'Historia monotheistica'


Clerical historians, as the previous chapter has discussed, engaged each other in disputations about whether one form of ecclesiastical government (by Bishops) or another (by presbyters) was the legitimate model. Although there were manifest disagreements about the precise identity of the true Church, these debates were matters of form rather than substance. Writers like Heylyn and Burnet, although rivals in their precise interpretations of theology and government, were united in the insistence that there was a true and identifiable Christian religion that excluded other religions as heresy or heathenism. In the act of excluding the other religions this consensus invested the Christian priesthood (in either a high or low form) as the legitimate legislators and teachers of a true Christian society. Commonly it has been argued that the radicals who aimed at undermining the clerical monopoly of power in the Restoration did so by evangelizing the claims of reason. Deconstructing the power of Christian belief was achieved merely by elevating the rationality of the human intellect (so John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) is embraced as the epistemological eclipse of religion), in combination with the political and liberal constitutional achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1689. In this interpretation, nurtured by the liberties of the so-called Toleration Act, a group of Freethinking rationalists in the 1690s set about unpicking the propositional components of Christian belief especially in their denial of the existence of God. As the following chapters intend to show, this view of the radical assault is both misguided and optimistic. To argue that the struggles between priest and Freethinker were conducted in terms of an individual assault upon belief is anachronistic; the suggestion being that Christian belief was simply a set of incorrect propositions that once corrected would give way to rational belief.

Individuals in the late seventeenth century were Christians not merely <100> upon misguided logical grounds: that is not just because they believed that a transcendent God existed, but as the previous chapters have argued, because they absorbed convictions about the historical truth of Christianity from other sources. This form of belief or prejudice was not predisposed to capitulate to the logical assertion that God's existence could not be proved. The radicals thus set about revising the exclusivity of Christian history and belief not by denying God but rewriting the history of religion. If clerical historians had been concerned to authorize Christian matters of fact, radicals like Charles Blount and John Toland sidestepped propositional debates about the existence of God, and proposed alternative histories of the Christian past. The intention was to fragment the narrow Christocentric view of the past.

That the radical attack eschewed the merely propositional arguments against Christianity can be seen in the debates of the 1690s about belief in the Trinity. The turbulent waters of ecclesiological dispute were not quietened by the Church settlement of 1689. The Toleration Act had redrawn the Church of England as merely established rather than national, but more importantly it had reaffirmed statutory protection to the fundamental Trinitarianism of orthodox belief.[1] During the 1690s it was this broadly Protestant doctrine that became the focus of repeated attacks. Catholic exegetes like Richard Simon had undermined the scriptural justification for the Trinity by insisting that crucial passages were interpolations and forgeries. The Trinitarian controversy produced conflicts between Anglicans over how exactly the mystery was to be understood and discussed. For example Robert South (1634-1716) accused William Sherlock (1641?-1707) of polytheism for his unorthodox explanation of the doctrine. Charles Leslie, the cleverest of non-jurors, complained of the anti-Trinitarian tinctures in Archbishop Tillotson's latitudinarian moralism. Many apparently orthodox Anglicans were found to have anti-Trinitarian leanings: Isaac Newton's clandestine scriptural investigations led him to a closet Arianism, while his pupil William Whiston professed his opposition to the Trinity openly and was rewarded by clerical persecution. Edward Stillingfleet engaged in an intense and long-running polemic with John Locke over the supposed Socinianism of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690).[2]


The challenges of anti-Trinitarianism (varieties of Arianism, Socinianism and Unitarianism) were serious and potentially revolutionary. Traditional examinations of anti-Trinitarianism have treated it as a significant but ultimately unimportant event in the history of the period. Such studies have been too internalist, simply committed to narrating the complexity of the theological positions and counter-positions between Trinitarian and anti-Trinitarian. Such theological complexity has reinforced the historiographical irrelevance of the Socinian contribution to the political thought of the period. In contradiction to this neglect I should like to suggest that the Socinian or Unitarian polemic of the 1690s was a crucial movement in the development of the Enlightenment idea of religion. H. R. Trevor-Roper in a seminal essay on the religious origins of the Enlightenment in Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (1967) argued that Socinianism, as an Erasmian hermeneutical enterprise, was a central tributary of the Enlightenment. In describing Socinianism as the heir of Erasmus, Trevor-Roper delivered two historiographical blows: the first, that Socinianism not Calvinism was dynamic in the process of modernity, and second, that this movement was politically non-radical or conservative.[3] Accepting J. G. A. Pocock's point that the roots of the English Enlightenment drew from a soil fertile in the language of religion, the suggestion is that Socinianism should be examined, not just as a scriptural method, but also for the radical non-orthodox historical dimensions and models proposed in its polemic. In stepping outside of the Judaeo-Christian saeculum and appealing to other religious pasts, Socinianism opened the door to a radical religious position epitomized in the attempt by John Toland to syncretize the claims of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran in his Nazarenus (1718). From the Socinian and Unitarian insistence on the value of a history of monotheism developed the radical interest in other religions. Onto the investigation of the comparative structures of different religions men like Stubbe and John Toland grafted the classical idea of civil religion.[4]



One of the historical pasts displayed by the Socinians was that of monotheistic Islam. Charles Leslie, the principal non-juror polemicist, argued against the Socinians in his Socinian Controversy Discussed (1708); 'Mahomet is much more Christian than these, and an express unitarian, but these are not so well in the world as Mahomet is, therefore you would not own Mahomet to be of your party, lest the people should stone you, for they all have a great aversion to Mahomet.'[5] For Leslie it was a straightforward and effective polemical method to indict Socinian theology with Islamic paganism. It is the framework of this polemic to which we now turn.

There had been a perennial interest in Islam since the foundation of the religion. The seventeenth century saw a renaissance of scholarly research into the realities of Moslem religion, society and history, concerned more with establishing facts than scoring theological victories. This academic interest provided the backcloth to the Islamic polemic. Traditional trading links with Spain had occasioned the dissemination of Arabic culture. Prior to the seventeenth century, knowledge gained from the East had been overwhelmingly mathematical, medical and scientific rather than theological. In particular classical culture and texts had been regained for the West via Arabic translations and editions. The Reformation interest in achieving an uncorrupted biblical text turned to Hebraic and Arabic languages as critical philological tools.[6] The patrons of orientalism in the early seventeenth century were the High Church divines Lancelot Andrewes and Archbishop Laud. The latter was the prime mover in the creation of a Chair in Arabic Studies in his own University of Oxford. In Cambridge, the Chair was <103> created with the finance and under the influence of a merchant, Thomas Adams.[7] The academic side of oriental studies is exemplied {sic} in the life and works of Edward Pococke (1604-91). Pococke was chosen to be preacher to the trading post at Aleppo, returning to England in 1636. The following year he set out to Constantinople in the company of another cleric, John Greaves (1602-52), the famous mathematician and astronomer. In 1641 Pococke returned to Oxford via Paris; en route he met the Continental scholars Suonita and Grotius, men with extensive oriental interests. Pococke, with the financial encouragement of Robert Boyle, made an Arabic translation of Grotius' work De Veritate Religione {sic} Christianae (1660), plus versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican liturgy. Both Pococke and Archbishop Ussher had agents or associates in various Moslem ports to collect Arabic texts and manuscripts.[8]

Edward Pococke's research was learned and erudite; an examination of later work upon Islamic religion and society reveals that many English writers were indebted to Pococke's studies. His Specimen Historia Arabum (1648) was a source for both orientalist and polemicist. Once Arabic texts were released from their native language into more comprehensible Latin, particularly when accompanied by detailed explicatory notes, they encouraged both disinterested curiosity and polemical manipulation of the history of Islam. Early in Pococke's career one astute politican {sic} recognized the possibilities of orientalism as a challenge to theological orthodoxy. John Selden, during a period when Pococke's pre-civil war Laudian connections could have caused both political and financial embarrassment, gave the scholar ideological credit by patronizing his researches into the chronicles of Patriarch Eutychius of Alexandria. Selden's aid was not disinterested: in researching the foundations of the Alexandrian Church he hoped to gain material for the refutation of the episcopal model lauded by the clerics.[9] Simon Ockley, Professor of Arabic in Cambridge, commented in the introduction to the second volume of his History of the Saracens on the life 'of our great doctor Pococke, who could have unlocked the treasures of the East'. Pococke was placed in the humanist tradition of Erasmus and Bude.[10] Ockley reserved his scorn for Selden's manipulation of Pococke's scholarly prowess, 'purely to gratify his own vanity … to raise an argument of the equality of Bishops and presbyters … and sneer upon our established <104> episcopal Church and clergy'. Ockley himself attempted to follow the impartial task of orientalism, but his researches were put to infidel uses by William Whiston and he himself published The Improvement of Human Reason (1708), a translation of an eleventh- century Islamic text, with additions and commentary in answer to the claims of the 'enthusiastics'.[11]

During the medieval period most of the invective directed against the Moslem religion was based upon false and manipulated information. Islam was treated as a Christian heresy, and the intention of Western works was conversion. The medieval canon was to persist in the popular mind until the Unitarian arguments of the late seventeenth century.[12] It is worth examining this canon to illustrate the preconceptions with which the Unitarian applause for Islam was received. The quintessential statement of this older tradition can be found in the work of a master of Southampton Grammar School, Alexander Ross, in his 1649 translation of Du Ryer's French edition of the Koran. As Ross noted, 'it may happily startle thee to find him so to speak English, as if he had made some conquest of the nation'. As the work was unpopular with the 'higher authorities' when it was published, (they considered it would exacerbate the Interregnum tendency to heresy), Ross annexed A Needful Caveat or Admonition. Importantly, the complete work was reissued in 1688 when the Caveat must have had greater relevance.

Ross justified his translation in terms of comparing the heretical Eastern religion with the truth of Christianity. The 'sweet evangelical manna' could be contrasted with the 'poysonable quails' of Islamic doctrine.[13] The Koran was a collection of blasphemies, lies and fables. Ross insisted upon the traditional assessment of the work (as an admixture of Judaism, paganism <105> and Christianity) retelling the tale of the Nestorian heretic Sergius who was supposed to have helped Mahomet compose the Alkoran. In the brief sketch of Mahomet's life, the emphasis was upon his cunning and intuition in adapting a theology to the requirements of the Arabians, in the name of temporal dominance. Mahomet's conversation with the Archangel Gabriel had been fabricated to cover up his epileptic fits in front of his wife. The fabulous tale of the prophet's training a pigeon to eat grain out of his ear, suggesting that it was really delivering the message of God, was retold. Similar to this was the emphasis on the prodigious sensuality of the prophet, and his adaption of revelation to allow himself free sexual licence. The central ideas of Ross' commentary were the combination of Mahomet's religion being an human imposture designed to erect temporal authority 'under pretence of reformation of religion', and that of his success being due to the wrath of God providentially punishing Christianity for its spiritual laxity.[14]

Islam was not a religion of conscience but established upon the power of the sword, or because of its 'easiness'. If the Arabians accepted the religion freely it was because 'It was friend to their thievery and lechery'. Ross also deployed the other characteristic of the medieval canon: just as gold might be found in dung so there was some good in the Koran, particularly the Koranic acceptance of the Christian Gospel as 'full, right, a light, and a guide to salvation'. Ross acknowledged that although Mahomet accepted the Gospel his reading of it was heretical, for 'he endeavoureth to overthrow Christ's divinity with Arius and Nestorius, and the Jews his ghostly fathers'.[15] At the end of his work Ross gave a prophetic pronouncement concerning this 'unhallowed piece'. He commented that as men were like bees which can 'suck honey even out of henbane, there might be no danger in reading the Alcoran, but most men are like spiders … and … suck … poyson out of even the sweetest Roses'. Recalling the Christian variety of the Interregnum, Ross restated the warning that the rise of Mahomet had been encouraged and facilitated by the rents in 'the seamless coat of the Church' in Heraclitus' day. He feared the advance of a seventeenth-century 'Mahometan darknesse, which God may justly inflict upon us'. The later reprinting of this translation and commentary can in face of the nascent Trinitarian controversy hardly have been unconsidered.[16]



