Archive for the ‘Galileo Galilei’ Tag

Feast of James Woodrow (January 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  James Woodrow

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


JAMES WOODROW (MAY 30, 1828-JANUARY 17, 1907)

Southern Presbyterian Minister, Naturalist, and Alleged Heretic


Let the Church show herself the patroness of learning in everything…and let her never be subjected by mistaken friends, to the charge that she fears the light.

–James Woodrow, November 22, 1861; quoted in Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Vol. 1, 1607-1861 (1963), 508


Above:  Logo of the Presbyterian Church in the United States

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


James Woodrow, brother-in-law of Joseph Ruggles Wilson (1822-1903) and uncle of President (first of Princeton University then of the United States of America) Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via two authors.  For this post I draw from Clayton H. Ramsey’s article about Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia, in the Autumn 2018 issue of Georgia Backroads magazine.  I also derive information from the first two volumes of Ernest Trice Thompson‘s magisterial three-volume work, Presbyterians in the South (1963-1973).  I also derive information from Journals of Southern Presbyterian General Assemblies.

James Woodrow, a native of England, spent most of his life in the United States.  He, born in Carlisle on May 30, 1828, emigrated with his family as a youth.  He graduated from Jefferson College, Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1849.  Then he studied under naturalist Louis Agassiz at the Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard.  After teaching in Alabama, Woodrow was a professor at Oglethorpe University, Midway, Georgia, from 1853 to 1861.  He taught geology, botany, chemistry, and natural philosophy.  Our saint also took a few years off to earn graduate degrees at the University of Heidelberg.  When he graduated in 1856, he could have become the Chair of Natural Sciences at Heidelberg, had he accepted the offer.  Woodrow studied theology after returning to Oglethorpe University.  He became a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Old School) on October 15, 1859; the ordination occurred at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia.

Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina, created an endowed professorship, Woodrow’s next job, in 1861.  Judge John Perkins, of Mississippi, provided the funding for the position, with the intention that the Perkins Professor of Natural Science refute Evolution and prepare seminarians to do the same.  Woodrow, who started the job in late 1861, insisted on academic freedom, though.  He also carried into the professorship his conviction that God could not contradict himself in the Bible and in science, and that any seeming contradiction between the Bible and science must result from the misinterpretation of scripture.  This position left Woodrow, who refused to dismiss rock layers and fossil records, open to accepting Evolution, which he did by 1884.

The Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA) formed at First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Georgia, on December 4, 1861.   Wilson became a charter member of the new denomination.

The Civil War disrupted elements of church life in the South.  Columbia Theological Seminary closed for most of the conflict.  Furthermore, The Southern Presbyterian did not always go to the presses.  Woodrow remained busy, though.

  1. He edited The Southern Presbyterian.
  2. He became the Treasurer of the PCCSA’s Foreign Mission Committee in 1861.
  3. He became the Treasurer of the PCCSA’s Home Mission Committee in 1863.
  4. He taught chemistry at the College of South Carolina.
  5. He managed the Medical and Chemical Confederate Laboratory, which made silver nitrate for wound care.

In December 1865, after Confederate defeat, the PCCSA renamed itself the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS).

When Columbia Theological Seminary reopened and The Southern Presbyterian resumed publication, Woodrow’s roles at them resumed, also.  He was one of the more progressive members of his denomination; he favored friendly relations with the “Northern” (actually national) Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  As Woodrow became more accepting of Evolution, he moved in a direction opposite of that of the PCUS.  By 1884 his alleged heresy had become so controversial that the seminary closed for two years, reopening in 1886.  The seminary board requested in 1884 that Woodrow resign; he refused.  The heresy trial, held at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Greene County, Georgia, in 1886, ended in an acquittal.  Nevertheless, the seminary board fired our saint on December 8, 1886.

The PCUS General Assemblies of 1886, 1888, 1889, and 1924 passed resolutions taking the position opposite of Professor Woodrow.

Life went on for James Woodrow, who remained prominent in the PCUS.  He, the editor of The Southern Presbyterian consistently since 1866, continued in that role until 1893.  On the side, he continued to teach at the University of South Carolina, where he had been on faculty since 1869.  The seminary board forbade Columbia students to attend his lectures, though.  Woodrow went on to serve as the President of the University of South Carolina from 1891 to 1897.  Furthermore, he was, for a time, the President of the Central National Bank, Columbia.  In 1896, when the Presbytery of Charleston sought to prevent African-American men from becoming ordained ministers, Woodrow sided against the presbytery and with the Synod of South Carolina.  The General Assembly supported the position of the synod.

Woodrow retained the ability to create controversy at the end of his life.  The General Assembly of 1901 elected him the Moderator for a year.  The following year, at the General Assembly, our saint offended many in his sermon; he recognized the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian organization.  The General Assembly of 1902 passed a resolution NOT to print his sermon.

Woodrow, ailing in 1906, had surrendered his leadership roles in the church.  That year, as he neared death, the Board of Directors of Columbia Theological Seminary passed resolutions praising him for his piety and orthodoxy.

Woodrow, aged 78 years, died in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 17, 1907.

The General Assembly of 1969 affirmed:

Neither Scripture, nor our Confession of Faith, nor our catechisms, teach the creation of man by direct and immediate acts of God as to exclude the possibility of evolution as a scientific theory.

Woodrow would have approved.

Good science should always overrule bad theology.

The Christian Church has a mixed record regarding science, faith, and reason.  On the positive side are giants such as James Woodrow, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei.  The Society of Jesus has a venerable tradition of astronomy.  One may reach back as far as St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 210/2015), the “Father of Christian Scholarship,” who affirmed the value of truth, whether or not of Christian origin.  One may also continue that line through his pupil, Origen.  When one skips a few centuries, one arrives at St. Albert the Great (d. 1280) and his student, St. Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed the compatibility of faith and reason.  On the negative side are figures such as St. Robert Bellarmine (who confronted Galileo and whom I will never add to my Ecumenical Calendar) and William Jennings Bryan (who, likewise, has less probability than  a snowball in Hell of joining the ranks at my Ecumenical Calendar).

All this is easy for me to write, for I am unapologetic product of the Northern Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the best of Roman Catholic tradition.  My intellectualism and my acceptance of science inform my Christian faith.  God is not the author of confusion.  Furthermore, God does not deceive us with manufactured fossils and rock layers meant to test our faith.  God cannot lie, but human beings are capable of misunderstanding.





God of grace and glory, you create and sustain the universe in majesty and beauty:

We thank you for James Woodrow and all in whom you have planted

the desire to know your creation and to explore your work and wisdom.

Lead us, like them, to understand better the wonder and mystery of creation;

through Jesus Christ your eternal Word, through whom all things were made.  Amen.

Genesis 2:9-20

Psalm 34:8-14

2 Corinthians 13:1-6

John 20:24-37

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 738


Feast of Johannes Kepler (November 15)   Leave a comment

Above:  A Stamp Depicting Johannes Kepler

Image in the Public Domain



German Lutheran Astronomer and Mathematician

My greatest desire is that I may perceive the God whom I find everywhere in the external world, in like manner also within and inside myself.

–Johannes Kepler


Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God.



Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.

–Galileo Gailiei


Johannes Kepler comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Episcopal Church.  His Episcopal feast day (since 2009), shared with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), is May 23.  On my Ecumenical Calendar, however, Copernicus shares a feast day with Gailieo Galilei (1564-1642).

The following two assertions are true:

  1. Our societies shape us.  We are products of our times.
  2. We shape our societies.  We help to make our times.

Kepler was both a product of his times and a shaper of the future.  He was, in many ways, ahead of his time, especially as he matured.

Kepler became a founder of modern astronomy.  He, a subject of the Holy Roman Empire, began his journey into revolutionizing science began at Weil der Stadt, where, on December 27, 1571, Catherine (Guldenmann) Kepler, from a formerly noble family, gave birth to our saint.  The Kepler family’s fortunes had been declining for some time; the father worked as a soldier.  When Johannes was four years old, he nearly went blind due to smallpox.  The condition damaged his eyesight permanently.

Kepler, who once aspired to the Lutheran ministry, became a mathematician and a scientist instead.  After graduating from Maulbronn with his Bachelor’s degree in 1588, he matriculated at Tübingen, from which he graduated with a Master’s degree in 1591.  At Tübingen Kepler studied the Copernican theory (heliocentrism), then a controversial idea, especially in ecclesiastical circles.  Kepler accepted heliocentrism and helped to shape modern astronomy.

Doing this entailed contradicting contemporary Christian orthodoxy, according to which the other planets, as well as the Moon and Sun, revolved around the Earth.  To accept the heliocentric model was allegedly to minimize sin, given the assumption that, the closer one moved toward the center (supposedly the Earth), the farther one moved away from God and the angels.  To place the Earth in orbit of the Sun was allegedly to place sinful humans amid God and the angels.

Kepler, professor of mathematics at Graz, starting in 1594, made his contribution.  Aside from mathematics, he also taught rhetoric and Virgil.  Our saint, who lived when the distinction between astronomy and astrology did not exist, prepared astrological almanacs.  Kepler, in the realm of faith and hard science, sought order in the relationships of planetary orbits to each other.  He initially had difficulty divorcing himself from all the assumptions of the old, accepted Ptolemaic model, with its spheres, et cetera.  Our saint married Barbara von Mühlbeck (d. 1611), of Graz, in April 1597.  A purge of Protestant theologians from that city in September of that year forced the Keplers to move.  Barbara’s wealth and influence enabled the couple to return after just one month, though.  They did have to leave in 1600, however.

The Keplers moved to Prague, for our saint’s new position, in 1600.  Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) helped to facilitate this transition.  Kepler became the court mathematician to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (reigned 1576-1612).  Our saint, as an astrologer, created horoscopes for the Emperor and courtiers.  Kepler also studied and wrote about light reflection, supernovae, planetary orbits, and other topics in the realm of hard science.  Our saint, as the recipient of Tycho Brahe’s decades’ worth of astronomical observational notes, analyzed that data and in 1609, published his conclusion that planetary orbits were elliptical. Kepler contradicted the Ptolemaic model, according to which heavenly bodies moved in circular orbits.

Kepler, who remarried (to Susanna Reutlinger) in 1613, served loyally under Emperor Matthias (reigned 1612-1619), who appointed him the mathematician to the states of upper Austria in 1612.  The following year, Kepler and Matthias argued unsuccessfully for the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, in lieu of the old Julian Calendar.  Science did not yet yield to Protestant anti-Roman Catholicism.

Kepler, who taught mathematics in Silesia from 1628 until his death at Regensberg on November 15, 1630, got much right and other theories wrong.  He practiced astrology, a pseudo-science.  Our saint also thought that comets did not return.  For that matter, Gaileo Gailiei, Kepler’s contemporary, did not accept the gravitational pull of the Moon on tides on the Earth.  Great men were not always correct.

We see farther than they did because we stand on their shoulders.

Kepler was not only a giant of science; he was also a devout Christian.  He was, in both regards, in the same league as Copernicus, Galilei, and Michael Faraday (1791-1867).

The conflict between religion and faith on one side and science on the other is unnecessary.  Truth is truth.  Bad theology is bad theology.  Good theology is good theology.  We can arrive at much truth via observation, experimentation, data analysis, documentation, et cetera–in other words, the Scientific Method and Enlightenment Modernism.  Other truth, however, resides in a different purview.  One can have access to truth via more than one channel.








