Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


David Manning


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Richard Grey, Theology


In 1730 high-churchman Richard Grey (1696-1771) delivered a sermon at St. Mary's Church, Leicester, in which he revelled in England's "Enlighten'd Age ... where the Gospel shines forth in its utmost purity:' unfettered "from those Corruptions and Superstitions, which so much disguise and dishonour it in other places:' Grey went on to use this representation of the epistemological superiority of England's established faith to lament the status of an apparently belligerent minority who would not or could not discern the truth of the Church of England. Such claims had long been part of the Church's Reformation mantra against heretics in general and Roman Catholics in particular. Peter Lake has suggested that, "near the centre of the antipopish impulse [ there was] an ideal of 'enlightenment', as the light of the gospel was shone on [the] errors, illusions and lies of poperf' It may be posited that the discourse of Reformation significantly revived an idea and language of spiritual enlightenment. Indeed, the Reformation motto that emanated from Geneva was post tenebras lux. According to John Calvin, '"No one can receive anything except what is given him from above'" (John 3: 27): it was "a special illumination" when "the Lord through his Spirit gives understanding:' Subsequently, many orthodox Protestants believed that "God did not only lighten that Luminare magnum, his holy Scripture, but lightened also luminare minus, a less light, the light of reason; by help of arts and sciences:'6 In this context enlightenment became both a theological claim about truth and a rhetorical strategy that described the acquisition of that truth via the powerful metaphor of light. As truth was to falsehood, so light was to darkness; and such contradistinction was part of the polemical theology of the age. The discourse of enlightenment was fundamental to the construction of binary positions that fuelled the battles between orthodox Protestantism and Catholicism and among competing manifestations of Protestantism.