This studv has attempted to understand Gibbon* s approach to
eoolesiastioal history and to evaluate it in the light of current thinking on the subject. It was seen that three major sources contributed to
the historian*s preparation: the eighteenth century environment, the
impact of external oircumstances, and certain individual qualities in
the man himself. It was indicated that Gibbon had a * philosophy of
history* only in the empirical sense of possessing a fundamental viewpoint from which he approached his materials. His treatment of his predecessors was defended from the oharga of being *ore-Cooernican* on the
strength of the fact that he made an unmistakable atteaot to assess the
trustworthiness of his authorities, however inadequate by ourrent standards*
Gibbon*s attitude towards ecclesiastical history, it was argued,
did not spring from a specific antagonism against Christianity but from
a general feeling for life which was in operation over the total range
of his experience and observation. -Prominent in this outlook were an
admiration for ancient Rome, a reflection of eighteenth century rationalism and scientism; a distrust for zeal, and a sense of the importance of
individual independence. Understandably, Gibbon applied this predisposition of his mind to the materials of ecclesiastical history.
It was further argued that Gibbon*s treatment of Christianity
must be traced against the background of his interest in all the factors
involved in Rome's decay and fall rather than on the common and erroneous supposition that he had singled out Christianity as the chief cause
of the catastrophe.
It was concluded that Gibbon's employment of the ironical device
of limiting his consideration of Christianity to an inquiry into the
'secondary' causes of its success was an important element in the defence
of his work as a restricted and a scientific study. It was seen also
that his apparent unawareness of his assumptions was a most significant
Use other side if necessary.
weakness; for it betrayed Mm, in Ms irony ana mnuenao, inuo a axsmissal
of the Supernatural from history, a dismissal which could not
be substantiated by the evidence of critical history. It was concluded,
however, that lasting importance may be attached to Gibbon's inquiry for
its insight into the eighteenth century mentality, for its alternate
view of ecclesiastical history, for its effect upon subsequent approaches
to the subject, and for its attack upon a mistaken conception of the
'historical' element in Faith itself.