‘Behold the fear of the Lord’: The Erastianism of Stillingfleet, Wolseley,and Tillotson

  • Jan W. Wojcik
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 148)


Fear, according to the thesis expressedin The three impostors, is the origin of religion. The author (if there is a single author) of the treatise goes on to explain that in their ignorance of natural causes, men have been frightened by such apparently inexplicable events as earthquakes and illnesses and have imagined that invisible powers are responsible for these evils. Thinking these powers to have immediate and complete control over nature, men have tried to appease them and gain their favor. Princes and priests have capitalized upon this fear and the hope born of fear by nurturing these seeds of religion, the former to support their own authority and the latter to enrich their own purses. These cunning men have used religion to keep the vulgar in submission and awe, and their cheat has been facilitated by the ambition and avarice of certain individuals (most notably Jesus, Moses, and Mahomet) who have pretended to be friendly with and to have received laws from the invisible powers.2


Present Essay Late Sixteenth Manuscript Version State Church Political Origin 
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  1. 2.
    For The three impostors I have relied upon Stowe MS 47 in the British Library.Google Scholar
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    Dictionary of national biography, for all three men.Google Scholar
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    In his True intellectual system of the universe (London, 1678) Ralph Cudworth included an exposition similar to the ones considered in this essay. I have not discussed it in the present essay because of the excellent treatment given it by Richard H. Popkin, `The crisis of polytheism and the answers of Vossius, Cudworth, and Newton’, in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (ed.), Essays on the nature, context, and influence of Isaac Newton’s theology ( Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990 ), 16–20.Google Scholar
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    Stillingfleet mentions Hobbes only once in the 1662 edition of Origines sacrae, in a context not directly related to the thesis that religion is a political contrivance. (He argues that imagination—as defined by Hobbes —cannot account for reflective acts of the mind upon itself (pp. 414–18)) In his 1697 revision of the work, however, he does explicitly associate Hobbes with this thesis: Works (London, 1709), v: 41, 63, 66, and passim (differently paginated from the 8th edn. of Origines sacrae).Google Scholar
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    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651), 51. Hobbes, of course, excludes Moses, Jesus Christ, and the Apostles from any imputation of imposture (p. 54). The question of Hobbes’s personal religious beliefs need not concern us here; in the eyes of the 17th-c. Anglicans with whom we are concerned in this essay he was an `atheist.’Google Scholar
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    There can be no doubt of Wolseley’s Erastianism, but it does have limits. In his part], proving, that no prince nor state ought by force, to compel men to any part of the doctrinechrw(133) (London, 1681 [“By a Nameless, yet an Approved Author” appears on the title page; the “Second Part” was written by Francis Bugg]) he argued that subjects must obey a Christian magistrate; indeed, they must obey even a heathen magistrate (25–6). But a Christian magistrate’s power should be `improved’ by the light of Christianity (24), and this improvement precludes the forceful imposition of `any part of the Doctrine, Worship or Discipline of the Gospel’ (So). The Christian magistrate must remove all oppressions to Christianity and must see that the Gospel be preached. But `as Christs chief Officer in the World’ he must do these things `under the Gospel in the manner Christ hath appointed’ (43–6; quote on 46). To use force in religious matters is contrary to the example set by Christ, and therefore the magistrate should not use temporal power to wound liberty of conscience (49–50). Despite these reservations, it should be noted that Wolseley is pleading for toleration on the part of the magistrate, not denying the subject’s duty to obey an intolerant one.Google Scholar
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    Well may we then look upon the power of Magistracy, as the greatest and most transcendant of all humane things, and pay the due tribute of all Soveraign Power of God, exercised in a way of Vicegerency amongst men, and that wherein the peace and quiet of mankind is most necessarily included.’ Wolseley, De christiana libertate, 19.Google Scholar
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    In his first sermon, `The duty and reason of praying for governours’, Tillotson considered the possibility that the state religion is false. Although individuals in the past may have suffered under non-Christian rulers, Tillotson argues that St Paul, realizing that the majority of people benefit from even a non-Christian government (which provides security in interests and possessions), left instructions for those who find themselves in that situation when he urged Christians to pray for `kings and for all that are in authority’ (i Timothy 2:12). We should not forget God’s power and the efficacy of prayer, Tillotson urges. In the case of the early Christians, prayer was answered, and prophecies that kings and princes would `become nursing fathers to the church’ were fulfilled; Works (London, 1728), n: igo. (Hobbes, of course, would have agreed with Tillotson in urging prayer rather than civil disobedience, but Tillotson would have judged Hobbes to be insincere.)Google Scholar
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    Stowe MS 47, fo. 17v.Google Scholar
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    Hunter discusses the significance of `the juxtaposition of an exaggerated “atheist” stereotype with the sense of an inexorable continuum from mild to extreme infidelity’ in `Problem of “Atheism”, pp. 153–4.Google Scholar
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    Tillotson, Sermons preach’d, 192–3.Google Scholar
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    Wolseley, De christiana libertate, 41.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan W. Wojcik
    • 1
  1. 1.Auburn UniversityUSA

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