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01 The Christian Virtuoso and the Reformers: Are there Reformation Roots to Boyle’s Natural Philosophy?

Peter Anstey

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Lucas 27-8 (2000)

The Christian Virtuoso and the Reformers:

Are there Reformation Roots to Boyle’s Natural Philosophy?

Peter Anstey *

1. Introduction

The question of the extent to which a natural philosopher like Robert Boyle was influenced by the reformers has a great deal of intrinsic interest. That Boyle was a Protestant and was well versed in the current theological issues of his day is beyond dispute. But the central question to be explored in this paper is the extent to which he was influenced either directly by the reformers themselves or indirectly by Calvinist theology. This in turn has implications for the broader historiographical question of the relation between the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. Thus a subsidiary aim of this paper is to use Boyle as a case study to test the broader historiographical claim that the Reformation played a significant, even indispensable, role in the rise of the Scientific Revolution. On this latter question my researches are only a small brick in a much larger edifice. What is true of Boyle may or may noet be usefully generalised across other Protestant natural philosophers of the early modern period. Yet Boyle, perhaps more than any other Protestant natural philosopher of this period, has been the focus of claims affirming such a connection and any case for or against them must deal with him.


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My title is therefore intentionally ambiguous. ‘The Christian virtuoso’ can be taken in one of two ways depending on the emphasis of the definite article. In one sense I am interested in the broader historiographical issue of just how natural philosophers, those to whom we trace the origins of modern science, were influenced by the Reformation. And in this sense Boyle functions as a token of the type Christian virtuoso, as does Newton or Huygens. But in another sense I hope this to be a contribution to Boyle studies for it is Boyle, the Christian virtuoso par excellence, who is the focus here.

2. Historiographical claims regarding Boyle and the Reformation

The historiographical self-consciousness that now pervades work on early modern thought has reached such a stage that scholars rightly baulk at simplistic causal claims about the relations between eras such as the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. Likewise, scholars are now far more wary of the use of a ‘sources of influence’ approach as the sole criterion in order to explain the development of someone’s thought. Yet the history of Boyle scholarship is studded with attempts both to use Boyle to establish broader historiographical theses about such things as the relation between science and religion, and by ‘influence analyses’ of his mature thought. Therefore, if we are to grasp the relation between Boyle and the reformers, and between Boyle and reformed thought in general, it is helpful to begin with a survey of some of those interpretations. There have been many attempts to link the Reformation with the Scientific Revolution by some type of positive causal thesis.1 Our special concern here is those attempts to link these two great eras in human thought with special reference to the work of Robert Boyle.

The first, and without doubt the most widely discussed, is the Merton thesis. Robert Merton, the American sociologist of science, claimed in the late 1930s that the ethic of English Puritanism was particularly conducive to the emergence of science in England. He argued that there was a distinctive puritan ethic characterised by a


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God-honouring practical utilitarianism, that this ethic is revealed in the express motives of many English natural philosophers of the mid-seventeenth century, and that there are strong parallels between this practical ethic and the new experimentalism. He then mustered statistical data in order to adduce quantitative arguments. He found a strikingly high number of puritans among the founders of the Royal Society and that Protestants in general were over-represented in quantitative studies of contributions to science at the time.2 It is now accepted that Merton’s definition of ‘puritan’ was far too broad to permit any significant denominational correlations to emerge between religion and science. Moreover, detailed studies of the early Royal Society have revealed the heterogeneity of its membership, undermining Merton’s key quantitative argument. What is of particular interest about the Merton thesis, however, is that his main example of a ‘puritan’ experimentalist is none other than Robert Boyle. The literature on the Merton thesis is extensive and I have little to add to it, except to say that Merton’s use of Boyle as his leading case study set a precedent that has been followed over and again by historians and sociologists advocating similar causal claims.3

A second thesis was put forward by James and Margaret Jacob in the 1970s. By shifting the focus from the practice of science as found in Merton, to the natural philosophy that underlay it, the Jacobs developed the thesis that Boyle (and Newton) very self-consciously crafted his natural philosophy in such a way as to maintain the political and theological status quo in England after the Restoration. The experience of instability and disorder during the interregnum was to be avoided at all costs. What was needed was a conception of a passive nature which required the constant active and providential involvement of God. The deity was the source of the order of the laws of nature just as he maintained the social and political arrangements of the day. Any rival natural philosophies, particularly those which attributed activity to matter, were to be rejected.4 Of course there is no claim here that the Reformation directly influenced the rise of modern science in England. But the implication of the thesis is that Boyle, Newton


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and others used the intellectual and institutional landscape of post-restoration England to their full advantage. The English Reformation, and in particular the rise of English Puritanism, was the sine qua non of the rise of the dominant English natural philosophy. The Jacobs’ work had a significant influence over interpretations of Boyle’s natural philosophy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. But it has now fallen on hard times. Detailed scrutiny of their use of sources has not been able to substantiate many of their central claims and in some important cases their interpretations have been seriously undermined.5 I will not treat of their views any further here.

If the Jacobs and Merton furnished us with social contextualist readings of the rise of English science and of Boyle’s natural philosophy in particular, others have attempted intellectualist readings and some of these tie Boyle’s thought directly to the Reformation. JE McGuire in his important 1972 article ‘Boyle’s Conception of Nature’ claimed that Boyle’s natural philosophy contained a reformulated nominalist ontology deriving from Calvinist theology. According to McGuire, by starting from the claim that God is omnipotent and that all that there is in the material realm are unrelated particulars, Boyle stressed that each particular was entirely dependent on God. There are no inherent connections between particulars. If the brittle glass is struck, there is no physical reason why it should shatter. This, according to McGuire, allowed Boyle to claim that it is God himself who imposes regularity in nature by the laws of nature which are expressions of the divine will. Thus laws of nature as we understand them are projected onto nature, rather than inherent in it. McGuire claims that ‘without doubt Boyle’s ontology is nominalist’ and that ‘Boyle’s attitude to nature is Calvinistic in tone’,6 and he views these ideas as the intellectual origins of Boyle’s conception of nature. He suggests that Boyle was probably influenced in this by reading the works of such English Calvinists as William Ames, William Perkins, Joseph Mede and John Preston.7

McGuire’s article is just one of a number of studies that stress the centrality of Boyle’s supposed nominalist ontology


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and his theological voluntarism and the purported connections with Calvin’s thought. Another such study is that of Eugene Klaaren.8 Klaaren’s broader thesis is that the doctrine of creation is absolutely fundamental to the emergence of modern science. Choosing Boyle as his main case study, he argues that both the ‘voluntarist theological orientation of Boyle, Bacon and Newton’ and the ‘spiritualist’ approach of van Helmont ‘represented both the cutting and the building edges of modern science.’9 In developing this thesis, Klaaren is at pains to stress the important contribution of Calvin to the bolstering of the voluntarist theology that Boyle inherited.10

A fifth attempt to link Reformation thought to the natural philosophy of the mid-seventeenth century is that of Gary Deason. He argues in his ‘Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic conception of Nature’11 that the reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty was taken up and applied to seventeenth-century mechanism. The sovereign redeemer of Luther and Calvin became sovereign of the world machine in the writings of Boyle and Newton. As with the thesis of McGuire, a central tenet in the doctrine of God is used to motivate the supposed intellectual continuity. Just as the reformers’ belief in the radical sovereignty of God led them to reject the claim that nature could have intrinsic powers, so the leading Protestant thinkers of the Scientific Revolution argued for an inert and passive matter from the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and this, it is claimed, was constitutive of the mechanical philosophy. Once again Boyle, along with Newton, is a central figure in the discussion.

How are we to assess these and similar claims? We might ask to what extent these central reformation doctrines were discussed by the leading seventeenth-century natural philosophers like Boyle and to what extent, whether implicit or explicit, they played a role in the formation of their views on nature. Furthermore, we need to determine the extent to which the theological controversies of the early modern period were continuous with those of the Reformation and to examine the internal consistency and plausibility of the respective theses in their own right. We need also to turn to the


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works of Robert Boyle and assess the extent to which he refers to the reformers and their doctrines and his relations with important reformed clergy within his ambit.

