Cudworth, Ralph

, a learned English divine and philosopher, was son of Dr. Ralph Cudworth, and born | at Alley, in Somersetshire, of which place his father was rector. His mother was of the family of Machell, and had been nurse to prince Henry, eldest son of James I. His father dying when he was only seven yeaVs of age, and his mother marrying again, his education was superintended by his father-in-law, Dr. Stoughton, who was very attentive to the promising genius of his scholar. In 1630, he was admitted pensioner of Emanuel college, Cambridge; of which, after taking the degrees of B. A. and M. A. he was chosen fellow, and became an eminent tutor. Among his pupils, who were numerous, was Mr. William Temple, afterwards the celebrated baronet, statesman, and writer. About 1641 he was presented to the rectory of North Cadbury, in Somersetshire. In 1642 he published “A discourse concerning the true notion of the Lord’s Supper,” printed at London, in 4to, with only the initial letters of his name. In this he contends that the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice, but a feast upon a sacrifice; and endeavours to demonstrate, that “the Lord’s supper in the Christian church, in reference to the true sacrifice of Christ, is a parallel to the feasts upon sacrifices, both in the Jewish religion and heathenish superstition.” Bochart, Spencer, Selden, and other eminent writers, quote this discourse with great commendations, but his opinions have been controverted by the majority of divines. The same year likewise appeared his treatise entitled “The Union of Christ and the Church, in a shadow, by R. C.” printed at London, in 4to.

In 1644 he took the degree of B. D. upon which occasion he maintained the two following theses: that, The reasons of good and evil are eternal and indispensable; and that There are incorporeal substances by their own nature immortal. From these questions it has been thought that he was even at that time examining and revolving in his mind those important subjects, which he afterwards introduced in his “Intellectual System,” and other works still preserved in ms. The same year he was appointed master of Clare hall, in Cambridge, in the room of Dr. Paske, who had been ejected by the parliamentary visitors. The year after, Dr. Metcalf having resigned the regius professorship of Hebrew, Cudworth was unanimously nominated by the seven electors to succeed him. From this time he applied himself chiefly to his academical employments and studies, especially to that of the Jewish antiquities. March | 31, 1647, he preached before the house of commons at Westminster, upon a day of public humiliation, a sermon upon 1 John ii. 3, 4, for which he had the thanks of that house returned him the same day. This sermon was printed the same year at Cambridge, in 4to, with a dedication to the house of commons; in which he told them, that the scope of it was not to contend for this or that opinion, but only to persuade men to the life of Christ, as the pith and kernel of all religion; without which all the several forms of religion in the world, though we please ourselves never so much with them, are but so many several dreams.

In 1651 he took the degree of D. D. and in 1654 was chosen master of Christ’s college, in Cambridge; in which year also he married. He spent the remainder of his life in this station, proving highly serviceable to the university, and the church of England. Jan. 1657, he was one of the persons nominated by a committee of the parliament, to be consulted about the English translation of the Bible. The lord commissioner Whitlocke, who had the care of this business, mentions him among others and says, that “this committee often met at his house, and had the most learned men in the oriental tongues, to consult with in this great business, and divers learned and excellent observations of some mistakes in the translation of the Bible in English, which yet was agreed to be the best of any translation in the world.” Our author had a great share in the friendship and esteem of John Thurloe, esq. secretary of state to the protectors Oliver and Richard Cromwell; who frequently corresponded with him, and consulted him about such persons in the university as were proper to be employed in political and civil affairs. Besides several letters of recommendation remaining in ms. there is a printed one in Thurloe’s “State Papers” in which he recommends to the secretary, for the place of chaplain to the English merchants at Lisbon, Mr. Zachary Cradock, afterwards provost of Eton college, and famous for his uncommon learning and abilities as a preacher.*


Jan. 1659 he wrote the following letter to secretary Thurloe, upon his design of publishing some Latin discourses in defence of Christianity againt Judaism. "Sir, Having this opportunity offered by doctour Sclater, who desires to wait upon you, upon your kind in-` vitation which I acquainted him with, I could do no than accompany him with these few lines, to present my service to you. I am perswaded, you will he will satisfied in his ingeunity, when yon are acquainted with him. Now I have this opportunity. I shall use the freedom to acquaint you


with another business. I am perswaded by friends to publish some discourses, which I have prepared in Latine, that will be of a polemicall nature, in defense of Christianity against judaisrae; explaining some chief places of scripture controverted between the Jews and us, as Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks, never yet sufficiently cleared and improved; and withall extricating many difficulties of chronologic. Which taske I the rather undertake, not only because it is suitable to my Hebrew profession, and because I have lighted on some Jewish writings upon the argument, as have scarcely ever been seen by any Christians, which would the better inable me fully to confute them; but also because I conceive it a worke proper and suitable to this present age. However, though I should not be able myselfe to be any way instrumental to these great transactions of providence, not without cause hoped for of ma-ny amongst the Jews; yet I perswade myselfe my pains may not be altogether unprofitable for the settling and establishing of Christians; or at least I shall give an account of my spending such vacant hours, as I could redeeme from my preaching and other occasions, and the perpetual distractions of the bursarship, which the statutes of this colledge impose upon me. It was my purpose to dedicate these fruits of rny studies to his highnes, to whose noble father I was much obliged, if I may have leave or presume to doe: which I cannot better understand by any than yourselfe, if you shall think it convenient, when you have an opportunity to insinuate any such thing, which I permitte wholly to your prudence. I intend, God willing, to be in London some time in March; and then I shall waite upon you to receve your information. In the mean time, craving pardon for this prolixity of mine and freedome, I subscribe myself your really devoted friend and humble servant, R. Cudworth.

Jan. 20, 1658,

Christ Coll. Cambr.“The ”Discourse concerning Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks,“mentioned in this letter, and still extant in ms. is highly commended by Dr. Henry More, in the preface to his ” Explanation of the grand mystery of Godliness;“where he observes, that Dr. Cudworth in that discourse, which was read in the public schools of the university, had undeceived the world, which had long been misled by the authority of Joseph Scaliger; and that, taking Fuuccius’s epocha, he had demonstrated the manifestation of the Messiah to have fallen out at the end of the 69th week, and his passion in the midst of the last, in the most natural and proper sense thereof: ” which demonstration of his,“says More, ”is of as much price and worth in theology, as either the circulation of the blood in physic, or the motion of the earth in natural philosophy."

| Upon the restoration of Charles II. he wrote a copy of verses, which were published in “Academic Cantabrigiensis Σωτηρια, sive ad Carolum II. reducem, &c. gratulatio;” and in 1662 he was presented by Sheldon, then bishop of London, to the vicarage of Ashwell, in Hertfordshire. In 1678 he was installed a prebendary of Gloucester; and in this year it was that he published at London, in folio, his celebrated work entitled “The true Intellectual System of the Universe; the first part, wherein all the reason and philosophy of atheism is confuted, and its impossibility demonstrated.” The imprimatur by Dr. Samuel Parker, chaplain to archbishop Sheldon, is dated May 29, 1671, seven years before the publication of this work, owing to the opposition of some people at court, who used all their endeavours to destroy its reputation on | account of certain singularities in it, which brought some of his opinions under suspicion. He appeared indeed so much to affect impartiality, as to incur the imputation of betraying the cause he meant to defend, which certainly was far from his intention. Dryden tells us, that “he raised such strong objections against the being of a God and providence, that many thought he had not answered them:” and lord Shaftesbury says that “though the whole world were no less satisfied with his capacity and learning, than with his sincer ty in the cause of the Deity; yet was he accused of giving the upper hand to the atheists, for having only stated their reasons and those of their adversaries fairly together.” Bayle, in his “Continuation des pensees diverses sur les Cometes,” observed, that Cud worth by his plastic nature gave great advantage to the atheists; and laid the foundation of a warm dispute between himself and Le Clerc upon this subject. Le Clerc frequently expressed his wishes, that some man of learning would translate the “Intellectual System” into Latin; but this design, though formed or entertained and attempted by several persons in Germany, was never executed till 1733, when the learned Mosheim published his translation of it. A second edition of the English was published by Birch, 1743, in 2 vols. 4to, in which were first supplied, chiefly from Mosheim’s Latin edition, references to the several quotations in the “Intellectual System,” which before were very obscure and imperfect, but Mosheim had been at the pains to search them all out, and to note them very accurately. In Birch’s edition, there are, besides the “Intellectual System,” the following pieces of our author, viz. the “Discourse concerning the true notion of the Lord’s Supper,” and “Two Sermons,” on 1 John ii. 3, 4, and 1 Cor. xv. 57, to all which is prefixed an account of the life and writings of the author, by Dr. Birch.

Cudworth died at Cambridge, June 26, 1688, and was interred in the chapel of Christ’s college. He was a man of very extensive erudition, excellently skilled in the learned languages and antiquity, a good mathematician, a subtle philosopher, and a profound metaphysician. The main design of his celebrated work, “The Intellectual System,” is to refute the principles of atheism, and in this he has successfully employed a vast fund of learning and reading. But his partiality for the Platonic philosophy, in judging of which, after the example of his contemporaries, | he paid too much respect to the writings of the modern Alexandrian Platonists, led him into frequent mistakes. In physics he adopted the atomic system; but, abandoning Democritus and Epicurus as the first patrons of impiety, he added to the doctrine of atoms that of a certain middle substance between matter and spirit, to which he gave the appellation of plastic nature, which he supposed to be the immediate instrument of the divine operation; and this hypothesis gave rise to the controversy above mentioned between Bayle and Le Clerc. Cudworth stands at the head of those divines who, considering the belief in a triune God as a fundamental article of Christian belief, maintain that both the Platonic, and all the other Pagan trinities are only corruptions and mutilations of certain primaeval revelations and patriarchal traditions relative to the asserted distinction in the divine nature; and he has very ably discussed this important subject in his Intellectual System. A great number of writers commend Cudworth’s piety and modesty; and Burnet having observed, that Dr. Henry More studied to consider religion as a seed of a deiform nature, and in order to this, set young students much on reading the ancient philosophers, chiefly Plato, Tully, and Plotinus, and on considering the Christian religion as a doctrine sent from God, both to elevate and sweeten human nature, tells us, that “Cudworth carried this on with a great strength of genius, and a vast compass of learning; and that he was a man of great conduct and prudence; upon which his enemies did very falsely accuse him of craft and dissimulation.” He left several manuscripts which seem to be a continuation of his “Intellectual System,” of which he had given the world only the first part. One of these was published by Chandler, bishop of Durham, 1731, in 8vo, under this title, “A Treatise concerning eternal and immutable Morality.” This piece was levelled against the writings of Hobbes and others, who revived the exploded opinions of Protagoras; taking away the essential and eternal differences of moral good and evil, of just and unjust, and making them all arbitrary productions of divine or human will. He left also several other Mss. with the following titles“: 1. A discourse of moral good and evil.” 2. Another book of morality, wherein Hobbes’s philosophy is explained. 3. A discourse of liberty and necessity, in which the grounds of the atheistical philosophy are confuted, and morality vindicated and explained. 4. | Another book “De libero arbitrio.” 5. Upon Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks, wherein all the interpretations of the Jews are considered and confuted, with several of some learned Christians. 6. Of the verity of the Christian religion, against the Jews. 7. A discourse of the creation of the world, and immortality of the soul. 8. Hebrew learning. 9. An explanation of Hobbes’s notion of God, and of the extension of spirits. The history of these Mss. is somewhat curious. Having been left to the care of his daughter, lady Masham ,*


Our author had several sons, who probably died young; but he left one daughter, Damans, who became second wife to sir Francis Masham, of Oates in the county of Essex, bart. Of this lady an account will be given hereafter.

they for a long time quietly reposed in the library at Oates, in Essex. But, about the year 1762, when the late lord Masham married his second lady, his lordship thought proper to remove a number of volumes of ancient learning, which had been bequeathed to the family by Mr. Locke, and the manuscripts of Dr. Cudworih, to make room for books of polite amusement. For this purpose, he sold either the whole, or a considerable part of them, to Mr. Robert Davis, then a bookseller in Piccadilly. Mr. Davis being told, or having concluded, that the manuscripts were the productions of Mr. Locke, it became an object of consideration with him, how to convert them, as a tradesman, to the best advantage. They contained, among other things, sundry notes on scripture. About the same time, a number of manuscript scriptural notes by Dr. Waterland came into the possession of the booksellers. It was therefore projected, by the aid of such celebrated names as Mr. Locke and Dr. Waterland, to fabricate a new Bible with annotations. At a consultation, however, it was suggested, that, though these names were very important, it would be necessary, to the complete success of the design, to join with them some popular living character. The unfortunate Dr. Dodd was then in the height of his reputation as a preacher, and was fixed upon to carry on the undertaking. This was the origin of Dr. Dodd’s Bible, and part of the materials put into his hands the doctor made use of in the “Christian Magazine.” When the manuscripts were returned to Mr. Davis, he carried them down to Barnes in Surry, which was his country retirement, and threw them into a garret, where they lay exposed to the dangers of such a situation. About the beginning of the year 1777, a gentleman, who had a | veneration for the name of Mr. Locke, and was concerned to hear that any of his writings were in danger of being lost, went to Barnes, to see these manuscript*; and being positively assured by Mr. Davis, that they were the real compositions of that eminent man, he immediately purchased them fur forty guineas. He was, however, soon, convinced, after an examination of them, that the authority of the bookseller was fallacious, and having remonstrated against the deception, the vender condescended to take them again, upon being paid ten guineas for his disappointment in the negociation. In the investigation of the manuscripts, the gentleman having discovered, by many incontestable proofs, that they were the writings of Dr. Cudworth, he recommended them to the curators of the British Museum, by whom they were purchased; and thus, at last, after many perils and mutilations, they are safely lodged in that noble repository. 1

Biog. Brit. Burnet’s Own Times. Birch’s Cndworth and Tillotson. —Gent. Mag. Lviu, 11 80; LIX. 123. 126. Critical Review, LV. p. 391. Ayscough’s Cat. of Mss. in Brit. Mus.