John Locke, the early Lockeans, and priestcraft

09 Feb 2018

The term ‘priestcraft’ became fashionable in the 1690s. This essay explores its use among the anti-clericals in John Locke’s circle and examines the critique of priestcraft in Locke’s own Reasonableness of Christianity (1695). The commentaries and church histories, in correspondence and published treatises, of Benjamin Furly, William Popple, Damaris Masham, William Stephens, and Sir Robert Howard are examined. The Lockean circle remained committed to Christian revelation and, for the most part, to a reformed Church of England, and it is argued that it is mistaken to identify the critique of priestcraft with deism and the subversion of Christianity. The polemical critique of the priestly deformations of Christianity, though often scabrously hostile to clergies, served the ecclesiastical and political cause of post-Revolution latitudinarian Anglicanism. The Lockean circle was committed to constructing a Church Whig ecclesiology.