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

London: SPCK, 1929.

Chapter I. Time and Circumstance

Chapter II. Preparation

Chapter III. The Primitive Government of Churches

Chapter IV. Religious Assemblies

Chapter V. Tribulation

Chapter VI. Church and State

Chapter VII. The Epilogue

Chapter VIII. The Restoration

Chapter IX. Post Mortem

Appendix I. The Published Works of Herbert Thorndike

Appendix II. The Bishop of Lincoln's Bill

Appendix III. The Latin Manuscripts in the Chapter Library at Westminster

MY task has been to describe the circumstances, the work, and to some extent the personal qualities, of a theologian who has been much quoted but perhaps not much read. The neglect of him is intelligible. Herbert Thorndike belonged to the clerus Anglus which in the seventeenth century was stupor mundi, and of that company he was not the least learned, but he lacked the gift of a noble and lucid style which was shared by most of his compeers. To read him continuously is a task requiring no little patience and producing much irritation. At times, under an evident impulse of emotion, he rises to something like eloquence; he is for the most part not merely pedestrian but halting, and very often obscure. The obscurity he perversely defended, in his Preface to the Epilogue, as showing that his subject was beyond the judgment of the vulgar who intruded upon it: "I am willing to bear the blame of obscure, if that lesson may be learned by the people." Those who are admitted to the arcanum must go to him for his matter, and refuse to be repelled by his manner.

A copy of the original edition of the Epilogue has long been one of my own treasures; the Latin De Ratione ac Iure finiendi Controversias I have read at the British Museum; for the rest of his published work I have relied on the collection in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, begun by an unnamed editor in the year 1844, continued by Arthur West Haddan and completed in 1856. All my references are to the volumes and pages of this collection under the name of Haddan. But in my running commentary on Thorndike's texts I have deliberately avoided loading the page and distracting the reader by such notes. The place of the treatise in hand should be found without much difficulty, and the more there is perused in the course of verifying a quotation, the better it will be for the seeker.

For the little that is known of Thorndike's life I have depended on the minutely careful biography appended to the last volume of the collection, and all statements made without citation of authority may be taken as drawn from that source, to which Mr. J. Bass Mullinger in the Dictionary of National Biography could add nothing new, except one unimportant fact which I have annexed. From some of Haddan's judgments I vehemently dissent; his description of Richard Baxter, for example, as "neither learned nor unprejudiced nor sober-minded," and his repetition of the stale story of "a liturgy, complete and with rubrics, prepared in a fortnight by one man," the fact being that in that sufficient space of time Baxter wrote an exact account of his own practice during thirteen years at Kidderminster (vol. vi, pp. 231-2). But of his industry and accuracy praise can hardly be too high. I have had to correct one mistake, which may have been due only to condensed writing, and have detected perhaps one surprising oversight which has furnished me with the pleasure of a discovery.

I have been a long time engaged on the work. More than thirty years ago I was drawn to Thorndike's teaching on the unity of the Church, and much more recently I accepted with rather light-hearted alacrity an invitation to write this book. After four years of desultory labour I had written two chapters, now the first and the third. I then packed up my materials and transported them to the seclusion of an hotel at Taormina, avoided by the English, where I wrote the rest at a window from which I could look up to Etna and down along the Sicilian coast as far as Syracuse. If there is any merit of largeness in my work, I am disposed to put it down to these favourable circumstances. My previous dilatoriness may be taken to illustrate the difficulty experienced by a residentiary canon of a cathedral in making even the most modest contribution to sacred study.

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