Archive for the ‘Ursula Niebuhr’ Tag

Feast of G. Bromley Oxnam (August 13)   1 comment

Above:  The Cover of the Dust Jacket to A Testament of Faith (1958)

Image Source = archive.org

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GARFIELD BROMLEY OXNAM (AUGUST 14, 1891-MARCH 12, 1963)

U.S. Methodist Bishop

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INTRODUCTION

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Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

–John 14:15, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Bishop Oxnam liked to quote that verse.  For him, Christian faith was not a doctrinal confession one signed at the bottom of the page.  No, Oxnam’s Christian faith was a love-infused lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed obeying Matthew 25:31-46.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:40b, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam was, in many ways, a counterpoint to his fellow bishop and contemporary, Gerald Kennedy (1907-1980).  Yet both men had much in common.  And both of them earned their places here, on my Ecumenical Calendar.  (I admit, though, that I feel more affinity for Bishop Oxnam than with Bishop Kennedy.)

Richard Brookhiser, writing derisively of Oxnam in the February 1992 issue of First Things, commented:

Theologically, Oxnam was a liberal by default, since he barely thought of theology at all.

Yet, as I have written repeatedly in lectionary-based devotions at some of my other weblogs, deeds reveal creeds.  As one thinks, one is.  And as one thinks, one acts.  In Hebrew theology, God is like what God has done and does.  Ergo, we are like what we have done and do.  And, as the Letter of James tells us:

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

–2:26, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam showed his faith by his works (James 2:26).

I could continue to paraphrase Oxnam, but his words are better than mine in expressing his faith.  So, without further ado:

I find it hard to understand men who “accept Christ” and then become sadistic as they deal with others who try to “love God with heart and mind and soul, and brother as self,” but who cannot in honesty accept the obscurantism that is presented as “the faith,” especially when the presentation is accompanied by the clanking of Inquisition chains and the fires at the stake.  The coercion by the bigoted is in itself a rejection of the spirit of Christ.  He relied on the compulsion of love.  If I were called upon to choose one word to describe Christianity, it would be love.  I believe nothing can separate us from the love of God.  I believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  I believe God sent Jesus because He “loved the world.”

A Testament of Faith (1958), viii-ix

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THE FIRST FORTY-THREE YEARS

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Oxnam, born in Los Angeles, California, on August 14, 1891, moved away from his family theological roots.  They were conservative.  Our saint’s father, a mining engineer and a mine owner, oversaw the construction of chapels for inhabitants of mining camps.  Oxnam’s mother was a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.).  At age 17, at a revival, our saint vowed to become a minister.

Oxnam left the conservative religion of his youth behind and embraced the Social Gospel.  He graduated from the University of Southern California (B.A., 1913) then Boston University (S.T.B., 1915).  Our saint, who married Ruth Fisher on August 19, 1914, had joined the Southern California Conference of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) as a licensed preacher the previous year.  The Conference ordained him a deacon in 1915 then an elder in 1917.

After serving in Poplar, California, Oxnam became the pastor at the Church of All Nations, Los Angeles, California (1917-1926), in the Eastside.  The Church of All Nations was a multi-ethnic, immigrant, and impoverished flock.  Our saint presided over an extensive network of social services, openly identified with labor unions, opposed nativism and xenophobia, suggested that teachers’ informed opinions should influence educational policies, aroused suspicions that he was a communist, and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board.  He also taught social ethics at the University of Southern California.  In fact, Oxnam was neither a communist nor a Marxist; he was a Christian Socialist.

Then Oxnam turned to academia full-time.  He was a Professor of Social Ethics at Boston University (1927-1928).  Next, our saint made his mark as the President of DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana (1928-1936).  Oxnam, a pacifist, first made participation in the R.O.T.C. optional.  (It had been mandatory.)  Then, in 1934, he presided over the end of the R.O.T.C. at DePauw University.  He also helped students to find jobs in New Deal programs, expanded library holdings, and increased attendance at voluntary chapel services.  These were dignified services; Oxnam insisted on that.

