John Napier of Merchiston’s Plaine Discovery: a challenge to the sixteenth century apocalyptic tradition
This thesis examines John Napier of Merchiston’s 1593 commentary on the Book of Revelation within the context of sixteenth century apocalyptic thought in Scotland and England. Napier is usually remembered as a mathematician and this study aims to contribute to a more complete understanding of the man. Its most important contribution to scholarship is its discussion of Napier’s identification of himself as a conduit for divine revelation, chosen by God to expose the mysteries of scripture in the final age of human history. This placed him in the tradition of reformers like Knox but he differed from them in two crucial ways. Firstly, he broke from the texts that had influenced him by controversially predicting the approximate date of the apocalypse. Some of these works, and responses to Napier’s conclusions, are considered. Secondly, he did not regard a call to ministry as a facet of his prophetic status. Instead, he saw his biblical commentary as the expression of an intellectual gift from God. He employed grandiose eschatological themes to appeal to the highest echelons of society in an attempt to affect religious change. His dedicatory epistle to James VI was a direct correspondence that revealed shared knowledge and experiences. Napier’s approaches to the apocalypse and alchemy stemmed from a worldview that presented him as belonging to an intellectual and moral elite, preordained by God to receive and disseminate hidden knowledge at appointed times. The impact of historical events on the content of his work, including the Spanish Armada, Scottish Reformation and resulting sense of unity between Scotland and England, are assessed. The current biographical understanding of Napier is critiqued. The unique aspects of the Plaine Discovery, including the explicit chronology of salvation history that framed its conclusions, are discussed in detail.