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Herbert Thorndike

Canon of Westminster Abbey | Edited Walton’s Polyglott Bible, working chiefly on Syriac texts

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“I now say further that the seven trumpets signify the judgments of God poured forth upon the Jews in Jewry, for refusing and persecuting the Gospel. “

The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18 – Chapter Five : 1649-1660 – Henry Hammond and the Preterist School of Interpretation “This volume contained a brave but lonely attempt to introduce the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation to English soil.  Hammond laid great stress on the opening words of the Apocalypse in which  the book is said to contain ‘things which must shortly come to pass.’  .. But those who argued for the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation.. were playing to empty galleries, until at least the fourth decade of the nineteenth century.  Their views were anything but popular and those who followed them could soon find themselves branded with the infamous mark of the papal beast.”  Others who followed: Herbert Thorndike / “author of an anonymous tract on the Millennium published in 1693 (“Millennianism : or, Christ’s Thousand Years Reign upon Earth, considered, in a Familiar Letter to a Friend”)”  / Daniel Mace

The Theological Works of Herbert Thorndike


Preterist Commentaries By Modern Preterism


§ 4. Now I except more strongly, that, supposing the purpose of St. Paul to concern the corruption of the Church, that corruption cannot consist in any thing, which, by sufficient testimony, may appear to have been received in the Church from the beginning. That is to say, to this bare surmise of St. Paul’s meaning, I have opposed all the reason that hath been alleged to prove that, whatsoever hath been received in the Church from the beginning, is either of the rule of faith, or some custom introduced by the Apostles. But because still, this is but an exception in bar to the objection, not in resolution of the difficulty which groundeth it, I will proceed further, to shew, that neither this prophecy, nor the Revelation of St. John is meant of those that professed Christianity, either in corrupting it, or in persecuting Christians, but of the professed enemies thereof, who persecuted the profession of it, to wit the princes of the Roman empire. The gene- § 5. To which purpose, having observedk that the whole to it. prophecy of the Revelation, from chap. v. to xx. consisting in the vision of a book sealed with seven seals; at opening the seventh whereof, seven Angels are seen to blow seven trumpets; at blowing the seventh whereof, seven Angels come forth, and pour forth seven vials of God’s judgments upon the earth ; I now say further that the seven trumpets signify the judgments of God poured forth upon the Jews in Jewry, for refusing and persecuting the Gospel. The evidence hereof is first, in that of Apoc. vii. 4—8, where there are sealed an hundred and forty-four thousand, of every tribe twelve thousand, to be preserved from the plagues of the seven seals, to wit, the Christians of whom our Lord had said, Matt. xxiv. 31, Mark xiii. 20, that for the elect’s sake, those days should be shortened.

§ 6. For it is evident that this vision is presented St. John upon occasion of the like, which he had read in Ezekiel ix. 4, 5, 6, in the like case, where the Angel is first commanded to mark those that should be saved from the destruction which he prophesieth. And therefore, where, in the beginning of the chapter, he seeth four Angels standing at the four corners of the earth, who are forbidden to hurt it, ” till the servants of God be marked;” it is manifest that this earth is not the world, but the land of Jewry. Again, when it is said, xi. 1, 8,13, that the Gentiles shall trample the outer court of the temple, and that therefore St. John should not measure it, as he is tied to measure the inner court and temple; that the carcasses of the two witnesses should lie in the streets of the great city where our Lord was crucified, spiritually called Sodom and Egypt; that there was a great earthquake, which cast down the tenth part of that city and killed seven thousand; he that would see men pitifully crucify themselves by racking the Scriptures, let him look upon them1 that engage themselves not to understand by all this, the city of Jerusalem and ‘, the temple there.

§ 7. Further, what is the meaning that the hundred and forty-four thousand are seen standing with the Lamb upon mount Sion, xiv. 1, if they belong not to that people ? What is the meaning that afterwards, xiv. 19, 20, when the Angel with the sickle had made the vintage, and cast it into the wine-press of God’s wrath, this wine-press is trod without the city, the blood overflows to the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs; but that the city of Jerusalem is meant, and the judgment executed in the destruction thereof expressed by the wine-press of God’s wrath, which overflowed all that compass without the city ?

§ 8. If these things cannot be, unless the sounding of the seven trumpets, chap. viii. and ix, be understood to proclaim the same vengeance; let me ask what is the reason, that having related what the sounding of them produced, he addeth, ix. 20, 21, ” The rest of men, that were not slain with these plagues, neither repented of the works of their hands, so as not to worship devils, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see, nor hear, nor go: nor of their murders, and witcheries, and whoredoms, and thefts.” For the Jews not being chargeable with idolatry at that time, nor the consequences thereof, how should the rest be chargeable for not repenting of the same ? For to say that covetousness of silver, gold, and goods of brass, stone, or wood, is the idolatry, and these the idols here meant, is to strain the Scripture to an improper sense, whereof there is no argument in the words. But if we say that the rest of men, that were not slain with the Jews, are the Gentiles, to whom God by destroying Jerusalem, sent a warning to turn them from their idols to Christianity, for persecuting whereof they saw the Jews destroyed; we say that the main scope of the whole prophecy is couched in these words.

§ 9. And from hence we shall be able to give a reason, why, having propounded—in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters—the subject of that vengeance which he seeth God to take, by the vision of the seven vials, in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, he returneth to the remembrance of those hundred and forty-four thousand that were marked to be saved, and of the destruction of the rest of the Jews, xiv. 1—5, 14—

Chap. 20, of which I shall not easily believe that a reasonable account can be given otherwise. For having foretold the persecution of Christians in those two chapters, the twelfth and thirteenth, what could be more pertinent, than that he should return to the remembrance of the saving of those that were marked, and the destruction of Jerusalem, as a pattern of comfort to Christians, to encourage them to endure, and of terror to the Gentiles to refrain that fury ? And therefore, as before, ix. 20, this intent had been signified, so it is most expressly repeated by the proclamation of three Angels one after another, xiv. 6, 8, 9—11, warning all to worship God alone, 171 not the beast of chapter xiii., and forewarning of the fall of Babylon for her idolatries.