In the sections that follow I will argue, negatively, that the case for establishing a strong connection between Boyle’s natural philosophy and the reformers and their thought fails. I hope to show that the very theses that purport to establish a connection between Boyle and the reformers are fraught with internal problems and, on the basis of the historical data, must remain tendentious at best. To this end I have chosen to critique the theses of McGuire and Deason. I argue first, that the theses of McGuire and Deason are undermined by problems of internal consistency and historical inaccuracy; and second, that there is a paucity of textual and archival evidence on which to establish any robust relation between Boyle’s natural philosophy and the reformers and their doctrines.

Yet this is not to claim that Boyle was not influenced by reformed thought in any way or that there is a radical discontinuity between Boyle’s natural philosophy and the theology of the reformers. Boyle was a man of his times, an Anglican in a largely Protestant intellectual milieu. In fact, as we go on to examine Boyle’s writings a positive picture does emerge as to the Protestant stamp or theological cast of mind of Robert Boyle. This is hardly surprising, for definite strands of Protestant influence on Boyle have already been studied. First, Michael Hunter has explored Boyle’s piety and casuistry which are distinctively Protestant. Second, John Harwood has established Boyle’s indebtedness to Protestant ethics, in particular the ethical thought of Johann Alsted.12 Third, there is Boyle’s exposure to biblical scholarship and his study of biblical languages deriving from the influence of Archbishop James Ussher. What emerges in the following discussion of Boyle’s writings and his contacts with Protestant divines serves to augment this picture and to indicate lines for further research. For, it is suggested that the seminal theological influence on Boyle’s thought was not Calvinism but the Tew Circle and its intellectual forebears. This fourth strand


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of influence affected both the methodology and content of one of the overarching themes of his natural philosophy, that of Christian apologetics, something for which Boyle even provided in his will. Each of these ‘Protestant facets’ of his thought can legitimately be regarded as indirect influences of the Reformation. But what of the claims of McGuire and Deason that there is direct influence of the major reformers such as Calvin and Luther on Boyle’s natural philosophy?

3. A critique of the McGuire and Deason theses

Let us deal with McGuire first. McGuire’s general claim is that Boyle’s natural philosophy contains a reformulated nominalist ontology derived from Calvinist theology. Three questions naturally arise here. First, what is a nominalist ontology? Second, did Calvin have a nominalist ontology? And third, if Calvin or his followers had such an ontology, in what sense did Boyle develop it? According to McGuire a nominalist ontology is one in which all things are conceived as particulars that are completely independent of each other. Presumably this means that no thing is dependent upon any other for its continued existence or its causal powers. This is, in my view, close to what Boyle actually held, however it is not the same thing as a nominalist ontology.

Nominalism in Boyle’s day came in two forms. There was the purely ontological form which denied the existence of universals, that is properties or essences that are strictly identical across instances. And there was the more sophisticated semantic thesis of Ockham which posited that the terms which we use to refer to what are ostensibly universals, do not in fact refer to any objective existents. McGuire is attributing the ontological form to Boyle.

The view that the world is made up of unrelated particulars is certainly consistent with ontological nominalism, but it is certainly not entailed by it. Consider for example the popular modern view that properties (or tropes) are not strictly identical across instances, but merely exactly resembling. In this case there may still be ontological dependence and yet no universals. What seems clear


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from Boyle’s writings is that he did hold that all material things are ontologically independent of each other, and that they were dependent on God for their existence and in some sense for their relations to each other. However, none of this is cast in terms of nominalism. In fact Boyle neither mentions nominalism, nor the debate about universals, nor the Ockhamist version nor Calvin or any of his followers in any of his theoretical articulations of his corpuscular philosophy.

As to whether Calvin or any of his followers held a nominalist ontology there seems to be absolutely no evidence. Of the few references to Ockham in the Institutes, none refer to this debate. Neither is there a discussion of the question of universals, nor any discussion of ontological independence of particulars. Metaphysical discussions are conspicuously absent from all chapters except those on the nature of God and the nature of the sacraments. And even there, Calvin does not engage with the metaphysical speculations of the scholastics. If we go by the Institutes it appears that Calvin had no views on the question of nominalism versus realism.

In what sense then could Boyle have reformulated Calvinist nominalism? The answer that McGuire and others press is tied up with a further doctrine attributed to both Calvin and Boyle. This is the doctrine of voluntarism, the idea God imposes order on nature through laws which are expressions of his will. The obvious extension that a seventeenth-century natural philosopher would make to this doctrine is to apply it not only to God’s moral laws, but the laws of nature. The notion of laws of nature, whatever its origins, was central to the mechanical philosophy and seventeenth-century science in general, and has remained central to science ever since. Further, according to McGuire et al nominalism and voluntarism go hand in hand. Yet it is worth stressing that neither thesis entails the other. One can believe in universals and claim that laws are expressions of God’s will, just as one can deny that laws are imposed by God and deny that there are universals. I believe that it is true that Boyle was what we call a voluntarist, but this entails nothing about nominalism, nor are discussions of


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nominalist ideas to be found in Boyle. As for his voluntarism, the claim that it can be traced to Calvinist theology, or Calvin in particular, is extremely difficult to substantiate. First, neither Calvinists, nor Protestants had a monopoly on this idea. It can be traced back at least to the newly liberated theologies that arose in response to the Condemnation of 1277. It has a long history in Christian thought that is tied neither to nominalist theology nor to Protestant theology. Second, many of Boyle’s immediate sources, sources which he quotes and discusses in his articulation of his corpuscular philosophy, contain voluntarist doctrines. They include the Catholics Descartes, Gassendi and Suárez.

For example, in his theological work Some Considerations about the Reconcileableness of Reason and Religion (1675) Boyle discusses the purported problem of axioms in philosophy which are contradicted in theology such as ‘it is impossible that a Virgin should be a Mother’. Then using the case from 2 Kings 6 where God makes an axe-head float, Boyle tells us,

’tis not repugnant to Reason, that, if God please to interpose his Power, he may (as in Elisha’s case) make Iron swim, either by withholding his concourse to the Agents, whatever they be that cause Gravity in Bodies, or perhaps by other ways unknown to us …13

He then appeals to the authority of ‘That strict Philosopher Des Cartes’ in support, claiming that he who ascribed so much power to matter and motion was himself ‘so far from thinking, that what was impossible to them [matter and motion], must be so to God’. Boyle goes on to quote from a letter from Descartes for Arnauld and the Principles of Philosophy. Here then is an explicit appeal to the Catholic Descartes for the doctrine of the suspension of God’s concurrence, a doctrine commonly thought to be constitutive of voluntarism.14

Descartes, Gassendi and Suárez were all voluntarists and none of them were Protestants, let alone Calvinists. Voluntarism is there in the philosophers whom Boyle is discussing, and Boyle never discusses any Calvinist in his theoretical treatments of the corpuscular philosophy, so why should we look for Calvinist


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origins to his ideas? The onus is on McGuire and others to produce evidence of such a dependence.

Let us turn now to Deason’s thesis that the reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God played a central role in the development of mechanism in general and of the mechanism of Boyle (and Newton) in particular. The claim is that the reformers Luther and Calvin threw the doctrine of sovereignty into sharp relief and teased out its implications for the doctrine of justification. God is sovereign in salvation and humans can contribute nothing. By the time of the mid-seventeenth century this notion had permeated itself into the consciousness of all Protestant natural philosophers who then saw its ready application in the physical, rather than the soteriological realm. Just as humans are powerless to respond to God, so matter is powerless to bring about effects. It is dependent upon the sovereign God for the manifestation of its qualities and powers. As Deason says,

Boyle’s insistence on the radical distinction between the Creator and creation, and his belief that any attribution of activity or purpose to nature denied the distinction, followed closely the Reformer’s understanding of sovereignty. Insofar as active qualities were attributed to nature, they detracted from the sufficiency of grace and denied God his full glory.15

The parallelism is appealing and, at first sight, reasonable. Furthermore, the question of the scope of divine sovereignty in redemption remained a thorny problem throughout the early modern period. For instance, Richard Baxter and John Owen published different views on the matter. If Boyle was aware of this ongoing debate, would not it be natural for him to tease out some implications of the doctrine of divine sovereignty for his natural philosophy?

