Capellus, Lewis

, an eminent French protestant and learned divine, was born at Sedan, a town in Champagne, about 1579. He was professor of divinity and of the Oriental languages in the university of Saumur; and so very deeply skilled in the Hebrew, that our learned bishop Hall calls him “magnum Hebraizantium oraculurn in Gallia,” the great oracle of all that studied Hebrew in France. He was the author of some very learned works; but is now chiefly memorable for the controversy he had with the younger Buxtorf concerning the antiquity of the Hebrew points. Two opinions have prevailed concerning the true date and origin of these points both of which | have been very warmly espoused. The first is, that the points are coeval with the language, and were always in use among the Jews: the second, that the points were not known to the Jews before their dispersion from Jerusalem, but invented afterwards by modern rabbis to prevent the language, which was every day decaying, from being utterly lost; viz. that they were invented by the Masoreth Jews of Tiberias, about 600 years after Christ .*


That the Hebrew vowel-points are ancient, might be easily proved; that they give, as near as we can come to it, the true ancient pronunciation, is pretty clear from the Hebrew names retained by the Septuagint, and by quotations of Hebrew in other letters found in the primitive fathers; and that thus far they are of considerable use, none of their opponents should deny: but that they are coeval with the Hebrew language has never been proved, and never can be proved; and that they are not necessary to a radical knowledge of the language, every person knows who is at all acquainted with its nature; and lastly, that they are of no importance in biblical criticism, the unsettled controversy concerning them fully ascertains. The best defence of them ever published is that by Mr. Peter Whitfield, Liverpool, 1748, 4to.”—Dr. Clarke’s Bibliographical Dictionary.

This opinion of their late invention was taken up by Capellus, who defended it in a very excellent and learned treatise entitled “Arcanum punctuationis revelatum,” &c. which work, after being refused a licence in France and at Geneva, was printed in Holland, and caused a great clamour among the protestants, as if it had a tendency to hurt their cause. It is, however, certain, that Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, and others, had espoused the same notion as well as the Scaligers, Casaubons, Erpenius, Salmasius, Grotius, and the Heinsii; and therefore it could not be said, that Capellus introduced any novelty, but only more solidly established an opinion, which had been approved of by the most learned and judicious protestants. The true reason, perhaps, why the German protestants in general so warmly opposed Capellus’s opinion, was, that they had been accustomed to follow that of the two Buxtorfs, whom they considered as oracles in Hebrew learning. Buxtorf the father had written a little treatise in defence of the antiquity of the points; and as Buxtorfs credit was justly great among them, they chose rather to rely upon his authority than to examine his arguments, in so abstruse an inquiry. Buxtorf the son wrote against Capellus, and maintained his father’s opinion. Capellus, however, has been generally supposed to have put the matter beyond any father dispute; on which account his scholars Bochart, Grotius, Spanheim, Vossius, Daille, and almost all the | learned in Hebrew since, have very readily acceded to his opinion.

Capellus composed another work, entitled “Critics, Sacra;” fol. which so highly displeased the protestants that they hindered the impression of it; till John Capellus, who was his son, and afterwards turned papist, got leave of the king to print it at Paris in 1650. This work is a collection of various readings and errors, which he thought were crept into the copies of the Bible, through the fault of the transcribers, and must have been a work of prodigious labour, since the author acknowledges, that he had been thirty-six years about it. The younger Buxtorf wrote a learned answer to it, and some English protestants have also appeared against it: but Grotius, on the other side, very much commends it in an epistle to the author; where he tells him to be content with the judicious approbation of a few, rather than the blind applause of many readers. “Contentus esto,” says he, “magnis potius quam multis laudatoribus.” Father Simon quotes a letter which Morinus wrote to cardinal Francis Barbarini on the subject of his “Critrca Sacra,” in which he intimates that they would do Capellus a kindness in condemning his book, because it had procured him the hatred of his own party; but that at the same time it would be prejudicial to the Roman catholic 1 cause, which those “Critica” were thought to support. This letter was printed in England, and added to a collection of letters entitled “Bibliotheca Orientalis.” Capellus died at Saumur, June 16, 1658, aged almost eighty having made an abridgment of his life in his work “De gente Capellorum.

It has hitherto escaped the notice of Capellus’s biographers, that England had a considerable share in his education. He came to Oxford in 1610, and resided for some time at Exeter college, attracted by the fame of those eminent rectors of that house, Dr. Holland and Dr. Prideaux. Wood says that he wore a gown, and in February of the above year answered in certain disputations in the divinity school, and performed other exercises in order to take the degree of bachelor in divinity; but his name does not appear in the register. In 1612, out of gratitude for the assistance he had enjoyed in his studies, he presented some books to the library; and it was after his return from Oxford that he was appointed Hebrew professor at Saumur. Capellus’s other works are, 1. “Historia Apostolica | illustrata,” Genev. 1634, 4to, inserted afterwards in vol. L of the “Critici Sacri,London, 1660, ful. 2. “Spicilegium post messem;” a collection of criticisms on the New Testament, Gen. 1632, 4to, and added afterwards to Canieroif s “Myrothecium Evangeiicum,” of which we have already mentioned Capellus was the editor. 3. “Diatribae duoe,” also in the Spicilegium. 4. “Templi Hierosolymitani Delineatio triplex,” in vol. I. of the “Critici Sacri.” 5. “Ad novam Davidis lyram animadversiones, &c.” Salmur. 1643, 8vo. 6. “Diatriba de veris et antiquis Ebraeorum literis,” Amst. 1645, 12mo, in answer to Buxtorf. 7. “De critica nuper a se edita, ad rev. virum D. Jacob. Usserium Armacanum in Hibernia Episcopum, Epistola apologetica, in qua Arnoldi Bootii temeraria Criticae censura refellitur,” Salm. 1651, 4to. His correspondence with the learned Usher may be seen in Parr’s valuable collection of letters to and from the archbishop, p. 559, 562, 568, 569, and 587. 8. “Chronologia Sacra,Paris, 1655, 4 to, reprinted afterwards among the prolegomena to Walton’s Polyglot. In 1775 and 1778, a new edition of his? Critica Sacra" was published at Halle in 2 vols. 8vo, by Vogel and Scharfenberg, with corrections and improvements. 1


Moreri. —Ath. Ox. vol. I. Fasti and vol. II. Ath. —Mosheim.- Blount’s Censura. —Saxii Onomast.