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Forces of Secularity in the Modern World

Volume 1


Stephen Strehle

Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.

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Chapter Three: Enlightened History

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Enlightened History


History is a discipline that cannot escape its humanity. It is continually involved in the all-too-human process of selecting and representing people and events to highlight what is significant for the “lesson” at hand. If science cannot know the “thing-in-itself” in the post-Kantian world, with all its direct and existential relation to the empirical object, then history cannot know the “past-in-itself” through the indirect testimony of its human records and documents.1 No better illustration of this problem is the many and continuous quests of scholars to obtain objective or semi-objective information on Jesus of Nazareth—perhaps, the most pivotal or crucial figure in western civilization. Scholars find the humanity of the early reports disconcerting when trying to ascertain the exact historical truth about him. These reports were written in such a way that the subjectivity of the authors is woven together with the object of the inquiry, the style of the authors with the words of Jesus, the soteriological significance with the person, and the kerygma or message with the historical events, making it difficult to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.2 Was it Jesus or John who proclaimed God’s love for the world in sending the only-begotten Son (Jn 3:16)? Was Jesus still speaking to Nicodemus about the Spirit and salvation, or John expanding the account and providing his metaphysical commentary when these famous words are related in the text? There appears to be no objective way of answering the question about this and anything else Jesus said or did. Jesus and John are tangled together within the ← 87 | 88 → text, creating a problem that follows the quest for the historical Jesus wherever it turns and illustrating the same problem that follows all other historical research in varying degrees, since no one can speak in an objective way about events, or escape the human element of history. The subject and object are ever joined within the human condition.

In the United States, many people complain about the secular bias of modern textbooks, marginalizing religion and its people in a systematic manner.3 Few people find their complaint without merit, given the religious sensibilities of many Americans and desire to represent all perspectives in an egalitarian and democratic society. Paul Vitz and the Department of Education led the crusade against secular bias in the 1980s by conducting an exhaustive study of the nation’s social and history texts and complaining that these texts generally ignored religion as a motivating factor in the nation’s fundamental beliefs and tended to associate it with antiquated colonial beliefs of a bygone era.4 In a rare instance of political cooperation, both left-wing and right-wing forces joined the chorus in the next few decades in complaining about the secular bias or marginalization of religion in the texts.5

Probably the most egregious problem that many of these critics mention in their reviews is the overemphasis upon the concept of religious freedom in founding the country. Robert Bryan says,

These textbooks are written to propound the thesis that America was settled for the sake of religious freedom, and that religious freedom means the absence of religion [emphasis in original].… Once the [early Eastern seaboard] settlement has been effected, and the population has escaped from the trammels of religion, religion need not be mentioned again. There are exceptions to this general rule, but they are so sporadic as to be incapable of conveying anything like the true importance of religion in America.…6

Bryan sees the strong emphasis upon religious freedom as a surreptitious attack upon religion, or a clandestine way of stressing that religion brings strife and division in society above all other social forces, and people need emancipation from its dogma in the public arena.7 This doctrine of “toleration” feigns the high road of advancing the cause of liberty and diversity, but causes the reader to dislike religious people as an intended or unintended consequence by making them the sponsors of intolerance and bigotry in society.8 The texts develop this notion of “tolerance” by viewing the world in a binary manner, adopting Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church & state,” and causing the reader to miss the intimate relationship between religion, politics, and culture, except in a negative way.9

The influence of the binary is best illustrated by the enormous credit given to certain eighteenth-century patriarchs or “Founding Fathers” for establishing the ← 88 | 89 → American view of government while slighting any serious mention of the Puritan matrix of these ideas within the culture. It is abundantly clear that Puritans served as the fundamental social force in spreading concepts like liberty, equality, democracy, and the federal government in England during the seventeenth century and used these ideas to establish vital experiments in New England at that time, beginning with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. It is also clear that their culture stimulated the revolt against Mother England during the next century, with Congregationalists representing up to nine-tenths of the churches and the Reformed around three-quarters of all churches in America. A previous study established these matters in some detail,10 but other studies, typically older studies like David Hume’s History of England and Alex de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, knew of this cultural influence and related it with much the same emphasis,11 before the binary mindset began to skew the judgment of historians and eliminate the positive significance of religion in shaping the nation.12 Today, the Puritan heritage is practically forgotten. The grave of John Winthrop, the first democratically-elected governor of the Puritans, lies hardly noticeable next to a Unitarian church and Boston’s Freedom Trail, which celebrates the typical figures and events of the American Revolution, without much reference to Puritans. The “Founding Fathers” of the country are not Puritans but eighteenth-century “secular” politicians who helped lead the revolt and receive much credit for doing so through the erection of idols and colonnaded temples on the Washington Mall, the consecration of holidays in their honor, and the naming of buildings and landmarks—all to the glory of their role in history and the national consciousness. Sometimes their religion is mentioned to pacify certain quarters but only as a footnote and often separated from their “enlightened” political point of view.

This bias of modern American history began to develop at the end of the eighteenth century when the ideology and attitudes of French philosophes gained considerable stature among the intelligentsia and the learned public. The new enlightened disposition carried with it a decided bias against Christianity in general as the great obstacle to human progress and sponsor of bigotry and turmoil in society—part of which was grounded in the substantive shortcomings of the church but much of it in an exaggerated and unbalanced caricature of its history. Ironically, much of the criticism began within the church in Protestant circles, who wanted to reform their religion and not destroy it. The Puritans led the way in trying to reform the church of “Romish” practices in England but ended up creating a dark caricature of ecclesiastical history in their zealotry—a zealotry that was used by the enemies of the Christian faith to proceed even further and propose écrazer l’infâme with Voltaire and his disciples in the French Revolution. John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (1563) served as the most popular and celebrated ← 89 | 90 → account of this conception of history, undergoing no less than nine editions and several abridgments before the Puritan Revolution in the 1640s.13 His work dispensed with the typical hagiography of previous accounts and preferred to emphasize the dark side, revealing for the first time in a “full and complete history” the atrocities that developed in the church a thousand years after its inception—the corruption, bribery, graft, simony, and violence of this “dark age.” The papal church made a pact with the devil during this time and persecuted the small “rennaunt” of true believers, barely visible to the naked eye—“heretics” like Berengar of Tours, Joachim, William Ockham, John Wyclif, Lorenzo Valla, and John Hus.14 The church developed into a thoroughly corrupt institution and needed serious reform in the mind of the Puritans—or maybe, a much more permanent solution as the early English Deists and French philosophes had in mind.

Voltaire (1694–1778)

Voltaire and the French philosophes used this Protestant concept of history as conducive to their polemical struggle with the church and paved the way toward the modern version of history, which no longer looks to the Judeo-Christian tradition as the fundamental source of cultural inspiration. In his works, Voltaire is the first to recognize his bias or the subjective nature of human history and his account of it.15 He admits quite openly that writing history involves a process of limiting the immense amount of material that encompasses all of life and selecting what is of “use” to the author’s purpose.16 In fact, he finds it necessary to dispense with documentation to make the material accessible to the reader in creating a graceful narrative and highlighting what is truly significant or necessary to know.17 Writing history involves the author in a “philosophical” process as one attempts to synthesize the material into a comprehensible unity for the reader and brings the imprint of moral judgment upon it, as one tries to characterize the past and provide “lessons” for future generations to follow.18

Voltaire’s “philosophical history” shows a distinct bias toward the present, as if all of history was leading up to his era and culture in a teleological manner.19 The progress involves a desire to demythologize or exorcise any supernatural understanding of history and emphasize the autonomous “march of the human mind” in creating the world through the rational use of nature.20 Of course, secular scholars tend to hail this move as a significant moment in the production of modern history as they follow Voltaire in using present standards to judge the past and promote the current secular view of life as the objective way to understand things.21 They might be less pronounced in their bias, but the basic outline of the Voltairean program ← 90 | 91 → remains much the same in exalting secularity. Voltaire thinks Western Europe is “now more populated, more wealthy, more enlightened than before, and even more superior to the Roman empire.”22 In particular, the “age of Louis XIV” is the “dawn of good taste,” the “most enlightened century that ever was,” and embodies the standard by which one can judge all the other periods.23 This era stands in stark contrast to the Middle Ages, where “human nature fell to a sub-bestial level in many respects” after the fall of Rome.24 “Physics, astronomy, and the principles of medicine” were unknown in the “age of darkness”; its universities filled with “gibberish,” mixing theology and philosophy together to resolve the most inane scholastic disputes.25 Toward the end of the thirteenth century, the Italians began to “shake off this barbarous rust,” and continued the “rebirth” up until the seventeenth century when Galileo brought “real philosophy” to Europe by using the “language of truth and reason” in his physics.26 Italy preserved this flicker of light, while the Reformation devastated much of Western Europe, “retarding instead of forwarding the progress of reason.”27 The Reformers brought a “tyrannical spirit,” “inflexible and violent” temper and “strong desire to distinguish themselves” in the hope of “attaining power over consciences.”28 The modern world needed to throw off its “self-incurred tutelage” within the Judeo-Christian tradition to become truly “enlightened” through the power of autonomous or secular reason.29

Throughout the presentation, Voltaire displays his intense animosity toward the Judeo-Christian tradition as a primary motive underlying his historical analysis.30 He wants to show how little value the West derived from its relation to Hebrew culture and how much havoc it endured from the Christian Church, the intolerant offspring of Jewish religious convictions.31 His Essai les Moeurs et l’Esprit des Nations finds one of its main purposes in undermining the bigotry or provincial nature of the Judeo-Christian tradition by broadening the limited contours of western history into a universal perspective, which tries to encompass and appreciate all major cultural forms upon the globe.32 The vast majority of the presentation still remains centered on European history, but he does his best to include a number of sections upon other cultures to reduce the problem of western ethnocentricity—a remarkable achievement given the knowledge and resources of the day. In trying to promote the study of other cultures, he lures in the audience by suggesting the West owes a considerable cultural debt to the East as the “nursery of all arts.”33 In trying to promote religious toleration, he extolls Islam for creating a superior culture in Spain, exhibiting more openness to people than the Jews, and displaying more toleration than Christians toward each other throughout its empire.34 As a good Deist, he wants the audience to believe that all human beings possess the same essential beliefs and values, and does so by portraying the Chinese, Mongols, Japanese, Indians, and other peoples as believing in one ← 91 | 92 → supreme deity and sharing a similar ethical code, except exhibiting more toleration than Jews and Christians during much of their history.35

He thinks of Christianity as causing most of the violence within western society. Unlike the “pagan” religious community, the church was split with seditious disputes over dogmatic tenets throughout its history: bishops condemning each other to exile, prison, death, and eternal torment36; popes using trivial matters of contention to excommunicate their rivals—all for the sake of gaining power.37 Christian emperors joined the zealotry by extending the religion through the force of arms. They ensured uniformity among the subjects by participating in the bigotry of Orthodox disputes, like the infamous iconoclastic controversy during and after the time of Charlemagne, the burning of heretics beginning at Orléans in 1022, and the Thirty Years’ War, which divided Germany with intolerance and chaos during the times of the Reformation. Voltaire likes to emphasize these dark chapters in Christendom and provides a darker interpretation of the events than what is typically presented in most accounts to diminish the church.38 For example, his description of the crusades provides little sympathy for the Crusaders and tends to favor the Muslim side of the situation to promote this agenda. Voltaire speaks of the crusades as beginning with the “pathetic” and “imaginative” ravings of Peter the Hermit, who complained about the “exactions which he suffered in Jerusalem” and gave Urban II an excuse to incite enthusiasm and call Christians to arms against Muslims.39 In taking Jerusalem on July 5, 1099, the Crusaders massacred all non-Christians without mercy and then “burst into tears” upon reaching the sepulcher of Christ, the ill-founded destination of their fanaticism.40 Some of them were motivated by “their zeal and love of glory, others by their crimes and distresses; the fury of propagating religion by the sword.”41 Voltaire contrasts this orthodox zeal with the generosity of Muslims like Saladin, who spared the lives of Crusaders, restored the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the Orthodox, and loved all human beings as brothers, regardless of their specific religious profession.42

When Voltaire thinks of the church, he invariably has its hierarchy in mind and his intense dislike for its exercise of authority in the temporal sphere. He says that all humankind has some sense of the priesthoods’ oppressive nature and want to gain independence from the temporal lusts of popes, bishops, and priests.43 In the desire to gain worldly power and possession, the hierarchy has corrupted the sanctity of the church and brought anarchy and bloodshed to society.44

In describing the church and its hierarchy, Voltaire’s particular focus falls upon the papacy as representing the entire mission of the church. His account tries to proceed in a fair and objective manner by praising the conduct and rule of certain popes and dismissing scurrilous reports of wickedness when sufficient historical documentation is lacking, but the general drift of the discussion contains a decided ← 92 | 93 → agenda in directing the reader toward a dark view of the papal office and its history. A few good things are mentioned, but papal crimes and wickedness stand out in the account and include such infamous acts as immorality, incest, and debauchery; murdering the innocent, poisoning rivals, and torturing enemies; and selling relics, benefices, and absolution in order to gain a more opulent lifestyle45—the typical Protestant charges that contain some element of truth when kept within proportion.