It should be pointed out however that the reformers had no monopoly on the doctrine of sovereignty. For example, the notions of sovereignty and omnipotence were a special obsession with Descartes. Yet Descartes, one of the leading mechanical philosophers, did not derive either doctrine from Calvin or Luther.


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When we turn to the mechanical philosophy of Robert Boyle, further problems emerge. First, as we have seen, there are no explicit references in Boyle that enable us to establish that Boyle derived his doctrine of sovereignty directly from the reformers Luther and Calvin. Second, in contrast to Descartes, it is extremely difficult to find in Boyle statements to the effect that matter is completely causally inefficacious. Boyle’s emphasis is always on the insentience of matter, rather than its causal passivity.16 In fact, it appears that he did attribute some minimal causal powers to matter such as the power to transfer motion on collision and to persevere in motion.17 So for Boyle, matter is not completely inert.

The real problem for Deason’s thesis however, is that it is predicated upon an outmoded historiography of the nature of mechanism and in particular seventeenth-century corpuscular matter theories. The traditional view of the emergence of mechanism championed by the Halls, RS Westfall and others claimed that the mechanical philosophers believed in inert and passive matter stripped of all its secondary qualities and powers. This was in response to the excesses of the scholastic occult qualities and real forms and the threat of alchemy. However, this historiography of mechanism has been subject to severe criticism over the last fifteen years. It has been shown that amongst the many false premises of this picture, there were very few mechanists who believed that matter was completely inert and passive. Many mechanists accepted causal powers, occult qualities, seminal principles, etc and some had more than a passing interest in alchemy.18 Not surprisingly the two central figures who have provided the case studies for this revisionist movement are Boyle and Newton. Newton’s alchemical pursuits are now well known and Larry Principe has recently published a full treatise by Boyle on transmutation and has argued convincingly that Boyle’s alchemical interests increased throughout his career as a natural philosopher.19 Furthermore, there was amongst advocates of mechanism, a broad spectrum of views on the relation between God and his creation ranging from deism to occasionalism. The


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exact point where Boyle’s natural philosophy fits on this spectrum has been a particularly vexing issue in Boyle scholarship. The consequence of all this for Deason’s thesis is that the parallelism between the reformers’ emphasis on man’s inability to contribute to his salvation and Boyle’s causally inefficacious matter cannot be sustained. The Deason thesis fails.

However, in spite of the foregoing critique of McGuire’s and Deason’s interpretations of Boyle’s natural philosophy, it may still be possible to establish a close link between Boyle and the reformers or Boyle and Calvinist theology from an analysis of his writings. It is to them that we now turn.

4. References to the reformers and reformed theology in Boyle’s writings

For someone who is supposed to be so strongly influenced by the reformers, there is a surprising paucity of references to either Luther or Calvin in any of Boyle’s literary output. Boyle left a vast oeuvre including approximately 3.5 million published words and some 15,000 unpublished folios, collectively called the Boyle Papers. A quick check of the first definitive index of Boyle’s works reveals one reference to Luther and one to Calvin in all of his published writings.20 There is also a mention of Lutherans and Calvinists in Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God (Seraphic Love).21 Furthermore, on perusing Boyle’s published works it becomes clear that there is no stamp of the reformers on any individual work, nor on the writings as a whole.

We should note too that Boyle’s religious works were published as a collection as early as 1709 in German and another collection, this time in English, edited by Richard Boulton appeared in 1715. Boyle was popularly known as a lay theologian and even though he had no formal theological qualification, his contribution to theological debate rendered him one of the foremost lay Christian thinkers of his age. Furthermore, Boyle’s biblical knowledge and linguistic credentials were, for want of a better word, daunting. Not only did he probably know the Greek New Testament by heart. He read Hebrew (even writing his own Hebrew


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grammar), Caldiac, Syriac, and Arabic (in order better to read the Old Testament); was fluent in French; learnt Italian in order to read Galileo; and of course, like all virtuosi, he read Latin. His interest in the Bible, languages and the propagation of the gospel led him to sponsor numerous translation projects. He organised and paid for the first Turkish translation of the Bible (1666), the first Gaelic translation of the Old Testament (1685) and various other Christian publications in Gaelic including an Irish Bible transliterated into Roman script (1690), the translation of the four Gospels and Acts into Malayan (1677), the translation of Grotius’ Of the Truth of the Christian Religion into Arabic (1660) and so on.22 He also commissioned and sponsored numerous theological works, such as those of Howe, Barlow and Sanderson, and had many dedicated to him. He even contributed toward the publishing of Gilbert Burnet’s The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679). The culmination of this vigorous contribution to the defence and propagation of the faith was the Boyle Lectures for which he provided in his will and which continued into the twentieth century.

It is evident then that with Boyle we are not dealing with an intellectual who confined his interests to natural philosophy. We are dealing with an erudite Biblical scholar who was theologically astute, even if we consider his most lasting legacy to be so far removed as the ideal gas law that bears his name. It is with this in mind that we turn now to discuss three of Boyle’s writings with a view to discerning the influence of the reformers on his thought. The first is the aforementioned discussion of Calvinists in Boyle’s Seraphic Love, the second his unpublished ‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’, and the third the related Some Considerations touching the Style of the Holy Scriptures (Style of the Scriptures).

Seraphic Love

Boyle’s Seraphic Love (1659) contains an extended discussion of the controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians over the question of predestination.23 That this was still a hotly contested issue in mid-century is evidenced in the fact that John Owen in


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1647 published an attack on the Arminian position explicitly denying the variant of it advocated by Richard Baxter (and indeed by James Ussher).24 Boyle is careful to be neutral between the two views in Seraphic Love, for his aim in this section is to point out that no matter whether one is a Calvinist or an Arminian on the question of God’s election, one can still celebrate the greatness of God’s love. He tells us twice that he will not reveal his own position on the issue, but shows a keen grasp of the theological issues involved.

Boyle composed the first version of Seraphic Love around 1648, but it does not contain this section on predestination.25 At some point then between the late 1640s and the first published edition in 1659, Boyle seems to have engaged this issue and his interest in it remained. He was still grappling with it in the early 1670s, for he mentions the problem of reconciling future contingents with God’s prescience in Reason and Religion.26 He treats this problem as an example of irreconcilable truths, as if there is no definitive resolution to the issue. Furthermore, in the 1670s he sponsored John Howe’s Reconcileableness (1677)27 which was a restatement of the reconciling position of Henry Hammond of the Tew circle, on the dispute between Calvinists and Arminians on predestination. Howe, a Presbyterian divine, dedicated his book to Boyle. The work provoked a number of critical responses that led to Howe publishing a ‘Postscript’ which provoked further response. It seems that the whole controversy was the setting and polemical impetus for Boyle’s Discourse of Things above Reason (1681) which is an important treatment of the issue of the relation between faith and reason, something that was at the heart of the epistemology that underlay Boyle’s philosophy of nature.28

What is important for our purposes is that Boyle does not mention Calvin himself in this passage in Seraphic Love, nor elsewhere in his discussions of prescience. He does however refer to Socinianism and even quotes the Socinian writer Schlichtingius. Furthermore, throughout Boyle’s involvement in this issue, both in his own writings and patronage of Howe’s work, he nowhere sides with the Calvinist position. It is not clear that he accepted


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the position of Hammond as reiterated by Howe, but the general tenor of his approach to the issues is one of seeking a via media, while at the same time finding it as illustrative of disputes that are well nigh impossible definitively to resolve.

‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’ and Style of the Scriptures

We turn now to the recently published ‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’ and a related work Style of the Scriptures. A long fragment of the former survives among the Boyle Papers volume 7 and a shorter fragment was published by Birch in his 1744 edition of Boyle’s works. Both fragments have been published in the new edition of Boyle’s Works.29 It is clear that not all of the ‘Essay’ has survived, but enough of it is extant for us to know that Boyle used it in composing his Style of the Scriptures, as there is some overlap of thematic content and some direct borrowings and reworkings of materials from the ‘Essay’.

Boyle’s ‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’30 begins with extended defence of translations of the Bible into the vernacular, a practice dear to Luther’s heart. Boyle adduces numerous arguments for such translations, but in the whole discussion does not refer to any reformer. In fact, in the entire work which is book length and concerns the question of the authority of the Scriptures with a special emphasis on the translation and interpretation of Scripture, as well as the truth of Christianity in general, there is only one reference to an early reformer. It is to Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva and Boyle mentions his puzzling over the Hebrew Masorah. To put this into perspective let me list some of the other authors whom Boyle quotes or discusses. Of early modern theologians, scholars and apologists Boyle refers to Mornay, Voisin, Diodati, Grotius, Ussher, Selden, Spanheim, the poet Alexander Ross, the Socinians Crell and Volkel. Writers from antiquity that are referred to include Aristotle, Pliny, Horace, Hermes, Juvenal, Persius, Homer, Virgil, Augustine, Galen, Seneca, Epicurus, Lucretius and Plutarch. As for medieval and Renaissance writers he quotes and refers to Lull, Vives, Pomponazzi, Campanella, Telesio, Machiavelli, Maimonides


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and Socinus. There are also numerous early modern natural philosophers mentioned, including Bacon, Gassendi, Basso, Copernicus, Regius, Descartes, Kircher, van Helmont, Sennert, Mersenne and Junius. He quotes from the Mishnah and Talmud, the Arabic Koran, Islamic scholars, and refers to Jewish rabbis and numerous apostolic fathers.

The erudition is impressive, the absence of the reformers noteworthy, especially given the subject of the work. If Boyle was strongly influenced by the reformers, if he saw himself as carrying their beacon or even just drew inspiration from them, surely they would have appeared on these lofty pages. What of Calvin as an expositor or Luther31 as the champion of vernacular translations? That neither of them appear is typical of Boyle’s theological works, not to mention his natural philosophy. Boyle’s grasp of his intellectual heritage was second to none in his day and Luther and Calvin are not prominent players in it.

McGuire does concede in a footnote that ‘[i]t is not possible to show beyond a shadow of doubt that Boyle adopted his view of physical laws exclusively from Calvinist literature’,32 admitting that these ideas are found in non-Protestant writers as well. But according to McGuire, in his published works Boyle more frequently mentions writers of ‘Calvinist temperament’. McGuire also adduces evidence from a list of books provided for a defence of the faith, claiming that the list contains a number of Calvinist manuals. The list is transcribed in the appendix below.

It is worth digressing to make an assessment of this list. It is written in the hand of Hugh Greg who worked as an amanuensis for Boyle from the early 1680s until the latter’s death in 1691.33 It contains a list of twenty six authors (though one name is missing) in rough chronological order and mentions twenty four works. Fourteen of the authors listed predate the Reformation. They include early church apologists, historians and theologians such as Aquinas. Of the remainder, there are a couple of Hebraists, some apologists such as Grotius, the physician and natural philosopher Walter Charleton and even an author, Micraelius, whom Boyle


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has heard of but whose works he does not yet know. None of the authors mentioned can be classified as a Calvinist theologian and neither, pace McGuire, can any of the works cited be described as a Calvinist manual. In fact the list does not even have an obvious Protestant bias. Rather it is unified around the theme of Christian apologetics. Michael Hunter has suggested to me that it may well be related to Boyle’s plans to establish a collection of apologetical works on his death or may even relate to the lecture series for the defence of the faith for which he provided in his will.34 Most of the works cited have Latin titles or Anglicised titles of Latin works, though there is one Greek, one French and three English titles.

When comparing the list with the authors and works cited in both Boyle’s ‘Essay’ and Style of the Scriptures we find that some eight authors are mentioned in the ‘Essay’. They are Athenagoras, Eusebius, Raymundus Martini, Galatino, Raymond Lull, Vives, Mornay and Grotius, while Charleton is alluded to. Four others, not mentioned in the ‘Essay’, are referred to in Style of the Scriptures. They are Augustine, Tertullian, Lactantius and Hackspan. Furthermore, a number of the works on the list are mentioned in Boyle’s ‘Essay’; the Pugio fidei of Raymundus Martini and Galatino’s Opus de arcanis catholicae veritatis.

The manner in which these authors and works are cited is also noteworthy. In the ‘Essay’ we find two lists of relatively recent defenders of the faith that overlap with the list and again in Style of the Scriptures there is a list of early Christian apologists that includes three from the list.35 Moreover, it should be noted that many of the names on the list, and especially the lesser known ones such as Galatino and Hackspan, do not appear again in any other of Boyle’s published works. A terminus a quo for the composition of the list can be set at 1688, the publication date for van Limborch’s De Veritate religionis Christianae and Michael Hunter has pointed out to me that from internal evidence MS 187 can be confidently dated to the years 1689-91. All this creates a presumption that this list, far from revealing Boyle’s debt to Calvinist theology, is related to the composition of the ‘Essay’ and Style of the Scriptures. It marks a degree of continuity in Boyle’s


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apologetical concerns which spans from the early 1650s through to the last years of his life.

Now it may be objected that Boyle’s list of books is for the defence of ‘the truth of the Christian Religion’ whereas the ‘Essay’ is really concerned with vernacular translations of the Bible and that Style of the Scriptures is concerned with the nature and form of the Biblical text. But even a cursory perusal of these two works reveals that they are both apologetical in intent and content. For example, the ‘Essay’ contains a number of discussions of the role of reason in the proofs of Christianity. At one point he tells us that

the proofes of it are such as may suffice to Reason; by satisfying men that there are noe Irrefragable Arguments to prove it false: nay, that there are great Probabilityes … that it is True; & Greater then that any other Religion is so...36

And Style of the Scriptures comprises a series of replies to objections against the veracity and coherence of the Old and New Testaments.

How then should we characterise Boyle’s theological cast of mind in the light of the ‘Essay’, Style of the Scriptures and the list of apologists? In all three Boyle seems to be drawing from a common pool of names of Christian defenders of the faith. When we compare these names and the thematic concerns of other of Boyle’s theological works, a pattern begins to emerge. First it should be noted that all the ancient authors on the list appear, and many are regularly quoted, in Grotius’ The Truth of the Christian Religion. Furthermore, Grotius regards his forebears in apologetics as being Vives and Mornay. Interestingly, the triad of Vives, Mornay and Grotius (listed in sequence in Boyle Papers MS 187, fol 31) appears not only in the ‘Essay’ but also in Reason and Religion and in Boyle’s ‘Introduction to my loose Notes Theological’ (a kind of preface to some of his theological writings composed in the late 1670s or early 1680s).37 This triad were together considered by critics of Socinianism each to be suspect of that heresy. They were also the theological mentors of the Great Tew Circle, the core members of which were also widely regarded to be tainted with the stain of Socinianism.


