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Herbert Thorndike, 1598-1672
by T.A. Lacey

London: SPCK, 1929.

Chapter II. Preparation

THORNDIKE'S theological work which we have to consider began in the year 1641, when he was already forty-three years of age, with the Discourse of the Government of Churches. By that time his mind was naturally formed, and it was cast in a rather rigid mould; but we shall be able to trace important developments in detail, consequent upon necessary adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances. We have nothing of an earlier date from him, and only one later reminiscence, to throw any light on the process of his formation, which we can therefore study only in his external surroundings.

Born in the year 1598, somewhere in Suffolk but of a family holding land in Lincolnshire, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at fifteen years of age, and seems to have been resident there almost continuously, as scholar and fellow, until 1646. It was a period of slow but definite change in the matter of religion. Calvinism, as properly understood, had been banished from the university since the expulsion of Cartwright, consequent on the new statutes framed by Whitgift in 1570, but we are not to suppose that this meant any opposition to Calvin's extreme form of Augustinianism. It is a misnomer to call this Calvinism, or to look for it only in those who adopted the discipline of Geneva. It differed hardly at all from Luther's teaching on the same group of subjects, and very little from what was taught by Michel de Bay, the father of Jansenism at Louvain, or at an earlier date by the Spanish Dominican Melchior Cano, and indeed by many of the stricter Thomists. The Jesuits at the end of the sixteenth century were resolutely attacking this tradition, but it held its own at Rome in the inconclusive discussions of the Congregation de auxiliis gratiae. It was challenged with even less success by the followers of Arminius among the Calvinists of the Netherlands, and it completely dominated the Church of England, English theologians taking part in the condemnation of the Arminians at the Synod of Dort. The doctrines impugned in the famous "Five Points" were imperatively maintained by Whitgift, the hammerer of English Calvinists.

As the seventeenth century advanced, however, the doctrine of absolute predestination, with its consequences, was undermined in the universities by the influence of humanism and the growing study of the Greek Fathers. Thorndike, who was afterwards to argue strongly and persistently against it, in doing so confessed that he had for a long time, out of "reverence for the piety and learning of divers doctors of this Church," accepted the consequence of indefectible grace and final perseverance. [True Principle of Comprehension, sect, vi; Haddan, vol. v, p. 328.] He must therefore have passed away from it during the latter part of his residence at Cambridge, and the remarkable independence of his criticism justifies the use of the word "freedom" in describing his escape. We can only put it down to the great width of his reading during those formative years, without identifying any particular guidance.

Except at the universities there was little movement of the kind, and the opponents of Laud made their profit out of the accusation of Arminianism recklessly hurled at him and his supporters, a just charge against some of them, but meaningless in respect of most. Mention of these compels the question how far Thorndike was affected by them. He was a friend of George Herbert, whose deputy he became in the office of Public Orator, but Herbert was not altogether a Laudian; it is perhaps significant that Williams, the bitter rival and antagonist of Laud, promoted him to the prebend in Lincoln Minster vacant by the death of Herbert in 1636. It is clear that his mature judgment coincided at many points with that of Hammond and other Laudians, but he was always hostile to the autocratic prelacy which was their policy, approaching very closely in this respect to the scheme of Ussher, and moving even Richard Baxter to a hope of agreement with him until the disappointments of the Savoy Conference. [Haddan, vol. vi, p. 185.] Indeed the Laudian movement made little headway in Cambridge. Puritanism of the conforming type was strongly entrenched in the University, and Cosin's innovations or restorations at Peterhouse were generally disapproved. The troubles which fell upon the Colleges at the outbreak of the Civil War were not due to religious differences, but to their sturdy royalism and the courage with which they had furnished supplies to the King at Oxford, even while the Earl of Manchester and Cromwell were holding the town with the levies of the Associated Counties.

Thorndike served various offices in the college and the university. He was for a short time lecturer in Hebrew, and as evidence of his studies there is an Epitome Lexici Hebraici, Syriaci, Rabinici et Arabici, published in 1635, which subsequently procured him employment in the production of Walton's Polyglot, but is, according to competent scholars, of very small value. He proceeded to no degree in theology, until in 1663 he received the doctorate on the strength of a royal mandate, fortified by a curious Grace of the Senate, reciting that he had purposely refrained from graduation in order to avoid the burdensome office of Vice-master or Senior Dean, and declaring that "quasi rude donatus" he was to be free from all academic duties. [Haddan, vol. vi, p. 239, asserts very positively, without stating any evidence, that he did not actually proceed to the degree; but it was constantly attributed to him by contemporaries, as indeed is there shown.] In 1639 he was presented by the Crown to the vicarage of Claybrook in Leicestershire. In view of his frequent invective against pluralities, it is interesting to observe that he thereupon resigned his prebend at Lincoln, though on his own principles he might have retained it, as there was no cure of souls attached and both preferments were then in the same diocese. He held Claybrook for only three years, and provided the parish with a vicarage-house, which probably cost him all the emoluments of the benefice. What residence he kept does not appear. There is a story of Sanderson inveighing in a visitation sermon at Grantham against his conduct of divine worship; the sermon, printed among the preacher's collected works, does certainly complain of some who were "putting forward new rites and ceremonies, with scandal and without law," but the application to Thorndike rests on mere gossip. It comes from Barlow, Sanderson's biographer and successor in the see of Lincoln after the Restoration, who would be likely to think of him as he then was, a man interested in questions of ritual. There is no ground for attributing such interest to him at that earlier date, though he was soon to be drawn by the pressure of events into an academic discussion of cognate matters.

In this same year, 1639, there was a portentous revival of the debate about genuine Calvinism, the Calvinism of Cartwright, which had slumbered since the days of Whitgift and Bancroft. It was mainly due to the triumphant uprising of Presbyterianism in Scotland, directed first against the introduction of a liturgy based on that of the Church of England, but soon proceeding to a complete subversion of Episcopacy. Justly fearing the repercussion of these events in England, Laud requested Joseph Hall, Bishop of Exeter, who was much respected by the generality of Puritans, to write in defence of his order. He produced a treatise of The Divine Right of Episcopacy, which the Archbishop drastically revised according to his own mind, and in that form it was published. This was a challenge addressed to those Puritans who grudgingly accepted the episcopate as an institution based on human law, and drew the famous reply of Smectymnuus, an artificial word formed from the initials of the five authors, Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow. The case for Presbyterianism was here stated with a learning and a dignity not unworthy of the occasion, and the writers showed themselves willing to accept such a system as Ussher had outlined in his Apostolical Institution of Episcopacy. They concluded with a petition to the Parliament, now summoned for the spring of 1640, asking "that if episcopacy be retained in the Church it may be reduced to its primitive simplicity." If they objected to what Baxter called the "diocesan frame," and to any autocratic rule of a bishop without concurrence of the presbytery, they were even more opposed to the exercise of spiritual jurisdiction by "such delegates as lay-chancellors, commissaries, and others as never received imposition of hands."

Smectymnuus was weighty. An underworld of pamphleteers poured forth during the next year a flood of argument on the same side which was hardly more than violent. Meanwhile the Archbishop went on from challenge to challenge. When the Short Parliament of 1640 was dissolved, he retained the Convocation of the Clergy in being, though the lawfulness of so doing was disputed by eminent common lawyers, and procured the enactment of seventeen canons, some of which were designed to meet the just exceptions of Smectymnuus against abuses of the ecclesiastical courts; but one of them raised a storm of indignation by obliging all the clergy to undertake on oath a constant opposition to all attempts at altering "the government of this Church by archbishops, bishops, deans and archdeacons, etc. as it stands now established." The "etcetera oath," as it was facetiously called, suffered even more from ridicule than from argument. The whole affair of the Convocation was made prominent in the indictment framed by the Commons of the Long Parliament against the Archbishop.

When that fateful Parliament met on the 3rd of November, 1640, the lists were set for the challenge and defence not only of the Crown, but even more instantly of the apostolic constitution of the Church. Thorndike's first treatise was in form no more than an occasional pamphlet among others which then poured from the press, but it fixed him in the course which he was to follow for the rest of his life. He never mentions Smectymnuus, but his whole argument is addressed to the contentions of that book, and he follows them verbally in many places. It is contentious, but after a mediating fashion, for there was much in the puritan manifesto to which he was himself inclined. The second treatise, which followed a year later, was concerned with the subordinate plea of Smectymnuus and others against the compulsory use of the prescribed liturgy, about which he was less disposed to compromise. And yet here also he had reforms to suggest, which he would elaborate in his later writings with much learning and abundant good sense, but always with a touch of eccentricity and inopportuneness which marred the effect of his counsels. For the present his attitude was that of "ne moveas Camarinam." He was on the defensive and would not give away his case. These were things, he afterwards said, which were easier to endure than to mend.1 It will be well to give a detailed account of the two treatises. Reserving this, I shall complete my present task by trying to ascertain, from the numerous citations and references to authors contained in them, with what extent of reading he had prepared himself for his characteristic contribution to English theology.

