Edward Gibbon

On this date in 1737, Edward Gibbon was born in England. The historian's most famous work is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which appeared originally in six volumes from 1776-88. Oxford-educated, Gibbon represented Lymington in Parliament for many years. He was a highly skeptical and unreligious Deist who was particularly critical of the Catholic Church. The "melancholy duty" of the historian, he wrote in his treatise, is to discover "the inevitable mixture of error and corruption" of religion.

Chapter XV of Decline and Fall contains Gibbon's explication of early Christianity. He observed, "it was not in this world that the primitive Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful." Gibbon took a pessimistic view over awakening the masses to the falsity of religion, writing in the same book: “A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision.”

Gibbon believed that Christianity introduced a new and negative element into religion in damning those who would not accept its teachings. "These rigid sentiments, which had been unknown to the ancient world, appear to have infused a spirit of bitterness into a system of love and harmony. The ties of blood and friendship were frequently torn asunder by the difference of religious faith; and the Christians, who, in this world, found themselves oppressed by the power of the Pagans, were sometimes seduced by resentment and spiritual pride to delight in the prospect of their future triumph." Gibbon wrote several other major histories. D. 1794.

"The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful."

—Edward Gibbon, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (1776-88)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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