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Moreover, we know that Boyle admired Falkland,38 the leader of the Tew Circle, that he had read Hammond39 and that he was intimate with Barlow, a member of the circle and a collector of Socinian works (though not a Socinian himself). We have already noted the prominence of comments on Socinianism in the ‘Essay’ and Seraphic Love and to this we can add the fact that Boyle had Grotius’ apologetical work translated into Arabic in the face of a campaign of Owen and Baxter to undermine Grotius’ reputation. We have therefore the basis of a case for claim that the theological stamp on Boyle’s mind is that of the Tew Circle. This is not to say that Boyle was one of their progeny, but rather that that was the theological milieu, the seedbed in which his theological concerns took root. To be sure, from the late 1640s he regarded the very Socinianism with which some members of this group were accused as heretical. Indeed, Jan Wojcik has ably shown how the concern of Boyle to demarcate the limits of reason arises out of the context of debates over Socinian claims about the powers of human reason in relation to divine revelation.40 Yet Boyle admired, identified with and in some sense emulated the Tew Circle’s lineage and was deeply concerned with the central epistemological issue that was constitutive of the group. It is therefore quite revealing that Boyle tells us in his ‘Introduction to my loose Notes Theological’, that he regards himself as applying the apologetical method of the mentors of the Tew Circle to the ‘new philosophy’ of his own age. He tells us

that I might not be a Compiler, but contribute much of my own to so usefull a work, I was carefull to enlarge on such controversies as have not been either at all, or at least so fully handled by the Excellent Vives, Mornæus & Grotius my designe being chiefly to propose the truth of our Religion in a way suited to the Genius of this Age.41

It is beyond the scope of this paper to develop these claims in any detail, but enough connections have been drawn at least to highlight the fact that Boyle both promoted and contributed to an apologetical tradition that was opposed by the more prominent ‘reformed


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pastors’ of his day, a tradition whose champions in the generation before him were members of the circle of the Great Tew.42

Furthermore, such an analysis of the theological influences on Boyle may provide fresh evidence for an interesting claim by John Henry. Henry has argued that it was the irenic theological methodology of early modern Anglicanism, a methodology epitomised by the members of the Great Tew Circle, that provided a model for how to proceed in natural philosophy and that this is the salient connection between religion and science in the period. This irenic methodology was characterised by a doctrinal minimalism, an avoidance of disputation and a reconciling ‘via media’ approach to theological controversies.43 Of course, all of these features are well known to be present in Boyle’s approach to natural philosophy.44 If therefore, Boyle’s natural philosophical methodology was in some sense shaped by his theological mentors, that is the Tew Circle and their forebears, we have in Boyle a positive instance of Henry’s more general claim. Indeed this appears to be a far more plausible connection between theology and early modern natural philosophy than those posited by Merton, the Jacobs, McGuire or Deason.

5. Boyle’s relations with Protestant divines

If the above picture gleaned from Boyle’s writings is correct it is very likely to be born out in the pattern of relations that he established with Protestant divines with whom he had the opportunity to make acquaintance. Boyle’s exposure to Protestant ideas began when he was quite young. In 1640, when he was just thirteen and on his grand tour, Boyle had an extended stay in Geneva, the home town of his tutor the Calvinist Marcombes. Marcombes wrote to Boyle’s father, the Earl of Cork, informing him that Robert and his brother went to church twice a week and that each night he read to the boys two sections of Calvin’s catechism.45 Marcombes was related by marriage to the famous Genevan Calvinist pastor Jean Diodati with whom Boyle was acquainted and whom he consulted on some matter/s of Biblical interpretation while at Geneva. In that same year, in Geneva, Boyle had a dramatic conversion experience


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which he recounts in graphic detail in his youthful autobiography written at the age of twenty one.46

On returning to England it was not long before Boyle was introduced to Samuel Hartlib and his circle. The Hartlib circle comprised a group of keen Protestants with an interest in natural philosophy, a pansophic vision for scientific and educational reform and in some cases distinctive millenarian views. Yet any evidence of a significant theological influence that these Protestants exercised over him is difficult to muster.47 As for other sources of influence, JE McGuire’s suggestion that Boyle may have read William Ames, William Perkins and John Preston appears to be completely without foundation. None of them are mentioned in his published works. Boyle does however mention the Calvinist biblical scholar Joseph Mede in passing (twice) in his Excellency of Theology in a manner which indicates that he was familiar at least with the importance of his writings.48

But in spite of this dearth of references to Calvinists in his writings, Boyle did mix with many prominent reformed clergy. One of the few Protestant divines whom Boyle openly acknowledges had influenced his own intellectual development was James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh. Ussher, a friend of the Boyle family, was a prolific scholar who was well versed in biblical languages and gained renown for his chronology of the earth. We know from the ‘Burnet Memorandum’ that Boyle took up the study of biblical languages after being reproached by Ussher.49 In fact, Burnet elaborates on Ussher’s influence in his funeral sermon claiming of Boyle that

His piety received a vast encrease as he often owned to me from his Acquaintance with the great Primate of Ireland, the never enough admired Usher, who as he was very particularly the Friend of the whole Family, so seeing such Seed and beginnings in him, studied to cultivate them with due care. He set him chiefly to the Study of the Scriptures in their Original Languages, which he followed in a course of many Years, with so great exactness he could have quoted all remarkable Passages very readily in Hebrew: and he read the New Testament so diligently in the Greek, that there never


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occurred to me an occasion to mention any one passage of it, that he did not readily repeat in that language.50

The fruit of Ussher’s influence is perhaps best revealed in Boyle’s ‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’, a text which, as we have seen, displays Boyle’s facility with biblical languages, which refers to Ussher as a profound scholar and possibly alludes to his work on biblical chronology.51 Interestingly, it is in this text that we learn that Boyle was personally acquainted with the eminent orientalist John Selden who was an integral member of Ussher’s scholarly circle in England.

It could be argued that the anti-Romish sentiments, the broad sweep of scholarship displayed and the prominence of matters philological in this essay are more than an echo of Ussher’s influence and betray an element of imitation of Ussher’s style. Yet the influence here is one that pertains to biblical scholarship and not to reformed theology. It was not long before this passion for scholarship was subsumed by Boyle’s new-found interest in natural philosophy, an interest which is already repeatedly intruding in the ‘Essay’. Soon the shadow of Ussher was to fade as Boyle’s pursuit of experimental natural philosophy became his dominant concern.

Another influential clergyman with whom Boyle might be expected to have mixed if his natural philosophy was ‘Calvinistic in tone’ is John Owen. Owen was arguably the most important of the English high Calvinists and Congregationalist leaders in the seventeenth century. He was a prolific writer and contributed to a number of the theological debates of his time. He remains one of the most widely read of the puritan theologians today.

Owen rose to prominence under Cromwell and was appointed Vice-chancellor of Oxford University during the Interregnum in 1652 retiring from this post in 1657. Thus he was at Oxford during Boyle’s extended stay there from 1655 to 1668. Yet Sir Peter Pett tells us in his notes on Boyle that he did not ‘there give any visite to Dr Goodwin or Dr Owen who were Oliver Cromwells great Clerica[l] Supporters, and placed in the highest


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Posts in the University’.52 This is somewhat surprising if Boyle’s natural philosophy was strongly influenced by Calvinist theology. Owen was one of the leading Calvinists in England at the time and we now know that at some point in the 1650s, Boyle added the section on Calvinist versus Arminian views of predestination to his Seraphic Love which was discussed above. Surely Owen would have been the ideal person to consult on these issues especially since he had published the definitive Calvinist statement of the doctrine of predestination in his Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu in 1647. Yet Pett tells us that Boyle avoided him. This may have been because Boyle was ever cautious in his political alignments, but it also coincides with the time in which Boyle’s natural philosophy was being forged. If Boyle was strongly influenced by Calvinist thought it is hard to explain his failure to make acquaintance with Owen. If however, we accept the view that Boyle identified with the Tew Circle and their mentors, we have an another reason for Boyle’s reticence to approach Owen. For in the 1650s Owen was engaged in a bitter exchange with Hammond about the theology of Grotius. Owen repeatedly attacked Grotius as a Socinian heretic while Hammond defended him. Yet by the end of the 1650s, Boyle was so enamoured of Grotius’ De veritate religionis christianae that he paid Dr Edward Pococke to translate it into Arabic.

