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John Toland

1670-1722. Deistic writer. Born of Roman Catholic parents in Ireland, he became a Protestant at the age of sixteen. His studies took him to Glasgow and Edinburgh, then to Leyden where he concentrated on ecclesiastical history. In Christianity not Mysterious (1696), clearly indebted to Locke,* he claimed to endorse all the essentials of Christianity, but stressed the primacy of reason and the subordinate role of revelation in merely supplying supplementary information. After revelation there was no “mystery” left. Nothing in Scripture was out of harmony with reason or above it.

Condemnation by the Irish Parliament compelled him to flee the country. A Life of Milton (1698) was thought to question the authenticity of the gospels, but on further elucidation he claimed reference only to apocryphal writings, of which he showed a remarkable awareness. His political works included Anglia Libera (1701), supporting the Hanoverian succession, which led to several visits to the court in Germany. In Nazarenus (1718) he anticipated F.C. Baur* in distinguishing Jewish and Gentile branches of Christianity. Finally he produced Pantheisticon (1720), a parody of Anglican liturgy, indicating the goal of his religious development. A facile rather than profound writer, he possessed a flair for expressing the latent feelings of the moment. Though his indiscretions compelled him to become a hack author, he was a notable exponent of Deism.

See L. Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, I (1902), pp. 101-111; and G.R. Cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason (1966), chap. 7.