§ 10. Now I am to remember you, that after the sealing of The seven the hundred and forty-four thousand Jewish Christians, there in the appears before the throne of God so great a multitude as no iypseftireman could number, of all nations, tribes, people, and languages, tf11 l|je declothed in white robes, and singing praises to God. Which, of the afterwards, are expounded by the Angel to be ” those that came out of the great tribulation, and had washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb,” vii. 9, 14; that is to say, martyrs. And further, that these are they who are seen at opening the fifth seal, standing beneath the Altar, and calling for vengeance upon their blood, vi. 9, 10. Which vengeance begins to be executed by the seven trumpets. And the Angel that throws down those coals of vengeance upon the earth, from the Altar above, is said to put incense to the prayers of the saints, viii. 3, 4, 5. So that the same censer sends up perfume, that is those prayers, to the throne, and vengeance down upon earth.

§ 11. Seeing then, that it is manifest to all, that at opening the first seal our Lord goes forth upon a white horse to make war, vi. 2, who, after victory and revenge upon His enemies, appears in the same likeness again, as triumphing over His enemies, xix. 11—16, it will be requisite to understand the vision of opening the six seals to be a general proposition of the whole prophecy, signifying the publishing of the Gospel, and the prevailing thereof, through the vengeance which God would execute upon the persecutors of it, Jews first, and afterwards Gentiles of the Roman empire, who would not take warning by the destruction of Jerusalem, to turn from persecuting the Gospel, to embrace Christianity. And therefore the signification of the rest of the seals is common to both.

§ 12. For when he seeth a red horse to signify war, a black horse to signify famine, and a pale horse to signify pestilence, vi. 3—8, it is manifest that all this agrees wonderfully with that which our Lord had foretold should come to pass in Jewry, as a preface to the destruction of Jerusalem, of wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences, so as, notwithstanding, the end not to be yet, Matt. xxiv. 6—15; Mark xiii. 5—10; Luke xxi. 8—20. And yet it expresseth as punctually those calamities of the world, which those of the empire did impute to the sufferance of Christianity, when God indeed intended thereby to punish them that embraced it not. Antiquity is copious in this subject, that when these calamities fell out, the Romans cried out upon the Christians as the only cause of them. The beginning of Arnobius’sTM dispute against the Gentiles will satisfy you of it.

§ 13. When, therefore, the persecution of Christianity was both begun in Jewry—as the Acts of the Apostles inform us

and prosecuted in the empire, it will be against the truth of the case, to restrain the cry of the souls under the Altar, upon the opening of the fifth seal, either to those that suffered by the Jews or by the empire. Now he that peruseth that which is said to have come to pass upon the opening of the sixth seal, Apoc. vi. 12—17, might have cause to think that he reads the destruction of the world, but that it is evident both that the destruction of Jerusalem is prophesied by our Lord by the like expressions—which the prophets also of the Old Testament do use in describing the vengeance which God taketh upon the nations—and also, that this prophecy expresses a large time for Christianity to continue in the world, after this vengeance taken by God upon the enemies of it. And therefore we must believe that those have reason, who refer the effect of it no less to the great change that fell out in the world upon the ceasing of the persecution of Diocletian, and the coming of the empire into the hands of the Christians, than to the destruction of Jerusalem.

§ 14. For when could it be said more justly that the world was in an earthquake, ” that the sun became like hair cloth, and the moon like blood, that the stars fell to the earth, as a fig-tree shaken with a great wind casts her figs, that the heavens passed away as a book folded up, and the mountains and islands were removed out of their places”—if ever such things could justly be said by the prophets to express great alterations to fall out in the world—than when those tyrants, and by consequence all their ministers, for shame that they were not able to root up Christianity, gave up the design with 172 their power, and left the empire to strangers, which, in a few years, fell into the hands of Constantine, and the Christians his ministers? When could it be more justly said that “the kings and great ones of the earth, the rich, the captains, and the nobles, the bond and the free, hid themselves in caves and rocks of the mountains, saying to them, Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of His wrath is come, and who can stand ?” than when the persecutors, some gave up the design, others proclaimed the hand of God upon them, and all their ministers saw Christianity, which —-— they had persecuted, to nourish, and their powers possessed by Christians? Which how strongly it inferreth—especially if you take the premises along—that, the trumpets sounding the vengeance taken upon the Jews, the vials must signify the like upon the empire for the ten persecutions raised upon the same pretence of rooting out Christianity—not by those that profess Christianity, though indeed they corrupt it—I leave to all the world to judge.

§ 15. Especially if we consider that which is often repeated from the beginning of the prophecy, that the matter of it must come to pass shortly, that they are happy that shall read and observe it, and that to that purpose it is sent to the seven Churches of Asia, as concerning them deeply; which, if it concern vengeance to be taken of the blood of those that suffered by the papacy, by consequence of the premises is yet to come, at least the vengeance prophesied, and ten thousand chances to one if ever it do come, while those that rack the prophecy to signify it, are forced to prophesy themselves, without evidencing any commission for it; and the seven Churches in a manner suppressed by infidels, far enough from seeing any thing of the effect of it, or any of those to whom St. John can be supposed to speak when he sends it.

§ 16. And truly, supposing that the sound of the trumpets concerns the Jews, which no reason refuses, no modesty denies; and supposing again, that St. John was not banished into Patmos till Domitian’s days, which is the original and more probable report of Irenaeus”—though some suppose he was sent thither afore”, when Claudius’s edict commanded all Jews to depart from Rome, because Epiphaniusp says that he prophesied under Claudius, and the pro-consul of Asia might, as it was ordinary, command the same for that province which the prince had at Rome; for what probability can there be that St. John should be forbidden Asia, when St. Paul was permitted Achaia, as we find by the Acts ?—I say supposing this, a very good reason is to be given why the calamities of the Jews, then past, are represented to St John by the vision of the trumpets; to wit, for the assurance and encouragement of the Christians, for the terror and conversion of their persecutors, who, knowing that which was come upon the Jews, prophetically described by the sounding of the seven trumpets, might both the better understand that part of it, and better infer the meaning of the seven vials; together with that which goes afore, to prepare the way for the pouring of them forth, and follows, to shew the consequence of it

§ 17. And I must add further, that though I say that the destruction of Jerusalem was past when St. John was banished into Patmos, yet this prophecy of it, and of the seven trumpets, might be revealed to him before, according to Epiphanius, affirming that he prophesied in Claudius’s days. For what hindereth that which concerned the Jews only to be revealed while Jerusalem stood, the visions of the seven seals and seven vials—concerning the Gentiles either in part or only—being reserved to the persecution under Domitian, in which St. John is commanded to write that letter to the seven Churches, which he is commanded to send the whole prophecy with?

§ 22. Now there being such correspondence, not only between the main intent of both prophecies, but also between the particulars of them, in very many things, which no man Daniel’s can reaa Dota with diligence but must observe—though it is mferreti? true tnat manv figures are used in St. John’s Revelations the same, which are found to correspondent purposes in the visions of others of the prophets concerning God’s ancient people—I conceive no man will be able to reprove the consequence, that both the persecutions which pretended to make the Christians renounce Christ, as Antiochus pretended to make the Jews renounce the law, are intended by the fifth seal, and also the coming of Constantine to the empire, whereby the government of the world came into the hands of Christians by the sixth seal; as well as the dominion of the Maccabees succeeding the persecution of Epiphanes, by the reign of the saints foretold by Daniel.

§ 23. From whence I argue, that St. Paul’s prophecy cannot intend any that should profess Christianity with an intent to corrupt itu, because of the terms which he useth; “He that exalteth himself against all that is called God, or to be worshipped, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God;” being the same in which Epiphanes is described, Dan. xi. 36, 37: ” And the king shall do what him list; he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself against all that is God, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath be accomplished : for the determination is made. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desires of women, 174 nor care for any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.”

* “When that appointed time for the date of bis prosperity comes to its period, and the time of the ruin and change of his dominion draws near, then this Roman state shall cashier and forsake the idols and false gods whom their fathers worshipped, and shall acknowledge Christ, a God whom their fathers knew not. At that time the desire of women and married life shall he discountenanced, and shall not be of that account and regard it had been, but contrary to the long-continued custom of the Romans, single life shall be honoured and privileged above it Yea, and soon after the Roman shall bear himself so as if he

regarded not any god, and with antichristian pride shall magnify himself over all.” — Mede’s Paraphrase of Daniel xi. 37. vol. ii. p. 827. Again he writes: ” Thus we see how, fa-ran, how expressly the Spirit foretold that the Roman empire, having rejected the multitude of gods and demons worshipped by their ancestors, and betaken themselves to that one and only God which their fathers knew not, should nevertheless depart from this their faith and revive again the old theology of demons by a new superinduction of Mahuzzims !”—Apostasy of the Latter Times, Appendix, chap. xvii. p. 827. London, 1663.

For who is it that magnifies himself above all that is called or accounted God, and worshipped for God, though by his own predecessors, but he that appoints the Jews whom they shall worship for their own, the true God, in the temple; but he that appoints the Christians to whom they shall sacrifice? Which, as of all other princes that had the Jews in their power, none did but Epiphanes, so all the emperors that raised persecution against the Christians did necessarily do.

§ 24. For as it is manifest that both the Macedonian kings and Roman emperors were themselves worshipped for gods by their Gentile subjects; so can none be said to advance himself above all that is called or worshipped for God, but those that first forbid the worship of the true God, then of false gods, allow or disallow the worship of whomsoever their own fancy directs, which is a thing common to Antiochus Epiphanes with the Roman emperors. For the saying of Tertullian is well enough known; Apolog. cap. v.*, Nisi homini deus placuerit, deus non erit; spoken in regard of the power that state used, to allow or disallow the religions and the gods which they pleased; whereupon he rests and says, that “such gods, if they have not man to friend, must be no gods.” And besides, the emperors by assuming the legal power of Pontifex maximusi, were invested with a civil right

§ 25. Whether then that we suppose that the prophecy of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, and the Revelations made to St. John, do concern Antichrist or not; seeing the Scripture no where saith that either the one or the other intendeth to speak of Antichrist; and for the present omitting the dispute whether that Antichrist whom St. John in his first Epistle, ii. 18, 19, iv. 1 —3, admitteth to be appointed to come, though other Antichrists were come afore ; whether I say that Antichrist be such a one as by persecution should seek to constrain Christians to renounce Christ, or such a one as by professing Christianity should induce Christians to admit the corruption of Christianity, and thereby to forfeit the benefit of it; I say, omitting to dispute this for the present, out of the premises I shall easily infer that there is neither in St. Paul’s prophecy, nor in St. John’s Revelations, any thing to signify that they are intended of any that should bring in the corruption of Christianity, by making profession of it.