Above all the charges, Voltaire centers his account upon the lust for temporal power. This passion has prompted the papacy to issue “false decretals” like the Donation of Constantine and moved some of its occupants to engage in the tragicomic image of leading armies into battle, with bishops serving as officers.46 Voltaire finds the zenith of this impudence within the constant attempt of popes to make emperors, kings, and princes their vassals, subjecting them to chastisement or humiliating acts of penance—a matter that preoccupies his discussion.47 The “superstition” of the day granted to the pontifex maximus absolute authority over the remission of sins, and the popes used the power to control princes and undermine their secular authority.48 Gregory VII (1073–1085) was the first pope to raise his dignity above the state as the judge of all temporal rulers, claiming the sacred duty to reproach moral lapses in worldly powers and pull down their pride.49 Voltaire rejects the papacy’s right to meddle in the affairs of the state and commends the response of “every secular prince endeavoring to render his government independent of the see of Rome.”50 He chastens Gregory VII as an evil man with an “inflexible ambition,” believing that “every good citizen” should hold him in horror,51 but shows considerable secular bias in failing to appreciate the depravity of civic rulers and their need for moral reproof.52 He displays almost no understanding of the important relationship between the rise of canon law and papal power in the eleventh century and so expresses no appreciation for the papal office and its attempt to bring some semblance of moral order in Europe by chastening the wantonness of its rulers.53 Gregory VII and his successors are attempting to make lex rex,54 while Voltaire prefers to exalt the autonomous wisdom and powers of his “enlightened” despots in throwing off the yoke of the Vatican and its law.

Voltaire’s analysis of the church suffers from its continual preoccupation with the papacy and its failure to grasp the many dimensions and cultural ramifications of the religion as a whole. In his Essai and elsewhere, he proposes to write a history that steers away from the old emphasis upon the battles of worldly leaders and center upon the development of the human mind, as well as the customs and manners affecting the everyday life of the common person,55 but much of his emphasis belies this type of expansive vision. Most of his history spends ← 93 | 94 → its energy upon the power brokers of society, and only a small minority of sections are devoted to larger intellectual and sociological concerns in any explicit way. This deficit is particularly evident in his analysis of the church, which he tends to portray through papal intrigues or the power plays of its hierarchy—hardly representing its overall cultural impact or what the religion represents to the average person. For the most part, his discussion appears to ignore the political and cultural ramifications of the Christian faith, especially any positive impact on the maturation of society and prefers to think of the religion as a mere “pretense” for “perpetual slaughter and confusion” in Europe.56 For example, he tends to characterize the Protestant faith as bringing more sectarian dissent into Europe and fails to recognize its decisive role in the emerging political order of the modern world, except in a few parenthetical comments. He describes the “first religious war between Catholics and the Reformed” without understanding Zwingli’s struggle for liberty against the Hapsburgs and the pope.57 He discusses the massacre of Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew’s Day and empathizes with their suffering, but considers their religious ideas fanatical and shows little appreciation for the clear relationship between those ideals and their republican views of polity as a part of the conflict.58 He recognizes the Protestant faith of Elizabeth I but shows no connection between her religious profession and policies of toleration—perhaps wanting to attribute this positive change of heart to some other factor than her understanding of Christian faith and practice.59 He condemns the Puritans for executing William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over his preference for traditional Catholic ceremonies but ignores the deeper nature of the conflict, which concerns his support for the hierarchical government and his nefarious role in persecuting nonconformists as the chief inquisitor of the Privy Council.60

When he acknowledges the deeper connections, it typically leads to a wholesale condemnation of the political stance as a product of fanatical religious devotion. He condemns Thomas Muntzer for taking Luther’s priesthood of the believers or obsession with equality and preaching to the peasants that “all humans are created equal.”61 He condemns the Puritans and Whigs for taking the same egalitarian emphasis, developing a republican polity, undermining the royalty, and leading the British nation into “barbarism.”62 But he expresses his most vehement condemnation for those religious fanatics who deign to attack the king: Catholic fanatics for conspiring against Henry IV and James I, Jesuits for justifying regicide, and Puritans for deigning to execute Charles I.63 Voltaire considers the rule of secular despots not so bad as to warrant their violent removal.64 The real source of evil occurs when the church tries to meddle in the affairs of state and inflict its fanatical beliefs upon it. ← 94 | 95 →

Guillaume Thomas François Raynal (1713–1796)

The philosophes continued the legacy of Voltaire’s philosophical history in writing a new account of its persons and events that diminished and demeaned the contribution of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Their most famous and influential work was L’Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, which was first published in 1770 and substantially expanded a couple of times in 1774 and 1780. It was attributed to Abbé Raynal, although Diderot composed around a third of it and others collaborated with him in producing the massive six-volume work. Its immediate impact was enormous in spreading the philosophes’ point of view throughout France, Britain, and America, undergoing thirty official French editions and producing almost half that number in English during the first few decades.65

In the work, Raynal (and his colleagues) conveys the typical suspicion of priests that circulated among the philosophes.66 He denigrates the Jewish priests of the OT as the forerunners of the Christian hierarchy,67 but specifically focuses on the policies of Constantine in the fourth century and blames him for producing an “ecclesiastical despotism,” which afforded the clergy an unprecedented “share of wealth and authority” and “so many means of future aggrandizement.”68 Thereafter these ministers became obsessed with power in regulating the conduct of others, disposing of their fortunes, and “securing to themselves in the name of heaven the arbitrary government of the world.” The power was used to enhance the ministers and provided no benefit to the rest of humankind in helping them lead a more felicitous life here on earth. It only served the priests in obtaining the things of this world and corrupting their spiritual ministry. It caused them to represent a corrupt moral example of “abuses, sophisms, injustices, and usurpations,” and serve as the “most dreadful enemies of the state and nation,” corrupting princes and all citizens alike.69

Raynal extends his animosity beyond the priests to encompass the entire Christian faith and its stifling effect on the culture. Christianity brought a metaphysics of doom and gloom into the world, which demolished the “gay divinities of Greece and Rome,” making western civilization a dark place.70 It subjected all aspects of life to absolute religious surveillance with “prelacies of the Christian state…constantly informed of every commotion [and] every event” exercising “authority over every individual mind…in almost every transaction.”71 Christianity (along with Islam) covered the nations with blood and ignorance, bringing “disputes, schisms, sects, hatred, persecution, and national as well as religious wars” over idle scholastic questions “devoid of all sense.”72 The Italian Renaissance began to reverse the negative influence of Christianity by reviving the “arts of genius in ← 95 | 96 → the republics of Greece and Rome” and extending the “rebirth” to the shores of the Thames River. Italy, France, and England are now leading Europe into a new enlightened age of continuous linear growth toward the truth through the auspices of great lights, such as Galileo, Descartes, Gassendi, Bacon, and Newton.73 The destruction of Christianity and its priests have brought a new age of freedom and toleration, allowing the human race to follow the impulse of their conscience and extol the dictates of reason in making social progress.74

Raynal thinks that modern culture is making special progress in its understanding of the operations of good government. He expresses great admiration for the English system as the best regulated constitution “upon the face of the globe,” with its separation and balance of powers in the tradition of Locke and Montesquieu and its allocation of “real legislative power” in the Parliament.75 The English were the first to discern the “injustice and insufficiency of ecclesiastical power, the limits of regal authority, and the abuses of federal government,” basing their system upon the “rights of the people” and a “social compact.”76 This view of government was extended into the private sector, where a policy of free trade and rewarding hard work provides an enlightened concept of the inner workings of a vibrant economy. Raynal says it is these capitalist principles that increase the wealth of a nation, rather than the age-old pursuit of gold or the pillaging of other peoples through wars of conquest.77

In comparison to this account of England, his review of America and its policies is somewhat mixed. He follows the “noble savage” tradition of Rousseau and a natural humanitarian conscious that decries the ruthless treatment of native populations by the European colonists and inspires many of his readers to do likewise. The protest includes a strong denunciation of Spanish exploits in the southern hemisphere and the entire institution of slavery in North America.78 He provides the most excoriating analysis of these and other practices, and yet he also finds much the opposite in the New World that is worthy of praise. In particular, he holds out the Quakers of Pennsylvania as the one shining light for all of humankind, producing genuine policies of full toleration, liberty, and democracy.79 They disestablished religion and made their plantation a joint partnership of “Quakers, Anabaptists, members of the church of England, Methodists, Presbyterians, Moravians, Lutherans and Catholics”—all loving and cherishing each other in the city of “brotherly love.”80 William Penn and the Quakers chose to purchase much of their land from the natives, rather than take what belonged to others through violence and bloodshed. Their tolerance set an “example of moderation and justice in America, which was never thought of before in Europe.”81 However, his exaltation of the Quakers is made at the expense of the Puritans. He recognizes the democratic nature of the northeast colonies in making their own laws and electing ← 96 | 97 → their own officials,82 but denigrates the republics for the most part as run by religious fanatics and filled with intolerant practices, which are accented and exaggerated in the narrative.83 In doing so, he misses their cultural significance and only reveals his own deist prejudice in preferring to exalt non-dogmatic expressions of faith like the Quakers and their social impact. His narrative fails to mention that the Quakers grew up during the Puritan Revolution and simply extended the egalitarian, democratic, and antinomian tendencies that were already an integral part of the former religious movement.84 It also fails to remain consistent with its own sympathy toward the upcoming revolution in America85—a revolution that was spearheaded by the Puritans or Congregationalist of the northeast. Raynal recognizes that the “cry of liberty” and the “violent exhortations against England” are leading the way toward revolution,86 but he fails to acknowledge the role of Northeast Congregationalists in promoting the cause, or the legacy of Puritanism in developing the justification for revolution in the first place.87 It is clear that Puritans took the lead in fighting for liberty, while Quakers remained in the minds of most Americans after the war all-too-passive. Raynal’s account is shortsighted in failing to appreciate these and other points because of its secular and religious commitments.

Jules Michelet (1798–1874)

France was deeply divided over the philosophes and their legacy in the nineteenth century. The philosophes’ vitriolic style incited angry critics from the other side of the cultural debate, with some libraries “forced to bowderlize their shelves by throwing out volumes of Voltaire and Rousseau,” while others simply warned the readers of their connection with the horrors of the Revolution and its Reign of Terror.88 Napoleon and his successors tried to lessen the significance of the philosophes, expressing concern about certain aspects of their thought and the radical nature of the subsequent Revolution, but this spirit was kept alive by a remnant of intellectuals in opposing the general tendency of those regimes. They were led by Jules Michelet, who used historical research as an apologetic weapon to defend the legacy of the eighteenth century and help reverse the cultural trend toward the ascendancy of the philosophes’ ideals.89 In developing his history, he conducted massive research, perusing official documents in the National Archives and municipal records at the Hôtel de Ville as a conscientious historian, but showed few footnotes in his work and used the sources more like a lawyer who is pleading a case and mentioning only what suits his client than a faithful narrator of the simple facts.90 He and those who read him were the product of an ideology that they wanted to ← 97 | 98 → support by all means and were willing to find material and develop an interpretation conducive to their cause. His seven-volume Histoire de la Révolution française (1847–53) was used as the central text in the cultural war and kept the vision of the French Revolution alive among liberal leaders of the Second Empire. When the Third Republic came to power, its ideology became the law of the land and gained a wide readership that included many political leaders at the time like Jules Ferry, Jean Jaurès, and Jules Simon, who cut their teeth on its patriotism, republicanism, etatism, and anti-clericalism.91 Today the ideals are firmly implanted into the hearts and minds of the French people, and many of them consider Michelet the greatest of their historians.92

His work starts out making a shameless appeal to the ethnic prejudices of the French people in exalting the country and its roots in the Revolution. He claims to have demonstrated through the strict application of “logic and history” that “my glorious country is henceforth the pilot of the vessel of humanity.” This sublime destiny was set during the times of the Revolution, which lives as a vital force in the souls of the French people revealing its inner mystery and fundamental source of being.93 Those who prefer a more critical approach to the Revolution and like to emphasize the horrible bloodshed of the period are deprecated as “vampires of the ancient régime,” trying to turn its victims into martyrs for the monarchy.94 The Revolution should be remembered for its deeper essence as “the advent of the Law, the resurrection of Right, and the reaction of Justice.”95

The specific impetus behind the Revolution comes from two different directions, which are never completely reconciled in the account. The first is the influence of the philosophes providing the rational justification for the movement through the exercise of a superior intellect. “Whatever ideas the Revolution possessed it owed to the eighteenth century, to Voltaire and Rousseau.”96 These and other philosophes used their reason to penetrate the social order and prescribe the law, “bearing the tables of law in [their] hands” as the new version of Moses.97 “Philosophy found man without right, or rather a nonentity, entangled in a religious and political system, of which despotism was the base. And she said, ‘Let us create man, let him exist through liberty.’”98

