Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Timothy Dwight on Bolingbroke

Eighth President of Yale Timothy Dwight -- that great foe of "infidelity" -- examines and criticizes Bolingbroke's creed in Dwight's classic, The Nature And Danger of Infidel Philosophy.

If you read it line by line, Dwight apparently sees Bolingbroke as a philosopher full of contradictions.  He accuses Bolingbroke of having a libertine and hedonistic philosophy.  I focus on how Dwight understands Bolingbroke's creed insofar as it relates to "Christianity" and "Deism."

This is a taste of Dwight's analysis:
[Bolingbroke asserted] 
That Self-love is the great Law of our nature; and yet, That Universal Benevolence is the great Law of our nature: That Christianity is a republication of the Religion of Nature, and a benevolent system; that its morals are pure; and that he is determined to seek for genuine Christianity with the simplicity of spirit, with which Christ himself taught it in the Gospel; and. yet, 
A great part of his Works, particularly of his Philosophical Works, was written for no other end, but to destroy Christianity. 
How to resolve the contradiction?  It's HOW Bolingbroke understands "Christianity."  Elsewhere Dwight informs:
Even now, Unitarians, as well as Infidels, hold out a distinction between the Gospel; that is, as they intend, the personal instructions of Christ; and the Epistles, which they consider as the mere Comments of Christ's followers. Thus Lord Bolingbroke declares the system of religion, both Natural and Revealed, to be excellent, and plainly taught; as it was taught by Christ, and recorded by his Evangelists: "a complete system to all the purposes of Religion*." nay, he speaks of it directly, as revealed by God himself. "Christianity, genuine Christianity," he says again, "is contained in the Gospel, it is the Word of God + ." 
At the same time, Lord Bolingbroke declares, that St. Paul has preached another Gospel; and that the New Testament contains two Gospels. In the same manner, Mr. Chubb declares, that St. Paul preached another Gospel, which was contradictor to that of Christ. Unitarians, also, are plainly unwilling to allow the same respect, and confidence, to be due to the Apostolic writings, which they appear to consider as due to the words of Christ; and, like the Infidels above mentioned, admit, that the Gospels possess a higher character than the Epistles.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Ace work, Jon!

Timothy Dwight


becomes head of Yale in 1795, Harvard already having been taken over permanently by the unitarians if I recall correctly.

Dwight makes a distinction here between

Unitarians, as well as Infidels,

That jumped out at me, as though he's not ready to give up on the unitarians as "Christian."

21st Century update: Timothy Dwight's version of Christianity holds, "unitarianism" proving itself to be a theological fad that becomes today's Unitarian Universalist Church, which rejects the Bible as Divine Writ; indeed you don't even have to believe in God to be a UU.

During troubled times at Yale University, president Timothy Dwight saw his students drawn to the radical republicanism and “infidel philosophy” of the French Revolution, including the philosophies of Hume, Hobbes, Tindal, and Lords Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1797.

Between 1797 and 1800, Dwight frequently warned audiences against the threats of this “infidel philosophy” in America. An address to the candidates for the baccalaureate in Yale College called "The Nature and Danger of Infidel Philosophy, Exhibited in Two Discourses, Addressed to the Candidates for the Baccalaureate, In Yale College" was delivered on September 9, 1797. It was published by George Bunce in 1798. This book is credited as one of the embers of the Second Great Awakening.

wsforten said...

If you would like to know more about why the Unitarians were often included within the fold of Christianity, you should read this article from 1801:

Toulmin, Joshua, D. D., The Practical Efficacy of the Unitarian Doctrine, C. Stower, London, 1801, pg 21-23 http://books.google.com/books?id=tfCgrjO8YY0C&lpg=PA21

wsforten said...

Then there is also this from 1831:

D. S., "On the Trinity," Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, vol. 2, no. 50, Utica, N.Y., December 10, 1831 (http://books.google.com/books?id=-zMrAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA366