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Superstitionis Malleus: John Toland, Cicero, and the War on Priestcraft in Early Enlightenment England

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Katie EastORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


SummaryThis paper explores the role of the Ciceronian tradition in the radical religious discourse of John Toland (1670–1722). Toland produced numerous works seeking to challenge the authority of the clergy, condemning their ‘priestcraft’ as a significant threat to the integrity of the Commonwealth. Throughout these anticlerical writings, Toland repeatedly invoked Cicero as an enemy to superstition and as a religious sceptic, particularly citing the theological dialogues De Natura Deorum and De Divinatione. This paper argues that Toland adapted the Ciceronian tradition so that it could function as an active influence on the construction of his radical discourse. First, it shows that Toland championed a particular interpretation of Cicero's works which legitimised his use of Cicero in this rational context. Then, it shows the practical manifestations of this interpretation, examining the ramifications for how Toland formed three important facets of his campaign against priestcraft: his identification of priestcraft as a superstition; his argument for a rational religion in which priestcraft could play no role; and his portrayal of anticlericalism as a service to the Commonwealth.

Publication metadata

Author(s): East KA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: History of European Ideas

Year: 2014

Volume: 40

Issue: 7

Pages: 965-983

Print publication date: 06/08/2014

Online publication date: 05/06/2014

Date deposited: 06/05/2016

ISSN (print): 0191-6599

ISSN (electronic): 1873-541X

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/01916599.2014.916099


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