The roots of the polemical usage of Islam lie in the assault of the Socinians (or Unitarians) on the Anglican establishment.[17] English Socinianism had its roots in the early seventeenth century, linked closely with the Dutch Remonstrant movement and Polish Socinianism. Socinian texts were persistently shipped into England from Lowland ports, so much so that Laud introduced in 1637 measures to restrict the entrance of books from Holland. The Racovian Catechism, which elevated the claims of rationality over revelation, and stated the unipersonality of God and as a corollary the humanity of Christ, was first published in England in 1609 dedicated to James I. It was publicly burnt. The 1640 Laudian Canons had intended to introduce anti-Socinian restraints. The impact of the Laudian demise was to encourage the publication of Socinian tracts. The leviathan of the movement was John Biddle, who in 1652 published an English translation of the Racovian Catechism which Francis Chennell referred to as that 'Racovian Alcoran'. It is important to note that although Biddle died in 1662 after a disease contracted while imprisoned by the Restoration authorities, his Interregnum works were republished in the 1690s in the double-columned Unitarian tracts financed by Thomas Firmin. Even during the relative laxity of religious surveillance of the Interregnum the Socinians had been subject to persecution under the draconian Blasphemy Act of 1648.[18]


During the Restoration Socinianism appears to have extended its influence to the highest levels. The coterie surrounding the philanthropist Thomas Firmin included Locke, Tillotson the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and minor members of the Anglican Church, such as Stephen Nye (1648-1719) and Henry Hedworth (1626-1705). Indeed, it was the latter who used the term Unitarian for the first time in print in The Spirit of the Quakers Tried (1672). Such was the ubiquity of the movement that Andrew Marvell was able to comment in the same year that 'the Socinian books are tolerated and sell as openly as the Bible'. By 1676 there were at least three Socinian meeting houses in London. The religious settlement of 1689 saw Socinians classed with Roman Catholics in being placed beyond the comfort of toleration. The Socinians were to achieve liberty of worship in 1813. Persecution descended upon such men as Arthur Bury (1624-1713), rector of Exeter College, Oxford, for the publication of his Naked Gospel (1690). The author was excommunicated, deprived and fined £500, while his book was burnt. William Freke unwittingly sent his Brief but Clear Confutation of the Doctrine of the Trinity to both Houses of Parliament in 1694. The result was that the work was condemned and burnt by the public hangman, while Freke was forced to recantation and fined. Thomas Aikenhead, a student of Edinburgh University, was condemned as an heretic for his Socinian opinions and hanged in 1697. In 1698 the 'Act for the more effectual Suppression of Blasphemy and Profaneness' attempted to proscribe all discussion of the Trinitarian controversy, imposing for a second conviction denial of all civil rights and three years imprisonment. The act was reinforced by royal command in 1714.[19]


One of the suggestions of Arthur Bury's work the Naked Gospel (1690), which contributed to the virulent Anglican reaction, was his treatment of the Islamic theme. Bury inverted the traditional theme of Mahomet's rise as a product of divine providence. The commonplace argument for the veracity of Christianity, following Augustine, had been that Christ's teachings had been established by their own merits alone. Christ, the son of a carpenter, joined by a vagabond group of illiterate fishermen, had confounded philosophers and risen above kings, eschewing temporal force. The orthodox use of this argument had been to compare these Christian origins with the worldly advance of Islam by the sword. This not only revealed its human origins, but also classified it as a scourge of God. Bury insisted that the same argument could be used in favour of that 'lewd Impostor' Mahomet. He continued: 'so the victories of the Alcoran over the Gospel must be evidence, that as the religion of Moses was better than that of the Canaanites, and the religion of Christ better than that of Moses; so must the religion of Mahomet be better than that of Christ.'[20] Bury noted that to suggest the rise of Islam was not the product of divine providence was in effect to deny the existence of a divine guide. Bury did not unequivocably {sic} applaud Mahomet's actions, for many additions were included in his scheme 'most suitable to his Lusts'. Mahomet was 'not an apostate, but a reformer': his task was one of purification. The Islamic prophet was cast in the mould of Christian reformer, professing Christian and monotheistic articles of belief. Bury continued, 'so from the prosperity of the Alcoran, we have an Argument for the Divinity of the Gospel, as invincible against all power but what was derived from itself'. The justice of God's providence was to ensure that the truths of Christianity did not go undefended. Bury's analysis was a clever piece of insinuation.[21] Christianity in the East had become corrupt through the manipulation of the Gospel; it was Mahomet's good fortune to re-institute the true gospel, which in Bury's view was Unitarian. In opposition to Ross's providential scheme which presented Islam as a scourge and deformed image of pristine Christianity, Bury considered Islam within its own terms. Islam was not a misshapen mirror image of Christianity, but an object of commendation. Bury called for the purification of Christian Scripture, following the pattern of the Corinthians. The result of this would be that, rather than the mysteries of faith which he considered the product of the historical rise of priestcraft after the post-Nicene Athanasian Creed, the simple dogma of the Gospel in its largest edition would be 'repent and believe'. This attack upon 'mystery' <109> in religion was to pre-empt the suggestions of Toland in his Christianity Not Mysterious (1696).[22]

William Freke (1662-1744) who suffered at the hands of Parliament in 1694 for his anti-Trinitarian beliefs, emphasized the connection between the Unitarian insistence on the unity of God and Islamic monotheism. Freke, who later renounced his Unitarian convictions to prophesy the 'great Elijah', argued in his Vindication of the Unitarians (1690), a 'short and sinewy' text, that the Trinity was the 'stumbling block in Christianity'. Freke noted that he had fallen into 'Arianisme' while searching the New Testament for scriptural evidence for the Trinity. Adopting a commonplace Unitarian argument, he insisted that there was as just a case for the truth of the Trinity as there was for the absurd Catholic mystery of transubstantiation. The notion of a triple Godhead offended all 'Jews, Turks, and Pagans': it was the ground on which Mahomet had based his division from Christianity. As Freke noted, the Koran contained 'above a hundred' indictments of the dogma. One of the central historical arguments was that the Trinity had only become part of Christian creed some three hundred years after Christ's death.[23] This stock Unitarian argument was made even more emphatically by Stephen Nye (1648-1719), the rector of Little Hormead, Hertfordshire, close associate of Thomas Firmin and major Unitarian controversialist.

In his Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians, dedicated to Firmin and Henry Hedworth, first published in 1687 and republished in 1691 (in the collection financed by Firmin, The Faith of One God), Nye insisted that Socinianism was heir to pristine monotheistic Christianity. He invoked the pattern of the Nazarenes, an early Judaeo-Christian sect, as the legitimate ancestors of the Unitarian movement. The translators of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek, Theodotian and Symachus, the Early Fathers Paul of Samosatus, Lucianus and Photinus, Bishop of Antioch, were all professing Nazarenes. As early as A.D. 194 Pope Victor had commenced the obliteration of the true Unitarian doctrine 'that god is One'. The Arians had introduced the first errors of doctrinal corruption which had laid the path clear for the Trinitarian ascendancy achieved at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. The Nazarene faith had only survived in the 'Turkish and other Mahometan and Pagan Dominions'.[24] The historical model of pre-Nicene Unitarianism, and its links with Islam, was reiterated and reinforced by Nye in his Letter of Resolution Concerning the Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation (1695). Trinitarian Christianity could claim no ancient tradition but was 'Novelties, corruptions, and depravations of genuine Christianity'. The Apostles' Creed and the Nazarene faith were both the most ancient <110> beliefs and 'the very doctrines that are now called Socinian'. The Athanasian Trinity established at Nicea was the historical font of all Christian corruption. The supremacy of the papacy, worship of the Virgin Mary, saints, images, the mystery of transubstantiation, the authority of Church tradition, papal indulgences and the theology of Christ's satisfaction, were all doctrinal accretions grown out of the corrupt Trinitarian Christology. Arguing against Ralph Cudworth's True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), which proposed that the truth of the Trinity could be traced to a Mosaic 'theology of Divine original', Nye insisted that Trinitarianism was a corruption of heathen Platonism which confused 'properties of the Divine nature for persons, or willfully and affectedly allegoris'd them into persons'. The doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, according to Nye, were the main obstacles between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. As 'divers historians' had noted, Mahomet had 'no other design in pretending himself to be a prophet, but to restore the belief of the Unity of God'. Mahomet proclaimed himself disciple of the 'Messias or Christ' aiming to restore the Unitarian 'true intent of the Christian religion'. Mahomet's success in converting Asia, Africa and part of Europe was not to be attributed to the force of arms but to 'that one truth in the Alkoran, the unity of God'.[25]

As will be shown below, the historical connection between the Nazarenes and Islam was to form the central theme in the work of both Henry Stubbe and John Toland. While the work of Arthur Bury, William Freke and Stephen Nye displays no reluctance to identify Unitarianism with monotheistic Islam, the most radical case of Unitarian-Islam syncretism is to be found in the enigmatic Epistle Dedicatory to his Illustrious Excellency Ameth Ben Ameth (1682). In early January 1682 Ahmet Ben Ahmet, Moroccan ambassador, presented Charles II with two lions as a gift of peace from his master the Sultan. Ahmet Ben Ahmet's diplomatic mission was concerned with the rights of possession of the fortress port of Tangiers ceded to the English sovereign as part of Catharine of Braganza's dowry. This was the scene for an interesting episode in Unitarian history. A 'cabal of Socinians in London' took the opportunity to attempt to present the Moroccan ambassador with an address of theological unity. They intended to give Ahmet Ben Ahmet a collection of four works: the introductory Epistle which concerns us, the Epistola Ameth Benandala Mahumetani, an account of a conference between Ahmet Ben Abdalla a Spanish Moor, Maurice of Orange, and Eugene of Portugal that purportedly took place in 1612, the Animadversiones in Praecedentem Epistolam, and Theognis Irenaeus Christiano Lectori <111> Salutem, an anti-Trinitarian polemic written under the name of Theognis, Arian Bishop of Nicea. The dedicatory Epistle, which Charles Leslie republished in his Socinian Controversy Discussed (1708), is a succinct account of the perceived links between the theologies of Islam and the Unitarians.

The 'two philosophers' who composed the Epistle addressed Ahmet Ben Ahmet as a representative of the 'fellow worshippers of that sole supreme Deity of the Almighty Father and Creator'. Although the Epistle admitted that there were differences between Unitarianism and Islam the work insisted that they shared the necessary common truth in accepting 'the religion of an only one Godhead' which brought them to a closer fraternity with each other than with Trinitarian Christianity. The defence of one God 'without personalities or pluralities' was a pristine and original tradition that included, 'not only all the patriarchs down from Adam until Moses, not only all the Jews under the written law and the Old Testament to this very day, were still worshippers of an only one God (without a Trinity of persons), but that also all the Primitive Christians, in and after Christ and his Apostles' time'. In distinction from the post-Constantinian 'backsliding Christians' who believed in 'three co-equal and self subsisting persons, whereof every one is an absolute and infinite God', original Unitarians like Paul of Samosatus and Marcellus Bishop of Ancyra upheld a monotheism that was maintained by Mahomet.[26]


John Edwards, as bigoted an adversary as his father Thomas Edwards, attacked the Letter of Resolution in his Socinian Creed (1697). The Socinians were allying themselves with the Jews and the Mahometans, magnifying the Koran in considering it reconcilable with the Gospel if the doctrine of the Trinity was laid aside. The Socinians were in 'mere complacency with those infidels'. Indeed Edwards in his Socinianism Unmasked (1696) had confronted John Locke, the author of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), firstly as a Socinian, and then by implication as a Moslem. He wrote with obvious malevolence, 'It is likely I shall further exasperate this author when I desire the reader to observe that this lank faith of his is in a manner no other than the faith of a Turk'. Edwards objected to Locke's assertion that there was only one necessary defining credal belief in Christianity accessible to all understandings, i.e. that Jesus was the Messiah. Edwards slyly commented that Locke 'seems to have consulted the Mahometan bible'. We know that <112> Locke possessed an edition of the Koran.[27] The complicity between Locke and Islam according to Edwards was the notion of the nature and divinity of Christ; the Koran treated Christ purely as a prophet, 'as a great man, one commissioned by God, and sent by him into the world. This is of the like import with our good Ottoman writer the Vindicator saith of our saviour, and this he holds is the sum of all that is necessary to be believed concerning him'. Edwards insisted that Locke was 'confounding Turky with Christendom'.[28]

The Anglican counter-polemic was not only strengthened by the identification of Socinian theology with Islamic, but also by their complicity as human impostures. If Socinian theological endeavour led to heretical Islamic statements about the divinity of Christ, then their interpretive methodology was similarly deformed, resting upon the depraved human intellect. Francis Fullwood, originally a non-juror, but now anxious to illustrate his orthodoxy, entered the controversy with A Parallel: Wherein it Appears that the Socinian agrees with the Papist (1693). His central charge was that Socinians manipulated scriptural texts by their 'own private sense (if not their Wit and Phansie)', rather than the tradition of patristic interpretations. Fullwood extended his notion into a fully fledged definition of fanaticism; he wrote, 'modern fanaticism and enthusiasm, I reckon to be nothing else, but a religion (if it deserves that name) that hath no foundation, either in the word of God, or sound reason, but is founded in dreams or Phantasies, or pretended inspiration or divine revelation besides and other than the Holy Scriptures'. Fullwood's logic from this point was incisive; Mahomet's religion as all Christians acknowledged could be termed 'fanatical and enthusiastical'. The conclusion was inevitable 'Is not Socinianism, as truly phanatical and enthusiastical, as the Papacy; not to say Mahometanism?'[29]


The Unitarian Epistle of 1682, although never presented to Ahmet Ben Ahmet, became the focus of anti-Socinian polemic in the 1690s. In 1694 and 1697 Charles Leslie composed letters attacking such Islamic preferences which are published in his Socinian Controversy Discussed (1708) along with a transcription of the Epistle. Leslie treated the Unitarians 'as scouts amongst us for Mahomet'. The Unitarians could 'in no propriety be called Christians; that they are more Mahometans than Christians and far greater enemies to Christianity than the Mahometans'. Leslie insisted that Islam was less corrosive of Trinitarian Christianity than the English challenge. The Unitarians were reviled for representing the 'Mahometans as the true Christians, and our Christianity as mere paganism and Heathenism'. Contrary to the Unitarian interpretation, where Mahomet was applauded for re-establishing a primitive and pure Christianity, Leslie suggested that the 'Alkoran is a system of Arianism' and therefore 'vile heresy'. The only traditions Unitarians could appeal to were heresies.[30] In the fourth dialogue of the main body of Socinian Controversy Discussed Leslie presented a more specific dissection of the Nazarene-Islamic model found in Nye's Brief History of the Unitarians (1687) and Letter of Resolution (1695). His strategy was simple: the ancient traditions of monotheism were heresy. Simon Magus, the magician, was the creator of Nazarene doctrine. The Nazarenes were a 'sort of Christians who affected that name rather than to be named after Christ or Jesus'. Leslie pondered how many modest Socinians would be both amazed and scandalized to learn the heretical wellsprings of their faith. This polemic was reinforced by Leslie's ironic argument that Mahomet was a more orthodox ancestor than the Nazarenes or Ebionites. The Alkoran certainly applauded Christ as Messiah, but the Socinians overstated this applause, 'as Mahomet improved Arianism, so the Socinians have exceeded even the Alkoran in their contempt of Christ'.[31]

The prescriptions of sacred history were crucial in Leslie's view: it was the arena where theological and political dispute could be resolved. He wrote, 'all controverted points in divinity, either as doctrine or discipline; for everyone of them must be determined by matters of fact.' Many like the Socinians claimed the commodious privilege of prescription from histories which were little more than heresy. Comparative religious history was fraught with heterodoxy. In a Short and Easy Method with the Deists (1704) <114> Leslie, in warning his readership against the dangers of Charles Blount's parallel between Christ and Apollonius of Tyre, also pointed out the dangers of the Unitarian elision of Mahomet and Christ: many 'say that there is no greater ground to believe in Christ than Mahomet'. In Leslie's opinion a truthful examination of the historical 'matter of fact' should 'demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion, and at the same time distinguish it from the impostures of Mahomet and the whole Pagan world'. A cursory examination of the history of the foundation of Islam revealed a history of fable, imposition and corruption. In face of the display of the histories of Judaism, Islam and paganism as comparable to Christian history it became incumbent upon Anglican controversialists to neutralize the moral value of such pasts.[32]

One of the first and most successful anti-Islamic histories was The First State of Mahumedism; or an Account of the Author and Doctrines of that Imposture (1679) written by Lancelot Addison (1632-1703), Dean of Litchfield. Addison had been chaplain at Tangiers and was author of a sociological study, West Barbary, or a Short Narrative of the Kingdom of Fez and Morocco (Oxford, 1671), which gave an account of the sacred, civil, and domestic customs of the country. In the First State of Mahumedism Addison was concerned to give an account of the progress of Mahomet's empire to awaken 'all Christian magistrates into a timely suppression of False teachers, though never so despicable in their first appearance, lest (like Mahumed) they second heresy with force, and propagate enthusiasm with conquest'. Mahomet succeeded in establishing his imposture with 'craft and management'. Using the pretence of revelation he constructed a faith suitable to the desires of the people. The Koran written by the Nestorian Bahira and a Jewish renegade 'Abdalla Calen' was in effect a 'hodge-podge of Judaism, Gentilism, and Christianism'. The decay, heterodoxy and contention of Eastern Christianity had created the conditions for Mahomet to establish an empire under pretence of religious reformation, 'he was a prophet in show, but a tyrant in project'.[33] The historical interpretation of Islam as a triumph of empire was given extended treatment in Humphrey Prideaux's The True Nature of Imposture Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet (1697) which addressed the Unitarian assaults upon Trinitarianism of the 1690s. The work sold two editions in the first year of publication, and a tenth edition was on sale by 1722 indicating its popularity as the staple and ubiquitous Anglican defence against the infidels.[34]


Prideaux drew an easy parallel between the sectarianism of the 1650s and 1690s, which in turn mirrored the confusion and disunity evident in the Eastern Church at the time of Mahomet. The warning was to beware that God might 'raise up some Mahomet against us for our utter confusion'. Although Prideaux employed many modern scholarly translations and commentaries upon Islamic texts to deny some of the more fabulous anti-Islamic Christian fictions, the True Nature of Imposture condemned Mahomet and Islam without respite. As Addison had insisted, Mahomet had established a political empire on the foundations of religious imposture. Pretending to revive the old religion of Adam, Abraham and Ishmael, Mahomet presented himself as a reformer of idolatry. His real motives were ambition and lust. The Islamic legislator co-ordinated the principles of his religion to suit the desires of the debauched Arabs. The Koran was composed by two heretical Christians at Medina, a Persian Jew Abdia Ben Salom, and the Nestorian Sergius: Mahomet was illiterate. To disguise his epileptic fits Mahomet had fabricated visions of the angel Gabriel. Employing the full range of the 'art of insinuation' Mahomet had adapted heathen ritual and doctrine to the needs of his reformation: the Caab at Mecca became the centre of his worship as it had been for the pagan.[35] In his appended A Discourse for the Vindication of Christianity from the Charge of Imposture Prideaux made his hostility to the infidels, both Islamic and Unitarian, perfectly apparent. The anti-Trinitarians implied that contemporary Christianity, rather than Islam, was human imposture. Prideaux wrote that the central problem was, 'whether the Christian religion be a truth really given unto us by Divine Revelation from God our Creator, or else a mere humane invention, continued by the first propagators of it, to impose a cheat upon mankind'. According to Prideaux's classification, religious imposture involved the quest for secular advancement established by 'craft and fraud' and backed by force and violence. Christ had intended no civil advancement, but had even redefined the Jewish idea of the temporal Messiah into a purely spiritual authority. Islam and Mahomet could only be defined in terms of the pursit {sic} of empire. The New Testament established a message of 'mortification, repentance, and self-denial' while the Koran promoted 'fighting, bloodshed, and conquest'. Islam had only triumphed by the force of arms and the sword. Christ had simply employed the prerogatives of truth and faith. As Islam was imposture, so was the Unitarian economy.[36]

A later work to plough the same polemical furrow in linking the Islamic and Unitarian heresies was the anonymous Historical and Critical Reflec <116> tions upon Mahometanism and Socinianism (1712). The treatise was one of a collection published as Four Treatises concerning the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Mahometans (1712). The four works included in this collection illustrate the tension between the impartial investigation of Islam, and the employment of this scholarship in theological debate. The first work, The Life and Actions of Mahomet, although it employed the latest Arabic translations 'Abulfaragius, Abul Feda, Elmacinus, Septencastiensis, Hottinger, Busbequius, Pocock etc.', presented an identical interpretation of the Prophet's life to Prideaux's True Nature of Imposture. The next text, Of the Mahometan Theology, a work of profound and impartial scholarship by Adrian Reland, Professor of Oriental Tongues at the University of Utrecht, was concerned to give a short system of Islamic theology translated from Arabic sources and illustrated with Reland's own notes. The work rejected the traditional unthinking hostility towards Islam, and simply presented the tenets of Islam without recommendation or condemnation. The third treatise, A. Bobovius' A Treatise concerning the Turkish Liturgy, was similarly scholarly and impartial.

The Historical and Critical Reflections was a hostile work par excellence. It employed the scholarly researches of Reland, Pocock, et al., to establish with greater authority the heterodoxy of both Islam and Socinianism. Citing Reland's Of the Mahometan Theology the author noted that Mahomet's central doctrinal position was the 'unity of God' which was merely a revival of the ancient anti-Trinitarian heresy of Paul of Samosatus, Theodotian and Photinus. The Mahometans insisted upon calling themselves 'Unitarians' in opposition to orthodox Christians whom they termed 'Associants'. The Socinians and Mahometans collaborated in insisting upon the corruptions and forgeries in Scripture upon which the Trinity was erected. The radical Unitarian Francis David in his polemics of the 1590s had repeatedly cited the Alkoran against the Trinity. The Racovian Catechism used identical definitions of the unity of God to the Koran. The early heretic Ebionites had fled into Syria to become the first Mahometan converts. The crucial charge against both Unitarian and Mahometan, echoing Prideaux's condemnation, was that they were Pelagian heresies or human theologies, 'more like the moral philosophy of the Pagans, than the doctrine of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'.[37]


It is apparent that orthodox Anglican theologians agreed in identifying the Islamic tenor of Unitarian theology. It is also apparent that Unitarians such as Arthur Bury, Stephen Nye and William Freke willingly acknowledged the <117> prescriptive value of Mahomet's reformation. At the centre of this debate lay the crucial doctrine of the 'unity of God' and the clash between a monotheistic or tritheistic explanation of God. We must examine the political implications of these rival theologies. What were the challenges and issues that the Islamic rhetoric masked? Socinian argument rejected the Christian status of the Anglican establishment, considering it a corruption from the veridical model of pre-Nicene Christianity. Contemporary Christianity in the Unitarians' view conflated the ritual and worship of the person of Christ with the practice of religion. The Unitarians demanded a reform of the ecclesiastical establishment to the pattern of primitive morality.[38]

The controversialists of the 1690s acclaimed the authority of personal rationality, insisting that the application of reason to Scripture could produce only a Unitarian theology. What they demanded was not a new vision of ecclesiastical government, but reformation of the existing system. It must be noted that such writers as Stephen Nye and Arthur Bury retained their livings in the Church, although critical of its theology. Unitarians railed against doctrines of persecution and forcing of conscience. Criticism of the Anglican Church was not qua ecclesiastical form but theological content. What they demanded was an alteration in faith to satisfy divine prescriptions. A typical example of this reformism was the system of Primitive Christianity propounded from within the Anglican establishment by William Whiston, and particularly Samuel Clarke's attempted revision of the Prayer Book.[39]

The orthodox overreacted. Their perception was that the Unitarians not only proposed a new theology, but that this revision was a threat to the very basis of ecclesiastical authority. This focused upon Unitarian Christology. Edward Stillingfleet in a sermon preached at St Laurence-Jewry, London, in 1691, The Mysteries of the Christian Faith Asserted and Vindicated, briefly stated the crux of the Trinitarian dispute while discoursing upon the text 'that Christ came into the world to save sinners'. The dispute centred upon the two opposite conceptions of Christ's soteriological efficacy, 'by the <118> doctrine and examples of the man Jesus Christ, by the power he attained through his sufferings; or, by the eternal son of God's assuming our nature, and suffering in our stead in order to the reconciling of God to us and making a propitiation for our sins'. Christ is either an example or a sacrifice. The Anglican position argued that Christ was the 'high priest' of the Church. Christ as the son of God was endowed with, and exercised, a sacerdotal power in his sacrifice, which was a complete satisfaction for man's sin. This Christology required that sacerdos was to be present in the temporal Church, identified in the priesthood. Elevating the competence of human reason to perceive the example of Christ and follow its precepts undermined the Trinitarian distinction between sacerdos and laity. The conception of Christ's sacrifice as a total propitiation of sins elevated the Church on earth to ministrators of this divinity: to undermine the sacrifice of Christ was to undercut the authority of the human priesthood. Francis Fullwood commented astutely in his Socinian Controversy (1693) on Socinian authors, 'who with subtlety and spight enough endeavour to ruine our ecclesiastical as well as spiritual state'. Edwards had pointed out in his Socinian Creed that the Racovian Catechism hinted that the Eucharist might be administered 'by the hands of private Christians and such as are not devoted to the ministry.' This was literally to 'subvert Christianity'.[40]

Edward Stillingfleet noted the potentially dangerous incoherence in the logic of the Unitarian position. The Unitarian argued that the Anglican Church, by its Trinitarianism, elevated a man to the status of deity thus falling into idolatry or polytheism. Stillingfleet insisted that if it was a duty and a sin to worship any other than the true God with proper divine worship, and Christ was to be considered a mere mortal, surely it was idolatrous to worship a creature? This was to ignore the distinctions the Unitarians introduced into the varying levels of worship. However, as Fullwood noted in his Parallel, many only worshipped Christ to 'avoid the scandal of dishonouring our Lord, and offending other Christians'. Some Unitarians when faced with the charge of idolatry for worshipping a mere creature, followed the example of Socinus' countryman Francis David, who denied the validity of worshipping Christ. These men were in Fullwood's phrase 'desperate enemies of our Lord and Saviour'. The natural consequence of <119> Unitarian theology was indifference in religion and ultimately atheism.[41] The issue of Christ's satisfaction was dealt with by Charles Leslie in the voluminous Socinian Dialogues. He stated, with uncharacteristic succinctness, that the crux of the debate was 'no less whether what we worship is God or a creature, whether we adore the true or false God, and are the grossest Idolaters in the world'. In Dialogue V, 'Of the satisfaction of Christ made for our sins', Leslie dissected the subversive implications of Unitarianism. The doctrine of full satisfaction was the foundation of the Christian religion. The Socinian in his Dialogue replied with the antinomian assertion that 'It is a great hindrance to piety; for if Christ has paid the whole debt, what need we do any more?' The Unitarian position was that while the death of Christ on the cross was a necessity for salvation, it was not the cause. It was an historical action, a necessary condition, but not universally and synchronically efficacious. For the Unitarian, Christ's sacrifice was necessary because it indicated God's willingness to accommodate mankind, but having opened the door to salvation it offered no other benefit. The Unitarian soteriology rested upon individual conformity to the pattern of Christ's life and teachings.[42] The author of the Historical and Critical Reflections made an astute comment when he noted that Unitarian doctrine was a direct descendant of the Pelagian tradition. For the Unitarian, religion was the comforter of social harmony, 'to reform the manners of men, to restrain human nature from falsehood and treachery, from sedition and rebellion … Better it were there were no revealed religion than to be acted by a religion that is continually supplanting government, and undermining the welfare of mankind'. Leslie answered, that 'this may be perhaps like a politician, but not very like a Christian'. His complaint was that this reduced all to morality: if Christian behaviour was given such a wide circumference then it could include anyone who acted in a virtuous manner. Leslie pointed out, 'so that if a Mahometan, Jew or Pagan, leads a good moral life, he has the very essence of a Christian, and then no doubt is a Christian, let his system of faith be what it will'. This was the high road to subversion and atheism.[43]


So far this chapter has been concerned to examine the Unitarian-Anglican debate over the value and meaning of the sacred history of Islam. Radical as the anticlerical implications of the Unitarian Christology were, the intention of such men as Stephen Nye and Arthur Bury was not to overthrow Christianity but to reform its deviant Trinitarianism. There was a more radical enterprise which, in appealing to the history of Mahomet, suggested not just an end to Trinitarian theology but also to the very idea of a 'Christian' society. In Mahomet No Impostor (1720), written under the assumed Arabic name of Abdulla Mahumed Omar, the Anglican denigration of Mahomet epitomized in Prideaux's True Nature of Imposture (1697) was subject to radical analysis. As Abdalla Mahumed Omar wrote to his fictional Moslem correspondent in Mecca commenting on Prideaux's work, 'it is no new matter to find a Christian author railing at the Great Prophet, and heaping together a company of false and scandalous reflections, to render him and his religion odious to their own people'. According to Omar, Mahomet had re-established an economy based upon faith in 'one eternal God, the Creator of all things'. Opposed to this the Christians were more intent upon upholding heathenish dogmatism, and promoting idolatry rather than establishing 'moral institutions'. The Islamic faith could be reduced to two central doctrines, the unity of God and 'the moral duties that are to regulate our actions towards one another'. The binary choice presented by Omar was between a conception of religion which was primarily ceremonial, or one which established a system of social duties and harmony.[44] A much later work, Count Boulainvilliers' Life of Mahomet (1731), written originally in French, echoed this interpretation. As Ishmael had restored the simple natural religion, so had Mahomet renovated Judaeo-Christian corruption. Boulainvilliers commended Mahomet's deliberate construction of a theology calculated to establish social morality and political order, following the ancient tradition of the politic legislator Numa Pompilius. This tradition of treating Mahomet as a civil theologian had its genesis in two earlier English works written by Henry Stubbe and John Toland.[45]


The two most important radical texts employing the Islamic prototype were the manuscript work of Henry Stubbe (1632-76), An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, composed in 1671, but with an extensive <121> covert circulation in the early decades of the eighteenth century, and John Toland's Nazarenus or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity (1718). This work was written as a contribution to the controversy inspired by Benjamin Hoadly's attack on the clericalist state. In examining Stubbe's text I intend to place it within the broad context of the Unitarian-Islamic syncretism I have already described. This will extend the treatment already suggested by J. R. Jacob in his Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism and the Early Enlightenment (1983) and argue that the Stubbe manuscript was a direct influence upon Toland's Nazarenus (1718). Both works set out to present an unbiased view of Islam, rejecting the slanders of the medieval canon identified in Prideaux's work. It must be remembered that especially when Toland's work was published it was into a public arena which had perceived Islam through the distorting lens of Prideaux's polemic.[46] The extent of the influence of Stubbe's manuscript is uncertain. We know that Charles Blount plagiarized a section in his Oracles of Reason (1693) and also that he sent Rochester extracts of the Account.[47] An unnoticed influence can be found in Sir John Finch's correspondence with Lord Conway between 4 and 14th February 1675. These letters give a 'politic' account of the growth of Islam including a presentation of the Islamic notion of the unipersonality of God, and the importance of Alexandrian Judaism. Mahomet is referred to as both a wise prince and legislator. There also may be the possibility that William Temple read and adopted Stubbe's work.[48]

The historical scheme, of both texts, is the dynamic between true religion and superstition, rather than the Anglican conception of a line of true succession from the apostolic age. Both Stubbe and Toland accepted the Islamic conception of the sacred past. The Islamic notion, put simply, is that there has always been one true religion: the prophets in lineage from Adam, through Noah, Moses, Christ, and finally the seal of all prophets, Mohammed, have all been expounders of this one truth.[49] Both Noah and Christ can be called 'Muslims' or 'Believers'. The Islamic conception of the prophetic past argues that each succeeding prophet was sent by God to re-establish the true tenets of religion after it had become (almost inevitably) corrupted. Each <122> successive prophetic system replaced its predecessor in complicity with the doctrines of the true religion. Stubbe and Toland can thus be seen to place the historical past of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into a Polybian framework.

The unifying theme throughout both works is the foundation of all religious truth on the premises of the unity of God. As Christianity was a reformation of the corruption of Mosaic law so Islam was a regeneration of post-Constantinian Christianity. Stubbe in particular concentrated on the pre-Moslem state of Eastern Christianity. Applying notions of Machiavellian causality he presented Mahomet as an oriental version of Cesare Borgia: as Christ's renovation had been assisted by the fortunate collaboration of circumstance (the oppression of Judaism by the Romans, and the general expectation of a Messiah) so Mahomet happily perceived the opportunity in Christian division to re-establish true religion and abolish idolatry. Mahomet, convinced of the unity of God, 'accomplish'd himself in civil and military prudence' through his travels and converse, and erected a 'new religion and empire' amidst the decay and debauchery of Eastern Christianity. Stubbe continued to note that the theology Mahomet established was compatible with original Nazarene and Arian Christianity.[50]

Mahomet used what Stubbe termed 'policy' to establish his renovation and outmanoeuvre his enemies. Mahomet manipulated the superstitious Arabians from idolatry to the true religion. For example, Mahomet retained the Caab for religious worship, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, as ingrained within the Arabic character, Stubbe wrote, 'and did ingeniously accommodate to his ends those superstitious usages which were imprinted in the breasts of the Ismaelites', towards the worship of one God. The Koran was the embodiment of 'rational belief', and Mahomet commended for 'on the one hand not clogging men's faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of reason and commonsense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious ceremonies'. Stubbe insisted that concomitant with the advance of true theology came the institution of civil virtue. Mahomet is assimilated into the tradition of Lycurgus, Numa and Solon for the introduction of moral <123> imperatives under the guise of religious duty.[51] One of the most radical components of Stubbe's polemic against the established clerical order can be found in the opening section of his manuscript which gives an account of the state of Judaism and Christianity from the time of Christ to Mahomet. This concerned itself with the early history of Christian doctrine and belief. Unitarian historians like Stephen Nye had argued that the theological character of primitive Christianity was anti-Trinitarian, citing the rather vague precedent of the Nazarene Christians. Stubbe was to present a full blown historical narrative of the Jewish origins of Christianity: it was this historical thesis which was the premise of Toland's Nazarenus.

Stubbe insisted that Christianity was a Jewish heresy. Originally the 'Nazarens' or 'Judaising Christians' received Christ as a temporal Messiah according to Judaic notions of the Messiah. He wrote:

They did never believe Christ to be a natural son of God, by eternal generation, or any tenets depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of Persons in one Deity, is as evident as 'tis that the Jews and they did expect no such Messiah, and the introducing such doctrines would have been capital among them as tending to blasphemy and Polytheism.

Citing Selden's De Synedriis (1650-3) Stubbe argued that Christianity 'was but a Reformation of Judaism'.[52] For Stubbe the whole constitution of the Primitive Church followed the pattern of the Jewish synagogue, 'no temples, no Altars, no sacrifices were known in those days, nor was the name of Priest then heard of'.[53] Stubbe argued that as the Judaic Christians retained many of their Mosaic rituals and laws, so Gentile proselytes encouraged by St Paul retained their pagan ceremonies and beliefs. He wrote; 'Thus Pantemus and Clemens Alexandrinus mixed Stoicism with Christianity, Origen and others Platonism and Peripateticism and I have read of Cynical and Epicurean Christians.' It was from these pagan and 'Ethnick' sources that Christ's deification originated. Christological notions evolved from that of a tempo <124> ral to a 'spiritual Messiah'. It was from these foundations, combined with an admixture of theological speculation and imperial manipulation, that Christian theology abandoned its Judaic heritage and embraced the absurd and abstruse doctrine of Trinitarianism.[54] Sectarianism, superstition and clerical self-advancement was the state of Christianity against which Mahomet was to introduce his renovation.

