Moral theology in the seventeenth century--The English casuists: Perkins, Ames, Sanderson, Hall, Taylor--Joseph Mead--Hales of Eton--The Cambridge Platonists: Whichcote, Smith, Cudworth, More--Bishop Pearson--Barrow--Bishop Bull--The anti-Roman pamphleteers.
IN continuing the review of the more eminent divines of the seventeenth century our attention may be transferred for a time from works concerned with doctrinal controversies, or biblical learning, to certain important studies in a special field of inquiry where the English Church has been in general gravely deficient--I mean moral theology.
The word "casuistry," as generally used, carries with it an evil connotation. It suggests notions of deceit and trickery. Men have come to think of it as the studied art not of ascertaining, but of evading duty. Yet it is obvious that in the course of daily life complex cases are constantly occurring where duty is not clear, or where (apparently) two or more duties seem to conflict with one another. Hence, call it by what name we will, there arises the necessity of dealing with such cases. To be one's own casuist is not always the course of discretion; and a good and sensible man will often with advantage ask the aid of one who is well-informed, wise, and practised in the exercise of moral discrimination. Cases, for instance, are frequently arising out of the relations of human law to conscience, and out of the numerous questions that concern the obligations to truth, as between man and man, where duty is by no means obvious. The regular practice of habitual confession (as in the Roman Church) has, of course, strongly stimulated casuistical studies; but, even where the practice is not general, a faithful pastor will be frequently consulted in cases of difficulty; and experience shows that the rough-and-ready answer of our first thoughts is by no means to be always trusted. [Jeremy Taylor observes, "The careless and needless neglect of receiving private confessions hath been too great a cause of our not providing materials apt for so pious and useful a ministration."--Ductor Dubitantium, Preface.]
It is worthy of notice that it was among divines of the Puritan school that casuistry was first studied with any care in the reformed Church. William Perkins (1558-1602), who had been a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, and attained a considerable repute as a preacher and commentator, gave special attention to this subject. [The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience was a posthumous work, appearing in 1606; reprinted separately 1614, and in Perkins' collected Works.] He was followed by another and more distinguished Cambridge student, William Ames (1576-1633), who had studied under Perkins, and came afterwards to be Professor of Divinity at Franeker, in Friesland. His volume, De conscientia et ejus jure, vel casibus (1630), deals with many problems, some of the inner and spiritual life, some of practical conduct. The solutions of the cases are sometimes affected by the peculiarities of Puritan theology; and not infrequently a Puritan bias is discernible; yet on the whole the works of both Perkins and Ames are marked by good sense and sound reasoning. Ames points to the serious lack of the discussion of cases of conscience by Protestant divines. To him is due the happy metaphor (which, by the way, the conscience of our eminent casuist, Jeremy Taylor, permitted him to borrow without acknowledgment) that through this deficiency of sound teaching among ourselves the children of Israel were compelled to go down to the Philistines (id est, nostri studiosi ad Pontificios authores) to sharpen, every man, his share, his coulter, his axe, and his mattock. [Praefatio ad lectorem.]
Robert Sanderson (1587-1662), Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1642),and after the Restoration Bishop of Lincoln (1660-1662), stands out above the earlier writers by the reason of the thoroughness of his examination of fundamental principles, as well as by his superior intellectual acumen. [It is to Sanderson's pen we owe the Preface of our present English Book of Common Prayer; and an admirable piece of work it is.] The seven Lectures (1646) delivered at Oxford, De juramenti promissorii obligatione (suggested by the parliamentary imposition of the Solemn League and Covenant), and the ten lectures (1647), De obligatione conscientiae, are works of solid and permanent value, and abound (especially the latter) in applications pertinent to many questions of our own time. In thoroughness, accuracy, and soundness of judgment, Sanderson seems to me to far surpass his more brilliant contemporary, the author of the Ductor Dubitantium. In these lectures Sanderson, who had as early as 1615 published a work on Logic, [Logicae Artis Compendium.] which long held its place as the manual in use at Oxford till it was at length superseded by Aldrich, employs habitually and familiarly terms of the Aristotelian philosophy now little used and imperfectly understood; but, as Dr. Whewell has justly observed, "in his hands these technicalities become really instruments of an effective and methodical discussion of his subject." [Preface to Whewell's edition of De Oblig. Consc., 1851.] "It would be difficult," writes the same authority, "to discuss most of the moral questions which form the latter part of the work in a more satisfactory manner than is there done." Not only as an intellectual exercise, but as furnishing him with principles constantly applicable to one of the most important duties of a physician of souls, Sanderson's work on Conscience may be strongly commended to every student preparing for the ministry of the Church. [The late Bishop of Lincoln (Christopher Wordsworth) required a knowledge of this work from candidates for Holy Orders. It is to be regretted that the old translation by Lewis (1722) was employed by the Bishop as the basis of the English edition published (1877) by him; for though some corrections have been made, the rendering is still in many places faulty.]
There have been happily preserved to us a few examples of cases of conscience on which Sanderson was specially consulted, together with his answers. They are well worth studying as instances of sagacity and sound judgment. [See vol. v. of Jacobson's admirable edition of Sanderson's Works.]
