Thomas Hobbes

On this date in 1588, Thomas Hobbes was born prematurely on “Good Friday” in England, his birth precipitated by his mother’s fear of the invasion of the Spanish Armada. Thomas was the precocious son of a ne’er-do-well parson. As a tutor, Hobbes made the “Grand Tour” of Europe three times, once meeting Galileo. Contemporary John Aubrey described Hobbes as “contemplative,” and charitable, always carrying a pen and ink horn in his cane, with a notebook handy so he could jot down ideas during daily constitutionals. Aubrey noted that Hobbes once wrote a poem in Latin hexameter and pentameter “on the encroachments of the clergy on the civil power,” which contained over 500 verses.

Hobbes’ De Cive was published in 1642 and Leviathan in 1651, in which Hobbes proposed the idea that a “social contract” was necessary for civil peace. Its analysis of religion brought charges of atheism, then punishable by death. When things got too hot in England after Leviathan, Hobbes repaired to Paris. After the Great Plague in 1665 was followed by the Great Fire the next year, religionists sought a scapegoat. Parliament once more targeted Leviathan for being heresy. Hobbes hastily burned many of his papers.

His writing helped give birth to the Enlightenment, by analyzing and questioning religious assumptions, and proposing that religion was created by humans. Hobbes attributed “opinion of ghosts, ignorance of second causes, devotion towards what men fear, and taking of things casual for prognostics, consisteth the natural seed of religion; which, by reason of the different fancies, judgements, and passions of several men, hath grown up into ceremonies so different that those which are used by one man are for the most part ridiculous to the other.”

Whether deist or covert atheist, Hobbes was anti-clerical, anti-Puritan and anti-Catholic and managed to live out his full 91 years in perilous times due to influential friends. D. 1679.

Freedom From Religion Foundation