Tindal, Matthew

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Tindal, Matthew (1657-1733): English Theologian.

Matthew Tindal’s book Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) is one of the last eloquent statements of the principles of English deism. This dispassionate argument in behalf of natural religion is frequently called the “deist Bible.”

Tindal studied law at Lincoln and Exeter colleges; in 1678 he became a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University. The only unusual event in his otherwise quiet life was a momentary conversion to Roman Catholicism during the reign of James II. In 1688 Tindal returned to the Church of England, but his religious views were never orthodox. Two of his publications, The Rights of the Christian Church asserted (1706) and A Defence of the Rights of the Christian Church (1709) took the Erastian position of state jurisdiction over all ecclesiastical matters and were condemned by the authorities. He issued Christianity as Old as the Creation when he was in his 70s.

Tindal asserted God and nature’s laws were perfect, eternal, and immutable, so true religion must share these qualities. An authentic religion is founded upon timeless reason, which shows individuals their moral duties and guides them to happiness. Any supposed revelation must be logical or else it will lead to ignorance, superstition, and the degradation of humanity.

Christianity as Old as the Creation is a definitive statement of the deist perception of God as a constitutional philosopher-king requiring neither miracles nor redeemers to proclaim truth. This assertion strongly influenced Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet de and other Enlightenment authors.

Further Reading:

Stephen Lalor, Matthew Tindal, freethinker : an eighteenth-century assault on religion, 2006.

Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1876.

Robert Luehrs