Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Edward Stillingfleet

Edward Stillingfleet

Ask a question about 'Edward Stillingfleet'
Start a new discussion about 'Edward Stillingfleet'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

Edward Stillingfleet was a British theologian
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 and scholar. Considered an outstanding preacher as well as a strong polemical writer defending Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

, Stillingfleet was known as "the beauty of holiness" for his good looks in the pulpit, and was called by John Hough
John Hough (bishop)
John Hough was an English bishop. He is best known for the confrontation over his election as President at Magdalen College, Oxford that took place at the end of the reign of James II of England.-Life:...

 "the ablest man of his time".


He was born in Cranborne
Cranborne is a village in East Dorset, England. In 2001 the village had a population of 779 people. The town is situated on chalk downland called Cranborne Chase, part of a large expanse of chalk in southern England which includes the nearby Salisbury Plain and Dorset Downs.-History:The village...

, Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

. He went at the age of thirteen to St John's College, Cambridge
St John's College, Cambridge
St John's College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. The college's alumni include nine Nobel Prize winners, six Prime Ministers, three archbishops, at least two princes, and three Saints....

, where he graduated B.A. in 1652. He became vicar of Sutton, Bedfordshire
Sutton, Bedfordshire
Sutton, Bedfordshire, is a small village and civil parish located to the south of Potton, England. Sutton falls under the postal town of Sandy and is also near the market town of Biggleswade.- History :...

 in 1657.

In 1665, after he had made his name as a writer, he became vicar at St Andrew, Holborn
St Andrew, Holborn
St Andrew, Holborn is a Church of England church on the northwestern edge of the City of London, on Holborn within the Ward of Farringdon Without.-Roman and medieval:Roman pottery was found on the site during 2001/02 excavations in the crypt...

. He preached at St Margaret, Westminster on 10 October 1666, the 'day of humiliation and fasting' after the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

, with such an attendance that there was standing room only. Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

 recorded that he couldn't get in to hear the sermon, eating a meal of herrings in a pub instead.

He then held many preferments, including a Royal Chaplaincy
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

, and the Deanery of St Paul's
Dean of St Paul's
The Dean of St Paul's is the head of the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral in London, England in the Church of England. The most recent Dean, Graeme Knowles, formerly Bishop of Sodor and Man, was installed on 1 October 2007 and resigned on 31 October 2011...

 (1678), the latter involving him in work connected with the building of the new St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

. He became Bishop of Worcester
Bishop of Worcester
The Bishop of Worcester is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury, England. He is the head of the Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury...

 in 1689. He was a frequent speaker in the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, and had considerable influence as a churchman.

He supported Richard Bentley
Richard Bentley
Richard Bentley was an English classical scholar, critic, and theologian. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge....

, who lived in his household as a tutor for a number of years, from shortly after his graduation in 1693. Bentley would later be his chaplain and biographer, and describe him as "one of the most universal scholars that ever lived".

In 1691, at his request, Queen Mary II
Mary II of England
Mary II was joint Sovereign of England, Scotland, and Ireland with her husband and first cousin, William III and II, from 1689 until her death. William and Mary, both Protestants, became king and queen regnant, respectively, following the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the deposition of...

 wrote to the magistrates of Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

, asking for stronger enforcement of the laws against vice
Vice is a practice or a behavior or habit considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in the associated society. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect, an infirmity, or merely a bad habit. Synonyms for vice include fault, depravity, sin, iniquity, wickedness, and corruption...

. This was an early move in the campaign of the Society for the Reformation of Manners
Society for the Reformation of Manners
The Society for the Reformation of Manners was founded in the Tower Hamlets area of London in 1691. Its espoused aims were the suppression of profanity, immorality, and other lewd activities in general, and of brothels and prostitution in particular....


At his death Stillingfleet left a library of some 10,000 printed books, which were purchased by Narcissus Marsh
Narcissus Marsh
Narcissus Marsh was an English clergyman who was successively Church of Ireland Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, Archbishop of Cashel, Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh....

 and today are part of Marsh's Library
Marsh's Library
Marsh's Library, situated in St. Patrick's Close, adjacent to St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland is the oldest public library in Ireland. It was built to the order of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh in 1701 and has a collection of over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts.-Foundation:The library was...

 in Dublin, Ireland. His manuscript collection was purchased by Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (1661–1724), and passed with the Harleian Manuscripts to the British Museum in 1753 as one of the foundation collections.

Patronage, politics and views

Stillingfleet had to wait many years for a bishopric, a fact linked to his disfavour at Court in the 1680s. He never, though, lacked for well-connected patrons. The first was Sir Roger Burgoyne, 2nd Baronet
Sir Roger Burgoyne, 2nd Baronet
Sir Roger Burgoyne, 2nd Baronet was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1641 and 1656....

, a barrister and MP in the Long Parliament
Long Parliament
The Long Parliament was made on 3 November 1640, following the Bishops' Wars. It received its name from the fact that through an Act of Parliament, it could only be dissolved with the agreement of the members, and those members did not agree to its dissolution until after the English Civil War and...

, in whose gift was Sutton, Bedfordshire
Sutton, Bedfordshire
Sutton, Bedfordshire, is a small village and civil parish located to the south of Potton, England. Sutton falls under the postal town of Sandy and is also near the market town of Biggleswade.- History :...

, his living; followed by Francis Pierrepont, a Parliamentarian colonel and younger brother of Henry Pierrepont, 1st Marquess of Dorchester
Henry Pierrepont, 1st Marquess of Dorchester
Henry Pierrepont, 1st Marquess of Dorchester, PC, FRS was an English peer, the son of the Robert Pierrepont, 1st Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull.-Career:...

 (a Royalist) and William Pierrepont (like Francis a Parliamentarian). These both offered him tutoring positions. He was also supported by Harbottle Grimstone, who as Master of the Rolls
Master of the Rolls
The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the second most senior judge in England and Wales, after the Lord Chief Justice. The Master of the Rolls is the presiding officer of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal...

 gave him a preaching position in the Rolls Chapel.

The transition at the Restoration was certainly problematic. Earl of Southampton
Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton
Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton, KG , styled Lord Wriothesley before 1624, was a 17th century English statesman, a staunch supporter of Charles II who would rise to the position of Lord High Treasurer after the English Restoration...

 presented Stillingfleet to St Andrew, Holborn. Humphrey Henchman
Humphrey Henchman
Humphrey Henchman was a Church of England clergyman and bishop of London from 1663 to 1675.-Early life:He was born in Burton Latimer , Northamptonshire, the son of Thomas Henchman, a skinner, and educated at Christ's College, Cambridge where he achieved BA in 1613 and MA in 1616...

, Bishop of London
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 458 km² of 17 boroughs of Greater London north of the River Thames and a small part of the County of Surrey...

, employed him to write a vindication of William Laud
William Laud
William Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645. One of the High Church Caroline divines, he opposed radical forms of Puritanism...

's answer to John Percy
John Percy
John Percy was an English Jesuit priest and controversialist.-Life:...

 (alias Fisher). According to Jon Parkin,
Stillingfleet was a leader within the Church of England of the "latitudinarian
Latitudinarian was initially a pejorative term applied to a group of 17th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance...

s", the group of Anglicans thus defined pejoratively. Latitudinarism as doctrine was considered to have grown from the teaching of the Cambridge Platonists
Cambridge Platonists
The Cambridge Platonists were a group of philosophers at Cambridge University in the middle of the 17th century .- Programme :...

, but in practical terms conditions at the Restoration did not favour it. Quite a number of its Cambridge adherents left an unpromising career in religion for the law, or had to rely for patronage on those who had done so.

Stillingfleet was most closely associated, in his attitudes, with such as Isaac Barrow
Isaac Barrow (bishop)
Isaac Barrow was an English clergyman and Bishop, consecutively, of Sodor and Man and St Asaph, and also served as Governor of the Isle of Man...

, Robert South
Robert South
Robert South was an English churchman, known for his combative preaching.-Early life:He was the son of Robert South, a London merchant, and Elizabeth Berry...

 and John Tillotson
John Tillotson
John Tillotson was an Archbishop of Canterbury .-Curate and rector:Tillotson was the son of a Puritan clothier at Haughend, Sowerby, Yorkshire. He entered as a pensioner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1647, graduated in 1650 and was made fellow of his college in 1651...

. They agreed, for example, on a literal interpretation to Biblical exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

, discarding allegorical readings. With Tillotson he favoured the so-called Erastian view, that the ruler had great powers over the Church, from the days of 1660; after the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 they became Low Church
Low church
Low church is a term of distinction in the Church of England or other Anglican churches initially designed to be pejorative. During the series of doctrinal and ecclesiastic challenges to the established church in the 16th and 17th centuries, commentators and others began to refer to those groups...

 moderates. With Gilbert Burnet
Gilbert Burnet
Gilbert Burnet was a Scottish theologian and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury. He was fluent in Dutch, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Burnet was respected as a cleric, a preacher, and an academic, as well as a writer and historian...

, Benjamin Hoadly
Benjamin Hoadly
Benjamin Hoadly was an English clergyman, who was successively Bishop of Bangor, Hereford, Salisbury, and Winchester. He is best known as the initiator of the Bangorian Controversy.-Life:...

, Simon Patrick
Simon Patrick
Simon Patrick was an English theologian and bishop.-Life:He was born at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, on 8 September 1626, and attended Boston Grammar School. He entered Queens College, Cambridge, in 1644, and after taking orders in 1651 became successively chaplain to Sir Walter St. John and vicar...

, William Powell and William Whiston
William Whiston
William Whiston was an English theologian, historian, and mathematician. He is probably best known for his translation of the Antiquities of the Jews and other works by Josephus, his A New Theory of the Earth, and his Arianism...

, he held some High Church
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

 views also.

With Thomas Tenison
Thomas Tenison
Thomas Tenison was an English church leader, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death. During his primacy, he crowned two British monarchs.-Life:...

, Stillingfleet and Tillotson preached on behalf of reason and natural religion
Natural religion
Natural religion might have the following meanings:* In the modern study of religion it is used to refer to the notion that there is a spontaneous religious apprehension of the world common to all human beings, see:**Urreligion**origin of religion...

. They were broadly Arminian rather than Calvinist, took the stock of core beliefs to be a small set of fundamentals, and in Stillingfleet's case supported reconciliation with Presbyterians. Stillingfleet and Tillotson
In 1674 they met with Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long...

 and Thomas Manton
Thomas Manton
Thomas Manton was an English Puritan clergyman.-Life:Thomas Manton was baptized March 31, 1620 at Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset, a remote southwestern portion of England. His grammar school education was possibly at Blundell's School, in Tiverton, Devon...

, in an attempt to draft a reconciliation with the nonconformists.

They were largely sympathetic with the new science of their times. Stillingfleet did draw the line at the materialist tendency in the views of Edmond Halley
Edmond Halley
Edmond Halley FRS was an English astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist, and physicist who is best known for computing the orbit of the eponymous Halley's Comet. He was the second Astronomer Royal in Britain, following in the footsteps of John Flamsteed.-Biography and career:Halley...

, whom he examined with the help of Richard Bentley in 1691, when Halley applied for the Savilian Chair of Astronomy
Savilian Chair of Astronomy
The Savilian Chair of Astronomy at the University of Oxford in England was founded in 1619 and is named after Sir Henry Savile. The Professor is a Fellow of New College....



A keen controversialist, he wrote many treatises, with a general but learned concern to defend Anglican orthodoxy.

Doctrine and the Church

His first book was The Irenicum, (1659) advocating compromise with the Presbyterians
Presbyterianism refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, which are organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures,...

; following a Latitudinarian approach, he there shows the influence of John Selden
John Selden
John Selden was an English jurist and a scholar of England's ancient laws and constitution and scholar of Jewish law...

 and takes a close interest in the synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 as a model of church structure. The philosophical basis was natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

 and the state of nature
State of nature
State of nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments...

. The arguments of the Irenicum were still live in the 1680s, when Gilbert Rule
Gilbert Rule
Dr Gilbert Rule was a nonconformist divine and the Principal of Edinburgh University from 1690 to 1701.Rule had previously been Regent in the University of Glasgow, afterwards sub-Principal of King's College, Aberdeen. Before the Restoration, he had been the minister at Alnwick, Northumberland...

 produced a Modest Answer.

