Browne, Peter (c.1665–1735), theologian, provost of TCD, and bishop of Cork, was born in Co. Dublin, son of Richard Browne. After schooling by Mr Crow, he entered TCD in 1682, graduating BA (1686), MA (1691), and BD and DD (1699); he was ordained 24 February 1689 and became a fellow of TCD in 1692. During the college centenary celebrations he delivered an oration on Queen Elizabeth in the college chapel (9 January 1694). He was the first incumbent of St Mary's, Dublin. At the behest of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (qv), he replied to John Toland (qv) with a Letter in answer to Christianity not mysterious (1697). His attack on Toland's deism earned him the reputation of an able defender of anglicanism and led Marsh to recommend him for provost of TCD.
Appointed provost in November 1699, he carried out his duties competently although he made no dramatic changes to the college's curriculum or buildings. During his provostship some of Trinity's most eminent scholars – Swift (qv), Berkeley (qv), Patrick Delany (qv) – passed through the college. He engaged in a long-running controversy on the evils of the widespread customs of health-drinking and drinking in memory of the dead, publishing several pamphlets (1714, 1715, 1716, 1722) that condemned these practices as superstitious, insidious, and leading to excessive drunkenness. He found the resemblance to the ceremony of the eucharist offensive, and was particularly opposed to the customary toasts to ‘the glorious and immortal memory’ of King William III (qv), which led him to be accused of Jacobite sympathies. Browne was in fact a moderate tory, loyal to Queen Anne, reluctantly prepared to accept the Hanoverian succession, but resentful of the posthumous deification of William III. His fulminations against health-drinking appear to have had little effect: Browne simply became a hate-figure for whigs, who when toasting the memory of King William simply added an insult to Browne – the mildest of which was ‘and a fig for the bishop of Cork’. He was an acquaintance of Swift and also of ‘Stella’ (Esther Johnson (qv)), but he and Swift do not appear to have been on particularly good terms: Swift made fun of his obsession with health-drinking and regarded him as a rather capricious figure who was highly susceptible to flattery.
He was consecrated bishop of Cork and Ross 2 April 1710 in the college chapel by Archbishop William Palliser (qv) of Cashel; allowed to recommend his successor as provost, he nominated the tory Benjamin Pratt. Zealous in his episcopal duties, he strongly opposed impiety, heterodoxy, and non-residency. He provided several additional residences for clergy and gave precise directions for the conduct of worship and administering confirmation. He directed his clergy on instructing their schoolmasters to teach the catechism, recommending that they catechise in the homes of their parishioners, and gave an example by doing so himself in the homes of the poor of St Fin Barre's. Although hostile to dissenters (he strongly opposed relaxing the practices of the established church to accommodate them in any way), he was relatively tolerant towards Roman Catholics. He was considered the best preacher of his age for his gracefulness, eloquence, and fine elocution. ‘His whole life was one uniform tenor of piety and true religion’ (Harris, Ware, ii, 296). While provost of Trinity, he preached before Queen Anne, who so admired his sermon that she may have personally recommended him for the see of Cork. He lived a simple, austere life and gave generously to charitable causes, particularly during the great scarcity in Cork in 1729. He was especially generous to the widows and orphans of clergy and the charity schools at Kinsale and Bandon.
He initiated a programme of church-building and repair throughout the diocese, including the building of a new church at Passage West and the rebuilding of the churches of St Paul, St Anne Shandon, Holy Trinity, and St Nicholas in Cork city, and had plans drawn up for the rebuilding of St Fin Barre's cathedral.
In his first major contribution to philosophical theology, the Procedure, extent and limits of human understanding (1728), he again attempted to refute Toland's argument that all kinds of mystery were nonsensical: Browne maintained that we can have no real knowledge of the divine attributes except for that received through revelation. Berkeley, who held the neighbouring see of Cloyne, and did not think highly of Browne as a philosopher, claimed in Alciphron (1732) that the denial of the possibility of any direct knowledge of God could eventually lead to atheism. Browne's response to this was Things supernatural and divine conceived by analogy with things natural and human (1733). He died 25 August 1735, a few months after the laying of the foundation stone of St Fin Barre's.
His sermons were published in two volumes in 1742. His body was exhumed from Ballinaspic 12 January 1861 and reinterred in St Fin Barre's cathedral. His portrait (c.1710) by Hugh Howard (qv) is held in TCD. A manuscript of 145 pages of his personal prayers, devotions, and meditations is kept at St Fin Barre's.