson Press.

The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment 1690–1805, by Thomas Ahnert. London: Yale University Press, 2014. Pp. 224. $65. ISBN: 9780300153804.

Reviewed by R. J. W. Mills
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.6
Cite: R. J. W. Mills, review of The Moral Culture of the Scottish Enlightenment 1690–1805, by Thomas Ahnert, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 20-21, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.6.

This engaging work is a significant contribution to scholarship both on the Scottish Enlightenment and on the relationship between the European Enlightenment and religion. Writing with persuasive acuity, Ahnert examines how over the course of the eighteenth century a shift in emphasis occurred in Scottish theology away from doctrinal orthodoxy and toward moral conduct as the true measure of piety. The stress that leading clerical figures of the Scottish Enlightenment put on pious action was bound up with a skeptical reclassification of the capacity of unassisted reason to achieve epistemic certainty in doctrinal matters. These clergymen wanted to get away from the orthodox idea of salvation sola fide, which viewed good conduct as a secondary element of Christianity. The Moderates, the key grouping of “enlightened” clergymen who emerged by the 1750s, encouraged piety and virtue through recommending the “culture of the mind.” The term “culture” was used as meaning the process of cultivation: the incremental improvement of the moral and religious character of an individual through scripture-inspired practice. To avoid “papism,” however, the Moderates maintained that divine support was still necessary for salvation. Ahnert purposefully presents us with a paradox in the process of cultivation: orthodox Presbyterians maintained the existence of natural religion resulting unavoidably from the act of reasoning, whereas the Moderates believed that religious tenets were achievable through access to divine revelation and were of secondary importance to pious behavior.

Ahnert charts the ideas of theologians and moral philosophers promulgating this new understanding of religion and reason, their orthodox Presbyterian opponents’ position, and the various controversies that these rival understandings caused within the Kirk. The introduction situates Ahnert’s argument within scholarship on the relationship between religion and European Enlightenment and the characterization of the Scottish Enlightenment. The opening chapter places the reader among the theological disputes within Scottish Presbyterianism that occurred immediately after the Glorious Revolution. Orthodox Calvinists held that the Kirk was in danger from numerous threats, including the spread of fashionable deistic thinking, homegrown “Bourignonist” fanatics who believed in immediate divine inspiration, and prominent theologians including Henry Scougal, George Garden, and John Simson who maintained the importance of pious practice over doctrine acceptance. The second chapter examines the growth of heterodox Presbyterianism between 1720 and 1750. Clergymen such as Archibald Campbell, William Wishart, and Francis Hutcheson stressed the importance of genuine faith focusing on charitable action. Reason is weak: knowledge of religious truths is imperfect and hence should not be disputed dogmatically. Instead, pious conduct was central to justification; salvation was not achieved by faith alone but by action and divine support. Hutcheson’s religious thought is innovatively recontextualized within this new theological current.

The third chapter offers a fresh perspective on the Moderates in the 1750s. Ahnert focuses here first on their position on patronage: they undertook a difficult balancing act between maintaining the authority of the General Assembly and respecting the tender consciences of individuals. He then examines how the Moderates, with Hugh Blair a key figure, accepted and extended the arguments of the heterodox figures discussed in the previous chapter on moral and religious “culture.” In both cases the Moderates were less secular than commonly argued. Ahnert next explores their orthodox critics, with John Witherspoon the main focus, and their arguments during the disputes in the mid-eighteenth-century Kirk. Ahnert stresses how the orthodox maintained a far stronger belief in the possibility of natural religion, and he discusses the Common Sense philosophers’ views on relationship between religion and reason. Primarily using Thomas Reid as an example, he shows that the Common Sense school held that the Moderates’ appeal to natural sentiments in encouraging pious action was naïve. But Reid and his colleagues did share a focus on the culture of the mind, rather than adherence to doctrine, as being central to good character. The conclusion examines the Moderates’ position during the Leslie Affair of 1805. Historiographical orthodoxy here is that Moderates had become a backward-looking interest group trying to maintain their grip on power. Ahnert examines them from this institutional angle, but he also analyzes the continuation of their earlier generation’s views of “culture” and the successful characterization of the Moderates by the Popular Party as a complacent and lethargic grouping within the Kirk.

Ahnert has written an innovative and persuasive book with broader significance for understanding the European Enlightenment. And he has new things to say about many of the conventional interpretations of key controversies within the Scottish Enlightenment. The following thoughts emerge as conversation points and not criticisms. Many of the “enlightened” theorists that Ahnert discusses maintained a belief, despite their skepticism about unassisted reason, that humans are providentially framed to passionately believe in the existence of one God by dint of internal sense or intuitive principles. As a result, “enlightened” Scots dampened, rather than rejected, the earlier Calvinist belief in the unavoidable knowledge of religious doctrine. Secondly, the paradox of the “enlightened” being skeptical about reason is less puzzling when viewed from the perspective of the dispute over innate religious ideas in the late seventeenth century. Viewed in the context of the abandonment of the innatist doctrine partly following from Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke’s stress on the hard work involved in reasoning and the role of revelation for the majority, and the increased willingness to view the anthropological testimony of human societies as demonstrating religious diversity, the Moderates’ position can seem eminently “enlightened.” Is Locke not more important in framing the philosophical developments described? Moreover, the relationship between the contemporaneous Scottish and English debates over the religious capabilities of human nature would be a fruitful area for further research. Finally, Ahnert describes the changing understanding of the role of moral conduct as being primarily a theological dispute and certainly far less to do with the positive reception of ancient thought, especially in the form of “Christian Stoicism.” Another potential line of further investigation would be the relationship between these theological debates and the study of religion within the “science of human nature.” In the case of many of the key works—those of Archibald Campbell, Lord Kames, and William Robertson spring to mind—skeptical positions on human reasoning powers were being grounded on arguments framed using these new methods of investigation.

Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and Its Empire, 1648-1715, by William J. Bulman. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. 357. $82.54. ISBN:  9781107073685.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Galbraith
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.5
Cite: Jeffrey Galbraith, review of Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and Its Empire, by William J. Bulman, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 16-19, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.5

The Enlightenment, in its traditional, boiled-down form, describes the European intellectual movement that rejected older forms of religion and knowledge in pursuit of rationalism and science. Philosophical in nature, anticlerical in impulse, the Enlightenment was the product of emancipating ideas, the embrace of which led to the production of mature, autonomous individuals. This traditional account of the Enlightenment, viewed as heralding the dawn of secular liberalism, has met resistance from scholars who argue that traditional knowledge and belief frequently proved compatible with new ideas. Recent scholarship has gone a step further in laying down its challenge to the standard view. Current work focuses on the role of media in the period, attending foremost to the articulation and dissemination of ideas rather than to the ideas themselves. Such an approach yields a thicker, more insightful description of the changes occurring in late-seventeenth-century England. Historian William J. Bulman’s examination of the Anglican clergyman Lancelot Addison joins this growing body of scholarship. In Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and Its Empire, 1648­–1715, Bulman argues that the clergyman’s life and writings reveal a phase of enlightenment that preceded the latitudinarian, rationalist Anglicanism of the eighteenth century.

The life and writings of Lancelot Addison provide a window onto the shift from late humanist learning to Enlightenment historical scholarship. In this, they yield a narrative that belies the typical association of conformism with coercion. Addison devoted his learning to the project of securing civil peace after the violence of the English Civil War. His work, along with that of other Anglican divines, is notable for demonstrating “the predicament of secularity” in the period (177). In this conception, which Bulman adapts from Charles Taylor, secularity describes a set of conditions under which public religion recognized and responded to an increasingly pluralist context. As Anglican conformists engaged a diverse audience both at home and abroad, they were forced to consider questions such as, “How was it possible to persuade the pious, the impious, the radical, and the orthodox, all at the same time?” (177). Anglican Enlightenment argues that such rhetorical predicaments pushed Addison and other Restoration clergy toward scholarly innovation. From the treatise West Barbary (1671) and the Islamic history of The First State of Muhamedism (1678) to the pastoral care of The Catechumen (1690), Addison’s works reveal the rhetorical, non-coercive dimension of conformism and, significantly, the global context that shaped it.

Attention to the practices and institutions of Enlightenment media distinguishes Anglican Enlightenment as a work of history that yields insights into scholarly methods, literary form, and styles of worship. Bulman’s method, which finds precedent in the work of Jonathan Sheehan and Oscar Kenshur, operates on the assumption that tools and practices do not bear any necessary or essential ideological value in themselves. The Modest Plea for the Clergy (1677) attests to the merits of this approach. Addison’s treatise employs scholarly methods that predate the deist Matthew Tindal’s use of similar tools decades later to attack the clergy: “the freethinkers’ tools,” Bulman explains, “had not been invented by dissidents, but long cultivated by the establishment” (3). The discussion of toleration provides an additional example. While we typically regard toleration as the key to the progress of liberal democracy, Bulman builds on recent revisionist scholarship to examine toleration as a strategy of governance that “could be championed by adherents of any ideology if the moment seemed right” (210). The tools of argumentation acquired by clergymen from their late humanist training represent one of the central conflicts examined in the book. The humanist curriculum was often singled out as having caused the theological disputes that led to civil war. In the Restoration period, Anglican conformists sought to neutralize the association between rhetoric and violence; however, some, like Addison, remained ambivalent about the value of public engagement. Although he found it necessary to speak out in defense of moral and divine truths, there seemed to be “no obvious way to simultaneously protect the truth and bring peace to church and state” (174). Such was the dilemma of public theology.

