White, Thomas

, an English philosopher, and Roman catholic priest, who obtained considerable celebrity abroad, where he was usually called Thomas Anglus, or Thomas Albius, was the son of Richard White, esq. of Hatton, in the county of Essex, by Mary, his wife, daughter of Edmund Plowden, the celebrated lawyer in queen Elizabeth’s reign. His parents being Roman catholics, he was educated, probably abroad, in the strictest principles of that profession, and at length became a secular priest, in which character he resided very much abroad. He was principal of the college at Lisbon, and sub-principal of that at Douay; but his longest stay was at Rome and Paris. For a considerable time he lived in the house of sir Kenelm Digby; and he shewed his attachment to that gentleman’s philosophy by various publications. His first work of this kind was printed at Lyons, in 1646. It is entitled “Institutionum Peripateticarum ad mentem summi clarissimique Philosophi Kenelmi Equitis Digbaei.” “Institutions of the Peripatetic Philosophy, according to the hypothesis of the great and celebrated philosopher sir Kenelm Digby.” Mr. White was not contented with paying homage to sir Kenelm on account of his philosophical opinions, but raised him also to the character of a divine. A proof of this is afforded in a book published by him, the title of which is “Quaestio Theologica, quomodo secundum principia Peripatetices DigbsEanae, sive secundum rationem, et abstrahendo, quantum materia patitur, ab authoritate, human! Arbitrii Libertas sit explicanda, et cum Gratia efficaci concilianda.” “A Theological question, in what manner, according to the principles of sir Kenelm Digby’s Peripatetic Philosophy, or according to reason, abstracting, as much as the subject will admit, from authority, the freedom of a man’s will is to be explained and reconciled with efficacious grace.” Another publication to the same purpose, which appeared in 1652, was entitled “Institutiones Theologicae super fundamentis in Peripatetica Digbacana jactis exstructae.” “Institutions of Divinity, built upon the foundations laid down in sir K. Digby’s Peripatetic Philosophy.| By his friend sir Kenelm Mr. White was introduced, with large commendations, to the acquaintance of Des Cartes, who hoped to make a proselyte of him, but without success. White was too much devoted to Aristotle’s philosophy to admit of the truth of any other system. In his application of that philosophy to theological doctrines, he embarrassed himself in so many nice distinctions, and gave such a free scope to his own thoughts, that he pleased neither the Molinists nor the Jansenists. Indeed, though he had a genius very penetrating and extensive, he had no talent at distinguishing the ideas which should have served as the rule and foundation of his reasonings, nor at clearing the points which he was engaged to defend. His answer to those who accused him of obscurity may serve to display the peculiarity of his disposition. “I value myself,” says he, “upon such a brevity and conciseness, as is suitable for the teachers of the sciences. The Divines are the causg that my writings continue obscure; for they refuse to give me any occasion of explaining myself. In short, either the learned understand me, or they do not. If they do understand me, and find me in an error, it is easy for them to refute me; if they do not understand me, it is very unreasonable for them to exclaim against my doctrines.” This, observes Bayle, shews the temper of a man who seeks only to be talked of, and is vexed at not having antagonists enough to draw the regard and attention of the public upon him. Considering the speculative turn of Mr. White’s mind, it is not surprising that some of his books’ were condemned at Rome by the congregation of the “Index Expurgatorius,” and that they were disapproved of by certain universities. The treatises which found their way into the “Index Expurgatorius” were, “Institutiones Peripatetica?;” “Appendix Theologica de Origine Mundi” “Tabula suffragialis de terminandis Fidei Litibus ab Ecclesia Catholica Fixa;” and “Tessera3 Romanae Evulgatio.” In opposition to the doctors of Douay, who had censured two-and-twenty propositions extracted from his “Sacred Institutions,” he published a pieoe entitled “Supplicatio postulativa Justitiae,” in which he complains that they had given a vague uncertain censure of him, attended only with a respective, without taxing any proposiiion in particular; and he shews them that this is acting like prevaricating divines. Another of his works was the “Sonitus Buccina?,” in which he maintained that the church had no | power to determine, but only to give her testimony to tradition. This likewise was censured. Mr. White had a very particular notion concerning the state of souls separated from the body, which involved him in a dispute with the bishop of Chalcedon. Two tracts were written by him upon this subject, of which a large and elaborate account is given in archdeacon Blackburne’s Historical View of the controversy ‘concerning an intermediate state. The conclusion drawn by the archdeacon is, that Mr. White entered into the questibn with more precision and greater abilities than any man of his time; and that it is very clear, from the inconsistencies he ran into to save the reputation of his orthodoxy, that if the word purgatory had been out of his way, he would have found no difficulty to dispose of the separate soul in a state of absolute unconscious rest.