As the heavens declare your glory, O God, and the firmament shows your handiwork,

we bless your Name for the gifts of knowledge and insight you bestowed upon Johannes Kepler,

and we pray that you would continue to advance our understanding of your cosmos,

for our good and for your glory;  through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Genesis 1:14-19

Psalm 8

1 Corinthians 2:6-12

Matthew 2:1-11a

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 383


Feast of Blaise Pascal (August 19)   3 comments

Above:  Blaise Pascal

Image in the Public Domain


BLAISE PASCAL (JUNE 19, 1623-AUGUST 19, 1662)

French Roman Catholic Scientist, Mathematician, and Theologian


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

–Blaise Pascal


Blaise Pascal was a brilliant man accustomed to physical suffering; he would have benefited from modern medicine, had he lived in contemporary times.  Pascal was also an influential philosopher who influenced Existentialists.  Our saint was also a faithful Roman Catholic who often found himself stuck between the Church and the truth, as he understood it.

Pascal was a native of Clermont-Ferrand, France.  He, born on June 19, 1623, lost his mother, Antoinette Bégon, to death in 1626.  Our saint’s father, Étienne Pascal, was a mathematician.  Étienne moved the family to Paris in 1631.  He, an attentive father, supervised his children’s education.  In 1639 Étienne the intendant at Rouen.

Young Blaise demonstrated his great mathematical ability.  His Essai pour les coniques (1640) attracted so much positive attention that René Descartes became jealous.  Our saint was also an inventor.  Between 1642 and 1644 he invented and built a sort of calculator for his father to use at work.

The Pascals were devout Roman Catholics.  Nevertheless, they had frequently substituted decency, courtesy, and ethics for inner religion.  Pascal had at least two spiritual turning points–in 1646 and 1654.  The illness of his father (d. 1651) led our saint to perceive the need to turn away from the world and fully toward God.  Meanwhile Pascal built up his scientific reputation by testing theories of Galileo Galilei (in 1646) and conducting experiments regarding vacuums (in 1647-1648).  [Explanatory note:  The existence of vacuums was a theological problem for Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  According to approved theology, there could be no such thing as a vacuum because God is everywhere.  This argument assumed, of course, that God consists of matter.  Bad theology has often been the enemy of good science and engineering.]  Pascal’s weak constitution caused occasional delays in scientific research, but he focused on science intensely until 1654.

A profound religious experience one night in November 1654 led Pascal to do what he perceived he needed to do eight years prior:  turn completely to God.  From the final stage of our saint’s life emerged Les Provinciales (1656-1657) and the Penseés (1657-1658).  Pascal, who struggled with his ego for much of his life, immersed himself in the devotional life and in service to God in the poor–of Paris, in particular.  His writings concerned themes such as grace and the love of God.  Morality, he concluded, was inseparable from spirituality.

In some ways Pascal was on the same side as the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church; in other ways, not.  He objected to the Church’s heavy hand in cracking down on Jansenism, the Catholic counterpart to Calvinism.  That Pascal’s sister Jacqueline (d. October 1661), a nun, was a Jansenist, certainly influenced his opinion.  He encouraged Jansenists not to cave into pressure from Rome, until Jacqueline died.  Pascal also condemned the Jesuits in strong terms, pointing to laxism and sophistry.

At the end of his life Pascal was quite ill, as well as spiritually and emotionally distressed.  He spent his last weeks in the home of his sister Gilberte.  Our saint died in Paris on August 19, 1662.  He was 39 years old.

Pascal puts most of us who are older than 39 years old to shame.  He puts me to shame.








Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness:

You have shown us the splendor of creation in the work of your servant Blaise Pascal.

Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory,

and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness

of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord,

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

Isaiah 28:5-6 or Hosea 14:5-8 or 2 Chronicles 20:20-21

Psalm 96

Philippians 4:8-9 or Ephesians 5:18b-20

Matthew 13:44-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 61


Feast of Charles Augustus Briggs and Emilie Grace Briggs (June 8)   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 (1865-1943), 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






Feast of Henri de Lubac (February 20)   Leave a comment


Above:  Henri de Lubac

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Priest, Cardinal, and Theologian


Take note, theologians; you run the risk of someday having to condemn as heretics those who declare as you do that the earth stands still.

–Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)


Both Henri de Lubac and Galileo Galilei understood the changing nature of orthodoxy, as the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church defines it.

De Lubac, born at Cambrai, France, on February 20, 1896, was a Jesuit.  He joined the Society in Jesus in 1913.  From 1914 to 1919 our saint served in the French Army.  Afterward he studied theology, culminating in his ordination to the priesthood in 1927.

De Lubac’s life and theological standing had their ups and downs.  He joined the faculty of the University of Lyons in 1929.  Our saint, a neo-scholastic theologian, criticized certain aspects of Church teaching in the light of the Church Fathers, as in Catholicism (1938).  In other words, he thought that the Church had, in some aspects, strayed from its foundations.  That which conservatives (from a certain point of view) considered an ill-conceived innovation was actually a return to an older tradition.  Then period of 1940-1944 was difficult for de Lubac, part of the resistance to both the direct Nazi occupation of part of France and the puppet French State, or the Vichy regime.  After the liberation (1944) normal life resumed for our saint.  In Surnaturel (1946) de Lubac argued against the false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatual with regard to human destinies.  He stated that God had created people with inherent and natural openness to and desire for the supernatural.  Simply put, according to our saint, the true human vocation is union with God.

Pope Pius XII (reigned 1939-1958) disapproved of the work of de Lubac and other Roman Catholic theologians who critiqued Church teaching in the light of the Church Fathers.  The Supreme Pontiff condemned them in the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) and silenced de Lubac for eight years.  Our saint studied Buddhism and literature instead.  He also defended Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), whom the Vatican had silenced for decades.  Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963) rehabilitated de Lubac and, in 1960, recruited him to help with Vatican II.  Our saint also helped to write the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965).

De Lubac, a liberal pre-Vatican II and a conservative post-Vatican II, proved the argument that those labels are relative to the center and that, when the center moves, one’s label changes.  Pope John Paul II (reigned 1978-2005) made our saint a cardinal in 1983.

De Lubac died, aged 95 years, in Paris, France, on September 4, 1991.








O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom,

to others the word of knowledge,

and to others the word of faith:

We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested

in your servant Henri de Lubac, and we pray

that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit

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

Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16

John 17:18-23

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 720


Reflections During an Interlude in the Renovation of A Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days   Leave a comment


Above:  January, by Leandro Bassano

Image in the Public Domain


The first phase of the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days has ended; I have completed the first twelfth of the process here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS.  The number of posts at this weblog has hovered around 1500, give or take a few posts, as I have added, deleted, and replaced some posts and revised others.

Thinking about saints and contemplating sainthood are rewarding spiritual practices.  They are foreign to the spiritual traditions of my childhood; the Southern Baptist Convention and The United Methodist Church do not encourage keeping a calendar of saints.  Nevertheless, observing an official calendar of saints (in The Episcopal Church) and creating my own such calendar has come naturally to me.  I, as a historian, emphasize the great men and women of the past.  Also, my inclination is toward the Roman Catholic end of the spectrum in certain ways.

Nevertheless, as helpful as Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox calendars of saints have proven to be and continue to help me with my own project, I have chosen not to restrict myself to their selections of saints and their assigned feast days.  This tendency has proven to be a manifestation of the Protestant side of my spirituality.

Rome has spoken,

many Roman Catholics say, meaning it as a statement of finality and authority.  At least half the time I think,

So what?

I learn and import much from Holy Mother Church, but I also walk my own path much of the time.  After all, Rome took more than 300 years to rescind the pronouncement that Galileo Galilei was a heretic for stating the scientific fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  The Church also canonized Robert Bellarmine, Galileo’s inquisitor who chose ignorance of good science in lieu of tradition and bad theology, as well as condoning to burning heretics at the stake.  (The Ecumenical Calendar does not include St. Robert Bellarmine.)

As I contemplate saints with feast days in January (at least on my Ecumenical Calendar), I understand them to be quite an assortment of people.  Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, for example, held one opinion regarding the nature of knowledge and certainty; Lesslie Newbigin argued for a different position.  Some saints were ascetics, but others lived comfortably.  Some were spouses and parents; others chose never to marry.  Some were traditionalists, but others were pioneers.  I would have liked to have known some saints, but I would not have enjoyed the company of certain others, such as St. Jerome.  Some of these saints would have accused me of heresy, but others would have agreed with me, at least partially, or disagreed with me respectfully.  So be it.

I anticipate the next phase (February) of the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar.








Feast of Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei (January 8)   11 comments


Above:  The Copernican System

Image in the Public Domain








Second. I say that, as you know, the Council [of Trent] prohibits expounding the Scriptures contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. And if Your Reverence would read not only the Fathers but also the commentaries of modern writers on Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Josue, you would find that all agree in explaining literally (ad litteram) that the sun is in the heavens and moves swiftly around the earth, and that the earth is far from the heavens and stands immobile in the center of the universe. Now consider whether in all prudence the Church could encourage giving to Scripture a sense contrary to the holy Fathers and all the Latin and Greek commentators. Nor may it be answered that this is not a matter of faith, for if it is not a matter of faith from the point of view of the subject matter, it is on the part of the ones who have spoken. It would be just as heretical to deny that Abraham had two sons and Jacob twelve, as it would be to deny the virgin birth of Christ, for both are declared by the Holy Ghost through the mouths of the prophets and apostles.

St. Robert Bellarmine, 1615


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

–Galileo Galilei


I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

–Galileo Galilei


The Bible shows us the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.

–Galileo Galilei


For biographies of these two saints I refer you, O reader, to the following links:

To bash the Roman Catholic Church for its posthumous treatment of Copernicus and its abuse of Galileo, as well as its tardiness in rescinding the decree of heresy against him, is about as easy as fishing with dynamite.  To do so while ignoring the broader, more complex history of the relationship between Holy Mother Church and science is also deceptive.  Besides, leading Protestants of the time tended to be just as skeptical of the Copernican theory and Galileo’s observations as were Roman Catholic officials.

The Copernican theory contradicted bad and well-established theology.  Sinful humans were on the Earth; God and the angels dwelt out there, according to orthodox theology.  Therefore, according to the orthodox position, to make the Sun the center and the Earth a planet orbiting it was to make a heretical statement about the place of sinful human beings in the cosmos.  Science disproved not only conventional wisdom but foundational theological assumptions.

Now, of course, we know that reality is far more revolutionary (pardon the double entendre) than Copernicus and Galileo could have guessed; the Sun is not the center of the universe.  Furthermore, our galaxy is one of many, and the Sun is far from its center.  We humans are marginal and insignificant in the universe (never mind the multiverse, if there is such a thing).  God’s creation is unimaginably vast and spectacular.

Science helps us to understand our physical reality better, if not completely.  When it does this will we accept objective reality and embrace a religious faith for the modern age?  Or will we restrict our theological horizons to those of previous eras?  Will we honor those scientists who teach us this “new” knowledge?  Or will we scorn–even persecute–them?

As Galileo understood, that which seems like orthodoxy might actually be heresy.







God of grace and glory, you create and sustain the universe in majesty and beauty:

We thank you for Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and all in whom you have

planted the desire to know your creation and to explore your work and wisdom.

Lead us, like them, to understand better the wonder and mystery of creation;

through Christ your eternal Word, through whom all things were made.  Amen.

Genesis 2:9-20

Psalm 34:8-14

2 Corinthians 13:1-6

John 20:24-27

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 738


Feast of Carl J. Sodergren and Claus A. Wendell (September 5)   2 comments

Augustana Synod Logo

Above:  Logo of the Augustana Synod

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Lutheran Minister and Theologian

colleague of


Swedish-American Lutheran Minister and Theologian




Both saints I am adding to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days with this post were ministers of the Augustana Synod, formed in 1860 by Swedish Lutheran immigrants to the United States.

When I draft a blog post adding someone to the Ecumenical Calendar I seek to present information in an orderly manner.  This entails avoiding the temptation to chase too many proverbial rabbits.  Know then, O reader, that I understand far more about the Augustana Synod then I will reveal in this post, which is about Sodergren and Wendell, not the synod.  If you want to read more about the Augustana Synod, consult C. Everett Arden, Augustana Heritage:  A History of the Augustana Lutheran Church (1963), published during the year following the Augustana Synod’s merger into the Lutheran Church in America (1962-1987).

The Augustana Synod had several names during its lifetime.  It formed as the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America.  In 1894 the denomination dropped “Swedish” from its name.  Then, in 1948, the body became the Augustana Lutheran Church.  The Augustana Synod was originally ethnically Swedish, worshiping in that language.  By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the question of how often to use English was a subject of serious debate.  Our saints argued for the greater use of the English language in worship, for they understood that there the future of the synod lay.  The Augustana Synod made that transition, but not without much sturn und drang.  The fact of nativism in the United States during World War I did much to accelerate that process.




Carl Johannes Sodergren, born on September 5, 1870, at LaPorte, Indiana, was a child of Swedish immigrants.  His mother was Brita Sodergren (1847-1919) and his father was the Reverend Carl Henrik Sodergren (1840-1905).  Young Carl studied at Augustana College and Theological Seminary (one institution until 1948), Rock Island, Illinois, graduating as the valedictorian in June 1891.

Biographical information about Sodergren has proven difficult to find, but I have been able to determine certain facts about him:

  1. He became a minister in the Augustana Synod.
  2. On June 30, 1897, at Chesterville, Texas, Sodergren married Elizabeth Chester (1873-1958).
  3. The couple had five children:  Carl Wendell (1898-1963)Una Elizabeth (1900-1985), Miriam Agatha (1904-1978), Anita Linnea (1907-1991), and Leila Ingeborg (1909-1911).
  4. The Augustana Synod designated the Lutheran Companion as its official English-language magazine in 1911.  Sodergren served as its editor, vacating that post in 1915.
  5. In 1913 Sodergren joined the theological faculty at Augustana College and Theological Seminary.  The installation ceremony occurred on March 11.




Claus August Wendell was a Swedish immigrant.  He, born Claus August Anderson at Sodia Ving, Vastergotland, on April 24, 1866, was a child of Lars Gustav Anderson, a farmer.  The family relocated to the United States when our saint was three years old and settled at Sycamore, Illinois.  Claus attended the country school there then studied at the Academy at Augustana College and Theological Seminary then at the college proper.  (Many colleges in the United States used to have academies and high schools attached to them.)  Our saint, as a young man, persuaded his parents to relocate to Rock Island, Illinois, where he graduated from the college with his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1893.  Claus, who changed his last name legally to Wingquist then to Wendell, remained in Rock Island for a few years, filling in the chair of English literature and philosophy (who was on a leave of absence) in 1894 then working on his Master of Arts degree (awarded in 1897).

Wendell married Anna Charlotte Norlin (1872-1965) in 1897.  The couple had two daughters, Anna Theolinda (born circa 1899) and Margaret (born circa 1909).

Wendell worked as an educator then a journalist for a few years.  He taught history at Rock Island High School from 1897 to 1902.  Then he joined the fifth estate.  Meanwhile Wendell was undertaking theological studies under the guidance of Dr. Conrad Emil Lindberg (1852-1930), who taught systematic theology at Augustana College and Theological Seminary from 1890 to 1930.  Lindberg, the most influential teacher in the Augustana Synod for a time, was, according to G. Everett Arden,

a conservative Lutheran, who saw the theology of the sixteenth century through the spectacles of the seventeenth-century Lutheran orthodox scholastics.

Augustana Heritage, 249

Wendell, ordained in 1905, served as the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Rockford, Illinois, then of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, Illinois.  In 1914 he transferred to Grace Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, from which he retired in 1947.  Wendell doubled as a staff correspondent for the Lutheran Companion, working under the editor, Carl J. Sodergren.

In 1918 and 1919 Wendell helped to found the Lutheran Bible Institute, located in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  This proved to be ironic, for The Bible Banner, the Institutes’s official organ, championed fundamentalism, which Wendell opposed.




Sodergren and Wendell were, by the standards of the Augustana Synod in the early twentieth century, liberals.

I use that term precisely, not loosely (as many do) or as an invective (as many also do), because they were liberals, not revolutionaries.  If one uses the analogy or reinventing the wheel, one finds the following statements to be accurate:

  1. A reactionary thinks that the current wheel is nouveau and prefers the previous design.
  2. A conservative proposes that the wheel is fine as it is.
  3. A liberal agrees that the design of the wheel is generally sound yet requires some modification.
  4. A revolutionary argues that the current design of the wheel is flawed beyond repair and therefore favors reinventing it.

Sodergren and Wendell were Confessional Lutherans who belonged to a Confessional Lutheran denomination.  They affirmed such core Lutheran doctrines as baptismal regeneration and consubstantiation.  They stood within their tradition and argued by arguing for its continued relevance by avoiding the rigidity of fundamentalism on one side and the denial of Christ on the other side.  They stood in the theological lineage of St. Clement of Alexandria (died 210/215), who affirmed the validity of proved knowledge, regardless of its source.  Sodergren and Wendell stood in the best tradition of Christianity with regard to the reconciliation of faith and reason, along with luminaries such as St. Albert the Great, Robert Grosseteste, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Sylvester II (died 1003).

Charles Darwin did not originate the Theory of Evolution, but he did write two seminal books on the subject and became a proverbial lightning rod.  The debate over the relationship of faith and science, especially evolution, spread to the Augustana Synod.  In the December 16, 1914, issue  of the Lutheran Companion Sodergren, as editor, scandalized many in his denomination by waiting the following in the publication:

The time has arrived, it appears, for someone to say that the theory of evolution is not necessarily atheistic, and that is might be quite consistent with the Bible and with a Christian belief in God as the Creator of heaven and earth.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 285

The fact that Sodergren published that editorial in character, for he had already advocated for the acceptance of modern Biblical criticism, such as saying that Moses did not write the Torah, that the Bible contradicts itself in places, and that David did not write all those Psalms attributed to him.  Sodergren had balanced this position by arguing for the “plenary inspiration of the Bible,” meaning that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is normative for faith and practices but without committing to any particular theory of inspiration.

In 1925 Sodergren published a book, Fundamentalists and Modernists.  He affirmed Christ while rejecting fundamentalism, advocating for a form of evangelical confessionalism instead.  His evangelical confessionalism valued both faith and scholarly investigation, including history and science.  Sodergren’s form of Christianity openly rejected the verbal inspiration of the Bible.  That theory, he insisted, was inconsistent with the reality that divine inspiration has a human element to it.  The theory of verbal inspiration of scripture, Sodergren wrote, tended toward the heresy of docetism, which stated that Christ only seemed to be human.  Furthermore, Sodergren wrote, the classic Lutheran confessions of faith do not affirm the verbal inspiration of the Bible.

Wendell, in The Larger Vision:  A Study of the Evolution Theory in Its Relation to the Christian Faith (1923), also affirmed the science, especially evolution.  God is the source of both science and revelation, he wrote.  Wendell also affirmed salvation via Christ in that book and in a chapter in What is Lutheranism? (1930), edited by Vergilius Ferm.  Wendell summarized Lutheranism this way:

Lutheranism then we should say, means three things:  (1) It means adherence to the Confessions, comprising the Book of Concord, not as so many cement walls for man’s incarceration but as a witness to the faith of the fathers and a guide to their followers.  (2)  Faith in the Holy Scriptures, not as a fetish on the one hand nor a mere human document on the other, nor as an arsenal of theological polemics, nor as a textbook of history and natural science, but the inspired Word of God, whose purposes it is to make us wise unto salvation; and (3) Above all else, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not as a mere reformer or teacher or “pattern for young men,” but as the Redeemer of the world and the everlasting Rock upon which the church is built.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 286

That answer did not satisfy ultraconservatives within the Augustana Synod.  Vocal critics were legion.  The Bible Banner heaped scorn on Ferm and Wendell, both of whom Dr. Samuel Miller, head of the Lutheran Bible Institute, attempted to have the Augustana Synod expel from the denomination on charges of heresy.




The Augustana Synod, a longtime (1870-1918) member of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America (1867-1918), withdrew from that umbrella organization rather than merge into the mainly ethnically German United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA).  Opposition to ULCA prompted mergers and closer cooperation among certain more conservative Lutheran denominations.  The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960) was the union of several relatively conservative and mostly Midwestern synods.  In 1930 this denomination, the Augustana Synod, the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Free Church, and the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (the “Sad Danes,” in some referred to them, as opposed to the “Happy Danes” of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church) constituted constituted a new alliance, the American Lutheran Conference, which disbanded 24 years later.  Three of the four members of the American Lutheran Conference merged to create The American Lutheran Church (1960-1987).  The Lutheran Free Church joined the new denomination in 1963.

The American Lutheran Conference existed to witness against ULCA.  The Conference affirmed the Galesburg Rule (1875) and the Minneapolis Theses (1925).  The former arose within the General Council over the question of pulpit and altar fellowship.  The Galesburg Rule was, verbatim:

The rule is:  1.  Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran ministers only; Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only.  2.  The exceptions to this rule belong to the sphere of privilege and not of right.  3.  The determination of the exceptions is to be made in consonance with these principles by the conscientious judgment of pastors, as the cases arise.

–Quoted in Abdel Ross Wentz, The Lutheran Church in American History, Second Edition (1933), 328

The Minneapolis Theses (1925) came into being as part of the process of the creation of The American Lutheran Church (1930-1960).  They affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible and asserted the doctrinal content of Lutheran confessions.  Whereas ULCA recognized the Christian character of all churches confessing Christian doctrine, the Minneapolis Theses did not go that far.  No, they recognized the reality that true Christians are present in a range of Christian denominations and stated that unanimous agreement

in the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the confession of the same in word and deed

presupposes ecumenical fellowship.  Church fellowship with non-Lutherans was, in other words, out of the question.  The Minneapolis Theses also condemned secret societies and stated that no Lutheran minister should belong to one.  Furthermore, they insisted, Lutheran clergymen should try to persuade lay members who belonged to any secret society to leave it.

Sodergren and Wendell opposed the Galesburg Rule and the Minneapolis Theses.  In The Augustana Quarterly in 1937 Sodergren protested the “exclusive confessionalism” of the Minneapolis Theses.  He wrote:

In spite of appearance to the contrary, the present generation is deeply religious; but its spirit fails to find in the old forms the body in which it can dwell.  But the reply to this prayer for the means of a daring adventure in faith–the reply of the established order–is only an exaggerated emphasis of the latter, of external observances, and of the old status quo…While the priests of yesterday are looking backward to the past and laboring to conserve its values, the prophets of tomorrow are facing the future and trying to give direction to movements of today.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 287

At its 1937 convention the Augustana Synod censured and threatened with disciplinary actions some ministers accused of laxity with regard to the Galesburg Rule and the Minneapolis Theses.  This angered Wendell, who published his protest in the September 2, 1937, issue of the Lutheran Companion.  He wrote in part:

Orthodoxy is good.  It means adherence to the truth, and no sane man would willingly surrender that.  But orthodoxy without love is dangerous.  It provides fertile soil for bigotry, hatred, spiritual pride, self-conceit, and a score of other evils which hide the Holy One from the eyes of the world.  It turns men into merciless heresy hunters, the most contemptible vermin on earth.  It aligns us with the scribes and pharisees, the priests and high priests of the time of Jesus.  Nobody ever questioned their orthodoxy, but because it was loveless, it blinded them to His divinity and made it easy for them to spike Him to a cross.  We are not worried about the trumpet calls to orthodoxy which for some reason have begun to blare among us lately, but we do fear that the blare may drown out in our hearts the still small voice which prays for unity and love among all Christ’s disciples.

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 287-288

In the longterm Sodergren and Wendell won the argument, for they and people like them influenced the next generation of leaders of the Augustana Synod.  By the late 1940s work on the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the joint service book-hymnal of eight Lutheran denominations, including ULCA and the members of the American Lutheran Conference, was underway.  The second American Lutheran Church came into being via the merger of three bodies in 1960.  The Lutheran Church in America formed in 1962 when four denominations united.  The American Lutheran Church expanded by means of a second merger in 1963.  Eight ecclesiastical bodies had become two denominations that used the same service book-hymnal.




Language is about far more than words, for it conveys culture as well as meaning.  This is especially true for those who speak in a language other than the dominant tongue in their nation-state.  A reading of the history of the immigrant churches in the United States reveals examples of ecclesiastical bodies that functioned as both agents of evangelism and of the cultural perpetuation.  Such a reading also informs me of the manners in which many people struggled with assimilation into the dominant American culture.  One might, for example, think of the Dutch immigrants and their descendants in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the German-American Lutherans of various denominations, the Danish-American Lutherans in their two synods (the “Sad Danes” and the “Happy Danes”), and, of course, the Swedish-Americans of the Augustana Synod.  Furthermore, one might recall reading that rampant domestic xenophobia, often expressed via law and violence during World War I, accelerated the pace of the transition to English in all these cases.

Sodergren and Wendell led the pro-English language camp within the Augustana Synod.  Wendell even served as the chairman of the Association of English Churches.  In 1891 the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, to which the Augustana Synod belonged, founded the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the Northwest for congregations from the Great Lakes region to the Pacific coast.  The Synod of the Northwest appealed to many Confessional Lutherans who preferred to worship in English.  Ethnic enclave synods generally did a poor job of reaching out to this audience for a while, and many Midwestern and Western Lutherans who preferred to worship in English had to join non-Lutheran congregations.  Over time the geographical span of the Synod of the Northwest shrank due to territorial division.  Despite the necessity of the Synod of the Northwest its existence upset many in Augustana Synod officialdom, for they thought of it as a competitor on their home turf.

Sodergren and Wendell favored providing opportunities for younger Augustana Synod members who wanted to worship in English to do so, without depriving those who favored Swedish-language worship of those services.  Sodergren editorialized in the Lutheran Companion in the July 15, 1911, issue:

No one wishes to rob the old folks of the Swedish….In all our Swedish congregations the old folks are welcome, and will be for years to come, to half of the services, and that the better half–the Sunday morning service.  And no Christian will starve to death on this and a weekly meeting….But if we are considerate toward the old people and respect their admitted rights, we should also be equally careful not to refuse to give our young people their spiritual support.  We should be as concerned about their spiritual welfare….To have English services only once a month, or even every other Sunday evening, is almost worse than nothing.  It hurts the Swedish, and is of no conserving value to the English element.  It is merely a poor excuse….This plausible (?) selfishness which makes a language an end instead of a means is not a good conservative policy if our Synod is to live….It will not do to sacrifice souls on the altar of nationality.  Our congregations have a far higher calling than to be a mere “National-forening….”

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 245

He wrote in the August 30, 1913, issue:

Dear old Swedish language!  We all love it–but some of us don’t like it.  We feel for it a sense of loyalty and respect akin to what good children naturally feel for their parents.  Nevertheless, a new generation, born and reared far from the doughty little kingdom which once was the land of our fathers, is prone to conform to the customs of the country in which it finds itself, and to speak the language which is generally employed as a medium for the expression of thought.  The children, the young people (and ever so many old people), almost invariably use the English language in ordinary conversation….God wants us all to be saved.  Why not tell His message in an as natural and intelligible a manner as possible; in Swedish to those who think in Swedish, in English to those who think in English….What would we suggest!  That our children be taught Christianity by means of the English language, even in our Swedish congregations…None of us are in a hurry to “get rid of the Swedish,” but we are “in a hurry” to preserve these souls with or without Swedish.  And if that can be done by means of the English language we are guilty of murder or at least criminal neglect in failing to anticipate and make due provision.  The Companion stands for neither Swedish nor English.  It stands for the cause of Christ and the welfare of souls.  If shortsighted language-conservatism should prove to stand in the way of Christ and the future of our Church, we have no choice but to do as Luther did:  let the Latin go and insist on using the German in the interest of the common people.  They are or more value than much Latin.  The word of God is not Swedish; the Church of Christ is not Swedish; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not Swedish.  Nor are any or all of them English.  It is not a matter of language….

–Quoted in Augustana Heritage, 245-246

Both Sodergren and Wendell served on the committee that crafted The Hymnal and Order of Service (1925).  The Augustana Synod, recognizing the necessity of an English-language hymnal in 1895, ordered work on what became the Hymnal and Order of Service for Churches and Sunday-Schools (1901).  That volume, with 355 hymns, was always supposed to be an interim hymn book.  Work on the revised hymnal started in 1910 and lasted for 15 years.  The hymnal of 1925 offered 670 hymns.  Wendell, who joined the hymnal committee in 1920, wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 139:23-24 for the project.




Sodergren became involved in another controversy within the Augustana Synod.  The denomination controlled the Augustana College and Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois.  Sodergren, at least as early as 1925, sided with those who wanted to separate the college from the seminary, leaving the latter under denominational control and the former with a separate board and president.  The debate, which became quite bitter, dated to 1886.  Sodergren perceived that the only way to preserve the unity of the Augustana Synod was to divorce the college and the seminary.  As the college expanded faster than the seminary the latter received fewer necessary resources than the former.  Other issues in the debate included mere conservatism and the conflict of vested interests.  The separation of the college and the seminary finally occurred in 1948.

Sodergren wrote at least 16 books; I found listings for that many at WorldCat.  Aside from Fundamentalists and Modernists (1925) he wrote a book of Bible stories for use in Sunday schools, two courses in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and commentaries on various books of the Bible, as well as other works of theology.

Sodergren’s last residence was in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  There he died on November 2, 1949.  He was 79 years old.




Wendell, who received a Doctor of Literature degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, also received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Augustana College and Theological Seminary in 1939.  He wrote at least eight books; I found listings for that many at WorldCat.  Some of those were literary works.  There was, of course, The Larger Vision (1923), about science and religion.  Wendell also wrote books of church history.

Wendell, who sat on the board of directors of the Augustana Book Concern, was, despite the attempt of one ultraconservative to have him declared a heretic and removed from the denomination, a widely respected and much-loved man.  He died at Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 18, 1950.  He was 84 years old.




The names of these two saints came to my attention a year ago, when I was reading Augustana Heritage.  Sodergren and Wendell impressed me so much that I made a few notes about them and filed them away for future reference.  A few days ago I took many more notes then began to draft this post.

The legacies of Sodergren and Wendell can teach one several valuable lessons.  Among them is that, much of the time, one should stand within tradition and resist both the fetish of ossifying it and the temptation to dispose of it in favor of something new and shiny.  Tradition for its own sake is no virtue; the final words of a dying institution are:

We’ve never done it that way before!

Likewise, change for its own sake is no virtue either.  One risks throwing out the proverbial baby with the equally proverbial bath water.  As much as holding on to a certain tradition can constitute resisting social justice, overturning helpful traditions is destructive also.

Sodergren and Wendell understood that well.






Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servants

Carl J. Sodergren and Claus A. Wendell,

and we pray that by their teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge

of the truth we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord,

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

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 61


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 Sts. John Leonardi and Joseph Calasanctius (October 9)   2 comments

Above:  The Vatican Flag


Founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca

His feast = October 9



also known as Saint Joseph Calasanz

Founder of the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools

His feast transferred from August 25

I, when pondering demonstrated sanctity, find certain aspects appealing.  One of these is educating those who, due to financial constraints, would otherwise lack access to learning.  Another is tending to the needs of plague victims.  Both of these apply in this post.

St. John Leonardi (circa 1550-1609) entered the world at Diecimo, Italy.  He, originally a pharmacist’s assistant, became a priest in 1572.  The saint worked in hospitals and prisons, but did not labor alone; he recruited others to join him.  Leonardi, inspired by the Council of Trent, proposed a new order, the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca, which the Roman Catholic Church recognized in 1583.  St. Philip Neri and St. Joseph Calasanctius assisted him regarding the new order.  Pope Clement VIII confirmed the order in 1595.

Leonardi, cofounder of the College for the Propagation of the Faith, died at Rome on October 9, 1609.  He had contracted a deadly case of influenza during an epidemic while ministering to victims.  His active compassion led to his death.  Pope Pius XI canonized the saint, patron of pharmacists, in 1938.

St. Joseph Calasanctius (1556-1648), a collaborator of St. John Leonardi, entered the world near Peralta de la Sal, Aragon, Spain, on September 11, 1556.  His father wanted him to become a soldier, but Calasanctius earned his law degree and became a priest instead.  The Bishop of Urgel appointed him to revive and reform religious practices in that part of the Pyrenees Mountains.  The saint, successful, next became vicar general of the district of Tremp.  He resigned in 1592 and traveled to Rome, becoming part of the household of Ascanio Cardinal Colonna.

At Rome the saint’s true calling became his lived reality.  There, in 1595, he ministered among plague victims.  There he became involved in the cause of educating poor children, opening the first free school in in modern Europe (in 1597).  At Rome Calasanctius supervised a community, the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools, devoted to this work.  The Roman Catholic Church recognized the order in 1621. The saint, the order’s first superior general, had to leave that post due to internal dissension.  Later, however, he returned to the job.

In 1646 Pope Innocent X transformed the order into a community of secular priests subject to diocesan bishops.  Nevertheless, the Church restored the religious order in 1669.

I was happy to read that Calasanctius defended his good friend, Galileo Galilei.  The saint even used his order’s resources to aid the alleged heretic, officially one until 1992.  Such assistance proved controversial, and the saint paid the price for doing the right thing.

Calasanctius died at Rome on August 25, 1648.  The Church canonized him in 1767.

A misinformed understanding of suffering holds that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer.  This is a perspective which the Book of Job refutes.  This is a point of view which the examples of Jesus, the persecuted saints, and some Hebrew prophets refute.   This is a perspective which the examples of these two saints refute.








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

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

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