Isaac Newtons Temple of Solomon and his Reconstruction of Sacred Architecture

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We might attribute human emotions to him in speech, but this was as a result of our own limitations. Indeed, the initial impression of the work had lacked the qualification, thus giving ammunition to Leibniz and others who condemned the materialist tendencies of English natural philosophy. Moreover, he was more easily able to form and reform parts of the universe by mere acts of will than humans were able to move their bodies by acts of will.

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In these contrasts there was nevertheless some scintilla of likeness. As some commentators realised, these were dangerous thoughts. The anthropomorphic notion that God had a body was an old Christian heresy, guilty either of making all of nature divine, or of rendering God susceptible to the infirmities of mortals. The first of the Thirty-Nine Articles explicitly denied that God had any corporeal form, though Thomas Hobbes had vehemently asserted it in his Leviathan of In reply to Hobbes, critics found it exceptionally difficult to explain how God was capable of intervening in the world, and yet lack physical substance.

Very early on in his career Newton believed that one could derive key features of the deity from certain capacities of human beings — who were, after all, created in the image of God. By exemplifying both human freedom and its capacity to move the human body, the faculty of the will was the most obvious aspect of humanity that mimicked the workings of God.

On the other hand, he also claimed that we could infer from our ability to move our own bodies how it was that God had created the world and indeed how he maintained his intimate connection with the world. These later claims were based on unprecedented experiments, carried out in the s and 70s, in which Newton attempted to determine whether the power of the imagination might extend outside the human body. If he had ever entertained thoughts of becoming a clergyman when he entered the university, these had completely dissipated.

It is impossible to prove conclusively that he had become a radical anti-Trinitarian by this time, and that his desire to avoid becoming a man of the cloth was prompted by sincere doubts about remaining in the Church of England. The fact that he had publicly subscribed to the articles of the state church only six years earlier, and would do so on regular occasions during the rest of his life, suggests that he was never prepared to act on such scruples. It is possible that he had the same deeply jaundiced view of the modern priesthood that he entertained about priests of yore, though on one occasion he is said to have explicitly denied this.

As it was, it is likely that the decision to grant him dispensation from this requirement was based on two assumptions. In the first place, in the official letter mandating the dispensation, the Crown implied though did not state explicitly that ministerial duties would impinge negatively on his secular studies. This is consistent with the reasons given by other scholars who, successfully or not, applied for exemption from membership of the priesthood.


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Secondly, he must have convinced senior members of Trinity College that he was not suspect from a religious point of view. On the one hand, he remained a member of a college and of a university that were formally subject to a number of Anglican requirements. On the other, he was now in an identical situation to other laymen, who could use the same theological resources as professional divines to contribute to the cauldron of conflicting opinions in the Republic of Letters.

By choosing to become a layman Newton gave himself a degree of latitude in his enquiries that was not available to ordained members of the church. Indeed, his private religious researches, like those he conducted in other areas, were pursued according to a deeply felt ethic of independence that he believed lay at the core of the protestant religion. This independence is obvious from all of his writings but it is particularly striking in his theological researches where he was eclectic, drawing from any tradition that might provide evidence in his favour.

He accepted testimony from Roman Catholic sources when it suited, and indeed he had to, since Catholic authors had provided the bulk of information for his endeavours. When it was available, for example when he studied dubious Trinitarian proof-texts in the New Testament, he was more likely to take his cue from anti-Trinitarian authors. For Socinians and many others, most humans had been endowed with a natural reason that they were entitled and obliged to use in order to ascertain the meaning of words in Scripture. Anglicans feared that deists and anti-Trinitarians would make use of the right to use their understandings and the critical tools that were now in the public sphere, in order to corrode the authority of revealed religion.

By the s their views had been shown to be well founded, as many enemies of organised religion used their books and their reason to dismantle the arguments of the orthodox. Like many others, Newton argued that what was required to be believed in order to be saved was readily comprehensible to even the meanest capacity, and the number of such tenets was small. More mature Christians like himself were required to study the Bible to ascertain the deeper but non-essential truths it contained, and were enjoined to discuss different opinions concerning them. As such men became increasingly emboldened to discuss doctrinal topics in the Republic of Letters, so many divines were forced to explain in print exactly how it was that mysteries and other difficult parts of Scripture were not unreasonable.

Newton’s Religious Life and Work

Bound up with the new propensity of laymen to dispute publicly with professional clergy was the notion that there was a certain degree of liberty of expression that amounted to a right. When in the Restoration the orthodox raged against deviant opinions they were often unsure on what basis they could clamp down on such views. Denying authors avenues of expression was another tactic in maintaining order, though the Church was unsure whether to do this by burning books or by threatening and prosecuting printers and authors.

Save for those who sought martyrdom as a mark of their godliness, all radical critics of orthodoxy held that the fundamental right to a liberty of religious enquiry, if not freedom of religious opinion, required that a truly Christian state tolerate many different doctrines and forms of worship. All anti-Trinitarians subscribed to this view, having been subjected throughout their history to serious persecution.

Locke was in exile in the Netherlands from , and subsequently immersed himself in a number of different Socinian writings.

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On his return to England in he published immensely influential works on the human understanding, religious toleration, and on the constitution of a properly representative government. In particular, he defended an empiricist account of the way that individuals acquired information, a consequence of which was that men were obliged as a duty to God to be self-critical and to undertake personal quests for truth.

Truly Christian states were to tolerate and indeed promote this sort of enquiry since as secular institutions they had no right to exercise jurisdiction over the salvation of souls. He does not seem to have followed Locke and others in calling for a complete separation of church and state. That said, he set the bar for being a truly Christian ecclesiastical polity very high, since any persecution carried out on religious grounds was a sign of an antichristianiam. By contrast, he claimed that those empires and groups that held anti-Trinitarian doctrines never persecuted people for their religious opinions, and thereby showed themselves to be truly Christian.

The was the opposite view from that adopted by orthodox church historians. As Stephen Snobelen has shown, in the early eighteenth century, Newton displayed a number of different tactics to deflect potentially damaging questions about his orthodoxy. However, there is no doubt that he held opinions that were formally heretical by the standards of the Church of England. Although he revealed some of his theological opinions to a select group of individuals in the early s, he may well have stated that his views were mere fancies, or that he was merely engaging in a piece of textual criticism.

In the early eighteenth century, his views on the Trinity became known to a small coterie, and he had to do much more to avoid public suspicion. In , he went as far as having his letter to Locke translated into Latin for printed publication but as usual this came to nothing.

Temple of Solomon - Special Documentary of the Inauguration

As it was, he did what he had threatened to do half a century earlier, that is to only allow his writings to be published after his death. It is surely significant that when he came to burn a series of papers at the end of his life, among those he did not consign to flames are some of the most inflammatory theological productions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the first place we would like to know how contemporary events informed his view of the past, and we would also like to know whether in writing about the early church, he was implicitly or explicitly reflecting on the present.

He did not date his religious writings, and given his idiosyncratic use of paper, the analysis of watermarks and countermarks does not help historians locate the timing of these productions with any more precision than is available from internal evidence. This too, is often of little help. In his expansive private tracts on prophecy or church history it is virtually impossible to find any specific reflections on current religious or political debates.

Since the printed theological volumes he consulted were usually published decades earlier, they are also offer little support in dating his work. Against this tale of investigative woe stand the theological treatises that are in the hand of Humphrey Newton his amanuensis —9 , which allow us to definitively assert that his most important writings on prophecy and the most ancient religion were composed in the late s or s.

Isaac Newton's Temple of Solomon and his Reconstruction of Sacred Architecture

Basic interpretive procedures that make full use of the Newton Project texts make it relatively easy to show which texts precede and postdate these documents. For decades Newton immersed himself in a variety of patristic texts, to which he devoted vast amounts of time in the s and s. For Newton the content of these writings opened a window to the terrible events that had blighted Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Their content described the corruption of doctrine but also the immoral and seditious behaviour of numerous individuals who were now held up as saints by both Catholics and Anglicans. Those works that described the unchristian behaviour of anti-Trinitarians were highly suspect. Although they had lived over a millennium before him, Newton came to life when he engaged emotionally and intellectually with the subjects and creators of these documents. The effects of these interactions must have spilled over into his personal dealings with others, and it must have been difficult to mix with his colleagues not to say Humphrey when he had spent the previous two days coming to grips with people he thought were some of most vile individuals that had ever lived.

Although he only referred explicitly to the constitution of the Church of England at the end of his life, he believed much earlier in his career that a truly Christian state church should allow as broad a swathe of opinion as was consistent with social order. At the centre of his account was the relationship between idolatry and persecution. He thought that much of the human race was naturally prone to believe superstitious mysteries, but he believed that force was required both to convert people to incomprehensible opinions and also to keep people in an obnoxious religion.

Although religious persecution was a key theme in his seventeenth century writings on the early church, we have no evidence of his views about the persecution of Quakers, Baptists and other nonconformists in the period. He had no truck with individual claims to ecstatic inspiration or the ability to prophesy, although as private religious opinions these posed no threat to society. However, as public professions of inspiration, they may well have struck him as a threat to civil order and thus worthy of severe punishment.

Newton did begin to reveal his religious views to others in the early s. He must have told Fatio de Duillier some time in that he believed that the Ancients worshipped according to a rational religion that was essentially Newtonian.


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  5. In late he answered pertinent questions sent to him by the scholar Richard Bentley regarding the implications for natural theology of the doctrines in the Principia. Bentley forced Newton to confront the fact that God was to all intents and purposes absent from the Principia , a tricky situation that Newton rectified to full effect in their correspondence.

    The direction of the planets revealed a divine hand, he claimed, as did the fact that the Earth was just the right distance from the Sun to support life. The most significant religious relations enjoyed during his life were with three men who each harboured different, if serious doubts about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It was Optice rather than the Principia that was the springboard for promoting Newtonian philosophy in Europe, and Clarke remained exceptionally close to Newton for the following two decades.

    It was around or 5, according to Whiston, that he learned that Clarke had begun to suspect that the Athanasian version of the Trinity was not the same as the doctrine held by the early Church. As Whiston began to make his views known to more and more people, so Clarke became increasingly cautious. In , he was made rector of St. James and although a number of divines suspected him of heresy on the grounds of his relationship with Whiston, his stock rose.

    However, he fell to earth as a result of his Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity of , which appeared as High Churchmen tried to promote their cause by pointing to the existence of heretics in the bosom of the monarchy. Critics saw him as a more insidious and thus a more dangerous heretic than Whiston, and they influenced his demotion from his position as chaplain to the Queen. The third member of the trio was Hopton Haynes, a Mint employee whose anti-Trinitarian views somehow became known to Newton.

    The latter entrusted Haynes with a translation of his analysis of Trinitarian corruptions of Scripture, and Haynes later became a major promoter of the anti-Trinitarian cause in the s and 40s. He seems to have done a reasonable job in distancing himself from Whiston and his views, though Clarke was a different matter. Newton played an ambiguous role in the most famous philosophical correspondence of the century, namely the letters that passed between Clarke and Gottfried Leibniz in and In turn, Leibniz, who had access to a very early version of Query 20 in Optice , in which Newton had stated that the world was the sensorium of God, stated his own position on these topics and duly caricatured the Newtonian position.

    Newton apparently kept few secrets from these two, and they cared for him diligently in the last few years of his life. On this occasion Newton was remarkably free with his views on the beginnings of civilisation and the potential role of the Great Comet of in bringing about the end of the world. In any case Newton was clearly concerned that his reputation and legacy should make clear that he was a deeply devout Christian whose life had been devoted to the study of the Bible.

    For various reasons, very little of the content of these works was revealed to the public until the late twentieth century. He died intestate on 20 March and there followed a series of family squabbles over how best to dispose of his papers for financial benefit. Conduitt noted that Newton had studied all these subjects very thoroughly, and did the same when he came to London and had spare time away from Mint business.

    As for his character, Newton was mild and meek, and a sad story would often draw tears from him. His humility was such that he did not despise anyone for lack of ability, but was shocked at bad morals, and lack of respect for religion was the only thing that would make him rebuke a friend — even if they were otherwise men of exceptional eminence. Indeed, he struggled to commit to paper what he knew of these views, which to some extent clashed with the vision of Newton he wished to portray. He compared this immaculate existence with that of Socrates, noting that while Socrates chose philosophy above morality, Newton was a more modest man who joined the two pursuits together.