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Abstract

Intellectual history and the subversion of heresy in seventeenth-century England.
This paper examines related ways of defusing accusations of heresy in seventeenth-century . In particular it deals with Thomas Hobbes's Historical Narration Concerning Heresie, and the Punishment thereof (1680), written during the early Restoration when Hobbes had feared being tried for heresy but only published when Hobbes was dead and heresy no longer a capital offence. Given the oppressive power of the restored Church of England, this alone illustrates that history is not always written by the winning side. Indeed, what we might now see as a sophisticated historiographical impulse can be a matter of the sustained polemical subversion of authority. Immediately the work can be placed in the context of Hobbes's intense anticlericalism, his hostility to the abuse of priestly office. But in this respect, Hobbes's Historical Narration is also reminiscent of Marsilius of Padua's account of the history of Christianity which, has similarly been praised for its apparent anticipation of later historiography. It is certainly not unreasonable to see Hobbes in general terms as a seventeenth-century Marsilian.

It would, however, be wrong to construct from such similarities a simple trajectory of secularisation, for after the Revolution of 1688-9, archbishop John Sharp was as determined as Hobbes to curtail the office of the priest and to this end developed arguments that also under-cut the significance of the accusation of heresy. Decontextualised, these too are strongly suggestive of later intellectual positions, specifically of arguments developed by Mill and Wittgenstein, but, being driven largely by theological priorities, remain fragmented and undeveloped. The paper then illustrates the sometimes unexpected and unintended fecundity of theological dispute. More generally, through these treatments of heresy it raises questions about what is meant by secularisation; and how far do shared propositions and verbal formulae entitle us to infer shared concepts and so write a conceptual history of something like heresy. How far is conceptual history an invention of historiograhical organisation?

Biographical Sketch

Conal Condren is Scientia Professor of Politics and International Relations at The University of New South Wales, Sydney, . He is a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of the Humanities and The Academy of the Social Sciences in . He is a member of Churchill College and Clare Hall, Cambridge . His main research interests are in political theory, language and argument in Early-Modern England; and in the theory of historical and textual analysis. Among his previous books are The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts, (Princeton, 1985); George Lawson's 'Politica' and the English Revolution (Cambridge 1989, 2002); The Language of Politics in Seventeenth-Century England, (Macmillan, 1994); Satire, Lies and Politics: the Case of Dr. Arbuthnot, (Macmillan, 1997); Thomas Hobbes, (Twayne, New York 2000). He is currently finishing a large monograph on office-holding and oath-taking in early-modern , prefatory to a purely theoretical companion study on metaphor and concept formation.

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