A. Intellectual Reform in New England’s Collapsing World
William Brattle, four years before he met Charles Morton, wrote:
Reading without understanding is one way to introduce the tongue of a parrot into the head of a rational creature: This heedless reading is that, that hath caused many men parrot-like to talk of things so by rote, and so absurdly, that one would be ready to think, that man might properly suffer the distribution of Animal in genere, into rational and irrational beings.219
Brattle, who studied under Morton, never became Morton’s parrot. He certainly learned much from Morton, who introduced him to LeGrand’s and Arnauld’s new logics; but Brattle went his own way—towards Cartesianism—and wrote his own logic textbook.
Brattle went a different direction than Morton possibly because, being one of a new generation of leaders in New England, he understood the intellectual needs of the rising generation better than Morton. Brattle knew the troubles facing Harvard students and young ministers better than Morton, and felt Cartesianism offered better strategies. Brattle and Morton could have been described the way Aldrich had described Arnauld: “perspiring...as if he were giving assistance to a collapsing world.”220 New England was a collapsing world in the minds of strict Puritans.
Puritan New England had been in deep trouble since the late 1670s. The threat of Indian wars, French imperialism, rising commercialism, and rapid growth causing an increasingly pluralistic society combined to eat at Puritan assurance in their divinely ordained role as “New English Israel.” Their charter was revoked in 1684. In 1686, the year Charles Morton immigrated, New England’s first royal governor arrived with an Anglican priest, took control of the colony, and forced the members of South Church to allow Anglican services in their meeting house. Although the governor was exceedingly moderate considering the changes he legally could have forced upon Massachusetts, Puritans interpreted his every act as a blow against their New English Israel.
During the same period, the college seemed to be collapsing. When William Brattle’s older brother was a student, Harvard was at the lowest point in its history. Bad leadership had incited its few students to boycott the college in the winter of 1674–75, and with an Indian war in the summer of 1675 draining the economy, few students returned. The president was removed from office, but the new president could not bring the college out of its dismal state. The average size of the graduating class during the years William Brattle was a student declined to about four.221
Puritans feared collapse and inquired of God and each other what could be done to shore up the walls of their Jerusalem. The Salem witch trials in 1692 may be seen as a misguided response to the collapse of the Puritan commonwealth and town culture. Divisive debates between friends and colleagues on church membership, baptism, and minor ecclesiastical procedures were also misguided responses to the economic, political, and spiritual problems of the times.
Many people, however, productively faced the needs of the era. The 1680s and 1690s was a period of great creative response—Congregationalists adjusted themselves to an imposed cosmopolitan situation which included religious toleration, increased secularization of politics, and acceptance of a dissenting position in an empire with a state church. Much of the most creative thinking came from young men graduating from Harvard from the late eighties to the turn of the century—young men who were taught by Brattle and Leverett. Significant reforms were accomplished such as strengthening ministerial power, broadening church membership, and downplaying the distinctive ecclesiastical procedures developed earlier in the century. This last reform served to help New England Puritans feel greater unity with dissenters in England, Presbyterians in Scotland, and various Calvinists in Europe—their natural allies. The foundation of all these reforms was in logic. Logic offered the rational strategies to guide reform. At some point in the late seventeenth century, Harvard increased the amount of time devoted to teaching logic. After graduation, the young clergy emphasized more strongly the importance of rationalism working hand-in-hand with piety to guide the reform movement. William Brattle’s logic textbooks were at the foundation of this reform movement.
B. The Compendium of Logick
From 1687 until at least 1743, probably until 1767, Brattle’s Compendium of Logick or the textbooks based on it made Cartesian logic dominant at Harvard. The logic served New England in the manner generalized by Norman Fiering: “the long term impetus in America was toward philosophical structures that would reinforce and protect the essential elements of the inherited religious tradition.”222
This is not to say that Cartesianism was introduced to Harvard in Brattle’s logic. Cartesianism as a philosophy and science had been gaining a foothold at Harvard already in the middle 1680s. The year before Brattle wrote his version of LeGrand’s Institutio, Nathaniel Mather, reviewing the masters’ theses of the last few years, wrote from Dublin to his brother Increase, “I perceive the Cartesian philosophy begins to obteyn in New England.”223 Descartes’s works had been published for half a century and copies were owned in New England. A Harvard student named Benjamin Lynde bought a copy of Descartes’s Opera Philosophica (Amsterdam, 1656) in January 1686.224
Cartesianism had already entered the Harvard curriculum in bits and pieces through English mechanical philosophy and mathematics. It also entered through books and textbooks coming from Holland, a country with a close theological relationship with New England and where Descartes lived and published from 1628 to 1649.225 By 1692, Cartesianism had gained so much attention in New England that the term was used imprecisely by the judges in the Salem witch trials as an explanation for how the “evil eye” works.226
In the 1680s, the term Cartesianism gained the cachet of intellectual glamour which Newtonianism would gain a few decades later. Many New England Puritans found in Cartesianism—just as Henry More had in his own early works—a philosophical fortress which emphasized the spiritual over the physical and focused attention on the activity of God in the human mind/soul.
Cartesian logic is recognized by its overall form. Rather than beginning with separating genus and species and further categorization, then concluding with a long discussion of types of syllogisms, as was the usual form of Aristotelian logic, Cartesian logic progresses from an emphasis on what is known in the mind to an emphasis on a method of analysis and synthesis modeled after the rules of geometry. Rather than being mired in technical definitions and matching types of arguments to types of syllogisms, Cartesian logic deemphasizes such technical matters and calls for an easier and more “natural” method of constructing new knowledge based on simple introspection. Descartes’s Rules for the Direction of the Mind and Principles of Philosophy were models, but authors such as Arnauld more fully developed the form into a usable textbook format. Brattle’s four-part text—Perception, Judgment, Reasoning, and Method—was the standard format of most Cartesian logics. The first and last parts were usually the most distinctive because the first part dealt with Cartesian epistemology and the last summarized the whole by emphasizing the model of geometry. Many Cartesian textbooks gave more space to syllogisms, topics, and other more traditional components of logic, but the core was always on analysis and synthesis.
At Harvard there were several Cartesian logic textbooks written, each with variations on the basic format. Brattle’s Compendium of Logick was the first and most fully developed. Then, after Increase Mather returned from England in 1692, Brattle and Leverett wrote two more Cartesian logic textbooks in Latin, rather than English, and condensed into the form of catechisms. (Mather apparently encouraged the tutors to return to Latin and write short catechisms. Mather’s own Latin catechism in Ramist logic was resurrected the year of his return and appears in a student notebook.)227 John Leverett produced a condensation of Brattle and LeGrand titled Compendium Logicae Vera, Renati Descartes Collectae in usum Pupillorum (1692). Brattle composed Compendium Logicae secundum Principia D: Renati Des-Cartes propositum in usum Pupillorum (c. 1692).
Although most students were exposed to somewhere between three to eight logic textbooks, Brattle’s Compendium of Logick became the favored or standard text. By 1723, Brattle had died, but a textbook list submitted to the Overseers at Harvard still named Brattle’s work as mandatory. The list comprised: Ramus, Burgersdijk, and “a manuscript called the new logic extracted from LeGrand and Ars Cogitandi.”228 This last was Brattle’s Compendium of Logick.