Sanderson, as a preacher, showed his marked predilection for the discussion of ethical questions of daily interest. His sermons, cleared of the mannerism of the period and the (more than usually frequent) antique forms of phraseology and structure, supply a rich treasury to the modern preacher. King Charles I. numbered Sanderson among his favourite chaplains; and his saying, reported by Izaak Walton, "I take my ears to other preachers, but I take my conscience to Mr. Sanderson," aptly marks the distinguishing characteristic of this great divine.
"Of all Divinity," wrote Hall, Bishop of Norwich, "that part is most useful which determines cases of conscience." From his pen we have a small body of Resolutions and Decisions of divers practical cases of conscience in continual use among men. The cases are forty in number, some connected with questions arising in trade and commerce, some arising out of that fertile source of doubts, the marriage laws, etc.; all are in the true sense practical, and are dealt with in a thoroughly practical manner, with competent learning and admirable good sense. "I could be easily more voluminous," wrote Hall, "though perhaps not more satisfactory." It could be wished that the writer next to be noticed had been actuated by a like spirit.
Jeremy Taylor's Ductor Dubitantium, begun in earlier years, was completed in his forced retirement at Portmore on the beautiful shores of Lough Neagh, and was published in 1660. It is divided into four books, dealing respectively with (I.) Conscience in general; (II.) Divine Laws; (III.) Human Laws; and (IV.) The nature and causes of good and evil. In the course of the work a large number of "cases" are treated and resolved. Like everything from his pen, it exhibits copious, perhaps over-copious, reading, not always pertinent, and a fertile and even luxuriant fancy. But it often lacks that precision of thought which the subject demands. It is tedious and verbose, and is more serviceable in illustrating our conclusions than in helping us to reach them. Many of its pages will entertain the curious reader with a vast variety of citations drawn from all quarters, the Greek and Latin classics, the Fathers, the Schoolmen, the Canonists, the Civilians, and the later Humanists. Those whose literary taste is formed on Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy will enjoy many parts of the Ductor Dubitantium; and Taylor, moreover, possesses an imaginative energy of his own which is lacking in "Democritus Junior." But one who seeks the solution of some moral problem is tempted to become impatient under this unprofitable and often impertinent display of reading. To what is properly the science of ethics Taylor contributes little or nothing that is of value in his long discussions on the nature of conscience; but despite his wearisome prolixity, and his occasional subservience to human authorities, his large-minded practical judgment generally serves him in good stead when he deals with the resolution of "cases." We are bound, however, to say that frequently his decision is more sound than the reasons which he alleges in its support.
Few questions reveal the general tone of a casuist better than those which relate to truth and its obligations. In the cases proposed, Taylor is not betrayed into the follies of extravagant rigorism, and yet maintains a high standard of duty. Occasionally he appears not to know his own way clearly out of the labyrinth which his fertile intellect has constructed. But we may reject as wholly baseless the imputation of Hallam, that on the subject of "a probable conscience" he approaches "the decried theories of the Jesuits." [Literature of Europe, iv. p, 154.] On the contrary, the vicious doctrine of "probabilism" is distinctly condemned and repudiated, [Duct. Dubit., Book i. chap. 4.]
Taken as a whole, this work, upon which Taylor laboured longest, brilliant as it is in many parts, is not the outcome of a precise and accurate mind, and as a contribution to moral theology its value is slight. [It was Taylor's experiences in hearing confessions that first suggested the Ductor Dubitantium. The excellent John Evelyn was one to whom he acted as "spiritual father."]
From the course of the main stream of Anglican divinity moral theology must be counted only as a little bay or by-water, where, notwithstanding its attractions, we cannot afford time to linger. We again push out into the central current.
The works upon which chiefly rests the reputation of Joseph Mead (1586-1638), the recluse of Christ's College, Cambridge, are his Clavis Apocalyptica, and kindred studies on the Revelation of St. John and the prophet Daniel. [So he himself spelled his name, though it is more commonly written "Mede."] On the merits or demerits of his treatment of these difficult subjects I am quite incompetent to offer an opinion. It must suffice to say that with most of those who have made prophecy a subject of study, the esteem in which Mead is held seems rather to have increased than diminished in the course of time. But there are other writings of his which have made a distinct impression on theological opinion. Of these we may particularly refer to his work on The Christian Sacrifice (1635). This brief treatise, scholarly and candid, admirably arranged and lucidly written, deserves the careful study of every one interested in the eucharistic controversies of our own time. The kindred tract, On the name Altar or qusiasthrion anciently given to the Holy Table, was written before the acrimonious controversy on the subject had broken out, and forms an interesting contribution to the study of Christian antiquities. [Some small corrections are made by Bingham (Antiquities, Book VIII. chap. vi. § 12).] The distinctive feature of Mead's treatise is his display of the proofs that the ancient Church offered the bread and wine, first "to agnize" (i.e. acknowledge) God "the Lord of the creature," the Giver of the gifts; and, secondly, as symbols of the broken Body and shed Blood of Christ, "to represent and inculcate His blessed passion to His Father." [Field (Of the Church, appendix to Book III.) had indicated the same line of thought.] He guards himself from misapprehension by insisting at length on the teaching that this latter sacrifice "was placed in commemoration only;" or, as he otherwise puts it, "the Christian sacrifice is an oblation of thanksgiving and prayer, through Jesus Christ, commemorated in the creatures of bread and wine." This commemoration is before God the Father, "and is not a bare remembrance or putting ourselves in mind only (as is commonly supposed), but a putting of God in mind."