For Stubbe all religions ought to have had a common foundation in Noachic natural law. Beyond this groundbed the outward formula of religion was irrelevant, as long as it did not contravene the precepts of rationality. He noted that the Moslem worshipped the true God and if there was any error it was 'rather in the manner than the object of their devotion'. The outward form of religion is considered heuristically; any practice may be legitimated as long as it advances true practical piety. Stubbe ended his tract with a controversial point in vindicating the Moslems from erecting Islam upon force of the sword. He did not deny Moslem violence, but justified its employment in the extirpation of idolatry.[55]

While Stubbe had asserted the Nazarene origins of Christianity, John Toland was to argue a powerful scholarly case. Following the promptings of Hobbes' Leviathan (chapter 33), Toland early in his career was interested in the monuments of early Christianity, in particular the origins of the scriptural canon. While Hobbes had thrown doubt on the authenticity of certain Old Testament texts, Toland turned to the New Testament. His earliest statements were in Amyntor: or a defence of Milton's Life (1699). Here Toland quite casually displayed a catalogue of New Testament material, orthodox, apocryphal and downright fictitious. Toland's factual catalogue was an obvious irritant to the orthodox.[56] Toland's general historical point was that the present canon had only been established as late <125> as the council of Laodicea in A.D. 360.[57] In Amyntor Toland had made two casual references that, amplified, became the basis of his important Nazarenus. He discussed the lost Gospel of Barnabas, and described the Nazarenes as the founders of Christianity.

Toland had first been interested in the Nazarenes while under the tuition of Frederic Spanheim, at the University of Leiden. Although the latter was responsible for directing Toland to material on the Nazarenes, as Toland noted, his own opinions 'differ widely from my master in this point'. Toland had begun work on his Nazarenus in 1710, based on the discovery of a manuscript copy of the Gospel of Barnabas.[58] Toland had discovered the manuscript Gospel on his travels through Amsterdam in 1709. We know for certain that the work ended up in the possession of Prince Eugene in Vienna. Toland's contacts with Eugene and the Baron d'Hohendorf perhaps provide an explanation of Toland's knowlege {sic} of the work. Toland was introduced to the work by Jean Frederic Cramer, counsellor to the Prussian King Frederick I, and his ambassador at Amsterdam. Cramer was a learned scholar with distinct anti-Trinitarian leanings. He had edited the Socinian works of Giovanni Michele Bruto in 1698.[59] The manuscript of the Gospel of St Barnabas is of mysterious origins. Western biblical scholarship has long dismissed the work as a mid- to late-medieval forgery.[60] The reception of the Gospel in Muslim scholarship has not seen such an unequivocal assault upon its veracity: the majority of Islamic theologians insist that the Gospel is the only true and uncorrupted Christian text. The work purports to be a true account of the life of Jesus by Barnabas against the false teaching of St Paul who had elevated Christ into a divinity. The work is broadly based upon the New Testament, the Koran, and other unidentifiable interpolations. The most recent and detailed analysis of the manuscript argues that although the work does contain late Islamic and Christian additions it is based upon a <126> substratum of an original gnostic Gospel.[61] The most notable characteristic of the work is its denial of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ arguing that it was Judas who was crucified (itself a Koranic assertion) and that Christ foretold the advent of Mahomet. Toland readily employed this text as evidence, following Stubbe's argument, of the continuity of Judaic, Christian and Islamic theology.[62]

The intention of Nazarenus was to give 'a clearer account, than is commonly to be met, of the Mahometan sentiments with relation to Jesus and the Gospel; insomuch that it is not without sufficient ground that I have represented them as a sort of Christian, and not the worst sort either, tho' far from being the best'. The existence and veracity of the Barnabas Gospel was highly contentious. The rector of St Nicholas', Thomas Mangey, in his Remarks upon Nazarenus (1718), charged Toland with deliberate fraud as an oblique means of undermining the canonicity of Scripture. Toland persisted in refuting the orthodox charge that the Koran was the work of the Nestorian heretic Sergius, suggesting instead that it had its origins in 'the earliest monuments of the Christian religion'. He continued; 'Mahomet is named in this book of Barnabas, as the designed accomplisher of God's economy towards man. Tis in short the ancient Ebionite or Nazarene system, as to the making of Jesus a mere man … and agrees in everything almost with the scheme of our modern Unitarians.' As did Stubbe, Toland deployed the Islamic notion of the succession of the prophets as the authors of new institutions each increasingly perfect, 'tho' in substance it still be one and the same religion'. Toland accepted the Islamic charge that Jesus' prophecy of Mahomet, that he would come 'to complete or perfect all things,' had been erased from Scripture by the priests.[63]

In reply to Toland's assertions Thomas Mangey not only rejected his opinion of the nature of Barnabas' Gospel but also denied Toland's suggestion that the Nazarene sect was the primitive Christian model. Mangey's philology indicated that the term 'Nazarene' had been used pejoratively of early Christian heretics. Mangey continued to postulate that Toland's Nazarenes were in fact the followers of Ebion, a disciple of Simon <127> Magus and Cerinthus. In this manner Mangey attempted to taint not only Toland's primitive model, but also by implication the Moslems, for they drew not upon an orthodox Christian heritage but 'nothing but Arianism or Nestorianism'. Mangey in a general reference to Toland's work wrote, 'his expression of the Mahometan Christianity is the only passage in this book which I do not condemn, provided he would mean by it not the Muselmans on the other side of the water, but the Socinians here. These may truely and properly be termed Mahometan Christians'.[64]

Both Stubbe and Toland turned to a history of Islam to describe their visions of civil religion and to assault Trinitarian Christianity. The connection between the two texts is a moot issue. Thomas Mangey in his critical reply to Toland made reference to Stubbe's work (which he had seen). Mangey was surprised that 'among the many unbelieving books that have been lately published, this should escape'.[65] The idea of a 'Mahometan Christianity' is common to both works, as is the assertion (borrowed from Selden) of the Judaic origins of Christianity, and a devout hostility towards Pauline theology. Both Toland and Stubbe agree that Noachic and universal natural principles are the foundation of all true religion.[66] There is, however, a distinction between the works, both in argument and content. The main thrust of Stubbe's work is historical: Mahomet is advanced as a polemical model of the politic legislator who employed the façade of religious inspiration to create a rational civil theology. Toland's enterprise was on a grander scale. Although Toland employed the same historical framework of the succession of reforming prophets (from Adam to Mahomet) renovating corrupt theological systems back to a groundbed of natural law, his concern was to examine the relations between the three great dispensations (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and of these to the general idea of religion. Toland's work is also a more pronounced work of scholarship. In his discussion of Islam he was able to draw upon a corpus of oriental study that was unused <128> by, or unavailable to, Stubbe. Reland's De Religione Mahomedica Libri Duo (Utrecht, 1705) is repeatedly cited, as are the works of Levinus Warner, Ludovico Marracci and Gabriel Sionita. On the history of Judaism he supplemented Selden's De Synedriis with Jacob Rhenferd's De Fictis Judaeorum et Judaizantium, Stephen Curcelleus' Diatriba de Iesu Sanguinis (Amsterdam, 1659) and Christian Becmannes' {sic} Execitationes Theologica {sic} (Amsterdam, 1643), as well as repeated citations of Grotius, Salmasius and Vossius. Toland importantly also made his own innovative contributions to biblical criticism in his speculations on the Nazarene Gospel of the Hebrews and the Gospel of Barnabas.[67]

Toland's hermeneutical enterprise was grander than mere discussions about the canon: he wished to establish an 'accord' between the economics of the Old and New Testaments, in order to reconcile the disputes between Peter and Paul on circumcision, and Paul and James on faith and works.[68] This scriptural criticism indicates the 'religious' or 'spiritual' premises from which the deist movement extended, rather than being founded in the name of secularization. The general consideration of Toland's work was to focus upon the historical transition from Judaism to Christianity: if the relationship between these two economies could be comprehended then the 'original plan of Christianity' would be displayed. Echoing Selden, the broad theme of Toland's thesis was that Christianity was no more than 'reformed Judaism'. This argument held certain implications for the status of Jewish law. If, as Toland argued, early Christianity was a Judaic institution, did this imply that Christians were bound by the divine Mosaic ceremony and ritual, or could there be a more political explanation of these practices? The biblical context was the dispute between Paul and Peter over the ritual of circumcision: were gentile Christians obliged or exempt (Galatians II, verses 1-9). Paul, as the 'Apostle of the Uncircumcision', contended that Gentiles were exempt not only from circumcision but the whole of the Mosaic law because of the liberty established by the Gospel. In the case of gentile Christians Toland assented to this argument, but when dealing with the Nazarenes or Jewish Christians he insisted the law of Moses was still in force. The distinction between Jewish and gentile Christian was to remain in the Church for ever. <129> Christ himself had merely perfected the Levitical law, and was bound to follow Judaic ritual.[69]

This thesis was contrary to the orthodoxy. Thomas Mangey countered Toland's claims: Christ had repealed and abrogated Mosaic law as insufficient for salvation. The ceremonial law was merely a type and shadow of Christ who had fulfilled it as the Messiah.[70] All Christians qua Christians were in a state of liberty from previous divine injunction. Archbishop Tillotson echoed this general principle in his sermons on Matthew that 'Christianity doth not destroy but perfect the law'. Once again the law was the shadow of faith. The Jewish dispensation was insufficient for man's sanctification and justification, which was only possible through Christ's sacrifice.[71] Toland's premise was different: both Christians and Jews were bound by moral and natural law which Christ had simply republished. This moral, natural or Noachic law was fundamental to all true religion, 'which being one and the same substance from the beginning, tho' in circumstances the institutions of it at different times be different, and consequently more or less perfect'. The Jewish ceremony and ritual was to be considered, 'no less national and political, than religious and sacred: that is to say, the expressions of the history of their peculiar nation'.[72] Here was heresy indeed. Toland implied ultimately that all ceremonial manifestations of religion were no more than mere political and historical device. In the appendix to Nazarenus Toland indicated the radical possibilities of this argument placing it in the context of his much understudied earlier work Origines Judicae (The Hague, 1709). In the appendix he posed two 'problems, Historical, Political, and Theological, concerning the Jewish nation'. The primary and most interesting question was how had the Jews preserved themselves as a 'distinct people' since the time of Moses and their dispersion? While leaving the interrogative tantalizingly open, Toland displayed his admiration for the Republica Mosaica, 'which I admire infinitely, above all forms of government that ever existed. Whether at any time in actual exercise, as those of the Spartans and Romans of old, and now that of the Venetians; or subsisting only in idea, as the Atlantis of Plato, Sir Thomas More's Utopia and such <130> like'.[73] Toland complimented Moses as the paradigm of the politic legislator, 'far superior to Saleus, Charondas, Solon, Lycurgus, Romulus, Numa, or any other legislator'.[74] While Stubbe presented Mahomet as the archetype of the civil theologian, Toland insisted upon Moses' pre-eminence. This was inherently subversive. To the orthodox the Mosaic institutions were the direct product of God; Toland characterized them as the product of human politics.