§ 26. Whereupon it followeth, that though we suppose the mystery of iniquity which St. Paul foretelleth to be the same that St. John saw—as truly I do suppose—and both to begin with the preaching of Christianity, yet from thence no exception can be made to the interpretation of the Scriptures, and the determination of things questioned in Christianity, from that which may appear to have been received by the whole Church from the beginning. Only I will add, that it is a very barbarous wrong that is done the Church, whether by the Sociniansz, or by whosoever they are”, that allege the

was received or not received by the Church, in whole or in
part, as necessary or not. And therefore, secondly, I say,
that the matter of this position concerneth not the rule of
faith commonly obliging all Christians, but the interpretation
of a true prophecy indeed; but the true understanding 176
whereof, whoso would make necessary to the salvation of all
Christians, should tie all Christians upon their salvation to
understand the Apocalypse, which who does ?

§ 32. To justify this opinion, it hath been shewedh that the Jews have this opinion, that their Christ shall reign one thousand years when he comes, which seeing they cannot be supposed to have received from the Christians, it makes a just presumption that they had it even in St. John’s time. The Jews have a tradition which they attribute to the school of one R. Elias, mentioned in many of their writings, by name in Baal haturim upon Gen. ii., and which is also the conceit not only of Lactantius vii. 141, Tychonius the Donatist

[The Jewish opinion of the Millennium.]

“Nevertheless it is true that the primitive fathers—especially those who believe the Chiliad—conceived the world should last, and the Church therein labour, six thousand years, and that the seventh thousand should be the day of judgment, and Sabbath, in which the saints should reign with Christ their Lord.”

” The ancient Jews also had a tradition to the same purpose, as appears by these testimonies recorded in the Gemara, or gloss of their Talmud, cod. Sanhedrim, cap. Kol. Israel. For there, concerning that of Esay, chap, ii., Exaltabitur Dominus solus die illo, thus speaks the Talmudical gloss: Dixit Rabbi Ketina, sex annorum millibus stat mundus, ct uno millenario vastabitur ; de quo dicitur, ‘ atque exaltabitur Dominus solus die illo.’ Note, by vastabitur they mean the vastation of the world by fire in the day of judgment, whereby it shall become new, or a new heaven and new earth. Sequitur, traditio adstipulatur It. Ketinae, nempe ista, Sicut ex septenis annis Septimus quisque annus remissionis est, ita septem millibus annorum mundi septimus millenarius remissionis erit, ut Dominus solus exaltetur in die illo. Dicitur enim, Ps. xcii. psalmus et canticum de die Sabbati, id est, de eo die, qui totus quies est Note, they understand this psalm of the great day of judgment, and the sabbath mentioned in the title of the great sabbath of a thousand years. Dicitur item, Ps. xc. nam mille anni in oculis tuis velut dies hesternus. Traditio domus Eliae, sex mille annos durat mundus ; bis mille annis inanitas, bis mille annis lex, denique bis mille annis dies Christi. At vero propter peccata nostra et plurima et enormia, abierunt ex his qui abierunt. These last words Petrus Galatinus proves to be added to this tradition by the later Jews. And surely this Elias lived under the second temple, and before the birth of Christ. And though there be no mention here of the seventh thousand years; yet that this It. Elias acknowledged it as well as the rest, appears by a former place of the same Gemara Talmudica, which is this, Traditio domus Eliae, ‘ quos rcsuscitabit Deus,’ &c.—Mede’s Works, bk. v. pp. 1092,1093. London, 1665.

§ 33. But whether or no the Jews of St. John’s time could expect this thousand years for the complement of the Sabbath or work of seven thousand years, which this tradition promised ; whether or no Christians may expect the end of the world at the end of seven thousand years, the Sabbath that? shall succeed being eternity—according to that of St. Peter, and of the Psalm [xc. 4.] that a thousand years are as a day in God’s sight—let them that have nothing else to do enquire; certainly it will not concern the meaning of the Apocalypse, unless it could be said that the thousand years there foretold are to begin after two thousand years of our Lord are finished.


T.A. Lacey 

THORNDIKE died in July, 1672. His work was done. But he left a legacy, both for immediate use and for remote contingencies. Here I come to ground on which I shall lose the invaluable guidance of Arthur West Haddan, and indeed shall have to correct some of his mistakes.

The first part of this legacy, as I call it, consists of the tractate in forty-four brief chapters entitled The Reformation of the Church of England better than that of the Council of Trent, or A Short Resolution of the Controversies between the Churches of England and Rome. This was first published by Haddan from a manuscript copy in the Chapter Library of Westminster. His main point is that “there may be a schism in the Church upon such terms that salvation may be had on both sides.” Such is the historic schism of East and West; such also the schism in the Western Church due to the Reformation. On the side of the Reformed he is quite sure that the Church of England stands best of all, and better than the Tridentine Church of Rome, but is by no means perfect. He then has to prove that the Pope is not Antichrist, nor are Papists idolaters. It is, he says, “the only point of consequence in which exception hath been taken to my writings”–an unjustifiable complacency–“and I count myself so much the more engaged to speak to it before I die, that no man may think I have changed my opinion because I keep silence.” It seems hard that public utterance was denied him for a hundred and eighty years.

