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Feast of John H. Caldwell (March 12)   2 comments

Above:  First United Methodist Church, Newnan, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth



U.S. Methodist Minister and Social Reformer


We have sinned, and God has smitten us.

–John H. Caldwell, Newnan, Georgia, June 1865



The great Galileo Galilei warned many who were conventionally orthodox and sat in judgment on him for making shocking and revolutionary statements (such as that the Earth revolves around the Sun), that they may actually be heretics.  John H. Caldwell, in the middle of his life, concluded that he had been a heretic regarding slavery.  He chose actual orthodoxy.

Caldwell came to my attention years ago, when I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia.  I was researching Methodist history regarding slavery; my focus in graduate school was the intersection of race and religion in the U.S. South.  Slavery was the rock upon which the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) split in 1844-1845.  I knew that already, but I wanted to know more details.

I was a United Methodist from 1980 to 1991.  Then I became an Episcopalian.  I have never looked back, for I have concluded that I am on this planet to be an Episcopalian.  Besides, my theological development subsequent to my confirmation (St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991) has led me to become a Single Predestinarian Anglican-Lutheran, contrary to Methodist theology.  My increasingly liberal and inclusive social views have placed me substantially to the left of where many of the more conservative elements of society are.  So be it.  I affirm that all human beings with both a pulse and brain waves possess unalienable natural rights, including civil rights and civil liberties.  Call me a radical, if you wish, O reader, but there I stand.  I will do no other.

I write this so that you, O reader, will understand that (1) I know whereof I write, and (2) I have no animosity toward The United Methodist Church.

I recall, as early as the middle 1980s, talk of The United Methodist Church being two denominations in one.  If the General Conference 2020 plays out the way I predict it will, 2020 may echo 1844.  Even if the General Conference of 2020 does not play out the way I predict it will, The United Methodist Church will continue to live into the typographical error and Freudian slip “Untied Methodist Church.”  This is an objective statement.  To quote William Butler Yeats in The Second Coming,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

The big tent encompasses only those who choose to live within it.  Donatism did not die in norther Africa long ago.  No, it is alive and well, unfortunately.

As The United Methodist Church comes asunder and as the United States of America observes the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday, pondering another schism–that of 1844-1845–as well as the cause of it, should lead us to sober-minded contemplation of orthodoxy and heresy, actual and alleged.


John Hollis Caldwell as a white Southerner.  He, born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on June 4, 1820, was a son of James Caldwell (1768-1825) and Jane Wardlaw (1772-1822).  His family moved to Georgia when our saint was an infant.  He converted to Christianity and to Methodism, in particular, at the age of 16 years.  Six years later, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) licensed Caldwell as an exhorter.  Our saint joined the Georgia Conference as a full minister in 1844.

The Methodist Episcopal Church concluded its General Conference of 1844 with a divorce agreement.  The cause of the divorce was slavery.  In particular, the question was whether James Osgood Andrew, the bishop assigned to the Georgia Conference, should continue as a bishop, despite owning slaves, in violation of church law.  He had not owned slaves in 1832, when he had become a bishop.  Yet Andrew had received slaves as inheritances over the years.  State law forbade him from freeing his slaves during his lifetime.  Slavery was still morally wrong, of course.  The MEC had been backing away from this moral truth since just a few years after its founding, as slaveholders joined.  The denomination finally issued a firm antislavery message again in 1864, shortly before the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution went to Congress.

One week apart, in May 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) formed, for the same reason:  slavery.  The SBC formed because Northern-controlled missions boards of the Triennial Convention did not permit slaveholders to become missionaries.  Andrew became one of the founding bishops of the MECS, and continued to preach to slaves that they should obey their masters.

