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Produced by Norman M. Wolcott


By Thomas Paine

Collected And Edited By Moncure Daniel Conway





Editor's Introduction

Part One
Chapter I - The Author's Profession Of Faith
Chapter II - Of Missions And Revelations
Chapter III - Concerning The Character of Jesus Christ, And His History
Chapter IV - Of The Bases Of Christianity
Chapter V - Examination In Detail Of The Preceding Bases
Chapter VI - Of The True Theology
Chapter VII - Examination Of The Old Testament
Chapter VIII - Of The New Testament
Chapter IX - In What The True Revelation Consists
Chapter X - Concerning God, And The Lights Cast On His Existence And
Attributes By The Bible
Chapter XI - Of The Theology Of The Christians; And The True Theology
Chapter XII - The Effects Of Christianism On Education; Proposed Reforms
Chapter XIII - Comparison Of Christianism With The Religious Ideas
Inspired By Nature
Chapter XIV - System Of The Universe
Chapter XV - Advantages Of The Existence Of Many Worlds In Each Solar
Chapter XVI - Applications Of The Preceding To The System Of The
Chapter XVII - Of The Means Employed In All Time, And Almost
Universally, To Deceive The Peoples

Part Two
Chapter I - The Old Testament
Chapter II - The New Testament
Chapter III - Conclusion



IN the opening year, 1793, when revolutionary France had beheaded its
king, the wrath turned next upon the King of kings, by whose grace every
tyrant claimed to reign. But eventualities had brought among them a
great English and American heart - Thomas Paine. He had pleaded for Louis
Caper - "Kill the king but spare the man." Now he pleaded, - "Disbelieve
in the King of kings, but do not confuse with that idol the Father of

In Paine's Preface to the Second Part of "The Age of Reason" he
describes himself as writing the First Part near the close of the year
1793. "I had not finished it more than six hours, in the state it has
since appeared, before a guard came about three in the morning, with an
order signed by the two Committees of Public Safety and Surety General,
for putting me in arrestation." This was on the morning of December 28.
But it is necessary to weigh the words just quoted - "in the state it has
since appeared." For on August 5, 1794, Francois Lanthenas, in an
appeal for Paine's liberation, wrote as follows: "I deliver to Merlin
de Thionville a copy of the last work of T. Payne [The Age of Reason],
formerly our colleague, and in custody since the decree excluding
foreigners from the national representation. This book was written by
the author in the beginning of the year '93 (old style). I undertook its
translation before the revolution against priests, and it was published
in French about the same time. Couthon, to whom I sent it, seemed
offended with me for having translated this work."

Under the frown of Couthon, one of the most atrocious colleagues of
Robespierre, this early publication seems to have been so effectually
suppressed that no copy bearing that date, 1793, can be found in France
or elsewhere. In Paine's letter to Samuel Adams, printed in the present
volume, he says that he had it translated into French, to stay the
progress of atheism, and that he endangered his life "by opposing
atheism." The time indicated by Lanthenas as that in which he submitted
the work to Couthon would appear to be the latter part of March, 1793,
the fury against the priesthood having reached its climax in the decrees
against them of March 19 and 26. If the moral deformity of Couthon, even
greater than that of his body, be remembered, and the readiness with
which death was inflicted for the most theoretical opinion not approved
by the "Mountain," it will appear probable that the offence given
Couthon by Paine's book involved danger to him and his translator.
On May 31, when the Girondins were accused, the name of Lanthenas was
included, and he barely escaped; and on the same day Danton persuaded
Paine not to appear in the Convention, as his life might be in danger.
Whether this was because of the "Age of Reason," with its fling at the
"Goddess Nature" or not, the statements of author and translator
are harmonized by the fact that Paine prepared the manuscript, with
considerable additions and changes, for publication in English, as he
has stated in the Preface to Part II.

A comparison of the French and English versions, sentence by sentence,
proved to me that the translation sent by Lanthenas to Merlin de
Thionville in 1794 is the same as that he sent to Couthon in 1793. This
discovery was the means of recovering several interesting sentences
of the original work. I have given as footnotes translations of such
clauses and phrases of the French work as appeared to be important.
Those familiar with the translations of Lanthenas need not be reminded
that he was too much of a literalist to depart from the manuscript
before him, and indeed he did not even venture to alter it in an
instance (presently considered) where it was obviously needed. Nor would
Lanthenas have omitted any of the paragraphs lacking in his translation.
This original work was divided into seventeen chapters, and these I have
restored, translating their headings into English. The "Age of Reason"
is thus for the first time given to the world with nearly its original

It should be remembered that Paine could not have read the proof of his
"Age of Reason" (Part I.) which went through the press while he was in
prison. To this must be ascribed the permanence of some sentences as
abbreviated in the haste he has described. A notable instance is the
dropping out of his estimate of Jesus the words rendered by Lanthenas
"trop peu imite, trop oublie, trop meconnu." The addition of these
words to Paine's tribute makes it the more notable that almost the only
recognition of the human character and life of Jesus by any theological
writer of that generation came from one long branded as an infidel.

To the inability of the prisoner to give his work any revision must be
attributed the preservation in it of the singular error already alluded
to, as one that Lanthenas, but for his extreme fidelity, would have
corrected. This is Paine's repeated mention of six planets, and
enumeration of them, twelve years after the discovery of Uranus. Paine
was a devoted student of astronomy, and it cannot for a moment be
supposed that he had not participated in the universal welcome of
Herschel's discovery. The omission of any allusion to it convinces me
that the astronomical episode was printed from a manuscript written
before 1781, when Uranus was discovered. Unfamiliar with French in 1793,
Paine might not have discovered the erratum in Lanthenas' translation,
and, having no time for copying, he would naturally use as much as
possible of the same manuscript in preparing his work for English
readers. But he had no opportunity of revision, and there remains an
erratum which, if my conjecture be correct, casts a significant light
on the paragraphs in which he alludes to the preparation of the work. He
states that soon after his publication of "Common Sense" (1776), he "saw
the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government
would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion," and that
"man would return to the pure, unmixed, and unadulterated belief of
one God and no more." He tells Samuel Adams that it had long been his
intention to publish his thoughts upon religion, and he had made a
similar remark to John Adams in 1776. Like the Quakers among whom he
was reared Paine could then readily use the phrase "word of God" for
anything in the Bible which approved itself to his "inner light," and
as he had drawn from the first Book of Samuel a divine condemnation
of monarchy, John Adams, a Unitarian, asked him if he believed in the
inspiration of the Old Testament. Paine replied that he did not, and
at a later period meant to publish his views on the subject. There is
little doubt that he wrote from time to time on religious points, during
the American war, without publishing his thoughts, just as he worked on
the problem of steam navigation, in which he had invented a practicable
method (ten years before John Fitch made his discovery) without
publishing it. At any rate it appears to me certain that the part of
"The Age of Reason" connected with Paine's favorite science, astronomy,
was written before 1781, when Uranus was discovered.

Paine's theism, however invested with biblical and Christian
phraseology, was a birthright. It appears clear from several allusions
in "The Age of Reason" to the Quakers that in his early life, or
before the middle of the eighteenth century, the people so called were
substantially Deists. An interesting confirmation of Paine's statements
concerning them appears as I write in an account sent by Count Leo
Tolstoi to the London 'Times' of the Russian sect called Dukhobortsy
(The Times, October 23, 1895). This sect sprang up in the last century,
and the narrative says:

"The first seeds of the teaching called afterwards 'Dukhoborcheskaya'
were sown by a foreigner, a Quaker, who came to Russia. The fundamental
idea of his Quaker teaching was that in the soul of man dwells God
himself, and that He himself guides man by His inner word. God lives
in nature physically and in man's soul spiritually. To Christ, as to an
historical personage, the Dukhobortsy do not ascribe great importance...
Christ was God's son, but only in the sense in which we call, ourselves
'sons of God.' The purpose of Christ's sufferings was no other than to
show us an example of suffering for truth. The Quakers who, in 1818,
visited the Dukhobortsy, could not agree with them upon these religious
subjects; and when they heard from them their opinion about Jesus
Christ (that he was a man), exclaimed 'Darkness!' From the Old and New
Testaments,' they say, 'we take only what is useful,' mostly the moral
teaching.... The moral ideas of the Dukhobortsy are the following: - All
men are, by nature, equal; external distinctions, whatsoever they may
be, are worth nothing. This idea of men's equality the Dukhoborts have
directed further, against the State authority.... Amongst themselves
they hold subordination, and much more, a monarchical Government, to be
contrary to their ideas."

Here is an early Hicksite Quakerism carried to Russia long before the
birth of Elias Hicks, who recovered it from Paine, to whom the American
Quakers refused burial among them. Although Paine arraigned the union
of Church and State, his ideal Republic was religious; it was based on
a conception of equality based on the divine son-ship of every man. This
faith underlay equally his burden against claims to divine partiality by
a "Chosen People," a Priesthood, a Monarch "by the grace of God," or
an Aristocracy. Paine's "Reason" is only an expansion of the Quaker's
"inner light"; and the greater impression, as compared with previous
republican and deistic writings made by his "Rights of Man" and "Age
of Reason" (really volumes of one work), is partly explained by the
apostolic fervor which made him a spiritual, successor of George Fox.

Paine's mind was by no means skeptical, it was eminently instructive.
That he should have waited until his fifty-seventh year before
publishing his religious convictions was due to a desire to work out
some positive and practicable system to take the place of that which he
believed was crumbling. The English engineer Hall, who assisted Paine in
making the model of his iron bridge, wrote to his friends in England,
in 1786: "My employer has Common Sense enough to disbelieve most of the
common systematic theories of Divinity, but does not seem to establish
any for himself." But five years later Paine was able to lay the
corner-stone of his temple: "With respect to religion itself, without
regard to names, and as directing itself from the universal family of
mankind to the 'Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to
his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ
from each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of
every one, is accepted." ("Rights of Man." See my edition of Paine's
Writings, ii., p. 326.) Here we have a reappearance of George Fox
confuting the doctor in America who "denied the light and Spirit of
God to be in every one; and affirmed that it was not in the Indians.
Whereupon I called an Indian to us, and asked him 'whether or not, when
he lied, or did wrong to anyone, there was not something in him that
reproved him for it?' He said, 'There was such a thing in him that did
so reprove him; and he was ashamed when he had done wrong, or spoken
wrong.' So we shamed the doctor before the governor and the people."
(Journal of George Fox, September 1672.)

Paine, who coined the phrase "Religion of Humanity" (The Crisis, vii.,
1778), did but logically defend it in "The Age of Reason," by denying a
special revelation to any particular tribe, or divine authority in
any particular creed of church; and the centenary of this much-abused
publication has been celebrated by a great conservative champion of
Church and State, Mr. Balfour, who, in his "Foundations of Belief,"
affirms that "inspiration" cannot be denied to the great Oriental
teachers, unless grapes may be gathered from thorns.

