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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2013

Department of Political Science, McGill University E-mail:


What motivated an absolutist Erastian who rejected religious freedom, defended uniform public worship, and deemed the public expression of disagreement a catalyst for war to endorse a movement known to history as the champion of toleration, religion's freedom from coercion, and separation of church and state? At least three factors motivated Hobbes's 1651 endorsement of Independency: the Erastianism of Cromwellian Independency, the influence of the politique tradition, and, paradoxically, the contribution of early modern practices of toleration to maintaining the public sphere's religious uniformity. The third factor illustrates how a key function of the emerging private sphere in the early modern period was to protect uniformity, rather than diversity; it also shows that what was novel was not so much the public/private distinction itself, but the separation of two previously conflated dimensions of publicity—visibility and representativeness—that enabled early modern Europeans to envisage modes of worship out in the open, yet still private.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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I am grateful to Ross Carroll, Jeffrey Collins, Greg Conti, Brian Cowan, Michael Frazer, Kinch Hoekstra, Duncan Kelly, Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, Will Roberts, Rob Sparling, Anna Stilz, Christina Tarnopolsky, Richard Tuck, several anonymous referees, and audiences at the McGill Political Theory Workshop, Sept. 2010; Princeton Program in Ethics and Public Affairs, Nov. 2010; Nicholson Center for British Studies, University of Chicago, Nov. 2010; Workshop on Hobbes on Law, University of Western Ontario, May 2011; and Harvard Political Theory Colloquium, Oct. 2011, for valuable comments on previous drafts.


1 L 47: 479–80. I cite Hobbes's works (abbreviation chapter.paragraph: page) as follows: EL = The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic, ed. J.C.A. Gaskin (Oxford, 1994); DCv = De Cive: The English Version, ed. H. Warrender (Oxford, 1983); L = Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge, 1996); B = Behemoth, or, The Long Parliament, ed. Paul Seaward (Oxford, 2010).

2 Owen, John, Of Schisme . . . (Oxford, 1657), 12Google Scholar.

3 See Sommerville, Johann, “Hobbes and Independency,” Rivista Critica di storia della filosofia 59 (2004), 155–73Google Scholar. Cf. Martinich, A. P., Hobbes: A Biography (Cambridge, 1999), 173Google Scholar; Martinich, , “Hobbes's Erastianism and Interpretation,” Journal of the History of Ideas 70 (2009), 143–63Google Scholar.

4 See, e.g., Zagorin, Peter, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Collins, Jeffrey R., The Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, 2005)Google Scholar.

6 L 47: 480.

7 Tuck, Richard, Hobbes (Oxford, 1989), 30Google Scholar. See also Tuck, , “Scepticism and Toleration in the Seventeenth Century,” in Mendus, S., ed., Justifying Toleration (Cambridge, 1988), 2136CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tuck, , “Hobbes and Locke on Toleration,” in Dietz, M. G., ed., Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory (Lawrence, 1990), 153–71Google Scholar. For works emphasizing a “tolerationist” Hobbes, see Ryan, Alan, “Hobbes, Toleration and the Inner Life,” in Miller, D. and Siedentop, L., eds., The Nature of Politcal Theory (Oxford, 1983), 197218Google Scholar; Ryan, “A More Tolerant Hobbes?”, in Mendus, , Justifying Toleration, 3759Google Scholar; Smith, Travis, “Forgiving Those Not Trespassing against Us,” in Weed, R. and von Heyking, J., eds., Civil Religion in Political Thought (Washington, DC, 2010), 93120Google Scholar.

8 EL 29.8: 180.

9 DCv 1.5: 46; 17.27: 246; L 10: 65.

10 DCv 17.12: 229–30.

11 EL Epistle Dedicatory: 19; L Review & Conclusion: 492.

12 DCv 1.5: 46.

13 L 8: 54. Cf. L 15: 110–11. On the role of disagreement in causing war for Hobbes see Abizadeh, Arash, “Hobbes on the Causes of War,” American Political Science Review 105 (2011), 298315CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 L 29: 227, 38: 306–7.

