Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England


Winner of the Sixteenth Century Society's Roland H. Bainton Prize for History or Theology

Paul C. H. Lim offers an insightful examination of the polemical debates about the doctrine of the Trinity in seventeenth-century England, showing that the philosophical and theological re-configuration of this doctrine had a significant impact on the politics of religion in the early modern period.

Lim's analysis of these heated polemics shows how ...

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Winner of the Sixteenth Century Society's Roland H. Bainton Prize for History or Theology

Paul C. H. Lim offers an insightful examination of the polemical debates about the doctrine of the Trinity in seventeenth-century England, showing that the philosophical and theological re-configuration of this doctrine had a significant impact on the politics of religion in the early modern period.

Lim's analysis of these heated polemics shows how Trinitarian God-talk became untenable in many ecclesiastical and philosophical circles, leading to the emergence of Unitarianism. He demonstrates that those who continued to uphold Trinitarian doctrine articulated their piety and theological perspectives in an increasingly secularized culture of discourse. Drawing on both unexplored manuscripts and well-known treatises of Continental and English provenance, he uncovers the complex layers of the polemic: from biblical exegesis to reception history of patristic authorities, from popular religious radicalism during the Civil War to Puritan spirituality, from Continental Socinians to English anti-Trinitarians who claimed an independent theological identity, from the notion of the Platonic captivity of primitive Christianity to that of Plato as "Moses Atticus."

Among this book's surprising findings are that Anti-Trinitarian sentiment arose in a Puritan ambience in which biblical literalism overrode rationalistic presuppositions, and that theology and philosophy were more closely connected during this period than previously thought. Mystery Unveiled fills a significant lacuna in early modern English intellectual history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] detailed and masterful study of the public debates on the Trinity in early modern England."—Renaissance Quarterly

"An erudite analysis of the Trinitarian controversies in 17th-century England...This book is a deeply impressive undertaking in which Lim eloquently explores the issues that fuelled debates over the Trinity in 17th-century England, traces the continental influences that shaped the discourse, and adeptly engages with the polemical use of patristic sources."—Reviews in History

In Mystery Unveiled, Paul Lim engages in a meticulous study of the Trinitarian controversy in seventeenth-century England, telescoping in on the deep theological issues at the heart of the antitrinitarian and protrinitarian debates. The outcome is a serious work of scholarship that questions simplistic notions of antitrinitarianism vis-à-vis Socianism as a straightforward harbinger of the Enlightenment...this book is a significant contribution to scholarship and is meant for those looking to read a highly specialized account of the Trinitarian controversy in seventeenth-century England...[It] is extremely valuable in understanding the historical, political, and theological complexities surrounding Trinitarian dogma in the seventeenth century."—Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Those interested in topics as panentheism, Christology, soteriology (particularly the believer's union with Christ), and the history of exegesis, as well as theological traditions varying from the radical sects of the interregnum to the Laudians, Catholics, and Reformed, will all benefit from reading this book...Lim breaks new ground with this book in several ways. He makes use of many manuscripts that have not received attention until now, which in itself makes his book a valuable contribution to the field. Lim also provides fresh perspectives from which to view the rise of antitrinitarianism...The breadth of Lim's bibliography is impressive...Both the breadth of Lim's research and his innovative arguments make for highly stimulating reading. This is a great contribution to our knowledge of the intellectual history of early modern England."—Calvin Theological Journal

"In this brilliant study, Lim walks his readers through the historical, philosophical, and theological complexities of seventeenth century Trinitarian debates...This book is highly recommended."—Religious Studies Review

"This book is original and ambitious in what it sets out to achieve, and creative and confident in what it delivers...Lim s analysis is astute, balanced, informative and impressive. He contextualises the theological material brilliantly. His close work with texts is embedded in a rich understanding of the period. A particular strength of Mystery Unveiled is the way it shows the centrality of biblical exegesis to debate, for all parties." —Expository Times

"[A] substantial revises the debate and identifies new work to be done." —American Historical Review

"Lim s accomplishment is...deeply impressive, combining remarkable breadth of learning with remarkable nuance...Mystery Unveiled is...a fascinating and important work by a scholar who possesses not only a fine-grained knowledge of seventeenth-century Christianity, but of the early church and its theology." —Milton Quarterly

"Since the Reformation, mystery has always been difficult for Protestants. Paul Lim's erudite book demonstrates just how challenging it was when, during the English seventeenth century, Christianity's central mystery of the Trinity moved to the center of political, cultural, and religious controversies. With enormous theological and scriptural learning, Lim lets us see these controversies from the inside. In doing so, he decisively shows the threat that anti-Trinitarianism and (more surprisingly) the defense of Christian orthodoxy together posed to both throne and altar."—Jonathan Sheehan, University of California, Berkeley

"Lim takes on, in all their formal intricacy, the problems raised by Trinitarian theology and biblical exegesis in seventeenth-century England. After several decades of sociocultural and political analyses of the period, his book reminds us that the second half of the seventeenth century was an age primarily marked by a transformative battle between Christian philosophies. Mystery Unveiled is an essential and overdue contribution to the history of European enlightenment."—Lori Anne Ferrell, author of The Bible and the People

"This is unquestionably a book of very high intelligence and immaculate scholarship, equally impressive on Late Reformation biblical and patristic hermeneutic and on the work of Hobbes and other proponents of heterodoxy. Although on one level this is an engagement with a limited number of very difficult texts, the contexts are exceptional in range and importance. This is a profoundly resonant study."—John Morrill, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Paul C.H. Lim (Ph.D., Cambridge) is Associate Professor of the History of Christianity (Divinity School), and Affiliate Professor of History (College of Arts & Science) at Vanderbilt University. He was a Luce Fellow of Theology for 2011-12, and is currently writing a book on Locke, natural religion, and the nexus between orthodox Christianity and the Enlightenment.

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Table of Contents

1. Anti-trinitarian theology and trajectory of Paul Best and John Biddle
2. Antinomian and Antitrinitarian? The fate of the Trinity, c. 1640-1660
3. Many weapons, one aim: pro-trinitarian reactions to John Biddle in context
4. Polemical and Practical? The spirituality of Cheynell and Owen in context
5. Bishops Behaving Badly? Hobbes, Baxter, and Marvell on the Problem of Conciliar History and the Nature of Heresy
6. Platonic Captivity, or Sublime Mystery? The Trinity and the Gospel of John in early modern England

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