Benjamin Whichcote

Engraving of Whichcote from the frontispiece to Select Sermons.

Engraving of Whichcote from the frontispiece to Select Sermons.

Benjamin Whichcote (1609–1683) was a British Establishment and Puritan divine, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and leader of the Cambridge Platonists.

He was born in Stoke upon Tern in Shropshire. He entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1628. In 1637, he was ordained, a deacon and priest at the same time. In 1643, he married and took up priestly duties in a Cambridge-dispensed church in North Cadbury, Somerset. In 1644, he became Provost of King’s College due to Parliamentary control of the universities; however, he was the only new head of house who did not subscribe to the National Covenant. In 1650, during the Interregnum, he advised Oliver Cromwell on the subject of toleration of Jews. Upon the Restoration, he was removed from his position at King’s College, but he was reinstated when he accepted the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

From that time to 1666 (when it burned), he was the curate of St. Anne’s Church, Blackfriars. In 1668, he was made the vicar of St Lawrence Jewry. He was brother to Jeremy Whichcote.

He was one of the leaders of the Cambridge Platonists, and had liberal views. In 1650, he was involved in a controversy with his former teacher and friend Anthony Tuckney. He was opposed to the doctrine of total depravity and adopted a semi-Pelagian position, holding that man is the “child of reason” and therefore not, as the Puritans held, of a completely depraved nature. He argued that there are some questions that are beyond the ability of reasonable and religious people to solve, and therefore he argued for religious toleration. He was accused at various times by various persons of being an Arminian, Socinian, and Latitudinarian.

Nearly all of his works had been published posthumously, and include: Select Notions of B. Whichcote (1685), Select Sermons (1689), Discourses (1701), and Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1703).