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BISHOP OXNAM

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Oxnam became the then-youngest Methodist bishop in the United States in 1936; he was 45 years old.  (Gerald Kennedy broke that record, at age 40, in 1948.)  Our saint was based in, in order:

  1. Omaha, Nebraska (1936-1939);
  2. Boston, Massachusetts (1939-1944);
  3. New York, New York (1944-1952); and
  4. Washington, D.C. (1952-1960).

Our saint was active on the denominational level of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and the merged Methodist Church (1939-1968). 

  1. He chaired the Division of Educational Institutions, the General Board of Education (1939-1944).
  2. He chaired the Division of Foreign Missions, the General Board of Global Ministries (1944-1952).
  3. He led the Methodist Crusade for World Order (1944-1948).  The Methodist Crusade for World Order opposed a return to pre-World War II isolationism, favored an internationalist foreign policy, and supported the United Nations.
  4. He was active in the Methodist Federation for Social Service (later Social Action), which Frank Mason North (1850-1935) had helped to found in 1917.  The Federation, a target of conservative elements within the denomination, suffered a strong rebuke in 1952.  “Methodist” ceased to be in its name, and The Methodist Church established the new Board of Social and Economic Relations.

Oxnam was also an ecumenist.

  1. He served as the President of the old Federal Council of Churches (1946-1948).
  2. He helped to found the National Council of Churches (1950).
  3. He was one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches (1948-1954).
  4. He sat on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
  5. Oxnam’s ecumenism had its limits.  It did not extend to fundamentalists and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics, who thought he was going to Hell anyway.

Despite what Red-baiting conservatives claimed, Oxnam was a patriot. 

  1. He was a staunch man of the Christian Left.
  2. He was a member of the Civil Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the Navy during World War II.
  3. After the war, he chaired the Commission to Study Postwar Relief Conditions in Germany.
  4. He opposed mandatory military training and service in peacetime.
  5. He argued that using atomic weapons was immoral.

In July 1953, Oxnam testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, which was itself un-American.  He rebutted allegations that he was and ever had been a communist or a Marxist.  Our saint produced evidence to document that charges to the contrary from Representative Donald L. Jackson (1910-1981) were objectively false.  Oxnam also condemned McCarthyism and those who practiced it.

A new breed of self-appointed un-American vigilantes threatens our freedom.  Profaning our American traditions and desecrating our flag, masquerading as defenders of our country against the infiltration of communism and the aggression of Russia, they play the red game of setting American against American, of creating distrust and division, and of turning us from the problems that must be solved in order to become impregnable.  These vigilantes produce hysteria, prepare sucker lists, and live upon the generous contributions of the fearful.  They exploit the uninformed patriot.  They profiteer in patriotism.  These vigilantes do not carry the noosed rope, but they lynch by libel.  They prepare their lying spider-web charts.  They threaten educators and ministers, actors and broadcasters.  Unthinking boards and commissions bow to their tyranny, forgetting that to appease these forerunners of Hitler, of Mussolini, and of Stalin is to jeopardize freedom, and to prepare the wrists for the shackles and the mouth for the gag.  In the name of law, vigilantes break the law.

–Quoted in A Year with American Saints (2006), 281-282

Above:  Wesley Theological Seminary, American University, Washington, D.C,

Image Source = Google Earth

Bishop Oxnam, while based in Washington, D.C., helped to build up the denomination-affiliated American University.  In 1958, he supervised the relocation of Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster, Maryland (founded in 1882) to the campus of American University.  The relocated seminary became Wesley Theological Seminary.  That year, our saint also helped to found the School of International Service at American University.

Above:  The School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.

Image Source = Google Earth

Oxnam, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, retired in 1960.  He, aged 73 years, died in White Plains, New York, on March 12, 1963.

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EVALUATION

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When evaluating a historical figure, one ought to avoid two opposite errors:  relativizing everything or too much and relativizing nothing or too little.  Timeless standards exist, of course.  Yet context remains crucial.  Also, people change during a lifetime.  To be fair, one must consider that fact.

