Prosecuting Athanasius: Protestant Forensics and the Mirrors of Persecution

  • Rob Iliffe
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 188)


Fourth Century State Religion Holy Ghost Religious Intolerance Early Church 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See Frank Manuel, A Portrait of Isaac Newton (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), chaps. 1, 7, 11, and 15. I would like to thank Moti Feingold, Justin Champion, Jim Force and Mats Fridlund for comments on earlier versions of this paper.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. W. T. Gunther, The Further Correspondence of John Ray (London, 1928), p. 17. For Cambridge reforms in the wake of the Restoration, see J. Gascoigne, Cambridge in the Age of Enlightenment: Science, Religion and Politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 27–50.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the Restoration Church of England, see I. M. Green, The Re-establishment of the Church of England, 1660–1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978) and J. Spurr, The Restoration Church of England, 1646–1689 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) For general works and collections on persecution and toleration in the early modern period, see W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, 4 vols (London: Allen & Unwin, 1932–40); O. Grell, J. Israel, and N. Tyacke, eds, From Persecution to Toleration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); O. Grell and R. Scribner, eds, Tolerance and Intolerance in The European Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); J. C. Laursen and C. J. Nederman, eds, Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration before the Enlightenment (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997); J. Coffey, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558–1689 (Harlow: Pearson, 2000)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Throughout this paper, I use the term antitrinitarian although the modern term, Unitarian, was widely used to describe antitrinitarian positions beginning in the late 1680s. For general histories of antitrinitarian writings and the treatment of antitrinitarians, see R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, 3 vols (London, 1850); J. H. Colligan, The Arian Movement in England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1913); H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951); E. M. Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press, 1945–52), vol. 1, Socinianism and its Antecedents; G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, 2nd ed., (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Rob Iliffe, Priest of Nature: The Private Heresies of Isaac Newton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) and S. Snobelen, “Isaac Newton, Heretic: The Strategies of a Nicodemite,” British Journal for the History of Science 32 (1999), pp. 381–419. For Locke’s contemporaneous views on toleration and on the extent to which the Established Church could impose religious beliefs, see J. Marshall, John Locke: Resistance, Religion and Responsibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), chaps 7–9.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See J. Champion, “‘Acceptable to Inquisitive Men’: Some Simonian Contexts for Newton’s Biblical Criticism, 1680–1692,” in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin, eds, Newton and Religion: Context, Nature, and Influence (London: Kluwer, 1999), pp. 77–96. For mortalism and Newton’s psychopannychism (the doctrine that the soul sleeps after death until God awakens it), see James E. Force, ≪The God of Abraham and Isaac (Newton),≫ in James E. Force and Richard H Popkin, eds, The Books of Nature and Scripture (London: Kluwer, 1994), pp. 179–200 and, in general, see the classic work by Norman Burns, Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton (Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press, 1972). For the variety of meanings of “Socinianism,” both as a contemporary label and as a doctrine, see G. Reedy, The Bible and Reason: Anglicans and Scripture in Seventeenth-Century England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), pp. 119–26 and, especially, J. Marshall, “Locke, Socinianism,’ socinianism’ and Unitarianism”, in M. A. Stewart, ed., English Philosophy in the Age of Locke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), pp. 111–82. For persecution and toleration of antitrinitarians, see Coffey, Persecution and Toleration, pp. 52, 99–102, 114–5.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See, inter alia, John Biddle, Twelve Arguments drawn out of Scripture against the Deity of the Holy Ghost (London, 1647) and Biddle, The Faith of One God, Who only is the Father; and of One Mediator between God and Men, Who is only the Man Christ Jesus (London, 1691.) See Williams, Radical Reformation, passing and M. Wiles, Archetypal Heresy: Arianism through the Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 58–60. For Biddle, see McLachlan, Socinianism, pp. 163–212, and, for the “Ordinance of the Lords & Commons assembled in Parliament, for punishing Blasphemies and Heresies, of May 2 1648,” see Wilbur, Unitarianism, p. 192.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    In general, see M. Watts, The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978) and, for persecution in Restoration England, see Coffey, Persecution and toleration, chaps. 2 and 7; M. Goldie, “The Theory of Religious Intolerance in Restoration England,” in Grell et al., From Persecution to Toleration and G. Schochet, “Samuel Parker, Religious Diversity and the Ideology of Persecution,” in R. Lund, ed., The Margins of Orthodoxy: Heterodox Writing and Cultural Response, 1660–1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 119–48.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Wiles Archetypal Heresy, pp. 5–17 and 52–60.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (London, 1678) and Gale, Court of the Gentiles, pt III, The Vanity of Pagan Philosophy Demonstrated, (London, 1677). See Wiles, Archetypal heresy, pp. 62–9; Sarah Hutton, “The Neoplatonic roots of Arianism: Ralph Cudworth and Theophilus Gale,” in Lech Szczucki, ed., Socinianism and its Role in the Culture of Sixteenth to Seventeenth Centuries (Warsaw: Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology: PWN, Polish Scientific Publisher, 1983), pp. 139–45; and, more generally, W. B. Hunter, C. A. Patrides, and J. H. Adamson, Bright Essence: Studies in Milton’s Theology, (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1973.) “Hypostasis” had various meanings in the early Church but it comes from the Greek roots “under” and “standing” or “status.” To refer to a hypostatical unity of the Godhead implied something that was common or substructural to all three elements of the Trinity. For many, this appeared to differentiate inadequately between the parts of the Godhead and, to counter this difficulty, some proffered a notion of three hypostases though this view, as we shall see, was held to commit the opposite offence and was susceptible to the accusation of tri-theism.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    For fourth century credal formulations, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed. (Harlow: Longman, 1985), pp. 205–332. For Protestant justifications of persecution, see Coffey, Persecution and Toleration, chap. 2, and Goldie, “The Theory of Religious Intolerance in Restoration England.” For uses of patristic literature, see D. W. Dockrill, “The Authority of the Fathers in the Great Trinitarian Debates of the Sixteen Nineties,” Studia Patristica 18 (1990), pp. 335–47, and J-L Quantin, Le Catholicisme Classique et les Pères de l’Eglise: Un Retour aux Sources (1669–1713) (Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 1999.)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Coffey, Persecution and Toleration, pp. 187–91, esp. 188; J. Miller, “James II and Toleration,” in E. Cruickshanks, ed., By Force or Default? The Revolution of 1688–9 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989); and S. Trowell, “Unitarian and/or Anglican: The Relationship of Unitarianism to the Church from 1687–98,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 78 (1996), pp. 77–101.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    W. Freke, A Vindication of the Unitarians, against a late Reverend Author on the Trinity (London, 1687), pp. 1, 11, 12–14, 17, 18, 26–7; Wiles, Archetypal Heresy, pp. 66–7.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    S. Nye, A Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians. In Four Letters, Written to a Friend (London, 1687), pp. 67–8, 137–8, 151–2; Hedworth’s letter is on pp. 167–84. See also McLachlan, Socinianism, pp. 299–316.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Nye, Brief History, pp. 4–5, 11, 12–13, 26–30, 31–7, and, also, Hedworth’s letter on p. 168; See J. Champion, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England and its Enemies, 1660–1720, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    A true Son of the Church of England Bury, The Naked Gospel, etc, (Oxford, 1690), pp. 29, 31, 37–8, 41–3 and 57–8; Trowell, “Unitarian and/or Anglican,” pp. 83–4; J. Spurr, “The Church of England, Comprehension and the Toleration Act of 1689,” English Historical Review 104 (1989), pp. 927–46; M. Goldie, “John Locke, Jonas Proast and Religious Toleration, 1688–92,” in J. Walsh, C. Haydon, and S. Taylor, eds, The Church of England, c. 1689–1833 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    S. Nye, Brief Notes on the Creed of Athanasius⋯. (London, 1690); W. Sherlock, A Vindication of the Doctrine of of the Holy and ever Blessed Trinity, and the Incarnation of the Son of God. Occasioned by the Brief notes on the Creed of Athanasius, and the Brief History of the Unitarians, or Socinians (London, 1690; 2nd ed., London, 1691); J. Wallis, Three Sermons concerning the blessed Trinity⋯ (London, 1691); J. Wallis, An Explication and Vindication of the Athanasian Creed, in a Third Letter, pursuant of Two former; concerning the Sacred Trinity (London, 1691.) See Trowell, “Unitarian and/or Anglican,” pp. 84–7. amd M. Greig, “The Reasonableness of Christianity? Gilbert Burnet and the Trinitarian Controversy of the 1690s.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 44 (1993), 631–51Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    S. Nye, The Acts of the Great Athanasius, with notes, by way of Illustration, on his Creed; and Observations on the Learned Vindication of the Trinity and Incarnation, by Dr. William Sherlock (London, 1690), pp. 4–5, 9–10.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See Nye, Considerations on the Explications of the Doctrine of the Trinity, by Dr. Wallis, Dr. Sherlock, Dr. S-th, Dr. Cudworth, and Mr. Hooker; as also on the Account given by those that say, the Trinity is an unconceivable and inexplicable Mystery (London, 1693); W. Sherlock, An Apology for writing against Socinians (London, 1693); J. Tillotson, Sermons concerning the Divinity and Incarnation of our Saviour (London, 1693); R. South, Animadversions upon Dr. Sherlock’s Book, entituled, A Vindication of the Doctrine of the Holy and ever Blessed Trinity (London, 1693); and E. Stillingfleet, A Discourse in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (with an Answer to late Socinian Objections against it from Scripture, Antiquity and Reason, and a Preface concerning the different Explications of the Trinity, and the Tendency of the present Controversie)⋯ (London, 1696.) In general, see J. C. D. Clark, English Society, 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 277–89. For a good account of the latitudinarian responses to Socinianism in the 1690s, see Reedy, Bible and Reason, pp. 125–35; for Locke, see D. D. Wallace, “Socinianism, Justification by Faith, and the Sources of John Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity,” Journal of the History of Ideas 45 (1984), pp. 49–66; D. Wootton, “John Locke: Socinian or Natural Law Theorist?,” in J. E. Crimmins, Religion, Secularization and Political Thought: From Thomas Hobbes to John Stuart Mill (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 39–67; J. Marshall, Locke: Resistance, Religion and Responsibility, pp. 329–76 and, in particular, Marshall, “Locke, Socinianism and’ socinianism’.”Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 313–7; Wiles, Archetypal Heresy, pp. 76–91, esp. 80–3.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Wiles, Archetypal Heresy pp. 85–93; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles (hereafter WACL), “Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals and actions of Athanasius,” fol. 79r. Struckthrough words indicate deletions; angled brackets represent additions. A later more polished version of the first half of this document is currently King’s College Cambridge, Keynes MS 10.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    WACL MS, fols 39r–42r.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ibid., fols 42r–44r; see also Wiles, Archetypal Heresy, p. 89.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    “N.B.P.C. Catholick,” i.e. Nathaniel Bacon The History of the Life & Actions of St. Athanasius, together with the Rise, Growth and Down-fall of the Arian Heresie. Collected from Primitive Writers (London, 1664), pp. 5–6, 10–11; W. Cave, Ecclesiastici: or, the History of the Lives, Acts, Death & Writings of the most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourisht in the Fourth Century. Wherein Amongst other things an Account is given of the Rise, Growth, and Progress of Arianism, and all other Sects of that Age descending from it etc. (London, 1683.) There are two alternative title pages to the work ascribed on one version to Nathaniel Bacon; both were printed by D. Maxwell although the version with Bacon’s name is simply titled “The History of Athanasius⋯” The author is probably the parliamentarian Nathaniel Bacon (1593–1660), who became “Master of Requests” to Cromwell in 1657. He was also the author of A Relation of the Fearfull Estate of Francis Spira⋯, which first appeared in 1638 and which was often reprinted in the seventeenth-century, and of An Historicall Discovery of the Uniformity of the Government of England⋯till the reigne of Edward the thirde (1649), a tome that assailed the royal prerogative (and which was followed by a “Continuation” of the topic in 1651).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 12–15, 23, 26–9. For recent accounts of the following episodes, see R. Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1987); R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988); D. W-H. Arnold, The Early Episcopal Career of Athanasius of Alexandria (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991); T. D. Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius. Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press, 1993), esp. pp. 10–55.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 40, 41–2, 44–5.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid., pp. 45, 53, 58, 59, 60–1. See also Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 17–8.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    W. Cave, Ecclesiastici: or, the History of the Lives, Acts, Death & Writings of the most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourisht in the Fourth Century. Wherein Amongst other things an Account is given of the Rise, Growth, and Progress of Arianism, and all other Sects of that Age descending from it etc. (London, 1683.) Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 62–4, 66–7, 68–9; see Williams, Arius, pp. 70–2.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 71–2. See Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 18–21.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 32, 35, 37 and 41–3;, Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 73–5,; Williams, Arius. pp. 74–7.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 74–7, esp. 74, 76, 77; Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 37–46, esp. 39; Barnes, Athanasius and Constuntius, pp. 20–1.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 77–8 Bacon, Life and Actions, p. 44; Barnes, Athanasius and Constuntius, pp. 21–2Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 79–81; Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 45–6; Barnes, Athanasius and Constuntius, p. 22Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Bacon, Life and Actions, p. 47 Cave, Ecclesiastici, p. 81; Barnes, Athanasius and Constuntius, p. 22Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Bacon, Life and Actions, p. 47–9, esp. 47, 48; Cave, Ecclesiastici, p. 81–2; cf. also Barnes, Athanasius and Constuntius, p. 22Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 82–3; Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 48–9Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 83–4Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    WACL MS, fols 15r–16r; Keynes MS 10 fols 9-10r.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 10r–11r; WACL MS fols 16r–7r.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 11r; WACL MS fols 7r–8r.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 11v; WACL MS fol. 9v.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 14v–15r; WACL MS fols 21r–22r.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 16r-v; WACL MS fol. 22r-v.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 18v; WACL MS fol. 26r.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    To “lay or strew with gravel; perplex, puzzle, nonplus,” see Concise Oxford Dictionary, s.v. “gravel.”Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 19r; WACL MS fols 26r“27r.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 84–7, esp. 85, 86, and 87; Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 50–3, esp. 50; Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 22–3. See also R. Peeters, “Comment Saint Athanase s’enfuit de Tyr en 335,” Bulletin de ľAcad. Royale de Belgique, Classe de Lettres 30 (1944), pp. 131–277.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    “N.B.P.C. Catholick” i.e. Nathaniel Bacon The History of the Life & Actions of St. Athanasius, together with the Rise, Growth and Down-fall of the Arian Heresie, Collected from Primitive Writers (London 1664) Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 53–9, esp. 53, 56, 59; Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 87–90, esp. 90; Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 23-4.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    WACL MS, fols 11r and 14r; Keynes MS 10 fol. 5v.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    WACL MS, fols 12r–13r; Keynes MS 10 fols 6r and 7r.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 8r-v; WACL MS fol. 13r-v.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Bacon, Life und Actions pp. 60–3, esp. 63; Cave Ecclesiastici pp. 90–3, esp. 92.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Cave Ecclesiastici pp. 92–3, Bacon, Life und Actions pp. 63–5, esp. 64–5.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    “Paradoxical Questions concerning the morals and actions of Athanasius and his followers,” Keynes MS 10 fols 1r and 3r; an earlier version (MS badly damaged) is at WACL MS fols 1r and 4r. See Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 133–4.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 3r-v; WACL MS fols 4r-v.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Cave Ecclesiastici pp. 93–4; Bacon, Life und Actions pp. 66–77, esp. 68.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Cave, Ecclesiastici, pp. 138–9, 146–7, and 171–2; Bacon, Life and Actions, pp. 169–70.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    WACL MS, fol. 28r-v; Keynes MS 10 fol. 20r-v.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 24r-v; WACL MS fols 32r-v, 33r.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Keynes MS, 10 fol. 26r; WACL MS fols 33v and 52r-v; Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, pp. 118–20.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 27r-v and 28r; WACL MS fol. 52v and 53v-r (sic).Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 28v-29r; WACL MS fols 34r-35r.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 29r-v and 30r-31r; WACL MS fols 35r, 36r-v, 37r.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Keynes MS, 10 fols 30v-31r; WACL MS fol. 37v.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob Iliffe
    • 1
  1. 1.Imperial CollegeLondonUK

Personalised recommendations