September 24, 2008

Obama hung in effigy? Where?

I am so depressed to see that this happened at George Fox University of all places.

Whatever you think of of Quaker history, or how you want to phrase the metaphor, I'm sure George Fox is spinning rapidly in his grave right now.

(No, I don't think this means GFU is a bad place - it's just pretty startling.)

April 5, 2008

Last call for the Works

The New Foundation Fellowship reports in their latest Foundation Papers that their stock of George Fox's Works is almost gone. They printed a batch in 1991, and are working to publish a CD-ROM of them, but I have to admit that having printed copies (though they were expensive) has made it much much easier for me to explore Fox's writings. Having them in hardcover has made it easier for me to travel with them, too.

They apparently have (had) ten sets left, along with a very few individual copies of everything except Volume II, the second part of the Journal. They also have a set of Lewis Benson's Notes on George Fox available for $50, and are making a reprint of A Universal Christian Faith (formerly Catholic Quakerism) available.

They aren't very clear on how to order the individual volumes or the Notes, though I do see the set available online. There's a note about free shipping until May 1st, as well.

January 25, 2008

More exalted language, to and from Fox

Last night, re-reading Douglas Gwyn's excellent Seekers Found, I found yet more "exalted language" about Fox and other early Quakers.

First, people writing to George Fox and Margaret Fell:

Dorothy Howgill (wife of Francis) wrote to Fox... She recalls Fox telling her that "a pure light was arising in me... yet I could not believe because I felt no such think... but now I know thou hast the anoynting of the Holy one and thou knowes all things... thou art my own heart and my soule lyes in thy bosom."

Exalted language like this was commonly directed by Friends toward those who had convinced them, and most of all toward George Fox and James Nayler. Shortly after her convicement, Fel and her children wrote to Fox as:

Our dear father in the Lord... We are your babes. Take pity on us, whom you have nursed up with the breasts of consolation... Oh, our dear nursing father, we hope you will not leave us comfortless, but will come again... My own dear heart... you know that we have received you into our hearts...

Mary Howgill addressed Fox as "Dear Life" in a 1656 letter. Such letters were also addressed to Fell. For example, John Audland wrote to Fell, exclaiming that she "inhabits eternity," finding her countenance "more bright than the sun." He went on to confess that his soul was refreshed by her and that by God's power he was "kept bold to declare the way of salvation." (240)

A few paragraphs later, Gwyn presents some of Fox's own claims. Some pieces of this story are familiar from the Journal and other letters, but Gwyn presents a letter (published earlier by Larry Ingle) that pushes the story a bit further.

Most disturbing to Puritan authorities were Fox's sporadic claims to be "the Son of God," which continued as late as 1661. This issue had arisen as early as his Derby arrest in 1650. During his interrogation, his claims to perfection led straight to his assertion of Christ's indwelling. Asked if he or his associates were themselves Christ, he answered "Nay, we are nothing, Christ is all." During a trial at Lancaster late in 1652, Fox was charged with claiming to be equal with God. He denied making such a claim, but countered that "he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one in the Father and the Son and that ye are the sons of God. The Father and the Son are one, and we of his flesh and of his bone" (Heb. 2:11, Eph. 5:31). In 1653, Fox wrote a letter "to Margaret Fell and to every other friend who is raised to discerning." Apparently aiming to clarify his own words and speculations upon them, Fox did not back away from his earlier affirmations:

Accordinge to the spirit I am the sonne of God and according to the flesh I am the seed of Abraham which seed is Christ which seed is but one in all his saints.... Accordinge to the spirit I am the sonne of God before Abraham was... the same which doth descend, the same doth ascend and all the promises of God are yea come out of time from god, into time to that which is captivated in the earth in time, and to it the seed which is Christ, they are all yea and amen fetched up out of him, where there is noe time... and as many received the word, I say unto ye: yee are gods, as it is written in your law [John 10:34].... Now waite all to have these things fulfilled in ye, if it never be so little a measure waite in it, that ye may grow to a perfect man in Christ Jesus.

This passage is not terribly coherent. But it shows that Fox claimed sonship, though in a way that could be claimed by others who wait faithfully upon the Lord and grow into perfection in Christ. Those who had gone through the harrowing convincement process of death to the self had found a "measure" of freedom from captivity in earthly time and its realm of cause and effect. Thus, to be a child of God in the Spirit was to be "before Abraham was." To have Christ within was to be of Christ's flesh and bone, eating it and becoming the same substance with it. (241-2)

I'm guessing that such claims helped keep this letter from finding home in the Epistles that became part of Fox's Works.

This is strong reinforcement for the hypothesis that early Quakerism wasn't merely about following God, it was about uniting with God. The Inward Light, "Christ is come to teach his people himself", pointing toward union rather than reflection.

I wonder whether Fox himself ever abandoned that set of ideas, even if he did write much more cautiously after the 1650s, and edited earlier letters. I'm guessing that he didn't, though such a guess is hard to substantiate.

January 2, 2008

Sacralize and secularize

I've been re-reading Douglas Gwyn's The Covenant Crucified. This morning I picked it up by accident at a page with lots to think about for anyone considering early Quaker history. In some ways it's a restatement of the thesis of the book, but it's placed in Gwyn's chapter on "The Quaker Revolution Revised, 1667-1675", so it feels more explicitly focused on change from the earliest days of Quakerism to the later period of consolidation.

The Protestant project begun by Luther, extended by Calvin, and made programmatic in Enland by radical Puritans was to sacralize all reality. The sanctified life was taken out of the monastery and extended to the social whole. That tendency reached its ultimate form in the Quaker revolution, with its rejection of the steeplehouse as "holy place," sabbaths and feast days as "holy times," and clergy as "holy men."

In this totalizing program, early Friends consolidated and furthered many Puritan themes. But they also confronted unjust and dishonest practices in the marketplace as the dark underside of the Puritan revolution's capitalist ethos, just as they countered the violent tactics and oppressive results of the Civil War with their nonviolent Lamb's War.

The decisive moment of the Quaker revolution was played out in Nayler's enactment of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. This enactment of total sacralization, the enthronement of Christ among the people, manifested the entire Protestant program in England. It both brought Protestantism to its fullest implications and moved into a new realm.

The government's brutal treatment of Nayler and its repression of Quakers, accompanied by the popular backlash against radicalism, signaled a dramatic, dialectical reversal: the movement to sacralize all life was inverted, becoming the movement to secularize all life.

In the English drama of the rise of capitalism, Nayler plays the prophetic role of the charismatic figure who mediates a profound shift in the culture... Typically, the "vanishing mediator" will be quickly exterminated, or otherwise will simply fade into obscurity as new institutions grow up to regularize the new order he or she has helped catalyze. While Nayler represents the immediate victim of the first type, Fox represents the second type, who survived to become irrelevant to the culture he helped create, even superfluous to the Society of Friends he founded. Certainly, neither figure saw himself as the prophet of secularism. On the contrary, both saw themselves as heralds of a new covenantal society challenging and eclipsing both Church and state. What finally developed, however, was a covenantal sect existing within a contracted saeculum (the Latin root of "secular," meaning "age," or "generation"), the "new age" of an unrepentant (and finally indifferent) generation.

The triumphalist notion that early Friends like Nayler and Fox helped created our modern society with its freedoms is a popular half-truth, ideologically impaired by liberal hindsight... one must give a fuller account of what lived and died in these Quaker figures and their initial movement.

Nayler's passion offers the most dramatic "moment of truth" in the Quaker revolution, but it is vulnerable to a romantic reduction of its meaning: "Poor James, another martyr to the system; mean old George, he never understood." Fox's longer, apostolic saga helped enable the movement's second, post-revolutionary phase. Thouse less tragic than Nayler, Fox is remarkable for his profound insights and continuity of faith in changing circumstances. Here, the temptation is to reduce Fox to the denominational hagiography of "Quaker lore": "Good old George, our founder; bad old James, he went astray." But Fox's outcome was far less his aim than his fate. (289-90. Paragraph breaks added; italics Gwyn's emphasis, bold emphasis added.)

There's a lot here, speaking both to the experience of early Friends and to later followers who find themselves stuck on the same fault lines early Quakers tried to overcome.