It is worth observing that some two years after Mead had given expression to these views, the Scottish Prayer-book (1637), as revised by Laud, inserted the rubric in the Communion Office--"The Presbyter shall then offer up and place the bread and wine prepared for the Sacrament upon the Lord's Table;" and thus was recognized the first oblation of the elements in accordance with primitive usage. And so the rubric stands at this day in the commonly received text of the characteristic Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. At the time of the revision of the English Prayer-book in 1661 an unsuccessful attempt was made to introduce a similar rubric. [The Prayer-book of the American Church in this follows the English Prayer-book.] It was probably an unreasoning dread of anything which looked like an approach to Rome that prevented any general acceptance at the time of Mead's teaching; but so far as concerns the making the memorial of the Sacrifice of Calvary before the Father, it reappears at a later date in the writings of Archbishop Bramhall, of Bishop Patrick, of Thorndike, of Bishop Bull, and of all of the non-juring school. [Mead's Discourses, preached in his College Chapel, contain many careful studies of the sense of difficult passages of Scripture, and well deserve, together with his work on The Christian Sacrifice, to be reprinted.]
A few years later than the publication of Mead's work on The Christian Sacrifice, another Cambridge man, Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688), published his True Notion of the Lord's Supper (1642), where the design of the author is to show that the Eucharist "is not a sacrifice, but a feast upon a sacrifice . . . not the offering up of something to God upon an altar, but the eating of something that comes from God's altar, and is set upon our tables." [Waterland, in his Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist (chap. xi.), discusses the objections made to Cudworth.] This was Cudworth's first essay in literary work, and was published when he was only twenty-five years of age. Except for its early indication of extensive reading, it gave little promise of the powers exhibited in his great work, the Intellectual System of the Universe. Its radical defect is the total incompetence of his theory to account for the language of even the very earliest writers of primitive Christian antiquity. Here Mead's superiority is quite overwhelming.
It has been stated (and there is nothing improbable in the statement) that while Chillingworth was engaged on his Religion of Protestants, he had asked for the views of a friend, who, though then unknown by his writings, had a considerable reputation in a learned and cultivated circle. This was "the ever-memorable Mr. John Hales of Eton College." [So styled on the title-page of the Golden Remains.] Hales (1584-1656) was a man of refined and sensitive nature, an exquisite scholar, and marked by a very wide and varied culture, "as great a master"--to use the words of Bishop Pearson--"of polite, various, and universal learning as ever yet conversed with books." He shrank from controversy, and lived, as far as might be, in retirement, occasionally diversified by the society of poets, wits, and courtiers, rather than of ecclesiastics. His influence during his life-time was due to his familiar conversation in the circle of his cultivated associates. He had an obstinate dislike to allowing anything of his to be published; and almost everything of his that we now possess we owe to the care with which friends cherished his writings.
In his early years Hales had been present, though only as a curious spectator, at the Synod of Dort, and it was there probably he acquired the strong repugnance to ecclesiastical bigotry and intolerance which was afterwards a settled feature of his character. At Dort, as he himself expressed it, he "bid John Calvin good-night"; and it is plain he bid good-night not only to Calvin and the Dutch Calvinism of the Five Articles, but also to the narrow and persecuting spirit that would restrict the communion of Christ's Church to those who symbolized with the triumphant party. It may be that afterwards his comprehensiveness ran too far in the direction of laxity. But, at any rate, the drift of his thought and feeling was quite in accord with the spirit of Chillingworth's treatise. And in Hales we find the germ of Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying.
If we may accept the story, his little paper, Concerning Schism and Schismatics (not printed till 1642), was prepared for the use of Chillingworth (about 1636), and, having been handed about in manuscript, made no small stir. In the tract itself it must have been rather what was suggested than what was asserted, which gave offence. One can hardly read it without feeling that the author had in his mind's eye the hard rigour with which Archbishop Laud (who was tolerant to doctrinal variations) had been pressing ceremonial uniformity. "If the special guides and fathers of the Church," says Hales, "would be a little sparing of encumbering churches with superfluities, or not over-rigid either in reviving of obsolete customs, or imposing new, there would be far less cause of schism or superstition; and all the inconvenience were likely to ensue would be but this, they should in so doing yield a little to the imbecility of their inferiors, a thing which St. Paul would never have refused to do." [The word is obviously used with a reference to Rom. xv. i, where we find in the Vulgate imbecillitates infirmorum.] And in the matter of belief he boldly refutes the notion "that men of different opinions in Christian religion may not hold communion in sacris." He urges that "opinionum varietas et opinantium unitas" are not incompatible. All of which, to be sure, is quite true; but the practical question as to the permissible extent of doctrinal variety he does not seriously attempt to grapple. Elsewhere he is frequent in insisting on the view that errors in doctrine are more pardonable than any falling short of the high standard of the Christian character. The presentation of this side of truth was indeed much needed in his day, and perhaps in our own day it is not without its value. In a spirit that reminds us of Justin Martyr and more than one early writer of the Alexandrian school, he exclaims, "The man of virtuous dispositions, though ignorant of the mystery of Christ, be it Fabricius, or Regulus, or any ancient heathen man, famous for sincerity and uprightness of carriage, hath as sure a claim and interest in the Church of Christ, as the man deepest skilled in, most certainly believing, and openly professing all that is written in the holy Books of God, if he endeavour not to show his faith by his works." [Sermon, "Of dealing with erring Christians," in Golden Remains (edit. 1673), p. 37.] The large and generous current of Hales' human sympathy, and his appreciation of all that is good wherever it is to be found, are characteristic features of his writings, and make him one of the most delightful, stimulating, and wholesome of the divines of the seventeenth century. He appears as quite unconnected historically with the School of Cambridge divines who came, at a later time, to be spoken of as the "Latitude-men," though his tone is in many respects similar to theirs.
The shameful controversial animus that imputed Socinian views to Hales had not a shadow of justification. His Confession of the Trinity has been happily preserved, and sets at rest the question, which in truth should never have been raised. [Golden Remains, p. 257.] And the warm eulogy of the great champion of orthodoxy, Bishop Pearson, prefixed to the Golden Remains, and unqualified by the slightest hint at censure, may satisfy any as to the soundness of Hales, while it is entirely creditable to the large-hearted and generous spirit of Pearson himself. Pearson had known Hales personally, and it is quite remarkable how the somewhat cold and judicial temper of the critic warms as he recalls his own "long experience and intimate acquaintance" of Hales. "He really was," he declares, "a most prodigious example of an acute and piercing wit, of a vast and illimited knowledge, of a severe and profound judgment," and his genuine goodness, Pearson goes on to say, was even more wonderful than his "intellectual perfections."
As we approach the period of the Restoration there comes into some prominence a little group of Cambridge men associated together in earlier days by college ties, and; as time went on, by a prevailing community of view in their way of regarding religious questions. They came to be known as the "Latitude-men," and sometimes as the "Cambridge Platonists." The most eminent among them were Benjamin Whichcote (1610-1683), John Smith (1618-1652), Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688), and Henry More (1614-1687).
To explain satisfactorily the origin of this coterie, or "set," as we should now style it, would demand a minute knowledge of the history of life and thought in the Cambridge colleges during the reign of Charles I., to which I cannot pretend. [Mr. J. B. Mullinger's interesting essay, Cambridge Characteristics in the Seventeenth Century (1867), may be consulted.] The leading figures of this little band, Whichcote, Smith, and Cudworth, were all members of Emmanuel College, the Puritan foundation of Sir Walter Mildmay; and the influences by which they had been surrounded were certainly not of a kind to attach them to the royalist and Church party. We find some of them at a later period accepting offices and emoluments in the University from which the royalist divines had been expelled under the usurpation. It is quite impossible to believe they had any real sympathy with the dogmatic system of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. We are scarcely in a position to judge their conduct or pronounce on the moral problems which they were compelled to solve in practice. It is satisfactory to know that Whichcote, when advanced to the Provostship of King's College, not only refused to subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant, but was sufficiently influential to protect from such an intolerable test all the Fellows of that foundation.
It is not difficult to imagine how during the miserable distractions, civil and religious, which then embittered English life, thoughtful and quiet-loving men would seek to avoid the contentious questions of theology, and turn their attention to the great fundamental truths that lie at the basis of all religion, and to the moral and spiritual aspects of Christianity. On questions of Church government it is likely enough that they were really indifferent. Henry More puts the matter with considerable force when he says," If the external form of Church government were of such mighty consequence as that this ought to be called antichristian, that reputed jure divino, and that it were essential to a true Church to have such or such a kind of government rather than another, Christ would have left more express command and direction concerning it." And on the dogmas of Calvinistic theology the Cambridge men were content in general not actively to debate them, but by their positive teaching partly to divert attention from them, and partly to silently undermine them. It is a real and serious defect that the corporate character of the Church was imperfectly realized, and that the sacramental system of the Church had little significance for them.
They shrank from acrimonious controversy. They sought to escape from the clouds and storms of our lower airs by living on elevated heights and in the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of philosophical speculation. But both with Whichcote and with Smith a deep religious veneration for conscience, as the immediate voice of God, was a constant check to any tendency to unprofitable vagueness. With them, if with any men, religion was "a practical thing."
To speak of the best of these writers as "mystics" is very likely to mislead. They dwelt much, it is true, on the personal relations of the soul to God. But nothing can be more intellectually severe than their resolve to guard against the self-deceptions that come under the guise of immediate revelations.
"Intra te, quaere Deum, seek for God within thine own soul." "To seek our divinity merely in books and writings is to seek the living among the dead: we do but in vain seek God many times in these, where His truth too often is not so much enshrined but entombed." "The soul itself hath its sense as well as the body: and therefore David, when he would teach us how to know what the divine goodness is, calls not for speculation but sensation--Taste and see how good the Lord is." "There is an inward beauty, life, and loveliness in Divine Truth which cannot be known but only when it is digested into life and practice." These words from Smith, greater in every sense than his master Whichcote, will, better than any attempt of mine, put us at the centre of the spirit of the Cambridge school.
On the intellectual side, as it is not difficult to understand, the Cambridge Platonists were engaged largely in the statement and defence of the primary truths of natural religion. Thus it was with Whichcote; and in the few Select Discourses of John Smith that have come down to us we have treatises on "Atheism," "the existence and nature of God," "the immortality of the soul," and "superstition" in the sense of "an over-timorous apprehension of the Deity." Again on "Atheism" and "the immortality of the soul" we have from Henry More two elaborate works; while the greatest product of the Cambridge school, viewed from the side of thought and power of philosophical speculation, Cudworth's unfinished Intellectual System of the Universe, is directed almost wholly against the atheistic and fatalistic tendency of the writings of Hobbes. It is a work marked by profuse erudition and, what was rarer among English divines, by great philosophical insight.
While in his day More was much more generally esteemed, and secured a large sale for his works, the reputation of Cudworth has grown with years; and both the Intellectual System and his little posthumous work on Eternal and Immutable Morality will always have a respected place in the esteem of philosophical theologians.
It was with such deep fundamental and primary principles of religion, rather than with any parts of developed systems of distinctively Christian dogma, that the Cambridge school were mainly occupied. [The name "Latitude-men," or "Latitudinarians," points to the line of large tolerance as to varieties in belief, which, notably, these Cambridge men advocated, though, as we have seen, a like spirit was manifested by others of the more "churchly" school; while the term "Platonists" seems lo have been attached to them on account of the prominence given by some of them to the teaching of Platonism, more particularly as it took shape in the writings of the later or Neo-Platonic school, represented by Plotinus and Proclus. Dr. Tulloch in his Rational Theology, etc. (vol. i.) deals at length with the Cambridge Platonists, and gives some account not only of the leaders but of the minor members of the school, as Culverwel, Worthington, and others. An interesting lecture on Benjamin Whichcote by Bishop Westcott will be found in Masters in English Theology (pp. 147-173).]
If in a company of well-informed persons the question were asked, "Who were the three greatest among the masters of theology in the Church of England?" the answers made might probably vary either as to the selected names, or as to the order in which they were placed; but it would be strange indeed if any of the replies did not include among the three the name of Bishop Pearson. And, beyond all doubt, John Pearson (1612-1686) possessed in a high degree a rare combination of great natural gifts, trained and disciplined, with great attainments in learning. In him we find erudition, not only wide but minutely exact, and a critical faculty keen and penetrating. In him we find sound reasoning which never builds, as in the case of some who have great reputations, a huge superstructure of top-heavy inference upon an insufficient or rickety base. In him we find a judicial capacity that seems never swayed by prepossessions, that looks at the evidence, all the evidence, and only the evidence, before pronouncing judgment.
Pearson has left us not more than two works of any considerable length; but each of these is in its way a masterpiece,--the Exposition of the Creed (1659) and the Vindicia Epistolarum S. Ignatii (1672). [The third folio edition of 1669 was apparently the last that was revised by the author, and it is taken as the basis of our best edition, that of Rev. T. Chevallier, as revised by Rev. R. Sinker, Cambridge, 1882.]
Pearson, like so many of the clergy of royalist sympathies, had been deprived of his parochial charge; yet, unwilling to be idle in his Master's work, he accepted the invitation of the parishioners of St. Clement's, Eastcheap, in London, to deliver to them a weekly lecture. These lectures, on the Apostles' Creed, his hearers requested him to publish; and this he did, after recasting them in the form that we now possess in the Exposition.
The plan of this great work is to give in the text an exposition of each article of the Creed, supporting it "upon the written Word of God," and avoiding with rigid strictness "inserting the least sentence or phrase of any learned language." To this determination, systematically carried out, the book owes much of its success. It deals with a complete and definite circle of truth, the essentials of Christianity; and the result is a self-contained treatise, sufficient for its purpose, and available to every intelligent person of ordinary education. The solidity of Pearson's reasoning, and his studied care to keep clear of "doubtful disputations," carries the student on from step to step with few occasions for hesitating and demurring. To those who acknowledge the authority of Holy Scripture (for that is assumed) Pearson on the Creed is a book that nearly everywhere carries conviction. Again, when we turn to the copious notes we have a great store-house of erudite illustration, drawn from all quarters, admirably arranged, and distinguished from too many displays of learning in being thoroughly pertinent. In this as in all his works the most cursory remarks, the merest obiter dicta are precious. As was said of Pearson by one who was himself competent to judge--Richard Bentley--"the very dust of his writings is gold." I would add that even the silence of Pearson, where some would expect him to speak, is often highly suggestive.
In his constant reference to Christian antiquity as a guide to the interpretation of Scripture Pearson is a typical Anglican theologian. In his epistle dedicatory to the parishioners of St. Clement's he puts his position briefly--"In Christianity . . . whatsoever is truly new is certainly false." And the same principle is expressed in his Latin Sermon, preached at Cambridge ad clerum, on the text, "Stand ye in the ways and see and ask for the old paths" (Jer. vi. 16), where the preacher cried aloud, "Shun novelty, inquire what was from the beginning, consult the sources, go to antiquity, go back to the Fathers, look to the Primitive Church." Here he declares is the defence against Rome. Here is the defence against Puritanism.
The English style of Pearson is not one of his strong points. His sentences are often long and laboured, and are sometimes disfigured by awkward constructions. [The frequent construction commencing with "being that" (though not peculiar to Pearson) is extremely rare in our good writers, and is now entirely obsolete.] Still the attentive reader will seldom miss the sense. The Exposition is indeed a great possession of the English Church. The late Bishop of Brechin (A. P. Forbes) used to say, "The man who has mastered his Pearson on the Creed may be reckoned a considerable theologian."
Comparatively few are capable of truly estimating the value of the 'second work of Pearson which we have named; but it is in truth perhaps an even greater effort of his extraordinary powers. The Vindicia Epistolarum S. Ignatii was an answer to Daillé's attempt to show that the letters attributed to Ignatius were really productions long posterior to his time. [Editions in 1672, 1698, 1724, and in A.C.L., edited by Archdeacon Churton, 2 vols. 1852.] "It was," writes Bishop Lightfoot, "incomparably the most valuable contribution to the subject which had hitherto appeared, with the single exception of Ussher's work. Pearson's learning, critical ability, clearness of statement, and moderation of tone, nowhere appear to greater advantage than in this work. If here and there an argument is overstrained, this was the almost inevitable consequence of the writer's position as the champion of a cause which had been recklessly and violently assailed on all sides. . . . Compared with Daille's attack, Pearson's reply was as light to darkness. In England at all events his work seemed to be accepted as closing the controversy." [Apostolic Fathers, Part II. vol. i. p. 320.]
It is impossible here to notice the minor works of Pearson, though all of them are of interest, and some are of considerable importance, [Minor Theological Works have been collected and edited by Archdeacon Churton. Oxford, 1844, 2 vols.] and we will conclude our brief account with the words of a contemporary, by no means always friendly to divines of the school which Pearson represents, Bishop Burnet--Pearson "was in all respects the greatest divine of the age: a man of great learning, strong reason, and of a clear judgment." [Own Times, iii. 142. See also an excellent criticism by Archdeacon Cheetham in Masters in English Theology.]
The great and varied powers of Isaac Barrow (1630-1677), mathematician, scholar, and theologian, conjoined with his sound and masculine judgment, made him a notable figure among the many eminent men that distinguished the reign of Charles II.
Barrow's abilities showed themselves early. He was about nineteen years of age when he became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was then for a time an eager student of the experimental and natural sciences, chemistry, anatomy, and botany, then beginning to gain a footing at that University. Some five years later he would have succeeded to the Professorship of Greek but for the forcible abduction, as the story goes, of one of the electors favourable to his claims. The next year (1655) he set out upon his journeyings on the Continent and in the Levant. He was qualified to profit by foreign travel. His mind was already well stored; and both the present and the past were to him full of interest. At Paris he inquires into the condition of the French Protestants; and turning to the ancient seats of learning he laments that there were no successors to the power or erudition of Gassendi or Mersenne, of Petavius or Sirmond. The Sorbonne he contrasts very unfavourably with his own College. At Florence the treasures of the library and the museum engross him. In Turkey he made a study of Mohammedanism which afterwards bore fruit. [In his treatise Epitome Fidei et Religionis Turcica.] At Constantinople he read the works of its greatest prelate, St. Chrysostom, his favourite among the Fathers. After some four years abroad, returning by Germany and Holland, he reached England, and immediately obtained ordination from Brownrigg, the deprived Bishop of Exeter.
At the Restoration the Professorship of Greek at Cambridge fell to his lot, and not long afterwards, as an acknowledged master in a totally different line, he was appointed, first, Professor of Geometry in Gresham College, in London, and two years later Lucasian Professor at Cambridge. Those who are competent to judge assign to Barrow a high place among English mathematicians, some, indeed, a place second only to his illustrious pupil, Isaac Newton. Such was the man who now turned to devote his whole powers to the study of theology. Barrow's best known work is his Treatise of the Pope's Supremacy. It had not received his final handling and adjustment when the author's life was brought to an untimely close in his forty-seventh year. But even as it is, it is a masterly and exhaustive discussion, and in its main contention has never been refuted, nor indeed, as we think, is capable of refutation so long as history is history. Later writers have only added further proofs and illustrations to his solid and convincing argument.
On Pearson's elevation to the bishopric of Chester (1672) Barrow succeeded him as head of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is interesting to note that the two most able and scholarly treatises on the Creed, in the English tongue, should have come from the pens of two successive Masters of Trinity. As distinguished from Pearson's work, Barrow's "Sermons on the Creed," as has been justly remarked, dwell "on the vital and operative, rather than on the formal and scientific side of our faith." [Dr. Wace in Classic Preachers of the Church of England (first series), p. 48.] And we may add that while Pearson is more minute, and precise in the treatment of details, Barrow's lines are drawn with a bolder hand and have a larger sweep. His mind is more philosophic in its bent, and he is more alive to the movements of thought and speculation in his own time. His arguments are elucidated by a more varied range of illustration, and are from time to time suffused by a glow of genuine emotion. His robust and practical judgment puts on one side many of the scholastic subtleties that occupied Pearson, and he sets himself to grapple with the main and central forces of unbelief. [This is well illustrated by the different treatment of the first Article of the Creed.] Pearson's work is better suited for the technical theologian; Barrow's appeals to the theologian, but also to a wider circle of thoughtful men interested in religion.
Barrow's elaborate and exhaustive sermons are mainly concerned with questions of life and morals; and when he deals with dogma, it is almost always because of its direct bearing on conduct. An illustration of this remark will be found in his four great sermons on The Doctrine of Universal Redemption.
