Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Revolutionary Principles

Keeping with Brian Tubbs' latest post at American Creation on the American and French Revolutions, I note that we (myself, co-bloggers, readers) have uncovered some interesting not too well known facts on these sister events.

For instance, there's a quotation by John Adams that speaks of 1/3 of the American population being in favor, 1/3 being on the fence, and 1/3 being against "the event." Most folks familiar with the quotation think it refers to the American Revolution. But a closer reading of the context of the quotation reveals Adams may well have been speaking of Americans' view of the French Revolution. (Somewhere in American Creation's archives exists the evidence for this assertion.)

Perhap we should take Adams' thoughts with a grain of salt. All human beings have selective memories that support their agendas. And Adams had an anti-French Revolution (and pro-unitarian) agenda. (On his pro-unitarian agenda, the quotation below shows Adams claiming theological unitarianism was ramptant in Massachussettes by 1750; I've seen one source claim at least one of the figures below was improperly put in the unitarian box; though I take Adams at his word that most of these names are properly categorized:
I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, "American Unitarianism." I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me.

In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay of Hingham were Unitarians. Among the Laity how many could I name, Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesman, farmers!

-- John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, May 15, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.)
We all know how the French Revolution turned out (historical hindsight is 20/20). What is interesting is how Americans, especially America's Founders, viewed the event before it went wrong. (Similar to public opinion on America's second Iraqi War before the invasion and 10 years after).

After meticulously reading the record, I would take Adams' 1/3 sentiment as a self serving lowball against the French Revolution. Though, admittedly, I'm more familiar with what the Founding Fathers said about the French Revolution than the average American man in the streets during the Founding era.

John Adams, with his suspicion of the revolution before it began, was the unoptimistic outlier. From what I have seen, most Founders, with their Enlightenment optimism, supported the French Revolution at the beginning and had great hopes for its success. This makes sense given France was a key ally in the American Revolution.

Also, the political theology of the French Revolution also was not atheistic as some mistakenly believe. As I noted here, like the American Revolution, it was a theistic event. For a while, perhaps being blinded by their anti-Roman Catholic bigotry, Protestant Christians in America viewed the French Revolution as a "Protestant Christian" event. See for instance, this post and this page on the notable orthodox Protestant minister Ezra Stiles (President of Yale) and his support for the miltiancy of the French Revolution until his death in 1795.

Over time, though, it did become clear that the theistic or deistic policial theology of the French Revolution with its worship of the "Supreme Being" was less compatible with traditional notions of Christianity.

Unlike the American, perhaps it was a case of trying to do too much too soon.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being was like really messed up, dude.

The Festival of the Supreme Being (8 June 1794)

At exactly five in the morning, a general recall shall be sounded in Paris.

This call shall invite every citizen, men and women alike, to immediately adorn their houses with the beloved colors of liberty, either by rehanging their flags, or by embellishing their houses with garlands of flowers and greenery.

They shall then go to the assembly areas of their respective sections to await the departure signal.

No men shall be armed, except for fourteen- to eighteen-year-old boys, who shall be armed with sabers and guns or pikes.

In each section, these boys shall form a square battalion marching twelve across, in the middle of which the banners and flags of the armed force of each section shall be placed, carried by those who are ordinarily entrusted with them.

Every male citizen and young boy shall hold an oak branch in his hand.

All female citizens, mothers and daughters, shall be dressed in the colors of liberty. Mothers shall hold bouquets of roses in their hands, and the young girls shall carry baskets filled with flowers.

It sounds like that scene in Bananas

Esposito: From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence!

In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour.

Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.

Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!

Fielding: What's the Spanish word for straitjacket?

Bill Fortenberry said...

You are overlooking a very important distinction between the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The former was a proclamation of America's submission to the Law of God, while the latter was merely a demand which was made in His presence. Consequently, the Declaration of Independence focused on informing other nations of King George's attempt to establish an already illegal tyranny over the American colonies, whereas the Declaration of the Rights of Man presented a new set of demands by which the actions of their government were to be judged. Every line of these two documents exudes the opposite principles of humility in the former and pride in the latter. The American submission to the Law of God stands in stark and undeniable contrast to the total absence of consideration for that Law in the French Declaration.

This distinction is evident from the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence where we find the Americans establishing their independence upon an entitlement under "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." America thus justified her independence upon both natural law and the Law of God as given in the Scriptures. The French, on the other hand, declared their law to be "the expression of the general will." This difference in understanding of the source of law is what produced the opposite results of the two revolutions. The Americans understood that the law must be grounded in the unchanging dictates of God, but the French based their law upon the capricious will of the people. The results were inevitable.

Consider the following statements from the Declaration of the Rights of Man:

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

6. Law is the expression of the general will.

Now compare these statements with the wisdom of our own founders expressed in the words of James Wilson:

"What would be the fate of man and of society, was every one at full liberty to do as he listed, without any fixed rule or principle of conduct, without a helm to steer him — a sport of the fierce gusts of passion, and the fluctuating billows of caprice?"

“Is it probable — we repeat the question — is it probable that the Creator, infinitely wise and good, would leave his moral world in this chaos and disorder? If we enter into ourselves, and view with attention what passes in our own breasts, we shall find, that what, at first, appeared probable, is proved, on closer examination to be certain; we shall find, that God has not left himself without a witness, nor us without a guide.”

“Having thus stated the question — what is the efficient cause of moral obligation? — I give it this answer — the will of God. This is the supreme law. His just and full right of imposing laws, and our duty in obeying them, are the sources of our moral obligations.”

[Wilson, Bird, The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, L. L. D., vol. 1, Lorenzo Press, Philadelphia, 1804, pg 113-119]

jimmiraybob said...

WFS - "The former [Declaration of Independence] was a proclamation of America's submission to the Law of God..."

You, of course have a right to view it that way, but a revolution based on the right-of conscience did not start or end with committing or coercing future generations to believe or not believe in God or submission to any faith.

The revolution, based largely on the right-of conscience, did, however, start and end with a commitment to the freedom to choose and exercise religious conviction according to one's own conscience - regardless of the individual convictions of individual founders, framers, signers and subsequent fellow beneficiaries. I refer you to the US Constitution.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I already did this with OFT years ago and don't see this getting anywhere with Mr. Fortenberry; but re "laws of Nature and of Nature's God," "Nature" defines as discoverable from reason. It's a double invocation of reason. So there is no mention of the Bible or revelation as revealed in Scripture in that phrase. It's something wishful readers "read in." As it were, that phrase is completely compatible with Thomas Paine style deism that categorically rejects scriptural revelation.

The reason why Jefferson et al. had to phrase is that way was because there is debate among natural lawyers whether the law of nature as discovered by reason is binding without God to promulgate it. Some opt, as apparently America's Founders did, for the proposition that you need God to make it binding in an "ought" sense.

But anyway, this quotation from John Adams sums up the sentiment quite nicely:

"To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason."

-- John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson's, "The Founders on Religion," p. 132.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Thank you for being willing to engage in conversation in spite of your reservations, Jon. I think I recall reading your conversation with OFT, and I'm fairly certain that I can present some new information for you to consider.

To understand what Jefferson meant by the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” we need to consider how it was used in the time leading up to the writing of the Declaration. The earliest use of this phrase that I have come across is found in an article on suicide in an edition of the Scotts Magazine that was published in 1700. The author of that article described a man who was “deaf to the voice of nature speaking within him, and to the voice of nature's God.” This description reveals a very important fact about Jefferson’s phrase. Most people assume that Jefferson used the plural word “Laws” to refer to a single system of many laws, but in this article in the Scotts Magazine the voice of nature and the voice of nature’s God are presented as two separate and distinct voices. This means that when Jefferson wrote about the laws of nature and of nature’s God, he may have been referencing two separate systems of law.

