One of the highlights of Duncan Liddel’s (1561–1613) career was his participation in a notorious controversy at the University of Helmstedt. In 1598, Daniel Hofmann (1538–1621), professor of theology, stepped over a line when he cited Tertullian and wrote that philosophers were none other than “the fathers of all heresies” (“Philosophos esse haereticorum patriarchas.”)* The philosophers, including Liddel, responded with a strategy of surround and conquer. Although I will not explore the social aspects of this crisis, we should mention a few local factors that contributed to it. The University of Helmstedt, which had been founded in 1576 by Duke Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1528–1589), was rather exceptional compared with most sixteenth-century universities of the time, insofar as philosophy was on an equal footing with the higher faculties of law, theology and medicine.+ This particularity might be seen as a radicalization of the Melanchthonian humanistic paradigm. The disciplinary balance, which created a strong humanist and Aristotelian environment, was in part the result of Duke Julius’s ambitions to centralize clerical and secular power, all while promoting a tolerant brand of Lutheranism. Likewise, it was fostered by the e,forts of the celebrated humanist Johannes Caselius (1533–1613), who had been appointed professor by Heinrich Julius, Duke Julius’s son (1564–1613) and university rector. At the same time, the faculty of theology was a stronghold of Lutheran Orthodoxy, critical of Aristotle and Scholasticism, as well as of Martin Chemnitz’s (1522–1586) writings and the Formula of Concord.Given the situation at Helmstedt, it is not surprising that a conflict like the Hofmann-streit broke out. As historians and philosophers, we should be happy it did. It exposes a microcosm of long-simmering debates within the Reformed world about the status of reason, particularly logical and mathematical reason. Likewise, Duncan Liddel’s response to Hofmann, which we will examine in detail, gives an example of how Reformation philosophers were interpreting and promulgating the Melanchthonian program of natural light, natural philosophy and dialectic theology.
Logic, mathematics and natural light : Liddel on the foundations of knowledge
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