The second impetus is the people, who became the real impulse behind the Revolution, moving with their leaders as one voice in “marvelous unanimity” toward creating one nation. Here Michelet follows Rousseau in viewing the “general will” of the people as the “voice of God.” The people moved upon the Bastille through a divine impulse according to his highly romanticized version of events, acting outside of reason (philosophes?) and beyond the National Assembly in fulfilling their spiritual destiny. The people showed great restraint in dealing with their enemies and must be viewed as an untainted spiritual force in spite of the bad ← 98 | 99 → press, acting outside the evil schemes of Robespierre and Saint-Just, who brought such disrepute upon the Revolution and the nation as a whole.99

For Michelet there is only la patrie and la fraternité. The French nation is the “real,” the “natural,” and the “eternal image of the good which we possess within us.”100 It was born when the first cannon was fired at the Bastille, when the people emerged from the isolated posture of egotism and awakened their souls to live in a fraternity, when they discovered the fundamental basis of human nature within society, before any laws or power could unite them together as one nation.101 The “great family of the nation” undermines all other traditional loyalties to immediate kin, local community, and disparate religious or ethnic customs.102 Michelet employs religious language to describe the “new religion” of the state, urging the creation of more symbols and festivals to replace the “old” and “pale” ones of the moribund Christian religion.103

The “enemy” of the Revolution was the Christian faith and remains so to this day, “far more than the royalty.”104 Michelet rejects the so-called “Catholic Robespierrists” like Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin Buchez and Prosper-Charles Roux, who try to merge the principles of the Revolution with the church or believe it is possible to reform this implacable enemy.105 “The dead church has no heirs”; it has brought nothing but darkness into the world.106 Christianity opposed reason and justice from its very beginning in the NT. It viewed God as allotting grace and forgiveness to a chosen people, outside of true virtue and merit, and justified the capricious reign of tyrants through this concept of God, with their similar policies of arbitrary favoritism.107 With the destruction of the Roman empire, Christianity ushered in a time of chaos, where civil order and justice perished from the earth and the righteous were crushed for a thousand years under “hate and malediction.”108 The medieval church taught that “souls redeemed at the same price are all worth the blood of a god; then debased these souls, once recovered, to the level of brutes, fastened them to the earth, adjudged them to eternal bondage, and annihilated liberty.”109 The church went on to torture many of those who would not conform to its oppression. The Reign of Terror and its guillotine were merciful in comparison to the “millions of men butchered, hanged, [and] broken on the wheel.” The Bastille represented the typical torture chamber of the church, serving much the same purpose as convents in the Middle Ages. It was run by Jesuits to torture their enemies in its “subterranean dungeons,” where monks meted out their arbitrary sense of justice with lettres-de-cachet to get rid of people and bury their victims alive.110 The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day represented the modern day policy of Rome in persecuting Huguenots and all other Protestants who would not conform to its will.111 The clergy are described as little more than conniving hypocrites who possess no real faith and keep the people in darkness.112 ← 99 | 100 → The French people had an “incontestable right” to take away their estates during the Revolution, given the monstrous injustice the church exhibited in the last thousand years of seizing this property from the nation. If anything, the French people showed great acts of kindness to the priests by giving them a livelihood through the state in exchange for the loss of property, leveling the pay of the hierarchy, and shutting down monasteries that imprisoned many of them for centuries.113 Bishops rewarded the kindness of the French people with inciting the civil war that tore apart the country, and remain to this day enemies of the people in trying to divide and conquer them.114

David Hume (1711–1776)

The English also produced their share of eminent historians during the period of Enlightenment. The standard text of English history was written by David Hume, the well-known Scottish philosopher, who gained notoriety for a penetrating intellect and probing skepticism. His History of England was first published in six volumes from 1754 to 1761 and underwent more than fifty editions of the complete work through the course of the next century as the basic source on the subject.115 In the work, Hume displays his typical intellectual honesty by making every effort to provide an objective and critical analysis of the material in presenting his results. He finds French philosophes like Voltaire “sometimes sound, & always entertaining” when relating the people and events of the past, but also finds them all-too-willing to run roughshod over the facts of history in order to support a specific agenda.116 If he contains any political bias, he readily admits the problem in describing himself as “a Whig, but a very skeptical one,” hoping to place his work “above any regard to Whigs or Tories” and criticize all excesses within the political spectrum.117 In keeping with this spirit, he hopes to write an objective, empirical, and secular account of history, which skews a priori prejudices of value and meaning and spurns the presumption of abstract philosophical theories in forcing an artificial unity upon the complexity of human history.118

The quest for honesty leads him to present a more complex portrait of historical figures than Voltaire provides in his “philosophical history.”119 A good example of this tendency might be found in the sections on Elizabeth I, where he provides the typical praise of her character and leadership during the period,120 but also recognizes that it is only possible to extol her by restricting the commentary to the standards of her day, since she clearly exercised her dominion contrary to what the English understand as constitutional at present.121 She was no lover of liberty in the present sense of the term. She persecuted Puritans and Papists; she ran the Star ← 100 | 101 → Chamber and High Commission, extorted money, bought monopolies and exclusive patents; she voided the acts of Parliament and produced obsequious subjects under her imperious temper, capricious rulings, and unlimited authority. Hume refuses to condemn her for ruling within the limitations of a bygone era, but also refuses to sanitize the story or create an image to fit a later political agenda—the typical vice of his day.122

Many historians commend Hume’s example in trying to reduce the subjective element of his work as paving the way toward the modern discipline of historical writing. Hume certainly provides considerable inspiration for those who seek to render the complexity of facts more faithfully and objectively than previous efforts in the field, but in commending the effort, no scholar can pretend that Hume or anyone else eliminates subjective abstractions and metaphysical judgments in assembling and relating the material at hand. In many ways, his work reflects the same cultural prejudices that infect every other person’s point of view. In fact, it boldly and continually puts forth the British social system as the paradigm of the past and future—“if not the best system of government, at least the most entire system of liberty, that ever was known amongst mankind,” betraying an intense ethnocentric commitment and uniform philosophical prejudice of his enlightened intellectual circles.123

His distinctive prejudices also come out in the narrative and often relate to the particular means of evolving the present system. Here he speaks much like an English gentleman in preferring a moderate approach of “gradual and slow steps” that stay within a “happy medium,” rather than making a qualitative leap into the unknown.124 This attitude disposes him to extenuate the cruelties of despots and justify the security of the established order over the calls and cries for liberty.125 Like a good English gentleman, he expresses great admiration for the tradition of common law in establishing order and stability in the country. Law and order evolve gradually through the collective wisdom of the nation and its time-tested traditions, developed through centuries of statutes, writs, and customs.126 History evinces “the long way that the British people had traveled before achieving the political liberty, stability, prosperity, and secularity at home and abroad that they enjoyed in the eighteenth century.”127 Those who honor the process of traditional evolution and the gravitas of “persons of higher quality” achieve more lasting results in the final analysis than the impetuous demand for immediate and radical change through “insurrections of the populace.”128

This prejudice causes him to complain about nonconformist and radical Protestant groups, who want “total abolition of Monarchy” and “total abolition of episcopacy and even of the aristocracy” for the sake of leveling society in the name of their absolute doctrine of equality.129 He particularly abhors their continuous ← 101 | 102 → polemical battles against matters of indifference or “inoffensive observances” within the church—“Romish” ritual practices, clerical garb, “images, altars, crucifixes,” and other aspects of high church Anglicanism, unable to appreciate the symbolic power of these matters or the need of radicals to fuel change through challenging the small things that matter so much to the multitudes and represent the old hierarchical order.130

The fanaticism of the independents, exalted to a higher pitch, abolished ecclesiastical government, disdained creeds and systems, neglected every ceremony, and confounded all ranks and orders [going beyond] any bounds of temper and moderation. The soldier, the merchant, the mechanic, indulging the fervors of zeal, and guided by the illapses of the spirit, resigned himself to an inward and superior direction, and was consecrated, in a manner, by an immediate intercourse and communication with heaven.131

This type of attitude leads Hume to deprecate all radical Protestant groups and their leaders. John Knox is described as a man “full of sedition, rage, and bigotry,” representing the “highest fanaticism of his sect,” preaching against Catholic idolatry, causing iconoclastic riots, and denigrating Mary Queen of Scots as a “Jezebel” in spite of her “gracious condescension to win his favor.”132 Oliver Cromwell is also deprecated in the typical style of the day, following the Restoration of the monarchy in England and the need to yield obeisance to royalty. Cromwell attained his power through “fraud and violence” and used religion as an “instrument of his ambition,” possessing the “most profound dissimulation” to cover “his natural temper, magnanimity, grandeur, and imperious and dominating policy.”133 He and the Puritans accused Charles I of erecting a “tyrannical government” and waging war against the Parliament and the people, but this accusation was merely a pretext to justify the religious prejudices that drove them to execute the innocent king. Hume again shows his “royalist” leanings in allowing the people to resist tyranny as long as it does not proceed too far and result in the execution of the king. The beheading of Charles I was the “height of depravity.”134

His religious prejudice also helps skew the account in certain other areas. The prejudice never matches the anti-Semitic and anti-Christian hatred of the French philosophes, but it is sufficient to taint the account and cause him to miss many instances of Christianity’s positive influence on society. The “Scottish skeptic” finds religious questions subject to serious doubt, believing it is impossible to establish the existence of God in any rigorous philosophical manner—let alone speculate about the nature of God’s being and engage in passionate arguments about one’s point of view.135 The Christian religion has caused much turmoil in society by engaging in these theological flights of fancy and making its speculations ← 102 | 103 → and superstitions a matter of official dogma for the rest to follow.136 He continually refers to Catholicism as “abject superstition”137 and develops a rather negative review of the church’s place in society because of this harsh and simplistic assessment.

But we may observe, the few ecclesiastical establishments have been fixed upon a worse foundation than that of the Church of Rome, or have been attended with circumstances more hurtful to the peace and happiness of mankind.

      The large revenues, privileges, immunities, and powers of the clergy rendered them formidable to the civil magistrate, and armed with too extensive authority an order of men, who always adhere closely together, and who never want a plausible pretence for their encroachments and usurpations. The high dignities of the church served, indeed, to the support of gentry and nobility; but by the establishment of monasteries, many of the lowest vulgar were taken from the useful arts, and maintained in those receptacles of sloth and ignorance. The supreme head of the church was a foreign potentate, guided by interests, always different from those of the community, sometimes contrary to them. And as the hierarchy was necessarily solicitous to preserve an unity of faith, rites, and ceremonies, all liberty of thought ran a manifest risqué of being extinguished; and violent persecutions, or what was worse, a stupid and abject credulity took place every where.138

He goes on to speak of Christianity in general as the basic sponsor of intolerance in society, but in highlighting this negative portrait, he seldom provides sufficient space for counterexamples, where the church served an important role in developing a more loving and tolerant world. For example, in the sixteenth century, he illustrates the evils of Christian dogma through the cruel and horrid persecutions of Mary Tudor but fails to connect the more benevolent policies of Elizabeth I with her understanding of the faith.139 He knows that Elizabeth is a devout Protestant but fails to connect the dots, preferring instead to dismiss Protestants with a continuous epithet as “fanatics,” only considering them a little less superstitious than Catholics.140

With that said, Hume is much too honest a scholar to dismiss the clear connection between Puritan struggles and the modern British system of governance. He recognizes that the seventeenth-century Puritans brought about a radical change in society and rejects the type of revisionist history that imposes a modern political agenda on the past or tends to idealize and exaggerate the importance of antecedents like Germanic roots, Saxon law, or Magna Carta in developing the present version of liberal government.141

Those who, from a pretend respect to antiquity, appeal at every turn to an original plan to the constitution, only cover their turbulent spirit and their private ambition ← 103 | 104 → under the appearance of venerable forms; and whatever period they pitch on for their model, they may still be carried back to a more ancient period, where they will find the measures of power entirely different, and where every circumstance, by reason of the greater barbarity of the times, will appear still less worthy of imitation. Above all, a civilized nation, like the English, who have happily established the most perfect and most accurate system of liberty that was ever found compatible with the government, ought to be cautious in appealing to the practice of their ancestors, or regarding the maxims of uncultivated ages as certain rules for their present conduct.142

The credit is somewhat surprising for a man who emphasizes the gradual development of institutions and despises the religious zealotry of Puritans, but his study leads him to this conclusion, which he expresses over and over again in no uncertain terms.143

So absolute, indeed, was the authority of the crown, that the precious spark of liberty had been kindled, and was preserved, by the puritans alone; and it was to this sect, whose principles appear so frivolous and habits so ridiculous, that the English owe the whole freedom of their constitution.144

The evidence forces him to admit that the “noble principles of liberty took root” only under the “shelter of puritanical absurdities” and their “fanaticism”145—a fanaticism that he clearly does not understand. He displays almost no understanding of the theological matrix for developing the new constitutional principles—no real understanding of covenant theology, the priesthood of the believers, the Protestant work ethic, or any other doctrine that led the Puritans in this direction.146 The deficit clearly reflects the enlightened attitude toward theological discussions as worthless speculations and prevents his discussion from developing a fuller understanding of Puritanism and its political ideals, but it should not undermine the true greatness of Hume’s work or his sincere attempt at objectivity. In fact, he must receive much credit for his integrity and willingness to recognize what few sons of the Enlightenment in the past or present want to admit—that the church had a positive influence in creating the modern world and their binary way of separating church and state is not so faithful to the historical evidence.

