Archive for the ‘Willard Learoyd Sperry’ Tag

Feast of Emil Brunner (April 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Dr. Emil Brunner

Image in the Public Domain

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HEINRICH EMIL BRUNNER (DECEMBER 23, 1889-APRIL 6, 1966)

Swiss Reformed Theologian

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The Protestant theology of our day is in a state of rapid dissolution….The substance of Christian theology, the content of Christian faith, is in a state of compete decomposition.  Christianity is either faith in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or it is nothing.

–Emil Brunner, in The Theology of Crisis (1930); quoted in Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman, editors, A Handbook of Christian Theologians–Enlarged Edition (1984) page 410

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Emil Brunner and Karl Barth were the most influential Protestant theologians of the twentieth century.  The latter, however, has become more famous than the former.  Furthermore, Willard Learoyd Sperry was openly critical of their Neo-orthodox theology.  Coincidence has caused the feasts of Brunner and Sperry to fall on the same date on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  This project of mine has sufficient breadth to include theologians who criticized each other.

Brunner was Swiss, as was his contemporary and critic, Barth.  Brunner, born on December 23, 1889, at Winterthur, drew from a variety of influences.  One early influence was pastor Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919), of southern Germany.  Another influence was Hermann Kutter (1863-1931), a student of Blumhardt.  Brunner studied theology at the University of Zurich.  His professor, Leonhard Ragaz (1868-1945), taught him the works of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who influenced our saint profoundly.

Brunner traveled and lectured around the world.  He studied in Berlin for a semester in 1911; he found both the city and Adolf von Harnack 1865-1923) unimpressive.  Our saint visited England in 1913-1914 and quickly became fluent in English.  He was back home, serving in the Swiss army, in 1914-1916, before becoming the pastor at a church in Obstalden, in the canton of Glarus, in 1916.  Brunner studied at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, in 1919-1920.  In 1924 he became Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at the University of Zurich.  He also continued to preach in churches.  Throughout the 1920s Brunner lectured in the United States and in the United Kingdom.  The Third Reich banned his books and forbade him to teach in Germany, but he did not slow down.  From 1938 to 1939 Brunner was a visiting professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.  He was also active in the Faith and Order Movement and the Life and Work Movement, forerunners of the World Council of Churches, organized in 1948.  After World War II Brunner became a theological advisor to the Y.M.C.A.  In 1949, for the Y.M.C.A., he traveled and lectured in Asia.  From 1953 to 1955 our saint was a professor at the International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan.  There he engaged in ecumenical and interfaith dialogues.  In 1955, on the way back to Switzerland, Brunner suffered a stroke, which slowed the previously vigorous pace of his scholarly work.

In 1916 Brunner married Margret Lauterberg, niece of his mentor, Hermann Kutter.  Our saint was a loving husband and father.  The couple raised four sons, two of whom they buried.

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A person literate in Christian theology can understand why one can find criticisms of Brunner from both the right and the left on the Internet.  According to certain critics from the left, he was much too traditional.  Yet, according to those who condemn our saint from the right, he was a heretic and a destroyer of faith whose insidious influence remains.

Brunner, who considered himself neither a traditionalist nor an innovator, held to a theology based to two related factors:  love and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  He rejected fundamentalism and dogmatism on the right  and vague religious values on the left.  Brunner was, simply put, in the middle, with many critics from both his right and his left.  For example, as our saint stressed the primacy of Jesus as the Word of God and insisted upon the unique and unrepeatable nature of the Incarnation, he remained skeptical regarding the Virgin Birth.  The miracle of the Incarnation, Brunner wrote, was greater with a human father.  Furthermore, our saint insisted, one need not affirm the Virgin Birth as being essential to accepting the divinity of Jesus.

Brunner also pondered how God and mere mortals can relate to each other.  Our saint, being himself, rejected the extremes of literalism and dogmatism on the right and of experience and feeling on the left.  He wrote that God and people meet in Jesus Christ and that only God can take the initiative to bridge the gap.  People, he argued, have the ability to reject God or to accept God.  Furthermore, the revelation of God is ongoing–via the Holy Spirit, including in the scriptures at the present time.  The reign of God on earth will become a reality also.  In the meantime, Brunner argued, there must be a point of contact in sinful human nature for one to perceive the divine revelation.  This assertion prompted Barth too write his famous rebuttal Nein! (1934), in which he argued that divine revelation creates its own point of contact ex niliho.  Brunner referred to Nein! as “that terrible book” as late as the 1950s.

For Brunner the definitive Christian virtue was love–self-sacrificing love, the kind Jesus had.  This love, our saint wrote, Christianizing Martin Buber‘s I-Thou theology, binds people to God and to each other in relationships.  The responsibility to live in community with each other and with God, Brunner wrote, is inherent in us.  Furthermore, we might be unaware of this duty or even reject it, but we can never escape it, he argued.  The basis of this responsibility, according to Brunner, was the image of God.  He criticized violations of this responsibility, wherever he saw them–in capitalism, communism, Christian congregations and denominations, et cetera.  Worse than the scandal of schisms, Brunner wrote, was the lack of spiritual brotherhood in Christian community.

