Archive for the ‘June 11-20’ Category

Feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne (July 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne

Image in the Public Domain



Died in Paris, France, on July 17, 1794


I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me.

–The last words of Blessed Marie-Anne Piedcourt at the guillotine in Paris, July 17, 1794


For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

–Matthew 7:2, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)


The French Revolution (1789-1799) was one of the most revolutionary revolutions.  It was certainly one of the bloodiest, especially during its middle phase, the Reign of Terror.  One of the targets of the French Revolution was the Roman Catholic Church, which had supported the absolutist monarchy of the Bourbon Dynasty.

The targeting of the Church entailed overreacting, an unfortunate human tendency.  In 1790 the French government suppressed all religious communities not involved in teaching or nursing.  Members of the suppressed religious communities were to abandon their abbeys and dress as lay people.  In 1794 authorities arrested and convicted sixteen Carmelites from the abbey at Compiègne; they had violated the law and were allegedly enemies of the people and the republic.  The sixteen Carmelites were twelve nuns, two lay women servants, a lay sister, and a novice.  In Paris, on July 17, 1794, they went to the guillotine publicly chanting the Veni Creator Spiritus and renewing their baptismal and religious vows.

The nuns were:

  1. Blessed Angelique Roussell, a.k.a. Sister Marie of the Holy Spirit,; born on August 3, 1742, in Fresne-Mazencourt, Somme; a nun since May 14, 1769;
  2. Blessed Anne Pelras, a.k.a. Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence; born on June 17, 1760, in Carjac; a nun since October 22, 1786;
  3. Blessed Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret, a.k.a. Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection; born on September 16, 1715, in Mouy; a nun since August 19, 1740;
  4. Blessed Élisabeth-Julitte Vérolet, a.k.a. Sister Saint Francis Xavier; born on January 13, 1764, in Lignières, Aube; a nun since January 12, 1789;
  5. Blessed Marie Henniset, a.k.a. Sister Thérèse of the Heart of Mary; born on January 18, 1742, in Rheims, Marne; a nun since 1764;
  6. Blessed Marie-Anne Piedcourt; a.k.a. Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified; born on December 9, 1715, in Paris; a nun since 1737;
  7. Blessed Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau, a.k.a. Mother Saint Louis; Sub-Prioress; born on December 7, 1751, in Belfort;
  8. Blessed Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard, a.k.a. Sister Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception; born in 1736 in Bourth; a nun since 1757;
  9. Blessed Marie-Françoise de Croissy, a.k.a. Mother Henriette of Jesus; Prioress, 1779-1785; born on June 18, 1745, in Paris; a nun since February 22, 1764;
  10. Blessed Marie-Gabrielle Trezel, a.k.a Sister Thérèse of Saint Ignatius; born on April 4, 1743, in Compiègne, Olse; a nun since December 12, 1771;
  11. Blessed Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine, a.k.a. Mother Thérèse of Saint Augustine; Prioress; born on September 22, 1752, in Paris; a nun since May 1775; and
  12. Blessed Rose-Chretien de Neuville, a.k.a. Sister Julia Louise of Jesus; born in 1741 near Evreax; a nun since 1777.

Blessed Marie-Geneviève Meunier, a.k.a. Sister Constance, born on May 28, 1765, in Saint Denis, had been a novice since December 16, 1788.  She sang the Laudate Dominum as she went to the guillotine.

Blessed Marie Dufour, a.k.a. Sister Saint Martha, born on October 2, 1741, in Bannes, Sarthe, had been a lay sister since 1772.

Two sisters (literally sisters) were lay women among the martyrs.  Blessed Catherine Soiron (born on February 2, 1742) and Blessed Thérèse Soiron (born on January 23, 1748), natives of Compiègne, had handled the cloistered nuns’ business with the outside world since 1772.

Pope St. Pius X declared these women Venerables in 1905 then Blesseds the following year.

Can anyone genuinely doubt the sincerity and holiness of these martyrs?








Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyrs

the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne

triumphed over suffering, and were faithful even to death:

Grant us, who now remember them in thanksgiving,

to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world,

that we may receive and receive with them the crown on life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:1-12

Psalm 116 or 116:1-8

Revelation 7:13-17

Luke 12:2-12

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 714



Feast of Rufus Jones (June 16)   1 comment

Above:  Rufus Jones

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Quaker Theologian and Cofounder of the American Friends Service Committee


This child will one day bear the message of the gospel to distant lands and to people across the sea.

–Peace Jones, aunt of Rufus Jones, speaking of her newborn nephew


Rufus Matthew Jones did just that.  He, born in South China, Maine, on January 25, 1863, was a son of Edwin Jones and Mary Gifford Hoxie Jones.  Our saint grew up in a Quaker family.  He was a diligent scholar from an early age, studying first in a one-room village school, eventually transferring to Oak Grove Seminary (in nearby Vassalboro, Maine), then attending Providence Friends School (in Rhode Island).  After graduating from Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, in 1885, Jones taught at Oakwood Seminary, Union Springs, New York.  In 1886-1887 our saint studied at Heidelberg University, in Germany.  Next, in 1887, Jones became a teacher at Providence Friends School.  Two years later he began to serve as the principal of Oak Grove Seminary, Vassalboro.  Then, from 1893 to 1934, our saint taught psychology and philosophy at Haverford College.  Howard Thurman was one of his pupils.

Jones was a philosopher, historian, mystic, prolific writer, and agent of social reform.  In 1915 he helped to found the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Two years later he and Henry founded the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).  The AFSC’s initial purpose was to help conscientious objectors serve in non-combat roles, such as driving ambulances, during World War I.  The AFSC, of which Jones served as chair until 1928 and again in 1935-1936, became a relief and humanitarian agency after the Great War.  Its good works included feeding many Germans after the alleged war to end all wars and helping Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

Jones, husband first of Sarah Coutant (from 1888 to 1899), who died of tuberculosis, then of Elizabeth Cadbury (1902f), was an advocate of Quaker unity.  He used his position as the Editor of the Friends Review (1893-1894)/The American Friend (1894-1912) to work toward this goal.  The AFSC, with its inter-Quaker cooperation, also served this ecumenical purpose.  The organic union of Yearly Meetings across Orthodox, Conservative, and Hicksite lines, or combinations of two of the three, started after Jones died, however.  The various New York, Ohio, and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings merged into composite New York, Ohio, and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings in 1955.  The consolidation of the Baltimore Yearly Meetings followed in 1968.

Jones, a man committed to Christian missions, was not hostile to other religions.  In 1927, while traveling in Asia, he met with Mohandas Gandhi.  Later during that trip our saint spoke to the World Missionary Conference at Jerusalem.  He encouraged delegates, while supporting evangelism, to recognize the positive elements in other religions.

Jones advocated for German Jews in the 1930s.  In 1938, after the Kristallnacht, our saint was one-third of a Quaker delegation that visited the headquarters of the Gestapo.  The humanitarian Quakers, using the AFSC’s track record of feeding many otherwise-starving Germans after World War I, negotiated with Reinhard Heydrich, later an architect of, as the Third Reich put it creepily, “the final solution to the Jewish problem,” the “Jewish problem” being that Jews were alive.  The Quaker visitors received permission to send relief aid for Jews and to aid and abet the emigration of many Jews, thereby saving lives.

Jones, who was on the Modernist side of Quaker theology, spent his final years as he had spent his previous ones–living out Quaker values.  He represented the AFSC at the Nobel Prize ceremony in 1947, when the organization won the Peace Prize.  (A Quaker organization winning the Nobel Peace Prize is logical.)  He died, aged 85 years, at Haverford, Pennsylvania, on June 16, 1948.

The American Friends Service Committee and the Fellowship of Reconciliation continue in work of which Jones would approve–creating peace, advocating for immigrants and refugees, opposing discrimination, working for economic justice, et cetera–in other words, loving one’s neighbors as one loves oneself.  That sounds Christian to me.








O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


Feast of St. Methodius I of Constantinople and St. Joseph the Hymnographer (June 14)   1 comment

Above:  The Expansion of Islam, 700-900

Scanned from Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (Philadelphia, PA:  The Publishers Agency, Inc., 1957), H-11



Defender of Icons and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople



Defender of Icons and the “Sweet-Voiced Nightingale of the Church”

Alternative feast day = April 3


Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées




On the Roman Catholic calendar Sts. Methodius I of Constantinople and Joseph the Hymnographer, contemporaries, share a feast day yet not a feast.  My process of preparing this post reveals that the fact they their stories contain many of the same background characters, however, so merging the feasts is efficient and feasible.


Above:  St. Methodius I of Constantinople

Image in the Public Domain

St. Methodius I, born in Syracuse, Sicily, in the late 700s, came from a wealthy family.  He, educated in Syracuse, traveled to Constantinople for the purpose of seeking a position in the Byzantine imperial court.  He founded a monastery on the island of Chinos and supervised construction of that monastery instead.  St. Methodius I left Chinos soon after the the completion of the construction of that monastery, for St. Nicephorus I, from 806 to 815 the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, summoned him to the imperial capital and appointed him the apokrisiares, or church advocate, during the reign (813-820) of the Iconoclastic Emperor Leo V the Armenian.

Above:  St. Joseph the Hymnographer

Image in the Public Domain

St. Joseph the Hymnographer, frequently and perhaps hopelessly confused by many hagiographers with St. Joseph of Thessalonica, brother of St. Theodore Studites, also made his way to Constantinople.  St. Joseph the Hymnographer, born on the island of Sicily in the late 700s, came from a Christian family.  His parents were Plotinos and Agatha.  He moved to Thessalonica, where he became a monk.  There St. Gregory the Dekapolite, also a defender of icons, met our saint, whom he took to the imperial capital during the reign (813-820) of Leo V the Armenian.


St. Nicephorus I sent St. Methodius I on a mission to Rome.  During that time Leo the Armenian dismissed the Ecumenical Patriarch and exiled the absent St. Methodius I.

St. Gregory also sent St. Joseph to Rome, to deliver a message to Pope Leo III (in office 795-816).  St. Joseph remained in Rome for years.


Both of our featured saints returned to Constantinople after Leo the Armenian died in 820 and during the reign (820-829) of Emperor Michael II the Stammerer.  Although Michael II initially halted the Iconclastic persecution and freed the political prisoners, he eventually resumed the persecution and imprisoned St. Methodius I, who had continued to resist Iconoclasm.  St. Joseph, a priest by this time, was back in the imperial capital also.  There he founded a church and an associated monastery.  In his absence St. Gregory had died.  St. Joseph transferred relics of his mentor to the new church.


The next ruler was Theophilus (reigned 829-842), an Iconclast.  The Emperor freed St. Methodius I, who persisted in resisting Iconoclasm.  Theophilus tolerated this until he became convinced that leniency toward St. Methodius I angered God, who supposedly punished the empire with defeats to Arab armies.  So, in 835, the Emperor ordered the arrest and torture of St. Methodius I, who had retorted that God was angry not over the veneration of icons but the destruction of them.  Byzantine guards broke St. Methodius I’s jaw and permanently scarred his face.  They also kept him incarcerated with two robbers in a cave on the island of Antigonus for seven years.

St. Joseph also resisted the Iconclastic policy of Theophilus.  Our saint therefore spent eleven years in exile in the Cheronese, in Crimea.


The reign of Emperor Michael III the Drunkard spanned from 842 to 867.  Until 856, however, the regent was his mother, the Empress Theodora.  She ordered defenders of icons freed.  The Empress also elevated St. Methodius I to the office of Ecumenical Patriarch.  In that capacity he presided over the church council that restored the veneration of icons.  He lived peacefully during his final years, dying in 847.

St. Methodius I also wrote some hymns.


St. Joseph’s fortunes under Theodora were mixed.  In 842 she made him the keeper of the sacred vessels at the Church of Hagia Sophia, Constantinople.  He had to go into exiles again, however, due to the political consequences of his condemnation of the cohabitation of Bardas, brother of Theodora.  St. Joseph returned from exile in 867, after the death of Bardas.

St. Joseph, back in Constantinople, ended his days as the Father-confessor for all priests in the city.  He died in 886.

St. Joseph wrote about 1000 hymns and liturgical poems of the Orthodox Church.  Some of them have come to exist in English-language translations, in hymnals of various denominations, usually Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, and Presbyterian.


I have endeavored to write as accurately as possible.  As I have mentioned, hagiographers have long confused St. Joseph the Hymnographer with St. Joseph of Thessalonica.  This fact has complicated my task.  Even Orthodox Church resources I have consulted have offered untrustworthy information.  I have discerned some of this via simple mathematics.  According to some sources, the birth of St. Joseph the Hymnographer occurred in 816 and his family fled Sicily when he was 15 years old (in 831), due to the Arab invasion.  Also according to these sources, some years later St. Joseph arrived in Constantinople and carried a message to the Pope during the reign of Emperor Leo V the Armenian.  The reign of Leo the Armenian was 813-820, however.  ST. JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER DID NOT MOVE BACKWARD IN TIME.  I have also read of mutually exclusive exiles of St. Joseph during the reign of the Emperor Theophilus.  I have utilized Ockham’s Razor when making decisions about what to write.

I acknowledge readily, O reader, that my biography of St. Joseph the Hymnographer almost certainly contains elements of the life of St. Joseph of Thessalonica instead, due to the sources available to me.


Sts. Methodius I of Constantinople and Joseph the Hymnographer were faithful servants of God who suffered for their faith, due to imperial politics.  Their legacies have survived, fortunately.  The Orthodox Church has continued to venerate icons.  Also, many Christians, in their successive generations, to the present day, have sung hymns by St. Joseph.








Almighty God, we praise you for your servants

Saints Methodius I of Constantinople and Joseph the Hymnographer,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our won day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

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

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

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

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


Feast of Enmegahbowh (June 12)   2 comments

Above:  Enmegahbowh

Image in the Public Domain


ENMEGAHBOWH (1807/1813-JUNE 11/12, 1902)

Episcopal Priest and Missionary to the Ojibwa Nation

Also known as John Johnson

One route to a calendar of saints is to be the first person to do something.  Thus we come to case of Enmegahbowh, the first Native American to become an Episcopal priest, in 1867.  He was not, however, the first Native American to become a priest in the Anglican Communion; that man was Sakachuwescum, also known as Henry Budd, a Canadian Cree, in 1850.

Enmegahbowh, literally “the One who Stands Before his People,” was also from Canada.  He, born at Rice Lake, Ontario, in 1807 or 1813 (depending on the official Episcopal Church resource one consults), was Odawa (Ottawa)-Ojibwa/Chippewa.  He grew up a Christian, and a Methodist minister baptized him as John Johnson.  In 1832 our saint, then a Methodist missionary, arrived in the United States.  Eventually he attempted to return to Canada, but a storm on Lake Superior and a vision of Jonah stopped him.

Enmegahbowh became an Episcopalian in time, after receiving a copy of The Book of Common Prayer prior to 1850.  Eventually me met James Lloyd Breck, with whom he founded St. Columba’s Mission, Gull Lake, Minnesota.  Enmegahbown was a peacemaker.  The way he pursued that calling made him persona non grata among many Ojibwa/Chippewa for a time, but he did facilitate peace between the Dakota and the Ojibwa/Chippewa, in 1869.  Our saint, a missionary to the Ojibwa/Chippewa, became an Episcopal deacon (by the hands of Bishop Jackson Kemper) in 1859 then a priest (by the hands of Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple of Minnesota) in 1867.  Enmegahbowh ministered at the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota until his death on June 11 or 12 (depending on the official Episcopal Church resource one consults), 1902.

Certainly part of Enmegahbowh’s legacy is the active presence of The Episcopal Church among indigenous peoples in Minnesota.








Almighty God, you led your pilgrim people of old with fire and cloud:

Grant that the ministers of your Church, following the example of blessed Enmegahbowh,

may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gentle humility.

This we ask through Jesus, the Christ, who lives and reigns with

you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 129

1 Peter 5:1-4

Luke 6:17-23

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 423


Feast of Charles Augustus Briggs and Emilie Grace Briggs (June 14)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Stand:  Science Versus Superstition, by Udo J. Keppler

From Puck Magazine, July 19, 1899

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-28614

Charles Augustus Briggs is the man on the left in the clergy collar.



U.S. Presbyterian Minister, Episcopal Priest, Biblical Scholar, and Alleged Heretic

father of


Biblical Scholar and “Heretic’s Daughter”


It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.

Galileo Galilei


Progress in religion, in doctrine, and in life is demanded of our age of the world more than any other age.

–Charles Augustus Briggs


Above:  Charles Augustus Briggs

Image in the Public Domain

The tribe of alleged heretics includes luminaries.

Charles Augustus Briggs was one of the relatively liberal clergymen who became epicenters of controversy in the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (“Northern,” but actually national) in the late 1800s.  He, born in New York, New York, on January 15, 1841, was a son of Alanson Tuthill Briggs (Sr.), who managed the family business, the largest barrel-making company in the United States, and Sarah Mead Berrian Briggs.  Young Charles studied at the University of Virginia from 1857 to 1860; there he had a conversion experience.  For a few months our saint was a soldier in the New York Seventh Regiment during the Civil War.  Next Briggs matriculated at Union Theological Seminary (UTS), New York, New York.  He left in 1863, due to his father’s extended illness, to manage the family business.

Briggs married Julia Valentine Dobbs in 1865.  The couple had seven children, five of whom survived our saint.  These five were:

  1. Emilie Grace Briggs (1867-June 14, 1944);
  2. Agnes Briggs, who married Philip Ketteridge;
  3. Alanson Tuthill Briggs (II) (1871-January 31, 1946);
  4. Herbert Wilfrid Briggs; and
  5. Olive M. Briggs.

Briggs became a Presbyterian minister.  The First Presbytery of New York licensed our saint to preach in April 1866.  That June Charles and Julia Briggs traveled to Berlin, where he studied for his doctorate at the University of Berlin.  At that institution our saint studied under proponents of historical critical scholarship of the Bible; Isaac A. Dorner was, by Briggs’s account, an influential figure in the shaping of his theology.  Also in Berlin the Briggses welcomed their daughter Emilie Grace into the world.  Our saint, back in the United States, served as the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Roselle, New Jersey, from 1869 to 1874.  That year he accepted an appointment to Union Theological Seminary as Professor of Hebrew and Cognate Languages.

Briggs remained at Union Theological Seminary for the rest of his life, although not always as a Presbyterian.  He was, according to student then colleague, Presbyterian minister and UTS professor William Adams Brown (1865-1938), a

walking encyclopedia, combining an essentially conservative theology with a critical scholarship.

Most of Briggs’s critics within and beyond the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. never questioned his intellect, but they did doubt his orthodoxy.  Briggs, from 1880 to 1890 the Editor of the Presbyterian Review, was a champion of historical criticism scholarship, of Higher Criticism of the Bible.  Our saint argued for propositions that no not cause the author of this post to arch his eyebrows.  Briggs argued, for example that

  1. The Book of Isaiah is the product of two authors.  (I have read commentaries that argue for three Isaiahs.  The editors of The Jewish Study Bible argue for two Isaiahs.)
  2. The Book of Zechariah is a composite work.  (The study Bibles in my library agree with this conclusion.)
  3. The Torah is not the work of Moses, but a composite of various documents edited, cut, and pasted during the time of Ezra.  (Renowned Jewish Biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman supports this conclusion in his books Who Wrote the Bible? (1987), Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), and The Bible with Sources Revealed:  A New View Into the Five Books of Moses (2003).)
  4. The Book of Jonah is a work of fiction.  (Of course it is.  The story is a magnificent satire of the excesses of postexilic Jewish nationalism and a reminder that God’s love extends to all Gentiles, even national enemies.)
  5. The Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible.  The dogmas that it is constitute barriers to faith for many people.  (I have read the Bible too closely to affirm either inerrancy or infallibility.  To label the recognition of the obvious heretical is  to encourage one not to love God with all of one’s intellect.)

These and other views of Briggs allegedly subverted the Christian faith.

Briggs favored the reordering of American Presbyterian theology and the revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith, to moderate the rough edges of its Calvinism.  He, an ardent ecumenist and supporter of organic union among denominations, argued against “orthodoxism,” or a false orthodoxy that betrays the principles of the Protestant Reformation and of the best aspects of the Presbyterian tradition.  In Whither? A Theological Question for the Times (1889) Briggs wrote:

Orthodoxism assumes to know the truth and is unwilling to learn; it is haughty and arrogant, assuming the divine prerogatives of infallibility and inerrancy; it hates the truth that is unfamiliar to it, and prosecutes it to the uttermost.  But orthodoxy loves the truth.  It is ever anxious to learn, for it knows how greatly the truth or God transcends human knowledge….It is meek, lowly, and reverent.  It is full of charity and love.  It does not recognize an infallible pope; it does not know an infallible theologian.

Briggs did not remain either a Presbyterian or alive long enough to witness the triumph of his position in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  He lived until 1913, a decade after the denomination revised the Westminster Confession of Faith.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. did not side officially with the Modernist side in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy until the middle and late 1920s, however.  The Presbytery of New York put Briggs, since 1891 the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology at UTS, on trial for heresy and acquitted him on that charge in 1892, but the General Assembly of 1893 suspended him from ministerial duties until he repented.  He never repented.  Briggs, after preaching as a layman for a few years, became an Episcopal priest in 1899 instead.  He, 72 years old, died of pneumonia on June 8, 1913.

Briggs, working from his secure professional home at Union Theological Seminary, continued to teach, write, and edit.  One of his greatest accomplishments was the Hebrew and English Lexicon (1905), a classic and standard work.  His fellow authors were Francis Brown and S. R. Driver, but his daughter Emilie Grace contributed to the work also.  She, assistant to her father from the 1890s to 1913, was a crucial participant in his late scholarly endeavors.

Emilie should have had a doctorate.  In 1897 she made history by becoming the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary.  She pursued graduate studies and wrote her dissertation, The Deaconess in the Ancient and Medieval Church, which the UTS faculty approved.  Yet she never received her doctorate, due to the fact she could never get the dissertation published, a requirement for receiving a doctorate from UTS at the time.  She revised the dissertation for decades and various professors helped her try to get it published, to no avail.  Emilie taught Greek and the New Testament at the New York Training School for Deaconesses, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, from 1896 to 1915.  After her father’s death in 1913 her main project was his legacy.  He left some scholarly books unfinished.  She, the author of several scholarly articles, finished and got published Theological Symbolics (1914), History of the Study of Theology (two volumes, 1916), and a commentary on Lamentations.  Emilie, who studied the order of deaconesses, completed other projects her father never had time to finish; she could not get them published, however.  She also collected and organized her father’s papers, which she donated to the library at UTS in 1941.  Emilie, who never married, died, aged 77 years, on June 14, 1944.

Charles Augustus Briggs and his daughter and intellectual heir, Emilie Grace Briggs, belong on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  They were fearless in their embrace of both faith and reason.








O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Charles Augustus Briggs, Emilie Grace Briggs, and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

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

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34






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 11-20, 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