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Casuistry in Action: Robert Boyle's Confessional Interviews with Gilbert Burnet and Edward Stillingfleet, 1691

  • Michael Hunter
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1 Quoted in Overton, J. H., Life in the English Church (1660-1714), London 1885, 332–3.

2 For modern studies of casuistry, see McAdoo, H. R., The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology, London 1949;Thomas, Wood, English Casuistical Divinity during the Seventeenth century with Special Reference to Jeremy Taylor, London 1952;Mosse, G. L., The Holy Pretence, Oxford 1957;Camille, Slights, ‘Ingenious piety: Anglican casuistry of the seventeenth century’, Harvard Theological Review 68 (1970), 409–32;Edmund, Leites (ed.), Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge 1988.

3 See Michael, Hunter, ‘The conscience of Robert Boyle: functionalism, “dysfunctionalism” and the task of historical understanding’, in Field, J. V. and James, Frank A.J.L. (eds), Renaissance and Revolution: humanists, scholars, craftsmen and natural philosophers in early modern Europe (Cambridge, forthcoming).

4 On Boyle's apologetic role, see Fisher, M. S., Robert Boyle: devout naturalist, Philadelphia 1945;Westfall, R. S., Science and Religion in Seventeenth-century England, New Haven 1958; and Klaaren, E. M., Religious Origins of Modern Science: belief in creation in seventeenth-century thought, Grand Rapids 1977.

5 For a caveat concerning this term, see John, Spurr, ‘ “Latitudinarianism” and the Restoration Church’, Historical Journal 31 (1988), 6182. For a defence of a usage similar to mine, especially for the period after 1689, see John, Gascoigne, Cambridge in the Age of the Enlightenment, Cambridge 1989, 46 and passim. I hope to scrutinise Boyle's religious affiliations more fully on a future occasion.

6 Maddison, R. E. W., The Life of the Hon. Robert Boyle, London 1969, 34–6.

7 See Harwood, J. T. (ed.), The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle, Carbondale-Edwardsville 1991, pp. xxiii-xli and passim.

8 Robert, Boyle, Works, ed. Thomas, Birch, 2nd edn, London 1772, 6. 301–2. On this episode, see also ibid.. i. pp. lix-lx; vi. 636; Izaak, Walton, ‘The life of Dr Robert Sanderson’, in his Lives, ed. George, Saintsbury, London 1927, 399400, 423–4; and Robert, Sanderson, Ten Lectures, London 1660, sig. A2. For a complementary reason for publishing the work on Sanderson's part (the importunity of the bookseller in possession of the manuscript) see ibid.. sig. A4V. For a modern account of the affair which misleadingly places it in a narrow political context, see Jacob, J. R., Robert Boyle and the English Revolution, New York 1977, 130–2

9 Walton, , Lives, 424;Christopher, Wordsworth (ed.), Bishop Sanderson's Lectures on Conscience and Human Law, Lincoln-London, 1877; Boyle, Works, vi. 302.

10 Maddison, , Life of Boyle, n o , 270n.; Calendar of Slate Papers, IrelandM, 1666-g, 255 (a confirmation dated 19 Dec. 1666). Boyle also referred to this episode in the autobiographical memoranda that Burnet wrote down for him: see below, n. 27. Boyle had earlier been involved in attempts to obtain fractions from the Irish land settlement on behalf of the Royal Society, for which the Irish Church had also applied: both, however, were disappointed. On this, see ibid.. 1660-2, 602, 668; 166g-jo, 428-9; Thomas, Birch, History of the Royal Society, London 1756-7, i. 168–9; Royal Society Domestic, MS 5, fo. 36; Boyle Papers 40, fo. 5; Hall, A. R. and Hall, M. B. (eds), The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, Madison–Milwaukee–London 1965–86, ii. 48-50, 52-5.

11 Boyle, , Works, i. pp. lxv-lxvi, and compare Sir James Shaen to the earl of Orrery, 22 Jan. 1662, in Edward, MacLysaght (ed.), Calendar of the Orrery Papers, Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin 1941, 18.

12 Boyle, , Works, i. pp. lxvi-lxviii; vi. 56-7, 638-9.

13 HMC Egmont, ii. 28-30, 32; Boyle, Works, vi. 301. See also ibid. i. pp. cxxxix-lcxl; MacLysaght, , Calendar, p. vii and passim.

14 For a useful account of views on sacrilege at this time see Keith, Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, London 1971, 96ff.

