Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Hobbes and Contemporary Philosophy > Culverwel
  Robert Greville, lord Brooke The Casuists  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XII. Hobbes and Contemporary Philosophy.

§ 4. Culverwel.

Nathanael Culverwel, fellow of Emmanuel college, Cambridge (B.A. 1636), was thrown among the group of men who afterwards became famous as the Cambridge Platonists. Whichcote and Cudworth (both, originally, of Emmanuel), and Henry More of Christ’s college, were his contemporaries. But he can hardly be counted as belonging to the group. He was not a Platonist. Unlike More, he would not come to terms with the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, and he even rejected the theory of ideas. The mysticism of lord Brooke was, also, alien to him; he had no sympathy with the union of contradictories; and he quotes with approval the criticism of Brooke published, in 1643, by John Wallis, under the title Truth tried. Nor can Culverwel be described as a “latitude man.” He remained constant to Calvinism, and, on the whole, to the puritan spirit. But he was far removed from the extremists of his party, of whom he writes that “if you do but offer to make a syllogism, they will straightway cry it down for carnal learning.” The purpose of his book Of the Light of Nature (published, posthumously, in 1652) is to show the true relation between faith and reason: “to give faith her full scope and latitude, and to give reason also her just bounds and limits. This,” he says, “is the first-born, but the other has the blessing.” Two propositions sum up his doctrine:
(1) That all the moral law is founded in natural and common light, in the light of reason; and (2) That there is nothing in the mysteries of the gospel contrary to the light of reason.
The law of nature belongs to reason, not to sense, and is essential to a rational creature. The voice of reason promulgates the law; but its obligation and binding virtue rest
partly in the excellency and equity of the commands themselves; but they principally depend upon the sovereignty and authority of God himself, thus contriving and commanding the welfare of His creature, and advancing a rational nature to the just perfection of its being.
As Aquinas holds, the law of nature is a copy of the eternal law, and “this eternal law is not really distinguished from God himself.” This view of the laws of nature is not altogether new, even in English. Hooker had already given classical expression to a doctrine essentially the same and drawn from similar sources. But no one had a clearer view than Culverwel of the essence of the doctrine. He never inclines to the theory that all knowledge arises out of sensation, and yet he never lapses into mysticism. His theory is a pure and elevated rationalism, though he holds that our reason needs illumination from the fuller light of faith. His style is worthy of the subject, if, perhaps, too full of learned references and, occasionally, oratorical; and it is hardly too much to say of the book that “it is almost a poem in its grandeur and harmony of conception, and the lyrical enthusiasm with which it chants the praise of reason.” 1 

Note 1. Tulloch, J., Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in the Seventeenth Century, vol. II., p. 411. [ back ]

  Robert Greville, lord Brooke The Casuists  

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