Archive for the ‘Paul Tillich’ Tag

Feast of Maurice Blondel (June 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Aix-en-Provence, France

Image Source = Google Earth

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MAURICE ÉDOUARD BLONDEL (NOVEMBER 2, 1861-JUNE 4, 1949)

French Roman Catholic Philosopher and Forerunner of the Second Vatican Council

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I propose to study action, because it seems to me that the Gospel attributes to action alone the power to manifest love and attain God!  Action is the abundance of the heart.

–Maurice Blondel, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), 245

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A GIFT FROM HOLY MOTHER CHURCH

Maurice Blondel, born in Dijon, France, on November 2, 1861, became an influential philosopher who presaged the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).  He attended the Sorbonne, from which he graduated in 1893.  Our saint’s dissertation, which he published, was L’Action.  This proved to be an influential, epoch-making work that inspired the ire of many conservative Roman Catholics yet never the official disapproval of any Bishop of Rome, not even the reactionary and anti-intellectual Pius X, archenemy of Modernism.

Aside:  I disapprove of Pius X and regard his canonization is a grave error.  I am much closer to his immediate predecessor, Leo XIII, theologically.  By the way, what is wrong with Modernism?  I prefer it to Postmodernism.  If I were a Postmodernist, I would wonder why I should get out of bed each morning, due to incessant uncertainty about even the simplest matters, such as what I can know, if anything.  

Blondel argued for a “philosophy of action,” a blend of Neoplatonism and pragmatism in the context of Roman Catholicism.  He argued against extrinsicism, the traditional Roman Catholic tendency to present revelation as divine self-disclosure and an invitation to participate in divine life, not a presentation of heavenly truths, apart from the context of human existence.  Our saint preferred immanence to transcendence.   Blondel favored a “method of immanence,” or revelation corresponding to human questions and yearnings.  He insisted that the Gospel is intrinsic, not extrinsic, because it it resonates with deepest experience, for all human actions refer to the infinite reality, the ground of existence.  (I detect shades of Paul Tillich and God as the Ground of Being.)  Blondel wrote that the human choice is whether to open ourselves to the dimension of infinite being or to live closed in on ourselves.  Christ’s earthly life and his resurrection, our saint argued, was the dimension of infinite reality.  Therefore, Blondel wrote, faith is a dimension of all human experience, not a mere aspect (one of many) of life.  The institutional Church, Blondel wrote, has no monopoly on grace and salvation, which are freely and universally available.

Blondel, a professor in Aix-en-Provence, starting in 1897, was a devout Roman Catholic who attended Mass daily, except when health-related issues prevented him from doing so.  Although he was not a Modernist, many traditional Roman Catholics thought he was.  Suspicions of his alleged heterodoxy created difficulties in our saint securing a position for a few years in the 1890s.  Pope Pius XII, who wrote a congratulatory note to our saint in 1945, did not think of Blondel as a Modernist.  Our saint wrote and published many articles about Church Fathers and modern philosophy.  Rose, his wife, died in 1919.  He, nearly blind by 1927, entered into a forced retirement.  Blondel remained active, though; he dictated major works for two decades.

Blondel, aged 87 years, died in Aix-en-Provence on June 4, 1949.

His influence has remained evident.  It was obvious in documents that emerged from Vatican II.  I have also detected Blondel’s influence in my denomination, The Episcopal Church, in which worship, therefore, the Prayer Book, defines the church.   The Book of Common Prayer (1928) presented God in the manner of the old theology; God was transcendent.  Liturgical revision, starting in 1967, resulted in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), which reflects the new theology, according to which God is imminent.

Blondel’s influence within and beyond Roman Catholicism does not surprise me.  After all, many theologians and ecclesiastical leaders read beyond the boundaries of their denominations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF JAKOB BÖHME, GERMAN LUTHERAN MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDRESS OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, you gave to your servant Maurice Blondel

special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus:

Grant that by this teaching we may know you,

the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,

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

Proverbs 3:1-7

Psalm 119:89-96

1 Corinthians 3:5-11

Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 721

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Feast of Robert McAfee Brown (May 28)   3 comments

Above:  Stanford University

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-21158

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ROBERT MCAFEE BROWN (MAY 28, 1928-SEPTEMBER 4, 2001)

U.S. Presbyterian Minister, Theologian, Activist, and Ecumenist

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In conscience, I must break the law.

–Robert McAfee Brown, October 31, 1967

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Robert McAfee Brown comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via my library.

Above:  Two Books by Robert McAfee Brown

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Brown stood in the finest tradition of the Hebrew prophets and centuries of Christian tradition.  He, born in Carthage, Illinois, on May 28, 1928, was a son of Ruth McAfee (Brown) and Presbyterian minister George William McAfee.  Our saint was also a grandson of Cleland Boyd McAfee, a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.  Brown, a 1944 graduate of Amherst College, married Sydney Elise Thomson on June 21, 1944.  The couple had three sons and a daughter.  Our saint, a student at Union Theological Seminary from 1943 to 1945, studied under Paul Tillich (1886-1965) and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).  After graduating, Brown served as a chaplain in the United States Navy in 1945 and 1946.

Brown spent most of his life as an academic.  He was an assistant chaplain and an instructor in religion at Amherst College in 1946-1948.  Then he studied at Mansfield College, Oxford, in 1949 and 1950.  Our saint, an instructor at Union Theological Seminary in 1950 and 1951, earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1951.  He led the Department of Religion, Malacaster College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1951-1953.  Our saint served on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in 1953-1962.  Then, in 1962-1976, our saint was a Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University.  Brown returned to Union Theological Seminary in 1976 as Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity.  Our saint was Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California, in 1979-1984.  Then he retired.

Brown was an ecumenist.  In the early 1950s, when unapologetic anti-Roman Catholicism was prominent in U.S. Protestantism, our saint campaigned for Minnesota Congressman Eugene McCarthy, whose Roman Catholicism was a political difficulty.  Brown and Gustave Weigel (1906-1964) collaborated on An American Dialogue:  A Protestant Looks at Catholicism and a Catholic Looks at Protestantism (1960).  Time magazine called Brown

Catholics’ favorite Protestant

in 1962.  Our saint was even an observer (on behalf of global Calvinism) at the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in 1963 and 1965.  Brown also attended the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches as a delegate in 1968.  Seven years later, he delivered the keynote address (“Who is This Jesus Who Frees and Unites?”) at the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

Social justice was essential to Brown’s faith.  He, a pacifist, had no moral difficulty serving as a military chaplain after World War II.  Our saint’s pacifism led him to oppose the Vietnam War, of course.  His conscience led him to protest the military draft, to speak and write against the war, to commit civil disobedience, and to go to jail for doing so in 1971.  That conscience also let Brown to join a delegation that met with Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) in  January 1973 about ending the Vietnam War.

Brown was also a longtime civil rights activist at home and abroad.  He, a Freedom Rider in 1961, went to jail in Tallahassee, Florida.  Our saint addressed the immorality of Apartheid when he spoke at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa in September 1972.  Brown also advocated for women’s liberation and the civil rights of homosexuals.  Furthermore, he was active in the Sanctuary Movement, for he cared deeply about justice in Central America.  This led our saint to collaborate with Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928).

Brown also helped to raise consciousness about the Holocaust.  He, a friend of Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) since the middle 1970s, served on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council from 1979 to 1985.  Our saint resigned after President Ronald Reagan visited Bitburg Cemetery, containing graves of Waffen SS troups.

Brown became a novelist late in life.  He published Dark the Night, Wild the Sea in 1998.

Brown, aged 81 years, died in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on September 4, 2001.

One of Brown’s volumes invaluable for Bible study is Unexpected News:  Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984).  Passages covered came from Luke, Exodus, 2 Samuel, Jeremiah, Matthew, and Daniel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLGA OF KIEV, REGENT OF KIEVAN RUSSIA; SAINT ADALBERT OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT ADALBERT OF PRAGUE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MARTYR, 997; AND SAINTS BENEDICT AND GAUDENTIUS OF POMERANIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 997

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DAMIEN AND MARIANNE OF MOLOKAI, WORKERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT FLAVIA DOMITILLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NOBLEWOMAN; AND SAINTS MARO, EUTYCHES, AND VICTORINUS OF ROME, PRIESTS AND MARTYS, CIRCA 99

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUNNA OF ALSACE, THE “HOLY WASHERWOMAN”

THE FEAST OF LUCY CRAFT LANEY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

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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 servant Robert McAfee Brown,

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, 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 Jakob Bohme (April 23)   3 comments

Above:  Jakob Böhme

Image in the Public Domain

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JAKOB BÖHME (APRIL 24, 1575-NOVEMBER 17, 1624)

German Lutheran Mystic

Jakob Böhme comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via William Law (1686-1761), whom he influenced.

Böhme, born in Alteidenberg, near Görlitz, circa April 24, 1575, was a shoemaker-turned-mystic.  In 1600, he had a mystical experience.  He realized that

Yes and no, all things exist.

Böhme spent the rest of his life struggling with difficult questions.  He, always rooted in Christianity, wrote 29 books and tracts, some of which renamed incomplete when he died.  Our saint struggled with questions of sin, good and evil, yes and no, and darkness and light in the context of God and spiritual unity in God.  How, Böhme wondered, could the divided world become one in God?  Many of his early writings caused theological controversy.  Our saint disavowed some of the earliest writings as he matured theologically and spiritually.  Yet he never stopped wrestling with difficult matters of faith.  Some of his later works included On the Election of Grace (1623), Mysterium Magnum (1623), and The Way to Christ (1623).

Böhme died on November 17, 1624.  He was 49 years old.

His influence continued, however.  Aside from William Law, the diverse group of thinkers Böhme influenced included theologians and philosophers, such as:

  1. George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Religious Society of Friends;
  2. Paul Tillich (1886-1965), a prominent theologian;
  3. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), a philosopher;
  4. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), a philosopher; and
  5. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), a philosopher.

May each of us, like Jakob Böhme, struggle with difficult questions faithfully.

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Loving God, you have granted us intellects

and a thirst to know you as well as we can.

Thank you for these gifts.

May we, like your servant Jakob Böhme,

use them to maximum effect,

for your glory and the benefit of others.

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

1 Samuel 3:1-21

Psalm 63

Ephesians 2:11-22

John 1:1-18

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HEWITT MCGOWN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DRAUSINUS AND ANSERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF SOISSONS; SAINT VINDICIAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CAMBRAI; AND SAINT LEODEGARIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF AUTUN

THE FEAST OF EDWARD OSLER, ENGLISH DOCTOR, EDITOR, AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ANTONIA DE PAZ Y FIGUEROA, FOUNDRESS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE DIVINE SAVIOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PERPETUA, FELICITY, AND THEIR COMPANIONS, MARTYRS AT CARTHAGE, 203

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Feast of Paul Tillich (October 22)   4 comments

Above:  Paul Tillich’s Grave Marker

Image in the Public Domain

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PAUL JOHANNES TILLICH (AUGUST 20, 1886-OCTOBER 22, 1965)

German-American Lutheran Theologian

Paul Tillich was a major theologian during the twentieth century–a peer of the great Karl Barth.  Both men shared some core ideas, such as the centrality of Christ, but differed regarding natural theology.

Tillich, born n Starzeddel, Prussia, the German Empire, on August 20, 1886, grew up in a devout Lutheran family.  His mother was Wilhemina Mathilde Tillich.  Our saint’s father, Johannes Tillich, was a minister.  Young Paul studied in Starzeddel (-1900) and Berlin (1900-1904) before studying at the Universities of Berlin, Tübingen, Halle, and Breslau (1904-1911).  Tillich, awarded his Ph.D. from Breslau in 1911, became a Lutheran minister the following year.

Tillich worked in his native Germany until 1933.  He, an army chaplain from 1914 to 1918, married Margarethe Wever in 1914.  She left him for another man in 1919.  Tillich remarried in 1924.  His second wife, until he died in 1965, was Hannah Werner-Gottschow.  Our saint taught at the Universities of Berlin (1919-1924), Marburg (1924-1925), Leipzig (1925-1929), and Frankfurt (1929-1933).  The University of Frankfurt fired Tillich for his vocal opposition to Nazism.

The Tillichs emigrated in 1933.  Our saint accepted a position (via Reinhold Niebuhr) at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.  Our saint was Professor of Philosophical Theology at UTS (1933-1955), University Professor at Harvard University (1955-1962), and Nuveen Professor of Theology at The University of Chicago (1962-1965).

Tillich, aged 79 years, died in Chicago, Illinois, on October 22, 1965.

Tillich’s theology was influential and nuanced.  Others have summarized it better than what follows.  Nevertheless,….

  1. God is not merely a being.  No, God is the ground of being.  God is being-itself.
  2. Christianity is the revelation of a new reality–one renewing the old reality–not a revelation of doctrine.
  3. Natural theology has the Incarnation of Jesus at its core.  Life is sacred because of its relationship to God, in whom the reconciliation of the religious and the secular is possible.
  4. Religion is not just “spiritual.”  No, it is also physical, germane to all of life.
  5. Salvation is more than individual.  It applies to the world, and is applicable to broken relationships.
  6. Kairos is what happens when eternity invades time, transforming humankind and society.  Kairos is central to Tillich’s understanding of history, defined as a series of transformational transitions, such as the Incarnation.
  7. Given the reality of human depravity, therefore of finite human freedom, mere ethics prove inadequate to lead to human reunion with God.  This reunion is possible only via divine action overcoming human despair and estrangement.
  8. Christ incarnate was the first “true man” because he was the first one united with God, the ground of being.
  9. The power of being, as in the Incarnation, is natural, not supernatural.

Tillich’s theology offers much to ponder for lengthy periods of time.  The categories of “natural” and “supernatural,” set in opposition to each other, seem artificial.  If something is part of the created order, is it not, by definition, natural?  The “supernatural” is actually natural, just in ways we do not understand or relate to in the same way as we do to sunsets, trees, rocks, and cats.  So, of course, the power of being is natural, not supernatural.  The incarnation is about as natural as possible, yes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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

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

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Paul Tillich,

and we pray that by his 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), 61

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Feast of Henry Sloane Coffin and William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (April 12)   6 comments

Above:  Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, 1910

Photograph copyrighted by Irving Underhill

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-74646

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HENRY SLOANE COFFIN (JANUARY 5, 1877-NOVEMBER 25, 1954)

U.S. Presbyterian Minister, Theologian, and Hymn Translator

uncle of

WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN, JR. (JUNE 1, 1924-APRIL 12, 2006)

U.S. Presbyterian Minister and Social Activist

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A FAMILY STORY

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If there is one characteristic more than others that contemporary public worship needs to recapture, it is the awe before the surpassing great and gracious God.

–Henry Sloane Coffin

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God is to me that creative force, behind and in the universal, who manifests Himself as energy, as life, as order, as beauty, as thought, as conscience, as love.

–Henry Sloane Coffin

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There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good.  The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics.  Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.

–William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

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It is one thing to say with the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like mighty waters,” and quite another to work out the irrigation system.

–William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

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With this post I replace two former posts with which I had become dissatisfied.  By telling the stories of Henry Sloane Coffin and William Sloane Coffin, Jr., together I also emphasize connections and relationships, one of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  The Coffins, uncle and nephew, were prophetic figures who incurred much condemnation by fundamentalist Christians during their lifetimes.

Both Coffins continue to incur much condemnation by fundamentalist Christians, as a simple Internet search reveals.

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Above:  Henry Sloane Coffin

Image in the Public Domain

Henry Sloane Coffin, born in New York City on January 5, 1877, came from a prominent family.  The family firm, W. & J. Sloane, sold upscale furniture and rugs.  It also became involved in real estate development and in low-income housing.  Attorney Edmund Coffin, Jr., and Euphemia Coffin had two especially noteworthy sons–Henry Sloane Coffin and William Sloane Coffin, Sr.  The latter of these men worked in the family firm, joined the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in 1924, and became the board’s president seven years later.

Above:  William Sloane Coffin, Sr. (1879-1933)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ggbain-25374

Henry grew up in New York City, in the lap of privilege and a corresponding sense of social responsibility.  He studied at Yale, became a Bonesman, and graduated in 1897.  Next our saint studied theology at New College, Edinburgh, Scotland, for two years before returning to the United States and working successfully on two concurrent degree programs–Bachelor of Divinity (Union Theological Seminary, 1900) and Master of Arts (Yale, 1900).

Above:  Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, New York

Image creator and copyright holder = Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a11085

Henry was a Presbyterian minister.  He, ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1900, served as pastor of Bedford Park Presbyterian Church, the Bronx, until 1905, when he transferred to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City.  Our saint, a conscientious pastor and visitor in parishioners’ homes, built up Madison Avenue Church from a struggling congregation to one of the largest in the city during his tenure, which ended in 1926.  Starting in 1904 Henry doubled as a part-time Associate Professor of Homiletics and Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary.  Finally he accepted an offer to become the President of the seminary in 1926.  “Uncle Harry,” as students called him, guided the seminary financially through the Great Depression and hired Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.  Among Henry’s greatest accomplishments was helping to avoid a schism (related to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy) in his denomination in the middle 1920s.  A minor schism, creating what became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, occurred in 1936, but no major split occurred in the 1920s.

William Sloane Coffin, Jr., born in New York City on June 1, 1924, was a son of William Sloane Coffin, Sr., and Catherine Butterfield Coffin.  Our saint, known informally as Bill, lost his father in 1933.  The family fortune had declined, and William Sr. had refused to evict low-income tenants who could not afford rent.  Catherine took her family into exile in Carmel, California, where they moved into a bungalow and the children attended public schools.  In 1937 Uncle Harry began to finance the educations of Bill and his younger sister.  Bill began to study at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Catherine left California.  The following year Catherine took Bill to Europe, where he studied classical piano–first in Paris, with Nadia Boulanger, then in Geneva–until June 1940, when World War II forced their return to the United States.

Henry, who received many honorary degrees, was prominent on the Christian and world stage.  His image graced the cover of the November 15, 1926, issue of Time magazine.  Our saint was also active in ecumenism, working successfully for the creation of the World Council of Churches (1948) and unsuccessfully in the 1940s for the merger of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and The Episcopal Church, then officially the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.   Uncle Harry also worked with former U.S. President Herbert Hoover to send provisions to the United Kingdom prior to December 8, 1941, and supported U.S. involvement in World War II.

Bill Coffin went to war.  He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, in 1942, began studies at Yale Music School, then received his military draft notice in 1943.  For fur years he served in the U.S. Army, ending up in military intelligence.  Next our saint returned to Yale, joined the Skull and Bones Society (of which friend and classmate George Herbert Walker Bush was also a member), and graduated in 1949.  The Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) recruited Coffin at Yale, but he initially chose theology instead.  In 1949 he matriculated at Union Theological Seminary yet left for the C.I.A. the following year, shortly after the beginning of the Korean War.  At the C.I.A. Coffin taught Soviet émigrés the arts of spycraft.  Our saint left the agency over Eisenhower-era C.I.A. coups against democratically elected governments, however.  He graduated from Yale Divinity School, became a Presbyterian minister, and married actress Eva Rubenstein in 1956.

