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Lambert Daneau and ‘Natural Philosophy,’ A Pagan Phrase?

October 15, 2009

Lambert DaneauLambert Daneau (1530-1595)  is not a well-known man, yet he was very influential in the Genevan Academy in the decades following the death of John Calvin. He was the first person to become a full-time professor at the new academy. The others, including Daneau’s mentor Theodore Beza, served the dual function of parish minister and professor. The pastors of the Consistory recognized Daneau’s theological gifts and promoted him, at an early age, to full-time professor. He was a prolific writer for his short stay on this earth, publishing a commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, a commentary on Augustine’s Enchiridion, works on the Eucharist and the Antichrist, a three-volume work on Christian Ethics, a work on Christian Natural Philosophy, two biblical commentaries, various polemical works, commentaries on the Minor Prophets, two works against Osiander, and others. Along with men like Ursinus, Olevianus, Zanchi, and Beza, Daneau contributed to the codification of Reformed theology indicative of the era of early orthodoxy, in its first phase ranging from 1565-1618.

In Daneau’s day there was no “Genevan” school of thought as there came to be in the second phase of early orthodoxy, represented by the High Calvinist Gomarus and his Genevan counterpart Giovanni Diodati. As Richard Muller has so aptly demonstrated, Reformed theologians from Calvin to Keckermann created an eclectic sort of theology. They drew upon Scotus, Thomas, Bernard of Clairveaux, and many others to systematize the theology bequeathed to them by the first generation Reformers. Daneau contributed to this process in his The Wonderfull Woorkmanship of the World… by seeking to bring natural philosophy within the boundaries of the faith. Lutheran theologians such as Jacob Schegk were already doing this. The latter even argued that the goal of natural philosophy is virtue since the study of nature leads to the First Cause. In the following passage Daneau seeks to defend the use of natural philosophy by Christians.

Why then, doe you call it naturall Philosophie, which is a woorde used by Heathen Philosophers? For twoo causes. The firste is, for that Christians ought not to bee so scrupulous, or rather superstitious, that thei should bee afeard to use suche common woordes and names as the Heathen doe, for somuche, as with them wee do use and enioy the self same Sun, aire, earth, water, light, meates, and Cities. Neither doeth the Scripture it self refuse that woorde as unseemely or monstrous, as appeareth in te 2 chapiter and 3 verse to the Ephesians [referring to Paul’s use of fu/siß],and the 1 chapiter and 5 verse of the second Epistle of S. Peter. Also the auncient and Catholike fathers in every place, doe terme this knowledge of thynges by the name of Naturall Philosophie, as did Basile, Chrisostome, Ambrose, Augustine in his Enchiridion to Laurence: Naturall Philosophers, saieth hee, “are thei that searche the nature of thynges.” Secondly, that for as muche as this woorde, Nature, in the common use of the Greeke tongne, is, for the moste parte, applied to suche thynges as doe consiste, not of essence only, of whiche sorte God is, but are compounded with certain accidentes adioined, suche as are all the thynges that wee beholde with our eyes, and whereof this visible worlde consisteth: that knolwedge seemeth moste properly to bee termed naturall Philosophie, whiche is busied in the handlying of the mixt, compounded, and materiall thinges, that it maie bee distinguished from Divinitie. Wherefore, Naturall Philosophie, saie thei, is the knowledge of Materiall and Instrumentall beginnynges. (Daneau, The Wonderfull Woorkmanship of the World, pp, 1, 2.)

Not only does Paul use the word “nature”, a term Daneau attributes to the pagans, but other faithful Christians, particularly the church Fathers, have used that term in order to distinguish the science of nature from that of divinity. Daneau continues to probe the reason why Christians ought to investigate natural philosophy. He gives five reasons, other than the sheer pleasure such a knowledge should bring: (1) So that we may know God to be omnipotent and eternal, (2) to learn created things, their operations and natures, (3) so that we may know what man is and what is his soul, (4) so that we might be stirred up to contemplate and praise God, and (5) so that the Christian Divine may better understand and interpret the scriptures. In expounding the 4th reason Daneau relates the story of Galen:

The IV [reason that Natural Philosophy is profitable for Christians] that wondryng at in our myndes, and beholdyng with our eyes these woorkes of God, so greate, so many, so wonderfull, beyng thereunto holpen by none other meanes than by this Arte, wee are with greate zeale and affection stirred up to set foorth the wonderfull praises of God and to give him thankes. Which thing happened unto Galene, yea, although he were a prophane Philosopher, that after hee had described the Nature of one of Gods woorkes, that is to saie, of Man, and the partes of his bodie, hee was enforced, yea, almoste against his will, to syng an Himne to God. Herethence it commeth that suche multitude of hymnes, so many Epodes and songes o praise, so many Psalmes are written and celebrated. (ibid., pp. 3, 4.)

Though Daneau did not consider nature to be the foundation of the supernatural – a contradiction in terms – he did consider nature to be infused with a divine power that when studied provoked an almost forced response from man in the form of song and praise. Therefore this Natural Philosophy should be studied by Christians for the betterment of the individual mind as well as the corporate prayer of the Church.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 16, 2009 6:12 pm

    Excellent.

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