Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 consensus of his time.


Tindal was born in 1653 to the Rev John Tindal, Rector of Bere Ferrers (Beer Ferris), Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

 and Anne Hals. A genealogy published in Vol IX of the Literary Anecdotes of John Nichol and written by Tindal's nephew, the historian Rev Nicolas Tindal
Nicolas Tindal
Nicolas Tindal was the translator and continuer of the History of England by Paul de Rapin. Very few comprehensive histories existed at the time and Tindal wrote a three volume , a history of the Kingdom from the reigns of James II to George II...

, states that John was the son of Sir John Tyndall of Maplestead Magna, a Master of Chancery who was murdered in 1617. It was in this period that many families Latinised the spellings of their names, leading to 'Tindal' and Tindal's name was itself spelt 'Tyndall' in a primary source of 1688. Sir John was the head of an ancient family
Tyndall is the name of an English family taken from the land they held as tenants in chief of the Kings of England and Scotland in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries: Tynedale, or the valley of the Tyne, in Northumberland...

, descended from Baron Adam de Tyndale of Langley Castle, a tenant in chief of Henry I of England
Henry I of England
Henry I was the fourth son of William I of England. He succeeded his elder brother William II as King of England in 1100 and defeated his eldest brother, Robert Curthose, to become Duke of Normandy in 1106...

. Through his mother, a first cousin of Thomas Clifford, 1st Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, Tindal was descended from the Clifford
Clifford may refer to:* Clifford , an English given name and surname, includes a list of people with that name-Places:Ireland*Clifford, DublinEngland*Clifford, Herefordshire**Clifford Castle*Clifford, West YorkshireUnited States...

 and Fortescue
-People:* Adrian Fortescue, 16th century English nobleman beatified by Roman Catholic Church* Adrian Fortescue, 19th-20th century Roman Catholic liturgist and Byzantine scholar* Charles Legeyt Fortescue, Canadian-born electrical engineer...


Tindal studied law at Lincoln College, Oxford
Lincoln College, Oxford
Lincoln College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It is situated on Turl Street in central Oxford, backing onto Brasenose College and adjacent to Exeter College...

, under the high churchman George Hickes, dean of Worcester; in 1678 he was elected fellow of All Souls College. In a timely profession of faith, in 1685 he saw "that upon his High Church notions a separation from the Church of Rome could not be justified," and accordingly he joined the latter. But discerning "the absurdities of popery," he returned to the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 at Easter 1688.

Between the early 1690s and his death in 1733 Tindal made major contributions in a various areas. As Deputy Judge Advocate of the Fleet he had a large influence on the case law on piracy. His timely pamphlet on the freedom of the press was hugely influential in the ending of the legal requirement that all publications be licensed before being printed. His book on The Rights of the Christian Church had an immense impact on church/state relations and on the growth of freethinking. Tindal's Christianity as old as the Creation (1730) was the ultimate statement of the deist understanding of Christianity and was highly influential in England and on the Continent.


His early works were an Essay of Obedience to the Supreme Powers (1694); an Essay on the Power of the Magistrate and the Rights of Mankind in Matters of Religion (1697); and The Liberty of the Press (1698). The first of his two larger works, The Rights of the Christian Church associated against the Romish and all other priests who claim an independent power over it, pt. i., appeared anonymously in 1706 (2nd ed., 1706; 3rd, 1707; 4th, 1709). The book was regarded in its day as a forcible defence of the Erastian theory of the supremacy of the state over the Church, and at once provoked criticism and abuse.

After several attempts to proscribe the work had failed, a case against the author, publisher and printer succeeded on 14 December 1707, and another against a bookseller for selling a copy the next day. The prosecution did not prevent the issue of a fourth edition and gave the author the opportunity of issuing A Defence of the Rights of the Christian Church, in two parts (2nd ed., 1709). The book was, by order of the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

, burned, along with Sacheverell
Henry Sacheverell
Henry Sacheverell was an English High Church clergyman and politician.-Early life:The son of Joshua Sacheverell, rector of St Peter's, Marlborough,...

's sermon, by the common hangman (1710). It continued to be the subject of denunciation for years, and Tindal believed he was charged by Dr Gibson, bishop of London
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 458 km² of 17 boroughs of Greater London north of the River Thames and a small part of the County of Surrey...

, in a Pastoral Letter, with having undermined religion and promoted atheism and infidelity — a charge to which he replied in the anonymous tract, An Address to the Inhabitants of London and Westminster, a second and larger edition of which appeared in 1730. In this tract he makes a valiant defence of the deists, and anticipates here and there his Christianity as Old as the Creation.

Christianity as Old as the Creation

Christianity as Old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature (London, 1730, 2nd ed., 1731; 3rd, 1732; 4th, 1733), came to be regarded as the "Bible" of deism. It was really only the first part of the whole work, and the second, though written and entrusted in manuscript to a friend, never saw the light. The work evoked many replies, of which the ablest were by James Foster (1730), John Conybeare
John Conybeare
John Conybeare DD was Bishop of Bristol and one of the most notable theologians of the 18th century.Conybeare was born at Pinhoe, where his father was vicar, and educated at Blundell's School and Exeter College, Oxford. He was elected a Probationary Fellow of Exeter College in 1710, took his B.A...

 (1732), John Leland
John Leland (Presbyterian)
John Leland was an English Presbyterian minister and author of theological works.Leland was born in Wigan, Lancashire on October 18, 1691. He was educated in Dublin, Ireland , and went into the ministry there. He received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1739. His...

 (1733) and Bishop Butler
Joseph Butler
Joseph Butler was an English bishop, theologian, apologist, and philosopher. He was born in Wantage in the English county of Berkshire . He is known, among other things, for his critique of Thomas Hobbes's egoism and John Locke's theory of personal identity...


Christianity as Old as the Creation was translated into German by J Lorenz Schmidt (1741), and from it dates the influence of English deism on German theology. Tindal had probably adopted the principles it expounds before he wrote his essay of 1697. He claimed the name of "Christian deist", holding that true Christianity is identical with the eternal religion of nature.

Waring states that Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) "became, very soon after its publication, the focal center of the deist controversy. Because almost every argument, quotation, and issue raised for decades can be found here, the work is often termed 'the deist's Bible'."

Unlike the earlier system of Lord Herbert of Cherbury which relied on the notion of innate ideas, Tindal's system was based on the empirical
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

 principles of Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

. It assumed the traditional deistic antitheses of external and internal, positive and natural, revelations and religions. It starts from the assumptions that true religion must, from the nature of God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and things, be eternal, universal, simple and perfect; that this religion can consist of nothing but the simple and universal duties towards God and man, the first consisting in the fulfilment of the second—in other words, the practice of morality.

The author's moral system, is essentially utilitarian
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

. True revealed religion is simply a republication of the religion of nature or reason, and Christianity, if it is the perfect religion, can only be that republication, and must be as old as creation. The special mission of Christianity, therefore, is simply to deliver men from the superstition which had perverted the religion of nature. True Christianity must be a perfectly "reasonable service," reason must be supreme, and the Scriptures as well as all religious doctrines must submit; only those writings can be regarded as divine Scripture which tend to the honour of God and the good of man.

Tindal's 'deist Bible' redefined the foundation of deist epistemology as knowledge based on experience or human reason. This effectively widened the gap between traditional Christians and what he called "Christian deists" since this new foundation required that revealed truth be validated through human reason. In Christianity as Old as the Creation, Tindal articulates many prominent facets of deism that held true through the subsequent centuries and still hold true among many deists today:
  • He argues against special revelation: "God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason."

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