Caldwell joined the MECS and rose through the ranks to become a prominent member of the Georgia Conference thereof.  He accepted the conventional wisdom of his culture and the dominant theology thereof.  Caldwell believed that God supported and ordained slavery.  He quoted the Bible chapter-and-verse to defend this position.  He preached to slaves, telling them to obey their masters.  Opponents of slavery were heretics, fanatics, and radicals, according to Caldwell.  He insisted that they sought to destroy not just slavery, but the freedoms of press, speech, religion, and thought, too.  As Mark A. Noll has written in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006), support for slavery became caught up with the authority of scripture.  Many, if not most, of those who argued for slavery theologically believed they were morally correct.

Above:  Old Main Building, Andrew College, Cuthbert, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

Caldwell also helped to found Andrew Female College (now Andrew College), Cuthbert, Georgia, which opened in 1854.  He taught moral and mental science there.  He, a slaveholder (via inheritances), sold one of his slaves to pay the college’s debts.  Caldwell’s father-in-law, a wealthy planter, insisted that a Methodist minister should not own slaves.  Our saint owned up to four slaves at a time, though.

Caldwell, by 1860 the pastor of Trinity Church, Savannah, had moved to Newnan to by 1864.  During the Civil War he supported slavery and the Confederacy.  He assumed that God was pro-Confederate States of America.


Then the proverbial scales fell away from Caldwell’s eyes in early 1865.  Confederate defeat threw many white Christian Southerners into a theological crisis.  They reasoned that surely God had supported slavery and the Confederacy, so how could they make sense of their reality?  Caldwell took a different position.  Over a few Sundays in June 1865 he alienated his congregation and most of the other people in Newnan by condemning slavery, secession, the Confederacy, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  He acknowledged, as he had in 1861, that the cause of the Confederacy had been slavery.  President Jefferson Davis had said as much in his Inaugural Address.  Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, speaking in Savannah in March 1861, had called slavery the cornerstone of the Confederacy.   He was proud of this cornerstone.  Caldwell surveyed the destruction of the Civil War and pronounced the judgment of God.  He also stated that the end of slavery was just.  The Confederacy had been sinful, too, the minister preached, and slavery tainted the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Caldwell’s time left at Newnan was brief.  The Presiding Elder (District Superintendent, in contemporary Methodist terms) removed our saint from the pulpit, at the request of the leaders of the congregation.  U.S. Army General George H. Thomas, who had authority in Georgia, reinstated him in September.  Thomas also ordered local U.S. Army personnel to to protect Caldwell.  Our saint left the Georgia Conference of the MECS in November 1865, after that annual conference voted to condemn the contents of his sermons.

Then Caldwell rejoined the Methodist Episcopal Church and helped to begin rebuilding it in the former Confederacy.  He became a charter member of the new Georgia Conference of the MEC in January 1866.  He ministered to former slaves, helping them build churches, not telling them they should have obeyed their masters.  Predictably, the new Georgia Conference of the MEC was mostly African-American; it was politically and theologically suspect, according to most Southern Methodist neighbors.  Caldwell remained in Georgia until 1871, shortly after “redemption,” of the return of the antebellum ruling class to power.  He helped to found schools for former slaves.  Our saint, a religious scalawag, favored the Radical Republicans’ ambitious civil rights platform and worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau to help his flock.  Caldwell attended the state constitutional convention (December 1867-March 1868) and served in the state legislature.  He opposed the expulsion of all his African-American colleagues from that body.  Caldwell and his fellow religious scalawags were, according to Edward H. Myers, the editor of the Southern Christian Advocate,

miserable traitors to their brethren, their church, and their country.

–Quoted in Daniel W. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion:  The Religious Reconstruction of the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 133


Caldwell and his family to Delaware in 1871.  He had married Elizabeth Thurston Hodnett (1826-1902) on January 2, 1849.  The couple had had five sons and four daughters from 1849 to 1869.  Our saint joined the local conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and served as a pastor, a presiding elder, and a college president.

From 1885 to 1888 Caldwell served as the President of Delaware College (now the University of Delaware), then a men’s institution.  His time as a college president was unhappy for everybody involved.  Personality clashes abounded, and his inexperience created more problems.  Our saint perceived that people were conspiring around him.  They may have been, perhaps justifiably.  Caldwell was simultaneously of his time and ahead of it.  His antiquated moral disapproval of dancing led to some conflicts; he forbade it on campus.  Yet he favored admitting women to the student body; that was progressive.

