John Locke:

An Historical Analysis of

His Thought and Life

Intro to Church History

Dec. 10/99

Box #260

John Locke (1632-1704) is perhaps one of the most influential philosophers the world has ever seen. His writings became the basis of the eighteenth century enlightenment reason. Basil Willey describes Locke’s influence as such, “Locke stands at the end of the seventeenth century, and at the beginning of the eighteenth; his work is at once a summing-up of seventeenth century conclusions and the starting-point for eighteenth century enquiries.”[1] This man was consumed with his ideas of liberty, freedom, and natural or inalienable rights. He has been said to be, the Father of the American Revolution, which is thoroughly Lockean in its ideas and emphases. Locke heavily influenced Voltaire, the French philosopher, as well as Rousseau, Jefferson, and Franklin. He is the locus of every liberal[2] philosopher in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus, we see that Locke’s influence is startling. An examination of his views on epistemology, religion, and church-state relations will be given, in their relation to the church and Christianity.

Locke lived through some of the most tumultuous times in England, filled with religious squabbling, revolutions, and was himself the locus of philosophical and theological controversies. He triumphed his thoughts on reason as the final arbiter of truth and instigated some of the first ideas of critical interpretation of the Bible. He pioneered a simplistic Christian faith, over and against the scholastic Calvinism and Reformation theology of his day. Locke, while being a part of his historical context, was one of those few individuals who seemed to be a revolutionary figure in himself.

The man himself was born August 29, 1632 in Wrington, a village of Somerset. He was born into a Puritan household. Locke’s mother died when he was only 22 years of age. The knowledge on her is very scant, but Locke often referred to her as a “very pious woman.”[3] Locke was raised in a very strict home, with his father exacting much discipline and authority. However, Locke seems to have quite respected his father. A friend, Lady Masham, recalls that Locke, “never mentioned him but with great respect and affection.”[4] It was in this strict, Puritan home that Locke first became acquainted with ideas of religious liberty and man’s inherent freedom. His father continually reminded him of the people’s right to an elected parliament. His father even fought in the Parliamentary army in the war of 1641, fought over the King’s right to impose taxes by executive order. Squadrito writes, “Economic, religious, and political conflicts were primary topics of conversations in the Locke household. The influence that this early education had upon Locke’s mature philosophical views was doubtless considerable.”[5] Locke’s thought definitely had its beginnings at home, but he transcended this arena as well, for he would depart his home’s conservative views on scripture and a typical theistic epistemology.

Locke’s formal education began at Westminster. He sharply criticized the harsh school environment and its intense program of classical philosophy and language (Greek, Latin, and Arabic) studies. He disparaged the loss of time at the school because of its hyper-intellectualism. He would later say that he had, “lost a great deal of time at the commencement of his studies because the only philosophy then known at Oxford was the peripatetic, perplexed with obscure terms and useless questions.”[6] Locke would develop his common sense philosophical systems out of this environment. His philosophy would seem to be in much contrast to the overly obscure philosophy of classical writers and contemporaries. In 1656, Locke graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, focusing on such subjects as language, Aristotelian logic, metaphysics, history, astronomy, and natural philosophy.

The seventeenth century is one of transition. As Kathleen Squadrito correctly notes, “The intellectual climate of the age was beginning to shift away from superstition and tradition toward the newly founded authority of reason and experimentation.”[7] Locke was one of the main instigators of this change. Locke’s philosophy developed out of a love for medicine and the natural sciences. In 1649, Locke joined an experimental philosophy club, whose purpose was to apply philosophy to the natural realm. Francis Bacon had already critiqued philosophy and medicine as needing a new foundation-empiricism.[8] Locke then began to work with Robert Boyle, the