The various sizes and number of manuscript logic textbooks available is most visible in Stephen Greenleaf’s transcriptions into his notebook, all done in one hand in a short period of time. Four logics were transcribed: Fitch’s extract from Morton (twelve pages), Brattle’s catechism (thirty-three pages), Brattle’s Compendium of Logick (fifty-two pages) and Leverett’s Compendium Logicae Vera (thirty-nine pages). Given the question and response format of Leverett’s and Brattle’s catechisms, the Compendium of Logick has around three times more information in it than the others. Non-manuscript textbooks such as Richardson’s Logicians School-Master continued to be discussed in class; however, Richardson’s role in the curriculum had clearly declined by 1753, when a student wrote in his copy:
The Author’s knowledge sure was great,
But it is grown now out of date.229
The 1723 textbook list called Cartesian logic the “new logic.” In 1718, a 1709 graduate of Harvard wrote that his father was “well acquainted with the Philosophy & Logick in reputation in his day”—taking it for granted that a new logic ruled his own time.230 Many have thought that the “new logic” was Lockean. Benjamin Rand, in his history of philosophical instruction at Harvard, considered it “doubtless” that the tutors “moulded their instruction” on Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding soon after 1690, but he offered no evidence of its regular use in the curriculum until 1743, when in fact the Essay joined Brattle’s logic in the curriculum.231
First Cartesian logic then later both Cartesian and Lockean logic were called the “new logic.” Harvard tutors do not seem to have pitted Lockean logic against Cartesian during the first half of the eighteenth century. One reason for this may be that Locke’s Essay was so long that teachers and students relied on edited versions which often diminished the distinctions between Locke and Descartes, for example Jean LeClerc’s “short preview” of Locke’s Essay, which appeared in periodicals and eventually in a single-volume collection called The Young Students Library, containing Extracts and Abridgments of the Most Valuable Books Printed in England and in the Foreign Journals (1692). This magazine version of Locke was probably what most Harvard students read since it was in Harvard’s library by 1723.232 Another popular example is John Wynne’s An Abridgement of Mr Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1731), which excised Locke’s most inflammatory statements against Cartesianism, including the whole of book one.233
Harvard taught Lockean and Cartesian thought jointly and did not present the differences between the two. Brattle’s logic was not officially removed from the curriculum until 1767, when the tutorial system of instruction was reformed and the first of a series of specific Instructors in Logic was named. These tutors preferred to teach from Isaac Watts’s logic—which merged Lockean logic with ideas rooted in The Port-Royal Logic.
By the second quarter of the eighteenth century, Brattle’s Compendium of Logick diminished in use probably because textbook publishing began to develop. The Young Students Library was one among many new published sources which supplanted the use of manuscript notebooks passed through generations. The textbook trade was a growing industry in the seventeenth and eighteenth century and reflected teaching trends in the expanding education market. In New England the market for texts surpassed the cost of production finally in 1735, at which time a textbook based on Brattle’s Latin catechism was published as the Compendium Logicae Secundum Principia D. Renati Cartesii. This was New England’s first published logic textbook, and the venture was profitable enough that a new edition was released in 1758.234 This text is listed in all modern indexes and histories under Brattle’s authorship, but this is a mistake. An editor exhibited great freedom in putting it together and the published work is so different from the original source that it was published without naming Brattle as the author. The most interesting parts of the published Compendium are the footnotes in the “Prolegomenon” which cite Locke, More, and others. These footnotes show how the editor and a tutor freely merged ideas from thinkers who are often categorized as antagonists to Cartesianism.
The title page of Brattle’s original Compendium of Logick proclaims its derivation from LeGrand’s Institutio and the systems of others. Brattle was a creative compiler in the juxtapositions, order, and eclectic use of his sources. Brattle began with a prolegomenon so students could get a quick overview of the whole text. The style of Brattle’s preface sets it firmly in the lineage of LeGrand’s Institutio and other straightforward textbooks which eschewed the more literary model of The Port-Royal Logics introduction. The prolegomenon also establishes Brattle’s use of LeGrand’s expanded 1680 edition of the Institutio instead of the shorter 1672 edition: the first statement, that the mind is “obnoxious to much error” in the search for truth and good, is taken directly from the 1680 edition.
Brattle appreciated LeGrand’s succinct language, but added Arnauld’s ideas where he thought appropriate. In a few places, Brattle turned to other sources, but mostly he relied on LeGrand and Arnauld, the dynamics of which merging are evident in the definition of logic. Sometimes Brattle freely changed the organization such as the placement of a summary of Cartesian Rules of Truth in the prolegomenon. LeGrand used the stock humanistic phrase that logic is “the art of right thinking,” whereas Brattle used the phrase advocated by Arnauld that logic is just the “art of thinking.” Brattle explained that although the adjective right “makes a better sound, and at first sight may seem needful, yet on due search is found to be needless, yea inaccurate,” since Aristotle shows that the term art implies doing something right.235 Brattle’s criticism was lifted directly from Arnauld’s “second discourse” which was added to The Port-Royal Logic in 1664 and appeared in subsequent editions.
The process of drawing from LeGrand and Arnauld while contributing his own twist to the book is best seen in Brattle’s discussion of the ten categories or predicaments which the Aristotelians emphasized—remember the crucial importance of the category of quality to religiously-oriented Aristotelians. Brattle’s description of the ten predicaments comes from The Port-Royal Logic and it is the most explicit difference between Morton’s and Brattle’s texts. Morton explicitly encouraged the use of the ten predicaments. Brattle stated that the ten predicaments “are altogether unprofitable.” Arnauld had only stated that the ten “are in themselves of little use.”236 Brattle made his adamant declaration based on the two criticisms he found in LeGrand: 1) that Aristotelians irrationally divide ens into substance and accidents, and 2) that the predicaments do not all make sense.237 Having justified his strong statement, Brattle then went back to The Port-Royal Logic to show that the ten predicaments can be rearranged into seven, proving his point with a distich from The Port-Royal Logic.238 Brattle ended the section by leaving both the Institutio and The Port-Royal Logic behind by offering a long quote from Kenhelm Digby—one of the Blackloists who influenced Morton—declaring that “the doctrine of the predicaments as it is now taught by the Aristotelians...never was taught or thought of by Aristotle.”239
It would be tedious to go through the whole of Brattle’s editing; however, the example of the ten predicaments indicates Brattle was more than simply a compiler or editor. He at times inserted strong personal statements into the text and promoted his own position by avoiding, deleting, or juxtaposing passages from the Institutio and The Port-Royal Logic. The creativity is limited, as is true of most textbooks, which are frequently formulaic. However, we can see the core position of the book—its Cartesianism.
The core formula begins with natural introspection, from which it builds. “Reason innate with us is the foundation,” Brattle wrote. Then, logic, the techniques of reasoning, is “framed and superstructed” on what was innate in order better to attain certainty, to detect errors, and better understand the workings of the mind.240 Cartesian logic was a simplified structure, which emphasized a method of beginning with doubting and yielding certainty—an alliance of analysis and synthesis. Arnauld introduced one of the most persistent images of this essential method: the descent into a valley and ascent up the mountain of knowledge. LeGrand and Brattle were firmly Cartesian in this regard and repeated Arnauld’s image of traveling down into the valley and on up the mountain.241
“If we would philosophize in earnest,” Brattle wrote using the standard Cartesian phrase, “we must lay aside all the prejudices of infancy and youth.”242 Doubt, however, must be understood only as a means to truth, not an end. Whereas “a skeptick,” Brattle wrote, was full of “folly and unreasonableness,” “to doubt of things and to suppose them to be all false only for the obtaining of more full and direct knowledge is a laudable method.”243 Having doubted with common sense and for the right purpose, “we infallibly prove a truth and demonstrate the same to others.”244 The journey is triumphant.
Typical of Cartesian logics, the fourth part of the book emphasizes logic’s dynamic ability to expand intellectual certainty in a way analogous to the method of geometry. Euclidian geometry starts with a few axioms and builds on those. Compare the short discussions of method and demonstration in non-Cartesian logics with the long final section on analysis and synthesis, geometrical method, and rules of truth in the Compendium of Logick. Lists of rules are common in Cartesian logics, and Brattle begins and ends his text with such lists.
The emphasis on “Rules of truth” come from Descartes’s own Rules for the Direction of the Mind which was written in 1628, although not published until 1684 in Dutch, and 1701 in Latin.245 Arnauld, when writing The Port-Royal Logic, had a manuscript copy.246 LeGrand probably did not have a copy of Descartes’s Rules and relied on Arnauld; however, LeGrand organized his whole logic around explaining ten “rules of truth” which dealt primarily with analysis rather than synthesis. Arnauld offered sets of rules different from those offered by LeGrand, which dealt primarily with analysis, before giving eight over-arching rules as “the method of science.” Brattle, when writing his Compendium of Logick, chose to summarize LeGrand’s ten rules in his “Prolegomenon” and copied almost exactly Arnauld’s eight rules at the end of book four. Brattle’s first list of rules focuses on perception of ideas and axioms; his final set are clustered in twos and address definitions, axioms, demonstration, and method (ordering).
Although rule oriented, Cartesian logic insists that the rules must be natural, honest, and not overemphasized. Rule six calls for no “abuse” of ambiguity of which overzealous Aristotelians were guilty. Rule seven calls for “handling things, as much as we can, according to natural order.” Brattle explains the “as far as we can” as that logicians can be too rigorous in their application of rules, which leads them astray of common sense.
Brattle wrote in the same spirit as Arnauld, who wrote often of “common sense” and believed logic was best used by “fair people” using their “native wit.”247 The spirit of fairness and understanding the limits of human minds softens and balances the dynamic dogmatism of Cartesian logic. Fair people using natural wit, in rule eight, can dissect a genus into its species just as Aristotelian logic advises without falling into the reductive and stifling mentality associated with scholasticism.
The Compendium of Logick is dynamic and yet moderate. Unwarranted skepticism is destroyed. The Anglicans’ intellectual laxity is implicitly condemned, and Puritan assurance is affirmed—all this while recommending introspection, natural reason, common sense, and an understanding of the limits of the human mind. Humility and dogmatic firmness characterized Brattle’s logic textbook. Having given an overall introduction to the text’s Cartesianism and closing with the type of humility advocated, we can now look at its specific support of scientific certainty of divine testimony. The dogmatic quality of Brattle’s logic can best be seen if we compare the section where he delineates levels of certainty for modes of knowledge with the “normal” Anglican and latitudinarian delineations that Barbara Shapiro in Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England culled from books by the intellectual elite of England (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Shapiro’s Degrees of Assent
In Shapiro’s delineation, note that “Belief” encompasses most of religion; yet, “Science B” contained the moral precepts of Christianity. Religion on Shapiro’s scale had no absolute certainty, not even the compelled assent of mathematical demonstration. Of this era in epistemology, Shapiro writes that the “quest for certitude was not abandoned, but it soon became evident that only mathematics and a few logical metaphysical principles were capable of demonstration in the strict sense.”248
Although true as a broad generalization of the leading intellects of the age, Shapiro’s diagram ignores the epistemological categories used by Christian dogmatists throughout the empire. Many dogmatists, such as the Puritans in New England, were willing to categorize many aspects of religion into “Belief” and “Opinion” (and/or “Mystery”); however, the central core of their theology was categorized as absolutely certain. The following diagram reflects the epistemological categories used by Arnauld, LeGrand, and Brattle: (Figure 6).
Brattle derived his section on levels of certainty from the Institutio and The Port-Royal Logic. In the Institutio and The Port-Royal Logic, divine testimony is listed among a set of axioms from which to build mathematical demonstrations. Both LeGrand and Arnauld indicated that divine testimony actually yields a higher level of certainty than any axiom. LeGrand wrote it this way: “the testimony of a being sovereignly intelligent, wise, and true is of greater efficacy to persuade, than any other of the most strong and evident reasons that may be.” Then as an example, LeGrand used a biblical quote: “Thus since God tells us that they are blessed who are persecuted for righteousness sake, we are to hold it for an undoubted truth.” It was an apt example for Jansenists, Puritans, and English Roman Catholics—each a group persecuted for righteousness sake.
Brattle, following his sources, also distinguished between science, opinion, error, and faith. These categories were derived from Augustine’s On the Profit of Believing and could be found increasingly in humanistic logics of all types since they were important concerns of the era.249
“Science,” Brattle wrote, “is that certain and evident knowledge which we have of anything.” Opinion “is not plainly certain knowledge but is attended with a certain fear or wavering of the understanding.” Faith “is a proposition grounded on the testimony of another, which may be true or doubtful according to the difference of the authority on which it relies. Thus the faith which we have in God is most firm because we know that he is true and cannot lie. But human faith has always something of uncertainty in it.”250
Note the two levels of “faith”. One is human and one is divine (Faith A and B in the diagram). As with Arnauld, LeGrand, Morton, Richardson, and all the way back to Melanchthon, the faith based on divine testimony (or authority) has a certainty level equivalent to science. Faith and science were kept distinct; however, the distinction broke down when it came to practical application. Faith A is absolutely certain in and of itself but also can be accorded the rank of an axiom (or first principle) for use in mathematical/geometrical demonstration. When a clear statement in holy scripture can be used as an axiom, the distinction between faith and science becomes blurred. This is crucial for understanding the logic in the rational religion of Puritans. Brattle further blurs the distinctions between divine testimony and axioms, and divine revelation and first principles, in an interesting statement which he never fully developed: “There is a power innate with us whereby we do assent to first principles,” which are “true and immediate” and “cause faith” (my emphasis).251 The power Brattle was writing about was divine grace, it seems to me. In the tradition of religiously-oriented logics, God actively participated in confirming the certainty of axioms/first principles and, through the Holy Spirit, confirmed the divinity of divine testimony. Thus absolute certainty through demonstration or faith needs the active participation of God.