The idea that early Quakers tried to take Protestantism to its logical conclusion is, as I've noted before, appealing. In a very strong sense George Fox re-read the world around him - all of it, uncompromisingly - through the Bible. His intensely biblical foundation led him to direct inspiration, available to every individual in every context all the time. Nayler took the story of God's being everywhere, on the edge of breaking through, and enacted a sign of that breaking through - and triggered the reversal that Gwyn's book often mourns.

The secularization that Gwyn describes here is not "the war on Christmas" or the usual battles over Church and State we have in the United States, though it certainly leads to difficult compromises. It's the shift from seeing religion as everywhere, a vision of the world shared with God, to seeing religion as one piece of a larger picture. Religion becomes a private matter, shared with others of your own choosing.

It's often appealing to read early Quakers as if they were writing in the present, when this secularization is already completely normal. We can (and do) compartmentalize their message into one part of our lives. Quakers have also seemed to absorb the vocabulary of religious independence that William Penn and later Quakers used to free Quakers from the burden of persecution. I think, though, that Quakerism never completely accepted the shift that Gwyn talks about here. That may be the underlying reason that Quakers seem to have a harder time letting the world go the way of the world.

Can we take up the early Quakers' quest to "sacralize all reality"? Should we?

December 23, 2007

Reading Fox in the light of deification

I've been speculating about what seems to me a likely connection between Early Quakers' perspectives on salvation and the Eastern Orthodox description of deification. It seems to explain some of Fox and Nayler's harder-to-comprehend moments, and may also correspond to what their followers believed of them, but it's less clear that Fox and Nayler specifically saw deification as the path to salvation.

I've been reading Volume I of Fox's Epistles (Volume 7 of the Works). It's interesting to see how much of Fox's prose seems to me to fit beautifully with the framework of deification - though at the same time these same phrasings have been interpreted by Quakers for centuries without considering that framework.

Here, for example, is a letter from 1653. I've highlighted the language that seems potentially to refer to deification.

XLII.-- To Friends, concerning the light, in which they may see their saviour, and the deceivers.

To all Friends every where, scattered abroad: in the light dwell which comes from Christ, that with it ye may see Christ your saviour; that ye may grow up in him. For they who are in him, are new creatures; and ‘old things are passed away, and all things are become new.’ And who are in him, are led by the spirit, to them there is no condemnation; but they dwell in that which doth condemn the world, and with the light see the deceivers, and the antichrists, which are entered into the world. And such teachers as bear rule by their means; and such as seek for the fleece, and make a prey upon the people, and are hirelings, and such as go in the way of Cain, and run greedily after the error of Balaam; and such as are called of men master, and stand praying in the synagogues, and have the chief seats in the assemblies, all which are in the world, who by those that dwelt in the light, were cried against; for it did them condemn, and all such as speak a divination of their own brain, and are filthy dreamers, who use their tongues, and steal the words from their neighbours; with the light, the world and all these aforesaid are comprehended, and all that is in it; and all they that hate it, and all the antichrists that oppose it, and all the false prophets and deceivers, that are turned from it, with the light are comprehended, and with the light are condemned, and all that are turned from it and hate it.

‘I am the light of the world,’ saith Christ, and he doth enlighten every one that cometh into the world; and he that loves the light, and walks in the light, receives the light of life: and the other, he hates the light, because his deeds are evil, and the light doth reprove him. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, in which light, they that love it, walk; which is the condemnation of him that hates it. And all the antichrists, and all the false prophets, and all the deceivers, the beast, and the well-favoured harlot, all these are seen with the light to be in that nature, acting contrary to the light; and with the light are they comprehended, and by the light condemned.

For he is not an antichrist, that walks in the light that comes from Christ; he is no deceiver, that walks in the light that comes from Christ. Many deceivers are entered into the world. The world hates the light, and deceivers are turned from the light, and the antichrists they are turned from the light, therefore they oppose it, and some of them call it a natural conscience, a natural light; and such put the letter for the light. But with the light, which never changes, (which was before the world was,) are these deceivers seen, where they enter into the world. For many deceivers are entered into the world, and the false prophets are entered into the world; the world hates the light, and if it were possible, they would deceive the elect. But in the light the elect do dwell, which the antichrists, deceivers, and false prophets are turned from, into the world, that hate the light: that light which they do hate, the children of light dwell in, the elect. So it is not possible, that the antichrists and deceivers, that are entered into the world, that hate the light, should deceive the elect, who dwell in the light which they hate; which light doth them all comprehend, and the world; which light was before the world was, and is the world’s condemnation; in which light the elect walk. And here it is not possible, that they that dwell in the light should be deceived, which comprehends the world, and is the world’s condemnation. Which light shall bring every tongue to confess, and every knee to bow: when the judgments of God come upon them, it shall make them confess, that the judgments of God are just.

G. F. (50-1, 1653)

It all depends, however, on how we read "dwell in the light". If "dwelling in the light" is being a nice person, following God's commands, and otherwise being respectful of a power that is completely separate from us (though found inwardly) - then this is not a text about deification.

This light seems, however, to be transforming - which suggests great change inside of us, 'the elect', we who "may grow up in him," "be in him", as "new creatures."

There are many many more of these possibly relevant epistles, but for now, I'll pause here.

December 19, 2007

Limits of the union

Immediately after describing deification, Ware adds two key clarifications. The first distinction makes clear that the Orthodox view of deification does not create many gods with equal standing to God:

The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God's essence and His energies. Union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence: the Orthodox Church, while speaking of deification and union, rejects all forms of pantheism. (232)

This distinction is not one I've found in Fox's writings, though I've only begun to look for it specifically. Perhaps, though, this distinction is one that had never particularly been emphasized in the British Isles, or dismissed as a purely scholarly theological matter. Ware explains the distinction - and what it means for our ability to approach God - earlier in the chapter:

(1) God is absolutely transcendent. 'No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it.' (Gregory Palamas) This absolute transcendence Orthodoxy safeguards by its emphatic use of the 'way of negation', of 'apophatic' theology. Positive or 'cataphatic' theology - the 'way of affirmation' must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language. Our positive statements about God - that He is good, wise, just, and so on - are true as far as they go, yet they cannot adequately describe the inner nature of the deity...

(2) God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut off from the world which He has made. God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer put it, God is 'everywhere present and filling all things'. Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God's essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God's essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. God's energies, which are God himself, permeate all His creation, and we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet he is also a God who acts - the God of History, intervening directly in concrete situations. (208-9, emphasis in original)

God is here with us, we can partake of God's energies, and even become divine - but we cannot encounter God's essence directly. Christ's incarnation, of course, was a coming of God's essence to his creation, and that is why the faith is Christian specifically. This perspective, however, while recognizing that God is around us, available to us, capable of deifying us, also keeps us separate from God, partaking of the divine nature and becoming divine without becoming God.

Ware's next paragraph on deification provides more description of the limits this creates:

Closely related to this is another point of equal importance. The mystical union between God and humans is a true union, yet in this union Creator and creature do not become fused into a single being. Unlike the eastern religions which teach that humans are swallowed up in the deity, Orthodox mystical theology has always insisted that we humans, however closely linked to God, retain our full person integrity. The human person, when deified, remains distinct (though not separate) from God.

The mystery of the Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and those who express the Trinity in themselves do not sacrifice their personal characteristics. When St. Maximus wrote 'God and those who are worthy of God have one and the same energy,' he did not means that the saints lose their free will, but that when deified they voluntarily and in love conform their will to the will of God. Nor does the human person, when 'it becomes god', cease to be human: 'We remain creatures while becoming god by grace, as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation.' The human being does not become God by nature, but is merely a 'created god', a god by grace or by status. (232)

This seems to me to fill a gap in early Quaker conversations - taking the Trinity, which Quakers acknowledged, though briefly, as a foundation for explaining that the boundaries between God and humans is blurred, while also using it as a line. We can't join the Trinity ourselves, but we can partake in the joining of humans and the divine that Christ's incarnation demonstrates. It also fits well with the Biblical references Fox used.

To put it to a harder test, though, did early Quakers share that rough understanding, especially the boundary between the divinity that we can achieve and the divinity of God and Christ?

It may seem pretty clear to us today that George Fox and James Nayler remained humans, however tightly bonded to God they may have been, but it seems to have been unclear to their followers. At the same time, though, their actions in retrospect suggest that even if Fox and Nayler weren't certain of their distinct position as individuals in the period from 1652 to 1656, they were certainly very aware of it afterwards. Douglas Gwyn explores Nayler's testimony and that of his followers after they had re-enacted Christ's entry into Jerusalem in Naylor's entry into Bristol:

In his interrogations at Bristol and before Parliament, Nayler made it clear that he did not confuse the indwelling Christ with his own creaturely person. He explained that he had performed the sign by God's leading, which he could not refuse. As for the exalted language applied to him in the procession, he stated,

I do abhor that any honors due God should be given to me as I am a creature, but it pleased the Lord to set me up as a sign of the coming of the righteous one.... I was commanded by the power of the Lord to suffer it to be done to the outward man as a sign, but I abhor any honor as a creature.

Unfortunately, Nayler's own clarity did not speak for the thoughts and motives of those who had led him through the performance. Indeed, the testimony of his followers indicated real confusion between the sign and the person of James Nayler. The Strangers viewed Nayler as the "Prince of Peace." Dorcas Erbury testified that Nayler was "the only begotten Son of God," and that she "knew no other Jesus" and "no other Saviour." She also claimed that Nayler had raised her from the dead. Martha Simmonds was less blatant; she testified to "the seed born in him" but later added that "when the new life should be born in James Nayler, then he will be Jesus." (Douglas Gwyn, The Covenant Crucified, 167-8)

The testimony presented in the Quakerpedia entry on Nayler conveys rather less of a sense of separation, but his later writings seem to make clear that he no longer sees himself as Christ, if he ever did.

In Fox's case, it's somewhat more complicated. He never had a moment like Nayler's entry into Bristol, though his statements in other trials leave the question open. Again, though, his later actions suggest that whatever his position in 1652 to 1656, he could not in the end accept the many accolades of his followers, including phrases like "the first and the last", which he personally crossed out, with Margaret Fell likely removing more. His Journal, written from the later perspective, leaves us asking just how far he went.

It's hard to know just how much of early Quaker belief was lost in the aftermath of the Nayler trial and the continuing challenge of surviving in a Protestant world that was largely hostile to claims of direct inspiration. I do think, however, that there are still powerful echoes, a transforming (even deifying) Inner Light rather than a merely informing one.

In future posts, I'll take a look at how this perspective can suggest different meanings in early Quaker writings, and examine the Bible itself in this light.

November 15, 2007

An embarrassing enthusiasm?

George Fox spent a substantial part of his early career facing down blasphemy charges. Perhaps more important, later Quakers (including Fox, to some extent) played down some of the things Fox said that got him into this trouble in the first place. Perhaps the strongest example, which was left out of the original Journal, is this in Carlisle:

And one sware one thing and another sware another thing against me. And they asked if I were the son of God. I said "Yes."

They asked me if I had seen God's face. I said "Yes."

They asked me whether I had the spirit of discernment. I said "Yes, I discerned him that spoke to me."

They asked me whether the scripture was the word of God. I said, "God was the word, and the scriptures were writings, and the word was before writings were, which word did fulfill them."

And so they sent me to prison. (Braithwaite, Beginnings of Quakerism, 117.)

Braithwaite, writing of an earlier but similar case, says that Fox's words are "open to misconstruction:"

Fox replies to the more serious charges, as he had done at the quarter sessions, by denying that he had ever made such statements in the sense that George Fox was equal with God or George Fox was Christ, but he insists that the new life, the spiritual man, is the Lord from heaven and that Christ is one in all His saints. Fox's words, even in this answer, are open to misconstruction. The following especially was laid hold of:

Where He [that is, Christ Jesus] is made manifest, the works of the devil are destroyed and there He speaks and is king, and is the way, and is the truth, and is the life... and he that hath the same spirit that raised up Jesus Christ is equal with God. And the scripture saith that God will dwell in man and walk in man. As Jesus Christ, which is the mystery, hath passed before, so the same spirit takes upon it the same seed and is the same where it is made manifest. According to the flesh I am the son of Abraham, according to the the Spirit the Son of God, saith Christ.

