CHAPTER VIII. RATIONALISM AND ITS EFFECTS
The movement, that owed so much of its widespread popularity on the Continent to the influence of the French rationalistic school, had its origin in England, where the frequent changes of religion during the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth, the quarrels between the Puritans and the High Church party, and the spread of revolutionary principles during the reign of Charles I., had contributed not a little to unsettle the religious convictions of a large section of the community. Many individuals, influenced by pantheistic teaching, did not believe in the existence of a personal God distinct from the world; others, while holding fast to the belief in a personal supreme Being, rejected the Trinity and the Incarnation, and a still larger section insisted on the subjection of Christian revelation to the judgment of reason, and as a consequence on the rejection of everything in Christianity that flavoured of the supernatural. The works of these men were imported from the Netherlands into France in spite of all restrictions that could be imposed by the police authorities, and their views were popularised by a brilliant band of litterateurs, until in a short time Deism and Naturalism became quite fashionable in the higher circles of French society.
The principal writers of the English school were Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1581-1648), whose works tended to call in question the existence of a supernatural religion; John Hobbs (1588-1679) the apostle of absolute rule, who saw in religion only a means of keeping the people in subjection; John Locke (1632-1704), nominally a Christian himself, whose philosophy of Empiricism and Sensualism barred the way effectively against belief in a supernatural religion; Charles Blount (1630-93), who like Flavius Philostratus sought to discredit Christianity by setting up Apollonius of Tyana as a rival of Christ; Collins, the patron of free-thinkers (1676-1729); John Toland (1670-1722), who although originally a believer in Christian revelation tended more and more towards Pantheism; and Tyndal (1656- 1733), who changed from Protestantism to Catholicism and finally from Christianity to Rationalism. In England Deism and Naturalism secured a strong foot-hold amongst the better classes, but the deeply religious temperament of the English people and their strong conservatism saved the nation from falling under the influence of such ideas.
In France the religious wars between the Catholics and Calvinists, the controversies that were waged by the Jansenists and Gallicans, the extravagances of the Convulsionnaires, the flagrant immorality of the court during the rule of the Duke of Orleans and of Louis XV., and the enslavement of the Church, leading as it did to a decline of zeal and learning amongst the higher clergy, tended inevitably to foster religious indifference amongst the masses. In the higher circles of society Rationalism was looked upon as a sign of good breeding, while those who held fast by their dogmatic beliefs were regarded as vulgar and unprogressive. Leading society ladies such as Ninon de Lenclos (1615-1706) gathered around them groups of learned admirers, who under the guise of zeal for the triumph of literary and artistic ideals sought to popularise everything that was obscene and irreligious. Amongst some of the principal writers who contributed largely to the success of the anti-Christian campaign in France might be mentioned Peter Bayle (1647-1706), whose Dictionnaire historique et critique became the leading source of information for those who were in search of arguments against Christianity; John Baptist Rousseau (1671-1741), whose life was in complete harmony with the filthiness to which he gave expression in his works; Bernard le Boivier de Fontenelle (1657- 1757), who though never an open enemy of the Catholic Church contributed not a little by his works to prepare the way for the men of the Enclyclopaedia; Montesquieu (1689-1755), whose satirical books on both Church and State were read with pleasure not only in France but in nearly every country of Europe; D'Alembert (1717-83) and Diderot (1713-84), the two men mainly responsible for the Encyclopedie; Helvetius (1715-1771), and the Baron d'Holbach, who sought to popularise the irreligious views then current among the nobility by spreading the rationalist literature throughout the mass of the poorer classes in Paris.