John Toland’s ‘Christianity not Mysterious’ Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays
‘An invaluable publication. How excellent it is to have Toland’s own writing available.’- New Humanist
On 11 September 1697, Christianity not Mysterious was burned in Dublin by order of Parliament. Three hundred years later, this seminal text of Irish – and European – philosophy becomes available in a new scholarly edition, along with John Toland’s defences of his work and eight critical essays by leading scholars.
Born into a Catholic, Irish-speaking family on the Inishowen peninsula of Co. Donegal, John Toland (1670-1722) became a Protestant as a teenager; he later embraced deism and became the first exponent of pantheism. Christianity not Mysterious, first published in 1696, argues that ‘there is nothing in the Gospels contrary to reason’ and that the so-called Christian mysteries are merely the inventions of competing sects – a view that threatened the very basis of the supremacy of the Established Church in Ireland. Toland left Ireland under threat of arrest and spent the remainder of his life in Britain and on the continent, where Christianity not Mysterious was enormously influential.
Toland’s advocacy of reason over revelation in Christian belief went further than Locke and other previous rationalists, and provoked a distinguished Irish counter-Enlightenment tradition that included Swift, Berkeley, Burke and many others. The first great work of Irish philosophy since the writings of Ériugena in the ninth century, Christianity not Mysterious is a dazzling piece of rhetoric, by a gifted controversialist. The critical essays establish Toland’s central position in the theological and scientific debates of the early Enlightenment, and make a case for his continuing relevance to the vexed questions of Irish and European identities.
‘Toland was a remarkable and hugely influential man. The publication of Christianity not Mysterious was a defining moment in the movement into the Enlightenment. The essays are all fine studies, each brushing across the others as well as across the text itself, making for a copy well worn and well marked by the time you’ve reached the end. Philip McGuinness’s three essays, are excellent studies of the times and of the man, continually aware of the complexities of the age and of the labyrinthine relationships between politics and religion, and also of the subtleties of the work of a man who was truly of his time. A book such as this teaches us that from people such as this all subsequent ages can learn.’- Barty Begley, The Irish Times
‘It is a testimony to Toland’s remarkable mind, that his work retains some of the subversiveness it contained upon publication. The issues he wrote about, and the influence he had upon others, were both national, archipelagic and international in scope. John Toland remains something of a mystery, let this edition of Christianity not Mysterious contribute much to his permanent unravelling there is much of value here for the reader.’- Charles Ludington, History Ireland
‘A splendid edition.’- Max Wright, Fortnight
Christianity not Mysterious (1696);
An Apology for Mr Toland (1697);
A Defence of Mr Toland (1697);
Vindicius Liberius (1702);
‘John Toland: An Irish Philosopher?’ – Richard Kearney
‘The Irish Freethinker’ – David Berman
‘Christianity not Mysterious and the Enlightenment’ – Philip McGuinness
‘John Toland’s Celtic Background’ – Alan Harrison
‘Looking for a Mainland: John Toland and Irish Politics’ – Philip McGuinness
‘Toland on Faith and Reason’ – Desmond M. Clarke
‘Toland’s Semantic Pantheism’ – Stephen H. Daniel
“Perpetual Flux”: Newton, Toland, Science and the Status Quo’ Philip McGuinness
PHILIP MCGUINNESS is a writer and lecturer at Dundalk Institute of Technology
The late ALAN HARRISON was a Professor in Modern Irish at University College Dublin.
RICHARD KEARNEY is a Professor of Philosophy at University College Dublin.