Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thorndike, Herbert
THORNDIKE, HERBERT (1598–1672), Anglican divine, was the third son of Francis Thorndike, a Lincolnshire gentleman of good family, and Alice, his wife, daughter of Edward Colman, of a family resident at Burnt Ely Hale, and at Waldingfield in Suffolk. On 18 Dec. 1613 he entered as a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was elected a scholar at the following Easter. In January 1617 he proceeded B.A., in 1618 was elected a minor fellow, and in 1620 (on his admission to the degree of M.A.) a major fellow of the college. For upwards of a quarter of a century from the time of his first entry his career was that of an indefatigable student, although he was also active as a college tutor, deputy public orator, and university preacher, and occasionally resided on his college living. The bent of his studies was towards theology and oriental languages, and especially rabbinical literature. As a churchman, his position at this period was that of a moderate Anglican. On 13 April 1636 he was installed by Bishop Williams prebendary of Layton Ecclesia in the cathedral of Lincoln, just vacated by the death of his personal friend, George Herbert. In 1640 he resigned his stall on his preferment to the crown living of Claybrook, near Lutterworth; the parsonage house which he afterwards erected there was noted as one of the finest in the county. In October 1640 he was appointed Hebrew lecturer to his college, and in June 1642 was transferred from Claybrook to the living of Barley in Hertfordshire (also pro hac vice in the gift of the crown); while at Trinity he received, about the same time, the additional appointment of senior bursar. In 1641 he published at the University Press his first tractate, 'Of the Government of Churches: a Discourse pointing at the Primitive Form,' and in the following year that entitled 'Of Religious Assemblies, and the Publick Service of God.' In September 1643, the mastership of Sidney-Sussex College having fallen vacant, his friend Seth Ward [q. v.] (a fellow of that society), in conjunction with a majority of the other fellows, sought to carry Thorndike's election. Their design was defeated by Cromwell, who caused one of Thorndike's supporters to be arrested and conveyed away, thereby procuring the election of Richard Minshull. In 1644 the disfavour into which Trinity College had fallen with the parliamentary party compelled Thorndike to retire from his living of Barley, which was sequestered to Henry Prime, a parishioner; in 1647 one Peter Smith was appointed minister, on whose death (August 1657) Nathanael Ball [q. v.] succeeded. At nearly the same time a large number of the fellows of Trinity being ejected from the foundation, Thorndike deemed it prudent to withdraw from Cambridge, although his own name appears not to have been removed from the boards until 18 May 1646. He was now and down to 1652 reduced to great shifts, but was assisted by occasional bounties from his college and by the liberality of Lord Scudamore, whose religious views had a close affinity to his own (Kennet, Chronicle, p. 861; see Scudamore, John, first Viscount). According to Calamy (Life of Baxter, 2nd ed. ii. 362), he was also 'punctually paid ' the prescribed 'fifth' by his successors at Barley; while his elder brother Francis, who had succeeded to the paternal estate in 1644, probably gave him substantial aid. That he resided either in London or Cambridge is to be inferred from the fact that his 'Right of the Church in a Christian State' (1649) was printed at the capital, and a new edition of his two tractates, 'The Primitive Government of Churches' and 'The Service of God,' enlarged with a Review,' at the University Press. The appearance of the latter was due to the prescribed use of the 'Directory.'
Thorndike took an active part in the editing of Walton's 'Polyglott,' the Syriac portion of which was his special contribution. During the progress of the work he carried on a considerable correspondence with Ussher, Walton, and Pocock, of which, however, only a portion is still extant. The completion of these labours in 1657 afforded him leisure for other designs. He collected materials for a new edition of 'Origen,' a project which he never carried to accomplishment, his chief efforts during the remainder of his life being devoted to the composition of his principal work, the 'Epilogue,' and the advocacy of the theory which it embodied (essentially the same as that of the old catholics of the present day) that the Reformation, as a durable settlement, was practicable only on the basis of a return to the discipline and teaching of the primitive catholic church. In order to secure for the book a wider circulation, he wrote it in Latin, although he did not include either the church of Rome or the protestant churches abroad in his plan of reunion, his aim being chiefly to define the ground on which, as he held, the church of England could alone make good her position against ultramontanism abroad and separatism at home. To the visible catholic church as thus defined and restored he professed an allegiance to which his duty to the church of England itself was subordinate. As an endeavour to promote the cause of unity, however, the 'Epilogue' must be pronounced a failure, and even churchmen like Clarendon and Barrow criticised certain portions of it with severity.
With the Restoration, Thorndike was reinstated in his fellowship at Trinity and in his living of Barley. An entry in his hand on 20 Oct. 1661 records 'collected at Barley for ye Protestant churches in Lithuania fifteen shillings;' but on being appointed to the prebend of Westminster (5 Sept. 1661) he had resigned the living. In July 1660 he published his 'Due Way of composing Differences,' and on 25 March 1661 was appointed to assist at the Savoy conference. In the proceedings of that assembly he took but a subordinate part, although his conduct elicited a somewhat uncharitable comment from Baxter. About the same time he was appointed a member of convocation, and in that capacity took a leading share in the revision of the prayerbook, then in progress; while in his tract entitled 'Just Weights and Measures' (January 1662), designed to illustrate the practical application of the theory set forth in the 'Epilogue,' he especially advocated as measures of church reform, the prevention of pluralities and the restoration of the discipline of penance. The privations he had experienced, combined with his intense application to study, brought on, at this time, a severe illness, on recovering from which he removed towards the close of 1662 to Cambridge. Here he continued to reside until driven from the university by the plague of 1666. In June 1667 he again returned to Trinity, but his acceptance a few weeks later of the tithes of Trumpington parish (valued at 80l. per annum) involved the surrender of his fellowship, and he accordingly retired to his canonry at Westminster, where he took up his residence in the cloisters. In 1668 his brother, John Thorndike, returned from his life of exile in New England, where he had helped to found Ipswich, Massachusetts, but only to die in the November of the same year. He was accompanied by his two daughters, Alice and Martha, who now became domiciled with their uncle, and continued to reside with him until his death. The comparative leisure he now enjoyed was to Thorndike only a stimulus to renewed literary activity. The year 1670 saw the appearance of his 'Discourse of the Forbearance or Penalties which a due Reformation requires,' and also of the first part of his 'De Ratione ac Jure finiendi Controversias Ecclesiae Disputatio,' the latter an endeavour at recasting and producing in more methodical and finished form the argument of the 'Epilogue' and his other treatises on the same subject. He did not, however, live to carry his design to completion. In the spring of 1672 his labours were again interrupted by illness, and he retired to a kind of sanatorium rented by the chapter at Chiswick. He died there on 11 July 1672, at the age of seventy-four, and was interred in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey.
His will, executed only eight days prior to his decease, devised the bulk of his property to church purposes, after making some provision for his two nieces and for his grandniece, Anne Alington. It is printed in full in the sixth volume of his 'Works,' pp. 143-52.
Thorndike's position as a theologian was peculiar; and some of his views were challenged even by divines of his own school) and those too of recognised breadth of view and tolerant spirit, especially by Isaac Barrow in his posthumous tract on 'The Unity of the Church,' and by Henry More, the platonist, in his 'Antidote to Idolatry.' Although, as tested by his great criterion–the voice of scripture interpreted by the early church–the majority of the distinctive Roman tenets stood condemned, he appears distinctly to have countenanced the practice of prayers for the dead; and by Cardinal Newman he was regarded as the only writer of any authority in the English church who held the true catholic theory of the eucharist.
The following is a list of his writings published during his lifetime: 1. ‘Epitome Lexici Hebraici, Syriaci, Rabinici, et Arabici . . . cum Observationibus circa Linguam Hebream et Grecam,’ &c., London, 1635, fol. 2. ‘Of the Government of Churches,’ Cambridge, 1641, 8vo. 3. ‘Of Religious Assemblies and the Publick Service of God,’ London, 1642, 8vo (printed by the university printer, Daniel, at Cambridge). 4. ‘A Discourse of the Right of the Church in a Christian State,’ London, 1649, 8vo, and by a different printer, London, 1670; also re-edited, with preface, by J. S. Brewer. London, 1841, 12mo. 5. ‘A Letter concerning the Present State of Religion amongst us,' 8vo (without name or date), in 1656; with author's name, along with 'Just Weights and Measures,' London, 1662 and 1680, 4to. 6. 'Variances in Syriaca Versione Veteris Testamenti Lectiones,' London, 1657, fol. 7. 'An Epilogue to the Tragedy of the Church of England,' London, 1659, fol. 8. 'The Due Way of composing the Differences on Foot,' London, 1660, 8vo (reprinted with 'Just Weights,' &c., 1662 and 1680). 9. 'Just Weights and Measures,' &c., London, 1662, 4to. 10. 'A Discourse of the Forbearance or the Penalties which a Due Reformation requires,' London, 1670, 8vo. 11. 'De Ratione ac Jure finiendi Controversias Ecclesiae Disputatio,' London, 1670, fol. Thorndike's collected works have been published in the 'Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology,' in six volumes (1844-56), of which the last four were admirably edited by Arthur West Haddan [q. v.], the first two by another hand. These volumes included, besides the works published in Thorndike's lifetime, the following pieces left by him in manuscript, viz.: 1 . 'The True Principle of Comprehension.' 2. 'The Plea of Weakness and Tender Consciences discussed.' 3. 'The Reformation of the Church of England better than that of the Council of Trent.' 4. 'Mr. Herbert Thorndike's Judgment of the Church of Rome.' 5. 'The Church's Right to Tithes, as found in Scripture.' 6. 'The Church's Power of Excommunication, as found in Scripture.' 7. 'The Church's Legislative Power, as found in Scripture.' 8. 'The Right of the Christian State in Church-matters, according to the Scriptures.'
The Westminster chapter library contains three quarto volumes of manuscripts in the handwriting of an amanuensis, with corrections and a few notes added by Thorndike himself; the contents are, however, nearly identical with those of the 'Epilogue.'[Life by Arthur W. Haddan, in vol. vi. of his edition of Thorndike's Works; Nichols's Hist, of Leicestershire, ii. 133-4; Twells's Life of Pocock; Todd's Life of Bryan Walton; Duport's Horae Subsecivae, p. 494; information kindly afforded by the Rev. J. Frome Wilkinson, incumbent of Barley, Hertfordshire.]