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Proper 6, Year A   Leave a comment


Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

JUNE 18, 2017



Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said,

My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.

So they said,

Do as you have said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,

Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him,

Where is your wife Sarah?

And he said,

There, in the tent.

Then one said,

I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

But Sarah denied, saying,

I did not laugh;

for she was afraid.  He said,

Oh yes, you did laugh.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Now Sarah said,

God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.

And she said,

Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I call upon him.

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant,

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.



Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):

They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.  The people all answered,

Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.

Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.  Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  These are names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God.  Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment.  This is my theme for this devotional writing.

Let us begin with the reading from Genesis.  Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture.  The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement.  Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”  Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now.  She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son.  She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English.  This names means, “He will laugh.”  And now others will laugh with Sarah.

Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done.  In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise.  And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her.  Really, who could blame Sarah?  Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?

God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21.  And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments.  They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words.  God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan.  (That was judgment.)  The next generation entered the Promised Land.  Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already.  And if you have, you might want to read them again.  It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.

Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness.  The manners of their deaths give their words credibility:  The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus.  And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs.  The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world.  Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable.  Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.

I grew up in a Christian home.  This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian.  But other factors have contributed to this choice.  Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity.  Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example.  But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations.  Jesus was real, however.  He was, as I say, the genuine article.

God has come near.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus.  And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience.  God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves.   Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however.  But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.

Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us.  Should we not love God back?  Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?



Posted September 6, 2016 by neatnik2009 in June, Revised Common Lectionary Year A

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Feast of George Berkeley and Joseph Butler (June 16)   1 comment

British Flag 1707-1801

Above:  The British Flag, 1707-1801

Image in the Public Domain



Irish Anglican Bishop and Philosopher


JOSEPH BUTLER (MAY 18, 1692-JUNE 16, 1752)

Anglican Bishop and Theologian



These two men come to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via The Church of England and The Episcopal Church.  Common Worship:  Services and Prayers for the Church of England (2000) lists June 16 as the feast day for Joseph Butler.  Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010) sets aside June 16 to commemorate the lives of Joseph Butler and George Berkeley.  Celebrating these two saints on the same day makes sense.  Yes, they had some major differences, but they had much more in common than not.  I, after taking notes on both men, have noted the following similarities, among others:

  1. They were contemporaries;
  2. They were great intellectuals;
  3. They, like John Locke, were empiricists;
  4. They criticized aspects of Locke’s philosophy;
  5. They influenced major subsequent philosophers;
  6. They were philosophers and theologians;
  7. They defended the truth of Christianity against assumptions of Deism;
  8. They were published authors;
  9. They were Anglican bishops; and
  10. They rejected speculative philosophy and theology in favor of practical theology.

The God of Deism was a non-interventionist figure.  He was like a watchmaker, for he, to follow the analogy, created the watch, wound it up, then left it alone.  The God of Deism was not the God to whom Psalmists in distress called out for help.  Deism was a theological system grounded in reason, not in reason and revelation or in revelation.  Its existence and prominence in the 1600s and 1700s fed a long-running debate in which our saints participated.  Another debater was the composer George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), whose Messiah (1742) argued against Deism.

I respond favorably to Christian intellectuals.  Christianity has an ancient and venerable tradition of reconciling science, reason, and philosophy with theology.

  1. One might consider, for example, St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215), the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” who melded pagan Platonism with Christianity.  Truth is truth, St. Clement, insisted, regardless of its origin.  His star pupil, Origenes Adamantius (185-254), Origen, for short, carried on the good work.
  2. Pope Sylvester II (lived circa 945-1003; reigned 999-1003), unlike some of his contemporaries, did not fear technology (such as the abacus and the telescope) or classics of Greco-Roman literature and philosophy.  He did not care if valid knowledge and useful technology came from Muslims or ancient pagans.  For this reason many in the anti-intellectual wing of the Roman Catholic Church accused him of being in league with Satan.
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274), who reconciled faith with reason, and Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity.
  4. St. Albert the Great (1200-1280), a Dominican priest and Roman Catholic Bishop, was also a scientist.
  5. The birth of modern science in the 1500s overlapped with the Protestant Reformation, the proper context in which to consider the Church’s shameful treatment of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), a faithful Catholic who preferred good science to bad theology.
  6. The Society of Jesus has a mixed record regarding science, for many Jesuit priests have been scientists yet one of their greatest members, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), labored under a Vatican-imposed gag order because of his synthesis of theology, reason, philosophy, and evolutionary science.
  7. The Roman Catholic Church has, fortunately, been more accepting of science since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), than it was during the period immediately Vatican II.

Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism persists in much of Christianity.  According to an old joke, a fundamentalist says to a liberal,

I will agree to call you a Christian if you agree to call me a scholar.

That witticism is, due to its genre, necessarily an exaggeration, but it contains such truth.  Although some of the greatest Christian scholars have been Evangelicals, Calvinist (with ties to the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Evangelical Presbyterian ChurchMark A. Noll, who has joined the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, found ample material to research and write The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994).  And Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009, is an Evangelical Protestant who has led the Human Genome Project.  He wrote The Language of God (2006), in which he criticized Intelligent Design as failing to hold its own under scientific scrutiny.  He as received much condemnation for that last point.