15 For a full discussion of this episode and its background, see Hunter, ‘The conscience of Robert Boyle’.

16 Boyle, , Works, i. pp. cxli-cxlii; cf.ibid, lvi; Thomas, Barlow, Several Miscellaneous and Weighty Cases of Conscience, London 1692. The treatise in the Boyle Papers is that concerning the decoration with images of the church at Moulton, Lines.: Boyle Papers 4, fos 132-4.See also Jacob, , Robert Boyle, 134.

17 Boyle, , Works, vi. 303.

18 Ibid.. 305. The ‘rule’ involved was known by casuists as ‘tutiorism’, on which see McAdoo, Structure, goff.; Wood, Casuistical Divinity, 74ff.

19 Royal Society, Boyle Letters 3, fo. 165: ‘as’ is deleted after ‘Gloss’. He went on to speculate that if France were to set up its own patriarch this might have a beneficial effect on the Catholic casuistical tradition.

20 BL, Add. MS 4229, fo. 44V.

21 Boyle, , Works, i. p . lvi.

22 BL, Add. MS 4314, fos 88v-g. For a document concerning oaths referred to in the same letter, see Hunter ‘The conscience of Robert Boyle’.

23 Idem. Letters and Papers of Robert Boyle: a guide to the manuscripts and microfilm, Bethesda, Md. 1992.

24 Boyle Papers 35, fos 96V-7. On this issue, see McAdoo, Structure, ch. iv; Wood, Casuistical Divinity, 116-28. In addition, Boyle Papers 7, fos 292-3, is a ‘Question Whether poligamy be in any Case lawfull under the Gospel’ in a late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century hand, endorsed ‘A Theologicall Case resolv'd’ in a later hand which does not seem to be Boyle's. See also above, n. 16.

25 Foxcroft, H. C. (ed.), A Supplement to Bumet's History of My Own Time, Oxford 1902, 464–5. For a recent appraisal of Burnet, see Martine, Brownley, ‘Bishop Gilbert Burnet and the vagaries of power’, in Maccubbin, R. P. and Martha, Hamilton-Phillips (eds), The Age of William III and Mary II: power, politics and patronage 1688-1702, Williamsburg 1989, 7781.

26 Gilbert, Burnet, History of the Reformation, ii, London 1681, sig. a2 (cf. Boyle, Works, i. p. cxx);idem. Some Letters. Containing, An account of what seemed most remarkable in Switzerland, Italy, &, Rotterdam 1686, addressed ‘T.H.R.B.’. See also the letters in Boyle, Works, vi. 625-8.

27 Michael, Hunter, ‘Alchemy, magic and moralism in the thought of Robert Boyle’, British Journal for the History of Science 28 (1990), 387410.

28 Maddison, , Life of Boyle, 259–60;Gilbert, Burnet , A Sermon Preached at the Funeral of the Honourable Robert Boyle, London 1692, 22 and passim.

29 It should be pointed out that it is my deduction that ‘B of W’ stands for bishop of Worcester (as that ‘B of S’ stands for bishop of Salisbury). It is conceivable that the former could refer to the bishop of Winchester, Peter Mews, but there is no evidence that he knew Boyle.

30 Boyle, Works, vi. 462. On Stillingfleet see Carroll, R. T., The Common-sense Philosophy of Religion of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, 1635-1699, The Hague 1975.

31 Boyle, Works, i. p. cxli. On Wotton's life of Boyle, see Hunter, , ‘Alchemy, magic and moralism’, 387–8.

32 Overton, , Life in the English Church, 332;Edward, Stillingfleet, Ecclesiastical Cases Relating to the Duties and Rights of the Parochial Clergy, Stated and Resolved According to the Principles of Conscience and Law, London 1698; McAdoo, Structure, 118–19, 121, 128, 132n.

33 John, Macky, Memoirs, London 1733, appendix, pp. xxiv-xxxiii. See also above, n. 24. A further reference which may relate to casuistical advice from Burnet to Boyle is Boyle, Works, vi. 627-8.

34 Maddison, , Life of Boyle, 257–82.

35 Boyle Papers 36, fo. 116. See alsoibid., fos 87b, 178c.

36 Jonathan, Swift, ‘A Preface to the Right Reverend Dr Burnet, Bishop of Sarum's Introduction’, in A Proposal for Correcting the English Tongue, etc., ed. Davis, H. and Landa, L., Oxford 1957, esp. pp. 70–1.On this aspect of Burnet's History see Champion, J. A. I., The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken, Cambridge 1992, 7792.

