Chillingworth, William, an eminent English divine and controvertist, was born at Oxford, October, 1602. (The following account of him is modified from an article in the English Cyclopaedia, which is based on the Biographia Britannica.) In 1618 he was a scholar, and in 1628 a fellow, of Trinity College in that University. Some curious memoirs of him are preserved by Anth. Wood ("Athen. Oxon." 100:20), who says "he would often walk in the college grove, and dispute with any scholar he met, purposely to facilitate and make the way of wrangling common with him, which was a fashion used in those days, especially among the disputing theologists, or those who set themselves apart purposely for divinity." The comparative merits of the English and Romish churches were at that time a subject of zealous and incessant disputation among the University students, and several learned Jesuits succeeded in making distinguished proselytes among the Protestant clergy and nobility. . Chillingworth, being an able disputant, was singled out by the famous Jesuit Fisher, alias Johannes Perseus (Biblioth. Soc. Jesu), by whom he was convinced of the necessity for an infallible living "Rule of Faith." On this he at once adopted the Roman Catholic system, wrote out his reasons for abjuring Protestantism, and joined the Jesuits in their college at Douay. After the lapse of a few months, the arguments addressed to him by his godfather Laud, then bishop of London, induced him to abandon his new faith, and he returned to Oxford in 1631; where he passed about four years in reconsidering the Protestant tenets. The reading of Daille on the Right Use of the Fathers is said to have finally determined him.
In 1635 he published his great work, The Religion of Protestants, a safe Way to Salvation. It passed through two editions in less than five months. The principle of Chillingworth is that the volume of Divine Scriptures, ascertained to be such by the ordinary rules of historical and critical investigation, is to be considered the sole authority of Christians, to the utter exclusion of ecclesiastical tradition. The Jesuit Knott, alias Matthias Wilson (Biblioth. Patrumn Soc. Jesu, p. 185), contended that he "destroyed the nature of faith by resolving it into reason." Cheynell (q.v.) also opposed Chillingworth from the Puritan side. Chillingworth in the mean time, unable to approve every statement in the thirty-nine Articles, refused to accept any preferment in the Church. "However, in a very short time he was persuaded by the arguments of Sheldon and Laud that peace and union are the real object of subscription, not belief or assent — a doctrine held by Archbishop Sancroft and many other eminent divines. Accordingly he accepted the chancellorship of Salisbury, with the prebend of Brixworth, Northamptonshire, annexed. Chillingworth, in 1640, was deputed by the chapter of Salisbury as their proctor to the Convocation in London. He was attached very zealously to the royal party, and wrote a treatise (unpublished) on The Unlawfulness of resisting the lauful Prince, although most impious, tyrannical, and idolatrous." Being present in the army of Charles I at the siege of Gloucester, August, 1643, he acted as engineer, and devised the construction of engines, in imitation of the Roman "testudines cum pluteis," to assault the rebels and take the city by storm. Having accompanied the king's forces under Lord Hopton to Arundel Castle, he was there, with his comrades, taken prisoner by the Parliament army under Sir William Waller, and falling ill, he was thence conveyed to the bishop's palace at Chichester, where he died, and was buried in January, 1644. (The precise day is not ascertained, but it was probably January 30.) Dr. Cheynell, then rector of Petworth, who had shown Chillingworth great kindness during his illness, appeared at the grave, with the work of Chillingworth (Religios of Protestants) in his hand, and, after an admonitory oration on the dangerous tendency of its rationalism, he flung it into the grave, exclaiming, "Get thee gone, thou cursed book, which has seduced so many precious souls; get thee gone, thou corrupt, rotten book, earth to earth, dust to dust — go rot with thy author!" SEE CHEYNELL.
The result of his remarkable proficiency in "wrangling" is stated by his friend Lord Clarendon (History of the Rebellion) to have been that "Chillingworth had contracted such an irresolution and habit of doubting, that at last he was confident of nothing." Tillotson styled him "the imcomparable Chillingworth;" and Locke says (on "Education"), "If you would have your son to reason well, let him read Chillingworth;" and again (on "Study"), "For attaining right reasoning I propose the constant reading of Chillingworth; for this purpose he deserves to be read over and over again;" but Anth. Wood's opinion is not outdone by any, for he declares that "Chillingworth had such extraordinary clear reason that, if the great Turk or the devil could be converted, he was able to do it." In theology he is classed with the "Latitudinarians" (q.v.). The best edition of The Religion of Protestants is that in fol. 1742, with sermons, etc., and a life of the author by Dr. Birch. It has been often reprinted. — Des Maizeaux, Life of Chillingworth (1725, 8vo); Kippis, Biographia Britannica, in, 508 sq.; Hook, Ecclesiastes Biography, 4:1. The best modern edition of his works is that of Oxford, 1838 (3 vols. 8vo). There is also a cheap American edition (8vo), with Life by Birch (Philadelphia, 1848).