15 L 31: 253.

16 L 34: 271; 31: 248–9, 252; 46: 467; 46: 472; 8: 59.

17 EL 29.8: 180.

18 L 31: 253. Cf. DCv 15.16: 194.

19 Williams, Roger, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution . . . (London, 1644), 3 (preface), 15Google Scholar.

20 Goodwin, Thomaset al., An Apologeticall Narration . . . (London, 1643), 14Google Scholar.

21 See, however, Collins's discussion of Hobbes's 23 July 1641 letter in Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, pp. 80–81.

22 L 18: 124.

23 This tension arises, e.g., in Robert Browne, Robert Harrison, and Henry Barrowe. See Jordan, W. K., The Development of Religious Toleration in England, 4 vols. (Cambridge, MA, 1932–40), 1: 261–94, 2: 19–22Google Scholar; Lecler, Joseph, Histoire de la tolérance au siècle de la Réforme, 2 vols. (Paris, 1955), 2: 336–9Google Scholar.

24 On the Independent–Erastian alliance see Collins, Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, chap. 3; Jordan, Development of Religious Toleration, 3: 64–83.

25 Du Moulin, Louis, Of the Right of Churches . . . (London, 1648), 223–4Google Scholar.

26 See Collins, Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, esp. 157.

27 L 47: 479.

28 L 47: 479–80. Hobbes's second justification appealed to the hypocrisy of traditionalist persecution: “secondly, because it is unreasonable in them, who teach there is such danger in every little Errour, to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man, or of the most voices of many other men.” I take it to be obvious that Hobbes himself did not endorse the premise of this line of reasoning (that “there is such danger in every little Errour”).

29 EL 25.3: 142. Cf. 28.8: 176.

30 Thus my point is not that the Leviathan displays an “increased rhetorical deference to conscience” (Collins, Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, 123–4), nor that it grants the conscience a newfound sanctity, but that it links an endorsement of Independency to the rhetoric of conscience and thereby highlights the tolerationist element of Independency as the motive for endorsement.

31 Jordan, Development of Religious Toleration, 1: 17. Toleration simply “presumes an authority which has been and which again may be become coercive; an authority which for subjective reasons is not brought to bear upon the dissenting group.” See also Bejczy, István, “Tolerantia: A Medieval Concept,” Journal of the History of Ideas 58 (1997), 365–84Google Scholar; Collins, Jeffrey R., “Redeeming the Enlightenment,” Journal of Modern History 81 (2009), 607–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 On Augustine and the Christian theory of persecution, see Zagorin, Idea of Religious Toleration, chap. 2; Lecler, Histoire de la tolérance, esp. 1: 85.

33 Lecler, Histoire de la tolérance, 2: 112–3.

34 See Kaplan, Benjamin J., Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2007), 6970CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Assembly, Westminster, The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, Concerning A Confession of Faith . . . (London, 1646), 34–5Google Scholar.

36 Cawdrey, Daniel, Independencie A Great Schism . . . (London, 1657), 1415Google Scholar.

38 See Ryan, “A More Tolerant Hobbes?”.

39 As Bejczy, “Tolerantia,” has noted, there existed a prior, medieval notion of toleration, which involved prudentially tolerating what was deemed a lesser evil, such as Jews or prostitution, to avoid a greater evil, such as forced conversion or sodomy. What is distinctive about the politique view is that it applied toleration to heretics, and that the greater evil to be avoided concerned reasons of state.

40 Quoted in Lecler, Histoire de la tolérance, 2: 44–8.

41 See ibid., 2: book 6; Skinner, Quentin, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1978), 249–54Google Scholar.

