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Theological Essentialism at the Enlightenment: The Doctrine of Fundamental Articles of the Faith in Daniel Waterland (1683-1740)



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Williams, Simeon 


This doctoral thesis represents the first full length historical and comparative analysis of both the contextual catalysts and the originality of the theologically essentialist writings by Church of England theologian Daniel Waterland (1683-1740). Overviewing the most relevant contemporary discussions of doctrinal “fundamentality,” it breaks with a precarious historiography which often cites Waterland as its sole primary source on the early Hanoverian reception of Protestantism’s Post-Reformation doctrine of fundamental articles of the faith (i.e., the teaching that there exist confessedly biblical articles of the Christian faith unnecessary to the Christian faith). Juxtaposed with the findings of these historical reconstructions, Waterland’s rather cursory and highly critical accounts of contemporary theological essentialism are for the first time critically engaged and confirmed as largely historically accurate. The thesis therefore addresses what was yet an unresolved historiographical tension in Waterland due to his polemical tendency to leave texts of unorthodox views uncited and their authors unnamed. Having located Waterland’s project on the contemporary ecclesiastical landscape, the thesis conducts what is to date the most rigorous exposition of Waterland’s doctrine of fundamentals. He pursued what was described as “formal” (versus heuristic) construction of the doctrine whereby the fundamentals of Christianity are grounded and identified scientifically, just as the expert technician or metaphysician would technically analyze the fundamentals and essentials of any object. Thus committed to the primacy of proper categories, his own methodological and doctrinal proposals appear thoroughly teleological: assuming that the importance of any part is a function of its relation to the defining telos of the whole, and that this relation is itself a function of the nature of the whole (including that of the part) and that of its circumstances. Therefore, the theologian ought only examine “the nature and reason of things” for distinctly operational evidence for the importance of any given part of “the Christian system” of doctrine and practice. The thesis concludes that, despite Waterland’s often forgotten claims to the contrary, the theoretical machinery of his doctrine renders it highly idiosyncratic and apparently unattested within the early Georgian church, if not the English fundamental articles tradition as a whole.





Hampton, Stephen


adiaphora, adiaphorism, Antitrinitarianism, Arianism, Arminianism, articuli fundamentales fidei, conceptual essentialism, Daniel Waterland, denominationalism, Early Eighteenth Century English Presbyterianism, Early Hanoverian Church of England, Early Modern Intellectual History, Early Modern Philosophical Theology, Early Modern Philosophy of Religion, ecumenism, Eighteenth Century English Dissent, Enlightenment, essentialism, Evangelicalism, fundamental articles of the faith, high church, Historical Theology, History of Anglicanism, in essentials unity, John Locke, Late Stuart Church of England, latitudinarianism, low church, necessary articles, non-essentials/nonessentials theological, Post-Reformation Theology, Protestant Fundamental Theology, Protestantism, Samuel Clarke, status confessionis, theological epistemology, theological essentialism, theological irenicism, theological method, theological polemics, Theological Prolegomena, theological rationalism, theological triage, things indifferent, tolerance, toleration, Trinity, Unitarianism, William Whiston


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge