Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
J. D. Alsop
The intent of this study is to illuminate specific aspects of William Chillingworth' s thought, particularly his position on the importance of reason in religion and the necessity of religious unity. This encompasses his rejection of Catholic infallibility, tradition and the Fathers of the church, in his attempt to abolish all religious authority except that of individual reason. The centrality of scripture is emphasized as the only rule of faith, and Chillingworth argued that the fundamentals of faith contained in the bible could be apprehended by any searching person. This position led Chillingworth to argue that individual reason was the ultimate authority in religious matters, and he rejected the idea that people could be told what to believe as fundamental to salvation. By this Chillingworth intended to make the church open to all who professed themselves Christians, but was labelled a heretic for his efforts. The result of his thinking led Chillingworth into some difficulties in that he could not reconcile the belief that there were fundamentals of faith necessary to be believed for salvation with the position that no one could be told what was required to attain it. The final chapter attempts to show the continuity of Chillingworth's thought after his death. Chillingworth' s influence on the Latitudinarian movement, of which he was considered to be the 'fountain-head', grew out of the civil wars and interregnum and came into prominence in the 1660s and 1670s.
Modem religious liberalism can be seen to have had its beginnings in Chillingworth's rationalism which called for a permissive church. Moreover, the importance of Chillingworth is found in his conception of reason, which he considered to be a critical faculty, and therefore he can be seen as the precursor to the rationalism of Locke and the Enlightenment. Therefore, a study of his reason is integral to an understanding of the changes occurring in seventeenth-century thought.
Neish, Jane, "Reason, Faith, and Religious Unity: A Study of the Thought of William Chillingworth" (2003). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7063.
McMaster University Library