Freethought Archives > Thomas Woolston > Six Discourses on Miracles  (1727-1730)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas Woolston was born in Northampton in November 1688. He was educated at Sidney College, Cambridge, and after graduating was elected a foundation fellow. He took holy orders and entered on a close study of theology and the Church Fathers.

In his Moderator between an Infidel and an Apostate (1725) and other works Woolston maintained that miracles were incredible, and that all the supernatural stories of the New Testament must be regarded as figurative or allegorical rather than literal. This led to him being prosecuted on a charge of blasphemy, but the action was withdrawn through the intervention of the theologian William Whiston.

Between 1727-1729 Whiston published Six 'Discourses on Miracles,' which were dedicated to six leading bishops of the day. A fresh prosecution for blasphemy was commenced, with the Attorney-General declaring the Discourses to be the "most blasphemous book that ever was published in any age whatever". Woolston was found guilty and was sentenced to a 100 fine and a one-year prison term which the judges extended until Woolston agreed to stop publishing his views. He refused to do so and published a Defence of his Discourses (1729). He eventually purchased the "Liberty of the Rules", a form of house arrest allowing him to live within three square miles of the prison. He returned to his former home in London where he continued to sell his pamphlets. Woolston never married and died on 27 January 1733.

Thomas Woolston


SOURCES

Thomas Woolston: Madman & Deist? by William Trapnell (Thoemmes Press, 1994)

 


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