Edward Gibbon (1737–1794)

Another English historian of similar disposition was Edward Gibbon. Like Hume and Burke, he rejected extreme political expressions and preferred to balance the interests of left-wing and democratic impulses with the gravitas of a publically-spirited nobility in creating a healthy society of moderation and stability. This basic ← 104 | 105 → disposition made him side with the Tories and represent their interests for a while as a member of Parliament, but he soon grew disillusioned with all the rancor of active political involvement and left it for a more “tranquil” life of “repose” and “ease” within the “enlightened and amiable culture” of intelligentsia.147 The result was one of the great books of the western world, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The first volume appeared in 1776 and gained him instant notoriety, along with some infamy for its critical analysis of the church in chapters 15 and 16. A couple of volumes were added in 1781, and a few more in 1788 to complete the massive six-volume edition.148

His thoughts reflected the moderate tone of his political life while displaying a distinct leaning toward the enlightened ideas of the day. He met with Raynal several times at Lausanne and read his work; he frequented the salons of France and conversed with the philosophes; but he never engaged in their ultraisms, considering the world much too complex for the bigotries of Voltaire or the extreme atheistic dogmatism of d’Holbach and Helvétius.149 He joined them in preferring the power of reason to the dubious assertions of blind faith, but also recognized the limits of all human attempts to address metaphysical concerns, making him much more like Hume than the typical philosophe in admitting his problems and remaining skeptical.150

His religious convictions followed this basic pattern. He grew up in the Anglican Church, but he began to read Catholic literature while studying at Oxford and was so impressed with its traditions that he converted to the religion and received baptism on June 8, 1753—much to the chagrin of his father.151 Later his father sent him to study under a Calvinist minister in Lausanne, who dissuaded him from his Catholic faith and brought him back into the Protestant fold. He attended a local parish church after that according to the “pious and decent customs of the family,” but eventually developed into a skeptic by the time he reached twenty-three years of age.152 In his work, he expressed considerable suspicion toward miraculous accounts in Scripture and disdain for theological controversies as the cause of much bigotry, but spurned those who dismissed him as an “infidel” and claimed to relate only “a simple narrative of authentic facts,” which the readers must consider in formulating their own perspective.153

Despite this denial, his narrative selects and interprets its “facts” within an agenda that stands opposed to theology as a non-edifying discipline for humanity. A good example is his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, where he relates its evolution in the most unflattering light to denigrate its place in the church. According to Gibbon, the doctrine was a simple product of Plato’s absurd metaphysical musings over the “first cause, the reason, or the Logos, and the soul or spirit of the universe,” and possesses little connection with the account of Jesus in the ← 105 | 106 → Synoptic Gospels.154 Athanasius and the Alexandrian school of theology stirred up the controversy as the leading see of Platonism in the Graeco-Roman world, ending a period of tranquility and ushering in a new age of orthodox bigotry.155 After the Nicene Creed established the doctrine in the fourth century, the church inculcated it with the force of the empire, making the numerous sects conform to Catholic orthodoxy, prohibiting the assemblies of those who dissented from the confines, and eventually spilling much Arian blood with its superior numbers and power, which Gibbon exaggerates with his many unprovable “facts.”156 Throughout the account, he displays no real appreciation for any practical ramification of the doctrine, or the need for a fellowship to define its nature and set parameters.157 He displays no real understanding of the important differences between the Athanasian and Arian viewpoints, of viewing Jesus as the incarnation of God or a mere creature, of viewing Jesus as the revelation of God or looking elsewhere and outside of Jesus to find the divine nature.158

Many historians hail Gibbon for developing a more critical use of sources and so paving the way toward the modern scientific practice of historiography.159 No doubt he is a decided improvement over the many propagandists of the past in recognizing the necessity of sifting through all sides of a story and mixing negative and positive commentary when speaking of real people and real events, but his discussions hardly escape the subjective, moralistic, and transcendent aspect of other works.160 In fact, his narratives have a particular tendency to lose its objectivity when it comes to religion, leading critical readers to recognize the need of deconstructing the text and finding the “whirlpools underneath” the “placid waters on the surface.” Often the bias remains implicit within the overall drift of the material, but sometimes it erupts to the surface in certain moments of candor, where “discreet sneers and mockeries are followed by sallies of caustic irony.”161 These eruptions reveal that the general tenor of his secular style is only feigning objectivity in presenting a “neutral” front and calculating all along to make religious passion look fanatical and irrational in comparison to its “dispassionate” discourse and “detached” criticism.162

Gibbon likes to contrast the enlightened worldview of his day with the miraculous universe of the primitive church. “They…fancied, that on every side they were incessantly assaulted by daemons, comforted by visions, instructed by prophecy, and surprisingly delivered from danger, sickness, and from death itself.”163 In rejecting the three-story universe, he presents ecclesiastical history from an enlightened point of view, which prefers to credit the triumph of Christianity in western culture to “secondary causes,” rather than attribute its remarkable growth to the efficacious nature of its supernal teachings or the miraculous power of divine intervention, as it was portrayed in the book of Acts and much of church history.164 ← 106 | 107 → The result is a secular history where God is not a factor, where the power of the Holy Spirit no longer serves as the fundamental explanation in spreading the religion and turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6).165 Gibbon’s work prefers to view the world as a self-contained shell and wants to accent a chain of cause and effect within a natural understanding of events, contriving all along to discredit the miraculous version of the church by providing a successful alternative.166 His mistake comes from taking his causal reasoning much too seriously and failing to appreciate Hume’s excoriating analysis of human rationality and its ability to penetrate the world of cause and effect in the first place. Hume sees every causal explanation as a metaphysical leap into the unknown, making any explanation of historical events a matter of faith—religious or non-religious alike.

One of the principal motives for writing the book is to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between the rise of Christianity and the fall of Rome. Gibbon follows the basic enlightened perspective on Rome that views it in an idealized form as arising from Greek city-states and developing a prototypical form of republican government and superior philosophical culture, although he never spends much time discussing the actual history of the early phase.167 Instead, he begins in the second century C.E., which he describes as the “most happy and prosperous” in the “history of the world.”168 At this time, Rome ruled the “fairest part of the earth” with a “disciplined valour,” the “advantages of wealth and luxury,” and the “gentle, but powerful influence of law and manner.”169 Whatever darkness crept in after reaching the zenith of its power, the light of the “invigorating air of the republic” remained extant in the Roman law to provide some semblance of order and civility, even in the Middle Ages.170

Gibbon’s main purpose is to show how the greatness of Rome came to ruin. His Autobiography underscores this very purpose.

It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.171

The reasons for its demise are multiplied and detailed throughout the book, making them difficult to summarize in a simple list, but some of the more important reasons include the destruction of time and natural forces, the decay of military virtue, the decadence of luxury and lasciviousness, the loss of political liberties, the chaos of civil wars, the invasion of barbarians, and the spread of Christianity.172 The triumph of Christianity is one of the main reasons and is often coupled with the conquest of “barbarism” to underscore the menacing nature of this uncivil threat to Roman culture.173 Christianity is singled out for its leading role in the destruction as it “erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the ← 107 | 108 → Capitol,” symbolizing the complete victory and utter destruction of the glorious city.174 Five specific reasons are listed for its ultimate success and triumph.

I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church. IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians. V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman empire.175

He goes on to say that early Christianity corrupted the public spirit by preaching an other-worldly asceticism. It opposed everyday business and preferred trusting God for sustenance in seeking the kingdom of God (Mt 6:24–33). It also disregarded the military and courts of law by practicing an extreme form of pacifism that threatened the public safety. This “criminal disregard for the public welfare” brought concern among the neighbors, who saw within its “pusillanimous spirit” a secret longing for the destruction of the empire.176 As Christianity ascended to power in the fourth century, it changed its early emphasis on pacifism and brought condemnation on others through numerous theological controversies, which destroyed the philosophical spirit and unity of the empire with superstitious and fanatical intolerance.177 “At the head of the class” stands the iconoclastic controversy that ended up dividing the empire and led to the complete demise of the eastern part.178

Gibbon contrasts the Holy Roman Empire with the ancient world and its tolerant treatment of various religious expressions and their superstitions.179 Christianity developed its bigotry out of Judaism—the mother of the religion and enemy of Voltaire and the philosophes for this very reason.180 The Jews possessed an “implacable hatred for the rest of human-kind” as the chosen people of a jealous God and developed a legal economy to inculcate this animosity, which included the command to extirpate idolatrous people, the prohibition of alliances and marriages with other people, and special ritual and dietary observance, designed to promote segregation. The Romans tried to indulge the Jewish superstition, but could not dissuade them from their “unsocial manner,” “detestation of foreign religions,” and obstinate unwillingness to relate their speculations to other Graeco- Roman mythology and join the cosmopolitan ethos of the empire.181

The Romans experienced the same problem with Christians, who inherited from the Jews an obstinate refusal to participate in pagan religious institutions and the total life of the community.182 Christians tried to blame the problem on the ← 108 | 109 → Romans as if they were the victims of bigotry, but their accounts have a “total disregard of truth and probability” in exaggerating whatever harm was done to them and end up imputing to the Roman magistrates their own “implacable and unrelenting zeal” in persecuting heretics.183 The actual number of martyrs was “very inconsiderable”—usually just a few bishops, presbyters, and abject individuals, not the innocent multitudes of ecclesiastical fiction.184 In fact, Christians “inflicted far greater severities on each other than they experienced from the zeal of infidels.… If we are obliged to submit our belief to the authority of Grotius, it must be allowed that the number of Protestants who were executed in a single province and a single reign far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries and of the Roman Empire.”185 The emperors tended to practice a policy of moderation in their punishment whenever it was necessary to exact certain measures and mostly ruled over extensive periods of peace and tranquility, without resorting to any steps at all against this clear and imminent threat. Whatever measures were taken, it was not for religious reasons, not even in the case of Nero’s fits of rage.186

Gibbon follows the program of the philosophes in exalting Roman culture and its policies of toleration to deprecate the intolerance of the church. The early church failed to treat those who participate in other forms of religious expression with equal respect as grappling with the same ultimate mystery and cursed them as mécréants or “unbelievers,” who worship something much different from the true faith. Through this attitude, Christians “infused a spirit of bitterness” into their religion and proceeded to deliver the “greater part of the human species” into eternal torment, including the “wisest and most virtuous of pagans.”187 Eventually, the hatred of others turned on their own fellowship during the ages of orthodoxy as “the principle of discord was alive in their bosom,” creating one doctrinal dispute after another and inflicting “far greater severities on each other than they had experienced from the zeal of infidels.”188 In the fourth century, Constantine convoked an ecumenical council at Nicea to determine Trinitarian orthodoxy and punished ministers and assemblies who refused to follow the confines. By the end of the century, Theodosius expelled all non-conforming bishops, yet “his penal edicts were seldom enforced” and little bloodshed ensued from the policy.189 Maximus was the first to take the more dire step and inflicted death upon Piscillian and his heretical group of disciples.190 More bloodshed soon followed and continued to escalate after the first century of orthodoxy, with the Catholics fighting the Arians (barbarians) during the sacking of Rome and setting a precedent for continuous bloodletting over other doctrinal issues in the years to come.191

Most scholars view Gibbon’s work as being preoccupied with this and other attacks upon Christendom.192 They point to his unrelenting assault upon its “fictitious miracles” and “falsification of history,” its fanatical superstitions and puerile ← 109 | 110 → rites, its authoritarian leadership and irrational dogmatism, and its intolerant spirit and murder of those who would not conform.193 Other scholars find the charge of bias unfair or at least unbalanced in pointing out some positive comments about Christianity that are sprinkled throughout the account,194 but it is hard to dismiss the overall direction of the discussion. The positive comments are overwhelmed within the text by the programmatic agenda and appear somewhat disingenuous to the critical reader as if Gibbon is only feigning objectivity to hide the overall condescending attitude of a secularist—at least in many instances. Gibbon might excuse his basic negativity as the “melancholy duty” of a historian to discover the “inevitable mixture of error and corruption” in the “weak and degenerate race of [human] beings,”195 but the dark side overwhelms his analysis of the church and hardly represents a faithful rendition of the multifaceted nature of life. Early Christians appear as little more than killjoys, despising the pleasures of sex and luxurious living, questioning earthly institutions like marriage and other social structures, and spurning the exercise of human reason—and whatever else is useless for salvation.196 The Church Fathers appear more like secular leaders with worldly ambitions than spiritual teachers with real convictions, and the ascetic ideal of the time is continually denigrated in the typical manner of a Protestant, without much appreciation for the mystical quest of pious meditation or the intense dedication of a hermit who is looking for inward purity and shunning the things of this world.197