37 On Boyle's attitude to miracles, see Westfall, , Science and Religion, 8791;Burns, R. M., The Great Debate on Miracles: from Joseph Glanvill to David Hume, Lewisburg 1981, 51–7;Colie, R. L., ‘Spinoza in England 1665-1730’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107 (1963), 198–9, 211-19. If one can conclude from Burnet's comments (also echoed by Stillingfleet) that Boyle experienced doubts, it tends to bear out Westfall's view more than Burns's, though not for the reasons that Westfall presumed.

38 John, Sharp, A Practical Discourse of the Sin against the Holy Ghost, London 1710. On doubt among the godly, see the brief conspectus in Michael, Hunter, ‘ “Aikenhead the Atheist”: the context and consequences of articulate irreligion in the late seventeenth century’, in Michael, Hunter and David, Wootton (eds), Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, Oxford 1992, 245, 250

39 McAdoo, Structure, 96; cf. ibid.. 75; Wood, Casuistical Divinity, 72.

40 See Richard, Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Sylvester, M., London 1696, i. 432.1 am indebted to John Spurr for this reference.

41 McAdoo, Structure, 66; cf. ibid.97.

42 See, for instance, William, Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, Cambridge 1608, i. i88ff.

43 John, Sharp, Theological Works, Oxford 1829, ii. 252–4.

44 Michael, MacDonald,‘Religion, social change and psychological healing in England, 1600-1800’ (Studies in Church History ix, 1982), 101–25 (esp. pp. n8n., 119); idem. Mystical Bedlam: madness, anxiety and healing in seventeenth-century England, Cambridge 1981, 223ff., esp. p. 229.

45 Edward, Stillingfleet, Origines Sacrae: or a Rational Account of the Grounds of Natural and Reveal'd Religion. The Seventh Edition. To which is now added Part of another Book upon the same Subject written AD MDCXCVII. Published from the Author's Own Manuscript, Cambridge 1702.See also Carroll, , Common-sense Philosophy, esp. pp. 16n, 128–35,149.

46 See Hunter, ‘Alchemy, magic and moralism’.

47 Cf. Thomas, , Religion and the Decline of Magic, 103;Hunter, , ‘Conscience of Robert Boyle’.

48 Burnet, Sermon, 28-9; cf. Boyle, Works, i. p. lx.

49 Boyle, Works, vi. 307. It is even possible that Boyle intended to write a treatise on this and other related topics, judging by the following memorandum by Henry Miles, now Boyle Papers 36, fo. 169, which refers to a manuscript which is now apparently lost: ‘NB He mentions a design of writing an Essay of Dissents about Religion, of Cases of Conscience & of the Sin against the H\oly] G\host] in p. 22 of his MSS on Style Script\ure]’.

50 See Hunter ‘Conscience of Robert Boyle’.

51 See further idem. ‘Science and heterodoxy: an early modern problem reconsidered’, in Lindberg, D. C. and Westman, R. S. (eds), Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, Cambridge 1990, esp. pp. 455–6.

52 These notes are in the hand of Boyle's servant and amanuensis, John Warr Jr, to whom Boyle evidently dictated them. When they were bound, the leaves were placed in the wrong order: fo. 141 should precede fo. 140. Fo. 137 is a part-sheet endorsed in the hand of Henry Miles, the dissenting minister whose role in relation to Thomas Birch's 1744 ‘Life’ of Boyle has been referred to above:‘ *NB These Papers to be Communicated to Mr B[irch’ Containing some resolut[ions] [of cases of?: here, Miles has written what looks like the figure seven followed by the letters ‘SPC’ with the ‘SP’ arranged above the ‘C’; it is apparently a form of private shorthand] Consc[ience] & remov[al] of Scruples By B[ishop of] Salisb[ury]’; the sheet is otherwise blank.

53 After ‘somewhat’, ‘com’ deleted; ‘somewhat’ is hastily written, but cannot be anything else. Later in the sentence, ‘tis’ is deleted after ‘privatness’. On the impropriations of the abbey lands, see above, pp. 83-4, 88-9.

54 Bracketed phrase inserted in margin.

55 ‘Com’ deleted after ‘to’; ‘their’ after ‘on’; ‘I said to’ after ‘Account of’.

