Fowler, Edward (DNB00)

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FOWLER, EDWARD, D.D. (1632–1714), bishop of Gloucester, was born in 1632 at Westerleigh, Gloucestershire. His father, Richard Fowler, whom Calamy describes as a man of great ability, was ejected as a nonconformist in 1662 from the perpetual curacy of Westerleigh. At the same time the bishop's elder brother, Stephen Fowler, B.A., was ejected from a fellowship at St. John's, Cambridge, and from the rectory of Crick, Northamptonshire. He became presbyterian minister at Newbury, Berkshire, in 1684, and died soon after. Edward Fowler was educated at the college school in Gloucester under William Russell, who had married his sister. At the beginning of 1650 he was admitted a clerk of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and became a chaplain on 14 Dec. 1653, having a gift of extemporary prayer. He graduated B.A. on 23 Dec. 1653. After this he became a member of Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated M.A. about 1655. Returning to Oxford, he was incorporated M.A. on 5 July 1656.

Fowler's first post on leaving the university was that of presbyterian chaplain to Amabella, dowager countess of Kent. Through the influence of his patroness he obtained in 1656 the rectory of Norhill, Bedfordshire, a donative in the gift of the Grocers' Company. On the passing of the Uniformity Act (1662), he was inclined to cast in his lot with his father and brother; he appears to have been non-resident till after 1664, though this was contrary to the terms of the donative; subsequently he conformed, and retained his rectory. He did not forfeit the respect of nonconformists; Calamy speaks of him as ‘a very worthy man.’ His theology was of the Baxterian type, a mean between Calvinism and Arminianism. He accepted the articles in Ussher's sense, as ‘instruments of peace,’ and deplored the combative zeal alike of the high churchman and the puritan. In 1670 he presented his views, without giving his name, in a ‘Free Discourse,’ an animated, if somewhat rambling dialogue between Philalethes and Theophilus. This piece is avowedly a defence of the latitudinarian divines, though Fowler never belonged to the inner circle of the Cambridge men of that school. It was followed next year by his ‘Design of Christianity,’ dedicated to Sheldon, in which the authorship of the ‘Free Discourse’ is admitted, and stress is laid on the moral purpose of revelation. Baxter criticised the argument (‘How far Holiness is the Design of Christianity,’ 1671, 4to); while Bunyan vehemently assailed the author from Bedford gaol (‘Defence of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith,’ 1672, 4to). An undignified retort (‘Dirt Wip'd Off’) is with too much reason connected with Fowler, nor is the matter mended by the suggestion that for some of his vocabulary of abuse he may have been indebted to his curate. Bunyan described the ‘Design’ as a mixture of ‘popery, socinianism, and quakerism;’ on the other hand Joseph Smith includes the book in his ‘Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana,’ though he admits that the reference to Friends is ‘very slight.’