The Middle Ages receives the most contempt as the period in which the church was the guardian of culture. It is brutalized in the typical style of a philosophe as a time of ignorance and darkness, with few important individuals or events counterbalancing the discussion with noteworthy achievements.198

During the ages of ignorance which followed the subversion of the Roman empire in the West, the bishops of the Imperial city extended their dominion over the laity as well as clergy of the Latin church. The fabric of superstition which they had erected, and which might long have defied the feeble efforts of reason, was at length assaulted by a crowd of daring fanatics, who, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, assumed the popular character of reformers. The church of Rome defended by violence the empire which she had acquired by fraud; a system of peace and benevolence was soon disgraced by the proscriptions, wars, massacres, and the institution of the holy office. And as the reformers were animated by the love of civil as well as of religious freedom, the Catholic princes connected their own interest with that of the clergy, and enforced by fire and the sword the terrors of spiritual censures.199

If we compare the era of the crusades, the Latins of Europe with the Greeks and Arabians, their respective degrees of knowledge, industry, and art, our rude ancestors must be content with the third rank in the scale of nations.… Some rudiments of mathematical and medicinal knowledge might be imparted in practice and in figures; ← 110 | 111 → necessity might produce some interpreters for the grosser business of merchants and soldiers; but the commerce of the Orientals had not diffused the study and knowledge of their languages in the schools of Europe.… The belief of the Catholics was corrupted by new legends, their practice by new superstitions; and the establishment of the inquisition, the mendicant orders of monks and friars, the last abuse of indulgences, and the final progress of idolatry, flowed from the baleful fountain of the holy war. The active spirit of the Latins preyed on the vitals of their reason and religion; and if the ninth and tenth centuries were the times of darkness, the thirteenth and fourteenth were the age of absurdity and fable.200

He characterizes monastic spirituality as finding its fundamental inspiration through an insatiable enthusiasm for the ascetic ideal, which saw “man as a criminal and God as a tyrant” through its “rigid facts,” “abstemious diets,” and “bloody flagellations.” The monastic life turned guilt and pleasure into synonymous terms by waging war against the “desires of the flesh” and creating ridiculous legends about those devoted to its rigor. Far from promoting true spirituality, it did little more than infuse a “cruel, unfeeling temper” in the monks and a “blind submission” to the abbots, habituating the type of “religious hatred” and “merciless zeal” that led to Dominican inquisitions. The “servile and pusillanimous reign” of the monks suppressed all manly virtues in the Middle Ages and “seriously affected the reason, the faith and the morals of the Christian,” deserving “the contempt and pity of a philosopher” and the esteem of the “infirm minds of children and females.”201

Above all, Gibbon follows the Enlightenment in his account of the early and medieval church by focusing his wrath upon the clergy as filled with avarice and rapacious lusts, who feigned a spiritual calling in recognizing the “very lucrative” nature of the profession.202 Gibbon identifies the bishopric of Cyprian as the particular time and place where moral corruption set in and the clergy began to siphon off the riches of the church for their private gain and sensual pleasure. Cyprian ruled like a tyrant, using the power of penance and excommunication to wield “imperious declamations” over the conscience of others, much like Moses commanding the earth to swallow all those who refused obeisance to his authority. Cyprian held absolute sway over the North African church and wanted to expand his power and wealth just like Hannibal in the Punic Wars, except using “invectives and excommunications” as weapons against the ambitions of the Roman pontiff.203 After this time, much of the church history is marked by Bishops vying for ecclesiastical preeminence as the “genuine motive of episcopal warfare” and trying to expand their power into the temporal realm, producing an entire culture submissive to their authority.204 What the church meant to the culture, in general, ← 111 | 112 → is often represented through the ambition of bishops and seldom discussed positively.

Gibbon’s work represents the type of secular and anti-Christian bias that pervaded the modern world after the Enlightenment. Today’s U.S. textbooks are subject to much the same criticism for their treatment of religion, although they reflect the biases of a pervasive post-Enlightenment culture and its leading historians in a less brazen and caustic manner. The texts certainly make a concerted effort to mitigate any appearance of prejudice when narrating the history of western civilization: they do not wish to offend the audience or alienate specific communities; they do not wish to relate theology in any direct way to bigotry; they do not recognize any slight to Christian people in extolling religious freedom and neglecting the importance of Puritan culture; but they still leave a trace of the bias within the white of the page by mentioning what is important to enlightened thinking and neglecting what it dismissed as part of the fanatical past.

This enlightened history has a vested interest in marginalizing the Judeo- Christian tradition, which we have witnessed over and over within its most celebrated accounts.205 Voltaire sees history progressing linearly away from the darkness of medieval religion toward the light of human reason. His hatred of Christianity is a motivating factor in writing a universal history and guiding the audience to seek truth elsewhere in the world, outside the legacy of Hebraic culture. It also causes him to miss the important impact of Christianity on modern European society, as seen in his exaltation of the modern British system of governance, without recognizing the central place of Puritan theology in its evolution. Raynal follows much the same program as Voltaire in condemning the reign of Christianity as a period of ignorance and darkness and exalting the advent of the Italian Renaissance as bringing a new age of truth and toleration to the world. He also expresses the same admiration for the English system of polity, while failing to grasp the impact of Puritan culture upon the process due to the same theological prejudices. In the nineteenth century, Michelet leads the charge of defending the philosophes’ view of life as expressing the inward truth of the French spirit and its glorious Revolution. He feels that Christianity’s view of a capricious deity prompted its infamous history of torturing innocent victims and wants his audience to condemn the religion as the number one enemy of the people and their longing for justice and equality.

In England, Hume and Gibbon represent a more civil approach to historiography in trying to bring some semblance of objectivity to the study, but religious and political bias still has a way of intruding upon the best of intentions and marking their “moderate” approach to these issues. Hume represents history through the eyes of a Tory by expressing reverence for tradition and the gradual evolution of society, and brings considerable metaphysical judgment to bear upon all those who ← 112 | 113 → disrupt its institutions through popular and radical change. However, his political prejudices seldom overpower the narrative or prevent him from acknowledging the central role of radical “fanatics” like the Puritans in establishing modern liberties. He is willing to acknowledge the positive impact of religion upon culture, even if he expresses deep misgivings about the existence of God and understands very little about theology or its specific impact upon society. Gibbon tries to emulate the moderate approach of Hume as a Tory and views life in a more complex manner than the philosophes, but his theological prejudices often interfere with historical judgment and provide an overall agenda that makes his positive comments about Christianity look insincere. As his basic agenda, he wants to debase the church by exalting the Roman empire as a tolerant and enlightened culture, and only does so by glossing over its oppressive nature and blaming Christianity for the destruction of the empire and superior cultural values in general through its lust for power and continuous theological disputes. He tries to pigeonhole the question of divine intervention in history and emphasize “secondary causality,” but fails to recognize that cause and effect reasoning involves a metaphysical leap into the unknown, that divine miracles are not so easily dismissed on historical grounds, that a secular approach is hardly neutral in dismissing God as a factor. In fact, all historiography involves a leap of faith and carries the subjective convictions of the author along with it. No one sees life in an objective manner as if beholding the “thing-in-itself,” or observing events outside a certain paradigm that configures the world into its narrow image.206


1. Eric Brooks, “Hagiography, Modern Historiography, and Historical Representation,” Fides et Historia 42/2 (2010): 22, 25; Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 191–92.

2. Rudolf Bultmann, et al., Kerygma and Myth, Reginald H. Fuller (trans.), Hans Werner Bartsch (ed.) (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1961), passim; Theology of the New Testament, Kendrick Grobel (trans.) (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951–55), 1.3; 2.240; Walter Schmithals, An Introduction to the Theology of Rudolf Bultmann, John Bowden (trans.) (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1967), 35, 176–79, 197–208. After Bultmann, the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus developed more objective criteria for determining historicity but never loses the subjective human element. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 1.5–6, 196ff.; 2.4.

3. Muslim jihadists show great concern over western secularization coming to the Middle East and marginalizing Islam, much like it does to Christianity within its domain. Sayyid Qutb, Social Justice in Islam, John B. Hardie (trans.) (New York: Octagon Books, 1970), 2, 245–47, 258. ← 113 | 114 →

4. Paul Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in Our Children’s Textbooks (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986), 14–16, 39–41, 58–59, 75–78. Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, was funded by the government (NIE) to examine bias in textbooks. He examined “ninety widely used elementary social studies texts, high school history texts, and elementary readers” to arrive at his conclusions.

5. Carleton Young, “Religion in U.S. History Textbooks,” The History Teacher 28/2 (1995): 265–66; Daniel B. Fleming, “Religion in American History Textbooks,” Religion & Public Education 18/1 (1991): 80–81; Eloise Salholz, “Timid Texts: Short Shrift for Religion,” Newsweek 108 (1986): 20; Religion in the Curriculum: A Report from the ASCD Panel… (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1987), 7, 24–25. Warren Nord analyzes forty-two high school textbooks, written from 1989–1992 and used by his state of North Carolina, in the areas of American and world history, economics, home economics, biology, physics, and physical science. All these texts are published by major publishers and represent standard works used nationwide. Similar studies by Timothy Smith, Paul Gagnon, and even the People for the American Way arrive at the same conclusion. Nord, Religion and American Education: Rethinking a National Dilemma (Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Smith, “High School History Adopted for Use in the State of Alabama: The Distortion and Exclusion of Religious Data,” Religion and Public Education 15 (1988); Gagnon, Democracy’s Untold Story: What the World History Textbooks Neglect (Washington, DC: Education for Democracy Project, 1987); Podesta, “The Uphill Battle for Quality Textbooks,” Religion and Public Education 13 (1986): 60–62.

6. Robert Bryan, History, Pseudo-History, Anti-History: How Public School Textbooks Treat Religion (Washington, DC: Learn, Inc. The Education Foundation, 1984), 3, 10. David Fischer speaks of four major waves of immigrants coming to this country. The first major wave was the Puritans from East Anglia wanting to build a new Zion or “City upon a Hill” when Charles I disbanded Parliament in 1629. The second was led by a small royalist elite and included a large number of indentured servants, who came from Southern England seeking a better way of life and showing some concern over the Puritan takeover in the 1640s and 1650s. The third wave was mostly Quakers from the Northern Midlands of England and Wales (as well as later German was Anabaptists, Pietists, et al.), who settled in New Jersey and the Delaware Valley, believing in religious pluralism and fleeing persecution or the marginal status of a non-conformist in England, but this was not the only motivation. The fourth wave came from northern England, Scotland, and northern Ireland to the Appalachian backcountry seeking a better material life. The myth of all these groups coming to America and seeking religious freedom is based upon a historical exaggeration, only characterizing the third wave in general. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 6, 18–22, 212–43, 332–34, 424, 436, 594, 611, 621, 634, 821.

7. According to Charleton Young, nineteenth-century textbooks would disappoint religious people today. They focused on great leaders with little emphasis upon social forces and hardly any mention of religion after the colonial period, except to emphasize the struggle for religious toleration. “Religion in U.S. History Textbooks,” 268–69. Daniel Fleming finds that the emphasis upon religious freedom dominates the discussion in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century textbooks. There is consistent mention of religion during the colonial ← 114 | 115 → period, “with some texts doing more than others with reform movements and institutional changes and development” after the time. He finds today’s textbooks to be no worse or better that their predecessors. “Religion in American History Textbooks,” 84–101.

8. Europeans are farther along in this process than Americans. According to an ISSP public-opinion survey in 1998, more than two-thirds of them think of religion as intolerant. José Casanova, “The Secular, Secularization, Secularism,” in Rethinking Secularism, Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan Vanantwerpen (eds.) (Oxford: University Press, 2011), 69. A number of British authors have written popular works expressing this sentiment. Bertrand Russell, a Cambridge professor and spokesman for the secular left, concurs with Marx’s criticisms of religion in general and adds a most vitriolic attack upon Christianity, portraying it as the great enemy of left-wing ideals, human evolution, and open-minded seekers of truth.

The knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishments. It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.

