Paradigm regained : the Hutchinsonian reconstruction of Trinitarian Protestant Christianity (1724-1806)
Leighton, C. D. A.
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Recently, there has been a considerable attempt by historians of eighteenth-century intellectual history to present the religious and conservative side of the Enlightenment thought. Hutchinsonianism, as an eighteenth-century orthodox movement, provides an example of the argument that the Enlightenment was a battlefield of fideistic and rationalistic forces. This dissertation aims to explain how and why a movement such as Hutchinsonianism came into being, changed and eventually died. Hutchinsonians crusaded their way into the eighteenthcentury intellectual arena with their relentless war against heterodoxy. The Hutchinsonian system had many branches and all of them had their foundations in the idea of the Christian Trinity: for example, a trinitarian cosmology designed as an alternative to Newtonian cosmology and natural religion, a certain Hebrew linguistic method to highlight the trinitarian promise in the Old Testament. The attempt made by the Hutchinsonians can be seen as one to redefine orthodox Protestant identity, by making use of a re-assessment of Enlightenment epistemology, an almost cabbalistic method of dealing with the Old Testament text, and the reinstatement of the authority of the Book in a proper Protestant fashion. A survey of Hutchinsonianism over the eighteenth century provides answers to questions about the demise of the movement as well as its genesis. An examination of the different generation of followers exhibits the reasons for change in the movement over time. Hutchinsonians later in the century were more and more willing to dispense with or play down parts of the system for various reasons. It will be argued here that, firstly, they lost the battles they were engaged in some fronts like Hebrew studies; secondly, some of their reactionary attitudes became redundant, such as anti-Newtonianism, and thirdly, there developed a reluctance to embrace Hutchinson and his whole system, in order to be able to concentrate more on being relevant to the general cause of orthodoxy. The question of the movement’s demise is presented in association with the increasing conservatism of the late eighteenth century, in response to the revolutionary ideas fed by abroad: France and America. It will be argued that the willingness to try to ameliorate the public profile of Hutchinson’s system led itself to the movement’s submergence within a wider orthodoxy.