Paul Best

(c. 1585—1657) scholar and religious writer

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Paul Best died on 17 September 1657. He was the son of James Best, a prosperous Yorkshire gentleman. Best attended Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took his BA (1610) and MA (1613). His father died in February 1617 and, being the eldest son, Best inherited the family manor of Eamswell. In September 1617 he was elected a Fellow at St Catherine Hall, Cambridge. Not long after this he left Cambridge, deeded Eamswell manor to his brother Henry in exchange for an annuity and travelled in Europe. Although he served for a time in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, his interest was more in inquiry and disputation than in the search for renown. His travels took him to Poland and Transylvania, where he met Socinian scholars and engaged them in disputations concerning the divinity of Christ. According to his erstwhile friend and biographer, Roger Ley, who was also a Puritan divine, he was persuaded by their arguments, although only because he relied on ‘carnal reason’ rather than ‘the mysteries of faith’. He stayed on in Germany studying Socinian doctrine and finally returned to England. He wrote down his new heterodox opinions on some loose sheets and showed them to Roger Ley, who, notwithstanding they were given to him in confidence, showed them to the ecclesiastical authorities. Best was charged with blasphemy, tried and condemned to be hanged. The sentence was never carried out, but he remained in prison until the end of 1647, when he was released. The legality of the proceedings that led to his imprisonment was questioned by him in numerous petitions presented to Parliament, but to little effect until Cromwell, perhaps on Milton's recommendation, intervened. He retired to Great Driffield, where he farmed and continued to write.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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