This idea that Jefferson was referring to two separate systems of laws is supported by a statement made by John Quincy Adams in a court case in 1841. He claimed that:

"In the Declaration of Independence the Laws of Nature are announced and appealed to as identical with the laws of nature's God, and as the foundation of all obligatory human laws."

Here, Adams refers to two separate systems of law – the laws of nature and the laws of nature’s God – and he claims that the Declaration pronounced those two systems of law to be identical to each other. This explanation that the law of nature and the law of nature’s God are two separate but identical systems of laws is strongly supported by the literature of the eighteenth century. For example, in another famous court case in 1741, Miss Polly Baker defended her promiscuity by claiming that she was following her “Duty of the first and great Command of Nature, and of Nature's God, Increase and multiply." In Miss Baker’s defense, she equated the law of nature’s God with the commands of the Bible. Could Jefferson also have understood the law of nature’s God to be the Laws contained in the Scriptures?

The answer to that question is a resounding, Yes! Thomas Jefferson was a student of Lord Bolingbroke. He first began studying Bolingbroke’s writings at the age of fourteen, and he read them again at the age of twenty-three as he was preparing for a career as a lawyer. Jefferson’s Literary Commonplace Book contains more quotations from Bolingbroke than from any other author, and I do not know of a single historian who has not given Bolingbroke the credit for Jefferson’s famous phrase regarding “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” What these scholars keep hidden is the fact that Lord Bolingbroke provided a very specific definition for this phrase.

In a renowned letter to Alexander Pope, Lord Bolingbroke wrote the following words which were to become the basis for Jefferson’s opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

"You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous enquirer, who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature's God; that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word."

Here we find a definition from the very individual that all scholars recognize as the source of Jefferson’s phrase. According to Lord Bolingbroke, the law of nature’s God is the Law which is found in God’s Word. This was the definition which was intended by Jefferson, and this was the manner in which his words were understood by our forefathers. The law of nature’s God upon which our nation was founded is nothing less than the Bible itself.

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - "'You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous enquirer, who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature's God; that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word.'"

Can you provide a citation to where the whole work can be read? For context.

And, this Bolingbroke fellow, what were his religious views? Views on God?

jimmiraybob said...

The reason I ask is that if we're going to rest our understanding of and Jefferson's understanding of, Bolingbroke, and the nature of the covenant that you are inferring, then we should maybe know more about him.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The reason I ask is that if we're going to rest our understanding of and Jefferson's understanding of, Bolingbroke, and the nature of the covenant that you are inferring, then we should maybe know more about him.

The probative question. At this point, my provisional opinion is that Hamilton and Blackstone and Wilson could definitely read "the laws of nature's God" as the Bible, but a deist could read it as a God-enforced natural law. IOW, properly equivocal enough for the times, enough to pass muster with different camps---like a lot of the intentionally vague phrasing we see elsewhere in the Founding documents.

However, although Bolingbroke is routinely referred to as a "deist," the "Christian" deists of that era believed in miracles and in revelation [i.e. the Bible] as the word of God. In the very same letter to Alexander Pope, he explicitly speaks of "the word of God." Now is that just part of his attack on churches, clergy and theology?

I think the question remains open even to this day. The above article is interesting in its challenge to "blind watchmaker" deism, and perhaps we can use it as a springboard.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I didn't realize the above linked article was by Joseph Waligore of U Wisconsin, whose work we've referenced often here at American Creation. If anybody's in email contact with him, pls do invite him here to guest post.

In the meantime, here's a scholarly article he wrote on the same subject.

Bill Fortenberry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Fortenberry said...


You can read the context of the Bolingbroke quote in the third volume of The Works of Bolingbroke which is available online at this link:

If you begin at the top of page 344 and read through page 347, you will get a good idea of his views on religion and God. In addition to the statement which I quoted, he also wrote: "They had a much surer criterion than human reason, they had divine reason, and the word of God to guide them." He referred to the Bible as a "superior principle" to reason, and he described the Holy Ghost as being "the same divine Spirit who dictated the scriptures." His conclusion was:

"It remains then, that we apply ourselves to the study of the first philosophy without any other guides than the works, and the word of God."

I'm not real sure what covenant you think that I am advocating, but it is clear from the context of Bolingbroke's statement that he understood the law of nature's God to be a reference to the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh, Jon, this guy's no tomato can like OFT. He might even be right on this one. You just can't d-bag him with the Immovable Object game, you gotta come back with something.

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - "The former [Declaration of Independence] was a proclamation of America's submission to the Law of God..."

I assumed that you were implying a covenant between America and God. If not then I am gladly corrected.

I have poked trough the reference that you provided and it will take more time than I have today to respond. Maybe by then Jon will have responded also.

Regardless, any consideration of Bolingbroke will not refute what I wrote:

"The revolution, based largely on the right-of conscience, did, however, start and end with a commitment to the freedom to choose and exercise religious conviction according to one's own conscience - regardless of the individual convictions of individual founders, framers, signers and subsequent fellow beneficiaries. I refer you to the US Constitution."

The founders did not commit the rebelling colonies, or the new nation that would eventually come about, to any such submission; in 1776, 1787/89 or any time before or between. This would be antithetical to the general principle that government cannot and should not dictate or coerce conscience.

The founders, ratifiers and signers of the Constitution were not, overall, theologians(1) but mostly lawyers and, above all else, politicians dealing in the profane duties of governing - not theologizing.

1) with one or more exceptions, which I'm sure will be pointed out.

jimmiraybob said...

WSF - ""\'They had a much surer criterion than human reason, they had divine reason, and the word of God to guide them.'"

Before getting buried in quotes to evaluate, let me ask, are you implying with the above that Bolingbroke believed that "divine reason" trumps "human reason"? Who were "they" and what's the context of the quote?

jimmiraybob said...

And, to help me/us understand, what is the difference between the idea that a nation can submit to God and a nation making a covenant with God.

Tom Van Dyke said...

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

Bill Fortenberry said...

Thank you for your questions, Jim. If I may, I would like to address your last comment first. The difference between submission and making a covenant is simply that submission is an acquiescence of an inferior to the will of a superior whereas a covenant is a mutual agreement between two or more parties. For example, my son submits to me when I tell him to clean his room and he obeys. If we come to an agreement that he will receive one dollar for every day that his room is cleaned, then we will have entered into a covenant. The key difference is the mutual agreement between the parties.

In regards to Bolingbroke, let me say that he was expressing the idea that divine reason is superior to human reason. The word "they" in the quote refers to Christians, and the context should be readily apparent if you could spare a few minutes to read the three and a half pages of Bolingbroke's work that I linked to above.

As for the right of conscience, let me simply ask you, Do you know where idea of the freedom of religion came from?

JMS said...

There is no doubt that the ideas about liberty that motivated the American Revolution also inspired the French Revolution. As noted by Crane Brinton, both were stirred by a tide of “rising expectations.” But the geographic, geopolitical, demographic, economic, social, religious and political situations and circumstances of each revolution were so vastly different, any comparative history can easily fall victim to an incommensurable false analogy. That summarizes my complaint about the validity of Stokes’s article.

To further decipher the weakness of Stokes’ argument, go back to his God – liberty – virtue – individualism – good formula. Using that logic, apply it to the English Revolution (the civil wars from 1639-1660, not the allegedly “glorious” one in 1688-89). Let me clarify by stating that the English were conducting three kinds of war, of which only the one within England was unequivocally civil (the others being waged against Scotland and Ireland) . Many AC contributors (including Tom) have commented positively on its religious nature, context and justifications. It would be much fairer to compare and contrast the English and French Revolutions (at least both were monarchies with dysfunctional vestiges of their feudal pasts emerging into the early modern era plagued by unresolved constitutional and financial crises, when none of these factors plagued colonial America).

