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Richard Montagu/e/Mountague, 1577-1641


Bishop. Scholar and Theologian; attempted to defend Church of England from `both sides'; in middle of Puritan controversy.

Eton; entered Cambridge, 1594; wrote the 2nd book from the Eton press, 1610; dean of Hereford, 1616; archdeacon of Hereford, 1617; chaplain to the king; directed by James I to publish defenses of the Anglican faith in regard to the origins of Christian doctrine; attempted `to stand in the gapp against puritanisme and popery, the Scilla and Charybdis of Ancient Piety.' Took the position that `Tithes (taxes) are due by divine right', 1621; under the custody (arrest) of the serjeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, 1625; Charles I made him one of his chaplains, 1625; continued theological controversy with Montagu as one of the principals, Charles I commanded silence, 1628; Bishop of Chichester, 1628; negotiations with the papacy, 1635; apparently believed reunion would be quite easy; Bishop of Norwich, 1638.

Clearly a powerful writer, he was in the midst of numerous religious controversies at the highest levels, many attacks were directed at him personally, with both the king and the House of Commons involved. Was charged by an opponent with having the `character of an Arminian or mere Montaguist'.


The issue here seems to have been the politics and money of religion. In the parlance of today, Richard's role seems to have been that of "spin-doctor" for king James's and king Charles' position, which to a first approximation seems to have been not to rock the boat and not to further reduce the power of the Church of England. James was the Catholic from Scotland that inherited the throne when Elizabeth (who was Protestant) died. Henry VIII (Elizabeth's father) had broken with Rome and declared himself head of the Church in England. This position was under fire both from Catholics and from Protestant sects that wanted much more radical reform. Charles I was James' son.

The issue of tithes was presumably a `taxation without representation' issue. A tithe was historicaly 10 percent of your income that you paid the church. Was a radical protestant or catholic required to pay a tithe to the local Church of England parish? This was all the more important because the government did not have an income tax... the plot was complicated by considerations such as the educational system effectively being run by the church.

Historian Christopher Hibbert explains Richard's position this way in his very readable The Story of England (using the `e', which Richard and contemporaries seem to have used):

"... There was also the strong feeling that King Charles was the defender of the true Church, as he himself contended, anxious as he was to steer a steady and true course between the rocks of popery on the one hand and Puritanism on the other. He had read with admiration Richard Montague's Appelo Caesarem which identified popery with tyranny, and Puritanism with anarchy, and which concluded `popery is originall of Superstition; puritanisme, the high-way unto prophaneness; both alike [are] enemies unto piety.' This stated the King's own views precisely. He had abhorred the priests of his Roman Catholic wife; he regarded with even more distaste the opinions of the Puritan landowners and merchants in the House of Commons and the Puritan preachers whose disrupting and often rabidly Protestant sermons could be heard all over London. It was his belief, no less than it had been his father's, that an attack on the bishops was an attack on the King." (Hibbert)


This controversy regarding the Historie of Tithes appears to have been more important in the intellectual development of modern Western concepts of history, truth, and academic rigor then might at first appear. Daniel Woolf puts it this way:

"If any two opinions were equally plausible, how could one know the truth? In the controversy which most disrupted the stability of early Stuart historical writing, ..., the clergyman Richard Montagu would fling this charge at the philologist John Selden in 1618 over the latter's Historie of Tithes." (D.R. Woolf)

This was no idle academic dispute, but a matter of gravest concern to the peace of the state. How were two rational individuals with different views to determine the truth of the matter? Woolf again:

"There was only one truth in religion, absolute and immutable, and the enemies of that truth were the enemies of religious unity. As Bishop Jewel put it, `the bond of unity is simple verity'." (D.R. Woolf)

John Seldon had an answer, but it was not an answer that led to the desired conclusion. Although Seldon had been trained as a lawyer, he had an "accidental" career as a historian of law, was an accomplished linguist, and became a famous "international scholar". Seldon seems to have been the first to examine the history of an idea based on a obtaining a massive collection of original historical source documents and performing a detailed, essentially "legal", examination of the originals and the alterations and interpretations that occured as the texts and related commentaries evolved over time. He collected, organized, and presented centuries of data and let the facts make his case.

The claim that it was, and always had been, a fundamental religious requirement that tithes had to be paid to the local parish could be put to a simple test: had this always been considered a requirement and practice of the church? Seldon's data, based in part on his good friend Cotton's collection of historical source documents, unequivocally said no. Among other things, he showed that the concept of the parish itself came into being only around 700 AD.

Richard was put in charge of making "the king's case". Reading between the lines of the following, one wonders if he would have made the effort if not for the political situation:

"Montagu has already commended Seldon's abilities in a letter to Cotton - a strict neutral - who had furnished him with evidence for his counter-attack. `You know I am sure, that his Majestie hath sett me upon business against him, whom you love, and I too protest unfeignedly, for his excellent good parts, saving the Churches quarrel, into which I would he had never entred'." (empasis added, ed.) (D.R. Woolf)

Woolf footnotes:

"There is no reason to suspect the sincerity of Montagu's admiration for Selden, whom he would later ask to serve as `arbitrator' between him and his parlimentary critics in 1626 ..." (D.R. Woolf)

The highlights of "the attack" (from Wolfe):

"A much more formidable opponent reopened the attack in 1621. Richard Montagu, the future Arminian bishop, was a scholar in his own right, and a protege of Sir Henry Savile. By 1621, Montagu had been the king's chaplain for four years. His Diatribe upon the First Part of the Late History of Tithes, ... is interesting because it attacks not simply Selden's historiography, but his very definition of the boundaries of history. ...