Having two types of faith also helped to delineate the boundary between theological doctrines that were absolutely certain and theological doctrines that were mysteries or opinion. Brattle, in comparison to other religiously-oriented logicians, seldom used overt theological examples in the textbook; however, his manuscript sermons leave a wealth of examples of logic applied to theology. These sermons presented to students by the author of their principal logic textbook can be used to help us understand the glosses that Brattle no doubt applied to his text when he taught logic. Brattle often preached on the distinctions between theological certainties and mysteries of the faith. For example, the Trinity, he often preached, was a mystery beyond the reach of certainty; however, “belief of this mystery is the duty” of a Christian.252 In one sermon of 1711 directed to the tutors and students, Brattle more carefully delineated what was certain and what was a mystery in the Trinity. The key to the delineation was finding what in the Trinity was of Faith A and what was of opinion.253 In this Brattle echoed The Port-Royal Logic which made a similar distinction between mystery and certainty:
There are some things which are certain in their existence, yet incomprehensible in the manner of their existence: Though unable to conceive how they can be, we are certain that they are. What is more incomprehensible than eternity? And yet what is more certain?254
For Brattle the nature of the Trinity was a mystery of the faith, but since its existence could be demonstrated clearly from biblical references, its existence was certain (Faith A). For him, there was clear and distinct divine testimony of the Trinity in 1 John 5:7–8 which mentions three witnesses: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.255
It should be noted that the validity of this particular verse was hotly debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries since Erasmus had shown that it was an addition to the text in the Middle Ages. However, many dogmatists on both the Catholic and the Protestant side argued for its biblical veracity, and, although almost all Bibles no longer include this statement, the King James version and the Geneva version had it. Brattle was not unaware of the debate, but believed that Erasmus had not given enough evidence to warrant the deletion of that crucial proof-text for the doctrine of the Trinity.256 The important point is that concerning the Trinity, Brattle, in complete consistency with the epistemology and logic taught at Harvard, could show the certainty of its existence while still maintaining the mystery of its workings. Brattle applied a similar treatment to the doctrine of predestination.257
Such use of logic to support divinity had been assumed by Alexander Richardson and most Puritans. Brattle, however, plays a very special role in the merging of logic and divinity at Harvard because he was the unofficial professor of divinity who taught a crucial generation of New England’s early eighteenth-century clergy. To understand the full effect of his logic in New England, we need to turn to a discussion of Brattle and his influence. Brattle’s synthesis played an important role throughout the eighteenth. Divinity and logic in the Harvard curriculum were not separated until the nineteenth century.
C. Brattle: Tutor and Unofficial Professor of Divinity
William Brattle was the second son in a wealthy merchant family of Boston.258 In the relatively new social structure of New England, William’s birth was “of the first order,” while, in the context of the empire, he was only “of the better sort”: the urban merchants and professionals on whom rested most of the political dynamism and intellectual vitality of Stuart Britain.259 The early wealth of the Brattle family had been established in America by William’s maternal grandfather, William Tyng. Tyng emigrated to New England sometime between 1636 and 1638. He must have been fairly wealthy when he emigrated because he quickly established himself as a merchant and land speculator. He purchased a prominent and large part of Boston which would eventually become Brattle Close (an area now covered by the Government Center). Tyng died in 1653, after an active life of public service, and left an estate valued at £2,774, one of the largest in the young colony. Included in the estate was a substantial library of over a hundred books on a wide variety of subjects.
Tyng left no sons to inherit his property, and much of it eventually passed to his daughter Elizabeth who married Thomas Brattle a few years after Tyng’s death. Thomas was the first of his family to come to America. He was born around 1624, in England, and in 1656 shows up in Massachusetts records as a merchant. Brattle, just like his father-in-law, led the active political life that was expected of the “best” men. He served as a captain in the militia, a deputy on the General Court, and selectman and treasurer of Boston. He and Elizabeth raised seven children, born two years apart, starting with another Thomas in 1658 and ending with the third brother, Edward, in 1670. Edward was the only son to follow his father into the militia and active commerce. The Brattle sisters all married advantageously: Elizabeth (b. 1660) to the merchant Nathaniel Oliver; Katherine (b. 1664) to another merchant, John Eyre, who died in 1700, then to Wait-Still Winthrop who died in 1717; Bethiah (b. 1666) to the merchant Joseph Parsons, and finally Mary (b. 1668) to another wealthy merchant, John Mico. The network of in-laws formed a powerful family alliance, and, combined with their cousins the Dudleys, the extended Brattle family was involved in all of Boston’s major political and social activities during their generation.260
Thomas and William were peculiar in that they were the only children in their family to pursue the intellectual life and both were happiest in isolation from political and social Boston. When they went off to Harvard as teenagers they turned their backs on the commercial Boston that was the source of their family’s wealth and power; and yet, it was that wealth that supported them throughout their lives, and it was their family’s network of power that backed them in crucial educational and religious controversies.
There was, however, more than just wealth and power in the family background of William Brattle; there was also firm piety joined with an insistent reformer mentality. Beginning around the time of William’s birth, father Thomas Brattle was a leader in one of Boston’s biggest religious controversies which led to a broader conception of church membership and the creation of a new church in Boston.261 William Brattle was seven years old, his brother eleven, when the controversy was finally resolved. At impressionable ages, the two brothers saw the inner workings of reform in New England and their own reformist mentalities were surely engendered then.
William Brattle entered Harvard when the student population was perhaps not much more than ten, and tutors were hard to find and could not be induced to stay long. Students themselves would often leave for months before returning. Cotton Mather, a schoolmate, was about the same age as William but had entered Harvard when he was eleven-and-one-half years old, two years before Brattle. Cotton was temperamentally unsuited for dealing with the stress of collegiate living. He formed no close friendships with his classmates and took every opportunity to go home to Boston for long spells to be taught by his father. This Mather later wrote the history of the college and harbored hopes of becoming its president; yet in truth, he loved only the idea of the school. He never loved the actual life of Harvard as did Brattle.
The gregarious Brattle formed his lifelong friendships in Cambridge and loved the liveliness of the college. William even got along with Cotton and, throughout later struggles, retained Cotton’s respect if not his friendship. Brattle’s closest bonds were with his classmates John Leverett and James Oliver. They arrived at college together and only death separated them. William’s tie with Leverett was so close that their names were inevitably coupled in the college records and in the letters and diaries of their students. They were born the same year, went to grammar school together, entered Harvard together, took their Master’s degrees together, were college tutors together, and married within a month of each other. The third in the Cambridge troika, James Oliver was a chemist and doctor, reportedly “beloved, pious, and useful.”262 One of Leverett’s former students described these three around the turn of the century: “all settled in Cambridge and as it were in the same street; one a professor of the Law, the other of divinity, the third of physick; and all eminent in their kind.”263
The founders of the college had specifically desired to foster “a collegiate way of living” rather than model the school after the Continental universities that boarded their students “here and there at private houses.”264 Brattle moved in among his peers and as tutor lived among his students. When in 1697 he became the minister of the meeting house a block away from the college, he married and moved into a house nearby where students were always welcome.
During his student years, Brattle wrote small articles and poems for an almanac. His first was An Ephemeris of Cælestial Motions (1682). Almanacs fulfilled the requirements of an MA thesis and their usefulness and popularity insured their publication. Most interesting was a forceful essay, “An Explanation of the Preceding Ephemeris...,” where Brattle began by encouraging his readers to ask why eclipses happen and not be satisfied with knowing just when they happened, like most almanac readers. This is when he declared that “reading without understanding is one way to introduce the tongue of a parrot into the head of a rational creature.”265 After his death, he was praised as one who “searched everything to the bottom”; at twenty years old, he was already trying to encourage others to do the same.266
The most interesting clues concerning Brattle’s mind are in his argument that England and her colonies should revise their calendar—a bold assertion worthy of a fledgling intellectual reformer. During Brattle’s life, England and the other Protestant countries of Europe refused to switch from their Julian calendar, which started the year in March and inefficiently handled leap years. In his essay, Brattle explained the history and deficiencies of the English calendar and praised the reform of Pope Gregory XIII who decreed in 1582 the use of a better system which took his name. Protestant countries refused to follow the pope, thus making them ten days out of sync with the Catholic countries. William showed the central tenet of his mind when he organized his own almanac from January to December in the manner of a Catholic calendar and and argued that the better calendar should be accepted on its obvious merits, rather than refused for its popish source. It was not until 1699–1700 that Denmark and the Dutch and German Protestant countries relented to Roman Catholic efficiency; still other Protestants held back. Brattle was even more sensible than the great English mathematician, John Wallis, who in 1699 was adamantly opposed to the calendar of “our popish neighbors.”267 It would not be until 1752 that England would bow to the Gregorian calendar.