As I stated about the American Revolution, I admire its ideals and realize that falling short of those ideals does not relegate it to the rubbish bin of history. Likewise, being no admirer of Stuart absolutism and their affection for the divine right of kings, I identify with the “rising expectations,” and parliamentary ideals of the English Civil War. I am most sympathetic to the Levellers, who Eric Foner described as “history’s first democratic political movement.”

But given its godly nature, how would Rev. Stokes explain away its extremes, violence, chaos, anarchy and thermidorian reaction resulting in Cromwell’s military protectorate (again, to refute Stokes, neither Cromwell nor Napoleon was a military dictator – that is just more tired hyperbole which clouds rather than illuminates our understanding) , and finally the restoration of Charles II?

As noted by Barbara Donagan in her AHR article from Oct. 1994 entitled, “Atrocity, War Crime, and Treason in the English Civil War,” : “THE REPUTATION OF THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR is unusually benign. Its literature of atrocity is minor and low key compared with the horrifying accounts and repellent illustrations of events of the Thirty Years' War and the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Yet England knew atrocities, as well as marginally permissible cruelties, and not only those committed against the Irish. They also occurred on home ground against the home-grown. These atrocities have attracted slight attention, other than for anecdotal purposes, although they raise the question of what kind of war England's was, as wars go. Past inattention may perhaps be explained by the belief that … the war was English and moderate, and besides served virtuous historicist ends of democracy, liberalism, and toleration … .”

So, maybe it’s not God after all, or God is an Englishman. Perhaps it’s Anglocentrism: English and American = moderate, individualistic, liberty and democratic, versus Gallophobia: France = atheistic, collectivist, absolutism drawing a straight line from Rousseau to Pol Pot. That’s Stokes’ argument, and for content quality I’m giving that essay a D-.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's fine, JMS, but you didn't address Stokes' argument at all. The best arg in my view is the FR's view of "republicanism"-- the stuff of mob rule.*

As for Barbara Donagan, I do not know who she is or if she address the vendee in hew 1994 article. As for Eric Foner pumping the Levellers, what do you expect?

BTW, Edmund Burke had some thoughts on this. He had the virtue of having been there.

Few know of this one. Why is that, do you think?

In early 1794 – at the height of the Reign of Terror – French soldiers marched to the Atlantic Vendée, where peasants had risen up against the Revolutionary government in Paris.
Twelve "infernal columns" commanded by General Louis-Marie Turreau were ordered to kill everyone and everything they saw. Thousands of people – including women and children – were massacred in cold blood, and farms and villages torched.
In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called "noyades" –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.

Now Vendée, a coastal [province] in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.

Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.
Historians believe that around 170,000 Vendéeans were killed in the peasant war and the subsequent massacres – and around 5,000 in the noyades.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Burke is indeed a great source to consider, Tom. Did you notice the following statement which appears just a short while after the portion of Burke's book which Adams quoted regarding Bolingbroke?

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth pernicious, and degrading superstition, might take place of it.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "Vendée"

Nice going, slipping in a one-sided newspaper account of a complex historical matter. The one-sided account is being pressed by, among other partisans, the "former presidential candidate for the right-wing traditionalist Movement for France (MPF) party." One wonders about the veracity of the massacre of the innocents claim.

For the record though it appears that it was not innocent peasants being mercilessly massacred but peasants allied with nobility and clergy in a bloody rebellion. And, as in the American civil war, it appears that there were Vendéeans aligned with the republicans.

One might also consider Cromwell, fighting for his Protestant God 50 years before Vendée, and his New Model Army's devastation of the Irish Catholics.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Did the French Revolution massacre 100,000+ in the Vendee, jrb? The rest of your comment is not worth comment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort

Mr. FortenB, I look forward to your further analysis of the French Revolution along this line, what Edmund Burke thought of it, and Hamilton and even the quite irreverent and impertinent Gouverneur Morris. Even if they approved of it in the abstract, they were all appalled at the reality of it.

Did you know that Thomas Paine went to revolutionary France to "save them from atheism?"

True story. You could look it up. Thomas Fucking Paine, dude. If you want to fight the culture war, it starts right here.


jimmiraybob said...

My point is not that the republicans did not commit atrocities my point was that they were not alone in doing so. I’m not picking sides in this affair but trying to add context to sensationalistic, apparently politically motivated, claims. In his State and Counterrevolution in France by American historian Charles Tilley, he presents a more balanced account(1):

“In the West, guerrilla raids against republican strongholds and personnel unsettled Brittany, Maine, and Normandy from 1791 to 1799, while open armed rebellion flared south of the Loire in parts of Brittany, Anjou, and Poitou beginning in the fall of 1792 and likewise continuing intermittently until Napoleon pacified the region in 1799.[27] The Western counterrevolution reached its high point in the spring of 1793, when the Republic's call for troops precipitated armed resistance through much of the West. That phase saw massacres of "patriots" and "aristocrats" (as the proponents and opponents of the Revolution came to be called), invasion and temporary occupation of such major cities as Angers, and pitched battles between armies of Blues and Whites (as the armed elements of the two parties were known).

“Historians have not disputed what happened in the West—especially south of the Loire—for fifty years or more. Even the militantly anticlerical Alphonse Aulard, writing eight decades ago, had the main sequence right:

“’The Vendean, Breton, and Angevin peasantry did not at first rise in support of royalty, but in support of their clergy and against military service. Strongly attached to their priests, they were opposed on general grounds to the application of the civil constitution of the clergy, and had attended the Masses of non-juring priests at farm-houses, in chapels, or in the forest . . . . Between March 10th and 15th a rising took place, to cries of Pas de milice! No enlistment! and almost immediately there was a cry for their former priests. It was these priests who stirred the peasantry to anger, and presided over the first acts of civil warfare, and the first massacres of republicans.[28]”’

It would appear that the first massacre was conducted by the rebelling peasantry, incited by the priests, against the republicans. Additionally, Tilly calls into question the methodology and conclusions of the French author, essentially a PhD student, of the dissertation that raised the flag of genocide. Of course, the whole thing was a bloody affair. The republicans won and their legacy has to bear responsibility for their part.

Unfortunately, in France, the revolutionaries did not enjoy the distance from the residual old-order power centers that our revolutionaries had.

1) State and Counterrevolution in France by Charles Tilley @

Charles Tilly (May 27, 1929 – April 29, 2008[1]) was an American sociologist, political scientist, and historian who wrote on the relationship between politics and society. He was the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University. (From Wiki)

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "The rest of your comment is not worth comment.

You mean the part about Christians being every bit as motivated to atrocity as anyone else? A bit more about the Defender of the Faith, Cromwell(1):

"Wexford fell next. 2500 Irish were killed, including 250 women and 250 children. Five Franciscan priests and two friars were burned to death when the Franciscan Friary was put to the torch. Cromwell said about Wexford: I thought it not right or good to restrain off the soldiers from their right of pillage, or from doing execution on the enemy. That Cromwell was unfeeling or even hostile toward Catholic clergy is evident in many of his actions and statements. When Cromwell next assaulted New Ross, the city leaders surrendered but asked for liberties of conscience. Cromwell’s reply tells us much about his attitude toward Catholics:

'I meddle not with any man’s conscience. But if you mean a liberty to exercise the Mass. ..that will not be allowed of.'

Cromwell exemplified the anti-Catholicism of his age. Even before the Parliament which executed Charles I, Catholics were not tolerated and priests had bounties on their heads. A dead priest or a captured priest was worth twenty pounds."


jimmiraybob said...

