in seeking anything above us . . . anything to do with infinity, for since our minds are finite, they become confused and lose themselves in infinity, and are overwhelmed by the mass of contradictory ideas which arise'.25 Protestants and Catholics alike - and Jansenists as much as Jesuits - found themselves agreeing in their refusal to accept infinity as an object of study. Infinity was the domain of God alone and of His Creation. To engage with the question was tantamount to violating a taboo, or worse, to acting as if God did not exist. A direct path seemed to lead from belief in the infinity of the universe to atheism.
Thus, despite Newton's precautions and the professions offaith expressed in the Principia, he nevertheless had to clear himself of heavy suspicions regarding his religious belief. Perhaps in response to his critics, or simply because theology was a constant preoccupation, Newton devoted his last years to writing a work of history.26 Although The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended was published in final form a year after his death (1728), the work's main tenets had been known earlier. It had been expected to challenge traditional chronology through the use of modern astronomy; it did so, but it did much more. It represented an initial outline of a calculus of probability, which the work employed to prove the accuracy of sacred history's development as taught by the Church of England. Better still, according to Newton, his method enabled him to prove the Hebrews' pioneering role in the history of civilization, well before that of the Greeks.27 At this point, the impeccable orthodoxy of the author of the Principia could no longer be disputed. Moreover, the most authoritative interpreters of Newton's thought, who included his successor at Cambridge, took care to head off any possible criticism. 'The Mosaick Creation', wrote William Whiston in 1696, 'is not a nice and philosophical account of the origin of all things, but an historical and true representation of the formation of our single earth out of a confused chaos, and of the successive and visible changes thereof each day, till it became the habitation of mankind'.28
However, what the Master wrote was one thing, the interpretation given by the English and French Newtonians, was quite another. One of the latter, Voltaire, did much to help Newton's ideas penetrate on the continent with his Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738). Voltaire was not a mathematician and it is clear that he had not worked for fours years on the Principia -having what he did not understand explained to him by Newton's translator, Madame du Chatelet - only to conclude that Newton's work did not affect the church's traditional teaching. The ultimate outcome of all Newton's
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