The Enlightenment legacy Socinianism and Spiritualism

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The Romantics caricatured their religious predecessors as prosaic Philistines, men more content with their sinecures and cosy demonstrations of divine benevolence than with the life ofthe spirit or true religious experience. In fact bishops Butler and Berkeley, and the non-juror William Law, were Christian apologists of genius who could have adorned any age. Genuinely religious philosophers like Shaftesbury, Burke and Richard Price were just as typical of the Age of Reason as Bentham and Paine. The leading lights of the English Enlightenment, Newton and Locke, were devout Christians, and figures such as Edmund Law, William Paley and Richard Watson were quite justified as seeing themselves in a Christian Lockean-Newtonian tradition. Recent historians such as J. C. D. Clark, J. G. A. Pocock and B. W Young have tried to correct the false impression that religion was a marginal interest amid a generally monolithic refusal of Christianity in the Enlightenment.2

The religious Romantic revolt against the Enlightenment cannot be understood without reference to theological debates which run through the Enlightenment back to the Reformation and Renaissance. Orthodox Protestantism shared a basic doctrinal content with pre- and post-Tridentine Catholicism. The Romantic revolt was in the traditions of radical Protestantism - Socinianism and Spiritualism - in which a climate of radical questioning of tradition and received authority could develop, since here the writers concerned could sincerely appeal to biblical and patristic sources for their Socinianism or Arianism. One of the major challenges of the Enlightenment period was the claim that doctrinal Christianity is not just false but immoral. In Mary Shelley's deeply Romantic novel Frankenstein the monster picks up Milton's Paradise lost and reads it as the literal depiction of a cruel deity tormenting humanity.3 Such challenges were often the result ofradical movements within Christianity. The two strands which were particularly significant for the nineteenth century are Socinianism and Spiritualism.

Socinianism is rooted in the late Italian Renaissance and in particular the Sienese theologian Faustus Socinus. Arianism is much older as a heresy, being essentially a subordinationist account of the Trinity. Both Socinianism and Arianism agree that strictly only the Father is God, but Socinianism is a more radical form of anti-trinitarianism. Through the Netherlands in particular,

2 Clark, English society; Pocock, Barbarism and religion; Young, Religion and enlightenment.

3 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or, the modern Prometheus (1818).

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