Given Brattle’s commitment to rational thinking and desire to educate others so as not to be mere parrots, it is not surprising that he was invited to be a tutor at Harvard in 1686. Increase Mather had already recruited John Leverett to help him rebuild the college and needed two tutors he could trust to run the day-to-day affairs of the college since he was going to continue to live in Boston. Mather, therefore, did not recruit—as was the usual practice—fresh graduates who could only be expected to stay at the college until a ministerial position opened up; he chose two relatively older and more stable alumni.
Brattle and Leverett were not alone in Cambridge with the responsibility of teaching. During the seventeenth century, collegiate education, without the systemization we are accustomed to, was very flexible. Around Cambridge, a circle of men of different expertise opened their homes to students for an afternoon or even a year or two, training them in what today would be called professions. This was especially true for the few graduate students who remained in Cambridge. This is the meaning behind the student quote given earlier that referred to Brattle, Leverett, and Oliver, after 1696 and before 1707, as “professors” of divinity, law, and medicine. There were no professorships, not officially. Unofficially, these men served in the informal educational network just as many did before and after—until official professorships and graduate schools were created. Thomas Brattle, officially the college treasurer, was unofficially active as professor of astronomy and mathematics from 1689 to 1713.268 Charles Morton served as an informal professor to the college and, at one point, overstepped unstated boundaries and had to be asked to scale down what was beginning to look like a competing college.269 The unofficial professors were probably not paid but were provided young assistants to help them in their work.
Aside from Morton, Thomas Graves, who also like Morton lived in Charlestown, apparently supported and advised young Brattle and Leverett and probably helped with other students. Thomas Graves had been hired as a Harvard tutor in 1666 when a comparably venerable twenty-eight years old. Graves had been fired by the president who, himself, was fired after the student boycott of 1674–1675. Graves “would not renounce the Church of England” and was probably siding with the students against the president. During the boycott of the college, Graves tutored in his home and thereafter never lost his connection to the college even while working as a physician and judge. When Mather, Leverett, Morton, and Brattle were actively running the college, Graves seems to have been brought closer in the orbit of the college. When Graves died in 1697, Leverett and Oliver, the “professors” of law and medicine, bore his coffin to the grave. Graves was a “professor” to them, unofficially teaching law and medicine during the late 1670s, 80s and 90s. William Brattle and Charles Morton were also at the funeral. The unofficial network of men serving as teachers was understood at the time although it can only be partially pieced together today.
Brattle moved from being an official to unofficial teacher when he married and became minister at the church next to the college. However, more than Mather, Leverett, and Morton, Brattle constantly participated in college affairs from 1686 to his death in 1717. He became the “professor” of divinity, but just as importantly, he became the “chaplain” in a college that did not believe in formal chaplaincies.270 It was probably Brattle’s continued influence at the college that made it seem obvious to Increase Mather that Brattle should be either vice president or president. After Leverett resigned his tutorship and President Mather continued to live in Boston, Brattle was the only one around to advise the young tutors when a decision had to be made. In fact, if one wished to create a longer list of Brattle’s informal positions, one would have to add that he was the unofficial president of the college between Increase Mather who left in 1701 and John Leverett who came back in 1707. During those years, the elderly Samuel Willard was officially the acting president, but Willard continued to serve his Boston church. Understanding that the trip from Boston across the Charlestown ferry (and later bridge) to Cambridge was about two hours one way in those years, and that there is very little evidence that Willard did much besides preside at commencements, it seems obvious that Brattle was the de facto leader of the college from 1701 to 1707.271 This inference is supported indirectly by such minor facts as that in 1705 a committee from Charlestown inquired of “Mr. Brattle and the fellows” whether a recent graduate was qualified to keep their grammar school; and that when Willard was too sick to attend the 1707 commencement, Brattle and Tutor Flynt ran it. Whatever his unofficial duties, almost every remembrance after his death cites his importance to the college and the Cambridge church. Tutor Flynt’s personal diary, for example, gave several eulogies, including: “God has made him an instrument of much good to this land, the college, the churches here, and to his own church in particular. As he lived to God and the benefit of men, so he died leaving many legacies amongst his friends.”272
Much of Brattle’s influence at the college has long been known, but the direction it took has been misunderstood. In most histories, Brattle appears as an opponent of Increase Mather, and as having unpuritan tendencies. These misunderstandings must be addressed before the influence of his textbook can be understood.
Brattle’s relationship with Increase Mather has been extrapolated from Cotton Mather’s diary statements in 1699, where Cotton declared that the colony had divided into two ecclesiastical “parties,” one made up of those who followed the leadership of the Mathers and the other being “a company of head-strong men...full of malignity to the holy ways of our churches” who “invite an ill party through all the country”273 The event that sparked this statement was the founding of what would become known as the Brattle Street Church by Thomas Brattle and a group consisting largely of members of the extended Brattle family. The new minister was Benjamin Colman, a former student of William Brattle and John Leverett. Historians have overemphasized Cotton Mather’s belief that there were two “parties” with Increase Mather and William Brattle on opposite sides. Even Samuel E. Morison interprets Brattle’s and Leverett’s work at Harvard in a way calculated to denigrate Increase and Cotton Mather. Morison furthered the tradition of historians whose hatred of the narrow-mindedness of the Mathers and Calvinism encouraged them to raise the Brattles into champions of enlightened liberalism.274
Contrary to this interpretation, evidence indicates that Increase Mather loved and trusted William Brattle. It was Mather who called Brattle to be tutor in 1686. It was Mather who put Brattle and Leverett in charge of Harvard while he was away in England. And it was Mather who recommended Brattle to the church in Cambridge in 1697. Twenty years later Mather expressed his pleasure that he had been the one to convince the church to hire Brattle.
This does not mean that Mather and Brattle were confirmed allies in all things. During one of Mather’s experiments with designing a new Harvard charter around the time the Brattle Street Church was founded, Mather removed both the Brattle brothers from leadership. Governor Bellomont wrote to Samuel Sewall, a friend of both the Mathers and the Brattles, stating that William Brattle had been removed out of “personal prejudice” and asked whether he should “humor Mr. Mather’s selfishness and pedantic pride, or do right to the virtue, learning, and merit of Mr. Brattle.”275 The Mathers were a defensive father and son, but the father soon recognized that he had wronged someone whom he wished to support. In 1702 after he was removed from the presidency, Mather recommended Brattle to be the on-site vice president of Harvard while a new president be appointed as an absentee figurehead. At forty years old, Brattle was considered too young by Mather for the presidency; however, Mather did note in this recommendation that “I take [Brattle] to be sincerely pious, and fully as orthodox as [the Rev. Samuel Willard, then vice president].”276 Five years later, Mather appears to have pushed for Brattle’s election to the presidency of Harvard.277 At Brattle’s death, Increase Mather remorsefully noted that he had found “much comfort in [Brattle’s] conversation.” Brattle’s will specified that Increase Mather “whether present or absent” at the burial should receive a traditional gift of a scarf and gloves.278
These facts make it clear that Brattle and Mather were not opponents mired in factional parties. Much has been made of the one break in their friendship when Mather removed him from the corporation of the college; however, Mather was at the most volatile point in his life during that time and alienated several of his fast friends—as did Cotton Mather at the same time. Around the same time as he removed Brattle, he so insulted the mild-mannered and revered Samuel Willard of South Church that Willard announced he would never visit Mather’s house again. He announced this to Samuel Sewall who had also earned the ire of his long-time friend by recommending that Mather’s resignation from the presidency might be the best thing for the college. But, the events of late 1699 to late 1700 should not be the standard by which we judge the intellectual alliances of New England. The calmer years of the decade before and after are a better measure. The decade of the 90s was especially crucial, and it was during that era that Cotton Mather praised the “prudent government” of the college by tutors Brattle and Leverett.279
The second distortion of Brattle’s thought which is built on the first distortion is the belief that he had unpuritan tendencies. As I have shown, Brattle’s orthodoxy was attested to by Increase Mather. The large collection of Brattle’s manuscript sermons that have rarely been mined also clearly preach Calvinistic orthodoxy and fear of backsliding into lax Anglicism. The influence of “anglicanization” that Harry S. Stout perceives in the “Brattle group” centered at Harvard is subtle but in no way unorthodox.280 Many historians have labeled Brattle with various levels of liberalism based on his ecclesiology, not his theology. A principal goal of the ecclesiastical reforms he instituted in his own church and encouraged in his students’ churches was to increase the proportion of church members to the town, thus bringing the town and church membership ratio closer. Benjamin Colman spoke of Brattle’s success in this at the close of his funeral sermon:
I shall only further observe how the blessing of Heaven has attended Mr. Brattle’s ministry; which he confined it may be too much to his own flock, but the church has increased so under his watch and care that in a manner the whole town is come into the church-state.281
Brattle also believed strongly in the role of minister as watchman and shepherd over the congregation/town. This role for the minister was in part founded on the fact that the ministers were the most likely to be trained in logic and could therefore best bind rationalism to piety. Brattle was a leader in the movement to increase the power of the minister over the congregation in the hope of regaining some of the unity of first generation churches and towns in New England. He and many former students were accused of demanding “Romish” power for the minister; however, they desired this power principally for the purpose of increasing the church membership which was often dwindling under the stern hold of laity who were not extending the “rational charity” that earlier generations had advocated when judging the fitness of townspeople to become church members. They also believed the ministerial office could be used as a bastion against declining piety.282 John Corrigan points out that in the struggle to increase ministerial power, “rationality” played a key role. He quotes Charles Chauncy’s The Only Compulsion (Boston, 1739) that ministers, to fill their proper role, should “inform their understanding; convince their judgments; make use of those persuasions” and generally strengthen themselves in logic. “The duty of ministers,” Corrigan writes, “was to impress upon their congregations the truth of certain doctrines. It was assumed that the minister could detect the truth, and in this rested his authority.”283 Brattle no doubt would have agreed, since teaching rationality in the ministry was his life’s work. Brattle’s leadership in strengthening the power of the ministerial office among former students was so important that it was the theme of the funeral sermon preached for Brattle in Cambridge.284
Like many ministers, Brattle fought against the diluting of New England’s church-town relations by forced toleration of multiple churches in each town. The new political situation made it so towns could no longer limit the type and number of churches. No longer would the whole town be identified with one church. Religious toleration was imposed after 1686, but that did not mean the Congregationalist easily embraced religious diversity. Brattle could be extremely partisan toward Congregationalism. In 1704 he tried to stop a Quaker from calling a meeting in Cambridge, and in 1709 he tried to thwart the establishment of an Anglican church in Braintree because the Anglicans there, in their missionary zeal, were attacking the local Congregational church.285 Brattle’s actions earned the ire of Francis Nicholson, a powerful colonial official, sometime governor of Virginia and Maryland, and a zealous proponent of Anglicanization in New England. Nicholson either met Brattle or heard of him while fulfilling his duties to the crown and later declared that Brattle was “a rigid Independent [Congregationalist]” trying to thwart the missionary goals of the Church of England.286 This characterization does not fit with the usual historical interpretation that Brattle was soft on Anglicanism and overly tolerant or lax.
That historians have disagreed with Nicholson and declared Brattle a moderate or lax Congregationalist is tied to an overreliance on a bit of dubious evidence. Just as the evidence of Cotton Mather’s diary has been blown out of proportion, so too the letters of a Brattle student, Henry Newman, have been taken out of context to create and justify a wrong interpretation of Brattle.
Henry Newman (1670–1743) graduated from Harvard in 1687, and stayed at the college until 1693, earning his MA and serving as librarian. In 1703 he moved to England, where, unmarried, quiet, and meticulous, he was able to live off a small stipend as secretary to the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK).287 Francis Nicholson was a powerful man in the Anglican missionary organizations that employed Newman. Nicholson, hating Congregationalism, at one point accused Newman, a former Congregationalist, of working against the missionary goals of both the SPCK and the closely allied Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG); Newman had retained his old friendships and continued to correspond with people such as Brattle and Colman in New England. Newman’s employment was in jeopardy—Nicholson was right that Newman was not always precisely loyal to his patrons. In good conscience, the young secretary tried to straddle non-conformity and conformity. As Nicholson’s serious charges had to be met, Newman felt compelled to defend himself by convincing his judges that William Brattle was a crypto-Anglican.
Newman’s first letter stated that Brattle desired to become an Anglican priest but remained a Congregationalist because he feared crossing the Atlantic. Newman further stated that Brattle and Leverett were better missionaries than the members of the SPG since they “made more proselytes to the Church of England than any 2 men in all America.” The absurdity of these statements indicates the desperation Newman felt since he was normally much more evenhanded. He ended this extravagant letter explaining his motive for writing: “by acquiting” Brattle and others of anti-Anglicanism, “I shall acquit myself of the crime of corresponding with them.”288
Newman saved his job, but Brattle has ever since been painted with what Brattle would have considered a libel. Quotes from Newman’s letters about Brattle and Leverett appear in almost all the important studies of the men and Newman’s motives have never been examined.
The truth is that Newman was, in fact, guilty of not being fully loyal to his patrons in the Church of England. For example, Benjamin Colman, then a member of the Harvard Corporation, wrote to Newman about ten years after the above event asking his advice about solving Harvard’s recurring problem of a dubious legal status. Colman recommended that the king should be asked for a charter. Newman’s reply was not in the interest of his patrons; rather, he wrote saying that Harvard should not apply for a charter because when it was granted, the Church of England would have too much influence on the college—it “would interfere with your present condition in religious matters and cramp all that liberty you now happily enjoy.”289 Newman’s employers would not have been pleased with a secretary who gave such advice. Newman knew it and asked that the letter be kept confidential.
Brattle’s work at Harvard has too long been interpreted in the light of Newman’s libel rather than Nicholson’s knowledge. Nicholson was right. Brattle was a “rigid independent.” In ecclesiastical matters forced on the Congregationalists by the new political situation, Brattle appreciated some Anglican examples. For example, Brattle did want to broaden his church’s influence in the town in a manner similar to an English village-parish and then increase the power of the minister in the church. As for bishops, he never was antagonistic to their existence. He apparently agreed with John Leverett (and John Calvin) that the office of bishop could serve a prudential purpose.
