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John Neville Figgis

1866-1919. Anglican historian. Son of a minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion* in Brighton, Figgis in his youth reacted against his father's evangelical religion. He had a brilliant Cambridge career as student and teacher of history, being a pupil and friend of Mandell Creighton, Maitland, and Acton. He won lasting fame through The Divine Right of Kings (1892) and Studies of Political Thought from Gerson to Grotius 1414-1625 (1907), in which he pioneered interpretation of the transition from medieval to modern periods, especially in the struggle between absolutism and constitutionalism, and emphasized the theological matrices of modern secular political theory. He came to oppose the omnicompetent state, supporting Guild Socialism and, using Gierke's idea of the real personality of groups, he argued that the freedom of the church was a bulwark of the freedom of all groups within the state (Churches in the Modern State, 1913).

Figgis surprised his friends by deciding to be ordained to the Church of England's ministry in 1892, for he had not been noticeably religious. He was not very successful as a parish priest, but as vicar of Marnhull (1902-7) he had a “middle age conversion” from a humanitarian and moralist religion, entered the Community of the Resurrection, and became a prophetic preacher of the gospel of supernatural, sacramental, and disciplined redemption in Christ, in a world in crisis where indifference and hostility-he was an early acute English interpreter of Nietzsche-threatened the faith and the Christian civilization that rested on it. More of an evangelist and apologist than a theologian, Figgis's influence hardly survived World War I and his death.

See M.G. Tucker, John Neville Figgis (1950).

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