42 Bodin, Jean, Les six Livres de la République de J. Bodin, Ensemble une Apologie de Rene Herpin (Paris, 1583), 496–8, 652–5Google Scholar. On Bodin's general influence see Salmon, J. H. M., The French Religious Wars in English Political Thought (Oxford, 1959)Google Scholar; Mosse, George L., “The Influence of Jean Bodin's République on English Political Thought,” Medievalia et Humanistica 5 (1948), 7383Google Scholar. On his influence on Hobbes see Baumgold, Deborah, “When Hobbes Needed History,” in Rogers, G. A. J. and Sorell, T., eds., Hobbes and History (London, 2000), 93120Google Scholar.

43 L 42: 343; cf. 40: 323. Cf. Bodin, Six Livres, 655.

44 L 46: 471.

45 B 2: 188.

46 In the very passage decrying the “Errour” of inquisition, Hobbes specifically envisioned that the state's officers would examine clerical candidates. L 46: 471.

47 L 31: 252–3. Jeremy Waldron has also pointed out that Hobbes offered, beyond an instrumental justification, a noninstrumental justification for uniform public worship. Waldron, Jeremy, “Hobbes on Public Worship,” in Williams, M. S. and Waldron, J., eds., Toleration and its Limits: NOMOS XLVII (New York, 2008), 3153Google Scholar. Whereas Waldron characterizes the latter justification in terms of the duty of artificial persons to worship God, I argue that Hobbes was primarily concerned with the constitutive conditions of a unitary public will, i.e. with the intrinsic nature of sovereign power. It is true that a purely secular commonwealth, with no public worship at all, would not jeopardize the unity of sovereign expression, but Hobbes did not consider this a viable option: because religious motives are so powerful and often defeat political ones, and because religion “can never be so abolished out of humane nature,” to be recognized as the supreme authority the sovereign must also be recognized as the “Image,” “Representation,” and spokesperson of God. L 29: 227; 2: 19; 12: 83; 45: 448; 40: 324.

48 The challenge is outlined in Sommerville, Johann, “Leviathan and Its Anglican Context,” in Springborg, P., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes's Leviathan (Cambridge, 2007), 358–74Google Scholar. See also Sommerville, “Hobbes and Independency,” which mistakenly (as I will show) takes Hobbes's defence of uniform public worship to provide evidence against any real sympathy for Independency. The other evidence Sommerville cites is that the Independents defended, politically, a right of resistance and, religiously, a duty to act on one's private conscience. At best these points explain the ambivalence of Hobbes's endorsement, not its absence (which, after all, is explicit); Sommerville's latter point also partly relies on conflating the Magisterial and separatist strands of Independency. For a fuller reply see Collins, Allegiance of Thomas Hobbes, esp. 130–31.

49 Kaplan, Divided by Faith, 78.

50 Ibid., 96–7.

51 L 46: 471.

52 DCv 15.17: 196. Cf. EL 11.12: 70.

53 DCv 15.17: 196.

54 L 31: 249, 252–3; DCv 15.12: 189–90, 15.15: 194, 15.17: 195–6.

55 DCv 15.15: 194.

56 L 31: 252–3.

57 Byfield, Nicholas, A Commentary upon the Three First Chapters of the First Epistle Generall of St. Peter (London, 1637), 212Google Scholar.

58 L 31: 251–2.

59 DCv 15.15: 194, original italics.

60 Kaplan, Divided by Faith, 161–71.

61 Secousse, Denis-François, Mémoires de Condé . . ., vol. 3 (London, 1743), 811Google Scholar.

62 Ibid., 94.

63 Perkins, William, A Godly and Learned Exposition of Christs Sermon in the Mount (Cambridge, 1608), 338–9Google Scholar. On Perkins's works and popularity see Wright, Louis B., “William Perkins: Elizabethan Apostle of ‘Practical Divinity’,” Huntington Library Quarterly 3 (1940), 171–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

64 Struther, William, Scotlands Warning, Or a Treatise of Fasting (Edinburgh, 1628), 73Google Scholar.

65 On “voluntary religion” see Collinson, Patrick, The Religion of the Protestants (Oxford, 1982)Google Scholar. On the forms in which devout Puritan families discharged their private religious duties see also Collinson, , “The English Conventicle,” in Sheils, W. J. and Wood, D., eds., Voluntary Religion (Oxford, 1986), 223–59Google Scholar.

