White, Thomas

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(b. Runwell, Essex, England, 1593; d. London, England, 6 July 1676)

natural philosophy, theology.

Very little is known of White’s early life. His father, Richard White, married Mary Plowden. daughter of the Catholic lawyer Edmund Plowden. White was sent to the Continent for a carefully supervised Catholic education. He studied first at the English College at St.-Omer; but by the fall of 1609 he had become a member of St. Albans College at Valladolid, where he spent three years before transferring to the English college at Seville. White went to Louvain in 1614 and completed his last years of study for the priesthood at Douai; he was ordained at Arras on 25 March 1617 with the name of Blacklow. In later years he wrote under the names Blacklow, Blacloe, Vitus, Albius, and Anglus.

White became a teacher of philosophy at Douai in 1617; and the following year, after receiving his baccalaureate degree, he began to teach theology. He studied canon law at Paris in 1624–1625 and in the spring of 1626 was sent to Rome as a representative of the secular clergy of England. a duty he fulfilled until 1630. From 1631 to 1633 White was president and professor of theology at the English College of Lisbon. In May 1633 he returned to England; in the following year he was involved in the internal controversies of the English Catholics and became a candidate for the English bishopric. While in England he became a close friend of Sir Kenelm Digby. Through the late 1640’s, White lived in Paris. The last two decades of his life were those of White’s greatest scholarly productivity and his most sustained involvement in intellectual controversy. In 1662 he returned to England from Douai, where he had taught since about 1650, and remained there until his death. The movement embodying his theological positions, “Blackloism,” maintained his ecclesiastical opinions for several decades after his death.

Although he was remarkably productive in philosophy and science, White’s ideas were not acceptable to the papacy. On 17 November 1661 the Holy Office condemned eight of his books explicitly (and implicitly all of his other writings, both past and future). Theologically his thought was similar to Jansenism, for in his writings he continually condemns the Jesuits and skeptics. A devoted follower of Aristotle, White viewed the skepticism of the late sixteenth century as the principal hindrance to scientific advancement. His scientific treatises contain modifications and revisions of Aristole’s thought: his De mundo of 1642, for instance, was an analysis and amplification of Aristotelian cosmology. In his Institutionum peripateticarum (1646) White presented the most detailed description of his philosophical and scientific approach to the study of nature. His view of nature was qualitative, and he sought spiritual demonstrability in the physical world. In 1657 and 1658 he published Euclides physicus and Euclides metaphysicus, in which he examined and amplified Aristotle’s theory of causation.

White used science as a weopon with which to confront skeptics and as a tool for compounding the certitude of faith. His scientific thought was subordinate to his desire to render theology scientifically verifiable.


I. Original Works. White’s principal scientific works are De mundo dialogi tres . . .(Paris, 1642); Institutionum peripateticarum (Lyons, 1646), also in English trans. (London, 1656): Sonus buccinae sive tres tractatus . . .(Paris, 1654); tractattts . . .(Paris, 1654); Euclides phvsicus sire de principiis naturae (London, 1657); Euclides metaphysicus siva De principiis sapientiae (London, 1658); Exercitatio geometrica (London, 1658); Scirri sive scepticis & scepticorum a jure disputationis (London, 1663); and An Exclusion of Scepticks From All Title to Dispute (London, 1665).

II. Secondary Literature. The most detailed study of White is Robert I. Bradley, “Blacklo: An Essay in Counter&Reform” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia Univ., 1963). For an examination of White’s activiteis as an English recusant, see Robert I. Bradley, “Blacklo and the Counter&Reformation: An Inquiry Into the Strange Death of Catholic England,” in Charles H. Carter, ed., From the Renaissance to the Counter Reformation (New York, 1965), 348–370. There are biographical notices in Dictionary of National Biography and in various Catholic encyclopedias.

Phillip Drennon Thomas

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