It was followed by A Rational Account of the Grounds of Protestant Religion (1664). It included an attack on Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

, and Edward Meredith
Edward Meredith
-Life:He was a son of the rector of Landulph, Cornwall. He studied at Westminster School and in 1665 was elected to a scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford...

 replied on the Catholic side. "A Discourse concerning the Idolatry practised in the Church of Rome (1671) formed part of a controversy with the recusant Catholic, Thomas Godden
Thomas Godden
Thomas Godden, real name Tylden was an English courtier implicated in the Titus Oates plot.-Life:...


The Mischief of Separation, originally a sermon, was followed up by The Unreasonableness of Separation (1680). These attacks on the separatists among non-conformists prompted a large-scale response from dissenters, many of whom were disappointed with the harsher line from an Anglican who had in the past held out an olive branch. His opponents included Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymn-writer, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long...

 and John Owen
John Owen
John Owen may refer to:*John Owen , dramatist and director*John Owen , Bishop of St David's, Principal of St David's College, Lampeter...

. John Howe took the line that "latitude" was not compatible with a "mean narrow" approach. Stillingfleet was also criticised from the conforming side, for coming too close to the arguments of Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...


An Answer to Some Papers (1686) attempted to deal with the embarrassing publication of papers, allegedly written by the late King, Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, arguing that one true church was that of Roman Catholicism. In the ensuing controversy, he issued A Vindication of the Answer to some Late Papers (1687) attacking John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

, whom he called a "grim logician". Dryden retaliated, and incorporated the "grim logician" phrase as self-description in his poem The Hind and the Panther
The Hind and the Panther
The Hind and the Panther: A Poem, in Three Parts is an allegory in heroic couplets by John Dryden. At some 2600 lines it is much the longest of Dryden's poems, translations excepted, and perhaps the most controversial...

(1687), which alludes to Stillingfleet.

Philosophical controversy

A Letter to a Deist (1677) was the first prolonged attack on deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 to appear in English. It also engaged with the thought of Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

, in Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, though he was named only as a "late author mightily in vogue".

In 1697, Stillingfleet issued A Discourse in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity.
It had three intentions: repelling the Unitarians
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

, shoring up the unity of the orthodox trinitarians, and doctrinal defence of the Trinity. Under the third heading, Stillingfleet took on John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

, and his Essay on Human Understanding.

Stillingfleet engaged in a debate through correspondence (later published) with Locke. He argued in favor of dualism
Dualism (philosophy of mind)
In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical....

, and claimed that Locke's Essay argued against dualism as he understood it. He also considered that the epistemology of the Essay opened the door to Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

. Locke himself had taken an interest in Stillingfleet (with James Tyrrell
James Tyrrell (writer)
James Tyrrell was an English author and Whig political philosopher.-Life:James Tyrrell was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Tyrrell and Elizabeth Ussher, the only daughter of Archbishop James Ussher. His younger sister Eleanor married the deist Charles Blount...

 and Sylvester Brounower) from 1681.

The controversy drew in the playwright Catherine Cockburn, who wrote in defence of Locke, but to the detriment of her career as author.

Antiquarian scholarship

Origines Sacrae (1663) began with a comprehensive analysis of flaws in ancient historians, as a way of defending the account in the Book of Genesis. It argued against the Pre-Adamite
Pre-Adamite hypothesis or Preadamism is the religious belief that humans existed before Adam, the first human being named in the Bible. This belief has a long history, probably having its origins in early pagan responses to Abrahamic claims regarding the origins of the human race.Advocates of this...

 theories of Isaac La Peyrère
Isaac La Peyrère
Isaac La Peyrère, or Pererius, was a French Millenarian theologian and formulator of Pre-Adamite hypothesis.- Life :Born into a Huguenot family in Bordeaux, and possibly of Jewish descent, La Peyrère was a lawyer by training and a Calvinist by upbringing, though he later converted to...

, and took a very critical line with the older theories of ancient British origins, and the writings of Annius of Viterbo.

Another work going back to the roots was Origines Britannicae, or Antiquities of the British Churches.

The Discourse of the True Antiquity of London appeared in 1704 and was a work of high scholarship on Roman London; it however ignored the new archaeological evidence that was available but not yet in literary form.

Further reading

  • Robert Todd Carroll, The Common-Sense Philosophy of Religion of Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, 1635-1699 (1975)

External links