We may first observe how much use he made of his rabbinical studies for the elucidation of practices of the Old Testament as bearing on the New. The two Talmuds he frequently quotes, as also the Mischna and the "Chaldee" paraphrase of Jonathan, which he was afterwards to edit for Walton's Polyglot; "the book called Pesikta" twice; Moses Maimonides incessantly, and once with the recently published annotations of Wilhelm Vorst; Isaac Abarbanel, Abenezra, Bartenora, Levi ben Gerson, David Kimchi, and Solomon Yarchi. To these may be added contemporary authors, "Leo of Modena, the now Rabbi at Venice," and "Menasseh ben Israel, the now Rabbi at Amsterdam," who, if I am not mistaken, negotiated the admission of Jews to England under the Government of Cromwell; also the Latin rendering of the Paraphrase of Onkelos by Paul Fagius and "the late most learned work" of John Selden, for whom he had no kindness, De Jure Naturali et Gentium iuxta disciplinam Ebraeorum. Philo and Josephus complete his Jewish sources.

A full collection of the Councils of the Church he had by him, but I cannot ascertain what edition he used. Those of Nicasa, Laodicea, Antioch, Constantinople I, and Gangra are quoted. He makes much use of Justellus on the African Canons, and knows "that which is called the fourth Council of Carthage" to be of uncertain provenance. In the same way he cites "those which are called the canons of the Apostles--which the world knoweth are not theirs, but yet do express very ancient Customs of the Church." Of ancient liturgies he knows almost all that are now known, but is uncertain of their age and of the accuracy of the texts before him. He has the translations from the Arabic made about forty years earlier by Victorius Scialach, the Maronite. He knows "the Mozarabic or Mustarabe," presumably in Quignon's redaction, but is puzzled by a rubric stating what is done "in missis Latinis." He also doubts the antiquity of this and of the Milanese liturgy, apparently observing their kinship. He has made notes of "that of the Christians of St. Thomas in the East Indies," and of an extract in the Jesuit Kircher's Prodromus Coptus, but the last-named book and some others, he observes, "are not in my hands for the present."

He quotes Pliny's famous letter to Trajan from Bithynia, and comments soundly on the word sacramentum there used, thinking it an error to take it in the sense of an oath. Of other writers whom he would probably call profane, I think he mentions only Thucydides, to illustrate from Greek colonization the dependence of one Church upon another, Strabo for light on St. Paul's journeys, and Plutarch's dispute about the much-repaired ship of Theseus, of which no man could tell whether it remained the same or not: this to dismiss the demand of Smectymnuus for the production of an authentic primitive liturgy.

Of the Greek Fathers he quotes "Clemens' Epistle published not long since," presumably the edition of Clemens Romanus by Patrick Young, printed at Oxford in 1633. Of Ignatius he knew only the interpolated text, but was acute enough to see that this was not to be trusted, and so he quoted with guarding words, such as "Whosoever wrote it, it is ancient enough to speak our purpose." Moreover, he had himself found in Caius College Library "an old translation of these epistles in barbarous Latin," on the evidence of which he made one reconstruction of the Greek text, that was verified when the edition of Isaac Voss appeared. With Irenaeus and Justin he is quite familiar. Clement of Alexandria, Quis dives, he here cites only from Eusebius, though in later writings he will make much use of him. To Eusebius himself, both in the Greek text and in the Latin of Ruffinus, he refers very frequently; to Athanasius, Epiphanius, and the two Gregories, of Nyssa and Nazianzus, occasionally; to Chrysostom incessantly; to Isidore of Pelusium once. There is one quotation from the Rule of St. Basil, and others from his epistles. The Apostolic Constitutions are quoted without any attempt to ascertain their date, and "Dionysius the Areopagite" even more uncritically as "of the time of the Apostles." This in the first treatise. In the second, however, the writer appears as "he that calls himself Dionysius the Areopagite" or "the pretended Dionysius," and is dated later than the Council of Laodicea. Theodoret Thorndike knew only in a Latin version, or in extracts from the Greek made by Oecumenius, whose treatment of them he boldly criticizes. To the historian Socrates he turns for elucidation of a phrase used by St. Ambrose. Balsamon and Zonaras are both used, and the latter sharply criticized, as commentators on the Councils. The historian Nicephorus Callistus is quoted from Lang's Latin rendering.

