JOHN SMITH THE CAMBRIDGE PLATONIST
THE THREE constituents of an adequate religion distinguished by Von Hügel in his Mystical Element of Religion are now a commonplace of the philosophy of religion. They are, in his words, the experimental-mystical, the rational-critical and the historical-institutional. Of these three elements, John Smith had very little understanding or appreciation of the historical- institutional. It was a defect he shared with the other representatives--some his personal friends--of what is known as Cambridge Platonism and more generally with Puritans of the left wing. In consequence his insights of religious truth had little influence beyond an immediate circle of disciples. For they were not integrated into an organic and traditional body of religious doctrine and worship and thereby safeguarded and handed down intact. On the other hand he presents an admirable fusion of the other two elements, the experimental and the rational. For this and for the attractive and holy personality revealed by his works, and for the eloquent prose in which his deepest thought and loftiest aspiration found embodiment, he deserves to be far better known and far better appreciated than he is.
August 7th, 1952, was the tercentenary of his death. This study is offered as a tribute to his memory on an occasion which, one fears, may not have been celebrated as it deserves.
Smith's life was uneventful. Born in 1618 at Achurch near Oundle he went up to Cambridge in 1636 and spent the remainder of his life at the University. He was entered as a pensioner of Emmanuel College, a Puritan foundation and a stronghold of Puritanism. But already a wider and less dogmatic theology had found entrance into the college. For the father of Cambridge Platonism, Benjamin Whichcote, was Smith's tutor at Emmanuel. Smith took his B.A. degree in 1640, his M.A. four years later. The same year he was transferred to Queen's College by the Parliamentary commissioners engaged in purging the University of Royalists and convinced Anglicans. He was a lecturer at
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Publication information: Book title: Poets and Mystics. Contributors: E. I. Watkin - Author. Publisher: Sheed & Ward. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1953. Page number: 238.
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