After the Restoration, Owen was forced to withdraw from public life, retiring to his estate in Stadhampton where he continued to write and be embroiled in theological controversies. By contrast it was during this period that Boyle’s reputation as a natural philosopher both in England and abroad began to increase and his involvement in public life was in full swing. Owen was an anti-Copernican and his theology is characterised by a scholastic methodology. He is typical of that wave of post-reformation theologians who had a largely scholastic education and articulated their theology using a scholastic methodology. His writings show no interest in natural philosophy and are never quoted by Boyle, even when their interests coincide. Both of them attacked Socinianism, but Boyle never quotes Owen’s work. Interestingly, there is only one reference to Owen in all of his published works


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and that is only a reference in passing.53 On the question of the limits of reason, Owen’s position was that on difficult questions of interpretation, such as predestination, there were some matters that were beyond human understanding. Yet he also claimed that his was the correct interpretation of this doctrine! Boyle critically alludes to this contradictory position in his Advices in judging of Things said to Transcend Reason,54 but as Owen was not the only puritan divine to hold it, there is no way we can establish a direct allusion to Owen.

Another possible allusion to Owen is found in Seraphic Love. There Boyle tells us that he finds ‘it hotly disputed amongst Divines, (not onely betwixt the Socinians, and the Orthodox, but betwixt Orthodox and Orthodox) Whether or no God could, without violating his Justice, have devised any other Course for the Expiation of Sin, than the Passion and Death of Christ.’55 We know that this passage too was added in the 1650s, for it is not in the early version of the work recently discovered by Lawrence Principe which is dated 1648. Furthermore, this is the precise issue addressed in Owen’s De Divina Justitia Diatriba which was published in 1653 and which attacks Socinus and Vossius and challenges ‘many very respectable theologians’.56 It certainly is good evidence of Boyle’s familiarity with current theological disputes even if it does not allow us positively to assert that Boyle read Owen on the issue. Interestingly, as with the reference to the predestination controversy in the same work, Boyle refrains from declaring a position on the issue, preferring rather to find a lesson from the debate that transcends the doctrinal issues.

We must conclude then that there is no evidence of direct influence of Owen on Boyle’s thought. In fact, there are positive reasons for claiming that Owen was just the sort of churchman and theologian with whom Boyle was not keen to associate. Owen’s polemics against Hammond concerning such mentors of the Tew Circle as Grotius and Vossius and his uncompromisingly dogmatic and scholastic methodology are antithetical to the general tenor of Boyle’s religious writings. Where Boyle used the predestination controversy as a paradigm case of the limits of human reason,


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Owen championed the extreme Calvinist position. Where Boyle sought to exploit the evangelistic potential of Grotius’ writings, Owen could only detect the stench of doctrinal error.

The case of Richard Baxter is quite different. He was a friend and even a confessor whom Boyle may even have consulted on matters of conscience.57 A correspondence of some four letters between the two is still extant and is quite revealing of the mutual regard in which they held each other. In 1665 Boyle sent Baxter copies of a number of his works including his Occasional Reflections and Style of the Scriptures. In his letter of thanks Baxter told Boyle that ‘I read your theology as the life of your philosophy, and your philosophy as animated and dignified by your theology’.58

But one should not be misled into thinking that Baxter and Boyle saw eye to eye in either theology or natural philosophy. For in 1658 Baxter added his weight to the protracted dispute between John Owen and Henry Hammond over whether or not Grotius was a Socinian. Baxter’s The Grotian Religion Discover’d sided with Owen in attacking Grotius. However, as we have seen, at roughly the same time Pococke was engaged in translating, at the behest of Boyle, Grotius’ De veritate religionis christianae into Arabic. The work was published in 1660. Baxter does mention Boyle’s ‘noble designs’ in sponsoring this publication, but this comment should be taken as restrained and guarded on Baxter’s part. He continued to attack Grotius, in particular his views on church reunion, regarding him as a ‘moderating Papist’.

Furthermore, in 1667 Baxter published his Reasons of the Christian Religion in which he attacked the corpuscularian philosophy. Boyle’s friend John Beale was so alarmed that he had Henry Oldenburg write to Boyle asking him to present a ‘rightly stated’ defence of the corpuscular philosophy to prevent any ill effects of Baxter’s book. Baxter’s worry with the corpuscular philosophy was that in reducing everything to matter and motion there was little room for God. There were theories of nature that avoided this problem and we know that at least one seemed


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amenable to Baxter. He expressed approval of the rather strange system of Francis Glisson who argued that all matter is animated with perception.59 This is the very sort of natural philosophy that Boyle saw as antithetical to the corpuscular philosophy and which he attacks in his A Free Enquiry Into the Vulgarly Receiv’d Notion of Nature (1686), though Glisson is not explicitly named in that work.

It is clear that Boyle counted Baxter amongst his friends. But there is no evidence of Baxter’s theology influencing Boyle. To my knowledge, Boyle neither quotes nor alludes to any of Baxter’s many works. And as we have seen, Baxter’s theology actually led him to oppose the sort of natural philosophy that Boyle espoused. Far from inspiring or entailing the corpuscular philosophy, Baxter’s puritan outlook actually led him to oppose it and to approve of those systems that were antithetical to the new philosophy.

It appears then that in spite of all of Boyle’s contacts with Protestant thinkers from his early adolescence on, it remains extremely difficult to find even one reformed thinker who exercised a strong influence on Boyle’s natural philosophy. If we scour the biographical writings about Boyle we find that no Protestant theologians are said to have exercised any influence over the development of his corpuscular philosophy in the way Boyle’s early ethical writings reveal the influence of Alsted. Indeed, the partial sketch of Boyle’s pattern of relations with clergy which has been presented above suggests that Boyle consciously distanced himself from the prominent Calvinist Owen, that his relations with Baxter were likely strained on the question of the status of both Grotius and the corpuscular philosophy, and that the acknowledged influence of Ussher was largely restricted to biblical scholarship.

6. Conclusion

JE McGuire has claimed that Boyle’s conception of nature is Calvinist in tone. Having surveyed the evidence, I conclude that there is no sign of any significant intellectual, methodological


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or even inspirational impact of the reformers or Calvinist theology on the natural philosophy of Robert Boyle. Rather, Boyle’s theological writings suggest that he was indelibly marked by the theological concerns of and the apologetical methodology of the Tew circle and their theological mentors. Such a reading of Boyle is entirely natural and fits the theological context in which he was actively engaged. It also complements the apologetical concerns that motivate so much of his writing in natural philosophy, such as Notion of Nature. Of course this is not to say that Boyle was not influenced by reformed thought, for all early modern Protestant natural philosophers were impacted by the emergence of Protestant theology and piety and had to function within (or without) post-Reformation institutional structures. It is rather to find key theological influences on Boyle in his close contemporaries and in theological issues that were very much alive in his day. The sources of the voluntarism in Boyle’s natural philosophy, if such they were, are to be found in the writings of those advocates of this doctrine whom we know he read — Descartes, Suárez and Gassendi — rather than in the reformers. There is therefore no substantive evidence in Boyle’s natural philosophy or his theological writings that allows us to establish an intimate connection between the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

Appendix

Boyle Papers MS 187, fols 30-160

Hand: Hugh Greg

Date: c. 1689-91

A list of books provided & to be provyded for the Collection making by Mr Boyle of books tending to the proofs & defence of the truth of the Christian Religion.61

Tertullians Apology.

Athanagoras his Apologetick veritingo.

Quadratus.

Clemens Alexandrinus.

Arnobius contra gentes.

Lactantius

Cyrill against Julian the Apostate

St Austin de Civitate Dei.

Origen Aagainst Celsus.— peri; ajrcw’n.

Eusebius de praeparatione et de demonstratione Evangelicâ.

Aquinas contra genties.

[Raimundi, Martini) pugio fidei.

Galatinus de Arcanis veritatis Catholicae.

/31/ Ramundus de Sibonde.

Reuchlinus de Cabala

Micraelius a German divine the title of whose books I know not.

Ludovicus Vives de veritate Religionis Christianae.

Mornaeus de veritate R. C.,

the same Author’s avertissemens aux Juifes touchant la venue de Messiae.

Grotius de Veritate R. C.

Vossius de origine & progressu Idolatriae.

Hackspan’s Sephar Nitzahon.

Hornbeck de Convertendis Judaeis.

Derodon against the Atheists.

Dr Charleton’s Darknes of Atheism.