JMS - Apologies for stepping on your Cromwell reference. I hadn't seen it yet when he came to mind.

jimmiraybob said...

wsforten - "As for the right of conscience, let me simply ask you, Do you know where idea of the freedom of religion came from?"

Since I'm still reading through Bolinbroke I'll go for this one first.

Cyrus II (the Great ca. 6th century BCE), founder of the Persian Archaemenid Empire comes to mind. Certainly the ancient Hebrews will have my back on this one. Alexander (the Great, ca. 4th century BCE) and his Hellenization program also comes to mind. The Roman Republic and Imperial Empire, although flawed, also allowed the diverse peoples to practice customary religions.

The Pagan Roman Senator Symmachus (ca. 5th century CE) in defending traditional religious values against the pending Christian intolerance also comes to mind:

“We ask for peace and for our native indigenous gods. We cultivate the same soil, we are one in thought, we hold the same stars, the same heaven and the same world surrounding. Why should not each according to his own purpose, seek the truth? The Great Mystery cannot be approached by one road.”(1)

I assume that you have someone different in mind.

1) Pagan Rome and the early Christians by Stephen Benko @

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cromwell's massacre of the Irish has nothing to do with this. Nice spaghetti you put on the wall there, though.

And it doesn't talk away the massacre at Vendee either. There's nothing like it in America. Bloody amazing.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

I've been reading up on the English Deist Bolingbroke. If we give his theological views authority for the DOI through Jefferson's authority as author of the DOI, it reinforces Dr. Frazer's theistic rationalist thesis. Bolingbroke apparently believed in revelation (in the God dictating to man sense) but not "the Bible" as a canon. The Gospels contain God's word; St. Paul was the first corrupter of Christianity.

This also sheds light on Dr. Hutston's notion that the "Deists" exposited Christianity as a "pure" religion before external and institutional forces like St. Paul corrupted the primitive simplicity of the faith.

Bolingbroke, for good or bad reason, is considered a "Deist."

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "There's nothing like it in America. Bloody amazing."

I believe that native Americans may have a different take on the matter.

Bill Fortenberry said...

So, Jon, does this mean that you agree that the reference to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence is a reference to the two pillars of natural law and revealed law?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Do you agree with Bolingbroke that St. Paul was the first corrupter of Christianity and some of his words that made it into the "Bible" were his own peculiar Pharisaical teachings and not dictated from the Holy Spirit?

If that's true, that would be an easy way around Romans 13; it's simply not valid revelation but St. Paul "acting up."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also, St. John according to Bolingbroke didn't write valid revelation in the book of Revelation.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Once again, your response is loaded with interesting implications. It seems that you recognize that my claim is correct, but instead of admitting the law of nature's God is a reference to the Bible, you have attempted to deflect the implications of that fact with a question about how much of the Bible Bolingbroke accepted as true. You remind me of a used car dealer who, when asked if he would accept a lower amount for the car, launches into a list of all the vehicle's great features instead of committing himself to an actual answer. Whenever this happens, I must ask myself why the direct answer is being avoided, but let me set that aside for a moment and respond to your deflections.

In your first response, you insisted that "Bolingbroke, for good or bad reason, is considered a 'Deist.'" Although it is true that many consider Bolingbroke to be a Deist, it is obvious to anyone who has actually read any of his writings that such a consideration is unquestionably false. In order to list Bolingbroke among the Deists, we would have to define Deism in such a way as to include a belief that Jesus Christ "was sent by the Father to make a new covenant with mankind, and to establish a spiritual kingdom on the ruins of paganism, and the reformation at least of judaism." This strange new breed of Deism would also have to include a belief that Christ "died to redeem mankind from sin, and from death the wages of sin" as well as the acknowledgement that "we might rise to immortality indeed by the merits of his passion, but this resurrection might be to damnation too, unless an entire faith in him, co-operating with our imperfect obedience, justified and saved us." Unless you are referring to this strange kind of Deism, then I think that it is fairly safe to conclude that his beliefs do not fit within that particular category.

In regards to his beliefs about Paul, it is true that he often expressed doubt concerning the validity of the Pauline epistles. This doubt was predicated upon a flawed premise. Bolingbroke incorrectly assumed that the epistles added requirements for becoming a Christian beyond repentance from sin and faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as taught in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. He wrote that in order for the Apostle Paul to correctly present additional requirements for salvation, we would have to "assume that they, who were converted to christianity by Christ himself, and who died before the supposed imperfection of his revelation had been supplied by the apostles, by Paul particularly, lived and died without a sufficient knowledge of the terms of salvation." I agree with Bolingbroke that "nothing can be said more abominable" than this, but this is not what Paul taught in his epistles.

Bolingbroke was correct in concluding that "a religion, revealed by God himself immediately, must have been complete and perfect, from the first promulgation, in the mind of every convert to it, according to our ideas of order: and if we consider it as a covenant of grace, the covenant must have been made at once, according to all these ideas, and all those of justice. No new articles of belief, no new duties, could be made necessary to salvation afterwards, without changing the covenant." His error was in assuming that Paul taught such new articles of belief. When we turn to the epistles of Paul, however, we find that he taught the same Gospel which was presented by Christ, for in I Corinthians 15 we read:

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

Bill Fortenberry said...

This is the same Gospel which is recorded by the Evangelists, and Paul also agreed with them in regards to the requirements of salvation when he wrote "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Thus Bolingbroke appears to have misunderstood the writings of Paul when he concluded that the Apostle taught a different Gospel and a different means of salvation than that presented by the four Evangelists. This view of Paul, however, does not make Bolingbroke a deist or even a theistic rationalist. It simply shows that he was correct to admit his own limited knowledge when he wrote at the end of these considerations that "it may be worth while to examine more particularly, and in such a detail as the nature of these essays, which are not designed to be treatises, and my confined knowledge of antiquity permit." Bolingbroke was simply mistaken in his position on the epistles of Paul, and if he had taken the time to study those epistles in more detail, he may very well have come to a different conclusion.

By the way, Bolingbroke's analysis of the Pauline epistles could be classified as nothing more than lower textual criticism, and as I pointed out in my response to Frazer's book, all Christians engage in this form of textual analysis. For example, the last twelve verses of Mark are still in much dispute among Christians, and even Frazer himself has to take a position on those verses which is based on human reasoning regarding their validity. If Bolingbroke's position on the epistles of Paul makes him a theistic rationalist, then by the same token, Frazer's position on the last twelve verse of Mark must make him a theistic rationalist as well.

In conclusion, however, let me point out that Bolingbroke's beliefs regarding which portions of Scripture were valid revelations from God does not in any way change the fact that the reference to the Law of Nature's God is a reference to the Bible. This phrase was not coined by Bolingbroke. It was in use long before his works were published, and he simply conveyed it to his readers in its proper sense as a reference to God's direct revelation to man. Jefferson's inclusion of this phrase in the Declaration of Independence was no more an endorsement of Bolingbroke's theological positions than it was an acceptance of Miss Baker's justification of her promiscuity. Jefferson understood this phrase in its proper sense, and it was in that sense that it was received by the other signers of the Declaration and by the nation as a whole. In order to prove otherwise, you need to present evidence not for the theological beliefs of Bolingbroke but rather for the usage of this phrase in the eighteenth century to mean something other than the Bible.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Fortenberry,

I know this is going to sound a little arrogant, so forgive me; but I don't have time or interest to wade through the morass of and answer everything you write.

I'm reading it; but I'm certainly not going to let you dictate the parameters of the discussion with your "in order to show X, you need to prove Y, while noting ZAD and QRP."

