Sunday, November 29, 2020

John Henry Newman’s, Arians of the Fourth Century

It has been about thirty years since I last read Newman’s Arians of the Fourth Century [1833 first edition (link); 1871 edition with added appendix (link)]. Though Arians was Newman’s first full-length book, it was the fourth of his books that I had read—An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Apologia Pro Via Sua, and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent being the prior three.

My current interest in Arians was precipitated whilst reading Rowan Williams’, Arius – Heresy and Tradition (1987, 2001 – Google preview). Williams wrote:

The modern critical study of the subject [i.e. Arius and Arianism] really begins with Newman’s justly celebrated essay of 1833, The Arians of the Fourth Century, a work many times reprinted, which exercised a formative influence on British scholarship in particular. Newman rightly claimed a degree of originality for his interpretation of the roots of Arianism… (p. 3)

Newman’s “originality” concerning “the roots of Arianism” was his belief that it was the theology of “the Church of Antioch” which was the primary source for Arius’ theology. He sharply contrasted this Antiochene church with the “Alexandrian church”. Newman’s contrast concerning these two churches is summed up by Williams in the following selection:

The Alexandrian church is held up, in contrast, as the very exemplar of traditional and revealed religion (ch. I, s. III, passim). So far from Arianism being the product of an unhealthy Alexandrian flirtation with philosophical mystagogy, and adulteration of the gospel by Platonism (pp. 7, 26), it is the result of a systematic refusal of true philosophy, a refusal of the wisdom that pierces the material veil of things, in favour of shallow materialism. In true Alexandrian (or at least Origenian) style, Newman regards certain exegetical options as moral and spiritual in character and effect. Antioch’s exegetical preference is no mere alternative within the spectrum of possible techniques: it is a spiritual deficiency. (p. 4)

Williams immediately follows the above summation of Newman’s assessment with a sharp critique; note the following:

One must charitably say that Newman is not at his best here: a brilliant argument, linking all sorts of diverse phenomena, is built up on a foundation of complacent bigotry and historical fantasy. However, setting aside for the moment the distasteful rhetoric of his exposition, it should be possible to see something of what his polemical agenda really is. The Arians of the Fourth Century is, in large part, a tract in defence of what the early Oxford Movement thought of as spiritual religion and spiritual authority. It works with a clear normative definition of Christian faith and practice, in which ascetical discipline goes hand-in-hand with the repudiation of Protestant biblicism (and Protestant rejection of post-scriptural development in teaching and devotion) and a commitment to the ‘principle of reserve’ a mystagogic approach to the faith in which deep mysteries could be concealed beneath simple forms and words and only gradually unveiled. (pp. 4, 5)

And in the next paragraph:

Newman’s version of the fourth-century crisis, then, rests upon a characterization of Arianism as radically ‘other’ in several respects. It is the forerunner of stolid Evangelicalism, Erastian worldliness (‘carnal, self-indulgent religion’), and—by 1874, anyway—the new style of university theology. (p. 5)

Williams' criticisms of Newman seemed quite harsh, and unfounded to me. I certainly did not discern the “complacent bigotry”, “historical fantasy” and “distasteful rhetoric” in my original reading of Arians. But then, given the fact that Dr. Williams is a highly respected patristic scholar, I wanted to see if I could find some basis for his assessments. Subsequent research revealed that Williams had written a lengthy introduction for the University of Notre Dame Press/Gracewing 2001 edition of Arians. On page XLVI, Williams wrote: “Newman regarded the book in later life with some real embarrassment” (Google preview). To support this assertion, he provided four references from the multi-volume project, Letter and Diaries of John Henry Newman. I have the first thirty volumes of this series, so I was able to look up all four references; and yes, it sure seems that Newman himself did in fact regard Arians with some real embarrassment”. Note the following:

TO W. S. LILLY – June 27, 1882

My dear Lilly,

I return with this letter your proof.[3]

The article is most singularly interesting and arresting.[4]

I think you praise my Arians too highly; it was the first book I wrote, and the work of a year, and it is inexact in thought and incorrect in language. When at a comparatively late date I was led to re-publish it, I should have liked to mend it, but I found that if I attempted it would come to pieces, and I should have to write it over again.

In saying this, I have no intention of withdrawing from the substance of what you quote from me; on the contrary, I hold it as strongly as I did fifty years ago when it was written; but I feel the many imperfections of the wording.[5]

Very sincerely yours, John H. Card. Newman.

[3] Lilly, who printed this letter in the Fortnightly Review (Sept. 1890). Could not remember what this proof was. [See page 434.

[4] This was ‘Sacred Books of the East’, DR (July 1882), pp. 1-32, reprinted in Lilly Ancient Religion and Modern Thought, London 1884, Chapter III.

[5] At the end of his article Lilly quoted with high praise from Ari. Pp. 81-6. (Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman XXX, p. 105)

It was John Nelson Darby’s Analysis of Dr. Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua (link) that prompted me to deeply ponder and reflect on my original reading of the book; Dr. Williams has now done the same for me concerning Arians of the Fourth Century.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

An interesting nineteenth century prayer

The biographies/histories on Alexander Campbell, Peter Cartwright, Charles Finney, and Charles Hodge—four important figures of 19th century American Christianity—provided by Lynne Wilson in his 2010 dissertation [link], prompted me to look into other folk of 19th century American Christianity. One gent who caught my eye was Henry Grew [Wikipedia link]. 

At the beginning of his book, An Examination of the Divine Testimony Concerning the Character of the Son of God (1824), he provided the following prayer:

O LIGHT DIVINE ! O SPIRIT OF TRUTH ! beam on my dark mind, irradiate my benighted soul, to know him who is the joy of earth, and the glory of heaven. Open upon me the vision of truth, and shine into my heart, to give me the light of the knowledge of thy glory as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ. Rectify the errors of my understanding, and remove the coldness of my heart, by the overflowing of thy holy love. Oh, elevate my soul to the contemplation of the things which “the angels desire to look into;" the divinity, the humanity, the wisdom, power and love of that blest name which "is as ointment poured forth.” And while I am “looking unto Jesus,” encircle me with that holy radiance of truth which shall dispel all my darkness. O my God, what thou hast been pleased, in thine infinite love, to reveal concerning thy “beloved Son,” that mortals may have a glimpse of thy glory, grant me to know. I desire not to look into those “secret things” which belong to thee alone. It is my highest felicity to acknowledge, to love, and to adore thee as the incomprehensible source of all perfection, and to feel, that in thy sight I am less than nothing and vanity. But, O my Father , is it not my eternal life to know thee, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent?" Thou seest me encompassed with mine own infirmity, and with the diverse systems and traditions of erring men . Oh, call me away from these polluted streams to thine own pure fountain. Pity a poor worm of the dust that looks towards thee to direct his path, and in thine infinite condescension and mercy, grant me an understanding of that “wisdom of God” which the redeemed multitude shall celebrate to eternity, for thy dear Son's sake . Amen

Back to my studies…

Grace and peace,


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Joseph Smith's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Contrasted with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney

Last week, I discovered Lynne Wilson’s dissertation—Joseph Smith's Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Contrasted with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney [LINK]. It happened almost by accident whilst I was checking some references from Matthew Brown’s, A Pillar of Light. Wilson’s contribution was not one of Brown’s references, but came up on the third page of a Google search. The title included three important figures of 19th century American Christianity—Campbell, Hodge and Finney—that I am quite familiar with, so I immediately downloaded the PDF, holding off on reading it until I finished Brown’s book.

From Wilson’s abstract, we read:

The dissertation is an historical-critical examination of Joseph Smith’s (1805-1844) sermons and writings from 1830 to 1844 to determine the scope of his doctrine on the Holy Ghost. Many biographers dismiss Joseph Smith as a product of his environment. Superficially, his thoughts on the Holy Ghost appear to fall within the mainstream of the enthusiastic outbursts of the Second Great Awakening, but a closer look shows that they are an abrupt and radical departure from the pneumatology of his day. To clarify the unique parameters of Smith’s pneumatology, it is necessary to place Smith's views in a historical context by examining the ideas circulating on the Holy Spirit in the early nineteenth century American Protestant thought. Smith’s views are compared to those of four of his contemporaries: Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) Alexander Campbell (1788- 1866), Charles Finney (1792-1875), and Charles Hodge (1797-1878). We examine these four men's use of the Holy Spirit from their sermons and other writings, and then compare them to Smith's interpretation.

I found Wilson’s dissertation to be quite informative. I suspect that even folk who are not particularly interested in Mormon studies will find value in this work. (The first 202 pages of the dissertation have a non-Mormon focus.)