Fowler's ‘Discourse’ and ‘Design’ commended him to Sheldon, who brought him to London as rector of Allhallows, Bread Street. He was collated to the living on 25 Aug. 1673; whether he then resigned Norhill is not certain. As a London preacher he became intimate with Thomas Firmin [q. v.] , who subsequently circulated among his workers large editions of a ‘Scripture Catechism,’ which is believed to have been drawn up by Fowler. He was installed in the fourth prebend in Gloucester Cathedral on 29 Feb. 1676. In 1680 he published his ‘Libertas Evangelica,’ a sequel to his ‘Design.’ Next year, resigning other cure of souls, he was instituted (31 March) to the vicarage of St. Giles, Cripplegate. On 10 June 1681 he accumulated the degrees of B.D. and D.D. at Oxford. Two years later he began to write against popery (already attacked with some vigour in his ‘Design’), pursuing the topic with so much eagerness as to give offence in high quarters under James II. At the instance of some parishioners, who considered him ‘guilty of whigism,’ he was prosecuted in the court of arches for uncanonical practices, such as admitting excommunicated persons without absolution, and was suspended on 9 Dec. 1685. When the London clergy met to consider whether they should read James's declaration for liberty of conscience (11 April 1687), Fowler delivered a manly speech, described by Macaulay, which converted the whole meeting to the views of a small but resolute minority. Patrick was the first and Fowler the second to subscribe a general pledge against reading the declaration. Upon the revolution of 1688–9, Fowler thought the time come for the consolidation of the protestant interest by a comprehension of the dissenters. As a member of the royal commission of thirty divines (appointed 13 Sept. 1689) for revising the prayer-book, Fowler proposed that the use of the Athanasian Creed be left optional. The whole scheme was dropped lest any change should strengthen the cause of the nonjuring schism. After the execution (28 Jan. 1691) of John Ashton [q. v.], the Jacobite conspirator, a ‘Paper’ which he had produced at the gallows was published, and made a great impression. Fowler immediately prepared and printed (though without his name) an ‘Answer’ to its political argument. His reward was his elevation to the bishopric of Gloucester. On 1 Feb. 1691 Robert Frampton [q. v.] was deprived as a nonjuror; Fowler was nominated on 23 April, elected 2 July, and consecrated 5 July 1691. He still held in commendam his London vicarage, and continued to preach at St. Giles's till age incapacitated him. It seems that for twenty-five years, from 1683, he provided a lecturer at his own cost, and in consideration of this the vestry in 1701 repaired the chancel. In 1708, when he ‘could no longer preach in a morning,’ the vestry at his request, he ‘having a large family and but small profits from the vicarage,’ undertook to provide a lecturer. His episcopate was a quiet one; the non-jurors in his diocese were few, and Frampton did nothing to encourage a schism. Fowler took little part as a bishop in public affairs. After the attack on nonconformist academies as political seminaries (made in the dedications to the second and third volumes of Clarendon's ‘History,’ 1703–4), he and Williams, bishop of Chichester, endeavoured to get the dissenters to put forth a declaration disclaiming antimonarchical principles. On the advice of Lord Somers the suggestion was not entertained.

Fowler's speculations on the Trinity belong to the later period of his life, and may be traced to his desire to satisfy the objections of Firmin. In his ‘Twenty-eight Propositions’ he to some extent anticipated Clarke, attempting, with the aid of patristic authority, to strike a line between the errors of Arianism and the later developments of dogmatic orthodoxy. His patristic learning was not deep; and the Socinians, who felt themselves challenged, admitted his reasonableness, but thought his argument halted. He attended Firmin on his deathbed, receiving from him a confession of faith which he accepted as adequate. Fowler had little tincture of the platonism characteristic of the Cambridge men whom he admired. He kept up a correspondence with Henry More, supplying him between 1678 and 1681 with ghost stories, as the empirical basis of a spiritual philosophy. From More he borrowed a doctrine of the pre-existence of our Lord's human soul, urging it with some vehemence in a special ‘Discourse’ (1706). The opinion was ‘examined’ by William Sherlock, ‘vindicated’ by Thomas Emlyn [q. v.], and espoused at a later date by Watts and Doddridge.

Fowler survived Frampton over six years, dying at Chelsea on 26 Aug. 1714. He was buried in the churchyard of Hendon, Middlesex; in 1717 his remains were removed to a vault in the same churchyard; a monument to his memory is erected in the chancel of the church. He married, first, Ann (d. 19 Dec. 1696), daughter of Arthur Barnardiston, master in chancery; and secondly, Elizabeth (d. 2 April 1732), daughter of Ralph Trevor, a London merchant, and widow of Hezekiah Burton, D.D. [q. v.] By his first wife he had three sons and five daughters, of whom Edward and Richard and three daughters survived him.

He published: 1. ‘The Principles and Practices of certain Moderate Divines … called Latitudinarians … in a Free Discourse,’ &c., 1670, 8vo (anon.); 1671, 8vo; 1679, 8vo. 2. ‘The Design of Christianity,’ &c., 1671, 8vo; 1676, 8vo; 1699, 8vo; 1760, 8vo (reprinted in vol. vi. of Bishop Watson's ‘Collection of Theological Tracts,’ Cambr. 1785, 8vo). 3. ‘Dirt Wip'd Off: or, a Manifest Discovery of the … Wicked Spirit of one John Bunyan,’ &c., 1672, 4to. 4. ‘Libertas Evangelica … a further pursuance of The Design of Christianity,’ &c., 1680, 8vo. 5. ‘The Resolution of this Case of Conscience, whether the Church of England, symbolising … with … Rome, makes it lawful to hold Communion with the Church of England,’ &c., 1683, 4to. 6. ‘A Defence of the Resolution … in answer to A Modest Examination,’ &c., 1684, 4to. 7. ‘The Great Wickedness … of Slandering,’ &c., 1685, 4to (sermon at St. Giles's, 15 Nov., with vindicatory preface and appendix). 8. ‘An Examination of Cardinal Bellarmine's Fourth Note of the Church,’ &c., 1687, 4to. 9. ‘The Texts which Papists cite … for the proof of … the obscurity of the Holy Scriptures,’ &c., 1687, 4to; 1688, 4to (Nos. 8 and 9 are reprinted in Bishop Gibson's ‘Preservative against Popery,’ 1689, 3 vols. fol., several times reprinted, the latest edition being 1848–1849, 18 vols. 8vo). 10. ‘An Answer to the Paper delivered by Mr. Ashton at his Execution,’ 1690 [i.e. 1691], 4to (anon.). 11. ‘Twenty-eight Propositions, by which the Doctrine of the Trinity is endeavoured to be explained,’ 1693, 4to (anon.) (Wallace). 12. ‘Certain Propositions, by which the Doctrin of the H. Trinity is so explain'd,’ &c., 1694, 4to (anon.; a reissue of No. 11, with a ‘Defence’ against ‘Considerations,’ 1694, 4to, probably by Stephen Nye); 1719, 8vo. 13. ‘A Second Defence of the Propositions … with a Third Defence,’ &c., 1695, 4to (the ‘Second Defence’ is in reply to ‘a Socinian MS.,’ which seems to have been submitted to Fowler by Firmin; the ‘Third Defence’ is in reply to ‘A Letter to the Reverend the Clergy,’ 1694, 4to; [see Frankland, Richard]). 14. ‘A Discourse of the Descent of the Man, Christ Jesus, from Heaven,’ &c., 1706, 8vo. 15. ‘Reflections upon the late Examination of the Discourse of the Descent,’ &c., 1706, 8vo. Also fourteen separate sermons (1681–1707) and a charge (1710).

[Calamy's Account, 1713, pp. 90, 95, 330, 494; Continuation, 1727, pp. 128, 506, 639; Own Life, 1830, i. 63, ii. 305; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. 1692, ii. 780, 790, 888; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Tanner), 1721, ii. 1029; Biog. Brit. 1750, iii. 2012 (article by C., i.e. Philip Morant); Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus, 1681, ii. 230 sq.; Barrington's Letter of Advice to Protestant Dissenters, 1720, p. 18; Emlyn's Works, 1746, i. 361 sq.; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, p. 294; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica, 1824; Chalmers's Gen. Biog. Dict. 1814, xv. 16 sq.; Cardwell's Hist. of Conferences, 1841, p. 411 sq.; Lathbury's Hist. of Nonjurors, 1845, p. 78 sq.; Macaulay's Hist. of Engl. 1848, ii. 349; Wallace's Antitrinitarian Biog. 1850, i. 280 sq., 323 sq.; Hunt's Rel. Thought in Engl. 1871, ii. 38, &c.; Tulloch's Rational Theol. 1872, ii. 35 sq., 437 sq.; Smith's Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana, 1873, p. 190; Evans's Life of Bishop Frampton, 1876, p. 219; information from the Rev. F. Pott, rector of Norhill.]

A. G.