Though I do thank you for your interest and the close reading you give to my words here. Rather I'm going to focus on what I see as relevant and will let you respond and others read and comment let me know if I'm ignoring something I shouldn't

I also want to thank you for turning my attention to Bolingbroke as he like Shaftesbury is one of the "English Deists" who strongly influenced America's Founders but about whose religious teachings we have not yet examined sufficiently.

It's clear we are starting to uncover things about Bolingbroke that are unacceptable to your own personal views and how you wish to understand America's Founding. Bolingbroke was not a believer in "the Bible," but only those parts of which passed his rationalist smell test.

He hated the early Church Fathers who selected the biblical canon and included books like St. John's Revelation.

To Bolingbroke "the laws of Nature's God" was not shorthand for the Bible, but only those rules -- whether from reason or revelation -- that were validly revealed from God. And Bolingbroke has a smoking gun quotation that reason, not "the Bible" as a canon selected by a corrupt Church, was the method for determining what actually came from "Nature's God."

I think you made a mistake in trying to enlist Bolingbroke for your Christian Nation thesis.

April 8, 2013 at 7:09 AM

Jonathan Rowe said...

But if you want a more clear answer to your claim, I'll repeat: "NATURE" defines as what man discovers from REASON NOT what is "revealed" in the Bible. As it were, "laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is a double invocation of "reason." It could be parallel rules from BOTH reason and revelation to the extent that they agree with one another. But the focus in that phrase on "NATURE" without any explicit biblical language or authority means the "reason" and "rationalism" part of the formula predominates. Nature's God may in fact be "Jehovah" or a Trinity; but He is not necessarily. Rather Nature's God is necessarily what we can understand about God's attributes through reason unaided by the Bible.

Everything I've seen from the English Deist Bolingbroke supports this contention.

jimmiraybob said...


I have read the pages of Bolingbroke that you’ve cited and a few more. There’s a fair amount of material to devour in the whole work – certainly more than can be given justice in a weekend or a week. While I’m mulling over a comment on the pages that you’ve suggested focusing on, there are some passages that give a fair amount of doubt as to your reading of his work(1). There are three particular passages that I’ll reproduce regarding the Bible, the Old Testament, and the Natural Revelation.

On the Bible (page 297-98) it’s a long passage (paragraph) and I’ve broken it up into easier to chew bite-sized morsels.

“Another perfection of law consists in the clearness and precision of the terms; and, in these respects, we propose to consider this body of history, of prophesy, and of law, relatively not to the Jews alone, but to the rest of the world likewise. Now the language in which this law was given, and in which we must suppose that the histories and prophesies were written, as well as the law, unless we suppose these to have been written in, or after the times of Esdras, is, the learned say, of all languages the most loos and equivocal; and the style and manner of writing of the sacred authors, whoever they were, or whenever they lived, increase the uncertainty and obscurity even of any other language. How should it be otherwise, when the same passages may be taken in historical, mythical, literal, and allegorical, senses, and when those who writ them, knew so little what they writ, that they foretold some future, when the imagined they were relating some past event.

“Lord Bacon, indeed, says, that the sacred authors special privilege of recording the future, as well as the past, in history. But I suppose his lordship to have been no more in earnest when he said this, than he was in writing his christian [sic] paradoxes. To supply these defects, the Jews have recourse to an oral law, and the christians [sic] to the decisions of councils.

“Strange methods indeed! history may explain or control tradition but it is quite absurd to explain of control history, by tradition. Councils were composed of men, whose pretentions to inspiration deserve nothing but contempt, and, therefore, it is equally absurd to explain or control the word of God, by the judgment of these men, whether in their assemblies, or separately. St. Jerome complains, in one of his letters,* [Bolingbroke’s asterisk] that they dragged the text to favor their particular sentiments, how repugnant soever to it. But this text does not seem to want so much dragging.

“The ambiguity of it makes it supple enough, and sentiments, the most contrary to one another, are equally well supported by it. If we add to these considerations that of the infinite number of copies, of versions, and of versions of versions, which have given occasion to many alterations and interpolations, that are to be found, without going to Spinoza, to Hobbes, or to the fanciful author of the pre-adamitical system, we must be, I think, convinced, that the Bible, which we call the word of God, is as little fit, by the manner in which it has been preserved, to be an uniform foundation of universal religion, as by the manner in which it was writ and first published to the world.(1)"

1) The Works of the Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke (Volume III) @

jimmiraybob said...

On the Old Testament (page 20-21)

“Two or three incredible anecdotes, in a decade of Livy, are easily passed over; I reject them, and I return, with my author, into the known course of human affairs, where I find many things extraordinary, but not incredible. I cannot do this in reading the history of the Old Testament. It is founded in incredibility. Almost every event contained in it is incredible in its causes and consequences, and I must accept or reject the whole, as I said just now. I can do no otherwise, if I act like an indifferent judge, and if I give no more credit to Moses than to any other historian. But I need say no more on this head. No one, except here and there a divine, will presume to say that the histories of the Old Testament are conformable to the experience of mankind and to the natural course of things.”(1)

jimmiraybob said...

On Reason and Natural Revelation (page 392)

“Though we hold no rank among the intellectual creatures of God, yet he has been pleased to give us faculties by which we are able, in using them well, to demonstrate all that he has judged necessary for us to know in our national state, and without supernatural assistance, concerning his existence, his nature and attributes, his providence over his creatures, and their duties to him and to one another. We ought to acknowledge, with the utmost gratitude, the advantage of such a rank in the order of beings: and shall we dare to assume for true any facts, or any doctrines that are evidently inconsistent with this knowledge, however even good men may endeavor to reconcile in opinion, by frivolous discourse, things that are irreconcileable in nature, or whatever authority be employed to impose them? God forbid that we should. Right reason should never advise us to do so, and if any pretended revelation required that we should, it would prove itself to be false, for that very reason.
“Natural revelation, so I will call it, produces knowledge, a series of sensitive and intuitive knowledge from the first principles to the last conclusions. The system of things that are, that is, the phenomenon of nature, are the first principles; and reason, that is, a real divine illumination, leads us from one necessary truth to another through the whole course of these demonstrations. In all these cases we know; we do not believe. But in the case of supernatural revelation, when it is traditional, we can have nothing more than opinion, supported by human authority, and by decreasing probability afterwards. The divine authority, grows less and less apparent, whilst the obligation of submission is reputed still the same. But the certainty of natural revelation suffers no diminution. It is always original, and equaly capable of forcing our assent in all times and places. The missionary of supernatural religion appeals to the testimony of men he never knew, and of whom the infidel he labors to convert never heard, for the truth of those extraordinary events which prove the revelation he preaches: and it is said that this objection was made at first to Austin the monk by Ethelred the Saxon king. But the missionary of natural religion can appeal at all times, and every where, to present and immediate evidence, to the testimony of sense and intellect, for the truth of those miracles which he brings in proof: the constitution of the mundane system being in a very proper sense an aggregate of miracles.”(1)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Bolingbroke certainly sounds like Jefferson, or vice versa, more orator than philosopher.

I especially liked Dr Johnson:

"...a scoundrel and a coward! A scoundrel who spent his life in charging a gun against Christianity; and a coward, who was afraid of hearing the report of his own gun ; but left half-a-crown to a hungry Scotchman to draw the trigger after his death!"---On Bolingbroke publishing his most controversial stuff posthumously, the "Scotchman" being a printer named Mallet

But I'd like to see the origin of "laws of nature's God," Bill, if it's not Bollingbroke. My provisional opinion remains unchanged, that Jefferson slipped in "LONANG" as a intentional equivocation that could be taken as the Bible/revelation*, or not.