66 L 46: 471.

67 Kaplan, Divided by Faith, 177–8.

68 Quoted in ibid., 179. In Leviathan, Hobbes himself suggested that the “conscience,” in its proper, etymological sense, implies that one's thoughts are shared with another, and only secondarily came to connote one's “secret thoughts.” L 7: 48. On this see Tralau, Johan, “Hobbes contra Liberty of Conscience,” Political Theory 39 (2011), 5884CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In part because he conflates the coercive and persuasive means of shaping subjects’ opinions (at 63), Tralau erroneously takes this passage to imply the elimination of any scope for tolerating the individual's conscience.

69 L 31: 248.

70 L 31: 249. De Cive draws the same distinction between two types of private worship, the first carried out “secreto,” the second “palam.” DCv 15.12: 190.

71 L 31: 249.

72 Collinson, Religion of the Protestants, 265–6.

73 Cardwell, Edward, Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England (Oxford, 1839), 413Google Scholar. On Laud see Collinson, “The English Conventicle,” 223–4.

74 Collinson, Religion of the Protestants; Collinson, “The English Conventicle.”

75 Perkins, Godly and Learned Exposition, 338–9.

76 Donne, John, Pseudo-martyr . . . (London, 1610), 197–9Google Scholar. Donne's analysis was repeated by Jackson, Thomas, A Treatise Containing the Originall of Unbeliefe, Misbeliefe, or Misperswasions concerning the Veritie, Unitie, and Attributes of the Deitie (London, 1625), 365Google Scholar.

77 L 31: 249.

78 Kaplan, Divided by Faith, chap. 7.

79 L 22: 155, 162, 155.

80 L 22: 162–3.

81 Donne, Pseudo-martyr, 198–9.

82 L 22: 164–5. Hobbes was explicit that this concourse of “men at Church” is an “Irregular,” potentially “lawfull” assemblage; that it is also private is clear from the passage's location in paragraph 33 of chap. 22: paragraphs 5–25 are devoted to public systems, paragraphs 26–34 to private ones.

83 L 22: 164. This, along with L 18: 127, is one of two places where the manuscript version, which Hobbes presented to Charles II, contains references, deleted from the published Leviathan, critical of the Independents. Both are consistent with Hobbes's ambivalent endorsement of Independency: Hobbes was critical of anyone (including the Independents, regardless of any sympathy for their ecclesiastical views) who would undermine the established sovereign. Indeed, Hobbes would have been obliged by his “doctrine of doctrines” publicly to avoid criticizing the king's ecclesiastical policies as long he remained in power. But once he had been executed, Hobbes was free to support his favoured ecclesiastical arrangement (especially if its partisans were consolidating their grip on political power).

84 EL 11.12: 70.

85 DCv 15.12: 190; L 31: 249, quoting De Cive in Latin and Leviathan in English.

86 Numerous versions of the petition were printed from 1647 to 1649. The original 1647 draft began as the constitutional manifesto of the Levellers; a revised version was mooted during the Whitehall debates by the Leveller leader John Lilburne. I quote from Article 9 of a late single-sheet print from 1649. Anonymous, An Agreement of the People of England, And the places therewith Incorporated, For a secure and present Peace, upon Grounds of Common Right, Freedom and Safety (London, 1649)Google Scholar.

87 Du Moulin, Of the Right of Churches, 223–4, 252. See also Owen, John, A Sermon Preached to the Honourable House of Commons, in Parliament Assembled: With a Discourse about Toleration, And the Duty of the Civill Magistrate about Religion, thereunto Annexed (London, 1649), 78–9Google Scholar.

88 See Skinner, Quentin, “Hobbes on Representation,” European Journal of Philosophy 13 (2005), 155–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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