56 After ‘As to’, ‘the Case of’ deleted. Here and throughout the text, ‘vow’ is apparently how one should interpret a word which Warr designates by the abbreviation ‘w’. (Warr characteristically uses ‘w’ for ’v’, for instance in the word ‘vexd’, below).

57 After ‘the’, ‘Old’ deleted.

58 After ‘Emanations’, ‘are’ deleted. On spontaneous oaths, see Robert, Sanderson, De Juramento, London 1655, 130–1. It is also worth noting that ‘involuntary & suddain passions of the mind’ lacking the consent of the will figure in the notes in Boyle Papers 35, fos 96-7, referred to above.

59 After ‘be’, ‘in’ and two or three letters of another word deleted.

60 After ‘to be’, ‘accord’ deleted.

61 After ‘such’, ‘surm…’ [?] deleted, as is ‘as I’ after ‘Emanations’. Later in the sentence, ‘of’ deleted after ‘freely’.

62 Cf. Hugo, Grotius, Of the Law of Wane and Peace, Eng. trans., London 1654, 230–1. On Grotius' English influence, see Margaret, Sampson, ‘Laxity and liberty in seventeenthcentury English political thought’, in Leites, Conscience and Casuistry, 91-2.

63 After ‘find’, ‘in’ deleted, as is ‘the’ [?] before ‘[vow]s’. The sentence ‘And when…our Saviour’ is inserted in the margin.

64 ‘Corban’ is a Hebrew word for an offering to God in performance of a vow (OED). Later in the sentence, ‘improve’ [?] deleted after ‘severely’.

65 After ‘[vow]s’, ‘which’ deleted.

66 After ‘suggestions’, ‘tho men or most of’ deleted.

67 ‘yet’ replaces ‘yet that’ , deleted. After ‘Persons’, ‘then’ inserted and ‘&’ [?] deleted.

68 ‘Holy’ inserted with dashes after it, replacing an illegible deleted word. Later in the sentence, ‘it’ deleted after ‘conceived’, and ‘as’ inserted after ‘soever’, replacing ‘whether’, deleted.

69 ‘are’ inserted, replacing ‘can be’, deleted. Five words later, ‘one’ inserted, replacing ‘he’ [?], deleted.

70 Apparently altered from ‘necessarily’. Before the beginning of this sentence, ‘But he’ deleted.

71 Replacing ‘best’, deleted. Later in the sentence, ‘we’ deleted after ‘as’, and ‘to be but’ after ‘observed’.

72 ‘had made in it’ deleted after ‘I’.

73 This may refer to the various specific provisions which the earl of Cork had made when entailing his lands on his male heirs in his ‘Septpartite Indenture’ of 1636; these were reaffirmed in his will six years later: Dorothea, Townshend, The Life and Letters of the Great Earl of Cork, London 1904, appendix II, III (esp. p. 486). Later in the sentence, ‘he’ deleted before ‘it’; ‘it’ may be an insertion.

74 ‘Consideration’ deleted after ‘this’. Later in the sentence, ‘did’ replaces something deleted by a blot, perhaps ‘&’.

75 Replacing ‘could’, deleted. Later in the sentence, ‘especially’ deleted after ‘Restitution,’.

76 Before ‘lieu’, two unsuccessful attempts to spell the word correctly have been deleted.

77 Boyle evidently identified himself as ‘Titius’, a form of nomenclature to be found elsewhere in the casuistical literature of the period: cf. McAdoo, , Structure, 67. Four words later, ‘Bias’ deleted after ‘those’.

78 ‘knoo…’ [?] deleted after ‘Effects,’. Later in the sentence, ‘rons’ [?] deleted after ‘Thoughts that’.

79 ‘a Di’ deleted after ‘or’.

80 Before ‘all’ ‘at’ has been deleted; ‘at’ has here been reinstated for the sense. After ‘&’, a letter has been deleted. Later in the sentence, ‘be’ is repeated in ‘to be true’ and the second deleted, and, after ‘true’, ‘& t…’ [?] deleted.

81 After ‘case’, ‘he de’ [?] deleted. Later in the sentence, ‘&’ has been deleted before ‘Case’, and ‘there may be’ has been deleted after ‘least,’.

82 ‘did’ altered from a slightly different word: ‘do[es]’? For a discussion of whether tithes were iure divino, see Paolo, Sarpi, A Treatise of Matters Beneficiary, Eng. trans., London 1680.

83 The remainder of the recto and the whole of the verso of fo. 140 is blank.


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