Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The 'great Mr. Howe'

In the Treatise on Grace Edwards refers to the 'great Mr. Howe' (Works, 21, 182). This looks like a good introduction to Mr. Howe.

The author also wrote the splendid article on Howe in the Dictionary of National Biography. The biographical entry offers numerous helpful distinctions - for example - 'At Christ's he came under the influence of the Cambridge Platonists Ralph Cudworth and Henry More, but claims that Howe himself is to be numbered among the Cambridge Platonists are mistaken. His lifelong friendship with More, a love of Platonist writings, an abstract and rarefied spirituality, and a shared commitment to ‘moderation’ are sufficient to account for the ‘Platonick tincture’ which Calamy rightly says runs throughout his writings, but his doctrinal commitment to Calvinism firmly set him apart from the movement (Calamy, Memoirs, 7) ... Calamy described Howe as ‘very tall and exceeding graceful’ with ‘a good presence and a piercing but pleasant eye’ (Calamy, Memoirs, 234). He was also a man of high principle and intense seriousness, elevation of mind and a studied moderation, calm reasonableness, Christian charity, personal dignity, and depth. Contemporaries and commentators have positioned Howe variously on the theological and ecclesiastical spectrum of his day, assessing him as the last of the puritans on the one hand and as a dissenting, liberalizing latitudinarian on the other. Howe is rather to be regarded as one of the leaders of early nonconformity and a major representative of the distinct, moderate Presbyterian, Baxterian middle-way Calvinists who, sensitive to the charges of the anti-Calvinists, emphasized reasonableness, moderation, and catholicity while remaining faithful to what they perceived as Calvinist orthodoxy. His eirenic spirit, profound and extensive writings, wide-ranging connections, and thirty-year-long career as a London minister combined to make Howe one of England's most influential religious figures of the late seventeenth century and won him a breadth of respect given to very few others in his divided generation.'


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