Oxnam was mostly correct.  He was correct to favor the rights of workers, for example.  He was correct to condemn the greed of those who exploited workers.  He was correct to oppose McCarthyism and to challenge practitioners of McCarthyism to their faces.  Like most Americans, traumatized by World War I, he overreacted in ways that seemed reasonable between the World Wars yet came across as naïve in retrospect after World War II.  

Just as I stand to the left of Bishop Gerald Kennedy, I stand slightly to the right of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam.  I am a Neo-Orthodox, after all.  I stand with Reinhold, Ursula, and H. Richard Niebuhr in recognizing the limitations of the Social Gospel.  I do so while affirming what was positive about the Social Gospel.

Yet, as I have written in this post, I feel more affinity with Oxnam than with Kennedy.  And I count both of them as members of my family of faith.

I invite you, O reader, if you are so inclined, to read Oxnam’s writings available at archive.org:

  1. “The Mexican in Los Angeles from the Standpoint of the Religious Forces of the City” (1921),
  2. Contemporary Preaching:  A Study in Trends (1931),
  3. Personalities in Social Reform (1941),
  4. Preaching in a Revolutionary Age (1944), 
  5. I Protest (1954), and
  6. A Testament of Faith (1958).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, BISHOP AND MARTYR, 107/115; SAINT POLYCARP OF SMYRNA, BISHOP AND MARTYR, 155/156; AND SAINT IRENAEUS OF LYONS, CIRCA 202 

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER AKIMETES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL WOLCOTT, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEFAN WINCENTY FRELICHOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF MAINZ; AND SAINT BERNWARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HILDESHEIM

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

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

Help us [like your servant G. Bromley Oxnam] to use our freedom

to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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Theological Diversity and the Communion of Saints   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of All Saints

Image in the Public Domain

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IN PARTICULAR, WITH REGARD TO MY ECUMENICAL CALENDAR OF SAINTS’ DAYS AND HOLY DAYS

My methodology of adding to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days entails filling vacant slots on a day-by-day basis.  If I, for example, have two vacant slots for a given date, I ponder saints, consider how much information is available about them, and decide how best to fill both slots, if possible.  Sometimes I leave slots vacant, for filling later.  My current policy is to have a maximum of four posts (with one or more saints per post) per day, except a date with a Biblically-themed feast, when I usually reserve that date for that feast, unless I make a rare exception to that rule.  March 25, for example, is the Feast of the Annunciation and the Feast of St. Dismas, both Biblically themed feasts.  January 1 is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus; it is also World Peace Day.  Nevertheless, January 6 is solely the Feast of the Epiphany on my Ecumenical Calendar.  I plan to change the maximum number of posts for most days to five in 2020 or 2021, and perhaps to more eventually.  My Ecumenical Calendar can be a long-term project always in progress, assuming that I lead a long life.

Longevity is not a guarantee, of course.  Yet I make plans, just in case I am around and able to continue work on this hobby.

Since I think about additions to my Ecumenical Calendar on a day-by-day basis, looking at the trees, not the forest, so to speak, I do not collect data about societal categories (such as gender, ethnicity, and national origin) and assign quotas based on them.  Affirmative action, for all its societal value in many settings and cultures at certain times, has no place in my Ecumenical Calendar.  I do, however, enjoy recognizing people whose stories of faith have fallen into the shadows of others, including other saints.  Many of these overlooked saints fall into categories such as women, racial or ethnic minorities, and members of powerless or less powerful populations.  I cite, for example, my recent post about Niebuhrs, which includes not just Reinhold and H. Richard, but Hulda and Ursula also.

I do think purposefully about theological diversity.  Thus Popes rub shoulders with Protestants and Orthodox Patriarchs, Anglican bishops with Puritan missionaries, dogmatic theologians with non-dogmatic theologians, and mystics and alleged heretics with the conventionally orthodox, by the standards of their contexts.  In the New Testament a saint is simply a Christian; that is my definition of a saint.  The great cloud of witnesses spreads out across a wide spectrum.

According to an old saying, each Christian is somebody’s schismatic.  One might make a strong case for Roman Catholicism being schismatic from Judaism.  As surely as each Christian is somebody’s schismatic, he or she is also somebody’s heretic.  God defines heresy with certitude; we mere mortals do not.  Often we define heresy to exclude those who disagree with us, but sometimes our definitions overlap with God’s.  But how are we to know how often that happens?

I steer a moderate course through the thicket of heresy and orthodoxy, learning from early Ecumenical Councils and Church Fathers, and from Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers.  While I do this I acknowledge that, according to the Roman Catholic Church, I, as one who belongs to another Christian communion (The Episcopal Church, to be precise), I lack the fullness of the faith.  Roman Catholic orthodoxy since Vatican II holds that, since Holy Mother Church alone has the fullness of the faith, all other Christians are “separated brethren.”  At least I am no longer going to Hell, allegedly.  Progress is progress.

For all the theological diversity represented on my Ecumenical Calendar, unity is also evident.  The unity of serving Christ is present; that outweighs many differences.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

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Feast of Reinhold, Ursula, Hulda, and H. Richard Niebuhr (July 5)   17 comments

Above:  A Partial Niebuhr Family Tree

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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HULDA CLARA AUGUST NIEBUHR (1889-APRIL 17, 1959)

Christian Educator

sister of

KARL PAUL REINHOLD NIEBUHR (JUNE 21, 1892-JUNE 1, 1971)

United Church of Christ Theologian

husband of 

URSULA MARY KEPPEL-COMPTON NIEBUHR (AUGUST 3, 1908-JANUARY 10, 1997)

Episcopal Theologian and Advocate for Women’s Rights

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HELMUT RICHARD NIEBUHR (SEPTEMBER 3, 1894-JULY 5, 1962)

United Church of Christ Theologian

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A FAMILY STORY

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INTRODUCTION

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Niebuhrs have made vital contributions to Christian theology and public life, especially in the United States.  Reinhold Niebuhr has received the most attention.  His brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, also an influential theologian, has received much attention as well.  They have deserved all the attention they have received.  In the process, however, other Niebuhrs have received too little attention.

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GUSTAV AND LYDIA

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Gustav Niebuhr (1863-1913) was a minister and church planter for the old Evangelical Synod of North America, founded by members of the Lutheran-Reformed Prussian church who had immigrated to the United States.  Gustav, who had arrived in the United States at the age of 18 years in 1881, was a Belle Époque optimistic liberal with pietistic tendencies and a firm grasp of the Greek and Hebrew languages.  He lobbied for his denomination to conduct services in English.  (Attachment to the language of the mother country ran deep among many immigrant Christians in the United States.  This was cultural, liturgical, and psychological, sometimes with a theological veneer.  Among the Swedish-American Lutherans of the old Augustana Synod (1860-1962), for example, some argued that preaching the Gospel in English, not Swedish, would dilute the truth of the Gospel.)

Lydia Hosto (Niebuhr) (1869-1961) was like many wives of ministers; she did much pro bono work in parishes and became, in the minds of many parishioners, an extension of her husband.  She was far more than that, of course.  Her legacy has fallen into the shadows of her husband and two famous sons, unfortunately.  Lydia was sister of Adele Hosto, a deaconess in the Evangelical Synod of North America, and a daughter of Edward Hosto, a missionary of that denomination.

Gustav and Lydia had five children–one daughter and four sons.  One son died as an infant.  The language at home was German.  Gustav alienated Walter, his second child, and discouraged Hulda, his daughter, from pursuing higher education.  Gustav had old-fashioned ideas about gender roles.  He, from 1902 to 1913 the pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Church, Lincoln, Illinois, also served as an administrator at Deaconess Hospital.

Gustav Niebuhr, aged 50 years, died in 1913.

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HULDA (I)

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The eldest of the Niebuhr children was Hulda Clara August Niebuhr, born in 1889.  According to Gustav, her father, a woman was supposed to marry and bear children.  He thought that a woman’s desire for higher education was unseemly and egotistical, as well as a distraction from an interference with marriage and child-bearing.  Hulda pursued higher education anyway.

For her own reasons she never married.

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REINHOLD (I)

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Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr entered the world at Wright, Missouri, on June 21, 1892.  He was the third son and fourth child born to the family  “Reinie” graduated from the denominational college (Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois) and seminary (Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), as well as Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut.  He, ordained at St. John’s Evangelical Church, Lincoln, Illinois, served at Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan.  Denominational rules mandated a two-year commitment; he served for thirteen years, until 1928.

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H. RICHARD (I)

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Helmut Richard Niebuhr, the youngest of the five children, entered the world at Wright City, Missouri, on September 4, 1894.  He graduated from Elmhurst College in 1912, Washington University in 1917, Yale Divinity School in 1923, and Yale Graduate School in 1924.  H. Richard, ordained into the ministry of the Evangelical Synod of North America in 1916, pastored an ESNA parish in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1916-1918 then a Congregationalist church in New Haven during his doctoral work there.  For the rest of his career H. Richard was an academic–a professor at Eden Theological Seminary (1919-1922), the President of Elmhurst College (1924-1927), again a professor at Eden Theological Seminary (1927-1931), and finally as a professor (specializing in Christian ethics) at Yale Divinity School (1931-1962).

In 1920 H. Richard married Florence Marie Mittendorf.  One of their children was Richard Reinhold Niebuhr (1926-2017), a professor at Harvard Divinity School from 1956 to 1999, as well as the father of Richard Gustav Neibuhr (b. 1955), usually listed as Gustav Niebuhr.  The grandson of H. Richard Niebuhr has distinguished himself as an award-winning religion journalist (through 2001) and academic (since December 2001).  After his work at Princeton University (2001-2003) (Richard) Gustav Niebuhr joined the faculty of Syracuse University, Syracuse New York, teaching journalism as well as the history of religion.

Harvard Divinity School has honored Richard Reinhold Niebuhr by naming a professorship after him.

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HULDA, REINHOLD, AND LYDIA IN DETROIT

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Gustav Niebuhr died in 1913.  At that time Walter, the eldest son, whom Gustav had alienated, rescued the family financially.  He, a devout Christian, had gone into secular life as a journalist and a businessman, making real money.

The Evangelical Synod of North America assigned the bachelor Reinhold Niebuhr to Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, Michigan, in 1915.  The membership stood at 65 when he arrived.  It was also entirely of German extraction.  Hulda and Lydia worked in the parish.  Hulda specialized in religious education for several years.  Lydia was effectively the co-pastor.

At Detroit Reinhold became deeply involved in liberal politics, siding with labor unions, opposing Ku Klux Klan-backed candidates for local offices, and imbibing deeply of Marxian thought (Conflict Theory).  He, shedding Social Gospel optimism and moving toward Christian Realism while writing Moral Man and Immoral Society (published in 1932).  Meanwhile, the Niebuhrs grew Bethel Church to 700 members by 1928.

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HULDA (II)

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Hulda, who had begun her higher education at Lincoln College, Lincoln, Illinois, in 1912, completed her undergraduate degree at Boston University, starting in 1918.  At B.U. she also earned her M.A. in the School of Religious Education and Social Service.  The university became her professional home; she was one of three female assistant professors there in 1927.

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REINHOLD (II)

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By 1928 Reinhold had come to the attention of Henry Sloane Coffin, President of Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.  Coffin hired the pastor in 1928.  Reinhold and his mother moved to New York City that year; he taught applied Christianity and Christian ethics.  He remained at Union Theological Seminary until declining health forced his retirement in 1960.

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REINHOLD AND URSULA

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Ursula Mary Keppel-Compton, born in Southampten, England, on August 3, 1908, would have offended Gustav Niebuhr (1863-1913); he would have accused her of egotism.  Ursula not only pursued higher education, but excelled at it.  She graduated with honors in history and theology from St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, then became the first woman to win a fellowship to Union Theological Seminary, where she, aged 23 years, arrived in the fall of 1930.  Ursula chose not to date Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom she met there; she wrote,

I thought him rather too Teutonic and too Prussian for my taste.

She did fall in love with Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, however.  Ursula had a mind of her own.  She as a lay minister in The Church of England, had dared to preach, thereby doing what only men were officially supposed to do in that milieu at that time.  She married Reinhold at Winchester Cathedral in December 1931.  During their marriage (1931-1971) the couple debated theology.  Ursula remained in the Anglican tradition; she was an Episcopalian.  Reinhold likewise remained true to his background as it turned into the Evangelical and Reformed Church (in 1934) then the United Church of Christ (in 1957).

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URSULA

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Ursula was a formidable scholar.  She had an interest in Biblical archeology.  Her thesis at Union Theological Seminary was “Ultimate Moral Sanction as According to the New Testament.”  Ursula also taught the history of religion at Columbia University and founded then chaired the Department of Religion at Barnard College, retiring in 1960, when her husband retired from Union Theological Seminary.

Ursula scaled back her career due to Reinhold’s declining health.  In 1952, while returning from a meeting with his friend Adlai Stevenson, Reinhold suffered a stroke.  He was able to continue to teach until 1960 and publish into the 1960s.  In his last major work, Man’s Nature and His Communities (1965), Reinhold acknowledged Ursula’s influence on his evolving thought.

In recent years some scholars have asked to what extent Ursula and her husband were co-authors.

Ursula, aged 90 years, died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on January 10, 1997.

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HULDA (III)

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Hulda spent 1928-1946 in New York, New York.  She began work on a doctorate at Union Theological Seminary ad the Teachers College of Columbia University (as part of a joint program of the two institutions) and was A.B.D. (All But Dissertation).  From 1930 to 1945 she was a religious educator at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Hulda also wrote two books and six articles about the religious education of children from 1928 to 1944, and was an adjunct faculty member at New York University from 1938 to 1946.

In 1946 moved to Chicago, Illinois, to accept a position at the Presbyterian College of Christian Education, associated with McCormick Theological Seminary.  She became an Associate Professor of Religious Education.  Upon the merger of the college and the seminary in 1949, she joined the faculty of the seminary, which made her its first female full professor in 1953.  Hulda, who shared her home with her mother, wrote two more books and 18 more articles.

In one of those articles, “Red Roses and Sin” (1958), Hulda wrote:

We bemoan the fact that our church members do not know the Bible, while at the same time we waste opportunities to make it available to them.  Children (not to mention adults) like to hear good stories told and retold.  The Bible teems with dramatic material that can be presented to them in story form.

Hulda, who emphasized teaching children in ways in which they learned best, died on April 17, 1959, one month shy of retirement.  She was about 70 years old.

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H. RICHARD (II)

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To make decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single man or group or historical time is the church; but that there is a church of faith in which we do our partial, relative work and on which we count.  It is to make them in view of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead, and is not only the head of the church but the redeemer of the world.  It is to make them in view of the fact that the world of culture–man’s achievement–exists within the world of grace–God’s Kingdom.

–H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York:  Harper & Row, 1951), 256

H. Richard, quite an influential theologian, as well as the only member of the family in his generation to earn a doctorate, thought and wrote deeply about the relationship of faith to culture.  In the seminal Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929) he wrote of secular influences, such as race, social class, regionalism, and nationalism–or institutional religious life.  Then, in The Church Against the World (1935) and The Kingdom of God in America (1937), H. Richard emphasized spiritual influences on culture.  In The Meaning of Revelation (1941) he pondered the relationship of Christian community to the revelation of God, the absolute, and argued that the revelation of God is relative and in the context of faith community, which functions as a safeguard against many excesses of members of that community.  Perhaps H. Richard’s most influential work was Christ and Culture (1951), in which he argued against separation from the world as well as accommodation to it.  The majority Christian position, he wrote, is a synthesis of Christ and culture.  H. Richard did not approve of that either; he preferred Christ as the transformer of culture.

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the theologians who has simultaneously critiqued and affirmed the theology of H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr.

H. Richard, not yet retired, died on July 5, 1962.  He was 67 years old.

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REINHOLD (III)

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Harlan Ellison has said that being consistent requires one to remain as poorly informed as one was the previous year.  Reinhold Niebuhr, who changed his mind many times during his nearly 70 years of life, valued avoiding naïveté and hypocrisy, not seeking consistency with himself when he was younger.  Thus he, once a pacifist, a socialist, and a Social Gospeller, rejected many former opinions.  Reinhold became a champion of Neo-orthodoxy (which retained the social justice aspects of the Social Gospel while rejecting the optimism that World War I had belied) and Christian Realism.  He was too liberal for many conservatives and too conservative for many liberals.  Reinhold’s theology recognized the reality of the gray, not just the black and the white.  He came to support the George Kennan-style Containment policy during the Cold War, and condemned Senator Joseph McCarthy as an agent of evil.  Reinhold, who supported U.S. involvement in World War II, opposed the war in Vietnam, as did Kennan.

The author of the Serenity Prayer (in the 1930s) won the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1964, helped settle refugees in the 1930s, came to oppose Christian attempts to convert Jews, and influenced a host of influential people, including Martin Luther King, Jr.; Senator John McCain; and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.  Reinhold was Obama’s favorite theologian.

Reinhold broke religion into two categories–prophetic religion and priestly religion.  He defined prophetic religion as the source of human religious consciousness.  Reinhold was critical of priestly religion, which he defined as that which people use to replace, blunt, or domesticate true religion, that is prophetic religion, which is essential to human personality (cheapened by modern industrial society) as well as societal cohesion.

That societal emphasis, which Reinhold had in common with H. Richard, informed an understanding of original sin–more than individual, corrupting society and social institutions.  Therefore only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.

Sorry, Walter Rauschenbusch, whom I also esteem highly.

Reinhold died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on June 1, 1971.  He was 78 years old.

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CONCLUSION

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One may disagree respectfully and civilly with any of these four saints on various matters.  Yet, if one is honest, one cannot fail to recognize their contributions to the Church, and societies.  Of course Christian educators should use effective pedagogical methods.  Of course churches and societies influence each other, for good and ill.  Of course corrupt social institutions, which even the most pious institutions, which even the most pious cannot avoid, involve those pious people in societal sins, so that, as the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) affirmed in 1962, in a statement with Niebuhrian influences:

Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

–Quoted in The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1965), 332

I wonder what these four Niebuhrs would write and say about today.  I wonder what advice Hulda would offer to contemporary Christian educators, given the shortened attention spans and the ubiquity of screens and smart phones.  I wonder what critiques H. Richard, Reinhold, and Ursula would offer for U.S. foreign and domestic policy.  I also wonder how they might adapt their critique of industrial society in the context of post-industrial society–an information economy amid globalization.  I wonder what they would make of social media.  They would offer discomforting words of wisdom, I suspect.  And those words of wisdom would not fit into sound bytes.

I also wonder about another matter.  I collect and consult calendars of saints.  A wide variety of these calendars exists.  Not one, to my knowledge, lists any of these four Niebuhrs as saints.  That surprises me.  Anglican and Lutheran ecclesiastical calendars count legacies, not miracles.  Certainly I am shocked not to find H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr on any Anglican or Lutheran calendar of saints.  During this process of renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days–with this post, in fact–I hereby merge the former feasts of Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr as I add Ursula Niebuhr and Hulda Niebuhr to the commemoration.  They deserve it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servants Hulda, Reinhold, Ursula, and H. Richard Niebuhr,

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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