Anglican Enlightenment is divided into four thematic sections of two chapters each, comprising Foundations, Culture, Religion, and Politics. This choice of organization at times feels awkward, resulting in a disjointed approach that revisits Addison’s works in different contexts. Chapter 1 focuses on Addison’s education in the traditional humanist curriculum, which he began during the Civil War and later continued at Oxford during the Interregnum. Addison’s humanist education honed his argumentative skills, giving him a powerful set of tools that would lead him into orientalist scholarship. Chapter 2 follows young Addison to the English colony at Tangier after the Restoration, where he served as chaplain and worked as a spy gathering intelligence for the state. In these chapters, Bulman frames Anglican enlightenment as challenging any expected connection between innovation and freedom. “Innovative, scholarly travel writing in this period,” he argues, “was in no way dependent upon freedom from the shackles of authority” (59). The cultural and religious diversity that Anglican divines encountered through travel only intensified the conditions of secularity that they met at home. Time spent in North Africa caused Addison and other Englishmen to relativize their own context, with the result that “they began to hammer out a sort of rudimentary social science that allowed them to understand all civilizations on the same terms, so better to manipulate them” (42).

In the next set of chapters, Bulman argues that Anglican conformism in this early phase of the Enlightenment proved innovative rather than reactionary. In chapter 3, the subject is the orientalist scholarship that resulted from Addison’s days in the Maghrib. Bulman demonstrates how this work reveals advances in historiography, particularly in relation to the changing norms of credibility. Chapter 4 focuses on the historical study of religion in The Present State of the Jews (1675) and The First State of Muhamedism (1678). Addison engaged in the study of civil and natural religion in these treatises, in effect working out a comparative study of religion. The most important innovation discussed in this section is Addison’s universal theory of religious imposture. As Bulman explains, “by the later seventeenth century, the basic categories of post-Reformation polemic were becoming truly universalized. There was no longer anything inherently Christian about popery, puritanism, or priestcraft, and there was no longer anything inherently European about universal monarchy” (126). For Addison, history revealed that priestcraft was a problem for all civil religions. It was not merely the domain of muftis and imams but could be found among laypeople as well. Although the charge of priestcraft is typically regarded as the invention of Whig anticlerical writers, Bulman argues that Addison’s work takes the novelty out of their challenge to the clergy.

Historical accounts of civil and natural religion aided conformists in responding to the predicament of secularity. In The First State of Muhamedism, Addison analyzed Islam as a civil religion that offered numerous parallels to England’s recent conflicts. In Addison’s depiction, Islamic jihadists looked a lot like some puritans, while the actions of Muhammed mirrored those of Cromwell. However, the study of civil religion suggested multiple, often incompatible, recommendations for how to proceed in the present. For Addison, the answer lay in proper religious instruction. Addison’s support for catechizing, found in the tract The Primitive Institution (1674), serves Bulman as an example of how conformists advanced their agenda through noncoercive means: “Because it was the only sure way to control men’s minds, catechizing young people and their ignorant elders was the linchpin of Anglican Enlightenment” (158). Bulman’s phrasing in this passage captures the grudging tension that animated conformists. Anglican elites accepted the conditions of secularity even as they continued to seek control of society. The sixth chapter, on worship, provides an additional angle on this tension, this time in relation to the tracts An Introduction to the Sacrament (1682) and The Catechumen (1690). In these, Addison found in the sacrificial function of ancient natural religions a means of defending “the media of the Laudian style” (186). As is the case throughout Anglican Enlightenment, history again provided an alternative to theological conflict. Whereas arguments for ceremony divided England before the Civil War, enlightened Anglicans fared much better when attempting to advance their Laudian commitments. They achieved a “silent triumph” through efforts such as Addison’s search for the universal characteristics of natural religion (177).

The last section of the book situates Addison in the context of political conflict, spanning the period from the Declaration of Indulgence to his appointment as Dean of Lichfield in 1683 and the Trinitarian controversy of the 1690s. While previous chapters focused on Addison’s backward-looking gaze, the seventh chapter examines the same set of works in the context of the pressing partisan concerns that often faced the Restoration church. We learn, for instance, how the Declaration of Indulgence prompted his work on catechizing, and how The Modest Plea for the Clergy served as his response to the anticlerical rage of the 1670s. The front matter of The First State of Muhamedism shows Addison endorsing a skeptical view of the Popish Plot. In this last example, Bulman explains that Addison characteristically used literary form to “elude censure, and discourage open controversy” during the succession crisis (233). Unlike his more disputatious brethren, a group which included the vitriolic Samuel Parker, Addison pursued the path of restraint, opting for a more measured response to conflict. He would go on to reprint and repackage earlier works as a way of contributing to subsequent controversies, such as when he designed the third edition of The First State of Muhamedism as part of the Anglican resistance against James II. The treatise that “had once served as a takedown of anti-popery,” Bulman explains, “was now being used to skewer a Catholic king” (249). The practice of reprinting provides another testament to how Enlightenment media could be put to different ideological purposes.

The last section, “Politics,” offers a more traditional, and some might say more helpful, presentation of Addison’s work. But it quickly becomes clear why Anglican Enlightenment saves it for last. While partisan context often lends itself to a reductive interpretation of an author’s motives, Addison proves a bad fit for existing scholarly narratives of the period, which Bulman faults for their “Manichean” rigidity (5). An accurate picture of enlightened Anglicanism requires bringing to light the tension, and the irony, to which clergy like Addison remained committed. As Bulman explains, “Anglican pamphleteers and orators never tired of calling for violent disputation and excessive preaching to be replaced by diligent catechizing and humble homilies. Yet by publicly arguing against public argument they partly perpetuated the very dilemma about confronting threats to the church that their interventions were meant to resolve” (164). This irony serves to clarify rather than obscure, as Bulman shows how Addison’s work provides a new perspective on a number of public clashes. The last such conflict, coinciding with Addison’s death in 1703, is the controversy over occasional conformity. Building on recent work by Brent Sirota, Bulman shows how the controversy led Laudian, Tory clergymen like Addison to abandon their public support of limited religious toleration, despite the fact that it had long served as “a rhetorical staple of post-Reformation Protestantism” (279). With the divisions in the church continuing to widen in the aftermath of 1688, this moment represents the demise of enlightened Anglicanism. In response to the challenge of the freethinkers, the high church movement abandoned the historical study of civil and natural religion that had informed so much of Addison’s work, insisting on recognizing the church as a society distinct from the state. During the reign of Queen Anne, the moderation sought by Addison became the focus of dispute.

The book’s final pages attest to the value of Anglican Enlightenment for literary scholars as well as historians. Addison’s death brought about the return of Lancelot’s son, Joseph, from his tour of the continent after the completion of his studies. Joseph has proven to be the better known of the two Addisons, due to his authorship of the Tatler and Spectator papers with Richard Steele. The enlightened Anglicanism of the father, however, offers a significant vantage point for gaining perspective on the son. Bulman concludes the book with the suggestion that Joseph Addison carried on his father’s conformist agenda through the medium of the periodical essay. The moderate sociability that Joseph developed in the Spectator essays, he notes, “speak[s] far more to the perfection of pastoral power in secular form than to a triumph for free speech in a literary public sphere” (283). The Spectator worked out a form of Whig sociability that, for Bulman, combined freedom and discipline in a way reminiscent of the father’s response to the problem of public theology. The claim is well worth pondering further. With insights like these, Anglican Enlightenment should be required reading for anyone willing to wrestle with the complex nature of the Enlightenment and its legacy.

The Enlightenment Qur’an: The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam, by Ziad Elmarsafy. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009. Pp. 288. $29.95. ISBN: 9781851686520.

Reviewed by Siti Sarah Binte Daud
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.4
Cite: Siti Sarah Binte Daud, review of The Enlightenment Qur’an: The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam, by Ziad Elmarsafy, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 2 (fall 2019): 14-15, doi: 10.32655/srej.2019.2.4

In The Enlightenment Qur’an: The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam, Ziad Elmarsafy argues that the Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam, was a key influence on some of the most ground-breaking intellectual work in the European Enlightenment because “the engagement with Islam enable[d] a radical break with past traditions and the conception of something new” (x). Such “shifts in perspectives,” according to Elmarsafy, were possible only because of “new translations of the Qur’an that were being produced in Europe after the mid-seventeenth century,” translations that moved away from the “outright hostility” found in Ludovico Marraci’s version to the “genuine understanding” of  George Sale’s version (xi).

