1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Toland, John

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
23874241911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26 — Toland, John

TOLAND, JOHN [christened Janus Junius] (1670–1722), English deist, was born on the 30th of November 1670, near Londonderry, Ireland. Brought up a Roman Catholic, in his sixteenth year he became a zealous Protestant. In 1687 he entered Glasgow University, and in 1690 was created M.A. by the university of Edinburgh. He then spent a short time in some Protestant families in England, and with their assistance went to Leiden University, to qualify for the dissenting ministry. He spent about two years studying ecclesiastical history, chiefly under the famous scholar Friedrich Spanheim. He then went to Oxford (1694), where he acquired a reputation for great learning and “little religion,” although at the time he professed to be a decided Christian. While at Oxford he began the book which made him famous—his Christianity not Mysterious (1696, anonymous; 2nd ed. in the same year, with his name; 3rd ed., 1702, including an Apology for Mr. Toland). It gave great offence, and several replies were immediately published. The author was prosecuted by the grand jury of Middlesex; and, when he attempted to settle in Dublin at the beginning of 1697, he was denounced from the pulpit and elsewhere. His book having been condemned by the Irish parliament (Sept. 9, 1697) and an order issued for his arrest, Toland fled to England. The resemblance, both in title and in principles, of his book to Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity, led to a prompt disavowal on Locke's part of the supposed identity of opinions, and subsequently to the famous controversy between Stillingfieet and the philosopher. Toland's next work of importance was his Life of Milton (1698), in which a reference to “the numerous supposititious pieces under the name of Christ and His apostles and other great persons,” provoked the charge that he had called in question the genuineness of the New Testament writings. Toland replied in his Amyntor, or a Defence of Milton's Life (1699), to which he added a remarkable list of what are now called apocryphal New Testament writings. In his remarks he really opened up the great question of the history of the canon. The next year his Amyntor and Christianity not Mysterious were under discussion in both houses of Convocation, and the Upper House declined to proceed against the author. In 1701 Toland spent a few weeks at Hanover as secretary to the embassy of the earl of Macclesfield, and was received with favour by the electress Sophia in acknowledgment of his book Anglia Libera, a defence of the Hanoverian succession. On his return from the Continent he published Vindicius Liberius (1702), a defence of himself and of the bishops for not prosecuting him. In this he apologized for Christianity not Mysterious, as a youthful indiscretion, and declared his conformity to the doctrines of the established Church. The next year he visited Hanover and Berlin, and was again graciously received by the electress and her daughter Sophia Charlotte, queen of Prussia, the “Serena” of the Letters published on his return to England (1704). In two of these (A Letter to a Gentleman in Holland, and Motion essential to Matter), ostensibly an attack on Spinoza, he anticipated some of the speculations of modern materialism. The Account of the Courts of Prussia and Hanover (1705) was used by Carlyle in his Life of Frederick the Great. From 1707 to 1710 Toland lived in varying circumstances on the Continent. In 1709 he published (at the Hague) Adeisidaemon and Origines Judoicae, in which, amongst other things, he maintained that the Jews were originally Egyptians, and that the true Mosaic institutions perished with Moses. After his return to England, he lived chiefly in London and latterly in Putney, subsisting precariously upon the earnings of his pen and the benevolence of his patrons. His literary projects were numerous (see Mosheim's Vita); his warm Irish nature appears in his projected history of the ancient Celtic religion and his chivalrous advocacy of the naturalization of the Jews. The last of his theological works were Nazarenus, or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity (1718), and Tetradymus (1720), a collection of essays on various subjects, in the first of which (Hodegus) he set the example, subsequently followed by Reimarus and the rationalistic school in Germany, of interpreting the Old Testament miracles by the naturalistic method, maintaining, for instance, that the pillar of cloud and the fire of Exodus was a transported signal-fire. His last and most offensive book was his Pantheisticon (1720). He died on the 11th of March, 1721-1722, as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand. just before his death he composed an epitaph on himself, in which he claimed to have been “Veritatis propugnator, libertatis assertor.” The words “Ipse vero aeternum est resurrecturus, at idem futurus Tolandus nunquam” seem to indicate his adherence to the pantheistic creed expounded in the Pantheisticon.

Toland is generally classed with the deists, but at the time when he wrote Christianity not Mysterious he was decidedly opposed to deism. The design of the work was to show, by an appeal mainly to the tribunal of Scripture, that there are no facts or doctrines of the “Gospel,” or the “Scriptures,” or “Christian revelation,” which, when revealed, are not perfectly plain, intelligible and reasonable, being neither contrary to reason nor incomprehensible to it. It was intended to be the first of three discourses, in the second of which he was to attempt a particular and rational explanation of the reputed mysteries of the gospel, and in the third a demonstration of the verity of Divine revelation against atheists and all enemies of revealed religion. After his Christianity not Mysterious and his Amyntor, Toland's Nazarenus was of chief importance, as calling attention to the right of the Ebionites to a place in the early church, though it altogether failed to establish his main argument or to put the question in the true light. His Pantheisticon, sive formula celebrandae sodalitatis socraticae, of which he printed a few copies for private circulation only, gave great offence as a sort of liturgic service made up of passages from heathen authors, in imitation of the Church of En land liturgy. The title also was in those days alarming, and still more so the mystery which the author threw rounddthe question how far such societies of pantheists actually existed.

See Mosheim's Vindiciae antiquae christianorum discipline (1722), 'containing the most exhaustive account of Tolands life and writings; a Life of Toland (1722), by “one of his most intimate friends”; “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mr John Toland,” by Des Maizeaux, prefixed to The Miscellaneous Works of Mr John Toland (London, 1747); John Leland's View of the Principal Deistical Writers (last ed. 1837); G. V. Lechler's Geschichte des englischen Deisrnus (1841); Isaac Disraeli's Calamities of Authors (new ed., 1881); article on “ The English Freethinkers ” in Theological Review, No. 5 (November, 1864); J. Hunt, in Contemporary Review, No. 6, June 1868, and his Religious Thought in England (1870-1873); Leslie Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, vol. i. (1881), and article in Dictionary of National Biography; J. Cairns's Unbelief in the Eighteenth Century (1881). On Toland's relation to the subsequent Tübingen school, as presented in his Nazarenus, see D. Patrick in Theological Review, No. 59 (October, 1877); and on his relation to materialism, F. A. Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus (Eng. trans. by E. C. Thomas, 1877), and also G. Berthold, John Toland und der Monisrnus der Gegenwart (1876).