Quoted from the author's "Preface."
"IN a letter addressed to Archbishop Benson on his acceptance of the Primacy, more than twenty-three years ago, Dr. Fenton Hort mentions as the most formidable perils then in prospect for the English Church,'the danger of its calm and unobtrusive alienation in thought and spirit from the great silent multitude of Englishmen, and again of alienation from fact and love of fact; — mutual alienations both.'
In my opinion this 'alienation from fact and love of fact' is an evil already afflicting not only the English Church, but all the religious communities in England; and in writing the history of modern English Rationalism I have tried to trace the process by which it has been brought about. For the alienation, as Hort observes, is mutual; and to set fact at odds with faith is to rationalise.
Owing to the singular intellectual decline of England, as distinguished from Scotland and Ireland, during the period immediately preceding the French Revolution, criticism of religious beliefs by English writers in the nineteenth century seems to begin almost de novo, like the contemporary revival of literature and science, under the influence of extraneous excitements. Thus the period treated of in this work is marked off from previous periods not merely by our artificial system of chronology, but by what may be called a true scientific frontier in time.
Nevertheless, the roots of modern English rationalism, as of all other historical products, stretch far back into the past; and in order to make it intelligible, I have been obliged to preface my account of its phases with a few introductory chapters, summarising the results reached by criticism up to the beginning of the last century, with some reference to the sort of apologetics by which they were met. It seemed the more necessary to furnish this information as there is no work known to me in which it can be found. Various contributions to the history of religious opinion, both English and foreign, have proved most helpful, and my obligations have, I trust, been sufficiently acknowledged in the notes; but no one work gave all the facts needed for my purpose; nor did any work I consulted put what seemed to me the right interpretation on the facts it supplied."