Barrow's temper of mind, at once truly reverent and yet averse from all obscurantism, is exhibited very clearly in his short treatise on The Doctrine of the Sacraments. The questions about which there have been endless wranglings are brushed aside, or, more correctly, are simply disregarded, and the whole energy of the author's powerful understanding is directed to the interpretation of the sense of Holy Scripture.
George Bull (1634-1710) had been ordained in the days of the Commonwealth by Dr. Skinner, the deprived Bishop of Oxford. [He was made deacon and priest in one day at the early age of twenty-one.] He was in his seventy-first year when he was elevated to the bishopric of St. David's. In the parish in which he ministered in his early days, he found that much antinomian teaching was current, and he set himself to study the question of Good Works and their relation to Justification. From an unwillingness to add to the rancour of popular discussion upon this subject he resolved to submit his views to the limited circle of the learned in the Latin tongue; and in 1670 he published his Harmonia Apostolica [The full title is Harmonia Apostolica, seu, Binae Dissertationes quarum in priore doctrina D. Jacobi de justificatione ex operibus explanatur ac defenditur: in posteriore consensus D. Pauli cum Jacobo liquido demonstratur.]
It is difficult to understand in our day how Bull's work was met by such vigorous opposition, and that on the part of some able Churchmen as well as of dissenters. He was accused of departing from the teaching of the Reformers; but he himself maintained that his views were really in accord with the authentic Confessions of the reformed Churches, which he held had been misunderstood and misapplied. The truth is Bull maintained with all our theologians that (I) the moving cause of man's justification is the mercy of God, and (2) that the meritorious cause is solely the satisfaction (the obedience and sufferings) of our Lord. The only question was as to the condition required on our part for our justification, Was it faith merely, or faith and repentance, and, if opportunity permitted, faith operative of good works? The discussion is now quite outworn; and I can adopt the language of the acute Bishop Thirlwall with reference to J. H. Newman's Lectures on Justification (which, in the main, symbolize with Bull). "After the closest attention given to the subject, I view it as one of words, involving no real difference of opinion." Indeed, with, the exception of a few extreme fanatics whose names are now forgotten, those who have been most eager in contending for "justification by faith alone" have always asserted that "justifying faith" cannot be without repentance, and, if opportunity allows, good works.
It is not on the theological side, but on the side of biblical exegesis that the interest now lies. The relations of the writings of St. James and St. Paul remain a curious problem in the study of the New Testament literature. On that side of the question Bull will not satisfy modern criticism; and I make bold to say much more that is really helpful in the discussion will be found in the short twenty-third lecture of Dr. Salmon's Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament than in the once famous treatise of Bishop Bull. [Hallam seems to me to much overrate the importance of the Harmonia Apostolica when he reckons it "the principal work" in our theological literature of the period 1650-1700.]
The controversies in which this work involved the author need not here occupy us. His Examen Censuræ and Apologia pro Harmonia (1676) are of value chiefly in further elucidating his position.
The two other principal works of Bull are concerned with the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. The Defensio Fidei Nicenæ (1685) is occupied in showing from a careful examination of the anti-Nicene writers that the faith formulated at the Council of Nicaea was consonant with the teaching of the Church in the first three centuries. He had in view throughout admissions of Petavius as to the unorthodox character of teaching to be found in the early Fathers, which had been eagerly seized upon by Arian and Socinian writers. A later work, the Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicæ (1694), was written against those who, professing themselves to believe in the truth of the Nicene doctrine, argued that nevertheless after the example (as they alleged) of the anti-Nicene Church an acceptance of that truth should not be made one of the terms of church communion; and that consequently the Nicene Council, though right as to the doctrine defined, was unjustified in adding an anathema to the definition. Both of these discussions are conducted by an elaborate examination of anti-Nicene history and literature; and on the interesting and difficult subject of anti-Nicene Christology no student can afford to dispense with the aid to be found in Bull's writings.
The value of the first of these two works was recognized by the University of Oxford conferring on the author (who had never graduated even in Arts) the degree of Doctor of Divinity. The second obtained a more remarkable distinction, in a message from the great Bossuet conveying to him "the sincere congratulations of the whole of the clergy of France."