He describes Christianity as the “principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” It has thwarted “every single bit of progress,” and whatever improvement it has made through the centuries has come through “the influence of those who attack the church.” Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Issues, Paul Edwards (ed.) (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 20–21, 35, 47, 198. Richard Dawkins informs his audience that “atheists” like Hitler and Stalin “may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism.” He prefers to blame religion as the basic cause of conflict throughout western civilization, and promotes secular ideas as the reason behind its advancement. The God Delusion (Boston, MA and New York: Houghton Mufflin Co., 2006), 278. Christopher Hitchens finds it “statistically extremely high” that secular opinions cause one to promote justice in the world, while religious opinions lead in the opposite direction.

The worse the offender, the more devout he turns out to be.…This is because religions could never have got started, let alone thrived, unless for the influence of men as fanatical as Moses or Muhammad or Joseph Kony, while charity and relief work, while they might appeal to tenderhearted believers, are the inheritors of modernism and the Enlightenment. Before that, religion was spread not by example but as an auxiliary to the more old-fashioned methods of holy wars and imperialism. god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York and Boston, MA: Twelve, 2007), 12, 180.

9. George W. Carey, “Religion and American Government Textbooks,” in Studies on Religion and Politics, James V. Schall and Jerome J. Hanus (eds.) (Lanham, MD and London: University Press of America, 1986), 6, 9. Some publishers avoid religious topics as divisive and affecting the bottom line. Young, “Religion in U.S. History Textbooks,” 265; Fleming, “Religion in American History Textbooks,” 82.

10. Stephen Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity: The Sacred Roots of American and British Government (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009). ← 115 | 116 →

11. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Henry Reeve, Francis Brown, and Phillips Bradley (trans. and eds.) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963), 1.43–44, 300–7, 322; 2.20; Sanford Kessler, “Tocqueville’s Puritans,” The Journal of Politics 54/3 (1992): 776–78, 782–84. Hume’s ideas are related later in this chapter. Some of the problems must be attributed to the popular fixation upon leaders rather than more complicated social forces.

12. According to Dan Fleming, the nineteenth-century textbooks display the same distain for the Puritans. “Religion in American History Textbooks,” 89–90. The French Enlightenment brought much of this disdain with its continuous polemic against the Judeo-Christian tradition and the deist belief in human autonomy. Strehle, The Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 14–15, 37–38. Enlightenment scholars often pick up the vitriol and represent it in their own work. Peter Gay’s famous two-volume work on the Enlightenment recognizes that the philosophes were Anglo-philes but prefers to give credit to Enlightenment figures for modern ideas and fails to notice that the same ideas already permeated Puritan England and New England. E.g., Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967–69), 1.11–12; 2.9–10, 559–61. Gay writes a book on Puritan historiography, deprecating Mather’s Magnalia as “pathetic” and speaking of the Puritan errand in America as a “failure.” He ends his book by saying, “Edwards’ chiliastic prediction was fulfilled and in his lifetime. Only it was Jonathan Edwards’ world, and with it the world of Puritanism, that came to end.” A Loss of Mastery: Puritan Historians in Colonial America (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 65, 70, 77, 81, 93, 110, 117. Of course, Gay shows no knowledge of Edwards’ postmillennial eschatology and its relation to the modern concept of progress, which he assigns to the Enlightenment. Enlightenment, 2.98–99, 120, 169–72. Cf. Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, chap. 6 (especially 221–22).

13. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, William Byron Forbush (ed.) (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963), xii–xiv; Avihu Zayai, Exile and the Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 31; Christopher Hill, The Intellectual Origins of the Puritan Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 178.

14. John Foxe, The First Volumes of Ecclesiastical History Contayning the Actes and Monumentes (London: Iohn Day, 1570); “A Protestation to the Whole Church of England”; Actes and Monumentes (London: Iohn Day, 1563) 7–11, 85; Donald McKim, “The Puritan View of History or Providence Without and Within,” 223; Gay, A Loss of Mastery, 14.

15. Siofra Pierse, “Discarding Convention: Voltaire’s Repositioning of Truth in History,” in Religion, Ethics, and History in the French Long Seventeenth Century, William Brooks and Rainer Zaiser (eds.) (Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 253–54; Paul H. Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians: A Comparative Study of the Essai sur les moeurs and the History of England,” PMLA 73/1 (1958) 51. Voltaire wrote a number of historical works and pieces, but his two most significant are The Age of Louis XIV (ca. late 1730s) and Essays on Manners (ca. mid–1740s). The latter is the most mature and expansive.

16. Gerhart Niemeyer, “History and Civilization,” Review of Politics 19 (1957): 95; Pierse, “Discarding Convention,” 255; Voltaire, Essai sur les Moeurs et l’Esprit des Nations, in Oeuvres Complètes (Paris: Garnier Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 1878), 11.158. Hereafter designated as EMEN. Of course, this recognition also becomes an excuse for force-feeding the narrative with bias. Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume,” 68. ← 116 | 117 →

17. Voltaire, “Historiographe,” in Les Complètes de Voltaire (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1987), 33.219; EMEN 11.457–58; Paul Sakmann, “The Problems of Historical Method and of Philosophy of History in Voltaire [1906],” History and Theory 11 (1971): 25–26; Pierse, “Discarding Convention,” 244, 257.

18. EMEN 13.462; “Historiographer,” in WV 10.59 (OCV 19.371–72); Sakmann, “The Problems of Historical Method,” 25–27. WV refers to The Works of Voltaire (Paris: E. R. DuMont, 1901); OCV refers to Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1877–85).

19. Pierre Force, “Voltaire and the Necessity of Modern History,” Modern Intellectual History 6/3 (2009): 478–79. Many criticize Voltaire for this, but few escape their own ethnocentricities. R. N. Stromberg, “History in the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas 12/2 (1951): 299–302; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 56.

20. EMEN 11.12, 222; Niemeyer, “History and Civilization,” 93–95. His narrative displays some concern over the probable truth of the material. The miraculous goes against natural law and must be excluded a priori. He also distrusts ancient and medieval reports as unreliable in relating portraits and speeches. Sakmann, “The Problems of Historical Method,” 31, 35–36; Pierse, “Discarding Convention,” 245. He expresses the conviction of Pierre Bayle that hearing both sides is important in verifying an account, but he also admits that doubt must reign in history. Absolute truth is beyond us. Voltaire, “Fragment sur l’Histoire Générale,” in OCV 29.248; “Histoire de l’empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand,” in Les Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire (1999) 47.729; Siècle de Louis XIV, in OCV 14.421 (WV 23.109–111); “La Henriade,” in OCV 8.52–53; Pierse, “Discarding Convention,” 247–48, 256–57; Sakmann, “The Problems of Historical Method,” 35.

21. Friedrich Meinecke, Historicism: The Rise of a New Historical Outlook, J. E. Anderson (trans.) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), 54; Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), 2.385ff.; Wilhelm Dilthey, “The Eighteenth Century and the Historical World,” Patricia Van Turyl (trans.), in Hermeneutics and the Study of History, Robert Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi (eds.) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996) 348; Force, “Voltaire and the Necessity of Modern History,” 458–60.

22. EMEN 12.154; 13.183.

23. Siècle de Louis XIV, in OCV 14.155 (WV 22.5); EMEN 11.158; Lettres Choises de Voltaire (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1883), 2.232–33; Jerome Rosenthal, “Voltaire’s Philosophy of History,” Journal of the History of Ideas 16/2 (1955): 154–55; Force, “Voltaire and the Necessity of Modern History,” 468–69.

24. EMEN 11.162; Rosenthal, “Voltaire’s Philosophy of History,” 158; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 56.

25. EMEN 11.277; 12.181.

26. EMEN 12.53–54, 249.

27. EMEN 12.249–50. Voltaire shows his extreme prejudices toward religious convictions at this point. He commends Italy for producing architectural wonders like Saint Peter’s (built through indulgences), while claiming the pretext of the Reformation was a dispute between Augustinian friars (like Luther) and Dominicans over who would receive the proceeds from the sale of indulgences. EMEN 12.249–50, 283. ← 117 | 118 →

28. EMEN 12.304–306.

29. This last sentence comes from Immanuel Kant’s famous commentary on the Enlightenment. Werke (Wiesbaden: Insel-Verlag, 1958), 6.53.

30. See Stephen Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation: The French Revolution, Nazi Germany, and International Communism (Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2014), chaps. 1 and 2; Harvey Chisick, “Ethics and History in Voltaire’s Attitudes Toward the Jews,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35/4 (2002); Allan Arkush, “Voltaire on Judaism and Christianity,” AJS Review 18/2 (1993).

31. EMEN 11.113–14, 129–30; Rosenthal, “Voltaire’s Philosophy of History,” 164–65.

32. “Plan d’une Histoire de l’Esprit Humain” et “Supplément à l’Essai sur les Moeurs,” in Essai sur les moeurs (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1963), 2.817, 903; Sakmann, “The Problems of Historical Method,” 43; Pierse, “Discarding Convention,” 244, 246, 255.

33. EMEN 11.158–59, 182–83, 214.

34. EMEN 11.208–209; 12.404, 409–11; 13.33, 150. He also has a sanitized view of Graeco-Roman culture, often dismissing many of its darker realities. For example, he dismisses early Christian complaints about religious persecution and considers the Romans “great friends of toleration.” EMEN 11.223–29; Rosenthal, “Voltaire’s Philosophy of History,” 169; OCV 25.41–49, 54, 58 (WV 4.162, 165–77, 184, 192). He finds the accounts of Christians about their martyrs to be little more than works of fiction.

35. EMEN 11.175, 187, 480; 12.92, 362–63; 13.164, 182; Rosenthal, “Voltaire’s Philosophy of History,” 159–60, 170; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 55. He shows some obtuseness about the differences between people’s values and nature, but he has some criticism of the superstitions and practices of non-Christian religions. E.g., EMEN 11.203ff.; 13.161. Much of his information is erroneous, romanticized, or simplistic as any first-year student of world religions can tell from a simple perusal of the synopsis in the text above. In fact, he bases much of his concept of Indian religion upon the so-called Ezour-Veidam, a forgery of a Christian missionary. Sakmann, “The Problems of the Historical Method,” 59.

36. EMEN 11.254–55, 510–11.

37. EMEN 12.63–71.

38. EMEN 1.277, 321, 336, 341–43, 379; 12.346ff.; 13.41–51.

39. EMEN 11.440.

40. EMEN 11.447.

41. EMEN 11.455.

42. EMEN 11.454–55, 458. Another example is his excuse for the Japanese persecuting Christianity at the end of the sixteenth century and thereafter. He blames the persecution on the fear created by the Spanish and their invasion of Latin American. EMEN 13.169–71. He speaks much of the religious cruelty of the Spanish and has little respect for their culture. EMEN 12.349–51, 401–2, 459–60, 463–64, 468, 471–72; 13.37–38.

43. EMEN 11.495.

44. EMEN 11.295; 12.227. Voltaire also denigrates the supreme authority given to abbots. He says that they only want to increase the number of monks under their charge and condemn their underlings to the “most cruel and dreadful torments,” like “burning out their eyes.” While he can speak of some monks and their orders in a positive way, he thinks the ← 118 | 119 → monastic life “robs the civil society of too many of its members” from productive service by preferring the “good of the order” over the “real good of the country.” EMEN 11.284; 12.336–37, 345–46.

45. EMEN 11.338, 343, 533–34, 545, 551; 12.483. He provides some accolades for certain popes like Sixtus Quintus and questions the veracity of some scurrilous accusations, like the well-known story of Alexander VI dying from the poison he had concocted for another. EMEN 12.491–92; 13.101–2.

46. EMEN 11.281, 357–58; 12.498.

47. EMEN 11.297, 301–2. Voltaire rejects the papacy’s right to depose kings. EMEN 12.574.

48. EMEN 11.394.

49. EMEN 11.391–93.

50. EMEN 11.504–7, 516; 12.277.

51. EMEN 11.396.

52. For example, his account of the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket treats him like an insubordinate to the king and exonerates Henry II from all culpability in the murder. EMEN 11.415–16. He also has little appreciation for the strictures on lay investiture of bishops in canon law, leading to the excommunication of Henry IV by Pope Gregory VII. Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (London: Allen Lane, 2014), 202–3.

53. Siedentop, Inventing the Individual, 200–7. Voltaire has some sense of the moral power of canon law. He speaks of it condemning barbarous customs, trial by ordeal, dueling, tournaments with knights, et al. EMEN 11.387; 12.241–42.

54. Lex, Rex is the famous title of Samuel Rutherford’s work, published during the time of the Puritan Revolution. The work rejected the divine right of kings and said that kings must submit to the law. Lex, Rex or The Law and the Prince (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 54, 59–60, 101–6, 115.

55. EMEN 12.72; Voltaire, “Remarques sur les Moeurs,” OCV 24.543-48; Sakmann, “The Problems of the Historical Method,” 39–42. See EMEN chaps. 19, 81, 173, 176 (11.273ff.; 12.53ff., 525ff.; 13.1ff.); Siècle de Louis XIV, chaps. 31–34 (14.534ff.). Voltaire likes to give credit to the genius of great men or the enlightened minority, rather than the ignorant multitudes. “Remarques sur les Moeurs,” OCV 24.548; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 54, 61.

