Untitled photo


This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. 

Isaac Newton (1713)

Newton’s belief in an all-powerful Creator as author of a mathematically ordered universe positioned him diametrically at odds with organised religion and, in particular, Catholicism which he regarded as idolatrous. In 1687, the year when Newton published his Principia, the hitherto reclusive Trinity Fellow achieved prominence not simply for his groundbreaking philosophy, but also as an opponent of James II’s attempt to install a Catholic majority in the Senate of Cambridge University. As MP for Cambridge following the Glorious Revolution, Newton helped forge a consensus across the University that combined a permissive approach to Christian belief (and Anglicanism) with support for Whig liberty and constitutional monarchy. Cambridge followers of Newton such as Samuel Clarke and William Whiston produced innumerable pamphlets promoting Newtonian natural philosophy as well as related attitudes to politics and God. Rejecting Popery, the Trinity, biblical miracles, and much else, enlightened Low Church freethinking tolerated ever-varying notions of faith. In Hughes’s pamphlets we see these ranging from ‘rational’ religion consistent with Newtonian cosmic order to Deism offering conceptions of God founded in ‘reason’ but independent of Church or Bible.

Although the fury of coffee house debates that propelled Cambridge Enlightenment is now forgotten, Hughes’s own engagement with a key element of that culture, pamphlets, is vividly evident in his carefully labelled and sometimes annotated volumes. We see this in Hughes’s Book of Common Prayer, annotated by him with Samuel Clarke’s corrections to key doctrinal tenets. That Hughes was quite probably, like many in Cambridge, a moderate in these politically charged debates is evident in his labelling of pamphlets advocating Deism as ‘against revelation’, while restatements of orthodoxy are termed ‘in Defence of the Christian religion’.

Untitled photo

Go to Gallery

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In