John Locke is well-known as a philosopher. Perhaps less well-known, though, are the religious convictions that underlie many of his ideas. Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, recently published an article in Forbes describing the influence of Locke’s Christianity on his views of the human person. Locke’s Christianity also shows in his scriptural commentaries and his thoughts on the birth of the Savior.
Over the course of the last five years, I have been devoting my Christmas article to authors or topics that touch upon the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and are relevant to the free society and a free economy. This Christmas, I focus on John Locke (1632-1704), one of the most celebrated champions of human liberty.
Although he studied Christianity for most of his life John Locke wrote his two major books on the topic during his last decade.
George Santayana (1863-1952), the noted philosopher, started a lecture by saying that a good portrait of Locke “should be painted in the manner of the Dutch masters, in a sunny interior, scrupulously furnished with all the implements of domestic comforts and philosophical enquiry: the Holy Bible open majestically before him, and beside it that other revelation—the terrestrial globe.” Victor Nuovo, who edited a book of most of Locke’s writings on religion, wrote that “no other philosopher except Aristotle has had such an impact on the common mind.” Nuovo concluded that a “careful reading of his theological writings shows that he viewed the world in terms of biblical sacred history that began with the angelic rebellion and would end with the Last Judgement.”
John Locke spent his life trying to understand the human person and spent several decades, especially the last one of his life, trying to better understand Christianity. He did not just study religion; he also lived it. When he was no longer able to go to church, he thought it proper to receive the sacrament at home. His biographers state that he spent his time in “acts of piety and devotion,” exhorting those at his bedside that this life should only be regarded as a preparation for a better one.
Photo: Alejandro Chafuen.