56. EMEN 13.66.

57. EMEN 12.294; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 65.

58. EMEN 12.498–500, 505ff., 527–28. See Strehle, Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 14–23.

59. EMEN 12.324, 489–93.

60. EMEN 13.67.

61. EMEN 12.299–300. Voltaire rejects equality among the races. EMEN 11.5, 7; 12.237, 380ff.; OCV 21.462; 27.484–87 (WV 27.167, 200); Strehle, Dark Side, 270–71. He shows some sympathy toward democracy late in his life, after it was safe to do so, although most of his career he spends as a sycophant of kings. Peter Gay, Voltaire’s Politics: The Poet as a Realist (New York: Vintage Books, 1963) 89, 225–26, 236; The Enlightenment, 2.67, 462–63, 483–84; David Strauss, Voltaire: Sechs Vorträge (Leipzig: s. Hirzel, 1870), 109–11; Strehle, ← 119 | 120 → Dark Side, 7. In Essai, he expresses strong support for the Third Estate in France as representing the vast majority of the nation and also the House of Commons in England. EMEN 12.69–71.

62. EMEN 13.55–56, 66, 68–69.

63. EMEN 12.554ff., 557–61; 13.74, 83–84. Of course, he joins the chorus of sycophants during the era and besmirches the character of Oliver Cromwell as a man of “fraud and violence.” EMEN 13.80–81. Cf. Christopher Hill, God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (New York: The Dial Press, 1970) for a more objective and scholarly perspective.

64. Sakmann, “The Problems of the Historical Method,” 59; EMEN 12.535.

65. Dallas D. Irvine, “The Abbé Raynal and British Humanitarianism,” The Journal of Modern History (Dec. 1931): 565–66, 573; Lectures de Raynal: L’Historire des deux Indes en Europe et en Amérique au XVIII e Siècle, Hans-Jürgae Lüsebrick et Manfred Tietz (eds.) (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1991); Cecil P. Courtney, “Les metamorphose d’un best-seller: l’Histoire des deux Indes de 1770 à 1820,” in Raynal, de la polémique à l’histoire Giles Bancarel et Gianluigi Goggi (eds.) (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000), 109–20; Guillaume Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu: Raynal and Diderot’s ‘Histoire des deux Indes’ and the American Revolution,” Journal of the History of Ideas 70/3 (2009): 399–401.

66. Abbé Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in East and West Indies, J. Justamond (London, 1777), 5.545ff. Hereafter designated PPH.

67. PPH 5.390–400.

68. PPH 5.402.

69. PPH 5.518–19, 593–95. Like the policy of the French Revolution, he proposes to take away the property of the church and give it to the nation for productive labor. PPH 5.546–47.

70. PPH 5.571.

71. PPH 5.452.

72. PPH 5.584. He says that Socrates, Plato, et al. muddled philosophy with religion and morality, rather than emphasizing nature as the moderns. Aristotle did not liberate the Middle Ages since the Schoolmen “blindly follow[ed] him through the darkness of theology.” PPH 5.582–83, 590.

73. PPH 5.586–90. Jules Michelet is the first historian to coin the term “Renaissance,” but the basic attitude has antecedents.

74. PPH 5.403, 410.

75. PPH 5.426–27; Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu,” 403–4.

76. PPH 5.415–16.

77. PPH 5.495, 498–501, 505, 507–11, 521–22. He expresses his concepts within the basic framework of physiocrat ideology. He sees agriculture as the real source of wealth in a nation. “Every thing depends upon and arises from the cultivation of the land.” He also thinks that the best system of taxation is assessing the land. PPH 5.511–16, 558–59.

78. PPH 5.348–49, 404; Irvine, “Abbé Raynal and British Humanitarianism,” 566, 571. He says the Spanish have besmirched the Catholic faith through their actions, yet he does not see religion as their primary motivation. PPH 2.403; 5.404. ← 120 | 121 →

79. PPH 5.236–37, 255; Voltaire, “Lettres Philosophiques,” in OCV 22.91–95 (“Lettre sur les Quakers,” IV); Montesquieu, De l’Esprit des lois (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1961), 1.40 (IV, iv); Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu,”403.

80. PPH 5.244.

81. PPH 5.235–36; Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu,” 417.

82. PPH 5.358.

83. PPH 5.192–99. For example, the following generalization is made out of few instances:

[Puritan intolerance] was supported by the services of the law, which attempted to put a stop to every difference of opinion, by inflicting capital punishment on all who dissented. Those who were convicted or even suspected of entertaining sentiments of toleration, were exposed to such cruel oppressions, that they were forced to fly from their first asylum, and seek refuge in another. PPH 5.194.

84. William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972) 259, 273; Wooton, “Democracy,” 75. Baptists and Quakers represent a radical expansion of certain Puritan ideals. Baptists work with the notion of “visible saints” but apply it in a more consistent manner than the Congregationalists. They simply postpone baptism to a later time when the candidates have professed and demonstrated their faith, eliminating the problem of the infamous Half-Way Covenant. Quakers extend the egalitarian and antinomian tendencies of certain Puritans groups like the Separatists and Levellers. Lilburne, Wistanley, and other dissidents practiced egalitarian gestures like using the second person or refusing to remove the hat to superiors, long before the Quakers. Ian Gentiles, “London Levellers in the English Revolution: The Chidleys and Their Circle,” Ecclesiastical History 29/3 (1978): 285; Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1962), 8; Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1975), 198. Many Puritans spoke of the witness of the Spirit to all believers as the most essential means of obtaining assurance before God. The Quakers simply extend the program to include the entire life of the believer and one’s relation to God. This process is most readily seen in the trials and tribulations of Anne Hutchinson. She was a devout disciple of John Cotton but was banished from the Puritan community when she followed his antinomian tendencies beyond acceptable limits. She began to talk much like a Quaker, professing to experience immediate revelations from God, outside the confines of Scripture. Stephen Strehle, The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel (Leiden, NJ and Köln: E. J. Brill, 1995), 47–48. John Winthrop thought she was one of the Grindletonians, who appeared in England during the time and emphasized the role of the Spirit more than the Word of God. Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, 65–67.

85. PPH 5.89, 371–72, 396–97; Ansart, “Variations on Montesquieu,” 410.

86. PPH 7.456 [XVIII] (London, 1783).

87. For the Calvinist/Puritan role in developing the concept of revolution, see Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, xv–xvi, 83–98, 105.

88. Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind, 150–51, 157. Dale Van Kley finds French historians reacting against the Enlightenment in the nineteenth century before the Third Republic. “Varieties of Enlightened Experience” (unpublished paper).

89. Ibid., 154–55. ← 121 | 122 →

90. Jules Michelet, History of the French Revolution, Gordon Wright (ed. and intro.), Charles Cocks (trans.) (Chicago, IL and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1967), xiv-xv.

91. Arthur Mitzman, Michelet: Rebirth and Romanticism in Nineteenth-Century France (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1990), xv, 278–79. His other great work is Histoire de France (1833–1867). Roland Barthes, Michelet, Richard Howard (trans.) (New York: Hill and Wang, 1987), 224.

92. Ibid., 283. For a brief history of the relationship between church and state after the revolution, see Strehle, The Dark Side of Church/State Separation, chap. 5.

93. Jules Michelet, Histoire de la Révolution Française (Paris: Chamerot, Libraire-Éditeur, 1847), i–ii, xvii–xix. Hereafter designated HRF.

94. HRF 2.178–79.

95. HRF “Introduction,” xiii.

96. HRF “Introduction,” xcii, xcvii–xcviii, 3.130.

97. HRF 2.201.

98. HRF ix–x.

99. HRF ix–xviii; 1.106–10, 131. Owen Chadwick describes Michelet’s historiography and depiction of the fall of the Bastille as follows:

This passion for the people, love of the dramatic, genius for the vivid, could make him very misleading. The famous instance is his account of the fall of the Bastille. He was writing it when he heard the news of his father’s death, and in an earlier chapter I mentioned how that death affected his mind. The Bastille fell when the common people of Paris rose spontaneously and heroically against an impregnable fortress, to end tyranny and win their freedom—the most gripping passage in the works of the most gripping historians—where almost every detail is erroneous, almost every fact misstated; it did not happen like that at all, it was not so dramatic, so romantic, so noble or moreover so spontaneous; ideal, symbol entered into creed, it ought to have happened like that. Examine the narrative and it will not do. Yet totality, legend, stood for a reality of the French Revolution, and became the cherished possession of every republican heart. The Secularization of the European Mind, 198–99.

100. HRF 3.150–52.

101. HRF 3.150–63.

102. Mitzman, Michelet, 123; HRF 3.176–77. This emphasis upon etatism is indicative of modern French policy. See Strehle, The Dark Side, 104–7.

103. E.g., HRF 3.167–69.

104. HRF “Introduction” xxx–xxxii; 3.128–29; Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind, 199–200.

105. HRF 2.221–22; 3.130–37; Mitzman, Michelet, 120.

106. HRF 2.223–25.

107. HRF xxvii, xxxiii–xl; Mitzman, Michelet, 127–28. He thinks of Protestantism as much worse than Catholicism in this regard with its emphasis upon sola fides or sola gratia, but both Christian movements believe much the same nonsense.

108. HRF xxxix–xlvii.

109. HRF 2.194–95.

110. HRF “Introduction” cxii–cxiii; 3.17–18. ← 122 | 123 →

111. HRF “Introduction” li–lii; 3.113–16.

112. HRF 1.29–30; 3.105–106, 153–54.

113. HRF 2.226–27; 3.14, 91–92, 128–29. He describes the body of the clergy as a “monster of injustice and inequality,” even though the lower members were “meagre and starving” because the head was swollen with pride and riches. He speaks of the Assembly’s enormous generosity in dealing with the clergy and proposing to provide them with salaries, but he forgets to emphasize one important detail: the promised salaries were not delivered, and officially denied several years later in September of 1794, even to the conventional priests. Jean Baubérot, Histoire de laïcité en France (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2007), 15–16; John McManners, The French Revolution and the Church (London: SPCK, 1969), 39, 118; Timothy Tackett, Religion, Revolution, and Regional Culture in Eighteenth-Century France: The Ecclesiastical Oath of 1791 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 91.

114. HRP 3.22–23, 126, 148. The bishops coerced the lower clergy to follow them and submit to the Holy See.

115. Phillipson Nicholas, David Hume: Philosopher as Historian (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 131.

116. The Letters of David Hume, J. Y. T. Grieg (ed.) (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1983), 1.325–26; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 51.

117. Letters of David Hume, 1.111, 180, 237; David Hume, The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, Rodney W. Kilcap (intro.) (Chicago, IL and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1975), xvi–xviii.

118. Hume, The History of England, xx, xxiv. Of course, he provides moralistic commentary throughout the account that certainly speaks of some transcendent values in expressing his approval and disapproval. He also thinks of human nature as much the same in all cultures and motivated by the same values and interests, even if his history might see things in a more complicated manner than his earlier work. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, in Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1978), 479–80 (65); Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 55; Hume, History of England, xxvi–xxxi.

119. For example, Voltaire treats Sir Thomas More as a “superstitious and cruel persecutor,” who justly died for treason, while Hume can admire his “integrity, genius, elegance, courage, and conduct however misguided” by his religious beliefs. Essai, in OCV 12.346; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 54; David Hume, The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688 (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1983), 3.222. Hereafter this edition of Hume’s History of England is designated HE.

120. HE 4.351–53.

121. Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 59.

122. HE 4.145, 354–56, 362, 371.

123. HE 6.531; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 62.

124. HE 4.119–20; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 61. This attitude is reflected later on in Edmund Burke’s famous critique of the French Revolution—Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). See Strehle, The Dark Side, 58–61.

125. HE 6.533; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 61. ← 123 | 124 →

126. HE 2.140ff.; Hume, The History of England (1975), xxv; Strehle, The Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, 130.

127. Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 67.

128. HE 2.293; Meyer, “Voltaire and Hume as Historians,” 61.

129. HE 5.301–303, 443.

130. HE 4.120–22; 5.251–53, 301–303, 441–42.

131. HE 5.442.

132. HE 4.22–23, 40–44. For Knox’s position, see Strehle, Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, 88–91.

133. HE 5.449–50; 6.58, 108. Cf. Hill’s God’s Englishman for a much different portrait.

134. HE 5.213, 535, 544–45, 548; 6.110. He also considers the Puritan execution of Archbishop William Laud the “greatest tyranny and injustice” of “popular assemblies.” He thinks that Charles I and Laud were basically good men, but maybe flawed and certainly not great enough to make sufficient changes to suit the times. HE 5.457–58, 542–43.

135. HE 3.432. See Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 498–502. He also says that the miracles of Scripture are a “violation of the laws of nature,” and their testimony in the past is not sufficient to overcome their incredulity. Enquiry, 491–92, 495, 497 (90–93, 98, 100–1).

