restricted access John Bramhall
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[ 143 John Bramhall1 John Bramhall, Bishop of Derry under Charles I and Primate of Ireland under Charles II, is not at all an easy subject for a biography.2 He was a great man; but either by defect of genius or by ill-luck he is not known as he shouldbeknown,andhisworksarenotreadastheyshouldberead.Indeed, it is largely ill-luck. Not only were his immense energy and ability divided among a number of important actions, so that he has never become the symbolical representative of anything; but some of his most important activity was exerted upon causes which are now forgotten. As Bishop of Derry, as the lieutenant of Wentworth and Laud, he did much to reform and establish the Irish Church and to bring it into conformity with the English Church; he saw his work largely undone by Cromwell; as Primate of Ireland during the first years of Charles II, and in his old age, he set to worktobuilditupagain.HadhislaboursbeeninEnglandinsteadofIreland he might now be better remembered. His middle years were spent in exile; and perhaps it is the work he performed during these years, often in illness, danger, and vicissitudes, that should earn him particular gratitude from his Church. This is a chapter of Church history which is too little known; few people realize how nearly in those years the English Church came to perishing utterly, or realize that had the Commonwealth survived a few years longer the Church would have fallen into a disorder from which it might never have recovered. During the exile Bramhall was the stoutest inheritor of the tradition of Andrewes and Laud. Canon Sparrow-Simpson3† has treated the history of Bramhall’s career in Ireland and his activities abroad during the Commonwealth fully, but with a proper sense of proportion.4 He leaves himself space to devote several chapters to Bramhall’s controversial writings; he is specially to be praised for the skill with which he has digested these writings and condensed and organized so much various information into two hundred and fifty-one pages. With the purely historical matter I am not competent to deal; Bram­ hall’s life includes an important part of the history of the Church and the history of England. But there is still much interest to be found in Bramhall’s writings, and some of them are very much to the point at the present day. One part of his work that is of particular importance is his controversy 1927 144 ] with Hobbes.5 It is sometimes cited by historians of philosophy, but has never received the attention it deserves. Bramhall, as Dr. Sparrow-Simpson pointsout,hadbynomeanstheworstoftheargument,andthewholedebate, with the two striking and opposed personalities engaged in it, throws light upontheconditionofphilosophyandtheologyatthattime.Themostimportant of the questions at issue are two: the freedom of the will and the relation between Church and State. Thomas Hobbes was one of those extraordinary little upstarts whom the chaotic motions of the Renaissance tossed into an eminence which they hardly deserved and have never lost. When I say the Renaissance I mean for this purpose the period between the decay of scholastic philosophy and the rise of modern science.6† There was nothing particularly new about the determinism of Hobbes; but he gave to his determinism and theory of sense perception a new point and piquancy by applying it, so to speak, almost to topical questions; and by his metaphor of Leviathan he provided an ingenious framework on which there was some peg or other to hang every question of philosophy, psychology, government, and economics.7 Hobbes shows considerable ingenuity and determination in his attempt to carry out his theory of the Will rigorously to explain the whole and every aspect of human behaviour. It is certain that in the end he lands himself in sophistries. But at the time of Hobbes and Bramhall, and indeed ever since until recently, it was impossible that a controversy on this subject should keep to the point. For a philosopher like Hobbes has already a mixed attitude , partly philosophic and partly scientific; the philosophy being in decay and the science immature. Hobbes’s philosophy is not so much a philosophy as it is an adumbration of the universe of material atoms regulated by laws of motion which formed the scientific view of the world from Newton to Einstein. Hence there is quite naturally no place in Hobbes’s universe for the human will; what he failed to see is that there was no place in it for consciousness either...


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