A late dialogue between Mr Limburg & a Jew at Amsterdam.

Dr That Christ is the true Messias.62


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Notes:

* Dr Peter Anstey is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. This is a revised version of a paper delivered at the Annual General Meeting of the Evangelical History Association on 19 March 1999.

1. Of course there have also been attempts to link religion and the rise of modern science by negative causal theses. See JW Draper, History of the conflict between religion and science (London, 1875); and AD White, A history of the warfare of science with theology in Christendom (New York, 1896). For useful general discussions of attempts to link the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, see DS Kemsley, ‘Religious influences in the rise of modern science: a review and criticism, particularly of the “Protestant-puritan ethic” theory,’ Annals of Science 24 (1968) 199-226; JH Brooke, Science and Religion: some historical perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); and HF Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: a historiographical inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994) chapter 5.

2. RK Merton, Science, Technology and Society in the Seventeenth-Century England (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), first published in 1938 in Osiris 4.

3. For discussion of the Merton thesis, see IB Cohen (ed), Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: the Merton Thesis (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1990), which also has an extensive bibliography on the thesis. See also Cohen, The Scientific Revolution, 314-21. For a balanced review of the issues see C Webster’s “Puritanism, Separatism and Science,” in God and Nature: Historical Essays on the encounter between Christianity and Science (eds DC Lindberg and RL Numbers; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) 192-217.

4. See for example JR Jacob and MC Jacob, “The Anglican origins of modern science: the metaphysical foundations of the Whig constitution,” Isis 71 (1980) 251-67.

5. For critiques of the Jacobs’ thesis see M Hunter, “Science and heterodoxy: an early modern problem reconsidered,” in Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (eds DC Lindberg and RS Westman; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 437-60; “How Boyle became a scientist,” History of Science 33 (1995) 59-103, reprinted in Robert Boyle (1627-91): Scrupulosity and Science [hereafter RBSS] (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2000) 15-57); M Hunter and EB Davis, “The making of Robert Boyle’s Free enquiry into the vulgarly received notion of nature (1686),” Early Science and Medicine 1 (1996) 204-71; and M Oster “Virtue, providence and political neutralism: Boyle and Interregnum politics,” in Robert Boyle Reconsidered (ed M Hunter; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 19-36.

6. JE McGuire, “Boyle’s Conception of Nature,” Journal of the History of Ideas 33 (1972) 530 and 541.

7. Ibid, 539. See also McGuire’s “Neoplatonism and Active Principles: Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum,” in Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution (eds RS Westman and JE McGuire; Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1977) 108, where he extends the claim to Newton as well.

8. Religious Origins of Modern Science: Belief in Creation in Seventeenth-Century Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977). McGuire’s voluntarist and nominalist interpretation of Boyle’s natural theology is accepted by MJ Osler. See her “The intellectual sources of Boyle’s philosophy of nature: Gassendi’s voluntarism and Boyle’s physico-theological project,” in Philosophy, Science and Religion in England 1640-1700 (eds R Kroll, R Ashcraft & P Zagorin; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 178-98, though she finds the source of this voluntarism in Gassendi. Another who argues that Boyle was a nominalist is J Milton in his The Influence of the Nominalist Movement on the Scientific Thought of Bacon, Boyle and Locke (unpublished PhD thesis; Imperial College London, 1982) chapter 4, 107-13, though he is critical of McGuire’s interpretation of Boyle’s voluntarism.

9. Religious Origins, 188.

10. Ibid, 39-45, especially 45. An important source for both McGuire and Klaaren’s interpretations of Boyle is F Oakley’s “Christian Theology and the Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of the Laws of Nature,” Church History 30 (1961) 433-57. Oakley, 440, claims that it was through Luther that the voluntarist notion of “imposed natural law seems to have made its way into Protestant thought”. See also his Omnipotence, Covenant and Order: An Excursion in the History of Ideas from Abelard to Leibniz (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984) chapter 3.

11. GB Deason, “Reformation theology and the mechanistic conception of nature,” in God and Nature, 167-91. See also K Hutchison, “Supernaturalism and the Mechanical Philosophy,” History of Science 21 (1983) 297-333.

12. See M Hunter’s “Alchemy, magic and moralism in the thought of Robert Boyle,” British Journal for the History of Science 23 (1990) 387-410, reprinted in RBSS, 93-118; “The conscience of Robert Boyle: functionalism, ‘dysfunctionalism’ and the task of historical understanding,” in Renaissance and Revolution (eds JV Field and FAJL James; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 147-59, reprinted in RBSS, 58-71; “Casuistry in Action: Robert Boyle’s Confessional Interviews with Gilbert Burnet and Edward Stillingfleet, 1691,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 44 (1993) 80-98, reprinted in RBSS, pp72-92; and JT Harwood, The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991).

13. The Works of Robert Boyle (eds M Hunter and EB Davis; 14 vols; London: Pickering and Chatto, 1999-2000) 8: 254. Cited hereafter as Works.

14. Voluntarism is defined in different ways by different scholars. I take it that the core doctrine of any form of voluntarism is that the laws of nature are expressions of God’s will. Margaret Osler goes further by claiming that it also includes the doctrine that the laws of nature are contingent. See her Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 10ff. She is at pains to interpret Descartes as an ‘intellectualist’ and not a voluntarist, claiming that he denies the contingency of the laws of nature. See ibid, 146-52. What is clear from the above quote from Reason and Religion is that Boyle regarded Descartes as a voluntarist in Osler’s sense, even if at times Boyle considers that Descartes overemphasises the role of laws of nature in directing natural events, particularly in the formation of the world. (See for example Forms and Qualities, Works 5: 353-4.) Surprisingly, Osler refers to this passage in Reason and Religion in a footnote (Divine Will, 149), but does not discuss it in the context of her claim (151) that “Boyle criticized Descartes for not adhering to voluntarist principles”. For a recent voluntarist reading of Descartes, see M Bolton’s “Universals, essences and abstract entities,” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (eds D Garber and M Ayers; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) I: 197ff.

15. Deason, “Reformation Theology,” 180.

16. See P Anstey, “Boyle against Thinking Matter,” in Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theory (eds C Lüthy, JE Murdoch & WR Newman; Leiden: Brill, 2001) 483-514.

17. For the claim that matter for Boyle has some minimal causal powers, see P Anstey, The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (London: Routledge, 2000) chapter 7.

18. See for example A Clericuzio, “A Redefinition of Boyle’s Chemistry and Corpuscular Philosophy,” Annals of Science 47 (1990) 561-89; and J Henry, “Occult qualities and the experimental philosophy: active principles in pre-Newtonian matter theory,” History of Science 24 (1986) 335-81.

19. LM Principe, The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

20. The mention of Luther is in Some Considerations touching the Style of the Holy Scriptures, Works 2: 434. Calvin is mentioned in a list of theologians in Excellency of Theology. See ibid 8: 95.

21. Works 1: 108-9. In volume 3 of the Boyle Papers there are 25 folios which contain notes on Luther’s sermons and commentaries. They are in the hand of Warr and comprise a series of discrete reflections on devotional topics including faith, riches, fasting, covetousness and prayer. They are devotional in style and do not contain any discussion of Luther’s distinctive reformed theology. In particular, there is nothing in them that relates to voluntarism. Instead, the author appears to use a comment here or there from Luther, or an interpretation as a springboard to developing his own thoughts on the topic at hand. He often cites a page number from the particular work he is reading, but the references do not always relate closely to the particular point of reflection. A good example is his use of Luther’s interpretation of Psalm 121 to launch into a discussion of faith in fol 37. Although Warr often wrote out material at Boyle’s behest, it must be remembered that the Boyle archive passed through his hands after Boyle’s death. This explains why, for example, various manuscripts of his father, John Warr senior, and a catalogue of his own library survive within it. It is quite possible that these notes are his own. No internal evidence indicates that the author of these notes was Boyle.

