Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Religion and the Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England: Theological Debate from Locke to Burke

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Religion and the Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England: Theological Debate from Locke to Burke

Article excerpt

B.W. YOUNG. Religion and the Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England: Theological Debate from Locke to Burke, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998. Pp. ix + 259, bibliography, index. $65.00.

B.W. Young's study represents an important addition to our developing understanding of both the English Enlightenment and the Enlightenment more generally. By examining the Enlightenment as it manifested itself in debate amongst Anglican clerics, he reveals a rich culture fascinated by the implications of the contemporary ideas.

A discussion of the anti-dogmatic tradition in the church in the first half of the eighteenth century leads to a valuable discussion of the attempt to change the clerical requirement of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. In its mastery of the issues and of the literature this supersedes all previous accounts. The study goes on to offer a critique of the notion that Newtonian and Lockean thought combined to create a paradigm of enlightenment which was eventually exported to France where it formed the core philosophy of the movement. Young then explores the "orthodox" reaction to the anti-dogmatic stance. The philosophy and theology of John Locke was a target for a variety of "orthodox" clerics, ranging from William Law to John Wesley. No single anti-Lockean position emerged. Moreover, Locke had a firm band of supporters within the anti-dogmatic tradition who viewed him as an enlightened Christian philosopher and preserver of eternal verities rather than a figure in a secularizing Enlightment process. The study concludes with a discussion of William Warburton, whose creative energies and prickly personality were engaged in defending Christianity from its critics from all sides, and whose work, most notably The Divine Legation of Moses (1738-1741), was of European significance.

Young's intention is to offer a corrective to what he conceives to be standard notions of the Enlightenment as a relentlessly secularizing unitary movement. In essence, this was the view of Peter Gay in his splendid two-volume study, and is often an assumption behind many subsequent studies. …

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