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Brunner, a man well-informed in matters of theology, science, music, and painting, died at Zurich, Switzerland, on April 6, 1966.  He was 76 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 15, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACHARY OF ROME, POPE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAN ADALBERT BALICKI AND LADISLAUS FINDYSZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN POLAND

THE FEAST OF OZORA STEARNS DAVIS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VETHAPPAN SOLOMON, APOSTLE TO THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

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

and to another the insight of wisdom,

and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted by your servant Emil Brunner,

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), page 61

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Feast of Pauline Sperry and Willard Learoyd Sperry (April 5)   1 comment

Above:  Divinity Library, Harvard College, 1900

Copyright Holder and Image Publisher = Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08542

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PAULINE SPERRY (MARCH 15, 1885-SEPTEMBER 24, 1967)

Mathematician, Philanthropist, and Activist

sister of

WILLARD LEAROYD SPERRY (APRIL 5, 1882-MAY 15, 1954)

Congregationalist Minister, Ethicist, Theologian, and Dean of Harvard Divinity School

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The greatest gift to mankind–the freedom of the mind–is in peril.  If we lose that, we lose everything.  The universities are the greatest bulwark.  They are the first to be attacked.  The battle is only just begun.

–Pauline Sperry, 1953

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Grant, O God, to Your people more courage to live for you.  Guard us from rashness, and deliver us from fear.  Teach us when by patience we may serve you, and when by impatience.

–Willard Learoyd Sperry

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Pauline Sperry and Willard Learoyd Sperry were children of Henrietta Learoyd Sperry and Willard Gardner Sperry.  Henrietta had been a teacher and a vice principal at Abbot Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, her alma mater.  Willard Gardner, former President of Olivet College, Olivet, Michigan, was a congregationalist minister.  From 1877 to 1885 he served at South Congregational Church, Peabody, Massachusetts.  At Peabody Pauline and Willard Learoyd joined the family.  Their parents taught them faith, the importance of social reform and religious liberty, and the value of education.

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Willard Learoyd Sperry, born on April 5, 1882, followed in his father’s footsteps.  Our saint, a 1903 graduate of Olivet College, went on to become a Rhodes Scholar.  After completing studies at Oxford in 1907, became a Congregationalist minister the following year.  From 1908 to 1913 he served as the assistant pastor at the First Church at Fall River, Massachusetts.  Along the way, in 1909, Sperry received his M.A. from Yale.  In 1914 he became the pastor of Central Church, Boston, Massachusetts.  Starting in 1917, he was Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Andover Theological Seminary.  From 1922 to 1925, with the union of the Andover Theological Seminary and the Harvard Divinity School as the Theological School in Harvard University, Sperry served as the Dean.  After the merger ended in 1925, he became the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School.  Sperry served in that capacity until 1953.  He also doubled as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals (1928-1953) and the chairman of the Harvard Board of Preachers (1928f).  Our saint also served on the Old Testament translation committee for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  He also found time to write and publish a plethora of articles and books.

Sperry, always a theological liberal, was critical of Neo-orthodoxy as late as 1949, when he made his opinion plain in Jesus Then and Now.  Neo-orthodoxy, he argued, turned sin into

an incantation lacking any solid warrant in the common conscience

and of using it as a shibboleth.  Sperry was interested in transforming, not condemning, culture.

Sperry died at Boston, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1954.  He was 72 years old.

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Pauline Sperry, born on  March 5, 1885, became a mathematician and an academic.  She graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, with her B.A. degree in 1906.  She taught mathematics at Hamilton Institute, New York, New York, for a year, before returning to Smith College for a M.A. degree in music in 1907.  After graduating again in 1908 Sperry taught mathematics at her alma mater until 1912.  Then she commenced graduate studies at The University of Chicago.  She graduated in 1914.  Her thesis was “On the Theory of  One-to-One Correspondence with Geometric Illustrations.”  Doctoral work followed in 1914-1916.  Her dissertation was “Properties of a Certain Projectively Defined Two-Paramater Family of Curves on a General Surface.”  Sperry was Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Smith College from 1916 to 1917.  Sperry taught at the University of California at Berkeley, starting in 1917.  She was Instructor (1917-1923), Assistant Professor (1923-1931), and Associate Professor (1931f).  Sperry, the first female Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Berkeley, taught many geometry courses and wrote two textbooks in trigonometry.

Sperry’s career ended during the Second Red Scare.  In 1949 the Board of Regents of the University of California decided to require faculty and staff to take a loyalty oath.  Our saint, a defender of academic freedom and a convert to Quakerism, refused to take the oath.  Thus, in 1950, the university dismissed her.  Two years later the state Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Regents had no legal right to require a loyalty oath separate from one mandatory for all public employees.  In 1952, however, Sperry had reached retirement age.  Four years later she received her back pay.

Sperry was active in politics during her retirement.  She was active in the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee, as well as in efforts to oppose the testing of nuclear weapons.

Sperry also became involved in philanthropy.  In the 1950s she founded the Step-By-Step School (for starving children) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  She also continued to support it financially.  She offered advice regarding how to be happy:

Be bold enough to ask the right questions, and brave enough to face the answers about the untouchable subject, money….Give ’till it hurts!

Sperry died, aged 82 years, on September 4, 1967, at Pacific Grove, California.

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These two saints did much to contribute to the world.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FANNIE LOU HAMER, PROPHET OF FREEDOM

THE FEAST OF ALFRED LISTER PEACE, ORGANIST IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

THE FEAST OF HARRIET KING OSGOOD MUNGER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

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O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Pauline Sperry, Willard Learoyd Sperry, and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

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

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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