I recall an awkward lunch I ate at home some years ago.  My father was pastor of Warwick United Methodist Church, Warwick, Georgia, U.S.A., in the borderlands of rural Worth and Crisp Counties.  One day I accompanied him to have lunch with two of his parishioners.  One of our hosts, a man I would never mistake for an intellectual, made a much too-broad comment about educational attainment and piety.  Well-educated people, he insisted, had a different (and implicitly inferior) type of faith than did others.  Both my father and I, aside from being well-educated, were also tactful in the moment.  Nobody created an unfortunate scene.

Now, without further ado, I proceed to summarize then lives and part of the thought of two saints who belied that man’s stereotype more than my father and I did.


Bishop George Berkeley

Above:  Bishop George Berkeley, by John Smybert

Image in the Public Domain


Berkeley, a native of County Kilkenny, Ireland, was an empiricist and a metaphysical philosopher.  Our saint, of English ancestry, studied at Kilkenny school then at Trinity College, Dublin (1700-1704), from which he graduated.  He maintained an association with his alma mater until 1724, serving as a fellow (lecturing in the subjects of Greek, Hebrew, and theology) from 1707 to 1724.  He took some leaves of absence during that time, touring in Europe in 1713-1714 and 1716-1720, as well as spending time in London, where he associated with Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Alexander Pope, and Joseph Addison.

Berkeley, a clergyman since 1709, served as the Dean of Dromore in 1721-1722.   In 1724 he resigned his fellowship at Trinity College, Dublin, to become the Dean of Derry, a post he held until 1733.  He sought unsuccessfully to found a college for colonists and Native Americans in Bermuda.  He married Anne Forster in 1728 then moved to Newport, Rhode Island.  There he encouraged higher education in North America until he left for Ireland in 1731.  He donated his library to Yale College (now University), New Haven, Connecticut, hence Berkeley College and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University.  Another namesake is the city of Berkeley, California.

In 1734 Berkeley became the Bishop of Cloyne.  He retired in late 1752 and retired to Oxford, England.  There he died a few months later, on January 14, 1753, shortly after securing the admission of his son, George, as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford.

Berkeley was a man of his time, responding to issues contemporary to him.  One issue was materialism, meaning not the accumulation of material goods but matter, that is, the stuff of which physical reality consists.  As a student at Trinity College, Dublin, Berkeley had studied the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), by John Locke (1632-1704).  Locke argued for the following propositions:

Ideas originate in one’s brain because of the influence of the universe, a material system in which the universe’s “bodies” act mechanically, that is, by “impulse,” upon each other and upon human senses.

  1. Ideas are the only things of which people can be directly aware.
  2. Ideas of “primary qualities” represent accurately the real character of material things.
  3. Ideas of “secondary qualities” do not represent accurately the real character of material things.
  4. We humans mistakenly “attribute reality” to smell, taste, sound, and color.
  5. There are also “immaterial substances,” but Locke admitted that he did not know how to prove this point.
  6. Consciousness might be nothing more than a property of matter, one rooted in memory.

Berkeley argued against these points, preferring immaterialism.  He countered that the physical world exists only in experiences of it.  He found no good reason to accept the existence of matter, as Locke understood it.  Rather, the principle of

Esse is percipi,


to be is to be perceived,

held sway in Berkeley’s thought.  Ergo:

For the mind of God is present always and everywhere; all ideas are always in the mind of God, and it is by direct communion with His mind that human beings are supplied with the ideas that make up their experience.  It is literally true that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”  Thus, the reality of the everyday world is secured by being made directly dependent upon the mind of God, and the notion of “matter,” the very foundation of the scientific world view, is simply rejected.

Encyclopedia Americana (1962), Volume 3, Page 554

Berkeley, true to his Anglicanism, rejected abstract speculations in favor of practical theology.  He affirmed one of the core principles of the Law of Moses–complete human dependence upon God.  As for Berkeley’s rejection of the basis of modern science, that point is up for debate.  (I favor science and theology.)

Berkeley’s philosophical theory of immaterialism became influential after he died.  Thomas Reid (1710-1796) criticized it in Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764).  The theory influenced subsequent philosophers such as David Hume (1711-1776), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).  Another critic was John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Berkeley was a varied thinker and an excellent literary stylist.  Major works included the following:

  1. Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710) and its counterpart for the mass audience, Three Dialogues Between Hyles and Philonus (1713);
  2. An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), a work of psychology;
  3. De Motu (1721), a work in Latin on the philosophy of science;
  4. Aleiphron, or the Minute Philosopher (1732), a defense of morality and religion against Deism;
  5. The Analyst (1734), a critique of Isaac Newton’s differential calculus;
  6. The Querist (1735-1737), regarding economic problems in Ireland; and
  7. Sirus (1744), regarding science and philosophy.

The author of the article about Berkeley in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1968), Volume 3, on page 508:

The most patent features of his style are precision, economy and a seemingly inevitable grace; with here and there salty satire and teasing wit; the roots of it are a natural logicality, a rare purity of sentiment and a deep philanthropy. provides copies of Berkeley’s works.  Examples include the following:

  1. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Late Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland; To Which is Added, an Account of His Life; and Several of His Letters to Thomas Prior, Esq., Dean Gervais, Mr. Pope, Etc. (1820)–Volumes I and II;
  2. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Formerly Bishop of Cloyne; Including Many of His Writings Hitherto Unpublished; With Prefaces, Annotations, His Life and Letters, and an account of His Philosophy (1871), by Alexander Campbell Fraser–Volumes I, II, III, and IV; and
  3. The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne (1897), edited by George Sampson–Volumes I, II, and III.


Joseph Butler

Above:  Bishop Butler

Image in the Public Domain

JOSEPH BUTLER (MAY 18, 1692-JUNE 16, 1752)

Butler, a native of Wantage, Berkshire, England, was an empiricist thinker.  He differed from Berkeley by accepting science.  Butler’s rational orthodoxy stood in contrast to the Methodist enthusiasm of John Wesley (1703-1791), his fellow Anglican.  Our saint understood correctly that we humans act based on probabilities.  He also grasped that actions, not certainties, are the bases of religion.  Thus he rejected the quest for certainty, that idol of fundamentalism, and defended Christianity as a “rational probability.”

Butler, who came from a Presbyterian family, became a great Anglican theologian.  He was the youngest of eight children of a wealthy linen and woolen draper.  Our saint, educated at Gloucester then Tewkesbury, had once intended to become a Presbyterian minister, but he came to prefer Anglicanism instead.  He converted in 1714 and matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford, the following year.  He studied philosophy, one of his favorite subjects, if not his favorite subject.  Our saint found himself disenchanted with the conservatism of the course of study, for he noticed defenses of Aristotelian thought against Newtonian physics and the thought of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and John Locke.  Butler complained:

Our people have never had any doubt in their lives concerning a received opinion.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), page 48

Butler graduated with his B.A. degree in 1718.  Subsequent degrees from the same institution were Bachelor of Law (1721) and Doctor of Law (1733).

Our saint, ordained in 1719, found his niche in The Church of England.  From 1719 to 1725 he preached at Rolls Chapel, London.  He became the Rector of Stanhoppe in 1725 and maintained that title and received its income for 15 years.  From 1733 to 1736 Butler doubled as the Chaplain to Lord Chancellor Charles Talbot.  In 1736 he became the Clerk of the Closet to Queen Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), consort of King George II (reigned 1727-1760).  Butler and Queen Caroline became friends and engaged in theological discussions.  She spoke highly of him to King George II and recommended Butler for promotion.  (The monarch was the titular head of The Church of England.)  In 1738 Butler became the Bishop of Bristol, in charge of a poor see.  He remained as Rector of Stanhoppe until 1740, when be began to double as the Dean of St. Paul’s, London.  From 1746 to 1750 he did triple duty as the Clerk of the Closet to King George II.

As the Bishop of Bristol (1738-1750) Butler locked horns with John Wesley.  The founder of Methodism was preaching without authorization to miners in the Diocese of Bristol.  Wesley was not canonically resident in the Diocese of Bristol.  Butler ordered Wesley to go home and stated that he (Wesley) should cease to pretend to have received special revelations from the Holy Spirit.

Butler refused an offer to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1747.  According to an apocryphal story, he said,

It is too late for me to try to support a falling Church.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), page 50

Our saint had complained about the “decay of religion” in England.  Certainly part of that decay was the influence of Deism.  His preferred method of supporting the “falling Church” in his final years was ritualism.  Thus Butler foreshadowed the Oxford Movement of the 1800s.  Critics accused him of having succumbed to Papism, an allegation tantamount to accusing one of being bound for Hell.

Butler, translated to the wealthy Diocese of Durham in 1750, died of stomach and intestinal disorders at Bath, Somerset, England, on June 16, 1752.  He never married, thus he lived in a manner consistent with his opposition to the marriage of the clergy.  He also lived simply and gave away the vast majority of his money.

Ernest Campbell Mossner, author of Bishop Butler and the Age of Reason:  A Study in the History of Thought (1936), wrote:

In the history of eighteenth century English culture, what Locke is to philosophy, what Newton is to physics, what Burke is to politics, Butler is to theology…And the spokesman is by no means unworthy of his distinguished associates.

–Quoted in Gibbs, The Middle Way (1991), pages 47-48

Butler affirmed science, reason, and orthodox Christianity.  He shared many yet by no means all of the points of Deism, for he argued against that system.  Our saint affirmed among other things, miracles, human sinfulness, the Incarnation of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Atonement.  He also accepted scientific developments and knowledge, and had a high opinion of human reason.  Scripture, tradition, and reason–Richard Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool–defined Butler’s theology.

Butler rejected speculative thought in favor of practical theology.  He insisted that religion is a matter of practice, not certainty.  In his theology probability, not certainty, is the grounding of human knowledge and actions.  Furthermore, Butler wrote, nature contains much mystery, perplexity, and obscurity; reason and order do not rule supreme there.  Via experience one can discern facts upon which to infer probable truth.  Ergo, theological and natural forms of knowledge are equally indispensable and probable.  Simply put, the grounding of Christianity is divine revelation, not nature.  One can access much of truth via science and reason, but one cannot perceive other aspects of truth by those methods.  There is more than one way to perceive truth correctly.

Butler also thought deeply about psychology.  He criticized John Locke’s theory of psychological continuity, based in memories.  Our saint opposed blind obedience to “received wisdom,” but he also evaluated alternatives critically, as he should have done.

Butler also critiqued the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who argued that self-love directs all human actions.  That is simplistic, our saint thought.  He countered that benevolence is a second influence, benevolence, is also at work in human nature and in harmony with self-love.  Related to benevolence, Butler wrote, is conscience, which he understood to mean the voice of God inside one’s head.  According to Butler, therefore, the conscience is sovereign, to follow one’s conscience is to behave virtuously, and to obey the will of God, and conscience is consistent with reason.

Lee W. Gibbs wrote of Butler, who, like Berkeley, influenced David Hume and Immanuel Kant, that;

In short, the life and work of Bishop Joseph Butler was thoroughly representative of the middle way.  He exemplified that perennial Anglican openness to the changing historical circumstances of his day, while maintaining at the same time that continuous body of traditional beliefs held to be essential to the Christian faith.

The Middle Way (1991), pages 58-59 makes available works by and about Butler.  They include the following:

  1. The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God Joseph Butler, D.C.L., Late Bishop of Durham; To Which is Prefixed, an Account of the Character and Writings of the Author, by Samuel Halifax, D.D. Late Lord Bishop of Gloucester (1828)–Volumes I and II;
  2. The Whole Works of Joseph Butler, LL.D., Late Lord Bishop of Durham (1852);
  3. The Works of Joseph Butler (1897), edited by William Ewart Gladstone (Prime Minister, 1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, and 1892-1894)–Volumes I, II, and III;
  4. Bishop Butler (1901), by William Archibald Spooner; and
  5. Bishop Joseph Butler (1923), by Albert Edward Baker.



My Ecumenical Calendar of Saint’s Days and Holy Days recognizes a wide range of saints.  I imagine that, if by means of a time machine, I could gather all of them in one place and, via a universal translator, they could all understand each other, some fascinating discussions–even arguments–would occur.  I would, in such a fanciful and hypothetical situation, engage in some arguments.  If agreeing with me across the board were a criterion for inclusion on my Ecumenical Calendar, it would not exist.

I admit that I disagree with Berkeley and Butler on certain points.  That is fine, for they disagreed with each other.  They also share the same commemoration on the calendar of saints of The Episcopal Church.  Anglican collegiality permits such unity in the midst of differences.

I also admit that despite my attempts to understand that, despite my attempts to understand some of the philosophical arguments of Butler, I remain uncertain regarding the objective definition of what he wrote sometimes.  For example, the contents of his critique of Locke’s theory of personality and consciousness remain a mystery to me.  That is fine, for that fact has no bearing on my opinion of Butler as a saint and a seeker of God.  I still recognize him as one who engaged his intellect vigorously, thought deeply, and did so for the glory of God.  Butler, true to his convictions, avoided the opposite errors of idolizing “received wisdom” on one hand and more recent developments in science and technology on the other hand.  I respect that.

The process of taking notes, processing them, and drafting this post has taken parts of several days and constituted a workout for my intellect and my right hand, for the draft is lengthy.  Typing this post has given my fingers a workout also.  I am better informed for the process of creating this post.  May you, O reader, be better informed after reading it.





Holy God, source of all wisdom:

We give thanks for your servants George Berkeley and Joseph Butler,

who by their life and work strengthened your Church and illumined your world.

Help us, following their examples, to place our hearts and minds in your service,

for the sake of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 6:6-10

Psalm 119:89-96

Acts 13:38-44

John 3:11-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 431


Feast of Augustus Nelson (June 18)   1 comment

Augustus Nelson

Above:  Augustus Nelson

Image Source = The Escanaba Daily Press, Escanaba, Michigan, June 27, 1924, Page 4

Accessed via



Swedish-American Lutheran Minister and Hymn Translator

The name of Augustus Nelson came to my attention as I added English-language translations of Swedish hymns to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  I made a note to myself to learn more about him as part of the process of considering him for addition to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  A meme I saw on Facebook recently depicted an iceberg, most of which was underwater.  The portion of the iceberg above water represented canonized saints, and the majority of the iceberg represented all the other saints.  Nelson has come to my Ecumenical Calendar from the portion of the iceberg that is underwater.

Nelson, born in Sweden on September 20, 1863, emigrated to the United States of America in 1883.  Here he made great contributions to communities, congregations, and the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America (1860-1894)/Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America (1894-1948)/Augustana Lutheran Church (1948-1962).  Upon his arrival in the U.S.A. Nelson worked as a farm laborer.  He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, in 1890.  Next our saint continued his studies at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, and at Augustana Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois.  Nelson, ordained in 1898, married his love, Emma, who had studied music at Gustavus Adolphus College, on September 7, 1898.  She was 13 years his junior.  The couple had four children, all of whom became educators:

  1. Anna Regina E. Nelson (Quist) (1899-1981);
  2. Ruth G. E. Nelson (Johnson) (1900-1992), who was also a missionary in Tanganyika (now Tanzania);
  3. Carl E. A. Nelson (1902-1978?); and
  4. Esther E. Nelson (Carlson) (1915-1990).

Emma died at Mankato, Minnesota, on March 25, 1957, aged 77 years.  She had survived her husband by about eight years.  Her four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren survived her.

Our saint served at various congregations, mostly in the Midwest.  First was Bethany Lutheran Church,  at Escanaba, Michigan, from 1898 to 1902.  During the next several years the Nelsons were in Waukegan, Illinois, then New Haven, Connecticut.  From 1906 to August 1909 Nelson was minister at Trade Lake, Wisconsin.  A 15-year-long tenure at Zion Lutheran Church, Manistique, Michigan, and its mission at Thompson, also on the Upper Peninsula, followed.  Then, from 1924 to 1938, our saint ministered at Clear Lake, Minnesota, and its mission at Gibbon.  He retired to Minneapolis in 1938 and eventually moved to Mankato, where he died, aged 85 years, on June 18, 1949.

Nelson also served beyond the congregational level.  From 1904 to 1906 he sat on the board of the Augustana Synod’s Upsala College, East Orange, New Jersey.  Our saint also served on the denominational Board of Education from 1922 to 1924.  Furthermore, he was the secretary of the Augustana Synod’s Superior Conference for nine years which included 1922-1925.

Nelson translated hymns, mostly from Swedish but also from Latin.  I have added four of these to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  A fifth text was a translation from the writings of St. Venantius Honorius Clementius Fortunatus (circa 530-600/609):

Praise the Saviour

Now and ever!

Praise Him all beneath the skies!

Prostrate lying,

Suffering, dying

On the cross, a Sacrifice;

Victory gaining,

Life obtaining,

Now in glory He doth rise.


Man’s work faileth,

Christ’s availeth,

He is all our Righteousness.

He our Saviour

Hath forever

Set us free from dire distress

We inherit

Through his merit

Light and peace and happiness.


Sin’s bonds severed,

We’re delivered,

Christ hath bruised the serpent’s head;

Death no longer

Is the stronger,

Hell itself is captive led.

Christ hath risen

From death’s prison,

O’er the tomb He light hath shed.


For His favor

Praise forever

Unto God the Father sing;

Praise the Saviour,

Praise Him ever,

Son of God, our Lord and King;

Praise the Spirit,

Through Christ’s merit.

He doth us salvation bring.

Nelson’s legacy of hymnody does survive, albeit less robustly than it did in hymnals published prior to 1990.  My survey of denominational hymnals published since 1990 indicates that each of the following volumes contains one translation by our saint:

  1. Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church in America, 1990),
  2. Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship (The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, 1994),
  3. Trinity Hymnal–Baptist Edition (Reformed Baptist, 1995),
  4. The Covenant Hymnal:  A Worshipbook (The Evangelical Covenant Church of America, 1996), and
  5. Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2013).

One can, however, find other and more translations by Nelson in older hymnals (especially those of Lutheran denominations in North America) and at hymn websites.








Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

Augustus Nelson and others, who have translated hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20








Feast of William Bingham Tappan (June 18)   Leave a comment

American Sunday School Union

Above:  An Advertisement from the Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1848, Page 4

Accessed via



U.S. Congregationalist Minister, Poet, and Hymn Writer

William Bingham Tappan comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935).

Our saint came from a Congregationalist family of New England.  He had a younger brother, Daniel Dana Tappan (1798-1890), who became a prominent Congregationalist minister.  Daniel, like his older brother, wrote poetry, such as “The Prince of Peace” (1889).  The brothers’ parents were Samuel Tappan (a schoolmaster) and Aurelia Bingham Tappan, who married on April 26, 1789, at Beverly, Massachusetts.  Our saint, christened on November 9, 1794, at Beverly, grew up with both parents until April 29, 1806, when his father died.  Our saint was 12 years old and in the sixth grade at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  That event changed Tappan’s life.  Out of necessity he dropped out of school, moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and apprenticed himself to a clock maker.  There he remained for nine years, until 1815.  In Boston Tappan, in the words of The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal (1942), “fell in with evil companions” (page 587).  Aurelia prayed for him and helped to rescue him from a life defined by bad choices.

Tappan, as an adult on the straight and narrow path, lived in various places.  He worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1815 to 1818.  Then he studied in Somerville, New Jersey, for a time.  Next, from 1819 to 1826, he taught in Philadelphia.  On August 31, 1822, our saint married Amelia Colton (1796-1886).  In 1826, at Philadelphia, he became superintendent of the American Sunday School Union, founded two years earlier.  Tappan worked for that organization for the rest of his life, traveling extensively to speak on behalf of the religious education of children and youth.  He relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1829, moved back to Philadelphia in 1834, and settled in Boston in 1838.  Tappan became a Congregationalist minister in 1841.

The Second Great Awakening had stimulated the growth of Sunday schools, some of which overshadowed worship services in certain locations.  There was a need for educational materials suitable for this movement.  Although the American Sunday School Union was an ecumenical organization, its theological orientation was heavily Reformed.  In fact, state branches in New England functioned as branches of the Congregationalist Church.

Tappan wrote poems and published collections of them.  They were:

  1. New England, and Other Poems (1819),
  2. Lyrics (1822),
  3. Poems (1822),
  4. Lyric Poems (1826),
  5. The Poems of William B. Tappan (1834),
  6. The Poems of William B. Tappan, Not Contained in a Former Volume (1836),
  7. The Poet’s Tribute:  Poems of William B. Tappan (1840),
  8. Poems and Lyricks (1842),
  9. The Daughter of the Isles, and Other Poems (1844),
  10. Poetry of the Heart (1845),
  11. The Sunday School, and Other Poems (1848),
  12. Sacred and Early Poems (1848), and
  13. Late and Early Poems (1849).

Later volumes of Tappan’s verse included the following:

  1. Poetry of Life (1850), and
  2. Gems of Sacred Poetry (1860).

Tappan’s work appeared in various collections, including volumes of hymns with temperance and antislavery themes.  Some of his poems also graced Lyra Americana, or, Verses of Praise and Faith from American Poets (1865), selected and edited by the Rev. George T. Rider, M.A.

Most of Tappan’s hymns have fallen into disuse since the 1800s.  This is unfortunate, for the quality of his texts far exceeds that of most contemporary contributions to hymnals.  One text from 1818 follows:

There is an hour of peaceful rest;

To mourning wanderers given;

There is a joy for souls distrest;

A balm for every wounded breast:

‘Tis found above–in heaven.


There is a soft, a downy bed,

‘Tis fair as breath of even;

A couch for weary mortals spread

Where they may rest the aching head

And find repose–in heaven.


There is a home for weary souls,

By sin and sorrow driven,–

When tossed on life’s tempestuous shoals,

Where storms arise and ocean rolls,

And all is drear–but heaven.


There faith lifts up her cheerful eye,

To brighter prospects given;

And views the tempest passing by,

The evening shadows quickly fly,

And all serene–in heaven.


There fragrant flowers immortal bloom,

And joys supreme are given;

There rays divine disperse the gloom;

Beyond the confines of the tomb

Appears the dawn of heaven.

The following text dates to 1822:

‘Tis midnight; and on Olive’s brow

The star is dimm’d that lately shone:

‘Tis midnight; in the garden now

The suff’ring Saviour prays alone.


‘Tis midnight; and, from all removed,

Emmanuel wrestles lone with fears:

E’en the disciple that he loved

Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears.


‘Tis midnight; and, for others’ guilt,

The Man of Sorrows weeps in blood:

Yet he that hath in anguish knelt

Is not forsaken by his God.


‘Tis midnight; from the heav’nly plains

Is borne the song that angels know:

Unheard by mortals are the strains

That sweetly soothe the Saviour’s woe.

Tappan’s mother, Aurelia, died in 1846, aged 77 years.  He followed her in death on June 18, 1849, at West Needham, Massachusetts.  He was 54 years old, and the cause of death was cholera.








Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

William Bingham Tappan and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20








Feast of Jane Cross Bell Simpson (June 17)   1 comment

Flag of Scotland

Above:  The Flag of Scotland

Image in the Public Domain



Scottish Presbyterian Poet and Hymn Writer

Facts about the life of Jane Cross Bell Simpson are scarce.  She seems to have been like most holy people in that regard, for she kept her personal life private.

Our saint was the daughter of James Bell, an attorney in Glasgow, Scotland.  She, born on November 21, 1811, had an older brother, Henry Glassford Bell (1803-1874), an attorney, poet, historian, magazine editor, and defender of the late Mary, Queen of Scots.  [Aside:  One can find some of his books at]  Henry, as editor of The Edinburgh Literary Journal, published texts by his sister, who wrote as “Gertrude.”  Our saint also contributed to The Scottish Christian Herald, a magazine of The Church of Scotland.  At least two books edited by other people contained some her work.  These were:

  • The Seaman’s Devotional Assistant (1830), and
  • Lyra Britannica:  A Collection of British Hymns; Printed from the Genuine Texts; with Biographical Sketches of the Hymn Writers (first edition, 1867; second edition, 1868).

She also published books:

  • The Piety of Daily Life (1836),
  • April Hours (1838),
  • Women’s History (1848),
  • The Consumptive (1850),
  • Linda, or Beauty and Genius (1859),
  • Picture Poems (1879), and
  • Linda, and Other Poems (1879).

Our saint, who married cousin J. Bell Simpson of Glasgow in 1837, died at Aberdeen, Scotland, on June 17, 1886.

I have added one of Simpson’s texts, “Star of Peace to Wanderers Weary” (1830), to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  I have also located two other notable hymns, the first of which offers advice regarding prayer:

Go when the morning shineth,

Go when the noon is bright;

Go when the eve declineth,

Go in the hush of night;

Go with pure mind and feeling,

Fling earthly thought away,

And, in thy chamber kneeling,

Do thou in secret pray.


Remember all who love thee,

All who are loved by thee;

Pray, too, for those that hate thee,

If any such there be.

Then for thyself, in meekness,

A blessing humbly claim;

And link, with each petition,

The great Redeemer’s name.


Or if ’tis e’er denied thee

In solitude to pray,

Should holy thoughts come o’er thee,

When friends are round thy way;

Even then the silent breathing

Of thy spirit raised above,

May reach His throne of glory,

Who is mercy, truth, and love!


O! not a joy of blessing

With this can we compare,

The power that He hath given us

To pour our hearts in prayer!

Whene’er thou pin’st in sadness,

Before His footstool fall,

And remember, in thy gladness,

His grace who gave thee all.

Another text meditates on the death of children:

I had a lesson to teach them,

The children that God had given,

From a Book most high and holy,

Whose theme is the love of heaven.


But some of these baby-blossoms

Were laid by the reaper low,

Ere yet they could spell the lettres

I wish’d them so much to know.


And one, on whose soul had fallen

The lesson with deepest power,

Went home to the sainted glory

In the dawn of his manhood’s hour.


Ah! then, as the waves of sorrow

Went over my drooping head,

My pupils became my teachers,

The living was taught by the dead!


And the more their memory held me,

The children I ne’er could see;

The more we rehearsed that lesson

The children yet left with me.


And still, when the Book is opened

Where wisdom and peace are found,

We fancy our loved ones bending

To meet us on holy ground.


And the lesson so pure and tender,

We study with silent prayer,

Sinks down to our inmost spirits,

With these angels hovering there!


And we long to fold our pinions,

By sin and by sorrow press’d,

‘Neath the tree by the crystal river,

The city of endless rest.


Till then, with a real untiring,

We’ll con the lesson of love;

The children on earth yet dwelling,

And the children moored above.

The decline in the frequency of inclusion of texts by Simpson in hymnals since the early 1900s is quite unfortunate, given the high quality of her writing and the relatively poor quality of many recent texts hymnal committees have chosen to include in lieu of other options.








Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

Jane Cross Bell Simpson and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20








Feast of Milton Smith Littlefield (June 13)   1 comment


Above:  Milton Smith Littlefield, Jr.

Image Source = Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, New York, June 13, 1934, Page 13

Accessed via



U.S. Presbyterian and Congregationalist Minister, Hymn Writer, and Hymnal Editor

Milton Smith Littlefield, Jr., often listed simply as Milton S. Littlefield, was a native of New York, New York.  His parents were Anna Elizabeth Schull and Milton Smith Littlefield, Sr. (1830-1899).  Our saint’s father, an officer in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, commanded African-American soldiers during that conflict and became the “Prince of Carpetbaggers” afterward.  Our saint was the elder of two children; his sibling was Calvin Alfred Littlefield (1867-1916).

Our saint graduated from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1889 then from Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, three years later.  Then Littlefield’s ministerial career began.  He was a clergyman of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. from 1892 to 1911.  He began as assistant pastor of Central Presbyterian Church, perhaps at Norristown, Pennsylvania, from 1892 to 1896.  (My sources were vague, hinting at the vicinity of Pottstown, Pennsylvania.)  Littlefield married Luella Gardner (1860-1928) in 1895.  The couple had a daughter, Helen B. Littlefield (Fuller), circa 1896.  In 1897 our saint served as the preacher at Hill School, Pottstown.  He was pastor of First Union Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, New York, New York, from 1898 to 1907, then of Bay Ridge Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York, New York, from 1907 to 1911.

In 1911 our saint switched to the Congregationalists.  For ten years he worked as the district attorney of the Congregational Education Society.  Then, in 1921, he became the pastor of Union Evangelical Church, Corona, Long Island, New York.  Littlefield resigned for health reasons in February 1934.

Littlefield was a published author and an editor of hymnals.  He also wrote at least two hymns, both of which I have added to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  His books included:

  1. Hymns of Worship and Service for the Sunday School (1908);
  2. Hand-Work in the Sunday School (1908);
  3. Heroes of Israel (1911);
  4. Christian Leaders (1913);
  5. The School Hymnal (1921), with his wife, Luella;
  6. Hymnal for Young People (1934); and
  7. Hymns of the Christian Life (1937), published posthumously.

Littlefield, who lectured widely in hymnology, received honors.  In 1915 Washburn College, Topeka, Kansas, awarded him a Doctor of Divinity degree.  Our saint also served as the President of the Hymn Society of America from 1927 to 1928.

Littlefield died at Corona on June 12, 1934.  He was 69 years old.

Littlefield Article 01

Littlefield Article 02

Littlefield Article 03

Littlefield Article 04

Article Source = Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, New York, June 13, 1934, Page 13

Accessed via

I have a fairly large collection of hymnals from various Christian traditions and a wide range of decades, as recent as the last several years.  My survey of hymnals published since 1990 and in my possession indicates that none of them contains any of Littlefield’s hymns.  This is unfortunate news.







Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially Milton Smith Littlefield, Jr.)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26






Feast of James Arthur MacKinnon (June 26)   Leave a comment

Ottawa 01

Above:  A Germane Headline from The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Article accessed via



Canadian Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr in the Dominican Republic

Most of the saints (canonized and otherwise) I add to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, lived and died hundreds of years ago.  Some lived and died thousands of years ago.  With this post I add another saint who lived and died decades ago.


The divine mandate of social justice thunders off the pages of the Old and New Testaments.  It is prominent in the Law of Moses, with the ethos of interdependence and condemnation of human exploitation.  The divine mandate is also prominent in the pronouncements of Hebrew prophets, as in Amos 8:4-6 (The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition, 1993):

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over

so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,

so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver

and the needy for a pair of sandals,

and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

Jesus identified himself with that ethos of economic justice when he quoted from Isaiah 61 and 58 at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19).  And, in Revelation 18, those who profited from business arrangements with the fallen Roman Empire (“Babylon”) mourn the fall of that corrupt and exploitative government:

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves–and human lives.

–Revelation 18:11-13, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)

James Arthur MacKinnon, born at New Victoria, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, on September 30, 1932, learned that ethos well and gave his life acting according to it.  He was 32 years old when he died.


Before I expand on those statements I must, if I am to write this post properly, explain the situation in the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispaniola.  The ownership of land in the American colonies of the Spanish Empire was concentrated into the hands of a small minority of the population.  This meant that the vast majority of people were poor and landless.   This pattern remained after colonies became independent countries, which frequently had unstable political systems as well as  long stretches of time with military dictatorships as the norms.  Meanwhile, the landless poor desired land at least as much as large landowners resisted efforts to break up estates.

Dominican Republic 1945

Above:  A Map of Hispaniola in 1945

Image Source = Hammond’s New Era Atlas of the World (1945)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

In 1930 military leader Rafael Trujillo began his 31-year-long rule via a stolen election.  Sometimes he was the President of the Dominican Republic; at other times one puppet or another occupied the presidency.  Nevertheless, Trujillo was the de facto ruler (and sometimes de jure leader) of his country from 1930 to 1961.  His was a brutal regime.  It had started by means of thugs (secret police) torturing and killing supporters of his opponent in the election of 1930.  Trujillo tolerated no dissent and ordered the executions of tens of thousands of people, sometimes at once.  He also instituted policies which made him extremely wealthy at the expense of the masses, built up the capital city (Santo Domingo, which he renamed “Ciudad Trujillo” after himself in 1936) to the detriment of the common good, harmed the rural areas, and presided over a cult of personality.  His reign ended via assassination on May 30, 1961.  Ciudad Trujillo reverted to Santo Domingo, but Trujillo loyalists abounded.

Juan Bosch, a historian and novelist, was a leftist opponent of Trujillo.  Bosch had gone into exile in 1937 and founded the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) two years later.  He appealed to intellectuals, the middle class, and the poor.  Bosch won the presidential election of December 1962 in a landslide.  His time in office (February 27-September 25, 1963) was brief.  In the context of the Cold War Bosch’s plans for the redistribution of land alarmed the Kennedy Administration and large Dominican landowners alike.  Bosch’s desire to rein in the military upset elements of the armed forces.  His pro-labor politics alarmed industrialists.  And Bosch’s plans for a secular republic upset elements of the Roman Catholic Church opposed to the separation of church and state.  A military coup d’etat sent Bosch into exile in Puerto Rico (1963-1965).

Dominican Republic 1968

Above:  A Map of Hispaniola in 1968

Image Source = Rand McNally World Atlas–Imperial Edition (1968)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Civil War broke out on April 25, 1965.  The junta lost power, and a revolt to restore Bosch to power started.  The Revolutionary Committee held power for a few hours on April 25 before the two-day-long provisional presidency of Jose Rafael Molina Urena started.  During the interregnum (April 28-30) the Johnson Administration dispatched Marines to the Dominican Republic.  Pedro Bartolome Benoit led the U.S.-backed side from May 1 to 7.  Then General Antonio Imbert Barrera (who had participated in the assassination of Trujillo in 1961) succeeded Benoit, remaining in office until August 30.  On the opposite, pro-Bosch side Francisco Alberto Caamano Deno served as the rival president from May 4 to September 3, 1965.

Caught up in the civil war were thousands of innocent civilians.  Imbert’s U.S.-supported forces rounded up several thousand civilians, executed most of them, and disposed of almost all of the corpses.  This situation was intolerable to James Arthur MacKinnon, a 32-year old Roman Catholic priest whom the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society of Canada had sent to the Dominican Republic.  Father Art, or, as Dominicans knew him, Padre Arturo, worked from his home base about 55 miles outside Santo Domingo.  He was a known quantity to Dominican officialdom, for he had been agitating for land redistribution.  He protested the mass arrests and detention of civilians, making this a prominent part of a sermon.  He also interceded with officials, securing the release of some of these political prisoners.  On June 22, 1965, two police officers murdered Padre Arturo at Monte Plata.  Then a soldier killed the assassins.

Imbert’s forces (and, by extension, Imbert himself) were responsible for MacKinnon’s death.  U.S. journalist Drew Pearson minced no words about this fact in his syndicated column one week.

Pearson 01A

Pearson 01B

Pearson 02A

Pearson 02B

Pearson 03

Source = The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, Pennsylvania, August 14, 1965, Page 20

Accessed via

In Canada, MacKinnon’s native country, press reports were likewise clear about this point.

Ottawa 01

Ottawa 02

Ottawa 03

Source = The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, July 19, 1965, Page 17

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The Dominican cover story was flimsy.  Imbert’s forces claimed that MacKinnon had been driving a jeep, zigzagging toward a military road block, refusing to stop at it.  Physical evidence contradicted that lie, however.  No, the policemen shot Padre Arturo at close range, according to three criminologists the Organization of American States sent to investigate this matter.


The immediate settlement of the civil war entailed replacing the rival presidents with a provisional president, Hector Garcia Godoy, who served from September 3, 1965 to July 1, 1966.  Bosch returned to his native country and ran in the election of 1966, which he lost to U.S.-backed Joachim Balaguer.  Balaguer had been a puppet Vice President (1957-1960) and President (1960-1962) of the Dominican Republic under Turjillo.  The Johnson Administration and its successors supported Balaguer, who stole elections, jailed certain dissents, executed some of those dissidents, seized some opposition newspapers, and did little-to-nothing to help the poor.

James MacKinnon, a Canadian journalist and nephew of our saint, investigated the murder of Padre Arturo four decades after the fact.  He encountered much interference in the Dominican Republic, where many people remain loyal to Trujillo and his followers, and where the murder of Father Art continues to be politically sensitive.  The younger MacKinnon wrote of the murder of his uncle and of the realities of the Dominican Republic in Dead Man in Paradise (2006).

The problem of institutionalized and rampant poverty in the Dominican Republic continues.


“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus commanded.  Padre Arturo MacKinnon obeyed our Lord and Savior.  The example of this troublesome priest should teach us, among other things, about the divine mandate to oppose economic injustice and to live according to the Golden Rule.  The servant is not greater than the master.  Consider, O reader, what happened to Jesus, the master.  Sometimes, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood correctly, the call of Christian discipleship is an invitation to die for a righteous cause.





Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant James Arthur MacKinnon,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60