Our author spent the latter part of his life in England. Hobbes had a great respect for him, and when he lived in Westminster, would often visit him. In their conversations they carried on their debates with such eagerness as seldom to depart in cool blood; for “they would wrangle, squabble, and scold,” says Anthony Wood, “about philosophical matters, like young sophisters,” though they were both of them eighty years of age. In consequence of Hobbes’ s not being able to endure contradiction, those scholars who were sometimes present at these wrangling disputes, held that the laurel was carried away by White.

Mr. White’s book *‘ De medio Animarum Statu,’ was censured by the House of Commons. In the Journal of that House is the following resolution:

Anno 1666. "Die Mercurii 17 Octobris 18 Car. II.

Ordered, That the Committee to which the Bill against Atheism and profaneness is committed, be impowered to receive information touching such books as tend to Atheism, Blasphemy, and profaneness, or against the essence and attributes of God, and in particular the book published in the name of one White, and the book of Mr. Hobbes called the Leviathan, and to report their opinions to the House.

As to call in question the natural immortality of the human soul was understood to imply atheism, White’s treatise had certainly a tendency to weaken the arguments for that immortality, by weakening the common proofs of the soul’s consciousness in a future state; but there was | nothing else in his work which could justly be construed as being of an atheistical nature. It does not appear that the bill against atheism and profaneness ever passed, or that the Commons proceeded farther in their censures of White and Hobbes. White was also obnoxious to the politicians of the time on another account. “To understand this,” says archdeacon Blackburne, “it will be necessary to observe, that White was a disciple of sir Kenelm Digby, not only in philosophy, but also in politics. The knight has been accused, and upon very authentic evidence, of intriguing with Cromwell, to the prejudice of the exiled Stuarts. Whether White was in the depth of the secret or not, it is probable that he knew something of the transaction, and that Digby might set him to work with his pen, in favour of Cromwell’s government. Be this as it might, White wrote a book, about that time, intituled,” The Grounds of Obedience and Government;" wherein he held, ‘That the people, by the evil management, or insufficiency of their governor, are remitted to the force of nature to provide for themselves, and not bound by any promise made to their governor; that the magistrate, by his miscarriages, abdicateth himself from being a magistrate, proveth a brigand or robber, instead of a defender; that if he be innocent, and wrongfully deposed, and totally dispossessed, it were better for the common good to stay as they are, than to venture the restoring him, because of the public hazard.’

Mr. White died at his lodging in Drury-laue, on the 6th of July 1676, aged 94 years; and, on the ninth day of the same month, was buried in the church of St. Martin’s-in-the-fields. “By his death,” says Wood, " the Koman Catholics lost an eminent ornament from among them; and it hath been a question among some of them, whether ever any secular priest of England went beyond him in philosophical matters.

The names by which Mr. White was occasionally distinguished, besides that of Thomas Anglus, were Candidus, Albius, Bianchi, Richworth, and Blackloe. Descartes generally called him Mr. Vitus.

