This is an open question to readers here who have a broader knowledge of Quaker history than I do.  I am wondering if the early Quakers had any relationships with the Cambridge Platonists.  I have only recently become aware of them.  Some of their doctrines seem similar to some Quaker perspectives (though admittedly I have at this time read very little).  I have not come across any mention of interaction between Quakers and Cambridge Platonists.  But the timing is right; the Cambridge Platonists were active in the mid-1600's.  And some of the early Quakers, like Barclay, were intellectually very curious.  And I am aware that continental Quietism was at play among Quakers from an early date.  But, again, I haven't run across any histories who mention any crosscurrents between the two.  I am thinking of influences going both ways.  

If any readers know of resources regarding this please post in the comments below.



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Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 7, 2017 at 3:21pm

Prowling around Wikipedia I found out that Peter Sterry, a follower of Benjamin Whichcote (an significant Cambridge Platonist) had 'sympathies' for the early Quakers.  Sterry considered himself a mystic and was also influenced by Jacob Boheme.  I found my first thread!

Comment by Keith Saylor on 6th mo. 8, 2017 at 1:04pm
Hello Jim. I believe In Rufus Jones "The Reformers in the 16th and 17th Century" has a chapter dedicated to Benjamin Whichcote and has much to say on Boheme.
Comment by Keith Saylor on 6th mo. 8, 2017 at 2:54pm
Yes, now that I'm in a place with better signal I'm looking at Jones' book. Chapter fifteen is about Wichcote. Jones also discusses Sterry; even quoting Fox in dispute with Sterry. I had this Jones quote from Whichcote underlined.

"Christ does not save us by onely doing for us without is [i.e. Historically] yea, we come at that which Christ has done for us with God by what he has done for us within us ... with God there cannot be reconciliation without our becoming God-like ..."

I have read the first two volumes of the writings of Whichcote. There is so much I cherish in his writings. He and I have a slightly different spiritual accent ... for while he acknowledges the sufficiency of the direct rule of Christ he also expresses a concern that focus on that sufficiency without at least checking it against outward instrumentalities can lead to the destruction of human society. I appreciate his concern, and once shared it.
Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 8, 2017 at 6:47pm

Friend Keith:

Thanks for those references.  I'll have to look up the Jones book; I'm not familiar with it.

Here is another fascinating connection: One of the Cambridge Platonists was Anne Conway.  She was greatly admired by More and all the others.  She corresponded with Leibniz who acknowledged her influence.  What I just found out from a youtube presentation on Conway is that she converted to Quakerism and was deeply influenced by Quaker thought.  I wonder if Quaker thought was influenced by her?  It seems likely to me but I don't know what Meeting she was affiliated with or who in the early Quaker community she had contact with.  

I also found out that one of the Cambridge Platonists, I think it was Sterry, took up an eclesiastical position in Ireland where he used his influence to free a large number of imprisoned Quakers at that time.

I'm really fascinated by these connections.  I haven't seen any modern Quaker historian address them or even touch on them.  It was only by chance that I came across the group ( because I am doing research on how Platonism has influenced western thought after Ficino wrote his commentaries).

In any case, thanks for taking the time to bring the Whichcote reference to my attention.

Best wishes,


Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 9, 2017 at 4:27pm

H Keith:

As I reread your post you mentioned in passing a dispute between Fox and Sterry.  Does Jones discuss the nature of that dispute?  Was it theological, or more practical?  And does Fox reference Sterry in his Journal or is it elsewhere.

You are one of the few people I have encountered who likes to read from these older sources in their original language.  I find that approach enriching and prefer it to 'modernizations', almost all of which, I have discovered, change the meaning of the original to more align with the editor and / or modern sensibilities.  When I was researching the history of 'A Guide to True Peace' I found that this happened in two waves; one in the 19th century, and once in the late 20th.  I have seen this happen so often that when I see that someone has published a 'modernized' version of some older work (e.g. a Quaker) work I am now automatically suspicious that the editor has done more, often much more, than simply update vocabulary.  

Best wishes.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 9, 2017 at 4:34pm

That should be 'Hi Keith', not 'H Keith'.

Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 10, 2017 at 1:41pm

Hi Jim,

Thanks for this reminder:

"'modernizations', almost all of which, I have discovered, change the meaning of the original to more align with the editor and / or modern sensibilities."

This why it is important for us all to remember to go to the Inner Teacher, and not rely on translations of ancient writings as "God's Word".  His word is already written in our hearts if we only choose to turn to it instead of the words of others who are telling us what God wants of us.

The older the original writing and the more successive translations that have been attempted, the less accurate is the original sense of the speaker or writer.  This is also true of so-called 'holy books' like those in the Bible which were originally written in such foreign/creptic languages to modern English translations.  Readers of such 'holy' books need to beware and depend on the inspiration within their own hearts.  This is especially true with the words of Jesus where his emphasis is to 'live in the Light' in all we do.  Once we 'get that' in our hearts, the inner Light, the inner Teacher will give us all Truth.  And to go back to parsing and depending on the multi-layered translated and edited words of Jesus and his followers instead of the Inner Light - is, well, folly at best.

The above reality is why I do think the liberal Quaker tradition really understands well how best to live the life Jesus advocated for humankind.  In no way would such a mystically spiritual being as Jesus ever advocate that we turn to the words of men/women to direct our lives - especially since the modern rendition of those words are far from their original meaning, context, and intent.

Nothing wrong with reading those words.  But the reader must beware.  To blindly ignore this reality and to treat the Bible as we now have it as 'the word of God' is truly to make it (and all the flawed writers, translators, and editors of it) our God instead of the God of the Universe who wants us to live with HIM in our hearts - not flawed human artifacts.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 11, 2017 at 11:24am

Good Morning Howard:

I have come to the conclusion that modern people, post-modern people, have lost the ability to read religious texts in a meaningful way.  This became clear to me from my study of the Quietists, particularly Madame Guyon's commentaries on scripture.  We moderns are trapped in certain academic habits: we want to know how well attested a passage is, whether it is based on a Greek or Latin source, how many variants there are, etc.  It is like going to a symphony and endlessly talking about the history of the instruments, the derivation of the symphonic form, etc., and never really listening to the music.  Guyon never gets trapped in these kinds of discussions.  Her approach is that scripture is, from start to finish, an allegory for the awakening to interior understanding.  She reads scripture like the way we read a poem, or listen to music.  Interestingly, that is the way Jews and Christians interpreted scripture for over a thousand years, but we have lost touch with this capacity; we are actually suspicious of it.

Thanks for your comments,


Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 11, 2017 at 5:07pm

Thanks so much Jim.  I always love your insights!  I especially like this:

Guyon's . . . approach is that scripture is, from start to finish, an allegory for the awakening to interior understanding.  She reads scripture like the way we read a poem, or listen to music.

The above being the case, it is well to remember that like poems and songs different religious writings appeal to different people to different degrees, depending on their condition and their background.  We would never insist to another that one poem or song must be loved by everyone - or else.  I do think we might do better to not treat the Bible as one volume of cohesive theology with a 'take it or leave it' mentality.  I, for one, am inspired by the words of Jesus once stripped of the commentary surrounding his words.  Of course, I am still aware that even those stripped-down recorded words are likely far from the original context and Jesus' exact intent.  Still, a message of being in a state of Light in order to be able to live a full life of divine love oozes through those "Jesus" words.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 6th mo. 11, 2017 at 5:58pm
H Jim (just kidding)

I apologize for the delayed response. I needed to spend some time locating the reference in Jones' Book I mentioned. It turns out it was not Sterry I was thinking about, it was Harry Vane, who Jones suggests, was a close friend and companion of Sterry. It seems Vane asked about George Fox who shared his testimony with Vane. At which Vane replies that what Fox had said did not reach his experience. Fox then goes on to tell Vane how dark his mind had become from whence it once was and so forth. This discussion Jones footnotes as from the Journal of George Fox (Cambridge Edition) pages 313, 314. It is also interesting that Vane, who appreantly at 23, became the Governor of Massachusetts Bay colony had sided with Quaker Anne Hutchinson over a controversy in the colony concerning the 'Convenant of Grace" verses the "Convenant of Works." Hutchinson was urging for the former. This content is in Chapter 14 of Jones' book. Here is a direct link to the book which can be read online and downloaded.

i agree with your thoughts on reading from the original. The taste and savouriness of the text in the original is lost in the modern rendering.



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