Media Truth

The English Deists: Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Founder

The beginnings of English Deism appear in the seventeenth century. Its main principles are to be found in the writings of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648), who devoted the latter part of a life spent in a military and diplomatic career to a search for a standard and a guide in the conflicts of creeds and systems.

He was a friend of Grotius, Casaubon, and Gassendi, and during a long sojourn in France made himself acquainted with the thought of Montaigne, of Bodin, and especially of Charron. His works are: De Veritate (Paris, 1624); Cherbury. De religions Gentilium errorumque apud eos causes (London, 1645); and two minor treatises, De cause errorum and De religions laici.

The first work advances a theory of knowledge based upon the recognition of innate universal characteristics on the object perceived, and rigidly opposed to knowledge supernatural in its origin and determinable in only by strife and conflict. The second work lays down the common marks by which religious truth is recognized.

These are (1) a belief in the existence of the Deity, (2) the obligation to reverence such a power, (3) the identification of worship with practical morality, (4) the obligation to repent of sin and to abandon it, and, (5) divine recompense in this world and the next.

These five essentials (the so-called "Five Articles" of the English Deists) constitute the nucleus of all religions and of Christianity in its primitive, uncorrupted form. The variations between positive religions are explained as due partly to the allegorization of nature, partly to self-deception, the workings of imagination, and priestly guile.

Herbert's influence disappeared in the storms of the Puritan Revolution, and Deism found the most important impetus supplied to its progress in ecclesiastical circles. The learning of the Renaissance had served to incline the clergy of the Establishment to a moderate rational theology, and in the conflict between Puritans and Anglicans, and between Roman Catholics and Protestants, it became common to invoke Reason as arbiter.

Later Deists could appeal to the arguments of leading theologians, as well as to those of the Cambridge Platonists, who, in their conflict against the sensualism of Hobbes, exalted the authority of moral intuitions.

The Revolution served to intensify the growing feeling against what was arbitrary in religion, and emphasized the demand for subjective independence in the field of reason and the need of unity in the realm of practical morality. (IEP)

The Founders of English Deism with John Locke as a bridge between Deism, Unitarianism, and Christianity.

See the following in three parts: