a man of so great a subtilty of understanding, and so rare a temper in debate, that, as it was impossible to provoke him into any passion, so it was very difficult to keep a man's self from being a little discomposed by his sharpness and quickness of argument, and instances, in which he had a rare facility, and a great advange over all the men I ever knew. (Life of … Clarendon, 1.52)His facility in debate was seen by both friends and opponents as potentially a weakness as well as a strength. Thomas Hobbes, another of his friends during the 1630s, said he was like a lusty fighting fellow that did drive his enemies before him, but would often give his owne party smart back-blows (Brief Lives, 64).
Consider the bloody effects of railing tongues in the murder of the Duke of B. and tell me whether there be not cause to fear, that if blasphemous mouths be not stopped, violent hands will not be restrained from bringing forth of such tragical examples. (Orr, 193)Another of Chillingworth's contemporaries at Trinity College, Arthur Wilson, listed him among the Canterburian faction … very active at that time in defending royal power and decrying puritanism: Chillingworth was a great man in our College with whom I had often disputes, about absolute monarchy (Orr, 186).
contracted such an irresolution and habit of doubting, that by degrees he grew confident of nothing, and a sceptic, at least, in the greatest mysteries of faith. This made him, from first wavering in religion and indulging to scruples, to reconcile himself too soon and too easily to the church of Rome. (Life of … Clarendon, 1.52)In 1629 he renounced his adherence to the Church of England and, under the influence of the Jesuit John Fisher, became a Roman Catholic convert. A letter to Gilbert Sheldon, another graduate of Trinity and his closest friend at Oxford, written some time between 1628 and 1630, suggests that the principal motive for his conversion was a desire for certainty in matters of faith which he found lacking in protestantism: Whether it be not evident from Scripture, and Fathers, and Reason; from the Goodness of God, and the Necessity of Mankind; that there must be some one Church infallible in matters of Faith? (Des Maizeaux, 8). At Fisher's suggestion Chillingworth left England in 1630 for the Catholic seminary at Douai, but within a year he returned, and for some time remained in a state described by one contemporary as doubting between both communions: though gone over to the Papists, [he] still came to our Churches (Orr, 30). Though no letters from Laud to Chillingworth from this period are extant Laud later claimed that my letters brought him back both to England and to protestantism (Orr, 26). Two letters from William Juxon (then president of St John's College) to Laud in March 1632, viewing Chillingworth with considerable suspicion, suggest that he was ambitious to be Bishop Laud's convert, for … all his motives are not spiritual, protest he never so much (CSP dom., 16323, 288, 290). Wood says, rather cynically, that worldly concerns prompted Chillingworth's return to England, since he found that among the Jesuits he received not that respect that he expected (for the common report among his contemporaries at Trin. coll. was that the Jesuits to try his temper, and exercise his obedience, did put him upon servile duties far below him) (Wood, Ath. Oxon., 3.89).
I know a man that of a moderate Protestant turn'd a Papist, and the day that he did so … was convicted in conscience, that his yesterdaies opinion was an error, and yet thinks hee was no Schismatic for doing so. … The same man afterwards upon better consideration, became a doubting Papist, and of a doubting Papist, a confirm'd Protestant. And yet this man thinks himself no more to blame for all these changes; then a Travailer, who using all diligence to find the right way to some remote Citty, where he had never been, (as the party I speak of had never been in Heaven,) did yet mistake it, and after finde his error, and amend it. (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. 5, para. 103, p. 303)Even after his return to the Anglican fold Chillingworth continued to have conscientious scruples in matters of doctrine. In 1635, through the influence of Laud, he was recommended for preferment to Sir Thomas Coventry, the lord keeper, who express'd a great readiness to oblige him in that particular (Des Maizeaux, 59). But in spite of straitened circumstances (money comes to me from my father's purse like blood from his veins, or from his heart; Des Maizeaux, 86), he declined the offer of preferment, on the grounds that he was unable on grounds of conscience to subscribe to two of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. According to a letter to Sheldon dated 21 September 1635 he was unwilling to subscribe to the damning sentences in St. Athanasius's Creed, considering it to be, as his biographer Pierre Des Maizeaux put it, a great presumption in any man, thus to confine God's mercy with such severity (Des Maizeaux, 81, 92). Eventually Chillingworth, after further correspondence with Sheldon, came to the conclusion that subscription to the articles did not necessarily entail Belief or assent to every doctrinal detail but was a matter of Peace or union, a recognition that in the agreed doctrine of the Church of England there is no Error in it, which may necessitate or warrant any Man to disturb the Peace, or renounce the Communion of it (Des Maizeaux, 157; Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, preface, para. 40).
not willing I confesse to take any thing upon trust, and to believe it without asking my selfe why; no, nor able to command my selfe (were I never so willing) to follow, like a sheepe, every sheepheard that should take upon him to guide me; or every flock that should chance to goe before me: but most apt and most willing to be led by reason to any way, or from it. (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, preface, para. 2)His willingness to flirt with heterodoxy is illustrated by a letter from the 1630s addressed to Harry in which he carefully and impartially examines the arguments of the Arians (at that time considered heretical), concluding that the Doctrine of Arrius is eyther a Truth, or else no damnable Haeresy (Des Maizeaux, 55). His patron Laud was sufficiently wary of his deviations from orthodoxy to write in a letter of March 1637, I am very sorry that the young Man hath given cause, why a more watchful eye should be held over him and his Writings, and to require Chillingworth to submit his manuscript of The Religion of Protestants before publication to ecclesiastical censors who would make sure he let nothing slip dissonant from … the authorized Doctrine of the Church of England (Des Maizeaux, 137, 144). By 1638 Chillingworth, convinced that the Anglican communion allowed considerable latitude in doctrinal matters, felt himself able to accept preferment, and in that year was appointed chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral and master of Wygstan's Hospital in Leicester.Brief Lives, 56). One of the principal advantages of his periods of residence at Great Tew, besides the conversation of kindred spirits, described by Clarendon as one continued convivium philosophicum, or convivium theologicum, enlivened and refreshed by wit and pleasantness of discourse (Life of … Clarendon, 1.39), was the excellence of Falkland's library. The Great Tew circle, besides Sheldon, George Morley, and other Oxford friends, included the poet Edmund Waller and the scholar John Hales, whose views on the brawls which were grown from religion and the frequent and uncharitable reproaches of heretic and schismatic, too lightly thrown at each other, amongst men who differ in their judgment (Life of … Clarendon, 1.50) strongly influenced Chillingworth's own writings.
