Saturday, January 22, 2011

1830 Book On Universalism

I found this via googlebooks. It examines universalism in Christendom in the modern era (modern for 1830). I plan on excerpting much more from this book. One thing that stood out was theological developments in Germany that seemed to parallel those in America and England -- what influenced America's "key" Founders.

We've heard the terms "theistic rationalism," "Christian-Deism," "Christian-unitarian-universalism," "rational Christianity" -- the mean between orthodox Christianity and Deism. The expositors of which combined both natural and revealed religion (Reason and the Bible) to arrive at this theology.

This passage on pp. 129-31 describes it in Germany along with a host of names of German theologians of whom I've never heard who believed in this:

In the latter part of this century the controversy took a still wider range. Disgusted at the errors, bigotry and arrogance of Catholics, Lutherans, and the Reformed, many of the learned in Germany turned from them in disgust: some, sickening at the name of Religion, became Atheists; others, charging upon Christianity the errors of men, took refuge in the comfortless speculations of Deism; but a third class, possessing the prudence to examine the Divine Word for themselves, saw clearly the distinction between the real and the alleged doctrines of Revelation, and asserted and maintained, with vigor and discretion, the purer system of Jesus Christ. The three principal and popular errors, which they opposed, were the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement and Eternal Punishment.

VIII. Among these may be reckoned Gruner, Eberhard, Steinbart, Damm, Fuller, and the immortal Semler. Steinbart was teacher of divinity at Frankfort, on the Oder, and his sentiment was, to use his own words, "God can never punish any, more than is necessary for his reformation. He cannot mistake in the choice of his means, and must always reach his end. He would appear less lovely, if one creature should be forever miserable."9 He published at Zullichan the "Christian Doctrine of Happiness," in which, says the orthodox Erskine, "the unscriptural sentiments which have appeared in German books and journals, as to the divinity and atonement of Christ, are reduced to a system, with several additions of his own." Gruner, divinity-professor at Hall, in a compound of divinity, published in 1777, argues against the divinity and atonement of Christ, and the eternity of hell torments.1

This emphasis was mine. It's this "third class" which America's key Founders and the theologians and philosophers they followed could be placed in.

Update: The book is from 1830, NOT 1822 as was originally reported and the error has been corrected.


Tom Van Dyke said...

It's this "third class" which America's key Founders and the theologians and philosophers they followed could be placed in.

A mighty big claim. As I recall Jefferson and John Adams were familiar with German theology and the advent of "Biblical criticism" triggered by the discovery of ancient scriptural texts. However, "rationalism" didn't hit its stride until the 1800s.

I do not recall much about the other Founders, "key" or otherwise, saying much about it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Not claiming they were familiar with the German authors. Just that it seemed a global (or at least a Euro-American) movement that many elites were part of:

"a third class, possessing the prudence to examine the Divine Word for themselves, saw clearly the distinction between the real and the alleged doctrines of Revelation, and asserted and maintained, with vigor and discretion, the purer system of Jesus Christ. The three principal and popular errors, which they opposed, were the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement and Eternal Punishment."

Jonathan Rowe said...

The book also notes (btw, the whole book is worth a close read) Samuel Clarke and Isaac Newton as "Christian-unitarian-universalists." Dr. Frazer claims unitarianism, universalism, Providentialism, a part of "Protestant Christianity," belief in some degree of natural and revealed (where the "Protestant Christianity" comes in) religion as elements of "theistic rationalism." I know you (and others) disagree on 1) that term, and 2) the way these theologians viewed how reason & revelation OUGHT to ultimately work with one another. David Holmes coined "Christian-Deism" as a term. I'm all for MORE exploring "Christian-unitarian-universalism" or "Christian-Unitarian-Universalism" (among us, we know why we keep both u's uncapitalized; but it looks kinda odd with a capital C followed by two uncapitalized u's) is the proper term and testing it out among audiences, seeing how THEY react to the term.

Tom Van Dyke said...

a third class, possessing the prudence to examine the Divine Word for themselves, saw clearly the distinction between the real and the alleged doctrines of Revelation...

In other words, Protestantism!

The problem here is using blanket terms, then then throwing assorted beliefs and believers [or non-believers] all under the same blanket.

The first is the blanket term "'key' Founders." They are whoever the speaker decides they are. Were not Roger Sherman and James Wilson "key" Founders? Samuel Adams?

Even if we let you pick who's "key," it always comes down to Jefferson and John Adams, and mostly their letters after they left public life. Franklin was agnostic on doctrine and anything outside "natural theology," and Madison showed no interest in theology either. [When he cites Samuel Clarke on metaphysics---not unitarian theology---he digs back to what he learned at Witherspoon's College of New Jersey. He just wasn't interested.]

Of Washington, he was not much of a theologian either, and in his sui generis role as Father of Our Country, the Indefensible Man, clearly saw it wasn't his place to discourse on theology and dogma. [I would prefer that in any president, BTW, as do most Americans.]

The "key" Founders escape the blanket under closer inspection.

The second blanket is thrown over "Trinity, Atonement and Eternal Punishment." But one could be a Trinitarian and still a universalist, like Benjamin Rush. Further, the German rationalist movement indeed ended up with the "reason trumps revelation" rubric you often proffer: like Jefferson [a true "theistic rationalist," perhaps the only one among the "key" Founders], they rejected miracles.

But even John Locke defends the Biblical miracles in "A Discourse of Miracles" (pub 1701)

as did John Adams, in passing.

There is a problem of timeline here: the unitarianism of the Founding and immediate post-Founding era was Bible-based; the German influence, the full flowering of theological "rationalism," doesn't take hold until later.

Universalism and unitarianism had been kicking around Christianity for 1700 years. As Melanchthon, the co-founder of Lutheranism, noted in the 1500s when Michael Servetus challenged the Trinity, the emergence of Protestantism made the re-emergence of such theological controversies inevitable.

This isn't to say the Germans had no influence, or that late Founding-era figures were unaware of them, but per the "timeline" argument, like Immanuel Kant, I just don't see "the immortal" Semler's fingerprints on the Founding.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If Franklin, Washington, and Madison (and James Wilson?) were so agnostic on "doctrine" as to disregards Trinity, Incarnation, and eternal damnation as non-negotiable elements of their theology. I think it speaks something to the zeitgest that captured the minds of the elites of that era.

Sam Adams and Roger Sherman, who, I think, believed Trinity, Incarnation, and eternal damnation AS non-negotiable tenets of their faith were indeed, not "key Founders" but 2nd tier FFs.

"Universalism and unitarianism had been kicking around Christianity for 1700 years."

Well that's an important point to explore. The "Christian" unitarian-universalists CLAIMED both Bible AND natural religion (i.e., "reason") for their creed. Was that so? What do other folks think of the biblical basis for theological unitarianism and universalism?

Tom Van Dyke said...

As an historian [amateur though I may be], I don't have a dog in the fight. It all comes under the umbrella of "Christian" because it all comes under the umbrella of either the Bible or under "Christian thought," theology, as in Aquinas, who was not averse to the use of reason in theology.

Indeed, theology is the application of reason to the questions of God or interpreting the Bible.

The zeitgeist was Protestantism. That the orthodox didn't like where it led is their problem.

bpabbott said...

Re: "The problem here is using blanket terms"

Tom, when I read that you didn't go when I'd expected. Your comment caused "Protestantism" to spring to mind.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, Ben, I refer to the Reformation's break with the Roman Church's "magisterial" authority to interpret scripture, starting with Luther. I've written of the "magisterium" numerous times; it's at the heart of the theological break with Rome's theological authority that is the Reformation.

[Protestantism = the Reformation]

I thought you had been following; clearly I should restate everything from scratch for even longtime readers, let alone new ones. I think one of the reasons I post on the mainpage so seldom is that I'm lazy about restating the necessary background for the new reader, something I to be conscientious about when taking the mainpage.

Once Protestantism emerged, breaking with the magisterial authority of Rome, any and all interpretations of the Bible were possible, including ones that Romish "orthodoxy" had presumably put to bed, notably, unitarianism and universalism.

But Ben, unless I'm misunderstanding you here, I thought all that could be got from context of my comments above by the conscientious reader. And if you're following the other discussion, there is a point where Unitarianism eventually rejects the Bible [c. the 1850s] and is no longer the Reformation [Protestantism] either, although one guy tried to argue that his rejection of the Magisterium still made him a Protestant, although he was not a Christian.

But that would be sophistic nonsense, Ben.

bpabbott said...


I'm generally in agreement with your objection to the use of blanket terms, and also in agreement that restating everything to place such terms in the intended context isn't necessary.

I'm just a bit confused why Jon's use of blanket terms, without a clear statement of context, is a problem, but your's is not?

Of course, that is a rhetorical question, which I ask with no intent to offend.

I admit that your use of "protestantism" was within a context I was familiar with. However, I don't see why Jon's was out of bounds as it required no more inference from me than did yours.

I think your critiques are generally focused on a reasonable/proper target, but they often often lose the perception of validity/fairness because you appear to consider yourself entitled to live above the standards you suggest others abide by.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If you can't tell the difference, Ben, you are being sophistic and frankly wasting my time. You're not really talking about the subject, just parsing words and terms without any recognition of what they mean.

I'm just a bit confused why Jon's use of blanket terms, without a clear statement of context, is a problem, but your's is not?

I heard you the first time, Ben, and took the time to spell it out.

For one thing, Jon's using TWO blankets, neither one of which really contains what he claims to contain, and then throwing a massive blanket ["key" Founders were "unitarian," and indeed, a 3rd blanket, German theology.]

You're not paying attention to the specifics and arguing generalities upon generalities.

Protestantism = the Reformation = the rejection of the Roman Church's "magisterium," the authority to interpret scripture. It can't get any more specific than that.

If you just want to argue the use of the use of terms on some abstract level instead of rolling up your sleeves and examining the particulars, that's sophistry, Ben. Clever minds are good at it, but it steers around actually understanding the specifics of what's being argued.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I don't know what you are talking about. What I bolded in the paragraph from the google books was simply an observation of a third kind of theism, between orthodox Christianity and Deism that seemed to be a trend among elites in Western Europe and America.

bpabbott said...

Tom, my point was obviously not about the focus of your comment (which I made clear). Neither is my point sophistic (My argument isn't spacious and I'm not trying to deceive anyone).

My point is that your blade cuts both ways ... Meaning that the attempt to grant yourself special entitlement in debate undermines your argument.

Regarding blanket terms and generalities, one example is ...

"Protestantism = the Reformation"

While the Reformation did establish Protestantism as a branch of Christianity, those two words are not synonymous.

The United States of America was established by The Revolution in a synonymous manner as Protestantism was established by the Reformation, but it would also be an error to say "The United States of America" = "The Revolution", correct?

If you want to set rules for discussion and debate, that is fine, but you only undermine your attempt if you violate those rules at will ... particularly if you do so in the same breath where you attempt to enforce them upon others.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

This is sophistry. I didn't even use the word "Reformation" until the 8th comment, in response to you, Ben, which was a courtesy and explication of my argument, not my argument itself. My response to Jon does not depend on the word.

On the sophistry, you win, since you divorce the meaning of the Reformation, the rejection of the magisterium, from the discussion. You got me, congratulations. But you should be asking to Jon to substantiate his link of German theology to the Founders. Only Jefferson and John Adams used "rationalist" method. There's no evidence Madison, Franklin or Washington did.

bpabbott said...

I may have missed it, but I don't think Jon alluded to any connections between Madison, Franklin or Washington and German theology.

And if he did, it doesn't change my point regarding how you undermine your own argument.

Jonathan Rowe said...

A couple things Tom.

I'll get to Washington and Madison later who are admittedly a little more difficult.

It's interesting most folks group Franklin with Jefferson, not Jefferson and J. Adams. That we can see Adams every bit as much belonging with Jefferson (as Franklin potentially could belong with Jefferson) is, I think, an accomplishment of this blog and those notables with whom we agree and who agree with us. We weren't the first to notice that Jefferson and J. Adams (at least during the period they corresponded) "belong" together.

Though they both share different versions of extreme fundamentalist theology, Drs. Gary North and Gregg Frazer (and before them, more -- I think -- liberal scholars like Cushing Strout) deserve kudos for grouping Jefferson and J. Adams together during this period.

Yet I think Franklin belongs squarely with them and did believe in their kind of "rationalism." Most folks just concede the point because they think Franklin was clearly one of the more "Deist" Founders (along with Jefferson and Paine).

Since you won't so concede, I think we need to explore Franklin some more on the mainpage.

Re my initial claim however, in the main post, I purposefully made it more modest to suit your anticipated criticisms. Yet, you attack what might be the strawman of my past posts.

Instead of saying these German theologians were like the key Founders, not Christians but theistic rationalists who believed reason trumps revelation, I wrote they seemed to believe in that middle ground position that could be termed "'theistic rationalism,' 'Christian-Deism,' 'Christian-unitarian-universalism,' 'rational Christianity,'..." This system rejected Trinity, Atonement, and eternal damnation, presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity" and based its claim on 1) natural religion (i.e., what can be known by reason) and 2) revealed religion (what's written in the Bible).

I made no claims to reason trumping revelation, etc. But, I suppose this depends on what a-priori's you bring in to this. Just about every orthodox Christian (mainly of the Protestant vein) I know claims the Bible is non-negotiable on Trinity and Atonement. Most/many (but, admittedly, not as many) claim if the good book is infallible, it's also clear on eternal damnation. (If the Bible isn't infallible, then maybe the text that supposedly prove eternal damnation are errors or interpolations.) Therefore, if you CLAIM to disbelieve in Trinity, Atonement, and eternal damnation, you use the "reason trumps revelation" method, regardless of whether you admit to it.

But that brings us into more complicated territory.

Though, I'm perfectly open to discussing the idea that the Bible itself, properly understood and translated, without error, teaches against Trinity, Atonement, and eternal damnation.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Though, I'm perfectly open to discussing the idea that the Bible itself, properly understood and translated, without error, teaches against Trinity, Atonement, and eternal damnation.

These interpretations of the Bible had been kicking around for 1700 years. That was indeed the argument of the "Unitarian Christians," that the "wrong" side won, the "magisterium." Freed from the magisterium's authority, the correct interpretation of the Bible could now happen, free from Rome's misinterpretations and liberties with the text.

The sine qua non of Christianity is the Bible as Divine Writ. Interpretations, possible textual corruptions, dogmas, etc. are secondary.

Again, you're arguing theology, and on behalf of the orthodox. The unitarian Christians considered themselves quite Christian, thank you, considered the Bible Divine Writ, revelation.

[Even John Adams, which separates him from Jefferson.]

Now, you can get to where you're trying to go by the mid-1800s, when the Unitarians shed the Bible for "free-thinking" [Emerson, Theodore Parker] and German rationalism's rejection of miracles, which are quite in black-and-white in the Bible, and cannot be mere misinterpretation or mistranslation.

But the timeline is off to connect it to the Founding. The unitarianism of Mayhew, Chauncy and the like is the result of the freedom offered by the rejection of the Roman Church's magisterial authority to interpret scripture, because if Protestantism as a whole could reject Rome's orthodoxy, it was not bound by Luther's or Calvin's either.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If I am arguing "theology" so be it; that's one of the elements of our or at least my interdisciplinary study here. The cross roads of history/theology/politics.

Likewise I'm not sure if it's "where [I'm] trying to go" or the strawman of where you are trying to claim I'm trying to go.

I'm just putting this on the table and seeing how we react.

And again, I'm all for putting out the idea that these folks -- the Christian unitarians and universalists of the late 18th Cen. in America, England and elsewhere, claimed the Bible as holy writ validated their claim.

They also claimed reason -- or the Bible and reason put together -- valided these claims. AND, regardless of whether those ideas had been kicking around for how long, they did their work during the period of the "Enlightenment" and are generally categorized as Enlightenment Christian theologians.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fuller response @ your newest post.


Hume, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine miracles. This is the type of rationalism you're describing, and it was the exception rather than the rule even among the non-orthodox of the Founding era.

For judging what is "Christian," I think your Trinity-Atonement-Damnation trinity is better examined in light of the "non-creedal" Stone-Campbell Movement

whose descendants are Church of Christ, to which both Fred Thompson and President Obama have belonged. [When not being called a Muslim, the President is generally regarded as a Christian.]

One need not go all the way to the Mormons and JWs just yet.