Edward Gibbon | Free Online Biblical Library

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Edward Gibbon

1737-1794. English historian. Born in Surrey, the son of a parliamentarian, he was of independent means throughout his life. His Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (7 vols., 1766-88; best edition by J.B. Bury) helped to make church history a critical discipline. In some ways his work is still unsurpassed. Friend of Voltaire, Diderot, and d'Alembert, Gibbon surveyed Roman history from the second to the fifteenth centuries from the point of view of the ironic humanism of the eighteenth century. He saw it as the story of the fall, through the progressive “triumph of religion and barbarism,” from the intellectual freedom evidenced in classical literature. This theme was more fitting to the Western than to the Eastern Roman Empire, and Gibbon dealt less adequately with the latter. He did not believe in the supernatural and sought to explain the growth of Christianity naturalistically, on the principle that the religious is at least a phenomenon of human experience. He was always sharply aware how religious claims could cloak ambition, incredulity, and inhumanity, though he could respect genuine piety.