Take away these Wals of separation, and all will quickly be one. Take away this Persecuting, Burning, Cursing, Damning of men for not subscribing to the words of men, as the words of God; Require of Christians only to believe Christ, and to call no man master but him only; Let those leave claiming Infallibility that have no title to it. (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. 4, para. 16, p. 198)Chillingworth's position is consistently eirenic: Roman Catholics and protestants, he argued, agree in many of the fundamentals of faith, and this common body of belief is far more important than any diversity of opinions among the severall Sects of Christians:
Christians must be taught to set a higher value upon those high points of faith and obedience wherein they agree, then upon these matters of lesse moment wherein they differ, and understand that agreement in those, ought to be more effectuall to joyne them in one Communion, then their difference in other things of lesse moment to divide them. … For why should men be more rigid then God? Why should any errour exclude any man from the Churches Communion, which will not deprive him of eternall salvation? (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. 4, paras. 3940, pp. 20910)Chillingworth's ideal was a comprehensive church, open to Christians of widely varying doctrinal beliefs. Unlike Potter, who is explicitly anti-Calvinist, Chillingworth has little to say in The Religion of Protestants about rigidly enforced doctrinal systems other than Roman Catholic, and W. K. Jordan has commented on his virtual silence about the relations of dissenting groups to the Established Church and the State (Jordan, 2.379, 384). Chillingworth's The Reply of the London Petitioners (1643), written after the outbreak of civil war, strongly criticizes the breach of peace in the Church, by Sectaries unpunished which hath begot and nourished Warre in the State (sig. A4v). Where Falkland in his speech on episcopacy in the Long Parliament strongly attacked some Bishops and their adherents who under pretence of uniformity have labourd to bring in an English, though not a Roman popery … a blind dependance of the people upon the clergie, and of the clergie upon themselves, Chillingworth is at no point critical of the policies of his patron Laud (L. Cary, Lord Falkland, A Speech Made to the House of Commons Concerning Episcopacy, 1641, 3, 7). The presbyterian Francis Cheynell, his bitter enemy, accused Chillingworth of being part of a Laudian conspiracy to promote an Accommodation between Rome and Canterbury, a reconciliation between true Papists and pretended protestants (Cheynell, Rise, 71). But Chillingworth's advocacy of Charity and mutuall toleration, rather than being narrowly partisan, is applicable to all those who talk of Unity, but aime at Tyranny, and will have peace with none, but with their slaves and vassals (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. 3, para. 81, p. 180). His position in The Religion of Protestants is closely akin to that of his friend John Hales in A Tract Concerning Schism: not he that separates, but he that occasions the separation is the Schismatick (J. Hales, Several Tracts, 1677, 199). Responsibility for the fracturing of Christian unity, Hales and Chillingworth argue, rests with those who seek by worldly power and violence to rule over the free consciencenot so much because you maintaine Errours and Corruptions, as because you impose them (Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. 5, paras. 40, 96, pp. 267, 297).
Get thee gone then, thou cursed booke, which hath seduced so many precious soules; get thee gone, thou corrupt rotten booke, earth to earth, and dust to dust … that thou maist rot with thy Author. (Cheynell, Chillingworthi, sig. E3)A Sermon Preached … before His Majesty at Christ Church, Oxford, published posthumously in 1644, he unhesitatingly identified himself with the Kings righteous cause and condemned as Rebells and Traitors those responsible for this bloudy Tragedy, which is now upon the Stage, who have robb'd our Soveraign Lord the King of his Forts, Townes, Treasure (1112). Both in this sermon and in an unpublished tract, Of the unlawfulness of resisting the lawful prince, although of most impious and tyrannical behaviour, he argued the conservative position that even the most impious and idolatrous princes, the worst King, the worst man, nay … the worst Beast in the world must be obeyed: there can be no pretence whatsoever to justifie resistance of Soveraign power (W. Chillingworth, A Sermon … Oxford, 12; Orr, 1934). In The Apostolicall Institution of Episcopacy (1644), written in 1641 at a time when parliament was debating church government, he defended the Laudian position that episcopacy was the government settled in and for the Church by the Apostles, where presbyterian church government, a multitude of equalls, was an unwarranted innovation (2, 4). In further unpublished tracts he attacked Scottish presbyterian claims of reforming religion as hypocrisy: your aim is not enjoying the liberty of your own confession, but tyranny over other men's (Orr, 192).
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Bodl. Oxf., MSS Tanner 233, 278, 72, fol. 3 · Bodl. Oxf., MSS Rawl. B. 158.170, B. 400b, B. 66.148, 843.60, 846.258 · LPL, letters, notes, and treatises · LPL, theological and political MSS · St John's College, Oxford
F. Kyte, mezzotint, c.1740, NPG; repro. in J. C. Smith, British mezzotinto portraits, 4 vols. (187883), vol. 2, p. 796
at least £440: will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/197, sig. 14
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William Chillingworth (16021644):