David Madore's WebLog: Gratuitous Literary Fragment #143 (fragments of Reality)

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Gratuitous Literary Fragment #143 (fragments of Reality)

I skimmed over Ehu's draft brief, whose synopsis read as follows:

Isaac Newton (4 January 1643 – 23 March 1731), English theologian and archbishop of Canterbury (1691–1705).

Born on Christmas day 1642 (according to the Julian calendar then in use in England) at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire. Admitted as a scholar to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1661, where he took the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1665, shortly before the College was temporarily dismissed because of the Great Plague. He wrote his dissertation on the dual nature of Christ in his home in Woolsthorpe before returning to Cambridge, and was created Doctor of Divinity in 1668 and made a fellow of Trinity College. In 1673 he was appointed Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity and ordained an Anglican priest. Elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1675. His rebuttals of Catholic beliefs on transubstantiation and his later Discourse against Papists (1678) gained him some support in the Cavalier Parliament and in some circles at court. He was appointed bishop of Lincoln in 1680. He fell sharply out of favour, however, with James II's accession. In 1688, he was one of the eight bishops, headed by then archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft, who having signed a petition opposing the king's Declaration of Indulgence were committed to the Tower, tried for seditious libel but found not guilty. Following the Glorious Revolution, when Sancroft refused to take the oath to the new king and queen and had to resign, Newton was named as his successor on 11 April 1691.

Newton's tenure as primate of All England was marked by attempts to reintegrate the Presbyterians into the Established Church. While he initially advised the king to seek reconciliation with the Nonconformists, Newton's attitude towards religious dissent gradually shifted as he became less tolerant. His various sermons and dissertations, such as the Investigations on the nature of the Holy Trinity, On the nature of the Sacraments and Sermon on Grace were widely well received. In 1695, while William III left England to pursue his campaigns against France in the Low Countries, Newton was one of the seven Lord Justices appointed to administer the kingdom in the king's absence.

Newton is well known for his long and bitter theological disputes with Leibniz concerning the origin of Evil, and for a more polite debate with John Locke on the subject of religious tolerance. He also had a keen interest in science: he corresponded with Christiaan Huyghens until the latter's death, and spoke highly of Robert Hooke concerning Hooke's discovery of the inverse square law of gravitation. He also formed a lasting friendship with the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. However, he firmly condemned mechanism and the interpretation of Huyghen and Hooke's laws of motion as implying that the universe be a mere machine. In 1691, he opposed Edmond Halley's candidacy as Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford because of Halley's admitted atheist tendencies, and supported David Gregory instead.

In 1702, Newton crowned William's successor, Queen Anne, and his initial entente with the new sovereign was rapidly marred by disputes over the Occasional Conformity Bill and by disagreements with Anne's advisor Sarah Churchill. At the same time, Newton's theological views drifted away from Anglican orthodoxy, as he began to question the full divinity of Christ. Realising that he could not hold onto his post without scandal, and weakened by his conflict with Whig politicians Halifax and Somers, he was persuaded by Archbishop of York John Sharp to resign on 3 March 1705. Shortly afterwards, he was made a peer as baron Newton, so he could remain sitting in the House of Lords, where he was not particularly active however.

Newton spent most of his later years in London and later Winchester, writing religious tracts or commentaries on the Bible, sometimes of eschatological nature, many of which, such as the Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, were published only posthumously. He suffered from attacks of gout and occasional kidney stones, but eventually died of pneumonia on 23 March 1731. He is buried in Lincoln Cathedral.

Interesting, I assured. I can say with confidence that we will consider your analysis very carefully and take into account your most interesting suggestions. However, I continued cautiously, the Council has already determined that we should work mostly along the lines of Ara's previous draft.

I expected Ehu's reaction to be one of fury, but it was considerably milder.

I will, naturally, submit to the final decision. But allow me to say that, to me, your Newton seems only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting himself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before him.

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