The centenary of the complete publication of "The Age of Reason,"
(October 25, 1795), was also celebrated at the Church Congress, Norwich,
on October 10, 1895, when Professor Bonney, F.R.S., Canon of Manchester,
read a paper in which he said: "I cannot deny that the increase of
scientific knowledge has deprived parts of the earlier books of the
Bible of the historical value which was generally attributed to them by
our forefathers. The story of Creation in the Book of Genesis, unless we
play fast and loose either with words or with science, cannot be brought
into harmony with what we have learnt from geology. Its ethnological
statements are imperfect, if not sometimes inaccurate. The stories of
the Fall, of the Flood, and of the Tower of Babel, are incredible in
their present form. Some historical element may underlie many of the
traditions in the first eleven chapters in that book, but this we cannot
hope to recover." Canon Bonney proceeded to say of the New Testament
also, that "the Gospels are not so far as we know, strictly
contemporaneous records, so we must admit the possibility of variations
and even inaccuracies in details being introduced by oral tradition."
The Canon thinks the interval too short for these importations to be
serious, but that any question of this kind is left open proves the Age
of Reason fully upon us. Reason alone can determine how many texts are
as spurious as the three heavenly witnesses (i John v. 7), and like
it "serious" enough to have cost good men their lives, and persecutors
their charities. When men interpolate, it is because they believe their
interpolation seriously needed. It will be seen by a note in Part II. of
the work, that Paine calls attention to an interpolation introduced into
the first American edition without indication of its being an editorial
footnote. This footnote was: "The book of Luke was carried by a majority
of one only. Vide Moshelm's Ecc. History." Dr. Priestley, then in
America, answered Paine's work, and in quoting less than a page from the
"Age of Reason" he made three alterations, - one of which changed "church
mythologists" into "Christian mythologists," - and also raised the
editorial footnote into the text, omitting the reference to Mosheim.
Having done this, Priestley writes: "As to the gospel of Luke being
carried by a majority of one only, it is a legend, if not of Mr. Paine's
own invention, of no better authority whatever." And so on with further
castigation of the author for what he never wrote, and which he himself
(Priestley) was the unconscious means of introducing into the text
within the year of Paine's publication.

If this could be done, unintentionally by a conscientious and exact man,
and one not unfriendly to Paine, if such a writer as Priestley could
make four mistakes in citing half a page, it will appear not very
wonderful when I state that in a modern popular edition of "The Age
of Reason," including both parts, I have noted about five hundred
deviations from the original. These were mainly the accumulated efforts
of friendly editors to improve Paine's grammar or spelling; some were
misprints, or developed out of such; and some resulted from the sale
in London of a copy of Part Second surreptitiously made from the
manuscript. These facts add significance to Paine's footnote (itself
altered in some editions!), in which he says: "If this has happened
within such a short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of printing,
which prevents the alteration of copies individually; what may not have
happened in a much greater length of time, when there was no printing,
and when any man who could write, could make a written copy, and call it
an original, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John."

Nothing appears to me more striking, as an illustration of the
far-reaching effects of traditional prejudice, than the errors into
which some of our ablest contemporary scholars have fallen by reason of
their not having studied Paine. Professor Huxley, for instance, speaking
of the freethinkers of the eighteenth century, admires the acuteness,
common sense, wit, and the broad humanity of the best of them, but says
"there is rarely much to be said for their work as an example of the
adequate treatment of a grave and difficult investigation," and that
they shared with their adversaries "to the full the fatal weakness of
a priori philosophizing." [NOTE: Science and Christian Tradition, p.
18 (Lon. ed., 1894).] Professor Huxley does not name Paine, evidently
because he knows nothing about him. Yet Paine represents the
turning-point of the historical freethinking movement; he renounced the
'a priori' method, refused to pronounce anything impossible outside
pure mathematics, rested everything on evidence, and really founded the
Huxleyan school. He plagiarized by anticipation many things from the
rationalistic leaders of our time, from Strauss and Baur (being the
first to expatiate on "Christian Mythology"), from Renan (being the
first to attempt recovery of the human Jesus), and notably from Huxley,
who has repeated Paine's arguments on the untrustworthiness of the
biblical manuscripts and canon, on the inconsistencies of the narratives
of Christ's resurrection, and various other points. None can be more
loyal to the memory of Huxley than the present writer, and it is even
because of my sense of his grand leadership that he is here mentioned as
a typical instance of the extent to which the very elect of free-thought
may be unconsciously victimized by the phantasm with which they are
contending. He says that Butler overthrew freethinkers of the eighteenth
century type, but Paine was of the nineteenth century type; and it was
precisely because of his critical method that he excited more animosity
than his deistical predecessors. He compelled the apologists to defend
the biblical narratives in detail, and thus implicitly acknowledge
the tribunal of reason and knowledge to which they were summoned. The
ultimate answer by police was a confession of judgment. A hundred years
ago England was suppressing Paine's works, and many an honest Englishman
has gone to prison for printing and circulating his "Age of Reason."
The same views are now freely expressed; they are heard in the seats of
learning, and even in the Church Congress; but the suppression of Paine,
begun by bigotry and ignorance, is continued in the long indifference of
the representatives of our Age of Reason to their pioneer and founder.
It is a grievous loss to them and to their cause. It is impossible to
understand the religious history of England, and of America, without
studying the phases of their evolution represented in the writings
of Thomas Paine, in the controversies that grew out of them with such
practical accompaniments as the foundation of the Theophilanthropist
Church in Paris and New York, and of the great rationalist wing of
Quakerism in America.

Whatever may be the case with scholars in our time, those of Paine's
time took the "Age of Reason" very seriously indeed. Beginning with
the learned Dr. Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, a large number of
learned men replied to Paine's work, and it became a signal for the
commencement of those concessions, on the part of theology, which have
continued to our time; and indeed the so-called "Broad Church" is to
some extent an outcome of "The Age of Reason." It would too much enlarge
this Introduction to cite here the replies made to Paine (thirty-six are
catalogued in the British Museum), but it may be remarked that they
were notably free, as a rule, from the personalities that raged in
the pulpits. I must venture to quote one passage from his very learned
antagonist, the Rev. Gilbert Wakefield, B.A., "late Fellow of Jesus
College, Cambridge." Wakefield, who had resided in London during all the
Paine panic, and was well acquainted with the slanders uttered against
the author of "Rights of Man," indirectly brands them in answering
Paine's argument that the original and traditional unbelief of the Jews,
among whom the alleged miracles were wrought, is an important evidence
against them. The learned divine writes:

"But the subject before us admits of further illustration from the
example of Mr. Paine himself. In this country, where his opposition to
the corruptions of government has raised him so many adversaries,
and such a swarm of unprincipled hirelings have exerted themselves in
blackening his character and in misrepresenting all the transactions
and incidents of his life, will it not be a most difficult, nay an
impossible task, for posterity, after a lapse of 1700 years, if such a
wreck of modern literature as that of the ancient, should intervene, to
identify the real circumstances, moral and civil, of the man? And will
a true historian, such as the Evangelists, be credited at that future
period against such a predominant incredulity, without large and
mighty accessions of collateral attestation? And how transcendently
extraordinary, I had almost said miraculous, will it be estimated
by candid and reasonable minds, that a writer whose object was a
melioration of condition to the common people, and their deliverance
from oppression, poverty, wretchedness, to the numberless blessings of
upright and equal government, should be reviled, persecuted, and burned
in effigy, with every circumstance of insult and execration, by these
very objects of his benevolent intentions, in every corner of the
kingdom?" After the execution of Louis XVI., for whose life Paine
pleaded so earnestly, - while in England he was denounced as an
accomplice in the deed, - he devoted himself to the preparation of a
Constitution, and also to gathering up his religious compositions and
adding to them. This manuscript I suppose to have been prepared in what
was variously known as White's Hotel or Philadelphia House, in Paris,
No. 7 Passage des Petits Peres. This compilation of early and fresh
manuscripts (if my theory be correct) was labelled, "The Age of Reason,"
and given for translation to Francois Lanthenas in March 1793. It is
entered, in Qudrard (La France Literaire) under the year 1793, but with
the title "L'Age de la Raison" instead of that which it bore in
1794, "Le Siecle de la Raison." The latter, printed "Au Burcau de
l'imprimerie, rue du Theatre-Francais, No. 4," is said to be by "Thomas
Paine, Citoyen et cultivateur de l'Amerique septentrionale, secretaire
du Congres du departement des affaires etrangeres pendant la guerre
d'Amerique, et auteur des ouvrages intitules: LA SENS COMMUN et LES

When the Revolution was advancing to increasing terrors, Paine,
unwilling to participate in the decrees of a Convention whose sole legal
function was to frame a Constitution, retired to an old mansion
and garden in the Faubourg St. Denis, No. 63. Mr. J.G. Alger, whose
researches in personal details connected with the Revolution are
original and useful, recently showed me in the National Archives

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