Caldwell returned to parish ministry in 1888.

He, aged 78 years, died in Dover, Delaware, on Mach 11, 1899.


Caldwell may have been, as one of his adversaries at Delaware College claimed, “cranky,” but he possessed courage, too.  Our saint had enough courage to change his mind on a central issue of his time and to contradict conventional wisdom, as well as to speak up at great risk to himself and his livelihood.  He had the courage of his convictions.  History has rendered its verdict in Caldwell’s case; it has ruled in his favor.

As one should know, presenting evidence is frequently the least successful method of changing a person’s mind, especially in matters that pertain to one’s self-image.  Facts should matter, but ego protection often overrules objective reality.  Human beings are usually more irrational than rational, sadly.

By grace, Caldwell found the moral courage, starting in June 1865, to admit that he had been wrong–horribly, sinfully wrong.  Then he repented, paid the price, and made the world a better place for many of the “least of these.”

That is sufficient reason to honor him.


God of justice, we thank you for the example of your servant, John H. Caldwell,

who turned his back on the sins of slavery and, in the face of hostility,

labored for the civil rights of former slaves, his neighbors.

May we, by grace, confront our prejudices and, when necessary and proper to do so,

expose the foolishness of “received wisdom” and other ubiquitous assumptions,

for your glory and for the benefit of all people.

May the Church be on the vanguard of the struggle for social justice,

never on the side of the oppressors,

regardless of the price she will pay for standing with the “least of these.”

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

Amos 2:6-8

Psalm 71:1-6

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 6:20-26









Feast of Francis Wayland (March 11)   Leave a comment

Above:  Francis Wayland, II

Image in the Public Domain



U.S. Baptist Minister, Educator, and Social Reformer

Francis Wayland, II, comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

Francis Wayland, II, the leading antebellum U.S. Baptist intellectual, was a son of Sarah Moore (1770-1836) and Baptist minister Francis Wayland (1772-1847).  Our saint, born in New York, New York, on March 11, 1796, graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York, in 1813.  During the next four years he studied medicine in Troy then in New York City, then theology at Andover Theological Seminary.  Our saint, unable to continue at Andover for financial reasons, returned to Union College as a tutor in 1817.  There he remained until 1821, when he accepted the offer to become the pastor of First Baptist Church, Boston, Massachusetts.   During the next five years Wayland earned his reputation as one of the country’s greatest preachers.  Two of his published sermons from these years were The Moral Dignity of the Missionary Enterprise (1823) and The Duties of the American Citizen (1825).  Then, in 1826 and 1827, Wayland taught natural philosophy at Union College.

Wayland married for the first time in the early 1820s; he wed Lucy Lane Lincoln (d. 1836).  They had two sons and one daughter–Francis, III (1826-1904), Emma (1828-1829), and Heman Lincoln (1830-1898).

Wayland was a progressive of his time.  He was an abolitionist and a proponent of temperance and prison reform.  True to his Baptist heritage, he insisted on the separation of church and state.  Our saint combined that principle with a classical notion of public virtue.  He was, therefore, able to speak of religious principles in general terms and how they played a role in society on one hand while reserving sermons for church gatherings.  Wayland spoke of a civil religion for public life and of Christianity from the pulpit.  He staunchly opposed the imposition of any form of Christianity or any other religion upon the population.  Accordingly, he linked freedom and economic freedom to public morality and intellectual attainment:

It is almost superfluous, however, to add, that a free constitution is of no value, unless the moral and intellectual character of a people be sufficiently elevated to avail itself of the advantages which it offers.

–Quoted in Mark A. Noll, America’s God:  From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), 222

This faith-fueled commitment to improving public life led our saint to become a prominent pioneer in public education, as well as in the movement to found public libraries.  In 1830 Wayland became the first President of the American Institute of Instruction.  He was also active in planning school systems in Providence and throughout the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  His gift (in 1851) to establish a public library in Wayland, Massachusetts, prompted an official, statewide effort to found more public libraries.

Wayland served as the President of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, from 1827 to 1855.  He expanded the curriculum, offering students options and making science a more prominent subject in the curriculum.  Our saint also presided over construction projects and the growth of the faculty and the student body.  He banned alcohol from dormitory rooms, too.  Wayland, a formidable figure, never imposed his faith on anyone, but he taught Bible studies and preached in the chapel.  He also taught, lecturing in ethics, psychology, and political economy.  Wayland wrote textbooks in philosophy, morals, and political economy, too.

Wayland remarried in the late 1830s; he wed Hepsibah Susan “Hepsy” Howard (1801-1872).  The couple had a son, Howard (1840-1874).

After the trustees of Brown University forced Wayland into retirement in 1855, he remained active in public life.  He pursued humanitarian/social reform causes, especially prison reform.  Our saint also served as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1857 and 1858.

Wayland died in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 30, 1865.  He was 69 years old.

Unfortunately, we live in polarized times.  Polarization encourages disrespect for those with whom one disagrees.  At times this disrespect crosses the line into dehumanization.  The life of Francis Wayland, II, offers a vision of a way forward.

Wayland stood by his principles.  He did so while being respectful of his debating partners, though.  In his written debate over slavery with Richard Fuller of South Carolina, for example, our saint condemned the evils of slavery.  Wayland never judged Fuller, however.  Our saint was civil.










Lord Hod, 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 your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37


Feast of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher (July 1)   2 comments

Above:  A Partial Beecher Family Tree

Image by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



U.S. Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, and Abolitionist

father of


U.S. Novelist, Hymn Writer, and Abolitionist

sister of


U.S. Presbyterian and Congregationalist Minister, and Abolitionist






In The Episcopal Church July 1 is the Feast of Harriet Beecher Stowe, listed as a “Writer and Prophetic Witness.”  In Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), in which her feast debuted, and A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), the successor volume, the collect for her feast is:

Gracious God, we thank you for the witness of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion of the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer.  Help us, like her, to strive for your justice, that our eyes may see the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with you and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always.  Amen.

The assigned readings in Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) are Isaiah 26:7-13, Psalm 94:16-23, 1 Peter 3:1-12, and Matthew 23:1-12.  A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016) provides more options.

One cannot tell the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe properly without considering her relatives, however.  Thus, here in my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I expand the feast to include her father (Lyman) and one of her brothers (Henry Ward).

The 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana, an essential source for this post, includes an article for the Beecher family plus an article each for Lyman, Harriet, and Henry Ward, as well as for four other Beechers, all children of Lyman.  Very quickly then, and for the sake of thoroughness, he other four are:  Catharine Esther Beecher (1800-1878), Edward Beecher (1803-1895), James Chaplin Beecher (1828-1886), and Thomas Kinnicutt Beecher (1824-1900).

Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800-May 12, 1878) was an educator.  She operated a girls’ school in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1824 to 1832, and another one (with Harriet’s help) at Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1832 to 1837.  Catharine also helped to organize the Ladies Society for Promoting Education in the West, which founded schools in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  She was also a vocal opponent of the Jacksonian policy of Indian Removal.

Edward Beecher (August 27, 1803-July 28, 1895) became a Congregationalist minister, seminary professor and president, writer, and missionary.

James Chaplin Beecher (January 8, 1828-August 25, 1886) also became a Congregationalist minister.  He, a chaplain in Hong Kong prior to the U.S. Civil War, served the Union cause first as a chaplain and finally as a brevet brigadier general.  After the war he returned to parish ministry.

Thomas Kinnicutt Beecher (February 10, 1824-March 14, 1900), brother of James Chaplain Beecher and half-brother of Catherine Esther Beecher, also became a Congregationalist minister.  He was also a U.S. Army chaplain during the Civil War, a philanthropist, a lecturer, and an author of juvenile stories.

The Beechers were a remarkable family.




Lyman Beecher, born in New Haven, Connecticut, on October 12, 1775, became the patriarch of an influential family.  His father was a blacksmith.  At the age of 18 years Lyman matriculated at Yale College.  After graduating in 1797, he studied theology privately under the tutelage of President Timothy Dwight until 1798.  That year Lyman became the supply pastor of a Congregationalist church at East Hampton, Long Island; there he remained until 1810.  Our saint, ordained in 1799, preached the funeral for Alexander Hamilton in 1804.

Lyman married three times. His first wife was Roxana Foote (d. September 24, 1816) who operated a girls’ school.  He was also the mother of Catharine Esther (b. 1800), Edward (b. 1803), Harriet (b. 1812), and Henry Ward (b. 1813), among others.  The birthplace of the last two Beechers listed was Litchfield, Connecticut.




Lyman’s second wife was Harriet Porter, with whom he had more children, including James Chaplin (b. 1828) and Thomas Kinnicutt (b. 1824).  He had thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood.  Harriet was child number six; Henry Ward was child number seven.

Harriet Elizabeth Beecher (1812-1896), after her mother died in 1816, grew up in the household of her grandmother in Guilford, Connecticut, for some years.  Harriet was back in Litchfield by her late childhood.  There, at the age of 12 years, she wrote an essay on the topic, “Can the Immortality of the Soul Be Proved by the Light of Nature?”  She answered in the affirmative.  Her father, who argued to the contrary, found her essay impressive.  Harriet continued her education at the girls’ school her sister Catharine had founded and operated at Hartford.  Then Harriet joined the faculty there.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) studied at the Boston Latin School then at Mount Pleasant School, Amherst, Massachusetts, before matriculating at Amherst College (Class of 1834).  He was well on his way to becoming a prominent minister.

Lyman, active in campaigns against intemperance, also organized Bible and missionary societies.  In 1826 he left Litchfield, Connecticut, to become the pastor of Hanover Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts, and to inveigh against the rising tide of Unitarianism.  He remained in Boston until 1832.




Lyman accepted the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1832.  He remained in that post (as well as that of Chair of Sacred Theology) for 20 years.  Those were decades filled with controversies both theological and political.  For the first of the two decades Lyman also doubled as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati.

Also in 1832, Catharine and Harriet moved to Cincinnati, where they spent a girls’ school, which they operated for five years.

In 1833 a controversy over abolitionism almost destroyed Lane Theological Seminary.  Certain slaveholders from Kentucky eve threatened violence.  The crisis resulted in a gag order (passed by trustees) and an exodus of antislavery students to the new Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, founded at that time.  Some antislavery students returned to Lane, and Lyman and Calvin E. Stowe spent the better part of two decades trying to rebuild the seminary.

Stowe became Lyman’s son-in-law in 1836, when he married Harriet.  The home of Calvin E. and Harriet Beecher Stowe at Cincinnati was a station of the Underground Railroad.  In 1850 Calvin accepted a faculty position at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.  Then he taught at Andover Theological Seminary from 1852 to 1864. Harriet was a prolific writer, with more than 40 titles to her credit.  Her most famous and influential work was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as a serial in 1851 ad 1852.

Lyman was a New School Presbyterian.  The conflict between the Old School and the New School divided the original Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (reorganized from the old Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1789) in 1837 and 1838.  Before then, however, it led to a heresy trial for Lyman in 1835.  The verdict was in his favor.

To Lyman’s left was his seventh child, Henry Ward, who studied at Lane Theological Seminary after graduating from Amherst College in 1834.  As the author of the article about Henry Ward in the 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana wrote, the son objected to his father’s

sulfurous theology.

Henry Ward, editor of an abolitionist newspaper in Cincinnati in 1837, married Eunice White Bullard (1812-1897) that year.  From 1837 to 1839 he was pastor of a church in rural Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  Then, form 1839 to 1847, he was the senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, a large congregation.  From 1847 to 1887 Henry Ward was the senior pastor (and first pastor) of Plymouth Congregational Church, Brooklyn, New York, which grew into a larger church.  Henry Ward, who emphasized the love, not the judgment, of God, was, according to Mark A. Noll,

the Billy Graham of his era.

America’s God:  From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), 427

Henry Ward Beecher, although a moderate abolitionist, was, in some ways, still revolutionary.  He preached against slavery and quoted the Bible while doing so, but argued that a Sharps rifle was more persuasive to many slaveholders.  Thus, in the middle and late 1850s, as Kansas bled amid vigilante violence, Henry Ward raised funds to equip antislavery settlers with Sharps rifles, which became know as “Beecher’s Bibles.”  Henry Ward, unambiguous in his support of the Union cause during the Civil War, went so far as to place, in his words, the “whole guilt” for that war on Confederate leaders in 1865.




Lyman retired to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1852.  His last years were difficult, for what the author of the article about him in the 1962 edition of The Encyclopedia Americana called

paralysis of the brain

overtook the great man.  In other words, he suffered from dementia–perhaps Alzheimer’s Disease.  Lyman died in Brooklyn on January 10, 1863.  He was 87 years old.

The author of that article praised Lyman’s scholarship, oratory, and theological orthodoxy while noting the great man’s “humorous audacities of speech” and “racy and picturesque wit” that “often shocked dignified propriety.”  Lyman Beecher must have been an interesting and wonderful man to know.




Henry Ward Beecher was, according to some, a heretic.  (Then again, who is not?)  He emphasized the love of God and rejected penal substitutionary atonement.  The deity of that theory, he argued, was

barbaric, heinous, and hideous.

Henry Ward seems to have become more radical with age, going so far as to support women’s suffrage and argue that Christianity and Evolution were mutually compatible.  While opposing slavery he had already employed an argument against the verbal inspiration of the Bible, a volume many supporters of the Peculiar Institution of the South quoted chapter and verse.  Furthermore, Henry Ward vigorously opposed the nativist politics of Chinese exclusion, failing in preventing yet at least delaying the passage of that law until 1882.  Our saint, a member of the Republican Party since 1854 (the year of its founding), caused quite a controversy when he campaigned and quoted for Democrat (Stephen) Grover Cleveland for President in 1884.

Henry Ward was a prolific writer.  His published works included volumes of prayers and sermons.  In 1855 he edited the Plymouth Collection of Hymns, an influential hymnal.  From 1861 to 1863 Henry Ward edited the Independent.  In 1870 he founded the Christian Union, which he edited until 1881.  Our saint also wrote the Life of Jesus the Christ.

Yet Henry Ward Beecher was, in some ways, a troublesome figure.  He was, for example, a Social Darwinist.  Philandering was also a motif in his life.  The latter damaged his reputation at the end of his life.  In 1875 Henry Ward went on trial for having allegedly committed adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of Theodore Tilton, his successor as editor of the Independent.  The court acquitted Henry Ward and the leadership of Plymouth Congregational Church supported him, but he lost much credibility and public influence in the national scandal.

Henry Ward Beecher died in Brooklyn on March 8, 1887.  He was 73 years old.




Harriet Beecher Stowe and Calvin E. Stowe kept a winter home near Jacksonville, Florida, from 1867 to 1884.  They helped to convince the Freedmen’s Bureau to establish a school for former slaves in the area.  The family also helped to found the Episcopal Church of Our Savior, for African Americans.  The Stowes, once Presbyterians, ended their days as Episcopalians.

After Calvin died on August 22, 1886, Harried moved in with daughters in Hartford, Connecticut.  Her twilight years were like those of her father–beset with dementia.  It was a cruel fate for such a great woman.  She died on July 1, 1896, aged 84 years.




The legacies of Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher have enriched the United States and the world.  In the case of Harriet, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has certainly echoed down the corridors of time–more prominently than her excellent hymns, for sure.  These saints, like all of us, had shortcomings, but their virtues outweighed their vices.  Their virtues contributed to the end of chattel slavery in the United States of America.

That is impressive.








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

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

Help us like your servants

Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ward Beecher,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


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