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Avoiding Deism’s “high Priori Road”: A Catholic Sensibility and a Layman’s Faith

  • G. Douglas Atkins
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Abstract

Pope’s persistent and often central concern with parts–whole also bears important religious and theological implications. Its appearance—as a form of inclusivism—in the layman’s faith tradition is of particular importance in “The Universal Prayer,” often thought to be Deistic. Commentators since Pope’s own time have charged Pope with being a “closet” Deist, although close attention to his poems alongside Deistic writing reveals critical differences. He himself resisted efforts to convert him from the Roman Catholicism into which he was born (and for which he suffered not a little). As he said to his friend Francis Atterbury, an Anglican bishop, he was, and remained, “a Catholick in the strictest sense.” Rather than Deistic, Pope’s work is “catholic”.

Keywords

Natural Religion Orthodox Theology Modern Philology Theological Implication Pastoral Poetry 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See my The Faith of John Dryden: Change and Continuity (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Dryden, Religio Laici (London, 1683).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    John Dryden, Poems and Fables, ed. James Kinsley (London: Oxford UP, 1962).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    William Warburton, quoted in notes to “The Universal Prayer,” the Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, Vol. 6, Minor Poems, ed. Norman Ault and John Butt (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1939), 150.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    “The Universal Prayer,” ibid.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    According to Bolingbroke’s own statement in the introduction to his philosophical writings, it is chronologically impossible for him to have influenced more than a part of the fourth and last epistle of An Essay on Man; see Maynard Mack’s introduction to the poem in the Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, Vol. 3-1, An Essay on Man, which he edited (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1950), xxiv ff. and Appendix A, p. 169. At length and in considerable detail, I have assessed the arguments pro and con for Deism in Pope; see “Pope and Deism: A New Analysis,” Huntington Library Quarterly 35 (1972), 257–78; this piece, to which I am much indebted here, was reprinted in Pope: Recent Essays (The Essential Articles Series), ed. Maynard Mack and James A. Winn (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1980), 392–415, 823–28.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The “irreconcilability” of these passages with orthodox theology is argued by Patrick Cruttwell, “Pope and His Church,” Hudson Review 13 (1960–61), 392–405.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The text for An Essay on Man used throughout is the Twickenham Edition, Vol. 3-1.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, trans. James P. Pettegrove (Austin: U of Texas P, 1953), 35.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Quoted in ibid., 20.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ernest C. Mossner, Bishop Butler and the Age of Reason (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 39.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation: or, The Gospel, A Republication of the Religion of Nature (London, 1730), 157.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Charles Blount, The First Two Books of Philostratus, concerning the Life of Apollonius Tyaneus (London, 1680), 1:20.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation, e.g., 164, 183, 198–99, and 332. Tindal implies that the notion of things being “above reason” is due to priestcraft (198–99).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Anthony Collins, An Essay concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions, the Evidence Whereof Depends upon Human Testimony (London, 1707), 24–25.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid., 29.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., 334.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Tindal, Christianity as Old as Creation, 332.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    R.S. Crane, “Anglican Apologetics and the Idea of Progress, 1699–1745,” Modern Philology 31 (1934), 282.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    E. Graham Waring, Deism and Natural Religion: A Source Book (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1967), x.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Douglas H. White, Pope and the Context of Controversy: The Manipulation of Ideas in “An Essay on Man” (Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1970), ii, n. 4.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Robert W. Rogers, The Major Satires of Alexander Pope, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 40 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1955), 55.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    For a different view of the “extremes,” see Nancy K. Lawlor, “Pope’s Essay on Man: Oblique Light for a False Mirror,” Modern Language Quarterly 28 (1967), 305–16. Lawlor maintains that Deism does in fact appear in the Essay on Man. She finds it “throughout the four epistles.” As evidence she cites such facts as that “there is no direct claim for the need of supernatural revelation,” that “there is no mention of Christ,” and that “there is no expressed concern for the fate of the soul after death” (308–9). It is precisely this failure to discriminate carefully among positions, to note exactly what Deists said and what Pope said, that has so long clouded the issues regarding Pope’s religious position. Lawlor goes on to argue for a tension between Deism and Christianity in the Essay and to conclude, in finding the poem in agreement with Thomist doctrine, that Pope tries to reveal a course that both Deism and revealed religion share. The Essay on Man defends, she says, revealed religion. For further rebuttal of her last two pieces of “evidence” for Deism in the Essay, see White, Pope and the Context of Controversy, esp. p. 125.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. George Sherburn Oxford: Clarendon P, dy1936), 1.454.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid., 1.453–54.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See the Twickenham Edition of The Poems of Alexander Pope, Vol. 1, Pastoral Poetry and “An Essay on Criticism,” ed. E. Audra and Aubrey Williams (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1961), 304n.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    The Twickenham Edition of The Poems of Alexander Pope, Vol. 5, The Dunciad, ed. James Sutherland, 1943 (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1965). I have cited the 1728 poem from this edition because it is not included in the Riverside Edition on which I have generally relied.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Arthur Friedman, “Pope and Deism (The Dunciad, IV, 459–92),” Pope and His Contemporaries: Essays Presented to George Sherburn, ed. James L. Clifford and Louis A. Landa (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1949), 92.Google Scholar

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© G. Douglas Atkins 2013

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