Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths

By Gerald R. McDermott | Go to book overview
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10
GREECE AND ROME

Very Noble and Almost Divine Truths

In the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century polemics waged over the origin of true religion, Greece and Rome were weapons of choice. Both orthodox and deists used the classical writings of the Greeks and Romans to defend their positions and to attack their adversaries' accounts of how the ancients came to know God. The classics were ubiquitous in the literate society of the period. Original language editions and competent translations were widely available for the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Tacitus, and Cicero. All of these writers had written about religion, both its nature and origin, and they were used by most of those who joined the modern debate.1


The orthodox: The Superiority of Hebrew Culture

For centuries the Christian church had dismissed Greek and Roman religion as largely inspired by demons, while at the same time drawing upon Greek philosophy not only to confirm but also to construct Christian theology. Augustine, for example, regarded Neoplatonism as capable of serving as a preparation for Christianity, while Aquinas's theology was based partly on Aristotelian metaphysics. In

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1
Champion, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken, 182. For example, Cato's Letters, a popular series of political tracts written by deists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon from 1720 to 1723, frequently alluded to classical texts. Francis Hutcheson, the Scottish moral philosopher who influenced Edwards, was chiefly inspired by Cicero; M. A. Stewart, "Rational Dissent in Early Eighteenth-Century Ireland", in Haakonssen, Enlightenment and Religion, 45.

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