Montagu responded directly to Selden's principal rhetorical strategy, his claim that he was only a historican, with an articulate reassertion of the traditional view of history's form and limits. ... : `A meere narration is a plaine relation, nothing else. History disputeth not pro or con, concludeth what should be, or not be: censureth not what was well done, or done amisse: but proposeth accidents and occurrences as they fall out: examples and precedents unto posterity.' (emphasis added, ed.) Montagu's criticism .... would at first seem ... to amount to a virtual reduction of history ... to chronicle... But what he really intended by this was to argue that history is amoral, but that its lessons should be so obvious from the narrative itself that the historian need not intrude... All Seldon had done was make himself a party, `which no historian doth or at least should do.' (emphasis added, ed.) The reader must be alone to judge the ... past for himself, following his own moral sense rather than the arguments of a prejudiced author.

... Instead of recounting the past in its accepted form ... Selden had made of history a battle of `text against text: translation against translation.' (emphasis added, ed.) It is clear from these remarks that Montagu had failed to grasp the essence of Selden's methodology: the strict attention to synchronism which allowed the philologist to distinguish the best version of a source from among a number of extant copies. To Montagu this was mere pedantry which could do no more than confuse and mislead the innocent reader.

Montagu was particularly adamant on the dangers of digging up the remnants of antiquity which did not accord with the values and practices of the present: `Whatsoever you have heaped and raked together out of chartularies, leigier books, moath-eaten evidences, records, remembrances, etc., wherein your greatest adventure is, and most glorious achievement doth consist, is only to bring in, set up, or ratifie and confirme a custome to undoe the clergie by, and to breake the necke, were it possible, of their jus divinum, by bearing up with, and giving life unto the jus humanum positivum.' (emphasis added, ed.) This clash between canon and customary law therefore entailed a confrontation between two different outlooks on the nature and purpose of historical inquiry. Montagu objected to Selden's book precisely because he perceived that it turned history, the great schoolroom of morality, toward the advocacy of a position that was immoral. ...

Selden never replied to Montagu's assault...

... By (1650, thirty years later, ed.) Selden's interpretation had achieved general acceptance ... for historically it was irrefutable, except on minor matters of detail. As for Montagu's counterattack, even the clergy eventually proved reluctant to place much stock in it. Selden's friend Bishop Brian Duppa would later note in his copy of the Diatribae, `Was ever so much learning, wit, and folly blended together as in this book!'" (D.R. Woolf)

Incidently, Woolfe notes that Seldon was often not very careful with his citations.


While at King's College, Cambridge, Richard was involved in an important intellectual controvery that formed part of the historical foundation of modern science. Howell describes some aspects of the argument:

"Montagu became one of the antagonists of John Selden in a controversy during the early years of the seventeenth century on the question of whether tithes are due by divine or by ecclesiastical law. Selden, an eminent legal scholar... argued against the justifying of tithes under divine law... Montagu, a staunch defender of the Church of England against puritanism on one side and Catholicism on the other, replied to Selden by asserting that tithes are an obligation under divine law. During his reply, Montagu took occasion to censure Ramus...

Selden... (condemned, ed.) Paulus Diaconus for his ignorant abridging of Sextus Pompeius Festus. Montagu retorted that few would defend Paulus for that act any more than one would defend Festus in turn for his abridging of the great lost encyclopedia of Verrius Flaccus. Yet Paulus had made his abridgment not to supersede Festus, nor to take credit for another man's work, but for his private use and for the use of his students. "He was, if not the last, yet one of the last," says Montagu, "that undertook in this gelding kind." Festus would have perished utterly, Montagu observes a bit later, if Paulus had not made an epitome of him. As for the modern habit of epitomizing masterpieces, however:

The Abridgements that haue beene made long since, and of late, are held to be one of the chiefe plagues of Learning, and learned men. It maketh men idle, and yet opiniatiue, and well conceited of themselues. He that can carry an Epitome in his pocket, ... imagineth mightily, that he knoweth much, and yet indeed is but an ignaro. In a day he is taught, but to little purpose, as much as others can learne in a whole yeere. Lately the World went a madding this way, for Systemaes, Syntagms, Synopseis, and I know not what, both for the Handmaids and Mistresses of Arts. ..." (Montagu, in Wilbur Howell)

This quote from Richard is from his Diatribe upon the first part of the late History of Tithes, published in London in 1621. Howell again:

"Montagu's strictures against abridgments of knowledge and dichotomous divisions are reminiscent of Francis Bacon's remark... Bacon also belonged to the party that sought a more forward-looking reform of scholasticism than that advanced by the Ramists...

The Montagu-Seldon controversy... provided effective publicity for Ramism in England from 1580 to 1621." (Howell)

Sometime I'll have to add someting about Ramus. He is fascinating. He probably has the best claim to have more-or-less invented the concept of `watered-down' undergraduate education, that is, the 'intro course'. He also popularized the concept of organizing information into an easily understood taxonomy, hierarchical tree, or graph, that is, the outline. He was one of the last "latin-only" scholars, which is one reason why you may have never heard of him... The case can perhaps be made that he is the 500 year-old instigator of the world-wide web!


Sources:
[DNB].
Logic and Rhetoric in England, Howell.

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