Toland's brief correspondence with the anonymous S.*** R*** neatly indicates the heresy in his Nazarenus. The letter was composed in reply to the questions posed in Toland's appendix to Nazarenus. If Toland wanted nonprovidential and non-miraculous explanations for the historical unity of the Jewish nation he would find adequate answer in Spinoza's Treatise Partly Theological and Partly Political (English translation 1689).[75] As S*** R*** pointed out, Spinoza argued that the Jewish nation had retained their common identity because of the ceremonial law in general, and in particular because of the ritual of circumcision. As the anonymous author succinctly commented, 'the foundation of the whole seems to be circumcision'.[76]

Spinoza's Treatise Partly Theological and Partly Political was reviled for its innovative biblical criticism by all orthodoxy. Its propositions formed some of the central premises of Toland's Nazarenus. The Old Testament account of the Jewish nation had been interpreted by Spinoza as a straightforward political and historical narration. The Mosaic state was rather a political than religious institution.[77] Spinoza suggested political ends for the Mosaic ceremony: this argument was accepted and adopted by Toland.[78] Moses was a legislator who introduced religious ceremony into his commonwealth not due to divine inspiration but for 'the temporary prosperity of government.[79] Mosaic institutions like circumcision had been instruments to preserve the nation and government: for the Jew the love of nation became an act of piety.[80] If Toland's Spinozist borrowings were not completely <131> evident in Nazarenus they were well displayed in his Origines Judicae (The Hague, 1709), described by William Warburton as a 'senseless dissertation'.[81] Origines Judicae, published in Latin to hide its infidel arguments from the vulgar, is an epitome of Toland's heretical hermeneutic. Toland interpreted the Old Testament account of Moses by the application of ancient pagan texts. The crucial classical work was Strabo's narrative of Moses as a legislator learned in the Egyptian arcana in the Geography (volume VII, pp. 283-9). Toland's one-hundred-page dissertation was simply an extended commentary and justification of Strabo's text. As Toland's correspondence with Leibnitz indicates, this interpretative strategy was unacceptable. Leibnitz wrote: 'Strabon est un auteur grave, mais lors qu'il parle de Moyse, il paroist qu'il prend les actions et les sentimens de ce legislator selon les pretentions et les chimeras des Grècs.'[82] In a later letter Leibnitz reaffirmed this point after Toland had rebutted his challenge to Strabo's authority.[83] Toland rather arrogantly replied; 'I shan't make the least alteration in either Adeisdaemon or the Origines Judicae since the attempts to answer or censure them appear to be as impotent as they were malicious, and therefore have confirm'd others no less than myself in the truth of my allegations.'[84]

Toland argued, along with Strabo, that Moses was in the same tradition as Minos, Lycurgus and Zamolxis. Moses was originally an Egyptian priest educated in the hidden secrets of the prisca theologia which resembled a Spinozist pantheism rather than the orthodox Judaeo-Christian theologies. As Toland explained, again following Strabo;

Mosem enivero fuisse Pantheistam, sive, ut cum recentioribus loquar, Spinosistam, incunctanter affirmat in isto loco Strabo: eum namque exhibet docentam, nullam dari Numen a materia et compage mundi huius distinctum, ipsaque Naturam, sive rerum universitatem, unicum esse et supremum Deum; cuius partes singulas creaturas dicas, et totum, si velis, creatorem.[85]

Another favourite classical source, Diodorus Siculus, was cited to supplement this point. Moses learned in 'omni sapientia Aegyptiorum' calculated a civil theology to lead the Jewish nation to social harmony. The Jews after the exodus from Egypt had been riven with idolatry and superstition, accustomed to corrupt Egyptian practices.[86] While Moses privately enter <132> tained true pantheistical beliefs he established a popular system of ceremony and ritual to accommodate vulgar Jewish inclinations.[87] Such argument was explicitly contrary to orthodox appreciation of Moses as a divinely inspired messenger of God. Instead of a providential explanation of the Jewish religion Toland suggested, as had Stubbe with the history of Islam, that Moses was a man informed by human wisdom alone.

While the Unitarians and their opponents were willing to deploy the history of Islam as a prescriptive or proscriptive model of true religion, this historical pattern was taken one step further in the work of Stubbe and Toland. The step was taken towards such heretical arguments like those contained in the clandestine Traité des Trois Imposteurs, which suggested that Moses, Christ and Mahomet had all been politic legislators employing the façade of divine inspiration for civil ends. For Stubbe and Toland, Mahomet and Moses were legislators founding their principles upon true monotheistic roots. In these early histories of religion, the classical idea of the legislator combined with the notion that religion should be employed for social purposes to become one of the primary roots of civil theology. How such histories of monotheism evolved into fully fledged histories of religion, forming the foundations for the radical idea of civil religion, will be the subject of the rest of this book.[88]

[1] The ideological significance of the Trinity is much ignored in studies of Church politics in the seventeenth century. The assaults of the 1640s and 1650s were treated as profoundly irreligious: see B. Worden, 'Toleration and the Cromwellian Protectorate' in W. J. Shells (ed.), Persecution and Toleration: Studies in Church History 21 (Oxford, 1984).

[2] See, for example, J. E. Force, William Whiston: Honest Newtonian (Cambridge, 1985). See also J. E. Force and R. H. Popkin, Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton's Theology (The Netherlands, 1990), in particular the chapter by Popkin, 'Newton as a Bible Scholar'.

[3] H. R. Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation, and Social Change (1967), 193-237. See M. Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints (Harvard, 1982) for the most cogent assertion of Calvinist radicalism. It is interesting to note that Skinner's investigation into the scholastic origins of Calvinist theories of revolution argues explicitly against Walzer's thesis. H. Davis, Worship and Theology in England from Andrewes to Baxter and Fox 1603-1690 (Princeton, 1975) and J. Redwood, Reason, Ridicule, and Religion: the Age of Enlightenment in England 1660-1750 (1976), 156-76 and passim are typical of the encyclopaedic history of theological debate. See also G. Reedy, The Bible and Reason: Anglicans and Scripture in late Seventeenth-Century England (Philadelphia, 1985); Clark, English Society, 280-2.

[4] J. G. A. Pocock, 'Post-Puritan England and the Problem of the Enlightenment' in P. Zagorin (ed.), Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment (1980), 104-5. For a general discussion of the tradition of civil theology see R. I. Boss, 'The Development of Social Religion: A Contradiction of French Freethought', JHI 33 (1973); C. M. Sheroner, 'Rousseau's Civil Religion', Interpretation 8 (1979).

[5] Leslie, Theological Works, II, 313-14.

[6] See D. A. Paulin, Attitudes to Other Religions (Manchester, 1984) chapter 6, 81-103, 'The Treatment of Islam'; J. J. Saunders, 'Mohamed in Europe: A Note on Western Interpretations of the Life of the Prophet', History 39 (1954); J. Kritzeck, 'Moslem-Christian Understanding in Medieval Times', Comparative Studies in Society and History 4 (1961-2); G. L. Van Roosbroeke, Persian Letters Before Montesquieu (1932); B. P. Smith, Islam in English Literature (Lebanon, 1939); E. Renan, Averroes et Averroisme (Paris, 1852); P. M. Holt, Studies in the History of the Near East (1973), chapters 1-3, and 'Seventeenth-Century Arabic Studies' (unpublished D.Phil. Oxford, 1955); N. Daniel, The West and Islam (Edinburgh, 1980); also R. Southern, The Western View of Islam (Harvard 1962); S. Chew, The Crescent and the Rose (1958). For a more recent analysis, see E. Said, Orientalism (1978), 1-80; A. Hamilton, William Bedwell and the Arabists 1563-1632 (Leiden, 1985); N. O'Brown, 'The Prophetic Tradition', Studies in Romanticism 21 (1982). On the importance of travel literature, see R. W. Franz, The English Traveller and the Movement of Ideas 1660-1732 (New York, 1968); W. G. Rice, 'Early English Travellers to Greece and the Levant' in Essays and Studies (Michigan, 1939); E. K. Shaw, 'The Double-Veil: Travellers' Views of the Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries' in E. K. Shaw and C. J. Heywood (eds.), English and Continental Views of the Ottoman Empire 1500-1800 (Los Angeles, 1972). For important primary sources see Lancelot Addison, Simon Ockley and Joseph Pitts.

[7] B. Lewis, British Contributions to Arabic Studies (1937); A. J. Arberry, The Cambridge School of Arabic (Cambridge, 1948); H. R. Trevor-Roper, William Laud (1965), 273-4.

[8] The cases of Lancelot Addison, Joseph Morgan and Joseph Pitts suggest that there was first-hand knowledge of Islam through trade and pastoral endeavours. See also A. Hamilton, William Bedwell, 94.

[9] Matthew Tindal, in his Rights of the Christian Church (1706), 328, was to use Pococke's research into this text for exactly this purpose.

[10] S. Ockley, History of Saracens, 32, 33. See A. Kararah, 'Simon Ockley' (unpublished Ph.D., Cambridge, 1955).

[11] On Whiston's use of Ockley's research, see Hearne, Remarks and Collections, III, 57, 485. Ockley's academic work is best exemplified in his History of the Saracens (2 volumes, 1708 and 1718), a magisterial work ignored now, but much applauded by Gibbon. The Improvement of Human Reason (1708) is an interesting work which needs separate and extensive examination. The work was originally translated into Latin by Edward Pococke, son of the great Arabist, in 1671. This was followed by the first English translation by the Quaker George Keith in 1674. Interestingly, Henry More commended George Keith as a man 'of a good witt and quick apprehension … very philosophically and platonically given'. More, the Cambridge Platonist, exchanged his own Enchiridion Metaphysicum for Keith's edition of the Oriental Philosophy. See M. H. Nicolson (ed.), The Conway Letters (Yale, 1930), 391-2. A further edition and translation was made by the non-juror George Ashwell in 1688. For a general history of the work, see A. S. Fulton, The History of Hayy Ibn Yockdan (1929). See also L. Kontler, 'The Idea of Toleration and the Image of Islam in Early Enlightenment English Thought' in E. H. Balazs (ed.), Sous le signe des lumlières (Budapest, 1987).

[12] See William Bedwell's Mohamedis Imposturae (1616 and 1624). This work was reported to be a true Muslim text. Its contents belie this claim. See also Isaac Barrow, 'Of the Impiety and Imposture of Paganism and Mahometanism' in A. Napier (ed.), The Theological Works of Isaac Barrow (9 volumes, Cambridge, 1859), V, 411-26.

[13] A. Ross (trans.), Du Ryer's Koran (1688), 'A Needful Caveat', Sig. D2r.

[14] Ibid., 'The Life of Mahomet', vii.

[15] Ibid., 'A Needful Caveat', Sigs. C7v, D2v; 'The Life of Mahomet', i-xviii.

[16] Ibid., 'A Caveat', Sigs. D8r-v; 'Life of Mahomet', 11; for a later translation of the Koran, see G. Sale, The Qu'ran (1734): the Preliminary Discourse of the work is pro-Unitarian. See also A. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (2 volumes, 1955) who points out that Sale introduced 'carefully italicized supplies' in his translation which were intentionally reminiscent of the authorized version of the Bible.


Throughout this chapter, I intend to use the terms 'Socinian' and 'Unitarian' as interchangeable. Both groups stressed the necessity of reason in the evaluation of Scripture, and insisted upon the unity of God undermining the deification of Christ. Stephen Nye in his Brief History of the Unitarians, also called Socinians (1687) pointed out that since the term 'Socinian' had become pejorative he preferred the name 'Unitarian'. For a simple definition of the theological distinction between Orthodox, Socinian and Arian, see D. Williams, A Vindication of the Sermons of His Grace John Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Divinity and Incarnation of our B. Saviour (1695), 2:

The Orthodox hold, that Christ the Word and only begotten of the Father, was truly and really God from all eternity, God by participation of the Divine nature and happiness together with the Father, and by way of derivation from him, as light from the sun; that he made all creatures, and so could no more be a creature, than it is possible for a creature to make itself … The Arians conceive, that sometime before the world was made, God generated the Son after an ineffable manner, to be his instrument and minister in making the World. And this Son is called God in Scripture, not in the most perfect sense, but with respect to the creature whom he made … Socinus held, that the Son was not in being till he was the Son of the Virgin; and that therefore he was a God, not in nature, but by way of office, mission, or representation, as Moses, and others are called God in Scripture.

