An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature
is a concerted effort at intellectual mediation in the deep religious dispute ofthe English civil war in the seventeenth century. On one side was the antinomian assertion of extreme Calvinists that the elect were redeemed by God’s free grace and thereby free from ordinary moral obligations. Opposite to that was the Arminian rejection of predestination and assertion that Christ died for all, not just for the elect. Faced with the violence of these disputes, Nathaniel Culverwell attempted a moderate defense of reason and natural law, arguing, in the words of Robert Greene, that “reason and faith are distinct lights, yet they are not opposed; they are complementary and harmonious. Reason is the image of God in man, and to deny right reason is to deny our relation to God.” Culverwell presented this understanding of the role of reason by expounding upon Proverbs 20:27, “The understanding of a man is the Candle of the Lord.”This was a favorite text among the Cambridge Platonists (Whichcote, Cudworth, Smith, and More), to whom Culverwell was close. He had obviously absorbed much also from Bacon, Grotius, and Selden. However, the most profound influence on him was that of the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suárez’s De Legibus, ac Deo Legislatore (1612), which is also part of this series.An Elegant and Learned Discourse was delivered as a series of sermon-like lectures at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1645/46 andpublished posthumously in 1652.
Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651) was a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.Robert A. Greene is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.Hugh MacCallum was Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Toronto.Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.