Saturday, June 25, 2016

Popes & Persecutors of Rome, England, Holland or Geneva

The charge I make against William Livingston -- that he was a member of the Presbyterian Club, but disagreed with its doctrines -- is one I need to further explore. I spent a few hours tracking down the quote I put in the title.

It occurred in his "A Vindication of the Moravians, against the Aspersions of their Enemies,” The Independent Reflector, January 4, 1753.

He refers to "Popes" and "Persecutors" as being from "Rome, England, Holland or Geneva." The first two refer to Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. The latter two refer certainly to Calvinistic Presbyterians and perhaps (Dutch) Arminians.

Livingston was already at this time -- when he defended "primitive Christianity" against "orthodoxy" -- formally/nominally affiliated with the Presbyterians. He joked about this when he wrote his satirical attack on the Anglicans' 39 Articles of faith and prefaced it with the aside:
It is well known that some have represented me as an Atheist, others as a Deist, and a third sort as a Presbyterian. My creed will show that none have exactly hit it. For all which reasons, I shall cheerfully lay before you the articles of my faith. * * *
Livingston's "articles" were written around the same time as his defense of the Morvaians, 1753.

I don't see any evidence he changed his position over time. I have shown Livingston continued to dislike the Athanasian Creed until the end of his life. I have also shown that in 1778, while Governor of New Jersey, Livingston is describing himself as "more than half a Quaker" while decrying Protestant Popery that persecutes.

I briefly encountered some sources, while researching this post, that spoke of a Presbyterian-Quaker "meeting of the minds" theology that occurred during this time. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one. But then again, the Presbyterians gave birth to both the Socinian Joseph Priestley and the Calvinist turned Arminian turned Universalist Benjamin Rush.


Mrs. Webfoot said...

Jonathan, do you know if “primitive Christianity” can properly be called a movement? Then, what relationship, if any, did guys like Livingston have with the later Restoration Movement? Some involved in the beginning of that were Presbyterians. Others Baptists. The Campbells themselves were Baptists it seems.

I suppose I could dig around myself to find out, but...

Tom Van Dyke said...

I have shown Livingston continued to dislike the Athanasian Creed until the end of his life


[oops, wife left caps lock on]

It was a passing derogatory reference to St. Athanasius in 1787, in a single private letter, and could have referred to any number of things the mega-Catholic Athanasius did and said.

of which, however, I have not the least recollection, nor greater faith than I have in St. Athanasius

hardly a rejection of orthodox Christianity or even Calvinism. When he wrote he was "more than half a Quaker," the burden of proof is on you as to which half.

And considering Livingston was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, it is more safe to assume whatever heterodoxies he held he kept to his damn self, making his need to hide such private beliefs of the legitimate historical interest.

I'm not convinced by our old friend Our Founding Truth's argument that Livingston was an orthodox Calvinist, but I also require proof that his fellow Presbyterians knew Livingston was a heretic, and made him an elder anyway.

Too much missing stuff here, either way.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mrs. Webfoot,

I don't think it was much of a movement. The Quakers were responsible for establishing its initial popularity. The Unitarians ran with it. Later we got Mormonism and JWism. And yes Stone Campbell. That's about it.

Interestingly, this blog discovered the Stone Campbell movement and its lack of creeds before David Barton's book on Thomas Jefferson which was largely panned.

Barton tries to hang his hat on Jefferson being influenced by or being some kind of proto-Stone Campbell type.

The idea that the non-creedal biblical Christianity of the SCs could have been anticipated by some of the Founders who endorsed primitive Christianity is defensible. Tying it to Jefferson who played way too many games with the Bible is not.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom: This is where caps are important.

"and could have referred to any number of things the mega-Catholic Athanasius did and said."

NO. Athanasius was not "mega-Catholic." Rather he was "mega-catholic."

Calvinist orthodoxy like Lutheran orthodoxy endorses the existence of the small c catholic church and denies Rome's claim on it. They wish to be in communion with the Church that wrote the Nicene and Athanasius creeds and claim the faith of Athanasius while claiming they and not the Roman Catholic Church are the true representatives of it.

Likewise in the (earlier) Reflector satire on the 39 articles he takes a jab at the Athanasius' creed.

So I think it is a big deal that Livingston at this later time would mock Athanasius. He book ends his distaste in Athanasius.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds are very similar but still have significant variations. The Unitarians and Universalists were especially offended by the "damnatory" clauses in the Athanasian Creed which contradict Locke's claim for a simpler method of salvation.

Our friends Mr. Fortenberry and BJ Swearer have been doing some interesting research on this.

This is what most offended Richard Price about the Athanasian Creed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

More to Athanasius than his creed. All this is too vague to be probative. As I wrote to OFT on his disagreement with you, I'm not seeing the smoking guns.

The 39 Articles are Anglican, not Presbyterian. Where does Livingston mock his own church? Put some meat on these bones, brother!