History of Pantheism

The word “pantheism” was invented in 1697 by English mathematician Joseph Raphson. In his work, De spatio reali (Of Real Space or Infinite Being), Raphson wanted to make a distinction between atheistic “panhylists” (from the Greek roots pan, “all”, and hyle, “matter”), who believe everything is matter, and Spinozan “pantheists” who believe in “a certain universal substance, material as well as intelligence, that fashions all things that exist out of its own essence.”

Raphson wanted to distinguish atheism with the underlying philosophies of the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Syrians, Assyrians, Jewish Kabbalists, Brahmin Indians, and most prominently in his time, the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. He was a slight critic of Spinoza and would today be labeled a panentheist because he insisted that divine infinite space was distinct from matter – an idea that would later be challenged by pantheist Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, where matter and space are theorized as being unified.

The term was later used by the Irish writer John Toland in his work of 1705 Socinianism Truly Stated, by a pantheist. Toland, who was influenced by Spinoza, had read Joseph Raphson’s De Spatio Reali, referring to it as “the ingenious Mr. Ralphson’s (sic) Book of Real Space”. Like Raphson, he used the terms “pantheist” and “Spinozist” interchangeably. In 1720 he wrote the Pantheisticon: or The Form of Celebrating the Socratic-Society in Latin, where he envisioned a pantheist society which believed, “all things in the world are one, and one is all in all things … what is all in all things is God, eternal and immense, neither born nor ever to perish.” He clarified his idea of pantheism in a letter to Gottfried Leibniz in 1710 when he referred to “the pantheistic opinion of those who believe in no other eternal being but the universe”.

In 1785, a major controversy about whether Spinoza’s philosophy was an atheist philosophy or not between Friedrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn, known in German as the Pantheismus-Streit (“Pantheism Controversy”), helped spread pantheism to many German thinkers in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Visit the Wikipedia pantheism page for more

With such a long history, a lot has been written about Pantheism. Browse our list of respected philosophers, authors and poets that can help shed more light on the subject. There’s no better way to learn about pantheism than to read from the ‘masters’. You can see a complete list of recommended books here.

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