Brattle was a “rigid independent” in the way John Winthrop and Increase Mather were. Brattle seems to have believed along with Leverett that Anglicans and Congregationalists were merely “contending parties” within the same “English church.”290 This was not Congregational liberalism. It had been a long-held position in New England dating back to John Winthrop. During Brattle’s lifetime it was being encouraged by English ecumenical movements supported by Increase Mather.
Rather than weaken Puritanism’s intellectual dominance in New England, Brattle’s principal goal was to strengthen it. This is important for the context of Brattle’s logic textbook. Brattle was not motivated by Anglican tendencies or a blind willingness to adopt new intellectual trends simply because they were new. He was a thoughtful Puritan charged by his colony with training its future leaders, and he took this job seriously. By the end of his life, the pulpits and governments of New England were filled with his former students. The respect his students paid him throughout their lives resulted from his intellectual and religious character, which exemplified a piety married to intellect. The success of his logic book is rooted in the example of the author.
Brattle had a vision for Congregationalism’s cultural role in New England. As a boy he had watched his father help found Boston’s third Congregational church—a church designed to meet new needs in the actual congregation. Thomas and William faced a similar strife when they helped found a fourth Congregational church. But William, a peace-loving soul, tried to stay in Cambridge, at his own church, and out of the fray. He offered his counsel but would not be drawn into the political battle. In 1700, Brattle wrote to a former student, “I hopefully shall for ever be cautious how I let my religion spend itself in those trifling controversies.” He trusted in God’s plan and found “weightier things to exercise my thoughts.”291 In his pulpit that year, he devoted many sermons to encouraging peacemaking and toleration, such as one in March or 1700, which declared “the name of God is dishonored,” the spirit of God is grieved, and “religion suffers” when we forget that “true wisdom is peaceable.”292
True wisdom meant for Brattle the logical certainty of Christian dogma. Peaceable did not mean undogmatic. Puritanism’s break with Anglicanism and its continuing fear of being subsumed into the Church of England was rooted in antagonism to what the Puritan’s perceived as skeptical tendencies and lax theological commitments. Brattle was peaceable; however, he taught his students Puritan firmness. One student reported that Brattle
countenanced virtue and proficiency in us and every good disposition he discerned with the most fatherly goodness;...he searched out vice and browbeat and punished it with the authority and just anger of a master.... He did his utmost to form us to virtue and the fear of God and to do well in the world; and with...tears he dismissed his pupils when he took leave of them, with pious charges to them.293
When Brattle died, Samuel Sewall, who had years before advised his son to carefully listen to Brattle while at Harvard, noted in his diary: “He was a father to the students of Harvard College,... my fast friend.”294 One former student and friend remembered Brattle as a “very humble, excellent scholar, meek though naturally of quick and strong passions.”295 Another wrote that Brattle led an “austere and mortified life,” not allowing himself the conceit of a periwig, demanding simple dedication to Puritan values from his students.296
William Brattle was a conscious educator; he did not fall into teaching. The teaching role of father, tutor, and minister encompassed his life. In one of his sermons he preached that “there are two ways in and by which religious and godly persons do instruct the children of men”: by counsel and good example. The latter he believed was the more effective of the two since godly examples “ordinarily do make deeper impressions upon the hearts of men, and win upon men more than precepts do.”297
Brattle believed people needed a trusted counselor, “some spiritual guide, to lay open their distressed case before some man of God, to make confession of their sin before him.”298 As a Protestant, he claimed no power of absolution; yet, as with Tutor Flynt who felt the need to “unbosom” himself, there was “comfort and relief” in “confessing our sins before man.”299 Brattle became the “spiritual father” to many who passed through Harvard, hearing their confessions, helping them with their theological and career struggles. He was “exceeding prudent,” John Barnard remembered, “to whom all addressed themselves for advice.”300
Henry Flynt (1675–1760) was educated by Brattle and Leverett, hired as a tutor two years after Brattle moved from the lectern to the pulpit, and remained a tutor until his death. His principal importance was his endurance in an unremunerative position. He links the era of Brattle with the era of those who carried New England into the nineteenth century.301 Like many of his contemporaries, Flynt struggled with belief in the doctrine of predestination, and historians have considered him representative of the transition out of Puritanism’s intellectual hegemony in New England. Flynt’s form of rational religion, however, was rooted in Brattle’s logic—the logic he studied as a student and later taught to his own students.
Flynt’s biographer, Edward Dunn, explains that the tutor’s “sallies into new ideas were always qualified by traditional thought patterns,” especially when dealing with crucial doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the Bible’s status as divine testimony. Flynt was no theologian and was not a penetrating thinker; like most people in similar jobs in provincial situations, he dealt with disputes on doctrine by referring to other’s thoughts. Brattle’s private counsel to Flynt in theological matters was probably similar to the counsel he gave his congregation, which comprised the faculty and students of the college, to whom he sometimes directed his sermons specifically In a series of sermons on “contending for the faith,” Brattle advised an “inward intenseness” in the “holy contest” of that era when their New English Israel seemed to be collapsing. He warned that the mind could be led astray and that there was danger in engaging in doctrinal disputations without “constancy and perseverance” in orthodoxy.302 Flynt would have been sitting in the congregation when Brattle warned against despising “common and plain truths” while becoming fond of “mysterious and dark truths.”303
Flynt was joined on the Harvard faculty by Edward Wigglesworth who knew Brattle well and can be considered Brattle’s successor as professor of divinity. After Brattle—the unofficial professor of divinity—died, agents for Harvard began lobbying in England for funds to establish an official divinity program. Once funds were secured, Benjamin Colman recommended Wigglesworth for the first professor’s chair as a man whose preaching showed “solid judgement” and “clear method”—both primarily logical terms which were applied to preaching.304 Wigglesworth had learned from Brattle, and Colman believed Wigglesworth would be a pious, rational, and orthodox successor.
Colman was right. Like Brattle, Wigglesworth taught students that stability and certainty could be found in logical foundations—as can be seen when he led the fight against an old threat to logical religion: “enthusiasm,” a term used throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to describe overly pietistic or fideistic Christianity. Brattle had tried to keep enthusiastic Quakers out of Cambridge. Wigglesworth had to defend Harvard from another enthusiast: George Whitefield, the traveling evangelist.
