Some further reflections on Brucker’s classification of Henry More as a ‘Platonico-Cabbalist’

I noted in an earlier post that the historian of philosophy Johann Jacob Brucker, writing in the 1730s and 1740s, distinguishes More’s ‘Platonico-Cabbalism’ from Cudworth, Gale, and Burnet’s ‘Alexandrian’ form of Platonism in his characterisation of their position. This must certainly reflect the fact that More had gained an early reputation in continental Europe for his engagement with the Cabbala. It is noteworthy that one of the first publications of note addressing More’s work on the continent, the Herborn Lutheran professor Samuel Andreae’s Examen Generale Cabbalae Philosophicae D. Henrici More (Herborn, 1670) is a critique of More’s Conjectura Cabbalistica (London, 1653), with which he was familiar in the English. More responded to Andreae’s critique in the scholia to his Opera Omnia (London, 1679), which in turn attracted a response from Andreae (then at Marburg) in his Epistola apologetica, ad virum eruditissimum & celeberrimum Henricum Morum (Marburg, 1684). Johannes Franciscus Buddeus, in a 23 page section of his Introductio ad historiam philosophiae Ebraeorum (Halle, 1702) discusses More’s Conjectura Cabbalistica before passing to a consideration of his later Cabbalistic writings. Buddeus notes that these later Cabbalistic texts (those which would be published within Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala denudata (Sulzbach and Frankfurt, 1676) and More’s Opera Omnia) were written between 1672 and 1678, after a period of almost twenty years during which More did not touch on Cabbalistic themes, with the two periods being punctuated by the Andreae-More exchange. Buddeus notes that More was a pioneer in attempting a modern harmonisation of the Cabbala with Christian philosophy, as does Paul Berger (another critic) in his Cabbalismus Judaico-Christianus detectus (Wittemberg, 1707), who classes him together with Johann Stephan Rittangel – according to Berger, a convert from Judaism, although this has been contested – and Knorr von Rosenroth as the first to attempt such a modern harmonisation. Somewhat later Brucker also acknowledges the pioneering nature of More’s engagement with the Cabbala and refers to the Andreae-More exchange. Evidently More’s association with Cabbala became quite entrenched. For instance, the entry CABALE, (Philos.) in the first edition of Diderot’s Encyclopedie (1751) contains the following: ‘Henri Morus & Van-Helmont (Knorrius, Cabala denud. tom.I.) sont les deux savans qui ont les premiers débrouillé le cahos de la philosophie cabalistique’ (p.480). Such characterisations extend into the nineteenth century. The extent to which More’s early reputation in continental Europe was bound up with his engagement with Cabbalism has still to be established, but it certainly seems to have been an important strand and to some extent to have eclipsed his reputation as an anti-Cartesian. 

(with thanks also to Mark Burden for drawing my attention to the Andreae-More exchange)

Cudworth and liberal Christianity in the Bengal Renaissance

The Tattvabodhini Patrika “The Truth-enlightening Journal” was one of the most influential organs of the Bengal Renaissance. It was the expression of the ideas of a group around Debendranath Tagore called the Tattvaranjini Sabha or the Society of Those Who Delight in Truth. The context was one of intense proselytizing in colonial Calcutta and the society or Sabha was pursuing the soi-disant Father of modern India Rammohan Roy and vision of a renewed Vedantic theism and the Brahmo Samaj was disrupted by the death of Rammohan Roy in Bristol in 1833. Faced with the prospect of answering the challenge of evangelicals like Alexander Duff, whose combination of educational institutional activity and Christian zeal, rather paradoxically ignited a vigorous response from the Hindu reformers, Tattvabodhini Patrika published Debendranath’s own interpretations of the Upanishads alongside extracts from Rammohun’s translations of the Upanishads. In the face of the  Christian missionary critiques of Hinduism as pantheistic, monistic, and idolatrous religion, in 1864 we find the following instructive passage in which Cudworth is cited as pioneer of comparative religion:

“Our reverend friends maintain that it was Christ who first revealed correct notions of religion to mankind, and that they did not possess them before his appearance. Now this is a statement contradicted by all history.

I would recommend Gentleman to your attentive perusal the “Intellectual System of the Universe” by old Dr Cudworth, whose liberal Christianity the revered gentlemen in question would do well to imitate. This book contains innumerable proofs of the existence of correct notions of the godhead prevailing among the ancient Greeks and Romans.”

The author wishes to infer that Indian monotheism too contains correct ‘notions of the godhead’, and reading Cudworth can furnish a path to such an insight. Why do we find a reference to the Cambridge Platonists, old Dr Cudworth and his ‘liberal Christianity’? These figures of the Bengal elite do not want to fall into the arms of the Enlightenment agnosticism of Hume and Gibbon, the spiritual mentors of the East India Company. Cudworth represents that Alexandrian strand of Christianity that happily drew upon pagan Hellenic thought, and what might be called a more fluid or mystical monotheism as opposed to the exclusive monarchical theism of High Protestant or Catholic orthodoxy. I am using the language of John Kenney. Exclusive theism concentrates upon numerical singularity and the more inclusive theism of Hellenic Monotheism, where the stress is laid upon the ultimacy and unity of the supreme principle. Much of Cudworth’s True Intellectual System of the Universe, in particular the enormous fourth book, is devoted to showing that monotheism in this more fluid sense was the foundational religion of the Egyptians and the rest of the ancient world, and this primordial monotheism lapsed into polytheism and pantheism.  It is no accident that one of Cudworth’s liberal Christian successors B.F. Westcott (1825-1901) should have been a driving force behind the foundation of St Stephen’s College in Delhi. Westcott was a great admirer of Plotinus and Origen, and he viewed the Cambridge Platonists as the real successors of the Alexandrians in the modern world.  
My thanks to Ankur Barua for referring me to the Tattvabodhini Patrika passage.

Douglas Hedley