[18] H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford, 1951), 18; E. Wilbur, History of Unitarianism in Transylvania, England and America (Harvard, 1952), 167-92, 193-5. On J. Biddle, see F. Kenworthy, 'The Toleration Act of 1689', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 7 (1939-42). On Freke, see DNB and L. W. Levy, Treason Against God (New York 1981), 321-2. R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography (3 vols., 1850). A. Gordon, Heads of Unitarian History (1856). R. M. Mongomery, 'A Note on the Acts of Parliament Dealing with the Denial of the Trinity', Transactions of the Unitarian <107> Historical Society 6 (1935-8). R. E. Florida, 'British Law and Socinianism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries' in L. Szczucki (ed.), Socinianism (Warsaw, 1983).

[19] H. J. McLachlan, 'Links between Transylvania and British Unitarians from the Seventeenth Century Onwards', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 17 (1979-82); W. Whittaker, 'The Open Trust Myth', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 1 (1917-18). See C. Leslie, 'Of the Socinian Controversy' in Works, II, 14, for reports of free distribution of Unitarian tracts. Leslie wrote of the Unitarians: 'They have arrived to that pitch of assurance, as to set up public meetings in our halls in London, where some preach in them who have been spewed out even by the Presbyterians for their Socinianism.' Wilbur, Unitarianism, 198-9, 212-14; McLachlan, Seventeenth-Century Socinianism, 285; on Aikenhead, see Levy, Treason Against God, 325-7. Note that Aikenhead was accused of preferring the Islamic scheme over the Christian, in particular he was charged with rejecting the canonicity of Scripture and reading atheistical texts. See T. B. Howell, (ed.), A Complete Collection of State Trials (1812), XIII, 918-39. The best account of the Aikenhead affair is the essay by M. Hunter, 'Aikenhead the Atheist: The Context and Consequences of Articulate Irreligion in the Late Seventeenth Century' in Hunter and Wooton, Atheism. On general background, see Redwood, Reason, Ridicule and Religion, 27-42. On Firmin, see S. Nye, Life of Firmin (1698 and reprinted 1791); H. W. Stephenson, 'Thomas Firmin 1632-1697' (3 volumes, D.Phil. Oxford, 1949), for a hostile contemporary account, see Luke Milbourne, A False Faith not Justified by Care For the Poor Prov'd in a Sermon, 28 August 1698. See also Hearne, Remarks and Collections, I, 102: 'Tho. Firmin … a rank <108> Socinian was a great man with Dr Tillotson Archbp. of Cant. and others of the same leaven promoted by K. William to some of the best dignities and preferments.'

[20] A. Bury, Naked Gospel (1690), Preface, Sig. A3r. Note, it is interesting that Bury's work was published in a double columned format - a style typical of, and identified with, the Unitarian publications such as Firmin financed The Faith of One God (1691).

[21] Bury, Naked Gospel, Preface, Sig. A3v.

[22] Ibid., 8.

[23] W. Freke, Vindication of the Unitarians (1690), 6, 26, 27.

[24] S. Nye, Brief History of the Unitarians, Called also Socinians, 10-11, in The Faith of One God (1691).

[25] S. Nye, Letter of Resolution Concerning the Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation (1695), 11, 12-14, 15-17, 17-18. It is interesting to note that Cudworth's Mosaic thesis was echoed by Charles Leslie in his Socinian Controversy Discussed (1708) in the second dialogue. On Nye's authorship of the Letter of Resolution, see H. McLachlan, 'Seventeenth-Century Unitarian Tracts', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 2 (1919-22), 152-6.

[26] Anon., 'An Epistle Dedicatory to his Illustrious Excellency Ameth Ben Ameth', reprinted in C. Leslie, Theological Works, II, 18-20, 22, 22-23, 23-24.

[27] See J. Harrison and P. Laslett, The Library of John Locke (Oxford, 1971), 70, which shows that Locke possessed the 1649 French translation of the Koran. See D. D. Wallace, 'Socinianism, Justification by Faith, and the Sources of John Locke's The Reasonableness of Christianity', JHI (1984). See de Beer, Correspondence of Locke, V, 86-7, 96, 135-42, 145-7, 172, 207-29, where Locke corresponded with Firmin, Furley and Limborch (himself another suspected Socinian), about the case of a Dutch 'damsel' who had converted to Judaism because of her opposition to the Trinity. The current research of both J. Marshall and R. Iliffe into the theologies of John Locke and Isaac Newton would suggest that Edward's accusations were broadly correct.

[28] J. Edwards, Socinianism Unmasked (1696), 53-4; Edwards also attacked The Letter of Resolution in the same terms in Socinian Creed (1697), 227-8.

[29] F. Fullwood, A Parallel, 19, 23, 25. To reinforce this connection it is worth noting that Peter Browne in his Letter in answer to … Christianity Not Mysterious (1697) commented upon John Toland's attempts, 'certainly by all these promises of so much new light in the world which hath lived in darkness so many hundred years, we can't guess he designs to be no more than head of an ordinary sect, but to be as famous an imposture as Mahomet'. See also R. South, Sermons (3 volumes, 1698), Dedication to Peter Browne, 'But on the contrary amongst [them], when a certain Mahometan Christian (no new thing of late - notorious for his blasphemous denyal of ye 'Mysteries' of our religion, and his insufferable virulence <113> against the whole Christian Priesthood', (note by Toland, BL. Birch 4465, folio 58). See also Toland's answer to Browne's accusation in the same note: 'The Reason for this odd compliment I am yet to learn, unless it be that I can't drink wine enough to pass for orthodoxy with some doctors: for I am by no means for propagating Religion by Force, in which respect the Doctor is a very good Mahometan, how ill a Christian so ever he may be' (Birch 4465, folios 63r, 64).

[30] Leslie, Theological Works, II, 39, 34, 36, 38, 53-4.

[31] Ibid., II, 295-6, 303, 304, 310-11, 314.

[32] C. Leslie, Dissertation Concerning the Use and Authority of Ecclesiastical History in Theological Works, I, 412, and A Short and Easy Method with the Deists in Theological Works, I, 3-8, 9, 10-12, 28-38.

[33] L. Addison, The First State of Mahumedism (1679), 'To the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Williamson', Sig. A2r-v, 26-30, 32, 41, 63, 67, 84, 119, 126-37.

[34] See The Letters of Humphrey Prideaux, 185-7, on the extensive demand for his work.

[35] H. Prideaux, The True Nature of Imposture (1697), xiii, 34, 16, 18-19, 137, 21, 36, 40-7, 14-15, 93, 114-16. For Prideaux's use of orientalist scholarship, see his appended An Account of the Authors Quoted in this Book, 153-80.

[36] H. Prideaux, A Discourse for the Vindication of Christianity (1697), 5, 7, 16-24, 27, 45-7, 131.

[37] Anon., Historical and Critical Reflections (1712), 156, 157, 171, 172-4, 189, 206.

[38] An interesting case of a later Unitarian espousal of Islam is that of Edward Elwall (1676-1744); see DNB. Elwall, a Wolverhampton weaver and colleague of the poet John Byrom, was vociferous in his defence of Unitarianism. He suffered trial and persecution at the hands of his Anglican adversaries. His public profession was for the Ebionite faith, and he adopted a blue mantle: 'a Turkish Habit out of respect to the Unitarian Faith of the Mahometans'. Joseph Priestly, the late eighteenth-century Unitarian, publicized Elwall's struggles. See The Memoirs of Edward Elwall (Liverpool, 1817); E. Elwall, Idolatry Discovered and Detected (1744), and Dagon Fallen Before the Ark of God, Or the Inventions of Men Not Able to Stand before the First Commandment Thou Shall Have No Other Gods But Me (1741); J. Priestly, The Triumph of Truth (1775).

[39] See R. Howard, A Twofold Vindication (1696), 47-8; 'I am certainly informed that the Unitarians in England have no ministry at all; they do not separate from the Church on account of their different opinion from the Church: they never separated in England from the common assemblies to worship; which in my opinion, is pious, charitable and prudent.'

[40] E. Stillingfleet, Mysteries of the Christian Faith Asserted, 333-4, appended to Stillingfleet, A Discourse Concerning Christ's Satisfaction (1696; CUL classmark G.13.2), xx; Fullwood, Socinian Controversy (1693), 23; Edwards, Socinian Creed, 179, and Socinianism Unmasked, 107. See Leslie, Dialogue VI: 'Of the Satisfaction Made by Christ for Our Sins' in 'Of the Socinian Controversy', Theological Works, II, 346-400, and An Answer to the Last Examination of the Last Dialogue Relating to the Satisfaction of Jesus Christ in Theological Works, II, 441-502. See also L. Milbourne, Mysteries of Religion Vindicated (1692), 'Or the Filation, Deity, and Satisfaction of Our Saviour Asserted, against Socinians and Others', especially 639-784, 'Our Lord's Satisfaction Asserted'. On Islamic notions of the role of Christ in the Koran, see G. Parrinder, Jesus in the Qu'ran (1965).

[41] Stillingfleet, Mysteries of the Christian Faith Asserted, 363; Fullwood, A Parallel, 10-11. See Toland, Collections, II, 307 commenting on Jacobite accusations of witchcraft and heresy; 'Well; if magic won't do, heresy must. I am a dangerous anti-trinitarian, for having often publickly declared that I could as soon digest a wooden, or breaden deity, as adore a created spirit or a dignified man. This Socinianism and Arianism are, one would think, very orthodox.'

[42] Leslie, Socinian Dialogues in Theological Works, II, 14, 361; Nye, Brief History of the Unitarians, 33.

[43] Leslie, Theological Works, II, 377, 492; Edwards, Socinian Creed, 185; Historical and Critical Reflections, 157; for a similar analysis of the political implications of non-Trinitarian theologies, see E. Leach and A. Alcock, Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth (Cambridge, 1983), 'Melchisedech: Icons of Subversion and Orthodoxy', 67-89. In particular page 75 on the implications of the distinction between Christ as Incarnation, and Christ as Crucified.

[44] (Abdulla Mahumed Omar,) Mahomet No Impostor in T. Killigrew (ed.), Miscellanea Aurea Or the Golden Medley (1720), 164, 172, 174, 176, 179.

[45] H. Boulainvilliers, Life of Mahomet (1731), 30, passim.

[46] H. Stubbe, An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, ed. H. M. Khan Shairani (Lahore, 1954). See also the appendix of the latter, 'Containing Early Christian Legends and Notions Concerning Islam', 209-254. On Stubbe, see J. R. Jacob, Henry Stubbe, Radical Protestantism and the Early Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1983), and 'The Authorship of An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism' in Notes and Queries 26 (1975), 10-11; C. Hill, The Experience of Defeat (1984); L. Kontler, 'The Idea of Toleration and the Image of Islam in Early Enlightenment English Thought' in E. H. Balazs (ed.), Sous le signe des lumières (Budapest, 1987).

[47] See J. Treglown (ed.), The Letters of Rochester (Oxford, 1980).

[48] See B.L. Add. 23215 f. 77v-82v, 'Muslim Reports'; W. Temple, 'Of Heroick Virtue', Complete Works, I, 220-6, where he applauds Mahomet's fabrication of a theology to promote virtue, and framed to Arian inclinations.

[49] Stubbe, An Account, 86-104.

[50] Stubbe, An Account, 76-87, 153-5, see 153: 'For my part I believe that he was a convert to the judaising Christians and formed his religion as far as possible in resemblance of theirs.' For an earlier and hostile interpretation of Mahomet as a 'politic' legislator, see Francis Osborne Political Reflections upon the Government of the Turks (Oxford, 1662, 3rd edition) and Sir Paul Rycaut's The Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1668). See C. J. Heywood, 'Sir Paul Rycaut, a Seventeenth-Century Observer of the Ottoman State: Note for a Study' in E. K. Shaw, and C. J. Heywood (eds.), English and Continental Views (Los Angeles, 1972), 33-59.

