Archive for the ‘Mark A. Noll’ Tag

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

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LYMAN BEECHER (OCTOBER 12, 1775-JANUARY 10, 1863)

U.S. Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, and Abolitionist

father of

HARRIET ELIZABETH BEECHER STOWE (JUNE 14, 1812-JULY 1, 1896)

U.S. Novelist, Hymn Writer, and Abolitionist

sister of

HENRY WARD BEECHER (JUNE 24, 1813-MARCH 8, 1887)

U.S. Presbyterian and Congregationalist Minister, and Abolitionist

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A FAMILY STORY

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INTRODUCTION

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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.

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LYMAN AND ROXANA

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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.

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RAISING A FAMILY AND FIGHTING UNITARIANISM

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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.

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ABOLITIONIST ACTIVISM

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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.

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REST IN PEACE, LYMAN BEECHER

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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.

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THE BILLY GRAHAM OF HIS ERA

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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.

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THE STOWES

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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.

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CONCLUSION

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

GENOCIDE REMEMBRANCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT EGBERT OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND SAINT ADALBERT OF EGMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MELLITUS, BISHOP OF LONDON AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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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

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

British Flag 1707-1801

Above:  The British Flag, 1707-1801

Image in the Public Domain

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GEORGE BERKELEY (MARCH 12, 1685-JANUARY 14, 1753)

Irish Anglican Bishop and Philosopher

and

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

Anglican Bishop and Theologian

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INTRODUCTION

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.

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Bishop George Berkeley

Above:  Bishop George Berkeley, by John Smybert

Image in the Public Domain

GEORGE BERKELEY (MARCH 12, 1685-JANUARY 14, 1753)

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,

or

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.

Archive.org 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.

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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

Archive.org 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.

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CONCLUSION

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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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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

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