Sunday, 10 February 2019

Luke Freeman: Arian Anti-Modern Traditionalism in the 4th and 18th Centuries

There is growing interest in the role of Arianism (and more generally in anti-Trinitarianism) as it occurred in early modern European philosophical, scientific, and political thought (M. Wiles, 1996; S. Snobelen, 2004; B. Sirota, 2013; P. Gilliam 2015). Alternatively, the late antique scholarship of Rowan Williams understands 4th-century Arianism as a non-Nicean traditionalism (R. Williams, 1987/2001). When taken together these scholarly perspectives can shed light on how scholars of late antiquity frame the Arian debate itself in terms that are informed by 18th-century British Arianism. Thisshort communication will take a new perspective on Arianism, understanding Arius’ 18th-century proponents not as positively asserting his theology, but as rejecting the Athanasian defense of Nicea for the sake of a kind of anti-modern traditionalism. By taking this approach, I shall place recent late antique scholarship (e.g., Ayres, 2004; Anatolios, 2011) in the context of British Arianism and its anti-modern traditionalism. I will focus on Athanasius’ Defense Against the Arians and the Defense of the Nicene Definition, which were critical texts for William Whiston (1667-1752), probing why they caused him such difficulty. I will conclude by examining the implications of my argument for understanding British Arian and non-Nicean writings in a confessional light, rather than simply as examples of a rising tide of philosophical atheism or as merely political.

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