[51] Stubbe, An Account, 93, 101-2, 168, 177, 164, 180-3. It is interesting to note that Boulainvilliers' later work Life of Mahomet (1731) applauded Mahomet unreservedly as a Machiavellian legislator. As I have noted above, this text was translated into English in 1731. The introductory remarks commented on Boulainvilliers' effort, 'he has wiped of the aspersion that deformed his [Mahomet's] character; set him in the fairest point of light; and described this hero, and this orator, with an eloquence equal to his own'. Life of Mahomet (1731), Sig. A2v. Montesquieu used the Life of Mahomet when he applauded Mahomet's institution of polygamy and abstention from pork as laudable civil policy adapted to the conditions of the East. See R. Shackleton, Montesquieu: A Critical Biography (Oxford, 1961); P. Kra, 'Religion in Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes', SVEC 52 (1970). For a later manifestation of this tradition, see E. S. Shaffer, Kubla Khan and the Fall of Jerusalem (Cambridge, 1975), 56-8.

[52] Stubbe, An Account, 16, 26-7. Note also that Toland makes explicit reference to Selden's work in Nazarenus (1718), 30. He wrote, Selden 'has asserted Christianity to be no more than Reformed Judaism'.

[53] Stubbe, An Account, 20.

[54] Stubbe, An Account, 29, 33, 35-48. For anti-Pauline notions, see also Toland, Nazarenus 23-4, 25 on St Paul as an 'apostate from the law'. On Nazarenes, see H. Conzelmann, History of the Primitive Church (1973) (trans. J. Steely), 134-9, Chapter 13 'Jewish Christianity after the Jewish War'; H. Chadwick, The Early Church (1968), 9-32; J. W. C. Wand, A History of the Early Church (1937); see S. Pines, 'The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New Source', Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 2 (1968); R. A. Pritz, 'The Jewish Christian Sect of the Nazarenes' (Ph.D., Hebrew University, 1981).

[55] Stubbe, An Account, 164, 192-205.

[56] See Toland, Amyntor (1699), 20 ff., note at 40; Toland points out that the Gospel of Barnabas is lost; see also Collections, I, 350-403, where Toland updates this earlier catalogue. In this later work Toland proudly (at 355-6) noted that his work was well received by Continental scholars like Fabricius and Pfassius. The intention of the later update was to defend the original discussion from the more orthodox rebuttals like S. Nye, An Historical Account. A Defence of the Canon of the New Testament (1700) and J. Richardson, The Canon of the New Testament Vindicated (1699) (note that I have used the 3rd edition of 1719). Interestingly, both Nye and Richardson objected to Toland's aside (Amyntor, 64) that the 'Nazarenes or Ebionites' were the 'oldest Christians'.

[57] See Amyntor, 57-8. Note that Toland was up to his old tricks again in citing the High Church Dodwell in favour of this argument (see Amyntor, 69-78, where Toland cites and translates Dodwell, Dissertationes Irenicum, paragraphs 38-9). Dodwell was forced to rebut the association in an appended letter to Richardson's attack on Toland.

[58] See Nazarenus, 111; Carabelli Tolandiana, 207-9. Rumours of Toland's discovery were rife; note the alarm occasioned by Francis Hare in 1713; 'as if a new Gospel were to be foisted, I know not how, into the room of the four old ones', Nazarenus, xxv.

[59] J. Cramer (ed.), Opera Varia Selecta De G. M. Bruto (Berlin, 1698). See L. Cirillo and M. Fremaux L'Evangile de Barnabé: recherches sur la composition et l'origine (Paris, 1977), 50-1, where it is suggested that Bruto, 'Grand dénicheur des manuscrits anciens', may have been responsible for the dissemination or conservation of the Gospel of Barnabas. Bruto was Historiographer Royal to King Etienne Bathary of Transylvania.

[60] See L. L. Ragg, The Gospel of Barnabas (Oxford, 1907). W. E. A. Axon, 'On the Mohamedan Gospel of Barnabas' in The Journal of Theological Studies 3 (1901-2), 441-51; L. L. Ragg, 'The Mohamedan Gospel of Barnabas', The Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1904-5), 424-33; J. Fletcher, 'The Spanish Gospel of Barnabas', Novum Testamentum 18 (1976); J. Slomp, 'The Gospel in Dispute', Islamochristiana 4 (1978); D. Sox, The Gospel of Barnabas (1984).

[61] See L. Cirillo and M. Fremaux, L'Evangile de Barnabé, passim.

[62] See Nazarenus, 16, 17-18.

[63] Toland, Nazarenus, III, 5, 6, 9, 13; for a similar analysis of the role of the Gospel of Barnabas, see G. Sale 'Preliminary Discourse' in his translation of the Qu'ran of 1734. See BL Birch 4465 folio 20. Letter to Toland dated 20 June 1720 from Martin Eagle 'a true Ebionite' of Silver Street Cambridge (possibly a lecturer in oriental languages), which complimented Toland on the excellence and 'heroick spirit' of Nazarenus. The impact of Toland's work on the Gospel of Barnabas can perhaps be best considered by comparison with the twentieth-century reception of the work of M. Baigent, R. Leigh and H. Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), and the recent (1987) The Messianic Legacy. Interestingly, the first part of the most recent work deals in detail with early Nazarene Christianity, suggesting Islamic connections, echoing Toland's arguments, see 132-60.

[64] T. Mangey, Remarks upon Nazarenus (1718), 46, 47. See J. Richardson, The Canon of the New Testament Vindicated, 71-8; also the hostile remarks appended to Toland's Collections, II, 'Critical Remarks upon … Nazarenus', which attacked Toland's use of patristic sources, in particular his manipulations of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. Toland defended himself in Mangoneutes: Being a Defence of Nazarenus (1720): again he noted that scholars of the class of Fabricius had acknowledged his work, (at 141, he notes that Fabricius, Apocryphal Code of the New Testament, 3rd volume, 387-94, 'Inserted the whole historical part of Nazarenus without altering or omitting a word').

[65] Mangey, Remarks Upon Nazarenus, 43. Toland (BL. Birch 4465 folios 63-64) compiled a collection of passages to show 'that I am not the first who put Christian and Mahometan together'.

[66] Stubbe and Toland both discuss the paraclete - John 16.7 - as either Isa or the comforter (Stubbe, An Account, 172-4, and Toland, Nazarenus, 13). Both use Epiphanius and Irenaeus (Stubbe, An Account, 18, and Toland, Nazarenus, 78-9). Both have anti-Pauline passages (Stubbe, An Account, 57-61, and Toland, Nazarenus, 25-36). Perhaps Stubbe is more radically Islamic in referring to Jesus throughout his work as Isa - the Qu'ranic phrase.

[67] See D. Patrick, 'Two English Forerunners of the Tübingen School: Thomas Morgan and John Toland', Theological Review 14 (1877). See also Graf Reventlow, 'Judaism and Jewish Christianity in the Works of John Toland', Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish Studies 3 (1977); M. Wiener, 'John Toland and Judaism', Hebrew Union College Annual 16 (Cincinnati, 1941); R. S. Wolper, 'Circumcision as Polemic in the Jew Bill of 1753', Eighteenth Century Life 7 (1982); for Toland's later influence, see Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86) in A. Jospe (ed.), Jerusalem and other Jewish Writings (New York, 1969), 124-6; and M. Pelli, 'The Impact of Deism on the Hebrew Literature of the Enlightenment in Germany' Eighteenth Century Studies 6 (1972-3).

[68] Toland, Nazarenus, Preface, vii-viii.

[69] Ibid., 31-6, 37-40.

[70] Mangey, Remarks upon Nazarenus, 64, 71, 73-84, 95.

[71] J. Tillotson, Sermons (4 volumes, 1704), IV, 85ff., 113ff.

[72] Toland, Nazarenus, 30, 38, 65-7. Toland's political analysis of Jewish law formed the basis for his liberal arguments for naturalizing the Jews in his Reasons for Naturalising the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland (1714). It is to be noted here that Toland was echoing the proposition of his Republican mentor Harrington who argued in Oceana that the Jews should be allowed to resettle Ireland while retaining their own religion and rituals. S. B. Liljegren in 'Harrington and the Jews', K. Humanisticka Vetenskapssam 4 (1931-2), argues that this was indicative of Harrington's liberal tolerationist ideals. The recent work of D. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Re-admission of the Jews to England (Oxford, 1982) in discussing the millennarian and conversionist schemes of the 1650s portrays Harrington as arguing for readmission on economic grounds (31, 240). Harrington's deliberate eschewal of converting the Jewish nation seems to fit uneasily with Pocock's millennarian interpretation.

[73] Toland, Nazarenus, Appendix 1; see also Toland, Collections, II, 392, Toland to Leibnitz, 14 February 1710, on Toland's intention to write a large study of the Republica Mosaica; and Toland, Hodegus (1720) as an extract of this larger work.

[74] Toland, Nazarenus, Appendix 8. Note that Harrington placed Moses firmly in the same tradition of politic legislators, and saw nothing wrong in doing so: see Toland Works of Harrington (1700), 178, 407. For Harrington human prudence was at the same time both natural and divine. Note that this was contrary to orthodox Hebraic scholarship such as Peter Cunaeus, Of the Commonwealth of the Hebrews (1653) - a work which Harrington had read - which insists, at pages 2-3, 'that the Greek Legislators, compared to Moses are but of yesterday'. Importantly Rousseau in the Social Contract, II, chapter 7, 'The Legislator', recommends the model of Moses to the 'true political theorist', at 197.

[75] Toland, Collections, II, (S*** R*** to Toland, 10 July 1720), 448-52. Note the passage S*** R*** recommends Chapter 3 of Spinoza's work.

[76] Toland, Collection, II, 452.

[77] B. Spinoza, Treatise Partly Theological and Partly Political (1689), chapter 3, 64-6.

[78] Ibid., chapter 5, 104-5.

[79] Ibid., 103, 105, 115-17.

[80] Ibid., 357, 382. Spinoza commented (79-80) 'that only the sign of circumcision may be able to perpetuate the nation'. See J. Schwartz, 'Liberalism and the Jewish Connection: A Study of <131> Spinoza and the Young Marx', Political Theory 13 (1985); P. Slyomovics, 'Spinoza: Liberal Democratic Religion', Journal of the History of Philosophy 23 (1985).

[81] W. Warburton, Divine Legation of Moses (4 vols., 4th edition, 1765), II, 219.

[82] Toland, Collections, II (Leibnitz to Toland, April 30 1709), 383.

[83] Ibid., II, 401.

[84] Ibid., II, 390, Toland to Leibnitz, 14 February 1710.

[85] J Toland, Origines Judicae (The Hague, 1709), 104, 117. For a general discussion, see D. B. Sailor, 'Moses and Atomism', JHI 25 (1964).

[86] Toland, Origines Judicae 140, 146-7 citing Tacitus, Histories, V, which is also used in C. Blount's Oracles of Reason (1693), 'Letter to Major A Concerning the Origins of the Jews', 129-32.

[87] Toland, Origines Judicae, 155.

[88] There is a later development of this radical interpretation of Islam which needs further treatment elsewhere. The important works are: J. Morgan, Mahometanism Fully Explain'd … Written in Spanish and Arabick in the Years MDCIII for the Instruction of Moriscoes in Spain (2 volumes, 1723-5). This purported to be a literal translation of a manuscript composed by Mahomet Rabadan and deposited in Harley's collection. It is most likely a forgery. The list of subscribers includes Anthony Collins and Barnham Goode. The first volume was perceived by the public as a 'burlesque upon Scripture'. Morgan also composed a two-volume history of Algiers (1728). Other important works are 'Zelim Musulman' (A. Radicati), A Parallel Between Mahumed and Sosem (1732) and Reflections on Mohamedism, and the Conduct of Mohamed (1735). Note that J. S. Mill in On Liberty in M. Warnock (ed.), Utilitarianism (1979), 177-8, applauds the moral precepts of the Koran over the New Testament. See for a later discussion J. Rendell, 'Scottish Orientalism from Robertson to James Mill', HJ 25 (1982).

© 2013 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

University of Sussex, East Sussex - BN1 9SH - newtonproject@sussex.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

Sponsored by:

  • University of Sussex
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC