Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/11

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11
INTRODUCTION.

also, with his system of philosophic doubt, assisted the growth of freedom and reflection. Bayle was not only profoundly sceptical in the composition of his Dictionary, but he made a most eloquent and effective appeal in smaller works, as the Compelle Intrare, for liberty of thought and expression. Even the religious Leibnitz earned the title of "Glöbenichts" (believer of nothing). Spinoza was profoundly destructive.

In England a series of powerful writers embodied the Rationalistic spirit with great effect in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Bacon had virtually commenced the movement with his protest against "idols" and authority and the insistence on an empirical method. Hobbes followed with a most uncompromising iconoclasm. Locke introduced the empiric philosophy, which is so largely responsible for the Agnosticism of the nineteenth century. Hume developed the system and indicated its true conclusion, and diffused a literary scepticism with far-reaching effect. Gibbon brought the Rationalistic spirit to bear on history. If it is true that "the controversialists of successive ages are the puppets and unconscious exponents of the deep under-currents of their time," the Rationalistic spirit must have made rapid progress in England since the rejection of Papal despotism. One salutary effect of the controversies and of the downfall of Rome was the birth of a spirit of toleration for the first time in the history of Christianity; even orthodox writers, such as Chillingworth (the first to do so), began to teach "the absolute innocence of error."

In the course of the eighteenth century the controversy assumed a different character. Rationalistic criticism passed from the contents of Christianity to its external defences; the spirit was penetrating deeper every century. There was, it is true, a fierce revival of the Trinitarian controversy. The Unitarians waxed bolder and stronger in their attempt to rationalize theology, and some of their Trinitarian opponents, headed by Bull and Waterland,