J. M. (John Mackinnon) Robertson.

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BUCKLE AND HIS CRITICS : a Sociological Study.

THE SAXON AND THE CELT : a Sociological Study.

MODERN HUMANISTS: Studies of Carlyle, Mill, Emer-
son, Arnold, Ruskin, and Spencer.

THE FALLACY OF SAVING : a Study in Economics.

THE EIGHT HOURS QUESTION : a Study in Economics.

THE DYNAMICS Of'^RELIGION : an Essay in English
Culture-History. (By " M. W. Wiseman.")





















Vol. I.

New \\ikk :



1 90')

13 '-
'a.n 5







Preface to Second Edition - - - - - xi

Preface to First Edition . - . . . xiv

Chap. I. — Introductory.

§ I. Origin and Meanins^ of the word Froolhoiig-lit - i

§ 2. Previous histories - - - lo

§ 3. The Psychology of PVeethinkingf . - - 16

Chap. II. — Primitive Freethinking.

Ji I. Anthropological data - - - 35

§ 2. Historical data " " " " " 35

Chap. III. — Progress under Ancient Religions.

^ 1. Early Association and Competition of Cults - 42

Jj 2. The Process in India - - - 46

i^ 3. Mesopotamia - - - 60

J) 4. Ancient Persia - - - 65

$i 5- E§rypt - - - - 69

§ 6. Phoenicia - - - 75

§ 7. Ancient China - - - 80

S 8. Mexico and Peru - - - 87

§ 9. The Common F'orces of Degeneration - - 91

Chap. I\'. —Relative Freethought in Israel.

§ I. The earl}- Hebrews - - - g6

§ 2. The manipulated proplietic literature - - 103

S 3. The post-Exilic literature - - - - 1 10

Chap. V. — Freethought in Greece - - - - 122

i; I. Beginnings of Ionic Culturi! - - - - 124

S 2. Homer, Stesichoros, Pindar, and .lischylus - 128

i^ 3. The Culture-Conditions - - - - 136

§ 4. From Thales to the Eleatic School - - - 139

Jj 5. Pythagoras and Magna Graecia - - - 147

S 6. Anaxagoras, Perikles, and Aspasia - - - 152

§ 7. From Demokritos to Euripides - - - 157

!:; 8. Sokrates, Plato, and .'\ristotle - - - 165
.5; 9. Post-Aloxandrian Greece : Ephoros, Pyrriio, Zeno,
Epicurus, Theodores, Diagoras, Stilpo, Bion,
Strato, Evemeros ; The Sciences ; Advance and
Decline of Astronomy ; Lucian, Soxtus Enipiricus,

Polybius, Strabo ; Summary- ... 175


Chap. VI. — Freetholght in Ancient Rome.

;' 5. Anti-christian thought : its decline. Celsus. Last
lights of critical thought. Macrobius. Theo-
dore. Photinus. The expulsion of science. The
appropriation oi pagan endowments - - 238

J:; 6. The intellectual and moral decadence. Boethius - 247

Chap. VIII. — Freethought under Islam.

S I. Mohammed and his contemporaries. Early " Zen-

dekism " - - - - - - -254

S 2. The Influence of the Koran - - - - , 258

§ 3. Saracen freethought in the East. The Motazilites. ^

The Spread of Culture. Intellectual Collapse - 260

>; 4. El-Marri and Omar Khajyim . . . 269

>i 5. Arab Philosophy and Moorish freethought. Avem-

pace. Abubacer. Averroes. Ibn Khaldun - 273

S 6. Rationalism in later Islam. Sufiism. Babism in
contemporary Persia. Freethinking in Moham-
medan India and Africa . - - - 280

Chap. IX. — Christendom in the Middle Ages - - 286

§ 1. Iconoclasm. Leo. Photius. Michael - - 286

§ 2. The early Paulicians - - - 288

S 3. Virgilius. Claudius. Agobard. John Scotus.
The case of Gottschalk. Berengar. Roscelin.
Nominalism and Realism. Heresy in Florence
and in France - - - . . - 291

§ 4. The Paulicians (Cathari) in Western Europe : their
anticipation of Protestantism. Abuses of the
Church and Papacy. Vogue of anti-clerical
heresy. Peter de Brueys. Eudo. Paterini.
Waldenses - - - 306

§ 5. The crusade against Albigensian heresy. Arrest
of Provencal civilisation : Rise and character of
the Inquisition - - - 317

S 6. Freethought in the Schools : The problem set to
Anselm. Testimony of Giraldus Cambrensis :
Simon of Tournay. Abailard. John of Salisbury 326

Ji 7. Jews. Ibn Ezra. Averroists. Amalricli. David


of Dinant. Thomas Aquinas. Unbelief at Paris
University. Suppressive action of the Church.
Judicial torture . . . . ^i^j

Chap. X. — Freethought in the Renaissance.

§ I. The Italian Evolution. Saracen Sources. Frederick

II. Manfred. Piero of Abano. Dante on \\\\

belief in a future state. His own influence.

Cecco d'Ascoli. Boccaccio. Petrarch. Antr^^ "

clericalism. Discredit of the church. The

papal schism. Lorenzo Valki. Masaccio.

Pulci. Executions for blasphemy. Averroi'sm.
Nifo. Platonism. Pico della Mirandola. Mac-
hiavelli. Guicciardini. Pomponazzi. The sur-
vival of Averroi'sm. Jewish freethought - 343

g 2. Popular Evolution in Europe.

Popular anti-clericalism. Reynard the Fo.x.
Subsistence of faith. The Brethren of the
Free Spirit. Beguines and Betjhards. Fran-
ciscans and Dominicans. Abbot Joachim. The
Everlasting Gospel. Segarelli. Dolcino. The
Spirit of Liberty sect ' . . . - 371

§ 3. Thought in Spain.

Misconceptions as to Spanish evolution. Early
heresy. Alfonso the Wise. Arnaldo of Villa-
nueva. Averroi'sm. The New or Spanish Inqui-
sition. The terrorism of Torquemada - - 380

g 4. Thought in England.

Roger Bacon. His intellectual iniportancer - -.,^^^^
Hints of freethinking in Chaucer. Piers
Ploughman. LoUardry. Wiclif and anti-
Scripturists. Reginald Pecock - - - 387

§ 5. Thought in France.

Political Conditions. New Universities. Italian
influences. Popular ferment. Chivahy and
the Knights Templars. Freemasons. Higher
Thought. Occam. Marsiglio. Aureol. Durand.
Freethinking at Paris University. Nicolaus
of Autricuria . . . . . 396

§ 6. Thought in the Teutonic Countries.

Popular poetry. Oflicial orthodoxy. Master
Eckhart. Nicolaus of Cusa. Heresy in the
Netherlands. Raymund of Sebonde. Hermann
van Ryswyck. Astrology in the Renaissance.
Summary ...-.- 405

Chap. XI. -The Reformation, Politically Consioered.

§ I. The German Conditions - - - - 413

§ 2. The Problem in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands - 417




§ 3-

The Hussite Failure in Bohemia



§ 4.

Anti-Papalism in Hungary . - -



§ 5.

Protestantism in Poland . - -



§ 6.

The Struggle in France . - -



§ 7-

The Political Process in Britain



Chap. XII.

— The Reformation and Freethought.

§ I-

Germany and Switzerland



§ 2.

England . . . . .



§ 3-

The Nethedands ... -



§ 4-

Conclusion . . . - -




Although the first edition of this work, consisting of
I, GOO copies, was exhausted within a year of its pubHca-
tion (1899), it has not been reprinted, by reason of the
author's dissatisfaction with its incompleteness. Origi-
nally planned as a mere sketch, reproducing a course of
lectures, it approached, in the process of writing, some-
what to the character of a detailed and precise though
curt record. Its omissions, however, were still so
numerous that the author, on retrospect, determined to
re-write the work before re-issuing it. The new edition,
accordingly, is greatly expanded in every section, by
many hundreds of specific additions. A number ot
chapters are more than doubled in length, new chapters
r\ are inserted, and the book, which now appears in tAvo
"^ volumes, is more than twice its former size, though, the
\ author hopes, it still preserves the character of conden-
^ sation. At the same time it has of course been
scrupulously revised with regard to accuracy.

That it is still an inadequate survey of a great field,
no one, perhaps, knows much better than the author.
The scheme, even when limited as far as may be by a
tolerably strict definition, involves some approach to an
outline of the history of human progress on the side of
the intellectual life ; and the immensity of that under-
taking may be inferred from the fact that the late Lord
Acton, a prodigy of erudition, who spent many years of
his life in gathering materials for a "History of Liberty,"


died without beginning- to compile it. It seems better
to put forth even a sHght record, of a connected kind,
written from a sociological standpoint, than to wait for
the advent of one who shall unite with Lord Acton's
learning and more untrammelled sympathies the pro-
ductive industry of the hardly less learned Mr. Lea.
The author has found even his own first sketch a help
— by way of skeleton — towards the arrangement of a
larger amount of material ; and he is fain to hope that
some more leisured student may find the present recast
not wholly useless towards a greater end. Every year,
the literature of the subject extends ; and while this
edition has been passing through the press the author
has met with new or recent works which, had he been
able to utilise them, would probably have enabled him
to improve some sections. Among these maybe named
La Critique des traditions 7'eligieiises cliez les grccs, by
Professor Paul Decharme ; Professor Parker's China
and Religion, and Dr. Hubert Rock's Der Unverfdlschte

The main difficulty in historical writing is arrange-
ment ; and the author is conscious of being often hard
pressed by it in the following survey. There is at
least some improvement in the present edition ; and
where a strictly chronological order is not adopted, it is
generally in consideration of the countervailing advan-
tages from another arrangement.

What was most often complained of as defective in
the first edition — the chapter on freethought in the
nineteenth century — was relatively scanty for the two
sufficient reasons that the extent of the subject-matter
made impossible, in a "short" history, any save a
generalised treatment, and that a highly qualified
student was, to the writer's knowledge, engaged on a
detailed record. The same reasons still subsist ; and


the chapter, though expanded like the others, remains
relatively brief, the author being of opinion that, while
a complete separate history is clearly a desideratum, the
account given of the crowded nineteenth century need
not in a general survey be so fully particularised as that
of previous periods, the intellectual history of which is
much less generally accessible. Indeed, any larger
scale of treatment would easily have carried the present
work into a third volume.

The author has to thank several friends for pointing
out inaccuracies in the first edition — an assistance
hardly ever rendered by hostile critics. And specially
he has to thank Mr. Ernest Newman for a species of
laborious service repeatedly received at the same hands
— that of a careful reading of the proofs.

November, IQO^.


Short histories are perhaps not among the best of
discipHnes ; and the History of Freethought is at least
as hard to write justly or master intelligently in short
compass as any other. At the same time, the concise
history, which is a different thing from the epitomes
denounced by Bacon, has its advantages ; and I have
striven in this case to guard somewhat against the
disadvantages by habitual citation of authorities, and
by the frequent brief discussion, in paragraphs in smaller
type, of disputed and theoretical matters. These dis-
cussions can be skipped by the unleisured reader, and
weighed by the student, at pleasure, the general narrative
in larger type going on continuously.

Such a book could not be written without much use
of the works of specialists in the history of religion and
philosophy, or without debt to many other culture-
historians. These debts, I think, are pretty fully indicated
in the notes ; from which it will also appear, I hope, that
I have striven to check my authorities throughout, and to
make the reader aware of most occasions for doubt on
matters of historic fact. The generalisation of the subject-
matter is for the most part my own affair. I must
acknowledge, however, one debt which would not other-
wise appear on the face of the book — that, namely, which
I owe to my dead friend, J. M. Wheeler, for the many
modern clues yielded by his Biographical Dictionary of
Freethinkers^ a work which stands for an amount of


nomadic research that only those who have worked over
the ground can well appreciate.

Among the many difficulties which press on the writer
of such a work as the present, is that of setting up a
standard of inclusion and exclusion. Looking back, I am
conscious of some anomalies. It would on some counts
have been not inappropriate, for instance, to name as a
practical freethinker Leonardo da Vinci, who struck
out new paths on so many lines of science. On the other
hand, ono, might be accused of straining the evidence
in claiming as a freethinker a man not known to have
avowed any objection to the teaching of the Church.
Difficulties arise, again, in the case of such a writer as
Cardan, who figured for orthodox apologists as a
freethinker, but who seems to make more for credulity
than for rational doubt ; and in the case of such a writer
as the pro-ecclesiastical Campanella, who, while writing
against atheism, and figuring only in politics as a
disturber, reasons on various issues in a rationalistic
sense. I can but press the difficulty of drawing the
line, and admit ground for criticism. It has been
remarked by Reuss that Paulus, a professed rationalist,
fought for the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the
Hebrews in the very year in which Tholuck, a recon-
verted evangelical, gave up the Pauline authorship as
hopeless ; that when Schleiermacher, a believer in
inspiration, denied the authenticity of the Epistle to
Timothy, the rationalist Wegscheider opposed him ;
and that the rationalist (of a sort) Eichhorn maintained
the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch long after the
supernaturalist Vater had disproved it.' Analogous
anomalies will be found noted in our text ; but it cannot
be pretended that all even of the prominent cases of

' Reuss, History of the Canon, Eng. trans. 1890, p. 3S7.


incidental freethinking on the part of the nominally-
orthodox are recorded ; and I cannot pretend to be able
to detect all the cases of undue conservatism among" the
professed freethinkers. It must suffice to try to note the
general movement.

Another anomaly to be apologised for is the incon-
sistency in the spellings of some Greek and other proper
names. My first intention was to spell all courageously
after the originals ; but, like so many others, I found
myself constrained to compromise. Mr. John Owen, I
find, had the courage for Pyrrhon and Zenon, but not
for Platon. It is easy to write Sokrates ; but if we
speak of Loukianos we are apt to miss, with many
readers, the first purpose of history. It had perhaps
been better, in such a work as the present, to abide by
all the old conventions, grievous as they often are.

The relative brevity with which the manifold free-
thought of the nineteenth century is treated in the
concluding chapter has been a disquietude to me, and
may be to some readers a grievance. It was, however,
quite impossible for me to exceed a summary account
without entirely over-balancing the volume ; and on
all accounts the history of rationalism in the modern
scientific period seems to need a volume to itself.
Despite much labour spent on scrutiny, there doubtless
remain in the following chapters only too many errors
and oversights. Any specifications of these will be
gratefully received.

April, i8gg.

A Short History of Freethought

Chapter I.

§ I. Origin and Meaning of tlie Word.

The words " freethinking " and " freethinker " first
appear in English literature about the end of the seven-
teenth century, and seem to have originated there and
then, as we do not find them earlier in French or in
Italian,' the only other modern literatures wherein the
phenomena for which the words stand had previously

The title of "atheist" had been from thne immemorial
appHed to every shade of serious heresy by the orthodox, as
when the early Christians were so described by the image-
adoring polythelsts around them ; and in Latin Christendom
the term infuielis, translating the dTria-ros of the New Testa-
ment, which primarily applied to Jews and pagans, was easily
extensible, as in the writings of Augustine, to all who challenged
articles of ordinary Christian belief, all alike being regarded as
consigned to perdition.- The label of " deist," presumably self-
applied by the bearers, begins to come into use in French about
the middle of the sixteenth century ;3 and that of " naturalist,"
also presumably chosen by those who bore it, came into currency
about the same time. Lechler traces the latter term in the
Latin form as far back as the MS. of the Heptaplomeres of
Bodin, dated 1588 ; but it was common before that date, as De
Mornay In tlie preface to his De la Vcrilc de la religion Chrctienne

' Cp. Lechler, Geschichte des englischen Deismus, 1841, p. 458; A. S.
Farrar, Critical History of Freethought, 1862, p. 588; Larousse's
Dictionnaire, art. LiBRE PENSEE ; Sayous, Lcs ddistes anglais ct le Chris-
tianisme, 1882, p. 203.

'' Cp. Luke xii. 46 ; Tit. i, 15 ; Rev. xxi, 8.

3 Bayle, Dictionnairc, art. ViRET, A^ote D.


(1581) declaims "against the false naturalists (that is to say,
professors of the knowledge of nature and natural things)"; and
Montaigne In owq of his later essays (1588) has the phrase
'■'■nous autres naticralistes.''''^ Apart from these terms, those
commonly used in French in the seventeenth century were
esprit fort and libertm, the latter being used in the sense of a
religious doubter by Corneille, Moliere, and Bayle.-

It seems to have first come into use as one of the hostile
names for the " Brethren of the Free Spirit," a pantheistic and
generally heretical sect which became prominent in the thirteenth
century, and flourished widely, despite destructive persecution,
till the fifteenth. Their doctrine being antinomian, and their
practice often extravagant, they were accused by Churchmen of
licentiousness, so that in their case the name Libertini had its
full latitude of application. In the sixteenth century the name
of Libertines is found borne, voluntarily or otherwise, by a
similar sect, probably springing froni some remnant of the first,
but calling themselves Spiritiiales, who came into notice in
Flanders, were favoured in France by Marguerite of Navarre,
sister of Francis I., and became to some extent associated with
sections of the Reformed Church. They were attacked by
Calvin in the treatise Conti'e la secte fanatique et furieuse des
Lihertins (1544 and 1545). 3 The same name oi Libeftini wa.s in
time either fastened on or adopted by the main body of Calvin's
opponents in Geneva. They were accused by him of general
depravity, a judgment not at all to be acquiesced in, in view
of the controversial habits of the age ; though they probably
included antinomian Christians and libertines in the modern
sense, as well as orthodox lovers of freedom and orderly non-
Christians. As the first Brethren of the Free Spirit, so-called,
seem to have appeared in Italy (where they are supposed to have
derived, like the Waldenses, from the immigrant Paulicians of
the Eastern Church), the name Libettini presumably originated
there. But in Renaissance Italy an unbeliever seems usually to
have been called simply ateo, or infedele^ or pagano. "The
standing phrase was non averfede.'''"^

' Essais, liv. iii, ch. 12. Edit. Firmin-Didot, 1882, ii, 518.

- See F. T. Perrens, Les Lihertins en France ate xviie. Siede, 1896,
Introd. § II, for a g-ood general view of the bearings of the word. It
stood at times for simple independence of spirit, apart from religious
freethinking. Thus Madame de Sevigni^ (Lettre k Mme. de Grignan,
28 Juiii, 1671) writes : "Jesuis iiderti/ie, plus que vous." V'oltaire in the
next century commonly uses the substantive ^'/ranc-pensant," which
later gave way to " tibre-pensetir."

3 SiiiheYin, Jo/ianfies Calvin, 1863, i, 383 sq. ; Perrens as cited, pp. 5-6;
Mosheim, Eccles. Hist., 13 Cent., Part ii, ch. v, §§ 9-12, and notes ;
14 Cent., Part ii, ch. v, i^§3-5 ; 16 Cent., § 3, Partii, ch. ii, §§ 38-42.

■» Burckhardt, Renaissance in Italy, Eng. tr, ed. 1892, p. 542, note.


In England, as late as Elizabeth's reign, "infidel " seems to
have commonly signitied only a Jew or heathen or Mohammedan,
being used only in that sense by the pre-Shaksperean poets
and dramatists and by Shakspere, as by Milton in his verse,
Milton, however, uses it in the modern sense in his prose ;
and it was at times so used even by early Elizabethans.'
Hooker (1553-1600), in his Fifth Sermon, § 9,- uses the word
somewhat indefinitely, but in his margin makes " Pagans and
Infidels" equivalent to "Pagans and Turks." So also, in the
Ecclesiastical Polity,^ " infidels " means men of another religion.
On the title-page of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft
(1574), on the other hand, we have "the infidelitie of atheists";
but so late as 1600 we find "J. H.," the translator of Augustine's
City of God, rendering injideles and homines infideles by
" unbelievers."-'

In England, as in the rest of Europe, however, the
phenomenon of freethought had existed, in specific
form, long before it could express itself in propagan-
dist writings, or find any generic name save those of
atheism and infidelity ; and the process of naming
was as fortuitous as it generally is in matters of intel-
lectual evolution. In 1667 we find Sprat, the historian
of the Royal Society, describing the activity of that body
as having arisen or taken its special direction through
the conviction that in science as in warfare better results
had been obtained by a " free way " than by methods not
so describable.5 As Sprat is careful to insist, the members
of the Royal Society, though looked at askance by most
of the clergy^ and other pietists, were not as such to be
classed as unbelievers, the leading members being strictly
orthodox ; but a certain number seem to have shown
scant concern for religion ;'' and while it was one of the
Society's first rules not to debate any theological question

' If Mr. Fronde's transcript of a manuscript can here be relied on.
History, ed. 1872, xi, 199.

' Works, ed. i8^o, ii., 7^2.

3 B. V, ch. i, 5} 3. Wo)-ks, i, 429.

'' De civitate Del, xx, 30, oid ; xxi, 5, beginn., etc.

5 History of the Royal Society , 1667, p. 73. Describingf the bcg-imiiiii^s
of the Society, Sprat remarks that Oxford had at that time many
members " who had bejifun a free way of reasoning" (p. 53).

'' Buckle, Introd. to Hist, of Civ. in Eng., i-vol. ed. p. 211.

7 Sprat, p. 375 (printed as 367).


whatever/ the intellectual atmosphere of the time was
such that some among those who followed the "free
way " in matters of natural science would be extremely
likely to apply it to more familiar problems.- At the
same period we find Spinoza devoting his Tractatu^
Theologico-Politiciis (1670) to the advocacy of lihertas
philosophandi ; and such a work was bound to have a
general European influence. It was probably, then, a
result of such express assertion of the need and value of
freedom in the mental life that the name "freethinker"

Online LibraryJ. M. (John Mackinnon) RobertsonA short history of freethought : ancient and modern (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 46)