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July 31, 2006

Like a river

I mentioned earlier that I was reading Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus. I'll admit that some of the middle pages weren't quite as exciting as I'd hoped, though Schweitzer's prose is always amazing. He touches on a lot of subjects in Christianity's relationship with history that I think also apply directly to Quakerism's briefer relationship with history, often in ways that are strikingly parallel.

I'll have more to say about his central theme of the kingdom of God and how it may relate to Quakerism and Quaker history later. Right now, I'd like to share a metaphor in his conclusion. After he talking about the "moral consummation of all things" and how Christ "grasped the entire truth and immediacy of it," as well as how "our relationship to Jesus is ultimately of a mystical kind," he writes about the challenge of overcoming divides within Christianity:

Only thus does Jesus create a fellowship amongst us. He does not do so as a symbol, or anything of that sort. So long as we are of one will among ourselves and with him in putting the kingdom of God above all else, serving it with faith and hope, there is fellowship between him and us and with men of all races who have lived and still live guided by the same idea.

It is from this that we can also see how the liberal and conservative forms of religious thinking, which at the moment exist side by side, will meet and achieve unity. False compromises are useless. All concessions with which the liberal side may seek to approach the conservative view can only succeed in weakening it by producing obscurities and inconsistencies. The differences between them lie in the difference in their basic thought forms. Any attempt at reaching a superficial accomodation between them has absolutely no prospect.

It is the lack of elementary and living religious feeling which makes these differences so strongly apparent. Two thin streams wind alongside each other between the boulders and pebbles of a great river bed. Nothing is accomplished by trying to clear sections of the rock massed between them to allow them to flow together along the same course. But when the waters rise and overflow the rock, they meet of their own accord.

This is how the conservative and liberal forms of religion will meet, when desire and hope for the kingdom of God and fellowship with the spirit of Jesus again govern them as an elementary and mighty force, and bring their world-views and their religion so close that the differences in fundamental presuppositions, though still existing, sink, just as the boulders of the river bed are covered by the rising flood and at last are barely visible, gleaming through the depths of waters. (486-7)

The boulders are real, though I don't yet see the floodwaters. Perhaps they're on their way.

July 27, 2006

Quaker predecessors

While Quaker history often starts in the 1640s with George Fox's concerns - probably led that way by his Journal - Fox was far from the first with the components of his message. He also benefited tremendously from the chaotic conditions of the English Civil War, which had produced huge numbers of Seekers and others listening for a new message. Fox's tremendous personality made its imprint on these people, but he wasn't always a completely new revelation.

I'm enjoying Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down precisely because it examines the conditions which fuelled Quakerism's rapid growth. These conditions didn't necessarily direct the path Quakerism took, but they certainly laid groundwork. Take, for instance, Familism, a long-standing heresy among the lower classes:

Familists, members of the Family of Love... were followers of Henry Niclaes, born in Münster in 1502, who taught that heaven and hell were to be found in this world. Niclaes was alleged to have been a collaborator of Thomas Münzer in insurrection at Amsterdam. The Puritan divine John Knewstub said of him: 'H.N. turns religion upside down. He buildeth heaven here upon earth; he maketh God man and man God.'

Like Francis Bacon, Familists believed that men and women might recapture on earth the state of innocence which existed before the Fall: their enemies said they claimed to attain the perfection of Christ. They held their property in common, believed that all things come by nature, and that only the spirit of God within the believer can properly understand Scripture. They turned the Bible into allegories, even the Fall of Man, complained William Perkins.

Familism was spread in England by Christopher Vittels, an itinerant joiner of Dutch origin. In the 1570s English Familists were noted to be wayfaring traders, or 'cowherds, clothiers and such-like mean people. They believed in principle that ministers should be itinerants, like the Apostles. (26-7)

Familism isn't Quakerism, but it's hard not to see similarities, especially on the relation of Spirit to Scripture and their itinerant ministry. Similarly, Hill writes on on how doctrines of stilling the self and listening for God's will - while practiced in later periods of Quietist Quakerism - were potentially explosive in this period of chaos:

Allegorical writing of this sort was harmless enough in time of social peace, though the ecclesiastical authorities were never happy about it. It became dangerous in the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1640s when some of the lower classes began to take it literally. The doctrines were again harmless when taught by Thomas Traherne or quietist post-restoration Quakers. But in between, as the Revolution seemed to open up infinite possibilties, the glowing embers flashed flame. (186-7)

The flashing flames led many directions, though:

Given then this breakdown of confidence on the one hand, and the prevalent millenarianism enthusiasm on the other, it is hardly surprising that men and women, faced with an unprecedented freedom of choice, passed rapidly from sect to sect, trying all things, finding all of them wanting. Again and again in spiritual autobiographies of the time we read of men who passed through Presbyterianism, Independency, and Anabaptistry before ending as Seekers..., and Ranters..., or as Quakers....

Controversies over church government or over baptism - infant, adult, self-, by dipping or not at all - split congregations, produced endless conscientious scruples, endless bickerings. All the leading protagonists seemed equally certain, all appeared to have backing from Biblical texts or from the authority of the spirit within. Many concluded by questioning the value of all ordinances, of all outward forms, of all churches even.

Since the end of the world was probably near anyway, a resigned withdrawal from sectarian controversy was one solution, a rejection of all sects, of all organized worship. Such men were called Seekers - Walwyn, though he rejected the label, Roger Williams, John Saltmarsh, John Milton, possibly Oliver Cromwell himself....

Many of these men had connections with the radicals, and were bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Army to bring about a democratic society in and after 1647. Whatever their disillusionment, the generation of the 1640s was carried along by millenarianism enthusiasm. (190-2)

In an age where religious diversity is ordinary, and millenarianism seen as a subculture, it may be hard to project back just how unsettled this period was. Everything was open to question, and the experience of questioning was still new and revolutionary. A wide variety of ideas that had previously been considered heresies were brought back into consideration as censorship fell and printing presses stayed busy. Ideas that would form Quakerism were abroad, though seen as clearly radical.

July 25, 2006

Quakers, Ranters, and the present

Historian Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down looks at the chaos - political, economic, and religious - of the English Civil War, the period when Quakerism started in fiery proclamations. It's hard to imagine, in today's relatively settled yet relatively mobile society, how so much could explode so rapidly. It seems a time when the end of the world really did seem near. In talking about the peril of applying modern frameworks to the time, Hill writes:

From, say, 1645 to 1653, there was a great overturning, questioning, revaluing, of everything in England. Old institutions, old beliefs, old values came in question. Men moved easily from one critical group to another, and a Quaker of the early 1650s had far more in common with a Leveller, a Digger, or a Ranter than with a modern member of the Society of Friends. (14)

Ranters were both Fox's blessing, a ready source of converts, and his curse, as Quakers were often labeled Ranters by their opponents while their own meetings were disrupted by Ranters. The history of the movement from about 1660 (or even 1656) to 1690 is largely the effort to move away from these groups' influence.

Quakerism emerged in a period of utter tumult - as Hill suggests, The World Turned Upside Down. As Hill notes later, "there is [not] any great theological novelty in Fox's works of the 1650s, any more than in the Journal" (232). Quakerism's success - with ideas that had often previously been suppressed - was in finding strong leaders in a time of chaos, people who could both communicate their ideals and exemplify them. "Christ has come to teach his people himself" was an incredibly powerful message and a difficult one to deliver to an audience often seeking stability in Scripture during a period of chaos.

Quakerism in 1652 is a tremendous flame, burning across the countryside. 1659 is probably the peak of political radicalism for Quakerism as a movement. By 1690, those flames are cooling to embers, embers which have sustained Quakerism to the present, through a long list of additional shifts. (There was an amazing message at Bridge City Friends Meeting Sunday about flames and embers that I keep hearing repeat in my mind.)

In my own obsession with history, I'm amazed by those early flames. It's hard not to be mesmerized by the incredible talent and perseverance of the early Quakers. It's also hard not to notice how quickly Quakerism had to change, and how the talent and perserverance applied in those new contexts as well. It has continued to change for 350 years - and perhaps some modern Friends aren't as far from 1650s Ranterism as Christopher Hill suggests.

How would Quakers deal with another period like the one that formed it?

July 24, 2006

John Woolman as Quietist

I mentioned John Woolman earlier as a strong figure in the age of Quaker Quietism. (Marshall Massey noted a number of others I need to learn about as well.)

While Woolman's Journal seems to involve nearly constant motion, as Woolman crisscrossed the American colonies ministering to Quakers, Native Americans, and others, the motivations for all of that action, discussed at one point in Chapter VII, are decidedly Quietist:

The poverty of spirit and inward weakness, with which I was much tried the fore part of this journey, has of late appeared to me a dispensation of kindness. Appointing meetings never appeared more weighty to me, and I was led into a deep search, whether in all things my mind was resigned to the will of God; often querying with myself what should be the cause of such inward poverty, and greatly desiring that no secret reserve in my heart might hinder my access to the Divine fountain. In these humbling times I was made watchful, and excited to attend to the secret movings of the heavenly principle in my mind, which prepared the way to some duties, that, in more easy and prosperous times as to the outward, I believe I should have been in danger of omitting. (124)

Fénelon would doubtless have approved of Woolman's concern that a "secret reserve in my heart might hinder my access to the Divine fountain." Woolman is constantly studying his motivations and actions to ensure that they correspond to God's desires, not his own, and when he finds the two have parted he strives to connect with God once again.

Ecumenical thoughts from John Woolman

On a blog somewhere (alas, I can't find it now), someone in comments wrote of their belief that John Woolman was one of the founders of liberalism in Quakerism. I suspect the writer meant Elias Hicks, but that comment has given me a rather different perspective in reading Woolman's Journal.

Every now and then Woolman pauses to talk about other Christians - Jan Hus, Thomas a Kempis - who weren't Quaker, but who seemed to him to have been on the right path, "both sincere-hearted followers of Christ." In Chapter VI, he has an opening at the 1759 Yearly Meeting:

Near the conclusion of the meeting for business, way opened in the pure flowings of Divine love for me to express what lay upon me, which, as it then arose in my mind, was first to show how deep answers to deep in the hearts of the sincere and upright; though, in their different growths, they may not all have attained the same clearness in some points relating to our testimony.

And I was then led to mention the integrity and constancy of many martyrs who gave their lives for the testimony of Jesus, and yet, in some points, they held doctrines distinguishable from some which we hold; that, in all ages, where people were faithful to the light and understanding which the Most High afforded them, they found acceptance with Him, and though there may be different ways of thinking amongst us in some particulars, yet, if we mutually keep to that spirit and power which crucifies to the world, which teaches us to be content with things really needful, and to avoid all superfluities, and give up our hearts to fear and serve the Lord;

that if those who were at times under sufferings on account of some scruples of conscience kept low and humble, and in their conduct of life manifested a spirit of true charity, it would be more likely to reach the witness in others, and be of more service in the church, than if their sufferings were attended with a contrary spirit and conduct.

In this exercise I was drawn into a sympathizing tenderness with the sheep of Christ, however distinguished from one another in this world, and the like disposition appeared to spread over others in the meeting.

Great is the goodness of the Lord towards his poor creatures. (94-5)

Perhaps Woolman is the (best-known) start of Quaker liberalism. I haven't seen anything quite like that in Fox or what I've read so far of other 17th-century Quakers, though it may well be there, since I wasn't reading them with a close eye for it.

July 23, 2006

Sharing listening

Looking back over my posts, nearly all of them are citations. I've heard or read something, and want to share it, make it more available to people. I go through periods of listening and periods of writing, and right now - despite all the writing - I'm in a listening phase. I'm travelling, so I'm reading much more than usual (and having Powell's City of Books nearby is reinforcing that).

I'm bouncing along a strange path of mostly but not always Quaker reading, finding all kinds of things along the way. I don't feel I have much - yet - to add to those findings, so I'm mostly posting them as I find them, and hoping to let whoever is crazy enough to be reading this find their own meeting.

I suspect that the key activity in Quakerism is listening. Listening to God, listening for the light's direction, listening to other people. The quiet at meeting helps us hear; what we say at meeting helps us share what we've heard.

Hopefully these posts make interesting listening. There are a lot more of them coming.

July 22, 2006

But it seems crazy...

In First Among Friends, Larry Ingle pointed to some comments by William James questioning George Fox's behavior. James first praises Quakerism, then looks at George Fox as psychopath, but near the end of the chapter comes around to suggest that we need to look at this from a perspective beyond just writing Fox off as a psychopath.

There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric....

If you ask for a concrete example, there can be no better one than... George Fox. The Quaker religion which he founded is something which it is impossible to overpraise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gosel truth than men had ever known in England. So far as our Christian sects today are evolving into liberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the position which Fox and the early Quakers so long ago assumed. No one can pretend for a moment that in point of spiritual sagacity and capacity, Fox's mind was unsound. Every one who confronted him personally, from Oliver Cromwell down to county magistrates and jailers, seems to have acknowledged his superior power. Yet from the point of view of his nervous constitution, Fox was a psychopath or détraqué of the deepest dye. His Journal abounds in entries of this sort:

"As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head and saw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. I asked them what place that was? They said, Lichfield. Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must go thither. Being come to the house we were going to, I wished the friends to walk into the house, saying nothing to them of whither I was to go. As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went by my eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile of Lichfield where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their sheep. Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I stood still, for it was winter: but the word of the Lord was like a fire in me. So I put off my shoes and left them with the shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished. Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within the city, the word of the Lord came to me again, saying: Cry, 'Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!'

So I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield! It being market day, I went into the market-place, and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands, crying as before, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield! And no one laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets, there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. When I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace; and returning to the shepherds gave them some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire of the Lord was so on my feet, and all over me, that I did not matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I should or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do: then, after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again.

After this a deep consideration came upon me, for what reason I should be sent to cry against that city, and call it The bloody city! For though the parliament had the minister one while, and the king another, and much blood had been shed in the town during the wars between them, yet there was no more than had befallen many other places. But afterwards I came to understand, that in the Emperor Diocletian's time a thousand Christians were martyr'd in Lichfield. So I was to go, without my shoes, through the channel of their blood, and into the pool of their blood in the market-place, that I might raise up the memorial of the blood of those martyrs, which had been shed above a thousand years before, and lay cold in their streets. So the sense of this blood was upon me, and I obeyed the word of the Lord."

Bent as we are on studying religion's existential conditions, we cannot possibly ignore these pathological aspects of the subject. We must describe and name them just as if they occurred in non-religious men. It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled....

We are surely all familiar in a general way with this method of discrediting states of mind for which we have an antipathy. We all use it to some degree in criticizing persons whose states of mind we regard as overstrained. But when other people criticize our own more exalted soul-flights by calling them 'nothing but' expressions of our organic disposition, we feel outraged and hurt, for we know that, whatever be our organism's peculiarities, our mental states have their substantive value as revelations of the living truth; and we wish that all this medical materialism could be made to hold its tongue.

Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental overtensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined.

If there were such a thing as inspiration from a higher realm, it might well be that the neurotic temperament would furnish the chief condition of the requisite receptivity. And having said thus much, I think that I may let the matter of religion and neuroticism drop. (Varieties of Religious Experience, 25-6, 29, 36)

I've seen pieces of that quoted simply to suggest that Fox was crazy, but it leaves us with a difficult question: when do we conclude that something is "the word of the Lord" and when do we bring out a medical diagnosis? Quakers developed clearness committees and guidelines for this reason, but I wouldn't want to have to evaluate this story:

Going to bed about the time usual with me, I awoke in the night, and my meditations, as I lay, were on the goodness and mercy of the Lord, in a sense whereof my heart was contrited. After this I went to sleep again; in a short time I awoke; it was yet dark, and no appearance of day or moonshine, and as I opened mine eyes I saw a light in my chamber, at the apparent distance of five feet, about nine inches in diameter, of a clear, easy brightness, and near its centre the most radiant.

As I lay still looking upon it without any surprise, words were spoken to my inward ear which filled my whole inward man. They were not the effect of thought, nor any conclusion in relation to the appearance, but as the language of the Holy One spoken in my mind. The words were, CERTAIN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH. They were again repeated exactly in the same manner, and then the light disappeared. (Journal of John Woolman, 48-9.)

I don't think anyone wants to challenge John Woolman or his sanity, but more recent history seems less kind to people with visions. The very possibility of visions seems remote this days - somehow people don't expect God to speak directly any longer. "Talking to God" can be slang for insanity when it isn't about prayer, an ingredient in insanity pleas rather than something to be sought.

I haven't had "CERTAIN EVIDENCE OF DIVINE TRUTH" - but I hope we're open to those who might have that experience.

Meeting with quiet

"Quietism" seems frequently a term of disparagement in Quaker histories. It's easy to get excited about the adventures and struggles of early Quakers. After the Glorious Revolution (well, glorious for Protestants) brought toleration for Quakers, and they found safe homes in Pennsylvania and other colonies, Quakerism seemed to lose much of its energy. Rather than proclaiming that Quakerism is true Christianity that everyone should be following, Quakerism turns more and more into a separate sect, retreating from the world.

Part of the disdain seems to come from Quakers simply growing calm relative to their early days of evangelism. John Woolman stands out in the period between Fox, Penn, and Barclay and the schisms of the 19th century, but otherwise I don't tend to hear a lot about 18th century Quakers in modern conversation.

Howard Brinton was fond of emphasizing the value of Quietism, which means much more than just a period of relative calm among Quakers. It has ties to Roman Catholic Quietist thought from the 17th century, notably that of Miguel de Molinos, Archbishop François Fénelon, and Madame Guyon. It was inspired by the mystical traditions of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but was found by the Catholic Church to be heretical in 1687.

Brinton wrote in Friends for 300 Years that "The works of Madame Guyon, Fénelon and Molinos, valuable guides in the life of prayer, could at one time be found in almost every Quaker library," though Margaret Hope Bacon contests that in a footnote in Friends for 350 Years. Diane Guenin-Lelle wrote an article on Quakers and Quietism which goes into much greater detail.

I just found a copy of Fenelon's Spiritual Letters, which appears to be the same book as the currently-available The Seeking Heart, though paginated differently. Many of the letters by this Catholic Archbishop feel distinctly Quakerly, like this one, which fits well with the Thomas Kelly quote I posted yesterday about being "prayed through":

110. "Teach us to pray"

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; Thou only knowest what we need; Thou lovest me betters than I know how to love myself.

O Father! Give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask. I dare not ask for either crosses or consolations; I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee.

Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.

Teach me to pray; pray Thyself in me.

This is strong stuff, as Quietism calls for silencing the self, not just at Meeting - though it led to a lot of quiet meetings - and listening for what God wants rather than what we want. Fénelon doesn't urge complete retreat from the world, but certainly calls on his readers to step away from the world's expectations. Sometimes this takes him places that I think will trouble modern readers, who might see ignorance or passivity, but which had echoes in Quakerism:

29. To prefer love and humility to learning.

People cannot become perfect by dint of hearing or reading about perfection. The chief thing is not to listen to yourself, but silently to listen to God; to renounce all vanity, and apply yourself to real virtues; to talk little, and to do much, without caring to be seen. God will teach you much more than all the most experienced persons and all the most spiritual books. Do you need to be so learned in order to know how to love God and deny yourself for His love? You know much more of good than you practise. You have much less need of gaining fresh knowledge than of putting in practice that which you have already acquired.

53. Gentleness and humility.

Your remedy for wandering thoughts and want of fervor will be to set apart regular seasons for reading and prayer; to mix yourself up in outward matters only when it is necessary; and to attend more to softening the hardness of your judgment, to restraining your temper, and humbling your mind, than to upholding your opinion even when it is right; and finally, to humble yourself whenever you find that an undue warmth concerning the affairs of others has led you to forget your supreme interest, Eternity.

"Learn of me," Jesus Christ says to you, "for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Be sure that the grace, inward peace, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit will be with you, if you maintain gentleness and humility amid all your external perplexities.

I'll be posting more of Fénelon and hopefully some of the other Quietists over time. If you're impatient for more, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library has more about and by Fénelon.

July 21, 2006

Prayed through

I keep a copy of Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion in my backpack. It's small but powerful, a good place to turn when I feel capable of reading tremendous insights presented powerfully. This morning I fell into this paragraph:

We may suppose these depths of prayer are our achievement, the precipitate of our own habits at the surface level settled into subconscious regions. But this humanistic account misses the autonomy of the life of prayer. It misses the fact that this inner level has a life of its own, invigorated not by us but by a divine Source. There come times when prayer pours forth in volumes and originality such as we cannot create. It rolls through us like a mighty tide. Our prayers are mingled with a vaster Word, a Word that at one time was made flesh. We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the orbit. In holy hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prays and seeks His own through us, in exquisite, energizing life. Here the autonomy of the inner life becomes complete and we are joyfully prayed through, by a Seeking Life that flows through us into the world of human beings. (17-18)

Kelly's description is far ahead of my own journey, where I've only had small flashes of that mighty tide rolling through. Reading of Kelly's experience is no substitute for that tide, but it suggests a direction I hope to follow.

July 20, 2006

NEFBQ: To the Reader

The title page of A New England Fire-Brand Quenched gave readers a sense of what was to come in the body of the book, but the section "To the Reader" goes into more depth, including something that isn't exactly an apology though it does start with "we are sorry":

Though we are sorry, we have this Occasion, that [Roger Williams] hath given us, to give forth this Reply and Dispute with him of his Slanderous Proposals (we cannot look upon them otherwise, but so; and therefore for Truth's sake, as it is in JESUS, and for the Name of Christ and true Christianity have we been constrained to Answer him, as we have done both in Dispute and in this: )

Yet we have so much Charity to believe, that all the Professors in New England are not of his Judgment, and those that are, they are like to bear their own Burthen, whether they are Priests or Magistrates. But of all the Books I ever read, I never saw so much Foul Language and Contradictions (which would swell up a Book too much, if we should let the Reader see them all distinct) And also many false Conclusions & Inferences, that he hath made, and Invented Words and Principles to be ours, which we never Heard of before, neither ever were in our Thoughts: and then, when he hath done, he Raileth at them and us.

If a Man had sold himself to Work Wickedness, and (Inspired with a dark Power and Spirit) to invent Falsehood against an Innocent and Suffering People, Roger Williams hath done it; who abuseth his Pen, abuseth the Press, abuseth his Neighbours; and he living in a Peaceable Government: Which when the People called Quakers had the Government, they never molested him. AND so 'tis not only the Quakers, but other Sorts of People, that he flies out again; which we question, whether ever he had so much Modesty, as to speak to any of their Faces: But this has been his Work, to defile Peoples Minds his Lies, Slanders, Falsehoods and Forgeries of things against us, which we do Abhor: as may be seen in his Book.

And that which we desire is, That the Lord may give him REPENTANCE, and all that join with him, if it be his Will, and it be not hid from his and his Confederates Eyes. [Paragraph breaks added.]

I've put the full introduction in the extended entry.


Christian Reader, and all Sober People, that have Read Roger Williams his Book, and may come to Read this Answer,

Though we are sorry, we have this Occasion, that R. W. hath given us, to give forth this Reply and Dispute with him of his Slanderous Proposals (we cannot look upon them otherwise, but so; and therefore for Truth's sake, as it is in JESUS, and for the Name of Christ and true Christianity have we been constrained to Answer him, as we have done both in Dispute and in this: ) Yet we have so much Charity to believe, that all the Professors in New England are not of his Judgment, and those that are, they are like to bear their own Burthen, whether they are Priests or Magistrates. But of all the Books I ever read, I never saw so much Foul Language and Contradictions (which would swell up a Book too much, if we should let the Reader see them all distinct) And also many false Conclusions & Inferences, that he hath made, and Invented Words and Principles to be ours, which we never Heard of before, neither ever were in our Thoughts: and then, when he hath done, he Raileth at them and us. If a Man had sold himself to Work Wickedness, and (Inspired with a dark Power and Spirit) to invent Falsehood against an Innocent and Suffering People, Roger Williams hath done it; who abuseth his Pen, abuseth the Press, abuseth his Neighbours; and he living in a Peaceable Government: Which when the People called Quakers had the Government, they never molested him. AND so 'tis not only the Quakers, but other Sorts of People, that he flies out again; which we question, whether ever he had so much Modesty, as to speak to any of their Faces: But this has been his Work, to defile Peoples Minds his Lies, Slanders, Falsehoods and Forgeries of things against us, which we do Abhor: as may be seen in his Book. And that which we desire is, That the Lord may give him REPENTANCE, and all that join with him, if it be his Will, and it be not hid from his and his Confederates Eyes.

And let but the Reader read Roger William's former Books, and compare them with this, that he hath written now, and see, how he Contradicts himself: and see what a great occsion he and his Brother take against J. B. for calling him Old Man, or saying, He would not bear upon the Old Man, because of his Age, and that he pitied him, &c. when he brought his false Charges against us, and could not make them good. But let the Reader see all his foul Language is his Book (who styles himself an Orator to the King, and let the Reader judge, whether he is worthy of that Title, out of whose Mouth are come so many Corrupt Words, Accusing or Blaming us for saying in pity to him, That he was an Old Man? But let the Reader see, if such Language be- comes Gray Hairs ?) together with his Forgeries, that he has Forg'd and Publish'd against an Innocent and Suffering People. And if the New-England Priests and Governors have tolerated, and aid and afflicted him the Printing of his Book against us, we cannot expect any otherways, who have been our Persecutors, and some to DEATH, and so we must leave him and them to the Lord, and Vengeance is his, and he will Reward every one of them according to their Words and Works: Which certainly he will do, and none shall escape the Omnipotent Hand of God. And our Hope, and Trust and Confidence is in the LORD, the Living God, and we do not fear, what Man can do unto us: GALLOUSES to DEATH (whose BLOOD Cries to God through the Nations) and your CUTTING OFF EARS, and your HOT BRANDING-IRON, and your Cruel Mockings and Threats, and SPOILING of GOODS, and besides all the Lies, and Slanders and Forgeries, that have been Forged against us; So that Christ's Saying is fulfilled among you. They shall speak ALL MANNER of EVIL for his Name's sake against his People: So it's not One Manner, but ALL MANNER. But we can Triumph in the Love of God and the Lord JESUS Christ; and desire the Lord to Forgive you (if it be his Will) for all your Wickedness, that ye have done and spoken against us, and that ye may all come to see your selves, Whose Servants ye have been? and Whose Work ye have been doing? and Whom ye have followed? And what Spirit ye are of, not to be of Christ's, who came to Save Mens Lives, and not to Destroy them.

And we must further Declare, that we cannot Trust our Bodies and Souls in the Hands of such, that do not know, what Spirit they are of themselves, and have not Power over their own Raging and Persecuting Spirits; who are Like unto a City, whose Walls are broken down. But our Trust is in Christ, who is the Chief Shepherd, who we are turn'd to; who Feeds us in his Pasture of Life: Our Bishop to Oversee us, and our Prophet, that God hath raised up, like unto Moses, whoso we do Hear, &c. And our Councellor and Leader, that God hath given us: Our Priest, that hath Died for us, and Risen for our justification; and at the Right Hand of God: who is our Mediator (the Man Christ Jesus) betwixt us and God; and is the Author and Finisher of our Faith: And is our High-Priest over the Household of Faith, and doth Sanctify us, and Wash us with his Precious Blood; that he may present us to God without Spot or Wrinkle, or Blemish, or any such thing: Who Rules in our Hearts by Faith, and in his Grace and Light, Power, and Spirit and Truth, that comes by him; That in the Spirit we come to fit down in him, as the Saints did of Old, our REST, yea, in Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus: And so can praise God through JESUS Christ, YEA and AMEN, the First and the Last.


July 19, 2006

Spirit, truth, and history

The preface of Apocalypse of the Word reminded me of Albert Schweitzer's discussion of how the delay of Christ's return has affected the Christian church, and I went to read his classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus. I'm still enjoying the book, which manages to make discussions of theological history quite lively, but the 1950 introduction had a few things to say which I think apply to Quakerism's history, and not only to early Christianity:

The present situation compels faith to distinguish between the essence and the form of religious truth. The ideas through which it finds expression may change as time goes on, without destroying its essence. Its brightness is not dimmed by what happens to it. Changing seems to make the ideas more transparent as means whereby the truth is revealed....

It may come as a stumbling-block to our faith to find that it was not Jesus himself who gave its perfect spiritual form to the truth which he brought into the world, but that it received this in the course of time through the working of the Spirit. But this is something which we have to overcome. The old saying still holds. 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.' (Isa. 55.8-9)

Historical truth not only creates difficulties for faith; it also enriches it, by compelling it to examine the importance of the work of the Spirit of Jesus for its origin and continuance. The gospel of Jesus cannot simply be taken over; it must be appropriated in his Spirit. What the Bible really offers us is his Spirit, as we find it in him and in those who first came under its power. Every conviction of faith must be tested by him. Truth in the highest sense is what is in the Spirit of Jesus. (xliv-xlv)

I'm fascinated by early Quaker history, and think the early Quakers did amazing things while grappling with the difficulties created by their finding Spirit above Scripture or Tradition. While I find their work inspiring, I don't think Quakerism today is or should be the movement as it was in 1655 or 1685.

It seems to me that change has been more or less continuous, from the cooling down of the initial enthusiasm after the Restoration in 1660 through the 'quietist' period (more on that to come) through the splits and schisms of the 19th century and the many changes of the 20th century.

To take just one example, it's fascinating to me how both Hicksite and Orthodox Quakers seemed to firmly believe themselves to be the true heirs of George Fox and his fellow founders. The Hicksites went so far as to reissue Fox's Works (for which I'm grateful), claiming Fox's mantle in ways I'm not sure he'd support, while the Orthodox certainly made their own (also problematic) claims about that same mantle. I suspect, however, that the problem wasn't that one group or the other was no longer true to Quakerism: it was that each group was heading in a new direction. From my uncertain vantage point, Hicksites seemed to be more willing to entertain that the Light might provide diverse perspectives, while the Orthodox were shifting toward more emphasis overall on Scripture and less emphasis on the Light.

Schweitzer's emphasis on - and acceptance of - the process of change as a key aspect of religious development seems as important today as it did in 1950 when he wrote those words. However much we try to lock ourselves into a fixed perspective on the past and a fixed understanding of the world, those perspectives and understandings will shift. If we listen to the Light as we carry on, those shifts may take us to new spiritual horizons, revealing new insights in what came before.

July 15, 2006

A New England Fire-Brand Quenched

Most of George Fox's published writing is available somewhere on the Web, often at the Earlham School of Religion's Digital Quaker Collection. Some discussion on the Quaker Texts mailing list revealed the largest piece which isn't freely available, A New England Fire-Brand Quenched, was written by Fox with John Burnyeat in 1679. I'll be trying to make that 450-page volume available over the next few years here.

The book is, much like The Great Mystery, a point-by-point reponse to criticism. Unlike that book, which responded to a wide variety of critics, A New England Fire-Brand Quenched is a detailed response to a single critic, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, champion of religious freedom, and a religious dissident himself. H. Larry Ingle provides some background to the dispute between Williams and Fox in his First Among Friends, exploring the ways their similarities would lead them to greater conflict:

Roger Williams... was himself so rigid that he found it difficult to get along with anyone in religious matters; the Friends' reputation for a free-wheeling theology made it impossible for him ever to hit it off with them. Considering them the worst kind of antinomians, nearly anarchists, he castigated them as "anti-Christian," "blasphemous," "scornful," "censorious," and tossed the catch-all label "Ranter" right back at them for encouraging women to strip naked....

An irascible Roger Williams [who had just lost an election to Quaker forces], his teeth on edge, licked his political wounds and determined to have it out with the Quaker invaders.

Actually, Fox and Williams had much in common, in both their styles and their ideas. Blunt and forthright, disdaining the niceties of polite society, they were principled and argumentative men, and each insisted on the rightness of his own convictions. Both profoundly disliked hireling ministers. Williams was a committed democrat politically, if less willing than Fox to adapt these principles to his religious predilections - he deemed allowing women to speak as something he called "will worship." He referred to himself as a "Seeker." They each wanted active government, though Williams was not as thorough-going as Fox, who had glimpsed the possibilities of a true revolution at home.

Both found much to respect in Indian ways and wanted Europeans to deal justly with the Native Americans. Curiously, they got on better with the aboriginals, despite the gulfs of cultural differences and language, than they coould with each other or with those of their own people with whom they disagreed on theological matters; each, in other words, only practiced tolerance up to a point of ideological closeness. Fox thus reserved his choicest anathemas for any adherent who dared carry his principles too far, while Williams, unable to vouch for his wife's salvation, refused to take communion with her. (238-9)

Williams and Fox seem to have been just close enough to ignite their strongest fighting passions, though Fox left Rhode Island before Williams' invitation to a debate arrived, and the debate between Fox and Williams wound up in print instead, as the title page of this book records:

A NEW-ENGLAND Fire-Brand Quenched, Being an ANSWER unto a Slanderous Book, Entituled; GEORGE FOX Digged out of his Burrows, &c. Printed at Boston is the Year 1676. by Roger Williams of Providence in New-England.

Which he Dedicated to the KING with Desires, That, if the Most-High please, Old, and New-England may Flourish, when the Pope & Mahomet & Constantinople are in their Ashes.

Of a DISPUTE upon XIV. of his Proposal held and debated betwixt him, the said Roger Williams, on the one part, and John Stubs, William Edmundson and John Burnyeat on the other.

At Providence and Newport in Rode-Island, in the Year 1672, IN which his Cavils are Refuted, & his Reflections Reproved.

In Two Parts

AS ALSO, An ANSWER to R.W.'s APPENDIX, &c. WITH A POST-SCRIPT Confuting his Blasphemous Assertions, viz. Of the Blood of Christ, that was Shed, its being Corruptible and Corrupted; and that Salvation was by a Man, that was Cor- ruptible, &c. Where-unto is added a CATALOGUE of his Railery, Lies, Scorn & Blasphemies: And His TEMPORIZING SPIRIT made manifest. Also, The LETTERS of W. Coddington of Rode-Island, and R. Scot of Providence in New-England concerning R.W. And Lastly, Some TESTIMONIES of Ancient & Modern Authors concerning the LIGHT, SCRIPTURES, RULE & the SOUL of Man.


Printed in the Year M DC LXXIX.

A "CATALOGUE of his Railery, Lies, Scorn & Blasphemies" ? Should be interesting reading. I'll be posting this in pieces as I manage to type them in, so there's much much more to come.

Update: I've created a category containing all the pieces I type in, if you want to find it in one place.

July 13, 2006

The Great Mystery of the Great Whore

Volume III of the Works of George Fox is titled merely The Great Mystery on its spine. Looking inside to the cover page, however, a much clearer description of the book - and George Fox's perspective on the world in 1659 - is revealed:

The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded;

and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction.

In answer to many false doctrines and principles which Babylon's merchants have traded with, being held forth by the professed minisers, and teachers, and professors in England, Scotland, and Ireland, taken under their own hands, and from their own mouths, sent forth by them from time to time, against the despised people of the Lord, called Quakers, who are of the seed of that woman who hath been long fled into the wilderness.

Also, An invasion upon the great city Babylon, with the spoiling of her golden cup, and delicate merchandise, whereby she hath deceived the world and nations; and herein is declared the spoiling of her prey, in this answer to the multitude of doctrines held forth by the many false sects, which have lost the key of knowledge, and been on foot since the apostles' days, called Anabaptists, Independents, Presbyters, Ranters, and many others; who out of their own mouths have manifested themselves not to be of a true descent from the true christian churches: but it is discovered that they have all been made drunk with the wine of fornication received from the whore which hath sitten upon the beast, after whom the world has wondered.

By George Fox.

"And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her, for no man buyeth their merchandise any more." - Rev. xviii. 18.

And they cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, what city is like unto this great city? And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea, by reason of her costliness, for in one hour is she made desolate." - Rev. xviii. 18, 19.

I'm just getting started with this 614-page battle against Babylon, but the opening certainly sets the stage well, as does Edward Burrough's "Epistle to the Reader"at the beginning, which tells the story of Quakerism's early days.

Fox regularly impresses me with his comfort in books of the Bible that frequently leave me baffled. He's obviously inspired by Revelation, as should be clear from this title page, but he also leaps into Hebrews and the rest of Paul's letters with delight. I have a lot yet to learn.

July 9, 2006

Quaker radio

I've been wondering all week what Quaker radio might sound like. One theory might hold that the airwaves were full of silent worship with occasional bursts of spirit provided by solar flares until Marconi started broadcasting, but that's not quite what I have in mind.

I saw a bumper sticker a while ago for WCII, part of the Family Life Network, and was reminded of an electrician who played it constantly while working on my house. I've been listening for much of this past week. Their playlist is Christian contemporary, which seems to mix lyrics suitable for hymns with light rock, light jazz, or light country, with the occasional power ballad mixed in. It's unfortunate to me that this music seems to choose musical forms I've long felt were utterly soulless to express ideas about the soul's relationship to God, but I guess not everyone wants to hear Amazing Grace, Gotta Serve Somebody, or Hank Williams' finer religious moments - and the songs work pretty well as hymns if you remove the modern stylings.

I suspect there are some Quakers who'd be happy with FLN's offerings as Quaker radio, though I'm not sure that Prophecy Today or Focus on the Family is necessarily the non-musical programming they would choose. (There probably are some who like that programming, though I've not yet met them.) There are other Quakers who I suspect listen only to NPR, or even only to NPR stations that carry Democracy Now and Alternative Radio. I'm not sure they'd even be interested in "Quaker radio", but maybe...

It's not like I expect Quakers to start setting up radio stations, filling a whole day with Quaker-oriented programming (though some folks are podcasting as well as blogging). It's just one of those strange questions that won't quite go away - what would Quaker radio sound like?

"This is WQKR, showing you the way to the power of the Light, the seed that bruises the serpent's head..." (Yes, there is a WQKR, but it's not Quaker. No KQKR, though.)

Update: And Kwakersaur's musings on the Left Behind video game makes me wonder a bit what a Quaker video game would look like. Maybe that's going too far into different media...

Update: And now I find Northern Spirit Radio, programs produced "under the care of Eau Claire Friends Meeting".