What they all agreed on was the existence of some sort of natural law, promulgated at Creation by the Creator. This was enough common ground on which to proceed.
*"Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws..."---William Blackstone

But Jefferson disagreed mightily with Blackstone's contention that the Bible was part of the English common law.

I can see Jefferson papering over the problem in his phrasing of the Declaration, but not surrendering. That's just not him.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Jon and Jim,

The two of you are missing the point. I am not arguing that Bolingbroke agrees with me in regards to which portions of Scripture actually constitute the Bible. I am arguing that when he spoke of following nature's God, he was referring to following the Bible. Whether or not he and I agree on exactly which Scriptures are included in the Bible is irrelevant. The point is that he used that phrase as a reference to the Bible just like so many others who used it throughout the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Alexander Pope, to whom Bolingbroke had addressed that statement, later included it one of his poems when he wrote:

"Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
But looks thro' Nature, up to Nature's God;
Pursues that Chain which links the' immense design,
Joins heav'n and earth, and moral and divine;
Sees, that no Being any bliss can know,
But touches some above, and some below;
Learns from this union of the rising Whole,
The first, last purpose of the human soul;
And knows where Faith, Law, Morals, all began,
All end, in Love of God, and Love of Man."

In the 1763 publication of Pope's works, these lines were followed by this note by the Bishop of Gloucester:

"The benefit of gaining the knowledge of God's will, written in the mind, is not confined there; for standing on this sure foundation, he is now no longer in danger of chusing wrong, amidst such diversities of Religions; but by pursuing this grand scheme of Universal Benevolence in practice as well as theory, he arrives at length to the knowledge of the Revealed will of God."

Here we see that the process of looking through nature to nature's God is defined as the process of proceeding through reason to arrive at "the knowledge of the Revealed will of God." Of course, you would argue that Pope does not mention the Bible directly in this poem, but to do so would be to ignore that the last two lines quoted here are a direct reference to the words of Christ as recorded in the Bible. In Mathew 22:36-40 we read:

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Now, I would no more agree with everything in Pope's theology than I do with Bolingbroke, but I recognize that his reference to nature's God is a reference to the Bible. This is consistent with every other use of that phrase which I have found in the literature between 1700 and 1850. Here are a few additional examples:

Isaac Watts - 1753

"Sweet flocks, whose soft enamel'd wing
Swift and gently cleaves the sky;
Whose charming notes address the spring
With an artless harmony.
Lovely minstrels of the field,
Who in leafy shadows sit,
And you wondrous structures build,
Awake your tuneful voices with the dawning light;
To nature's God your first devotions pay,
Ere you salute the rising day,
'Tis he calls up the sun, and gives him every ray."

Mr. Scott - 1763

"Thy sons no more shall darkling grope their way,
Or blindly follow reason's glow-worm ray;
With healing wings the sun of truth shall rise,
And light celestial beam from eastern skies;
The glorious day-spring shall from high appear,
While error's ghastly phantoms shrink with fear.
Ev'n now methinks thy painted chiefs despise
Their pagan rites, and brutal sorceries;
Nor prone on earth the thunder's voice adore,
Nor bow to Ketan's monstrous idol more:
By pure religion taught the sacred road,
That leads thro' nature's path to nature's God,
The One Supreme with holy love they fear,
And all the gospel's wondrous truths revere."

Bill Fortenberry said...

Francis Spilsbury - 1766

"Study carefully, Sir, the works of God in creation and providence; for they speak in part the same language as his written word. Their's is, indeed, the divine word that has gone out through all the earth. A close study of nature, especially of human nature, will lead to nature's God; will enlarge and exalt the mind, and prepare it for judging of the evidences, and discovering the beauty, of the grand scheme of the redemption and recovery of this lost world, which God made. The study of the mathematics, logic, oratory, poetry, and the Latin and Greek classics in general, is necessary to improve the judgment and reasoning powers to enrich the imagination, to form the taste, and help you to acquire a good method of composition, and a proper, yet animated and flowing style. There are other branches of learning and knowledge, with which it is proper a minister should cultivate some general acquaintance, in order to attain an extensive and accurate understanding of the Scriptures; since there are references in them to almost all the subjects of the arts and sciences. While therefore you remember that the Scriptures are to be your daily and constant study, you will regard other studies chiefly as means to facilitate your knowledge of the scriptures."

S. Whitchurch - 1802

"I'll seek the path by Heaven's true pilgrims trod;
I'll wait with Cumberland on Nature's God"

- Reference to the 8 volume poem "Calvary" by Richard Cumberland who when speaking of Christ wrote: "For Nature felt her God."

Elijah Robinson Sabin - 1816

"There may be also found, the real philosopher, who 'looks through nature up to nature's God.' His philosophy does not consist in an empty sound of words or unintelligible jargon. Willing to acknowledge the Creator and Governor of the universe, he does not bewilder himself and all his readers by metaphysical reasonings, to find out second causes for all events, so as to supercede the necessity of the First Cause. It is no part of his favourite system, to dignify nature into a fancied god. His writings and conversation are nto interspersed with sceptical doubts, atheistical or deistical cants against divine revelation; in order to conduct his readers or associates the back way into infidelity. Nay, his knowledge of nature serves to exalt his ideas of God; in the variety and greatness of his works."

Bryant - 1824

"We turn for an explanation of the mysteries which surround us, to that Book in which is revealed a purer and a more sublime knowledge than mere earthly wisdom could ever have offered to our understanding. We almost instinctively turn to it; we look from 'nature up to nature's God.'"

John Bustard - 1827

"Mrs. B. when taking her walks, found interesting objects incessantly presenting themselves, and soliciting investigation: but whilst contemplating them, in their variety, and beauty, and magnitude, she felt no disposition to deify matter, and regard chance, and fate, as its cabinet council; for she 'looked through nature, up to nature's God!' ... Humbled under a sense of sin, and 'sorry after a godly sort,' she rejoiced in the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and earnestly sought that faith, by which, free justification unto life is obtained."

Bill Fortenberry said...

Blackwood's Magazine - 1830

"'Let the whole earth praise thee, oh Lord! from the rising up of the sun, to the going down of the same; for glorious and bountiful are thy works, my God and my Saviour, and may my soul ever declare the greatness and goodness of thy name!' said old Michael Raeburn, as he closed the door of his humble cottage, and stept forth and met the face the rejoicing and happy face of creation, on a lovely morning in August, when nature appeared in all the freshness and calm beauty that must have delighted our first parents on their awakening each blest morning in Paradise, save the last fatal morning. Michael was a man of piety, and of poetry too; indeed, I almost think that the purity and aspiring thoughts, yet humble contentment, of the first, imply the possession of the other. None can look from nature up to nature's God, as he was wont to do, without having a living fountain in their hearts ever springing, upon which the Iris, the beauteous beams of light from heaven, will often delight to set; and in its enchanting minglings, sparkle into a starry poetry, which shines for them alone perhaps, but still is the true essence of poetry."

The Schoolmaster, and Edinburgh Weekly Magazine - 1832

"Children may gently, gradually, and pleasingly, be led 'through nature, up to nature's God' ... the moral attributes of the Eternal may be unfolded to their view; His justice, His holiness, His mercy, His unfailing loving-kindness, as being all exercised in His Government of the world, and the providential care which He extends to all creatures. The pleasing association supposed to be previously formed in the youthful mind, will facilitate the admission of these ideas, and render them more acceptable. Hence we may proceed to conduct our children to the sublime truths of revealed religion."

Jonathan Rowe said...


It seems to me that you are trying to "find" Christian principles in deism. Indeed you can. You can find an intersection between Christianity and strict deism: Both religions believe in one God (though some deists would say you really believe in three).

Bill Fortenberry said...

Well, that's certainly not something that I want to be found guilty of. Would you mind pointing out to me which of the individuals in the list of quotes that I provided were Deists?

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Well, that's certainly not something that I want to be found guilty of."

Really? The John Adams of 1813 found "Christian principles" in Hinduism and Zeus worship and you seemed to agree with his reasoning. If you can find Christian principles there, I don't understand why you wouldn't want to find Christian principles in Thomas Paine style deism.

Here's the way you would do it: Paine says he believes in one God. You then quote verses and chapter of scripture speaking of the truth the existence of one God and viola, Christian principles found in deism.

Jonathan Rowe said...

As to your other question Pope and Bolingbroke are arguably "deists." You would respond, since they believe in the truth of *some* revelation they aren't really deists. To which someone else would respond, since they didn't believe in the Trinity or the ENTIRE canon of the Bible as inspired they weren't really "Christian."

So fine, they were "Christian-Deists" or "theistic rationalists."

I disagree with Tom here; but I think Jefferson probably did believe in the truth of the revelation of those books that made it into his Bible. Since his Bible was derived from "the Bible," I guess Jefferson was a "Bible believing Christian" even though he cut out entire books (in fact most of the Bible) from the canon.

Bill Fortenberry said...

So out of a list of fifteen people who have used this phrase in reference to the Bible you have identified two that might be Deists. How exactly does that equate to me " trying to 'find' Christian principles in deism"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

So out of a list of fifteen people who have used this phrase in reference to the Bible

Sorry, Bill, none of them do, except perhaps the last few from the post-1800, post-Founding period.

Going back to Aquinas [or Romans 2, if you prefer*], "General" revelation is divine revelation, God revealing himself through nature. But it's not synonymous with "special" revelation, the scriptures. None of the above quotes are saying that the laws of nature as promulgated by the Creator are synonymous with the Bible.

We used to have the same problem with Brother OFT, they he could never get the idea of natural law. Wherever he saw God revealing himself in the law of nature, he read "the Bible."

[In fact what's weird is that earlier natural law theorists argued that

"...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has."---Grotius

The irony is that "Enlightenment" figures such as Locke put God back in as the "lawgiver."
*14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Quote correction:

"...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has."

is the Jesuit Francisco Suarez.

Dutch Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius, in his De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625):

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God."

jimmiraybob said...

wsforten - "As for the right of conscience, let me simply ask you, Do you know where idea of the freedom of religion came from?"

Did you ever get back to us with an answer? And I'd add that a universal right of conscience not only applies to freedom of religion but a right to choose not to subscribe to a religion. Otherwise, with caveats, the universality of a principle becomes road kill.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. "---Samuel Adams, Rights of the Colonists, 1771

See also natural law theorist Samuel Puffendorf.

In a practical, historical sense,


The main tenets of the Peace of Westphalia were:

All parties would recognize the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, in which each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state, the options being Catholicism, Lutheranism, and now Calvinism (the principle of cuius regio, eius religio).

Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during allotted hours and in private at their will.

General recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad, and each and several responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents. Issuance of unrestricted letters of marque and reprisal to privateers was forbidden.

JMS said...

TVD - I did address Stokes' argument in my second comment to Brian's original post.

French Revolution republicanism is ungodly, therefore bloody and tyrannical. That is Stokes' argument.

So, I posited that English Civil War republicanism was godly (like the American Revolution), so following Stokes' argument, it has to be moderate, unbloody and untryannical. But that's not how it turned out, is it?

Stokes' has no defensible thesis. It's just unhistorical wishful thinking, i.e. "pulpit" history "cherry-picking."

JRB - no problem citing Cromwell again. I wasn't going to "play the Irish card," but I'm glad you deployed it. Ironically, most of those killed at Drogheda were Protestants! But, in the context of that blood thirsty era, Cromwell's wrongheaded Irish policy was no different than those of Queen Eliabeth I, KIng James I, Strafford and Pym.

JMS said...

To follow-up on JRB's last comment, and unfortunately butt heads with TVD again (Locke, Puffendorf and Sam Adams are way too late), here's my nomination for the first person in Western history most responsible for liberty of conscience and religious toleration (which as you pointed out, are not the same).

“Of all the men who took the side of Servetus, not with his doctrine but with the concept of freedom of religion and conscience and with the idea that it was not right to kill people because they err in doctrinal interpretation, nobody was more influential and effective than Sebastian Castellio. He was the first one who developed a concept of freedom of conscience and thus deserves a place with Servetus in the annals of Western history. Perhaps some of Castellio's opposition was due to his personal experience with Calvin's autocratic methods. Nevertheless Castellio's influence continued even after he himself was forgotten.” - Marian Hillar @

Tom Van Dyke said...

TVD - I did address Stokes' argument in my second comment to Brian's original post.

Yes, JMS, you did a much better job on the second one. I just didn't find it compelling enough to respond to. But since you insist: The deaths under Cromwell are not exactly relevant, and still there is nothing on the scale of the 120,000-250,000 in the Vendee, or of the obscenity of the noyades, the binding together of naked men, women and children put in boats and sunk in the river.

That's off the scale perverted.

But if Stokes were simply talking about God--rather than God-given rights--I wouldn't be as apt to say he was onto something. Principled politics are possible without overweening religion [although I submit it takes atheism to kill on the scale of the Vendee or Stalin or Mao].

But the part I find appalling about the French Revolution is the "general will" and the privileging of the collective over the individual.

THAT'S what went wrong, mob rule.

As for crediting Sebastian Castellio, I have no problem with that. Servetus was burned in 1553; Westphalia references the Peace of Augsberg of 1556. It's all in the zone. Basically, Protestantism proliferated sects by the sackful: as a practical matter, before long persecuting heresy became the war of all against all.

"The Anglican clergy has retained many of the Catholic ceremonies, particularly that of gathering in tithes with the most scrupulous attention. They also have the pious ambition of being the Masters.

Moreover, they work up in their flocks as much hold zeal against nonconformists as possible. This zeal was lively enough under the government of the Tories in the last years of Queen Anne, but it went no further than sometimes breaking the windows of heretical chapels; for the fury of the sects was over, in England, with the civil wars, and under Queen Anne nothing was left but the restless noises of a sea still heaving a long time after the storm.


"Although the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian are the two main sects in Great Britain, all others are welcome there and live pretty comfortably together, though most of their preachers detest one another almost as cordially as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit.

Go into the Exchange in London, that place more venerable than many a court, and you will see representatives of all the nations assembled there for the profit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt. There the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist, and the Church of England man accepts the promise of the Quaker. On leaving these peaceable and free assemblies, some go to the synagogue, others in search of a drink; this man is on the way to be baptized in a great tub in the name of the Father, by the Son, to the Holy Ghost; that man is having the foreskin of his son cut off, and a Hebraic formula mumbled over the child that he himself can make nothing of; these others are going to their church to await the inspiration of God with their hats on; and all are satisfied.

If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.

Voltaire in London, 1733

Bill Fortenberry said...

What do the two of you think of George Bancroft's statement regarding the freedom of religion in America that: “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was, from the first, the trophy of the Baptists”?

JMS said...

wsforten - I can't comment directly on Bancroft. But it sounds like he may have been on to something. There are so many strands or threads to untangle.

I just started reading a brilliant new book all of us at AC should read: "The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting protestants and the Separation of Church and Stste" by Nicholas P. Miller. On pp. 32-39, sib-titled "The British Connection: English Baptist Beginnings," he mentions the influence of the Anabaptists and Mennonites in the Netherlands (Holland) on English dissenters in exile there, and the beginnings of English "General Will" Baptists (as opposed to the Calvinistic "Particular Baptists" (yes you need a scorecard to keep track).

He mentions John Smyth, and points out his abrupt shift in thinking about church-state relations between 1608 - 1612. Miller deploys this quote about Smyth's turnabout: "one of the most complete statements of religious liberty of that generation." He then goes on to discuss the Mennonite, Peter Twisck his influence on the English Baptists Thomas Helwys and Leonard Busher.

I only read this after I had posted to TVD about Castellio, but Miller quotes a 19th C historian (no Bancroft) stating that "Busher's work remains to us as the earliest treatise known to be extant on this great theme" (i.e., liberty of conscince). But Miller rejoins that, "this claim overlook's Castellio's works."

If you want a good, but flawed full-court press that the Baptists were solely responsible for our religious liberty (without ever mentioning the Enlightenment), take a look at Michael Farris' (Patrick Henry College, and a man I mostly disagree with, especially on contemporary issues)book, "From Tyndale to Madison."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hutson credits the Baptists, not secularism or Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, for the defeat of Virginia's religious assessments bill.

The Baptists found themselves between a rock and a hard place, the Episcopalians [Anglicans] and the Presbyterians [Calvinist]--holding a majority in no state. It stands to reason that they carved out a place for themselves for practical power reasons alone.

As for Roger Williams and his postage-stamp sized colony, overrated.

Bill Fortenberry said...


Do you know where I can get an electronic version of Castellio's book?

Tom Van Dyke said...

BillF & JRB, this may be helpful:

In 1554, at Basel, there was published a work entitled Concerning Heretics, Whether They Are to Be Persecuted. The author's name was given as Martin Bellius. His real name was Sebastian Castellio, and his book makes him one of the most illustrious defenders of the idea of religious toleration. Castellio, a native of Savoy, was an accomplished scholar who had been a follower of Calvin and for a time the head of the school at Geneva. His desire to become a minister in the city was thwarted, however, because of his disagreement with Calvin on points of Biblical and doctrinal interpretation. From Geneva he went to Basel, where, among other things, he published his own Latin and French translations of the Bible, each with a dedication containing a plea for religious liberty. He pointed out that in religion it is so difficult to be certain of knowing the truth that, in persecuting religious dissenters, there is a danger of destroying the innocent with the guilty. Many prophets and apostles, thousands of martyrs, and even the Son of God have been put to death under color of religion, and the world today is no better or wiser or more clear-seeing than it has been in the past. To use earthly weapons for the sake of religion is far from the teaching of Christ who commanded us to turn the other cheek and return good for evil.

In 1553 he was appointed professor of Greek at the University of Basel. In the same year Servetus was burned at the stake, and Castellio published his work on the persecuting of heretics, in both Latin and French versions. It consisted of a number of passages from the works of the church fathers and modern writers including Calvin against persecution. There were also passages by Martin Bellius, George Kleinberg, and Basil Montfort, all of whom were no doubt Castellio himself. He brings out vividly the idea that purity of life is more important than the doctrinal orthodoxy for a Christian, and that it is a horrible thing for men to kill each other over doctrinal points in the name of Christ, who commanded them to love each other. Meanwhile, he finds that no attention is being paid to the charity and holiness enjoined on Christians, but that instead of this men are fighting over such matters as the Trinity, predestination, free will, "and other similar things, which it is not greatly necessary to know to acquire salvation by faith." If anybody takes the commands of Christ seriously and tries to lead a pure Christian life, all the others rise against him with one consent and destroy him. And, worst of all, they cover all this with the robe of Christ and claim to be serving His will by these cruelties.

Theodore Beza, Calvin's friend and later successor, wrote an answer to Castellio which attempted to prove that the magistrates have the duty of punishing heretics, and may put them to death. To this Castellio paid no particular attention, though he wrote a book against Calvin's defense of the execution of Servetus. Castellio's freedom of expression was somewhat curtailed thereafter, but he lived on in Basel until his death in 1563.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It doesn't look like the book is online, not even Google Books.

JRB hit the motherlode here, though I think it's a bit overdone--Castellio's condemnation of burning up Servetus came after the fact in 1554, and wasn't the only such objection.

The Peace of Augsberg came in 1556 and Protestantism was a fact on the ground, and Melanchthon, the "co-founder" of Lutheranism, opined that heresies like Servetus' questioning the Trinity were inevitable once they'd let the genie out of the bottle in rejecting Rome's magisterial authority to interpret scripture. Still, a theological justification for needed to be found vs. say Calvin's successor Theodore Beza*.

"The views of Castellio gradually spread. In 1557 or 1558, an Italian scholar, Acontius (Aconzio, Contio), no longer safe in Italy crossed the Alps and appeared in Basel where he published his first work. He was acquainted with Castellio's writings and upon returning to Basel from England in 1564, published a fresh manifesto, Satanae stratagemata, in favor of liberty of conscience and tolerance in the spirit of Castellio's work. The French translation appeared in 1565 and an English translation in 1940 by Charles D. O'Malley. The struggle for freedom of conscience reached a culmination in the Grisons at Chur in 1571 in the form of a debate between Egli and Gantner, two ministers. The issue involved the question of punishing "heretics." They drew their materials from the works of Castellio and de Bèze's De Haereticis.

The figure of Servetus stands out at the beginning of the movement for freedom of conscience. In the later phase Castellio deserves more ample recognition than he received. He is entitled even more than Servetus to be considered the real founder of liberal Christianity. He was unequaled in his thought and the first and the most important is the principle of absolute tolerance of differing views. This is an outgrowth of an entirely new concept of religion as centered not in dogma but in life and character. It is the very essence of this kind of religion to regard freedom and reason not as incidental but as fundamental conditions of a thoroughly wholesome existence of religion. At a time of extreme dogmatism, Castellio was the first to emphasize and lay down a firm and enduring foundation for the principle of tolerance."


*In this work, Whether the Civil Magistrate Ought to Punish Heretics, "Beza argued... [m]agistrates in Christian states are representatives of God and are bound by the Word of God in spiritual matters" (cited in Greaves, Theology and Revolution in the Scottish Reformation [Christian University Press, 1980, p. 153]).

Beza is completely in accord with Reformation thinking on this point. For "of all errors, toleration is the most dangerous and damnable, in so far as other errors do only overturn those particular truths of Scripture to which they are contrary; but by this one error (this monster of toleration) way is made to overturn all the truths contained in Scripture, and to the setting up [of] all errors contrary to every jot of truth; and in the mean time there shall be no power on earth to hinder it, or take order with it" (Fergusson, 1652, cited in DiLella, Ye That Love the Lord, Hate Evil).

JMS said...

wsforten - sorry for the delayed reply - As to Castellio's book online, here's what my library says:

Concerning heretics, whether they are to be persecuted and how they are to be treated; a collection of the opinions of learned men, both ancient and modern;
Author: Sébastien Castellion; David Joris; Roland Herbert Bainton

Publisher: New York, Octagon Books, 1965 [©1935]
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Castellion, Sébastien, 1515-1563.
Concerning heretics, whether they are to be persecuted and how they are to be treated.
New York, Octagon Books, 1965 [c1935]
an anonymous work attributed to Sebastian Castellio, now first done into English, together with excerpts from other works of Sebastian Castellio and David Joris on religious liberty, by Roland H. Bainton.

JMS said...

I'll have to take TVD to task for categorizing Roger Wiliams as "overrated," or that it matters whether RI was "postage-stamp sized" some other time.

RW was "the man" on liberty of conscience. He did not just theorize about it. Like the later Wiliam Penn and James Madison, he actually put it into practice.

The Baptists who teamed up with Madison in VA, Isaac Backus and John Leland, both acknowledged and actually revived Williams' forgotten influence.

The best book on Baptist influences is "Revolution within the Revolution by William Estep (easily available as a used paperback).