22. See “Gilbert Burnet’s funeral sermon, 1692” for a contemporary appreciation of Boyle’s involvement in Bible translation projects, in Robert Boyle by himself and his friends (ed M. Hunter; London: Pickering, 1994) 49. Cited hereafter as RBHF. For a discussion of Boyle’s involvement in the Gaelic translation of the Bible, see REW Maddison, ‘Robert Boyle and the Irish Bible,’ Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 41 (1958) 81-101.

23. Works 1: 108-9.

24. John Owen, Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; or the Death of Death, 1647.

25. See LM Principe, “Style and Thought of the Early Boyle: Discovery of the 1648 Manuscript of Seraphic Love,” Isis 85 (1994) 247-60.

26. Works 8: 272-3.

27. The full title of Howe’s work is The Reconcileablenss of God’s Prescience of the Sins of Men, with the Wisdom and Sincerity of his counsels, Exhortations, and whatsoever Means He uses to prevent them, in a Letter to the Honourable Robert Boyle Esq.

28. For a thorough treatment of the Boyle and the predestination controversy and his Things above Reason see J Wojcik, Robert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) chapters 3 and 4.

29. The ‘Essay’ appears in Works 13: 175-223, and Birch’s fragment in ibid 12: 355-8.

30. For further discussion, see Hunter, “How Boyle became a Scientist,” 71-9.

31. As we have seen, Luther’s name occurs in Boyle’s works only in Style of the Scriptures. Boyle tells us there that ‘Scarce any thing has given me a favourabler character of Luther, than his wish, that all his books of devotion were burnt, when he once perceived, that the people’s fondness and over valuation of them produced a Neglect of the study of the Bible’. See Works 2: 434. Here, if anywhere, Boyle was in a position to mention the reformer’s dictum of sola scriptura but he does not.

32. See McGuire, “Boyle’s Conception of Nature,” 539-40. The folios are found in Boyle Papers MS 187, fols 30-1, wrongly cited in McGuire, ibid 540, as fols 21r-v-22r-v.

33. See M Hunter, Letters and Papers of Robert Boyle: A Guide to the Manuscripts and Microfilm (Bethesda, MD, University Publications of America, 1992) xxxi-xxxii.

34. See Boyle Papers vol 36, fol 116, and RBHF, xxv.

35. Works 2: 462.

36. Works 13: 195.

37. See Works 8: 237 and 14: 279. For further references to Mornay, whom Boyle describes as one of the “greatest Favourites the two Last Ages have afforded me”, see ‘Of the Study of the Book of Nature,’ in Works 13: 151-69 passim, especially 163.

38. See “Sir Peter Pett’s notes on Boyle,” in RBHF, 69. Boyle was still a teenager when Falkland died in 1643.

39. For Boyle’s familiarity with Hammond, see Harwood’s Early Essays and Ethics, xxxiii and 166.

40. See Wojcik, Limits of Reason.

41. Works, 14, 279.

42. For an historical and theological profile of the Great Tew Circle see chapter 4 of H Trevor-Roper’s Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans: Seventeenth Century Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) 166-230.

43. J Henry, “The Scientific Revolution in England,” in The Scientific Revolution in National Context (eds R Porter and M Teich; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 178-209.

44. For a discussion of Boyle’s ‘via media’ approach to natural philosophy see my ‘Boyle on Occasionalism: an Unexamined Source,’ Journal of the History of Ideas, 60, 1999, 57-81.

45. Quoted in REW Maddison The Life of the Honourable Robert Boyle (London: Taylor & Francis, 1969) 30. It should be pointed out that both JT Harwood (Early Essays and Ethics, xxiv) and J Wojcik (Limits of Reason, 202) claim that Marcombes read two sections of Calvin’s Institutes to the young Boyles. However, Marcombes specifically says that it was Calvin’s catechism, and since such catechisms were specifically designed for the initiation of novices into the doctrines of the faith, we should take Marcombes at his word. Calvin published two catechisms, one in 1537 and another in 1542.

46. See “Essay of the Holy Scriptures” in Works, 13: 181. Jean Diodati died in 1641. See also ‘The “Burnet Memorandum”,’ RBHF, 26 and An Account of Philaretus during his Minority, ibid, 15-16.

47. On the Hartlib circle see Hunter, “How Boyle became a scientist,” 81ff. For comments on the difficulty of tracing direct influences on Boyle’s theology see Wojcik, Limits of Reason, 201-4.

48. Excellency of Theology, Works, 8: 30 and 95.

49. ‘The “Burnet Memorandum”,’ RBHF, 27. See also the fragment from Boyle’s ‘Essay of the Holy Scriptures’, Works, 12: 355-6.

50. “Gilbert Burnet’s funeral sermon, 1692,” RBHF, 47.

51. Annales veteris et novi Testamenti, London, 1650-4.

52. RBHF, 71.

53. See An Examen of Mr T. Hobbes his Dialogus Physicus De Natura Aeris, Works, 3: 165.

54. Works, 9: 397. See the discussion in Wojcik, Limits of Reason, 109ff.

55. Works, 1: 92.

56. “The Preface to the Reader,” in A Dissertation on Divine Justice, The Works of John Owen (23 vols; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967) 10: 486.

57. “Sir Peter Pett’s Notes on Boyle,” RBHF, 77. See also M Hunter “Casuistry in action: Robert Boyle’s Confessional Interviews with Gilbert Burnet and Edward Stillingfleet, 1691,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44 (1993) 80-8.

58. The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle (ed Thomas Birch; 2nd edn; 6 vols; London, 1772) VI: 516.

59. Hunter and Davis, “The making of Robert Boyle’s Free enquiry,” 257. See also J Henry, “Medicine and Pneumatology: Henry More, Richard Baxter, and Francis Glisson’s Treatise on the Energetic Nature of Substance,” Medical History 31 (1987) 15-40.

60. The following transcription is based upon the Royal Society Boyle Papers (Bethesda, MD: University Publications of America, 1992).

61. The authors and their works mentioned in the list are: Tertullian (c160-225), Apologeticum; Athenagoras (fl 177), Plea for the Christians; Quadratus (2nd Cent); Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215); Arnobius (d c 330), probably Adversus nationes; Lactantius (c 250-317); Cyril of Alexandria (d 444), Apology against Julian; Augustine of Hippo (354-430), De Civitate Dei; Origen (c 185-254), Contra Celsum; peri; ajrcw’n, Treatise on the First Principles); Eusebius of Caesarea (c 260-c 340?), Praeparatio Evangelica and Demonstratio Evangelica; Aquinas (c 1225-74), Summa Contra Gentiles; Raymundus Martini (c 1220-1285), Pugio Fidei; Pietro Galatino (fl 1480-1539), Opus de arcanis catholicae veritatis, 1518; Raymond de Sabonde (d 1436); Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), Joannis Reuchlin … de arte cabalistica libri tres, The Hague, 1517; Johann Micraelius (1606-67); Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), De veritate fidei Christianae libri quinque, Basle, 1543; Philippe du Plessis Mornay (1549-1623), De veritate religionis christianae, Antwerp, 1583, Avertissement aux Juifs, sur la venue du Messie, Saumur, 1607; Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), De veritate religionis christianae, Leiden, 1627; Gerardus Joannes Vossius (1577-1649), De theologia gentili et physiologia christiana, sive de origine ac progressu idolatriae, Amsterdam, 1641; Theodor Hackspan (1607-59), Sefer Nitsahon, 1644; J Hoornbeeck (1617-66), pro convincendis et convertendis Judaeis Libri octo, 1655; David Derodon (c.1600-64), Arraignment and conviction of atheism, 1679; Walter Charleton (1620-1707), The Darknes of Atheism Dispelled by the Light of Nature, London, 1652; Philippus van Limborch (1633-1712), De Veritate Religionis Christianae amica collatio cum Erudito Judaeo (1688); possibly Eliazar Bar-Isajah, A Vindication of the Christians Messiah, London, 1653.

62. I would like to acknowledge the help of Michael Hunter, Rena McGrogan and Jan Wojcik in the preparation of this paper.

© EHAA and Southern Cross College, 2005