136. HE 3.436.

137. E.g., HE 1.306.

138. HE 3.136. He does credit the clergy for preserving Roman law as the one great inheritance of the Middle Ages. He contrasts it with Saxon law, where money bought justice, revenge was authorized, ordeals served as proof, and justice dispensed without due process. HE 2.518–21.

139. HE 3.434–41, 450, 461; 4.4, 21; 6.500–501. The rise of toleration is not a simple linear development in the modern world. Protestants tended to lead the way, although Catholics had a number of scholars who championed the cause and a few Catholic countries that outpaced Protestant lands at certain times in their history. In England, it was more a Protestant phenomenon. During the Puritan Revolution, Cromwell extended toleration to a wide variety of communities: Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Ranters, Socinians, skeptics, and other unorthodox groups. The year 1644 witnessed the publication of some of the great classics on the subject: William Walwyn’s The Compassionate Samaritane, Roger Williams’ The Bloudy Tenent, Henry Robinson’s Liberty of Conscience, and John Milton’s Areopagitica. See Strehle, Egalitarian Spirit of Christianity, chap. 7.

140. HE 3.364–65; 6.108. He thinks the arguments between Arminians and Calvinists over predestination provide another example of the ridiculous nature of Christian speculation. HE 5.131–32, 211–12.

141. HE 2.522–25; Hume, History of England (1975), xxxvii–xxxiv.

142. HE 2.525.

143. HE 4.124.

144. HE 4.144–45.

145. HE 4.368; 5.215–16, 256–57. He sees the Puritans gaining dominance over the House of Commons at the end of the sixteenth century and pushing “pure democracy” during the Long Parliament. HE 5.212, 293. ← 124 | 125 →

146. Some scattered thoughts make certain connections. For example, he recognizes the Reformation concept of “submitting private judgment” to the people as “dangerous” to sovereign authority. HE 3.212. Cf. Hume, History of England (1975), xxxiv–xl. See Strehle’s Egalitarian Spirit for a full discussion of the relationship between Puritanism and modern government.

147. Private Letters of Edward Gibbon (1753–1794), Rowland E. Prothero (ed.) (London: John Murray, 1897), 2.37; Per Fulgum, Edward Gibbon: His View of Life and Conception of History (Oslo: Akademisk Forlag, 1953) 15, 27–28, 80–81, 86, 92–94; Andrew Lossky, “Introduction: Gibbon and the Enlightenment,” in The Transformation of the Roman World: Gibbon’s Problem After Two Centuries, Lynn White (ed.) (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966), 19.

148. Lossky, “Introduction,” 13; Duncan S. Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment: Edward Gibbon on Christianity,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 52/4 (1983): 396. His second edition mitigated some of the offensive language and egregious tone against the church and the priesthood, but there was not a profound remodeling of the two chapters. David Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), 17–20, 23–27, 30, 40, 142–43.

149. Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life, Georges A. Bonnard (ed.) (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1966), 127; Letters of Edward Gibbon, J. E. Norton (ed.) (New York: Macmillan Co., 1956), 2.375, 384 (605, 608); 3.2, 9, 17 (619, 623–24); Girolamo Imbruglia, “‘My Ecclesiastical History’: Gibbon Between Hume and Raynal,” M. Rogers (trans.), in Edward Gibbon: Bicentenary Essays, David Womersley (ed.) (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997), 74–75; Dallas Irvine, “The Abbé Raynal and British Humanitarianism,” Journal of Modern History 3/4 (1931): 569–70.

150. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 20, 25–26; Edward Gibbon, Essai sur l’étude de la littérature: A Critical Edition, Robert Mankin and Patricia Maddock (eds.) (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2010), 108 (xxv).

151. Paul Tumball, “The ‘Supposed Infidelity’ of Edward Gibbon,” The Historical Journal 25/1 (1982): 25; Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 11; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 393.

152. Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 394; Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 114–15; Tumball, “The ‘Supposed Infidelity’,” 26–27.

153. “To Joseph Priestly” (Dec. 28, 1783), in The Letters of Edward Gibbon, J. E. Norton (ed.) (London: Cassell and Co. 1956) 2.320–21; B. W. Young, “‘Scepticism in Excess’: Gibbon and Eighteenth-Century Christianity,” The Historical Journal 41/1 (1998): 10; Lossky, “Introduction,” 18; Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 120–21; David Wooten, “Narrative, Irony, and Faith in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall,” in Edward Gibbon: Bicentenury Essays, 232. He seems to posit the existence of God as the foundation of morality, but he discounts any real proof beyond this utilitarian concern. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 116–17.

154. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: The Modern Library, 1932), 1.676; Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’, 124–25, 132–33. Hereafter Gibbon’s great work is designated GE.

155. GE 1.683. ← 125 | 126 →

156. GE 1.671–73, 686; 2.8, 369–75. The Catholic Church also manufactured fraudulent texts like the Athanasian Creed and 1 Jn 5:7 to defend their Trinitarian dogma. GE 2.375–76.

157. Motimer Chambers, “The Crisis of the Third Century,” in The Transformation of the Roman World, 66.

158. Modern theologians are enamored with the doctrine of the Trinity. Karl Barth considers it the pivotal doctrine of church theology and concept of revelation. Jürgen Moltmann spends much time speaking of its social ramifications. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrence (eds.) (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1977), I/1 300–1, 309; Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God, Margaret Kohl (trans.) (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row Publishers, 1981), 150, 155, 195, 215–16.

159. Wooten, “Narrative, Irony, and Faith,” 205–8, 215.

160. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 33–34, 234; Jan N. Brenner, The Rise of Christianity Through the Eyes of Gibbon, Harnack, and Rodney Stark (Groningen: Barkuis, 2010), 23–24; Deno J. Geanakoplos, “Edward Gibbon and Byzantine Ecclesiastical History,” Church History 35/2 (1966): 185; Imbruglia, “‘My Ecclesiastical History’,” 73–75; Lossky, “Introduction,” in The Transformation of the Roman World, 15.

161. Fuglum, Edward Gibbon, 111.

162. Taylor, A Secular Age, 286.

163. GE 1.410; Eric Brook, “Hagiography, Modern Historiography, and Historical Representation,” Fides et Historia 42/2 (2010): 7–9; Imbruglia, “‘My Ecclesiastical History’,” 77. He expresses some skepticism about the miracles of the NT. He says Seneca, Pliny, and other ancient historians fail to confirm the biblical account of the darkness covering the earth during the crucifixion scene. GE 1.444; Wooten, “Narrative, Irony, and Faith,” 77. He follows Protestants in questioning the miraculous deeds of the saints. For example, in regard to the “miracles” of Saint Bernard: “At the present hour such prodigies will not obtain credit beyond the precincts of Clairvaux; but in the preternatural cures of the blind, the lame, and the sick, who were presented to the man of God, it is impossible for us to ascertain the separate shares of accident, of fancy, of imposture, and of fiction.” GE 3.479; Wooten, “Narrative, Irony, and Faith,” 216.

164. GE 1.383.

165. Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1997), 20–25, 728–29.

166. Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’, 4; Fuglum, Edward Gibbon, 24, 39–40.

167. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 86–87, 143.

168. GE 1.70; Chambers, “The Crisis of the Third Century,” 31; Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 132, 157. Marcus Aurelius seems to serve as the supreme example of Plato’s philosopher-king.

169. GE 1.1.

170. GE 2.669–670; 3.786.

171. Gibbon’s Autobiography, M. M. Reese (ed.) (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), 85.

172. GE 3.66–71; 863–72, 879–80; Lossky, “Introduction,” in The Transformation of the Roman World, 26; “Impact of Christianity,” 62.

173. Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind, 191; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 397. ← 126 | 127 →

174. GE 1.382.; Fulgum, The Rise of Christianity, 126. During the Enlightenment, Abbé Galian was considered the best church historian. He also blames the church for the fall of Rome. Imbruglia, “‘My Ecclesiastical History’,” 86–88.

175. GE 1.383. See also GE 1.411–12, 430; Bremmer, The Rise of Christianity, 7; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 397–99.

176. GE 1.416–17, 490–91. Gibbon might be correct in this regard. The most questionable aspect of his analysis is his inflated esteem of Rome and his deprecation of the church, not that Christianity substantially changed the culture or destroyed the old Roman Empire.

177. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 126.

178. GE 3.1, 504.

179. GE 1.383.

180. Bremmer, The Rise of Christianity, 8; Strehle, The Dark Side of Church/State Separation, 5–6, 29, 33.

181. GE 1.384–87, 446–47. Like many sons of the Enlightenment, Gibbon speaks of Egyptian influences on Moses (or at least the possibility) to undermine the uniqueness of the Jewish faith and explain its bigotries. Young, “Scepticism in Excess,” 187–88.

182. GE 1.396–98, 446–49; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 399. Christians had to avoid idolatry, which was so much a part of everyday commerce, art, and social intercourse.

183. GE 1.467.

184. GE 1.467–68, 474, 503; Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’, 22. He estimates the total number of martyrs during the persecutions of Diocletian, Galerius, and Maximin to be less than 2,000.

185. GE 1.504; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 400. The fact is that no one really knows the number of people killed in the persecutions of the early church or the later inquisitions/religious wars, but Gibbon has a vested interest in making the former numbers small and the latter numbers as large as possible. Bremmer speaks of Gibbon’s selective and disingenuous reading of Eusebius in neglecting passages that speak of much higher numbers, even myrioi or “tens of thousands” during the times of Diocletian. The Romans burned many earlier accounts of this and other persecutions. Bremmer, The Rise of Christianity, 20–23.

186. GE 1.454, 460, 463. Gibbon extols the memory of Julian the Apostate. According to his account, Julian renounced Christianity as oppressive and repugnant, and tried to restore the ancient philosophical spirit of tolerance and egalitarianism as the emperor from 361–363 C.E. GE 1,736–37, 746–85.

187. GE 1.406; 3.448 (n.35).

188. GE 1.409; 2.805.

189. GE 1.723; 2.8, 12–13, 16. The typical persecution in the era was exiling the bishop. The sons of Constantine and Theodosius were more zealous against paganism in demolishing some of its temples and prohibiting sacrifices. GE 1.722–25; 2.46, 51–54, 61.

190. GE 1.17–18.

191. GE 2.369–75.

192. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 110. ← 127 | 128 →

193. GE 1.669; Ferguson, “Historical Understanding and the Enlightenment,” 401. Like a Protestant, Gibbon particularly ridicules the growth of relics in the church. GE 2.65–71.

194. See Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, “Edward Gibbon: An Appreciation,” 666; The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963), xxvi–xxix (intro.); Owen Chadwick, “Gibbon and the Church Historians,” in Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, G. W. Bowersock, Jon Clive, and Stephen Graubard (eds.) (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1977), 221–23; Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 127. For example, his account of Chrysostom is very favorable. GE 2.207ff.

195. GE 1.382–83.

196. GE 1.413–15. Whatever “simple and sublime theology” existed in the primitive church, it was “gradually corrupted through the metaphysical subtleties of the trinity.” GE 2.69.

197. Fulgum, Edward Gibbon, 122–23; Chambers, “The Crisis of the Third Century,” 67.

198. Ibid., 151–53. He admits there existed “some science not unworthy of notice.” GE 3.786

199. GE 1.504.

200. GE 3.565–66.

201. GE 2.347, 352–64. Of course, he shares the enlightened contempt for the crusades. Myth-making has always found fertile ground in the “history” of the crusades, and Gibbon is no different. On the opposite side, the Romantic view of Sir Walter Scott sees crusading as filled with romance, adventure, and heroism. Christopher Tyerman, Crusades (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2–3; Habib C. Malik, “The Crusades Between Myth and Reality: Revisiting a Troubled Historiography,” Theological Review 32 (2011): 99, 110–12. Gibbon begins his account of the crusades with Peter, a hermit, visiting the holy sepulcher and complaining about his injuries and the treatment of other pilgrims at the hand of the Muslim infidels. His fanatical stories and visions persuade all segments of the church and society to defend the pilgrims and deliver the Holy Land from the “impiety of their pagan and Mohommedan foes.” The pope and the clergy join in and place their imprimatur upon the effort as the “will of God,” offering at the Council of Clermont “a plenary indulgence to those who should enlist under the banner of the cross; the absolution of all their sins, and a full receipt for all that might be due of canonical penance [sic].” GE 3. 417–19, 422–23, 426.

202. GE 1.483–84, 864–67; 2.14.

203. GE 1.426–30; 3.7, 11, 14; Wootton, “Narrative, Irony, and Faith,” 223; Womersley, Gibbon and the ‘Watchmen of the Holy City’, 113.

204. GE 1.486, 669; 2.815–19.

205. William Robertson (1721–1793), the Scottish historian, is often mentioned alongside Hume and Gibbon but was omitted for a lack of space.

206. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 112, 121–22.