Uncle Harry retired from Union Theological Seminary in 1945 then toured the Orient and studied missionary work there.  He died, aged 77 years, on November 25, 1954, at Salisbury, Connecticut.  His wife, Dorothy Prentice Eells (married in 1906; died in 1983) and two children (Ruth and David) survived him.

Henry translated hymn stanzas and wrote books.  In 1916 he translated the following stanza of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, Desire of nations, bind

All peoples in one heart and mind;

Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;

Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

In 1910, in Hymns of the Kingdom of God, which Henry co-edited, he included the following stanza of “God Himself is With Us”:

Thou pervadest all things:

Let thy radiant beauty

Light mine eyes to see my duty.

As the tender flowers

Eagerly unfold them,

To the sunlight calmly hold them,

So let me quietly

In thy rays imbue me;

Let thy light shine through me.

Our saint’s books included the following:

  1. The Creed of Jesus and Other Sermons (1907),
  2. Social Aspects of the Cross (1911),
  3. University Sermons (1911),
  4. The Christian and the Church (1912),
  5. Some Christian Convictions:  A Practical Restatement in Terms of Present-Day Thinking (1915),
  6. The Ten Commandments:  With a Christian Application to the Present Conditions (1915),
  7. In a Day of Social Rebuilding:  Lectures on the Ministry of the Church (1918),
  8. A More Christian Industrial Order (1920),
  9. Portraits of Jesus Christ (1926),
  10. What is There in Religion? (1926),
  11. What to Preach (1926),
  12. The Meaning of the Cross (1931),
  13. What Men Are Asking (1933),
  14. God’s Turn:  A Collection of Sermons (1934),
  15. Religion Yesterday and Today (1940), and
  16. A Half-Century of Union Theological Seminary, 1896-1945 (1954).

William Sloane Coffin, Jr., became a social activist. Unfortunately, stresses associated with his quest for social justice ended his first two marriages (in 1968 and 1975).  In 1956-1957 our saint filled the one-year appointment as chaplain at Phillips Academy. In 1957 he became the chaplain at Williams College.  There our saint’s support for civil rights (especially in relation to the events in Little Rock, Arkansas) and criticism of fraternities created controversy.  One fraternity brother went so far as to shoot out Coffin’s living room window in anger.  From 1958 to 1975 our saint served as the chaplain at Yale University.  At Yale Coffin became involved in the Freedom Rides in the South, opposed the Vietnam War, and supported young men who refused to cooperate with the military draft.  For his nonviolent anti-draft activities Coffin faced federal charges, went on trial, and became a convict.  Later an appeals court overturned the conviction and the government dropped the charges.

To oppose government-sponsored violence nonviolently can place one is legal jeopardy, unfortunately.

Coffin served as the senior pastor of The Riverside Church, New York City, from 1977 to 1987.  He opposed Apartheid, lobbied for nuclear disarmament, and spoke out in favor of gay rights–when the latter was a marginal position, even on the Left.  He resigned in 1987 to work on the nuclear disarmament issue full-time.

Our saint was quite active during much of this retirement.  From 1989 to 1992 he led SANE/FREEZE, dedicated to disarmament and a freeze on atomic weapons.  Then he and third wife Virginia Randolph Wilson (married in 1984) moved to Vermont.  Coffin continued to travel and speak on a variety of topics, including his opposition to the Iraq War.  At the end of his life our saint suffered a series of strokes.  He died, surrounded by family, on April 12, 2006.  He was 81 years old.

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Henry Sloane Coffin and William Sloane Coffin faced different challenges.  Both of them responded to those issues in front of them in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the prophets’ call to social justice, as they understood those high standards.  They were controversial in their times.  They were probably correct more often than not.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, WORKER AMONG WOMEN

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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 Henry Sloane Coffin and William Sloane Coffin, Jr.,

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

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

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

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

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

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