Theophilus Gale

Theophilus Gale

Theophilus Gale (1628 – 1678) was an English educationalist, nonconformist and theologian of dissent.

Gale was born at Kingsteignton, Devon, the son of Bridget Gale (nee Walrond) and Theophilus Gale D. D. (d. 1639, vicar of Kingsteignton and prebendary of Exeter Cathedral). Gale was educated by a private tutor, before attending grammar school, and being admitted to Oxford, entering Magdalen Hall in 1647 as a commoner. Magdalen Hall was soon to be the home of the nonconforming students William Conway, John Cudmore, Joseph Maisters and, according to historian Edmund Calamy, a 'Mr. Sprint'. Its radicalism was confirmed by the appointment in August 1648 of Henry Wilkinson as Principal. Wilkinson, also appointed Fellow and Vice-Principal of Magdalen College (1648) and Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy (1649–1662), was a major intellectual and religious figure in Civil War and Protectorate Oxford, lecturing at Carfax Church between 10 October 1642 and 16 June 1662 and publishing "Three Decads of Sermons" in 1660. After Charles II's Restoration, he suffered the wrath of the Earl of Clarendon for harbouring dissent, was removed from Magdalen in 1662 despite a successful petition in 1660 to retain his post. Later, he was jailed (1665) following his presumed involvement in the Farnley Wood Plot.

At the same time as Wilkinson's rise to prominence, Gale was attracting similar attention, being appointed as a demy (funded scholar) of Magdalen College following the Parliamentary Visitation of 1648. Here he took his B. A. in 1649, becoming a Fellow and Tutor of Magdalen the following year and being awarded M. A. in 1652. He was immediately appointed lecturer in Logic (1652) and was later to become a Junior Dean of Arts (1657) and a Senior Dean of Arts (1658). In 1657 he had also been appointed a preacher at Winchester Cathedral, alongside such luminaries as Humphrey Ellis, perhaps Faithful Teate (although this is difficult to substantiate) and George Lawrence (Chaplain of St. Cross Hospital). Magdalen itself was home to some of the most influential radical theologians of the day, including the voluminous author Thomas Goodwin (President), Henry Hickman (Fellow), Zachary Mayne (Fellow) and John Gipps (Chaplain). Gale's Congregationalism made him a natural ally of Goodwin, and may also have led to an association with John Owen (theologian)John Owen, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford and President of Christ Church for much of this period.

Gale's impressive rise to eminence was followed by a meteoric fall. The Restoration of Charles II led to the position of several hundred preachers and teachers being reviewed in the light of the claims of previous incumbents to unfair dismissal by the Civil War and Protectorate Parliaments. Under the Act for Restoration of Ministers (1660) many Puritans and other radicals lost their jobs. Changes to the ecclesiastical structure of the newly-restored Church of England also pressurised the overhaul of Cathedral clergy across England and Wales. Gale suffered on all accounts. Not only did he lose his place at Winchester, but he was forced to resign his Fellowship at Magdalen on account of the new government's overhaul of the administration of the two Universities. The problems for Puritans were compounded by other Acts within the Restoration Religious Settlement, most notably the Act of Uniformity (1662), which required subscription on oath to the articles of the newly-restored Church of England and a faithful following of the newly-revised Book of Common Prayer (1662) in services for all clergy and teachers. These stipulations permanently barred Gale from University teaching, government employment and the Church of England Ministry. In total, around 70 teachers and students at Oxford lost their positions, many of them for reasons of conscience; between 1660 and 1662, 14 persons left Magdalen College and a further 5 Magdalen Hall.

Left without employment and branded a nonconformist, Gale was fortunate in his contacts. The Puritan Baron Philip Wharton had been a supporter of Parliament in the Civil War and had built up an extensive network of ministerial friends, including John Owen, Thomas Manton, William Bates and John Howe. Wharton, a lay member of the Westminster Assembly in the 1650s, continued to be an extremely influential dissenting Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire through the Restoration period and was instrumental to the instigation of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689. As this achievement indicates, he had substantial contacts in the United Provinces, but also France. In 1662 he offered Gale £40 a year as tutor to his sons, a position which enabled Gale to travel to the French Huguenot College at Caen and meet other influential radical scholars, not least the Protestant Samuel Bochart. Unfortunately, the appointment proved to be short-lived: Gale's strictness as a teacher offended his patron and he was dismissed in July 1664. After taking the opportunity to travel for a few months, he returned to England in early 1665 and was back at Wharton's Quainton estate before the end of the year.

By this point, Gale was almost certainly preparing manuscripts for the press. Some of these he apparently kept safe in London, since Calamy records that they were almost destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. Their apparently miraculous preservation was timely; within three years Gale felt ready to announce his masterpiece to the public. Entitled "The Court of the Gentiles", it was published in four parts between 1669 and 1677 and permanently changed the intellectual landscape of English religious dissent. The latter portion of his life he passed in London as assistant to John Rowe, an Independent minister who had charge of an important church in Holborn; Gale succeeded Rowe in 1677, and died in the following year.

Gale's principal work, "The Court of the Gentiles", which appeared in parts in 1669, 1671 and 1676, is a strange storehouse of miscellaneous philosophical learning. It resembles the Intellectual System of Ralph Cudworth, though much inferior to that work both in general construction and in fundamental idea. Gale's endeavour (based on a hint of Grotius) is to prove that the whole philosophy of the Gentiles is a distorted or mangled reproduction of Biblical truths. Just as Cudworth referred the Democritean doctrine of atoms to Moses as the original author, so Gale tries to show that the various systems of Greek thought may be traced back to Biblical sources. Like so many of the learned works of the 17th century, the "Court of the Gentiles" is chaotic and unsystematic, while its erudition is rendered almost valueless by the complete absence of any critical discrimination.


"The True Idea of Jansenisme", London, 1669
"The Court of the Gentiles", Oxford, 1669, 1670, 1671, 1672
"The Life and Death of Thomas Tregosse Late Minister of the Gospel, at Milar and Mabe in Cornwal", London, 1671
"Theophilie: or A Discourse of the Saints Amitie with God in Christ", London, 1671
"The Anatomie of Infidelitie", London, 1672
"The Life and Death of Mr. John Rowe of Crediton in Devon", London, 1673
"Idea Theologiae", London, 1673
"A Discourse of Christ's Coming", London, 1673
"Philosophia Generalis", London, 1676
"The Court of the Gentiles. Part II.", London, 1676
"The Court of the Gentiles. Part III.", London, 1677
"The Court of the Gentiles. Part IV.", London, 1677, 1678, 1682
Dedication to William Strong's (d. 1654) "A Discourse of the Two Covenants", London, 1678
"Christ's Tears for Jerusalems Unbelief and Ruine, London", 1679


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