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Newton and the Origin of Civilization$
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Jed Z. Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691154787

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691154787.001.0001

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Isaac Newton on Prophecies and Idolatry

Isaac Newton on Prophecies and Idolatry

(p.126) 4 Isaac Newton on Prophecies and Idolatry
Newton and the Origin of Civilization

Jed Z. Buchwald

Mordechai Feingold

Princeton University Press

On February 9, 1674/5, Isaac Newton left Cambridge for London, remaining there some five weeks. His main purpose was procuring a Royal dispensation from the statutory requirement of Trinity College that senior fellows take holy orders within seven years of election or forfeit the fellowship. As Newton had been elected senior fellow on March 16, 1668, the matter of ordination had become rather urgent. Newton’s eagerness to obtain a dispensation from ordination is significant, for it has prompted scholars to impute religious motivation to the action. It has been argued that by 1673, at the latest, Newton had become a heretic and that his concentrated effort to evade ordination was spurred by his newly found anti-Trinitarianism. However, this chapter shows that Newton’s initial forays into heresy commenced only in the late 1670s, gaining intensity in subsequent decades. His course of action with respect to the ordination was motivated, not by religious objection per se, but by a strong sense of propriety shared widely by contemporaries who found themselves deep into secular pursuits and painfully aware of the resulting incompatibility with a calling to the ministry.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, ordination, Royal dispensation, Trinity College, holy orders, heretic, anti-Trinitarianism, heresy

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