'Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton', by Rob Iliffe - Review

By Wilson, An | The Spectator, September 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton', by Rob Iliffe - Review


Wilson, An, The Spectator


John Calvin believed that human nature was a 'permanent factory of idols'; the mind conceived them, and the hand gave them birth. Isaac Newton acquired a copy of Calvin's Institutes when he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661 as a teenager. By the time he was a mature man, however, Newton's determined effort to strip the mind of superstitious superfluities had far outstripped the austere predestinarian of Geneva. As a Fellow of Trinity, and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1669 onwards, Newton was obliged to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. It was noted that, most unusually for a Cambridge academic at this period, he refused to take Holy Orders. In addition to his public work as a mathematician and physicist, Newton undertook work which was, perforce, utterly secret. This was his re-examination of Christian doctrine from its historical foundations. Had this work been made public, he would have been forced to resign all his public and academic positions. For he had come to the conclusion, by the time he reached maturity, that the central doctrines of Christianity, as outlined in the Creeds and the Articles, were monstrous idolatries, inventions, Satanic perversions of true religion. Above all, he excoriated Athanasius for persuading the Council of Nicaea to adopt the plainly, as Newton would see it, idolatrous view that Jesus had been the divine Second Person of the Trinity.

Rob Iliffe, professor of history at Oxford, begins his study of Newton's religious thought by saying, 'Newton's extensive writings on the Trinitarian corruption of Christianity are among the most daring works of any writer in the early modern period, and they would merit careful study even if they had not been composed by the author of the Principia.' Presumably, Iliffe means that the writings are 'daring' in their conclusions, as Newton was not so 'daring' as to publish them -- which would have spelt personal ruin. All his work on gravity, cosmology, mathematics, the colour spectrum, and so on would have been conducted, not in the spacious setting of Trinity, but in a garret, and it is unlikely that the world would have heeded them so readily had they not come from the Lucasian professor. So obsessed was Newton by his religious views and writings, however, that he longed to get out of Cambridge, and settle in London, if only a convenient post could be found. But when Locke wangled him the Mastership of the Charterhouse, at £200 p.a. with a coach, this was not a sufficient lure.

We are all hugely in Rob Iliffe's debt. Few of us would have the skill, in mathematics or philosophy or divinity, nor the patience, to do what he has done, which is read through the huge extent of Newton's obsessive theological writings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

'Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton', by Rob Iliffe - Review
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.