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An Elegant and Learned Discourse

Nathaniel Culverwell

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Series: Natural Law Paper

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This edition of Culverwell’s Discourse, edited by Robert A. Greene and Hugh MacCallum, was originally published in 1971 by the University of Toronto Press. The introduction set the work in its historical and philosophical context. ...

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pp. xi-xxii

Nathaniel Culverwell died at the age of thirty-one in 1651. He had spent eighteen years of his brief life as a student and fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, “that zealous house,” as John Evelyn called it. Emmanuel had been established as a Puritan foundation in 1584, and by midcentury its Calvinist ethos had led to its flourishing as the second-largest college in the university. ...

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The Epistle Dedicatory To the Reverend and Learned

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pp. 1-2

The many testimonies of your real affection towards this pious and learned Authour, (especially while he lay under the discipline of so sad a Providence) deserve all thankful acknowledgement, and grateful commemoration: which I doubt not but himself would have made in most ample manner, had it pleased God to have granted him longer life, ...

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To the Reader

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pp. 3-8

Not many moneths have passed since I sent abroad into the world a little Treatise, which knew it self by the name of Spiritual Opticks, with intention only to make some discovery of the mindes and affections of men towards pieces of that Nature; which having met somewhere (it seemes) with kinde entertainment, and acceptance beyond its expectation; ...

The Discourse of the Light of Nature

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Chapter 1. The Porch, or Introduction

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pp. 10-16

Tis a work that requires our choycest thoughts, the exactest discussion that can be; a thing very material and desirable, to give unto Reason the things that are Reasons, and unto Faith the things that are Faiths;2 to give Faith her full scope and latitude, and to give Reason also her just bounds and limits; this is the first-born, but the other has the blessing.3 ...

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Chapter 2. The Explication of the Words

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pp. 17-20

Now these words were spoke by him that had a large portion of intellectuals, one that was ...1 [an intellectual superior among men], they were spoken by Solomon in whom the Candle of the Lord did shine very clearly; one that had ask’d this as the choisest favour that he could expect from the bounty of heaven;

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Chapter 3. What Nature Is

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pp. 21-26

The words being to be understood of Lumen Naturale [natural light], according to the mindes of the best and most interpreters; it will be very needful to enquire what Nature is, and here we will be sure not to speak one word for Nature, which shall in the least measure tend to the eclipsing of Grace; ...

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Chapter 4. Of the Nature of a Law in General

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pp. 27-34

Before we can represent unto you the Law of Nature, you must first frame and fashion in your mindes the just notion of a Law in general. And Aquinas gives us this shadowy representation of it; Lex est quaedam regula & mensura, secundum quam inducitur aliquis ad agendum, vel ab agendo retrahitur1 ...

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Chapter 5. Of the Eternal Law

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pp. 35-39

Having thus lookt upon the being of a Law in general, we now come to the spring and original of all Lawes, to the eternal Law, that fountain of Law, out of which you may see the Law of Nature bubbling and flowing forth to the sons of men. For, as Aquinas does very well tell us, the Law of Nature is nothing but participatio Legis aeternae in Rationali creatura,1 ...

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Chapter 6. Of the Law of Nature in General, Its {Nature Subject}

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pp. 40-57

The Law of Nature is that Law which is intrinsecal and essential to a rational creature; and such a Law is as necessary as such a creature, for such a creature as a creature has a superiour to whose Providence and disposing it must be subject, and then as an intellectual creature ’tis capable of a moral government, ...

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Chapter 7. The Extent of the Law of Nature

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pp. 58-64

There are stampt and printed upon the being of man, some cleare and undelible Principles, some first and Alphabetical Notions; by putting together of which it can spell out the Law of Nature. ...

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Chapter 8. How the Law of Nature Is Discovered? Not by Tradition

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pp. 65-70

GOD having contrived such an admirable and harmonious Law for the guiding and governing of his Creature, you cannot doubt but that he will also provide sufficient means for the discovery and publishing of it; Promulgation being pre-requir’d as a necessary condition before a Law can be valid and vigorous. ...

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Chapter 9. The Light of Reason

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pp. 71-78

This law of Nature having a firme and unshaken foundation in the necessity and conveniency of its materials, becomes formally valid and vigorous by the minde and command of the Supreme Law-giver; So as that all the strength and nerves, and binding virtue of this Law are rooted and fasten’d partly in the excellency and equity of the commands themselves, ...

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Chapter 10. Of the Consent of Nations

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pp. 79-87

Though Natures law be principally proclaim’d by the voyce of Reason; though it be sufficiently discover’d by the Candle of the Lord; yet there is also a secondary and additional way, which contributes no small light to the manifestation of it: I mean the harmony & joynt consent of Nations, ...

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Chapter 11. The Light of Reason Is a Derivative Light

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pp. 88-117

First, as Lumen derivatum, ...1 [a derivative light, a light from a light]. Surely there’s none can think that light is primitively and originally in the Candle; but they must look upon that only as a weak participation of something that is more bright and glorious. ...

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Chapter 12. The Light of Reason Is a Diminutive Light

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pp. 118-125

This Candle of the Lord, ’tis Lumen tenue & diminutum [a feeble and diminished light]. A Lamp is no such dazling object. A Candle has no such goodly light, as that it should pride and glory in it. ’Tis but a brief and compendious flame, shut up, and imprison’d in a narrow compasse. How farre distant is it from the beauty of a Starre? ...

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Chapter 13. The Light of Reason Discovers Present, Not Future Things

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pp. 126-135

’Tis lumen explicans praesentia, non aperiens futura, for did you ever hear of such a Lamp as would discover an object, not yet born nor yet in being?Would you not smile at him that should light up a Candle to search for a futurity? ’Tis the glorious prerogative of the Divine understanding, to have such a fair, and open, ...

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Chapter 14. The Light of Reason Is a Certain Light

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pp. 136-146

’Tis Lumen certum. Lamp-light as ’tis not glorious, so ’tis not deceitful, though it be but a faint and languishing light. Though it be but a limited and restrained light, yet it will discover such objects as are within its own sphere with a sufficient certainty. The letters of Natures law, are so fairly printed, they are so visible and capital, ...

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Chapter 15. The Light of Reason Is Directive

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pp. 147-156

’Tis Lumen dirigens, this ...1 [written law], ’tis a light for the feet, and a Lanthorn for the paths. For the understanding, ’tis the to’ hÿgemoniko’n,2 the leading and guiding power of the soul. The will looks upon that as Laeander in Musaeus lookt up to the Tower for Hero’s Candle, ...

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Chapter 16. The Light of Reason Is Calme and Peaceable

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pp. 157-169

’Tis Lumen tranquillum & amicum, ’tis a Candle, not a Comet, it is a quiet and peaceable light. And though this Candle of the Lord may be too hot for some, yet the Lamp ’tis only maintain’d with soft and peaceable Oile. There is no jarring in pure intellectuals; if men were tun’d and regulated by Reason more, ...

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Chapter 17. The Light of Reason Is a Pleasant Light

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pp. 170-183

’Tis Lumen jucundum; All light is pleasant, ’tis the very smile of Nature, the glosse of the world, the varnish of the Creation, a bright paraphrase upon bodies. Whether it discover it self in the modesty of a morning blush, and open its fair and Virgin eye-lids in the dawning of the day, or whether it dart out more vigorous and sprightful beams, ...

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Chapter 18. The Light of Reason Is an Ascendent Light

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pp. 184-198

’Tis Lumen ascendens— ...1 [it would have been fitting had heavenly Zeus, after the dark struggle, raised it into the assembly of the stars], as Musaeus sings in the praise of Hero’s Candle. Yet I mean no more by this, then what that known saying of Saint Austin imports, ...


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pp. 199-244

Textual Notes

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pp. 245-248


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pp. 249-252

E-ISBN-13: 9781614877905
E-ISBN-10: 1614877904
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865973282

Page Count: 271
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None
Series Title: Natural Law Paper