Of the Latins, Tertullian and Cyprian are constantly in evidence, the treatise of Arnold of Bonneval de Cardinalibus Operibus Christi, printed with the works of the latter, being carefully distinguished as by an unknown author. There is a bare glance at Optatus, despite the importance of the Donatist schism for one in controversy with Puritans. Ambrose is much in evidence, as also is the writer ingeniously dubbed by Erasmus "Ambrosiaster," whom Thorndike distinguishes only as not being Ambrose. Jerome he treats with great freedom, sharply criticizing his famous account of the Alexandrian episcopate. Of Augustine he does not always carefully distinguish what is spurious. Possidius is not forgotten; contra gentes contributes something; the Codex Theodosianus is cited for the privileges of the Jews under the Empire; the Liber Pontificalis is known but not trusted. Gregory of Tours is the only other Christian writer quoted until comparatively recent times are reached, Bede not appearing in these two treatises, though Thorndike was afterwards to make good use of him. Aelius Lampridius, however, is fetched out of the Historia Augusta as a man who, "being an enemy to all, cannot be thought partial to any rank of Christians." This rather shamefaced gesture introduces the testimony of Alexander Severus to the care taken by Christians in the selection of their bishops, as by Jews in corresponding circumstances.

The writers of the School are strangely neglected. There is one reference to the Gloss of Nicholas de Lyra, and one to the Rationale of Durandus. When we come to the sixteenth century Beatus Rhenanus appears as an authority, with Carolus Sigonius, the historian of Italy, and Ferrarius de ritu concionum, while the mistakes of Baronius appear, as usual, to be the chief cause for citing him. Three works of Joseph Scaliger are drawn upon. The leaders of the Reformation, with the exception of Calvin, are not much in evidence; Luther is mentioned only once, Philip Melanchthon's De Caeremoniis twice and his Apologia for the Confession of Augsburg once, Beza's Commentaries five times and his Italian disciple Diodati thrice. Of the English Reformers Jewel alone is once mentioned, and that in a second-hand quotation from his controversy with Harding. I should add "that noble and learned Du Plessis," Philip Mornay, whose Traité de l'Institution de la sainte Eucharistie Thorndike seems to have held in high esteem.

Of contemporaries he quotes "the learned Casaubon" with becoming respect, in explanation of the remark cited from Aelius Lampridius, and "the learned Jesuit Sirmondus on a curious question about representations of the Last Supper, which illustrates the placing of the bishop and priests at primitive celebrations of the Eucharist; a work of Heinsius published in 1639; Selden, as mentioned above; De Saumaise under his assumed name of Walo Messalinus; "Petitus, Var. Lect. iii. 4," identified by Haddan as published at Paris in 1633; and the commentary of Grotius on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, but nothing else coming from that universal genius of those days. Without mention of their names, he cites also the work of his own patron, John Williams of Lincoln, The Holy Table, Name and Thing, and also "that excellent learned Prelate"--James Ussher--"in his Answer to the Jesuit's Challenge in Ireland." It is to be noted that he never quotes any of the puritan protagonists by name, nor any of their works by title, but he evidently has many of them at hand, Smectymnuus in chief. His modern editor, Haddan's predecessor, has with unfailing diligence traced every allusion, however recondite, and supplied this glaring deficiency, which I shall not venture either to account for or to blame.

There are strange gaps in this list. One might expect some reference to Hooker, to Field's great work on the Church, or to the writings of Lancelot Andrewes. It is not necessary to assume that Thorndike had not read them, but if he had been a close student of them one may doubt whether his retentive memory would have failed to produce out of their store something bearing on his argument. In his later writings I find him quoting copiously from Field, but referring only once, in the Epilogue, to Hooker's Fifth Book, and once, in his latest writing, to a sermon of Andrewes. The whole apparatus of references, in view of its scattered contents and its omissions, seems to indicate that he had not made any systematic collection of material for these first essays in controversy, but produced it in the emergency of the time out of the memories of his very discursive reading. The former and shorter of the two he described, in the dedication to the Duke of Lennox, as "this slight worthless piece." The preface to the second begs that "learned leaders may please to excuse me, if walking for the most part an untrodden path, they find nothing but work cut out, to be made up at leisure." In such leisure as he could command he made it up later, and the finished work shows that it was remarkably well cut out in the first hasty production. But finished in the sense of a formal tractate after the fashion of the School it never was, until in his old age he undertook the task of pouring it into a Latin mould. His mind did not naturally work in that fashion. He remained always discursive, unloading his erudition as the drift of an argument called it forth. He saw clearly enough, but he saw too many things at once.

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