Whitefield had almost no direct knowledge of Harvard or its curriculum, but chose to attack the college publicly for unorthodoxy. The Harvard faculty were justly upset by the charges Whitefield tossed out against them, and jointly, Harvard’s president, professors, tutors, and lone Hebrew instructor issued The Testimony...Against the Reverend Mr. George Whitefield (Boston, 1744). The Testimony was written by Wigglesworth, the new divinity professor, with the help of the rest of the faculty.305
The Testimony’s argument was that Whitefield was an “enthusiast” and had thus crossed into an area of Christianity that dangerously abandoned the sure-footing of divine testimony in the Bible and self-evident truths in the mind. Like good academics, they quoted directly from Whitefield’s published journal and sermons where Whitefield reported that he acted on instruction from dreams and “sudden impulses and impressions upon his mind.” Whitefield, they wrote, “imagines” these impulses to be “from the Spirit of God,” but does not test them. He does not use doubting properly. The academics then affirmed the standard epistemology of religiously-oriented and dogmatically-inclined logics:
For our strong faith and belief, that such a motion on the mind comes from God, can never be any proof of it; and if such impulses and impressions be not agreeable to our reason, or to the revelation of the mind of God to us, in his Word, nothing can be more dangerous than conducting ourselves according to them; for otherwise, if we judge not of them by these rules, they may well be the suggestions of the evil spirit.306
Those historians who have believed Whitefield that Harvard was falling into unorthodoxy have not taken into account how the logical foundations of the orthodoxy of Puritan faith continued to be taught at the college. The role of the Bible as divine testimony which acts in concert with the knowledge God communicates directly into human minds was considered the foundation of orthodoxy by both Brattle and Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth more fully developed his position in lectures he published. In The Sovereignty of God in the Exercises of his Mercy...Two Published Lectures at Harvard College (Boston, 1741), Wigglesworth condemned the “pernicious tendency” he found in English pamphlets advocating universal salvation.307 Wigglesworth began his logical analysis of the universalists by insisting that one must begin a proof from clear divine testimony in Scripture, not humanitarian ideas of divine mercy. In A Seasonable Caveat Against Believing Every Spirit: With Some Direction Trying the Spirits, Whether They are of God (Boston, 1735), Wigglesworth also insisted that any immediate revelation in the mind must be tested against the Bible. The Bible, he “proved,” was “given by inspiration of God, and since the God of truth cannot deny or contradict himself,” no immediate revelation could contradict biblical teachings.308
Such statements were found in fourth-year divinity lectures and built on the foundation of the first two years’ logic curriculum. As you will recall, Brattle’s Compendium of Logick delineates two types of faith—human and divine—of which the divine is from God as revealed in the Bible, and has the certainty of science because “we know that he is true and cannot lie.” Harvard offered a diverse curriculum, however; its favored logic supported divinity courses with a unified perspective of rationality. This is especially clear in Wigglesworth’s emphasis on right thinking as a gift of divine grace—a tenet clear in both Morton’s and Brattle’s textbooks. In A Seasonable Caveat Wigglesworth declared that:
the understanding of man in his natural state is so much blinded, that without the gracious influences of God’s Holy Spirit, it will never apprehend divine truths, in such a manner as that the heart shall be suitably affected and the life governed by them; yet that immediate operation of God upon man, which is now necessary to remove the natural blindness of his understanding, and make him of discerning divine truth aright, is not an immediate revelation of divine truth to his understanding, but only a gracious removal of those impediments which would not have suffered his understanding to perceive those truths in a spiritual manner, whatever way they might be revealed to him in, whether immediately by the written word of God, or immediately by inward revelation.309
In another published set of lectures on the imputation of Adam’s sin on his posterity, Wigglesworth closed his preface with a statement as heart-felt as any by Brattle about the crucial importance of teaching at Harvard the right thinking necessary to strengthening New England in the midst of its perceived decline. He “earnestly” requested the prayers of his readers,
that God would graciously lead me from time to time into a clear apprehension of divine truths; that he would enable me to represent them to the satisfaction and establishment of those, who will probably hereafter be the dispensers of them, to his people through the land; and that he would strengthen me to bear the great application, which my own insufficiency, and the importance of the duties of the trust reposed in me, call for.310
Flynt and Wigglesworth were the two most prominent long-term fixtures at Harvard who carried on the use of Brattle’s logic in the classroom and were themselves greatly influenced by the man. Their emphasis on apprehension of divine truths in the mind, divine testimony, and the need of grace for right thinking clearly helped support their insistence on old Puritan orthodoxies. Wigglesworth, especially, is an example of the kind of new Puritan Brattle had hoped to encourage who could vigorously uphold great Puritan truths in a religious culture that was in danger of following the lax and skeptical tendencies of the Church of England.
Brattle’s intellectual influence spread in many directions. John Barnard (1681–1770), one of New England’s eighteenth-century intellectual leaders, was personally and intellectually influenced by Brattle. Barnard called both Brattle and Leverett his college tutors, with Leverett his special tutor—this indicating how the tutoring overlapped in those years even though there was a system of assigning one tutor to a whole class for all four years of the curriculum.311 Barnard called Leverett and Brattle “those two great men,” and he described Brattle as “cherished by candidates for the ministry, exceeding prudent, to whom all addressed themselves for advice.”312
For Barnard, it was a “liberal education” because he was not taught to parrot the thinking of his tutors. Though Barnard reported he did not take full advantage of his undergraduate years, after graduation when he began to study divinity he put the tools of free thinking he had gained to work—first on the question of true theology:
I read all sorts of authors, and as I read, compared their sentiments with the sacred writings, and formed my judgement of the doctrines of Christianity by that only and infallible standard of truth; which led me insensibly into what is called the Calvinistical scheme (though I never to this day have read Calvin’s works and cannot call him master), which sentiments, by the most plausible arguments to the contrary, that have fallen in my way (and I have read the most of them), I have never yet seen cause to depart from.313
This is a wonderful passage for a view into Brattle’s informal divinity classes and the way Cartesian logic was applied to theology. Barnard starts with no preconceptions, gathers wide and diverse information, uses “judgement”—a logical term—comparing ideas to the Bible—the “infallible standard of truth”—and arrives at the truth which happens to be Calvinism.
Most modern readers of this passage will not be surprised by the outcome: Of course! Raise a person a Calvinist, give him Calvinist teachers, inundate his life in Calvinism, and of course he will think he is disinterestedly using logical method when he comes up with Calvinism as the most rational religion. Most modern readers will believe that Barnard engaged in circular reasoning and took a logically unacceptable leap in proclaiming the infallibility of the Bible. However, in terms of the Cartesian logic of his era, Barnard’s method was accepted and was consistent with the religiously-oriented logic taught at Harvard. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Barnard was one of New England’s best intellects. President Ezra Stiles of Yale College—a man who placed great pride in his own logical abilities—praised Barnard’s logic as “equaled by few in regard either of readiness of invention, liveliness of imagination, or strength and clearness in reasoning.”314
Jonathan Edwards did not graduate from Harvard, but he was the student of one of Brattle’s students. Elisha Williams, one of Edwards’s early teachers, was a Harvard graduate who taught from Brattle’s logic and The Port-Royal Logic. Williams was spiritually awakened in Brattle’s church while a student and became close to his minister. He became rector of Yale from 1725 to 1739 and was remembered by a later Yale president, Ezra Stiles, as “well versed in logic.”315 No one logic textbook or person can be credited as the source for the rational certainty of Flynt, Wigglesworth, Barnard, Williams, and Edwards. But in each we see, at least, Brattle’s logic as a brick in the foundation of their dogmatic certainty in crucial Puritan doctrines.
I do not want to give the impression that New England’s intellectual elite was monolithic in its view of rational religion. Some students influenced by Brattle moved away from the doctrine of predestination and others from even the Trinity, employing Cartesian logic in a way that Brattle did not sanction to bolster their position. They found scriptural material to support their own positions. By insisting on a more limited set of axioms than Brattle, in effect they moved quite far from Brattle’s position. John Corrigan’s The Hidden Balance: Religion and the Social Theories of Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew (1987) is an excellent study on two clergymen who experimented with a less dogmatic application of Cartesian idealism to the Puritan tradition. Mayhew wrote thoughtful notes on Pascal’s Pensées in his commonplace book that indicate a tentative distrust of Cartesian optimism similar to Pascal’s. On one page Mayhew commented that God was more interested in the will than understanding, and that God is not just a God of “geometrical truths.”316 Brattle and many of the students who learned from his logic textbooks embraced Cartesian dogmatic confidence; however, there were others more tentative and wary. They were, however, only a minority in the first half of the eighteenth century.