As such, the book can be broadly divided into two parts. Elmarsafy dedicates the first half of The Enlightenment Qur’an to charting the history of translating the Qur’an into Western languages from the twelfth to the eighteenth century. In the second half of the book he is concerned with the way in which such translations were used by some of the most iconic figures of the European Enlightenment.

The book’s first half opens with a chapter that traces the different translations across the centuries and notes how they are marked by the political upheavals of their time. These translations, Elmarsafy writes, “bear witness to a history of conflict—not only with Islam but within Christendom—as well as a secret attraction across the boundary between cultures and religions” (1). Throughout the chapter, Elmarsafy provides examples of landmark translations that appear at specific points in history, along with copious descriptions of the climate of ideas that produced each unique version. He notes that the earliest translations, such as the Toledan Collection commissioned by Peter the Venerable in 1142, were borne out of a desire to “convert Muslims” and thus became a “standard part of Christian anti-Muslim polemical and apologetical literature” (1). Later translations were still marked by anti-Muslim sentiment despite taking a “dramatic turn for the better,” as translators had to include such anti-Muslim propaganda in order to “foil any censors” (8–9). One example is Marraci’s remarkable 1698 translation, which is ruined by the “frequent recourse to military language and the “refutations” that he adds to display his “open hostility” toward Islam (13). It is not until George Sale, whose “youth coincided with key advances in European studies about Islam” and the “growing Cartesianism of early eighteenth-century Utrecht,” that translations of the Qur’an began to improve (14).

Sale’s translation of the Qur’an is of special interest to Elmarsafy, and the reason for this becomes abundantly clear as the book transitions into the second half of the argument. In chapter 2, Elmarsafy expounds on the key differences between Sale’s and Marraci’s translations. Marraci, he writes, saw his “task as verbal warfare” (38) and had put great emphasis on characterizing Muhammad, a key figure in the Qur’an, as violent and forceful by describing him as a fraud who appropriated Judeo-Christian truths to “hoodwink and bully his helpless victims” (44). Sale however, bearing no anti-Islamic agenda, characterized Muhammad as “the legislator of the Arabs, rather than a warrior king,” and thus creates a more respectable version of Muhammad in his translations (41). The way that their different perspectives produced wildly different conclusions from the same text is explored further in the following chapter, in which Elmarsafy outlines how the two translators negotiated the similarities and differences between the Qur’an and Christian scriptures.

However, it is chapter 2’s findings that have the most bearing on the second half of this book. The revamping of the figure of Muhammad in Sale’s (and later in Claude Savary’s) translation underpins chapters 4, 5, and 6, which explore how this new conceptualization of Muhammad influenced the ideas of Voltaire, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, and Napoleon Bonaparte. In chapter 4, Elmarsafy shows how Voltaire’s “reading of Sale’s translation of the Qur’an” (83) allowed him to “rehabilitate” the figure of Muhammad and “recognise his ability as a statesman and ‘grand homme’ whose existence changes history” (81). This view of Muhammad was also taken by Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Elmarsafy posits in chapter 5 that the Frenchman would very likely have come across Sale’s Preliminary Discourse and would have used Sale’s Muhammad as “an important case study” upon which to theorize his ideal legislator (127). What follows is a fascinating chapter on Napoleon Bonaparte and the influence that Savary’s translation of the Qur’an had on him. Like Sale, Savary painted Muhammad as a “legislator and a demagogue” (147), and Napoleon, Elmarsafy observes, “displays more than a few parallels with Savary’s portrait of Muhammad” and “thought he himself could have been Muhammad” (148–49).

Elmarsafy rounds off this illustrious list with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, linked to the chapters before him through “a mechanism similar to the one operative in the cases of Voltaire and Napoleon: an identification with a great man” (160). However, unlike Napoleon, Goethe has a gentler conceptualization of Muhammad. This milder impression arises from Goethe’s ideas on world literature and his own role as a translator. For him, the “operation of literature is bound intimately with its role as an earthly gospel”; he saw the work of a translator as akin to that of a prophet “who transmits God’s message in a language that the people … can understand.” (174). Thus, Goethe saw “in Muhammad and the Qur’an a brilliant example of what words can do.” (177). Elmarsafy suggests that the influence of Goethe’s views on world literature can be seen on Thomas Carlyle, who wrote an “account of Muhammad that overturns the routine accusations of imposture and ambition in favor of a man seeking, finding, and proclaiming answers regarding his place in the universe” (177–78).

Elmarsafy’s book is thus a persuasive and insightful challenge to two of the most enduring assumptions of the European Enlightenment: the notion that religion had little impact on this fiercely rationalistic era and the widely held belief that the “rapport” between the Islamic and the European world was “defined by conflict alone” (x).