Chapter 1 “Historical Context: Reactions to Revelation and to Mormonism”, “outlines two historical phenomena: a general early American religious interest in the Holy Spirit and a specific religious reaction to the rise and development of Mormonism in the early nineteenth century" (p. 13). Wilson starts with a look into a number of historical periods within America’s religious history, beginning with, the “Colonial (1620-1700)”, which included “immigrating Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Lutherans, Catholics, and Anglicans" [pp.13, 14]. He moves on to “the “Enlightenment (1700s)” [pp. 15-17], and then draws attention to the, “First Great Awakening (1740s)” [pp. 17-20]—from this section we read:

The Puritans’ fervor waned in their progeny until a resurgence occurred between 1739 and 1741, known as the First Great Awakening. The charismatic British preacher George Whitefield (1714-70) ignited a religious renaissance to the thirteen colonies during his seven tours from Maine to Georgia...His enthusiastic sermons captivated tens of thousands, who followed with great religious commitment. A “spiritual new birth” or personal witness of the Holy Spirit was his core message. [pp. 17, 18]

Concerning Whitefield, I learned the following:

Whitefield sought the Spirit’s inspiration during prayer by incorporating lessons from the Imitation of Christ, a handbook on prayer, by Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471). [p. 18]

He then relates:

Equally as important as Whitefield’s revivals were Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758)  writings, calling Americans to seek the Spirit in a spiritual rebirth. Edwards, who became known as the father of American theology, emphasized the Holy Spirit working within humanity as “Spiritual and Divine Light immediately imparted to the soul by God.” [pp. 18, 19]

The next period is the “Revolutionary Era (1773-1791)” [pp. 20-22], which is then followed by the "Second Great Awakening (1801-1840)” [pp. 23-25]. This section provides the following extraordinary statistics:

Churches that emphasized a spiritual rebirth or witness of the Spirit before baptism grew the most dramatically during this time. Methodist membership rose from 4,921 members in 1776 to 130,570 in 1806. Similarly, Baptists grew from 53,101 in 1784 to 172,972 by 1810. These numbers are more significant in light of the fact “that the nation’s population did not even double during this interval.” [pp. 24, 25]

After the look into the above historical periods, Wilson then delves into the following topics: “Missionary Efforts”, "Training for the Ministry", "Volunteerism and Voluntary Societies", "Burned-over District", and "Reactions to Mormonism” [pp. 25-51]. The last section includes a survey of the anti-Mormon writings of three of the four Protestant contemporaries of Joseph Smith listed in the dissertation’s title: Alexander Campbell, Peter Cartwright, and Charles Finney.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright [pp. 52-80]. Chapter 3 is on the restorationist theologian, Alexander Campbell [pp. 81-118]. Chapter 4 focuses on, “arguably the greatest nineteenth-century conservative Presbyterian theologian", Charles Hodge [pp. 119-158]. Chapter 5 delves into, “the greatest revival preacher in the Second Great Awakening", Charles Finney [pp. 159-202].

Each of these four chapters has a “Biographical Sketch”, followed by an in depth, “Teachings on the Holy Spirit" section, and then ends with a concise “Conclusion". The chapters are excellent, giving readers an informative look into four important religious figures of early 19th American Christianity. Wilson has certainly ‘done his homework’ on these four men.

The titles of the final three chapters are self-explanatory. Chapter 6: "Joseph Smith Junior’s Biographical Background" [pp. 203-257]. Chapter 7: “Joseph Smith Junior’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” [pp. 258-326]. And Chapter 8: "Comparing Smith with Cartwright, Campbell, Hodge, and Finney” [pp. 327-369].

Wilson discerned that all five men had a number of, “shared doctrines of the Holy Spirit". Note the following selection:

They all believed in the same Bible and shared biblical thought particularly in four areas: First, each man believed that God’s Spirit took part in creating the earth and humanity. Second, they understood that the Spirit assisted in applying the atonement or cleansing of sins. Third, they also all warned against false spirits and the dangers of being deceived by satanic influences. Fourth, they felt the Lord’s Spirit could commune with humanity, even though they differed on how that communication occurred. [p. 338]

Wilson immediately followed the above with:

On the other hand, the four religious leaders differed considerably from Smith in five major areas of pneumatology: Most notably, Smith did not limit the Spirit’s revelation to the Bible and professed to offer the world “new scripture.” Second, he did not believe in a Trinity that was ontologically one but viewed the Spirit in a Godhead of three separate personages. Third, he taught that obedient, baptized, church members could enjoy the constant companionship of the Spirit, termed: “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” Smith used this idiom to refer to a special gift received via an ordinance administered through the laying on of hands by those who held a special “Melchizedek priesthood” or apostolic authority. Fourth, he enthusiastically embraced the gifts of the Spirit and believed all of them had been restored to the earth again. Finally, he claimed that the Holy Spirit of Promise sealed baptism and other ordinances dependent upon the obedience of each participant. [p. 339]

Wilson’s dissertation ends with five very useful appendices and a topical bibliography [pp. 370-549].

My overall assessment: an excellent contribution.

Hope at least some folk will take the time to read it…

Grace and peace,