Dodd has given a catalogue of forty-eij*ht publications by White, and endeavours to vindicate his character with considerable impartiality. He says, White was “a kind of enterprizer in the search of truth, and sometimes waded too deep; which, with the attempt of distinguishing between | the schoolmen’s superstructures, and strict fundamentals, laid him open to be censured by those that were less inquisitive. It must be owned he sometimes lost himself, by treading in unbeaten paths, and adhered too stiffly to dangerous singularities. This created him adversaries from all quarters. Besides Protestants, who engaged with him. upon several controversial matters, he had several quarrels, both with the clergy and religious of his own communion, who attacked his works with great fury. His book of the” Middle State of Souls’.’ gave great scandal, (though I find mention made of it by the learned Mabillon, as a master-piece in its kind). This performance was so represented by his adversaries, as if it rendered prayers for the dead an insignificant service: and the representation was so prejudicial to many of the clergy, that they were neglected in the usual distributions bestowed for the benefit of the faithful deceased. Another work, which drew a persecution upon him, was entitled, “Institutiones Sacrae,” &c. from whence the university of Douay drew twenty-two propositions, and condemned them, under respective censures, Nov. 3, 1660, chiefly at the instigations of Dr. George Leyburn, president of the English college, and John Warner, professor of divinity in the same house. He was again censured for his political scheme, exhibited in his book styled “Obedience and Government;” wherein he is said to assert an universal passive obedience to any species of government which has obtained an establishment; and, as his adversaries insinuated, was designed to flatter Cromwell in his usurpation, and incline him to favour the Catholics, upon the hopes of their being influenced by such principles. These, and several other writings, having given great offence, and the see of Rome being made acquainted with their pernicious tendency (especially when he had attacked the pope’s personal infallibility), they were laid before the inquisition, and censured by a decree of that court, May 14, 1655, and Sept. 7, 1657. Mean time, a body of clergymen, educated in the English college at Douay, signed a public disclaim of his principles. Mr. White had several things to allege against these proceedings. It appeared to him, that neither the court of inquisition, nor any other inferior court, though assembled by his holiness’s orders, were invested with sufficient power to issue out decrees that were binding over the universal church: he exposed, | at the same time, the methods and ignorance of the cardinals and divines who were sometimes employed in censuring books; and hinted, how unlikely it was that his holiness either would or could delegate his power to such kind of inferior courts. As to his brethren who had disclaimed his doctrine, he takes notice that they were persons entirely under Dr. Leyburn’s direction, who was his grand adversary, and was continually labouring to discredit his writings. Afterwards, when prejudices were removed, and passion had sufficiently vented itself on both sides, they both came to temper; and Mr. White submitted himself and his writings to the catholic church, and, namely, to the see of Rome. Yet, notwithstanding this submission, a great many, who had conceived almost an irreconcileable idea both of his person and writings, could scarce endure to hear him named. They represented him to be as obstinate as Luther, who, at first, humbled himself to the pope, only to gain time to spread his pestiferous opinions: they would have it, that his design was, visibly, to establish a new heresy. Nay, they pryed into his morals and conduct in private life; miscarriages, in that way, being commonly the forerunners of heresy. But those that were not hurried away with passion and prejudice judged more favourably of him. They owned his rashness, and that he had propagated several singularities, that had given scandal, were erroneous, and carried on with too much violence and disrespect to superior powers: yet that all this was done without any intention of breaking out of the pale of, the church, or opposing the supremacy of the see of Rome. Some, who have calmly reflected upon these matters, have been pleased to observe the wise conduct of the see of Rome upon the occasion, which was far different from that of Mr. White’s adversaries; who, transported with zeal for religion, and, it is to be feared, sometimes with less commendable views, made every thing appear with a formidable aspect: whereas the see of Rome, governed by milder counsels, proceeded with their usual caution, and only barely censured some of his works, wherein Mr. White had the fate of a great many other pious and learned authors, when they happened to advance propositions any way prejudicial to religion. Whatsoever opinion the see of Rome might have of Mr. White’s case, tney judged it a piece of wisdom to let it die gradually. They were well assured, that though he had wit and learning sufficient to | have raised a great disturbance in the church, yet he wanted interest to make any considerable party; and they had the charity to think he wanted a will. It is true, several eminent clergymen, who had been his scholars, and were great admirers of his virtue and learning, were unwilling to have his character sacrificed, and his merits lie under oppression, by unreasonable oppositions; and therefore they supported him in some particular controversies he had with doctor Leyburn and others: which was misrepresented by some, as a combination in favour of the novelties he was charged with in point of doctrine. But, adds Dodd, time and recollection have placed things in a true light." 1


Biog. Brit, second edit, in art. Digby.Gen. Dict. art. Anglus. Dodd’s Ch. Hist.