More has perhaps been made of the complimentary language of Bossuet (which occurs in an informal letter addressed to the pious layman, Robert Nelson [The letter is printed in Nelson's Life of Bull (prefixed to Burton's edition of Bull's Works, p. 329).) than it deserves. But, however this may be, the astute author of L'Histoire des Variations, while conveying his praises of the Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicae, requests that Bull would inform him what he meant by the phrase Eglise Catholique. "Estce l'Eglise Romaine," he writes, "et celles qui luy adherent? Estce l'Eglise Anglicane? Estce un amas confus de societez separées les unes des autres?" To these questions of Bossuet Bull replied in his work on The corruptions of the Church of Rome in relation to ecclesiastical government, the rule of faith, and form of divine worship, in answer to the Bishop of Meaux's queries. The death of Bossuet prevented his receiving this reply, but the work remains a powerful indictment of Rome from an acknowledged master of the literature of the early Church. Bull expresses some surprise that Bossuet could have for a moment supposed it possible that by "the Catholic Church" he had meant the Church of Rome, when in the Judicium itself, when speaking of her declension from primitive purity, he had exclaimed in the words of the prophet, Quomodo effecta est meretrix urbs fidelis! And he then gives his definition of "the Catholic Church" as "a collection of all the Churches throughout the world who retain the faith once (apax) delivered to the saints. . . . All the Churches at this day which hold and profess this faith and religion, however distant in place, or distinguished by different rites and ceremonies, yea, or divided in some extra-fundamental points of doctrine, yet agreeing in the essentials of the Christian religion, make up together one Christian Catholic Church under the Lord Christ, the supreme Head thereof." . . . "A union of all the Churches of Christ throughout the world under one visible head, having a jurisdiction over them all, and that head the Bishop of Rome for the time being . . . was never dreamed of amongst Christians for at least the first six hundred years." . . . "My constant judgment of the Church of Rome hath been, that if she may be allowed still to remain a part or member of the Catholic Church (which hath been questioned by some learned men, upon grounds and reasons not very easy to be answered), yet she is certainly a very unsound and corrupted one, and sadly degenerated from her primitive purity." Bull proceeds to expose in detail what he regards as "corruptions." He boldly declares that most of the "superadded articles of the Trent creed" are "manifest untruths, yea, gross and dangerous errors." We need not follow him in detail; but it may be worth while to indicate the views of this eminent patristic scholar on the Eucharist. He denies that there is in the Eucharist "an offering up again to God of the very Body and Blood of Christ substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine" (Works, ii. 254). He asserts that Christ is offered "commemoratively only"; but adds that "this commemoration is made to God the Father, and is not a bare remembering or putting ourselves in mind of him." . . . "In the holy Eucharist, therefore, we set before God the bread and wine as 'figures or images of the precious blood of Christ shed for us and of His precious body' (they are the very words of the Clementine Liturgy), and plead to God the merit of His Son's sacrifice once offered" (Ibid. p. 252). He by express mention accepts Mead's view as exhibited in The Christian Sacrifice. And, on another aspect of the Eucharistic controversy, though he does not commit himself, Bull evidently leans to the view, which he attributes to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, that "by or upon the sacerdotal benediction the Spirit of Christ, or a divine virtue from Christ, descends upon the elements and accompanies them to all worthy communicants, and that therefore they are said to be, and are, the Body and Blood of Christ--the same divinity, which is hypostatically united to the Body of Christ in heaven, being virtually united to the elements of bread and wine on earth." [This is, it will be seen, substantially the doctrine of the non-jurors.]
The published Sermons of Bishop Bull are only twenty in number, but many of them are really considerable doctrinal treatises, the outcome of careful research, and are well worthy of study.
The activity of the Romish party in England during the reign of Charles II. had excited suspicion and dislike; and when a convert to Rome ascended the throne in the person of his brother, even reasonable men began to fear the consequences. Events speedily proved that their fears were not ill-founded. The arbitrary, illegal, and violent action of James II. in his relations to the Church and the Universities roused the warmest indignation throughout the country. The divines of the Church were quite ready for the emergency, and, so far as well-reasoned argument could go in her defence, the Church had nothing to fear. For some years both before and after James's accession the clergy had taken in hand the popular exposition of the main points of our controversy with Rome. The pulpit was loud in its exposure of Roman pretensions. [The saintly Bishop Ken drew vast crowds in London to hear his animated and well-reasoned arguments against the Romish aggression.] The press teemed with pamphlets and more elaborate controversial literature. None exerted themselves more earnestly and effectively than those who were reckoned the "High-churchmen" of the day. Among the leading writers of all schools can be reckoned men of recognized learning and ability, some already in high station, and many who afterwards attained distinction and eminent place. From among the best known names may be mentioned William Wake (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury), Dean George Hickes (known at a later date as perhaps the most learned among the early non-jurors), William Lloyd (known to the learned world for his historical researches, [His Historical account of Church government as it was in Great Britain and Ireland when they first received the Christian religion was reprinted in 1842.] and to the public as one of "the Seven Bishops"), William Cave, [His Primitive Christianity reached a fourth edition in 1682, it was reprinted in 1839 and 1849. The lives of the Apostles and The lives of the most eminent Fathers of the Church have also been popular. Among his more learned works the most valuable is his very useful Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum historia literaria, etc., 2 vols., folio, 1688-98. The best edition is Oxford 1740-43 (superintended by Waterland). It was reprinted Basil 1741-45. A new edition with the results of subsequent discovery and research is much needed.] Symon Patrick (afterwards Bishop of Ely), William Sherlock, Henry Wharton, John Tillotson and Thomas Tenison (afterwards successively Archbishops of Canterbury), Thomas Comber, Edward Stillingfleet, Daniel Whitby, William Clagett, Henry Aldrich (Dean of Christ Church), and Gilbert Burnet. [The reputation of few men has suffered more from the rancour of political and ecclesiastical party spirit than that of Burnet. But time has helped to vindicate his merits. His History of the Reformation of the Church of England with its great collection of authentic records deserves a place in every library next to the Ecclesiastical Memorials of his contemporary, Strype. In spite of all attempts to depreciate it, his Exposition of the XXXIX. Articles is a work of lasting value, and though more recent investigations have done much to supplement it (especially, as by Archdeacon Hardwick, on the historical side), it has not been wholly superseded by any of the numerous recent works on the same subject.] Many of the more valuable tractates of these authors and others were collected in the next century by Gibson, Bishop of London. [A Preservative against Popery. 3 vols., folio, 1738. This was printed in 18 vols. 8vo, 1848-9.]