Then follows a balanced judgment between the Tridentines and the extreme Reformers on the subject of Justification by Faith and the whole doctrine of Grace. Here the Church of England appears to take the middle and the safer way, which will be the way of unity. On these topics the Faith has been sufficiently, though indirectly, defined by the first six General Councils. Baptism is not much in dispute, except so far as Socinians on the one side and Fanatics on the other make it unmeaning. The Eucharist, on the other hand, is a chief subject of contention, and he briefly sets out his conclusions upon it, with which we have become familiar, as sufficiently irenic. I have already quoted his judgment on the Reservation of the Sacrament for the dying, the publication of which might have led to the adoption of the practice when some years later the frequent celebrations which he made the only requisite condition were for a time achieved. The effective restoration of Penance in the Church of England he once more demands, but sets in balance against the loss of it the worse corruptions tolerated by the Council of Trent. Of Ordination, of the Sacrament of Matrimony, of the State of Continence, and of the Monastic Institution, he recapitulates what he has previously taught. “But the great question is of the marriage of the clergy,” and on this he stiffly holds his ground; continence should be the rule for those of Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, liberty for Curates of parishes. On the Invocation of Saints he is summary: “I doubt not that, when it was grown the fashion to pray at the memories of martyrs, it was hoped that the martyrs would know what was prayed for, and would intercede for it. But I am yet to seek for any testimony under five hundred years after Christ of prayers made to them. For the ejaculations which the fathers make to them in their panegyrics, I take to be no more than letters sent without promise of being delivered; for human wishes, not for offices of God’s service.”

In the last chapter he considers “the temporal right usurped by the Pope, and how much it hath contributed to the corruption of Christianity.” It is a singularly rapid survey of the historic strife of papacy and empire, in which he declines to take a side, since either power encroached on the province of the other. It brings him to the Council of Constance, which missed its opportunity through not insisting first on the internal reform of the Church of Rome. That which was so called “was no more the Church of Rome than any other Church of Christendom; consisting of members that were heads or members of other Churches, that they may be sure to betray the canonical rights of their own country Churches to the greatness of it.” The solution of the papal question, he would urge, is to restore the Church of Rome to its pristine and proper condition, one Church among others, though the chief. “In vain it is to talk of holding a general council,” he says, “till the Canon of the Church be restored, and one person everywhere confessed to be head or member but of one Church.”

He had said it all, or almost all, before; but he had said it in the manner of ponderous scholarship; he now wrote it briefly, and in something like a popular style. Had this tract been published after his death, his counsels of moderation would not indeed have been heard in the tumult of the Popish Plot, but might have hastened a return to sanity in the years that followed. His friends would not have it so; they published instead, as Mr. Herbert Thorndike’s Judgment of the Church of Rome, some trivial and one-sided notes said to have been written by him for an unnamed lady as a dissuasive from popery.

The second part of the legacy is a much greater thing. It is the Latin treatise De Ratione ac Iure Finiendi Controversias Ecclesiae Disputatio. I call this also a legacy, though it was printed in the year 1670, because it is doubtful to what extent it was published before his death. It is a fine volume in folio, nobly printed in strange contrast with the poverty-stricken appearance of the Epilogue. It bears the imprint of Thomas Roycroft, “Orientalium Typographus Regius,” but no bookseller’s name is added. Thorndike bequeathed to Bancroft and another “The remainder of the Edition of my latine books which my servant John Gee shall deliver them at my death,” with instructions to sell the copies and devote the proceeds to certain uses. It appears from some action afterwards taken that they fetched about three hundred pounds. [Haddan, vi. 150.] A large part of the impression was therefore in his own hands within two years of the printing. This fact, taken with the absence of a bookseller’s name from the title-page, suggests that the book was not put on the market. The remainder bequeathed to Bancroft was issued by a bookseller in 1674 with the new title, Origines Ecclesiastici, sive De Iure et Potestate Ecclesiae Christianae Exercitationes.

I do not know how Haddan came to call this great work “part of a revised and rewritten translation of the Epilogue,” and as such, apparently, to banish it from his collection of Thorndike’s writings. It does cover pretty closely the ground of the first book of the Epilogue, and there are passages which may stand for translations, but the materials are better arranged, and the conduct of the argument is greatly improved. A critical reader will soon observe that Thorndike wrote Latin more neatly than English; there are the same inversions and involutions, the same distracting punctuation, but not the same tendency to obscurity; the precision of the language leads a sufficiently close reader through complicated periods to a clear end. I think the same discipline clarifies also the author’s own thought. There is another improvement. He had formerly written with abounding hope in almost desperate circumstances; he now nurses the same hope, still unfulfilled, in a condition of present security; a touch of petulance, which occasionally marred his genuine attempt to find room for tolerance of unreasonable people, has consequently disappeared. He had been irritated by the Independents, and not least by the inconsistency of their behaviour in New England; neatly described as “coetus absoluti,” they are now almost negligible, and are perhaps too lightly dismissed. He has recovered from the disappointments of the Restoration, and is content to work for the future on the basis of the present settlement. There is a conspicuous change in his treatment of Hobbes. The Leviathan is no longer a nightmare to which he fretfully recurs, and not until near the end of the book does he brush it aside as amounting to a fantastic sort of atheism. But indeed he seems to have been influenced by what is weakest in Hobbes, speculating on the origin of human society in the words: “Omnes respublicas ab initio consensu quodam constare penes quern vel quos potestas sit gladii,” and comparing with this the acknowledgment of apostolic potestas by the faithful.

The unity of the Church is shown to have been secured until the Council of Ephesus by the exclusion of heretics; thenceforward there have been obstinate schisms in which parties cannot be satisfactorily distinguished from the Catholic Church. It follows “non omne schisma haeresin esse.” Interpretation of Scripture and judgments de fide must be “intra fines traditionis Catholicae,” but nevertheless it is sometimes necessary to define, for the maintenance of unity, even things not necessary for salvation. The faithful are thus bound “non fide sed caritate.” Even apostolic rules, such as St. Paul’s injunction about the veiling of women, may thus be varied, for it is more important to maintain the unity of the Church than to uphold apostolic institutions. To follow Tradition and to know the content of Tradition are not the same thing. The distinction is illustrated by teaching about Purgatory and by disputes about the superiority of Pope or Council. There is some ingenious pleading to show that Luther’s appeal to a Council judging “secundum solas Scripturas” did not exclude the use of tradition for interpreting the Scriptures. All this leads up to the difficulty of determining the guilt of schism: he seems to have thought that the guilt must in all cases be on one side only, but the incidence of it cannot always be ascertained. He tartly remarks that the use of the word Catholic is no test, this being the very thing in dispute.

Peter is truly “princeps apostolorum,” but there is no Petrine monarchy; the Apostles had “individuum ius.” The Roman primacy is due partly to the dignity of Peter, but also to the imperial dignity of the city, and in either case only canonico iure. The development of the papal potestas, “quomodo ex canonica in infinitam evasit,” is carefully traced, and compared with the aggrandizement of Constantinople; the submission of the Spanish and British Churches to the Roman Pontiff is treated as the culminating point; but even so “non est eius auctoritas reformidanda cuius fines communis Christianismus determinat.”

After much discussion in detail of the authority of Scripture and of the Christian Fathers, he comes to the power of Heads of States in ecclesiastical affairs, carefully distinguished from ius ecclesiae. Their action in regard to the assembling of Councils cannot be disowned; the legislation of Justinian is critically approved; French and English precedents are brought into line. It is all a matter of convenience. Civil and spiritual jurisdiction, each in its own place, are both concerned with spiritual persons and sacred things: “nimirum supponit statum publicum ecclesia cuius hospitio utitur.” Indeed, the Church has no right to judge matters anterior to its own constitution, and of such is the temporal order of the State. The clergy therefore must not be withdrawn by any privilege from the jurisdiction of the State in civil or criminal causes, and in like manner the State has no right to interfere with the jurisdiction of the Church in spiritual causes.

In spite of urging this, Thorndike defends his old proposition that the State may inaugurate reforms in the Church, when the Church has departed from its own true form. If schism ensue, the guilt lies on those who oppose the reforms. The Elizabethan Settlement still weighed upon him, and drove him to something like prevarication. But since the Law of Unity is superior to all else except the Law of Faith, he now argues that reform should never be pressed to a point where a breach of unity will ensue. And no authority of State can ever define the Faith.

In Western Christendom are now discerned various “Summae Potestates.” It is not quite clear whether he regards the Pope as one of these, or as standing over against them in a position of privilege. In any case the possibilities of Christian union lie with him and them. Nothing could more clearly show how far we have now travelled from his standpoint. Henceforward he has little counsel for us in detail, but we can still follow him or criticize him in principle, and few men have seen more clearly what are the fundamental postulates of Christian union. Foremost among these is the recognition of facts, and foremost among facts is the special position of the Roman See. Using this its proper style, Thorndike insists that nothing can be done until the Roman See and the “Summae Potestates” agree in the recognition of certain limits which must not be overstepped. The Roman See must learn to let well alone, not meddling in matters indifferent, where variety is desirable. The other Powers must acknowledge what has been said of the Roman See since the fifth century, “maiores causas ad eam omnes redire.” It is idle to talk of general consent if the principal Church of Christendom is not consulted: “Quae controversiam habent ad totam Ecclesiam pertinentem, sine R. sede legitime definiri non possunt.”

Turning back to the Preface, which contains of course the author’s last word on the subject, we find that he is taking no short views, and expecting no speedy settlement. “Reformandae Ecclesiae tantum opus est quantum uno momento perfectum non esse mirum videri non debet.” But one step can be taken at once. The Roman See can abandon all thought of subjugating the Protestant Powers by force of arms, and the Protestant Powers can abandon the dream–attributed in particular to the late Tyrannus of Britain, who could not believe that he would be allowed to die before achieving it–of “stripping bare the Whore of Babylon.” We may perhaps assume that these two preliminaries have now been settled.

The book is evidently incomplete. Anyone who has read Thorndike’s earlier works in English knows that he had much more to say, and the Preface intimates that it will be said. What preparations had he made?

By his will, executed not many days before his death, he bequeathed to Peter Gunning, then Bishop of Chichester and afterwards of Ely, certain manuscript materials for carrying the work forward “above that which is now printed.” Haddan sought these materials and could not find them, concluding rather hastily that Gunning had destroyed them, and noting in particular that none of them remained among Thorndike’s manuscripts in the Chapter Library at Westminster. I am again at a loss to know how it came to pass that so painstaking and accurate a worker made such a mistake. For indeed some of the very materials bequeathed to Gunning appear to be here preserved, and there are in addition complete transcripts of two volumes continuing the treatise De Ratione finiendi Controversias. [Works, ed. 1846, vol. iii, pp. 213, 319 seqq.] I venture to suggest that the Cambridge University Press might be worse employed than in publishing these. Not otherwise can full justice be done to the memory of so distinguished an alumnus of the University.

The publication of the first part of the treatise, however restricted its circulation may have been, brought on Thorndike, or on his memory, a flood of criticism. I will mention only two of the critics. The first is the brilliant young Master of Trinity, who had been for some years one of his junior colleagues. Among the voluminous writings which Isaac Barrow in the year 1677 bequeathed to Tillotson for publication at his discretion were the notes for a “Discourse concerning the Unity of the Church.” Agreeing closely with Thorndike up to a point, he parted sharply from him on the question “Whether the Church is also necessarily, by the design and appointment of God, to be in way of external policy under one singular government or jurisdiction of any kind.” He set out “the reasons alleged in proof of such an unity … by a late divine of great repute,” and answered them one by one.” All are drawn from the Epilogue or the Ratio Finiendi. Some of the answers are very searching, but the main gist of the argument, apart from the alleged silence of Scripture, is that unity in “this manner of political regiment” would require “an ecclesiastical monarch,” precisely such as the Roman Pontiff is declared to be in his most extravagant assertion of supremacy. Monarchy, “being less subject to abuse than other ways of government,” it would have to be. He adds that such a government “must be engaged in wars, to defend itself and make good its interests.” These assumptions are in accord with the political theory of the time, but Thorndike might have replied that he at least did not subscribe to them, and that he expressly denied to the Church the power of the sword. We can now add that some of them have been falsified by subsequent history. Barrow’s reference to the Swiss Guards of the Vatican as justifying them we should dismiss with a smile. He could not foresee the developments which have so damaged his case, but he was aware that his doctrine might seem to favour “the conceits of the Independents concerning ecclesiastical discipline.” Indeed, the national or regional Church of his scheme was left by him with exactly the same independence on a large scale as was claimed by the “gathered Church” of the Brownists, and his answer to the supposed objection was an assertion of moral obligations which every Brownist would as emphatically uphold. It was precisely because he had encountered the hard logic of the Independents that Thorndike found his conception of an ordered Catholic Church indispensable.

The other notable critic is Richard Baxter, who is constantly appearing in our survey as foil or as opponent, He repeatedly assailed what he called the “French Popery” of Thorndike. It was an apt phrase at the time when the Gallican Liberties were being asserted by the French episcopate and by the Court of Lewis, for indeed the position assigned to the Roman See in the Ratio Finiendi exactly anticipates the Four Articles drafted by Bossuet for the Assembly of the French Clergy in the year 1682, and imposed by royal edict on all professors of theology. But Gallican and Ultramontane were all one to English Protestants, for whom “popery” meant something which had little to do with the specific powers of the Papacy, and much to do with national prejudice, directed immediately against the nearest foreigner. In the last year of his life Baxter convinced himself that there was a conspiracy afoot to bring in “a foreign jurisdiction,” and made Thorndike, now twenty years dead, one of the promoters. [Against the Revolt to a Foreign Jurisdiction (1691), Pref. and ch. vi.] It was a dangerous attack on his memory, for it could not be denied that he was opposed to the characteristic insularity of English religion, and the notion of a conspiracy was not too fantastic for the credulous.

Whatever the cause may have been, it seems clear that Thorndike’s teaching had not the vogue in succeeding generations which it deserved. There are echoes of it in Beveridge’s Convocation Sermon of 1689, which stopped a movement for drastic revision of the Prayer-book, but they are not heard later. [Concio ad Synodum, published “Iussu Episcoporum,” p. 16: “Si quaolim controversia de ritu quovis ecclesiastico a singulari aliqua ecclesia recepto exorta est, in Ecclesias Universalis praxim et constantem ea de re consuetudinem inquirere, et sententiam exinde ferre, semper solemne fuit.”] In Wake’s frigid correspondence with Gallican divines there is little that recalls Thorndike. The Usagers among the Nonjurors, who needed his support for their ritual experiments, were almost alone in making him an authority, and perhaps they did further injury to his reputation. He himself would certainly have warned those triflers not to concern themselves with their anise and cummin at the cost of unity and other weighty matters of the law. We may almost say that he was forgotten.

And yet not altogether. It is recorded that Thomas Sikes, Vicar of Guilsborough in Northamptonshire, reckoned him chief among the divines of the English Church. All that is known of this most retired of men indicates a mind harmonious with Thorndike’s, if not formed by his teaching. He complained that the article of the Creed most neglected by his contemporaries was the declaration of belief in the Holy Catholic Church. This being put in the background, the Proportion of Faith was lost, and he showed remarkable prescience of what would be the result of bringing it once more to the front. “Our confusion nowadays,” he said, “is chiefly owing to the want of asserting this one Article of the Creed; and there will be yet more confusion attending its revival, when it is thrust on minds unprepared, and on an uncatechized Church.” This insistence on the need of catechizing is redolent of Thorndike. Thomas Sikes was of little account in his own day, but through his well-known son-in-law Joshua Watson he exercised an unseen influence on a small group of prominent Churchmen, lay and clerical, who upheld a stiff orthodoxy in a period of general decadence. [Churton, Life of Joshua Watson, i. 52-3; Cornish, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, i. 66-76.] There is not found in them, however, any trace of Thorndike’s passionate desire for a better reformation.

The Tractarians rediscovered him. Thrice he appears in the “Catena Patrum,” which held an important place in the Oxford Tracts. [In Tracts 76, 78, and 81.] In the year 1841 Mr. Brewer of King’s College brought out an edition, slightly annotated, of the Discourse of the Right of the Church in a Christian State, remarking in his preface that many things of great interest at the moment, “which are deemed strange and novel, as if now for the first time agitated by the pious and learned writers of the University of Oxford, will be found to have been thoroughly sifted and discussed in the pages of this author, one of the greatest luminaries of the sister University.” In 1844 began the publication of Thorndike’s collected works in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. The unnamed editor supplied a copious apparatus of quotations from books which the author avowedly or presumably had in mind, ransacking the stores of Puritan controversy which he had rather perversely refrained from indicating, a valuable enrichment which Arthur West Haddan continued, completing the work in 1856. This edition is indispensable for any serious study of Thorndike’s contribution to theology; its only grave fault is the omission of the Ratio Finiendi Controversias, the result of which is that the student watches a great scholar labouring towards a conclusion that is not reached.

In 1855 Mr. J. D. Chambers, the Recorder of New Sarum, gathered into a pamphlet The Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, as expounded by Herbert Thorndike … with notes, forming a digested series of authorities as to the points in question in Archdeacon Denison’s Case. It was a collection of isolated sentences and paragraphs, chosen for an obvious polemical purpose, and therefore necessarily giving a one-sided account of what it purported to contain. It was effective for its immediate object, making it impossible to condemn the archdeacon’s specific teaching as unwarranted innovation, but it did some disservice to Thorndike. He was not at his best in treating the Eucharist, impatiently dismissing opinions which he contested without having thoroughly mastered them, and subordinating the whole subject to that which was his supreme interest. He must stand or fall by his Doctrine of the Church.

Review of the Rt. of Chr. St. (c. v. §32-53) – 1649


The disquisition itself, as here revised by Thorndike, falls into two portions.  The first contains an explanation of the Apocalypse, corresponding to that in the Review – §32-37.  This differs considerably, in the way of additions principally, from the Review ; and is therefore here printed (viz. §74-88, of the text).  The second contains an account of S. Paul’s prophecies and Daniel’s, with a summary of the whole subject ; and (except omissions) is a close and often a nearly verbatim copy of the Review § 38-53.   It is not therefore here printed.  The differences between the MS. and the Review in this second portion, are mainly the omission in the former of § 42-44, and § 50, and of the sentence respecting Simon Magus at the end of § 40, of the latter. — Thorndike’s sentiments on the subject were repeatedly published by him ; see, besides the Review just quoted, Epil. Conclusion § 41, Just Weights and Measures, cc. i. § 2 ii.  § 4, Disc. of Forbearance and Penalties &c., cc. ii., vii. – xii ; above, § 8-11 ; and De Rat. Fin. Controv. &c., c. xiv. pp. 267-268.

§ 74. I know this true meaning of it is so far from the opinions that prevail on all hands, that it will bring much offence on me to publish it. But when I consider, what things we have seen done out of the wrong meaning of it,— English Christians burning churches, defacing the tombs and graves of the dead, destroying the monuments of Christianity, and in fine cutting the throats of English Christians, and thinking all the while, (as Hercules in the tragedies’1, when he shot his dear innocent babes, that he did hit Eurystheus or some of his oppressors, so) that they were all the while ruining the whore of Babel, and cutting antichrist’s throat;—as Tertullian1 said of Nero persecuting the Christians, that it must needs be a great good that Nero should persecute, so I must needs think that near Christianity, that offends a time so far distant from it. And therefore, being

confident that I shall shew in a few lines better reasons to discover the true intent of the main body of the prophecy, than others have done in great volumes for that which was not true, I will only insist upon the main hinges on which the whole of it turns, and shew what meaning the consequence and coherence of the whole frame requires; comparing it with the images and expressions of the ancient prophets (from which, as it is evident, those conceptions were impressed on the apostles), wherein God reveals him His purpose concerning the fortune of the Church: which being once settled, the interpretation of the rest will necessarily be concluded within the same bounds. Protesting, first, that the right understanding of a prophecy, as this is, cannot be necessary to make any man a good Christian, though the wrong may be effectual to make him a bad one: secondly, that I am not so tied to this interpretation, but that if any man can shew me how that whole body, which I shall expound, can be expounded to his sense without violence to Christianity and common sense, which hitherto I do not find to be done, I shall be ready to forsake it.

[The rider § 75. I begin with that, which appeared to St. John upon white ” *ne opening of the first seal: Apoc. vi. 2; ” Behold, a white horse, at horse, and his rider having a bow: and there was given Him


Thorndike’s position as a theologian was unusual and some of his views were challenged from his own side of the debates, in particular by Isaac Barrow in his posthumous tract on The Unity of the Church, and by Henry More in his Antidote to Idolatry. He countenanced the practice of prayers for the dead; and by Cardinal Newman he was regarded as the only writer of any authority in the English church who held the true theory of the Eucharist.

Writings published during his lifetime were:

  • ‘Epitome Lexici Hebraici, Syriaci, Rabinici, et Arabici . . . cum Observationibus circa Linguam Hebream et Grecam,’ &c., London, 1635.
  • ‘Of the Government of Churches,’ Cambridge, 1641.
  • ‘Of Religious Assemblies and the Publick Service of God,’ London, 1642 (printed by the university printer, Daniel, at Cambridge).
  • ‘A Discourse of the Right of the Church in a Christian State,’ London, 1649, and by a different printer, London, 1670; also re-edited, with preface, by J. S. Brewer. London, 1841.
  • ‘A Letter concerning the Present State of Religion amongst us,’ (without name or date), in 1656; with author’s name, along with ‘Just Weights and Measures,’ London, 1662 and 1680.
  • ‘Variances in Syriaca Versione Veteris Testamenti Lectiones,’ London, 1657.
  • ‘An Epilogue to the Tragedy of the Church of England,’ London, 1659.
  • ‘The Due Way of composing the Differences on Foot,’ London, 1660 (reprinted with ‘Just Weights,’ &c., 1662 and 1680).
  • ‘Just Weights and Measures,’ &c., London, 1662.
  • ‘A Discourse of the Forbearance or the Penalties which a Due Reformation requires,’ London, 1670.
  • ‘De Ratione ac Jure finiendi Controversias Ecclesiae Disputatio,’ London, 1670.

Thorndike’s collected works were published in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, in six volumes (1844–56), of which the last four were edited by Arthur West Haddan, the first two by another hand. These volumes included, besides the works published in Thorndike’s lifetime, the following pieces left by him in manuscript*

  • ‘The True Principle of Comprehension.’
  • ‘The Plea of Weakness and Tender Consciences discussed.’
  • ‘The Reformation of the Church of England better than that of the Council of Trent.’
  • ‘Mr. Herbert Thorndike’s Judgment of the Church of Rome.’
  • ‘The Church’s Right to Tithes, as found in Scripture.’
  • ‘The Church’s Power of Excommunication, as found in Scripture.’
  • ‘The Church’s Legislative Power, as found in Scripture.’
  • ‘The Right of the Christian State in Church-matters, according to the Scriptures.’