The Social Ideas of Religious Leaders, 1660-1688

The Social Ideas of Religious Leaders, 1660-1688

The Social Ideas of Religious Leaders, 1660-1688

The Social Ideas of Religious Leaders, 1660-1688

Excerpt

In the reign of Charles II clergymen were intellectual leaders. No other thinker had such a wide audience as did the preacher in his pulpit, and his printed sermons and treatises were the staple reading matter of his parishioners. Perhaps no religious leader of the period seems so important to us as Hobbes or Locke, but in the opinion of contemporaries the refutations of the Leviathan were as sound or sounder than the work itself, and it was plain that Locke had built upon ideas of natural law which divines had thought out before him. We are certainly justified in assuming that clerical social theory is an important chapter in the history of ideas about society which were current from 1660 to 1688.

What clergymen thought is, of course, interesting in itself. Richard Baxter's Christian Directory is the last medieval summa published in England, while Richard Cumberland and John Wilkins are among the earliest writers on the wonders of natural law. Old-fashioned persons like Baxter deduced from the Decalogue that theft and adultery were sins; up-to-date authors proved that adulterers and thieves were naturally unhappy and poor.

I have tried, however, to do more than describe the interesting thoughts of the divines. Instead of assuming that their social ideas were independent, developing by an internal dialectic of their own, I have tried to show how they were integrally connected at every point with social facts. This is, in general, the genetic method used by Professor Tawney, to whom I am more indebted than I was able to acknowledge in the footnotes. Professor Tawney, however, is often concerned to find at what point social theory went wrong, at what point it ceased to take account of the facts--his history is frequently a criticism of modern society, an attempt to put our theorists on the right track by showing how men in the past ceased to be realistic and deviated from the truth. I have tried to focus on the period . . .

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