Fox, and others of the early Friends, had a vivid sense of personal union with their living Lord, but they coupled this experience of the indwelling Christ with a doctrine of perfection that betrayed them, during the first exhiliration of the experience, into extremes of identification with the Divine. They believed that inspiration gave infallibility, a belief that men have often held with respect to the writers of scripture, and they had to learn, with the help of some painful lessons, what we are learning to-day about the writers of scripture, that the inspired servant of God remains a man, liable to much of human error and weakness. (109)

One especially interesting edit of these stories comes in the Quaker Reader, which leaps on page 77 from Fox's telling in the Journal of these events to a citation in The Great Mystery which makes similar claims in somewhat more cautious language:

Object. 1. 'That he did affirm that he had the divinity essentially inside him.'

Answer. For the word essential, it is an expression of their own: but that the saints are the temples of God, and God doth dwell in them, that the scriptures do witness, 2 Cor. vi. 1. Eph. iv. 6. 2 Pet. i. 4. And if God dwell in them, then the divinity dwells in them; and the scripture saith, ye shall be partakers of the divine nature; and this I witness: but where this is not, they cannot witness it.

...O. 4. 'That he was equal with God.'

A. That was not so spoken; but that 'He that sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, are of one,' Heb. ii. 11. and the saints are all one in the Father and the son, of his flesh and of his bone; this the scripture doth witness. And 'ye are the sons of God,' and the Father and the Son are one; and 'they that are joined to the Lord, are one spirit, and they that are joined to a harlot are one flesh.'

...O. 'That he was the judge of the world.'

A. That 'the saints shall judge the world,' the scripture witnesseth it, 1 Cor. vi. 2, 3. wherefore I am one, and I witness the scripture fulfilled.

O. 'That he was as upright as Christ.'

A. Those words were not so spoken by me; but that 'as he is so are we in this present world.' 1 John iv. 17. That the saints are made 'the righteousness of God;' that the saints are one in the Father and the son; that we shall be like him, 1 John iii. 2. and that all teaching which is given forth by Christ, is to bring the saints to perfection, even to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: this the scripture doth witness, and this I witness. Where Christ dwells, must not he speak in his temple? (594-5)

Fox's message that "Christ is come to teach his people himself" comes with more to it than people standing on a hillside and listening to Christ - it's more a matter of being possessed by Christ. Richard Bailey, in his essay in New Light on George Fox, writes of "celestial inhabitation," and writes:

The belief that the ordinary person became Christ, in some sense, was fundamental to early Quakerism. It explains Fox's high language, and the charismatic deportment of his followers appears less excessive and immature. His opponents accused him of claiming to be a god while his followers actually called him one. What is remarkable is that these were not isolated cases on either side, and we are able to determine this even though much of the exalted language directed toward Fox has been heavily censored. (113)

Bailey finds this hard for modern readers to deal with, and Braithwaite's comments on the writers of scripture suggest that it was hard in 1912 as well. I don't think it was all that much easier for most people in 1650s England, either, and the Nayler trial doubtless brought the question to an unpleasant head. Quakers backed away from the more extreme statements, though they certainly retained the idea of direct contact with an Inner Light.

However, that doesn't mean that this is genuinely unorthodox, and I've found some fascinating reflections on other aspects of Christian tradition that take these questions very seriously. I'll have more on that in future posts.

April 12, 2007

Present parousia

While Apocalypse of the Word is a rare non-fiction book, one with suspense built into it, it's not because Douglas Gwyn keeps the ending a surprise. After talking a bit about the problem of the parousia, Christ's return, that is always to come soon in the New Testament but for which we still wait, Gwyn argues that Fox's preaching changes the entire shape of such discussion:

In preaching Christ's return as a presently unfolding reality, Fox recovers the consistent eschatology of the New Testament faith, shattering the perceived problem of a "delay" or "non-occurrence" of the parousia. He does this as he witnesses to the second advent of Christ in the same terms that the gospels use to witness to the first advent. The problem in both cases is with the expectation and perception of the people, together with the vested interests of human authority. The "messianic secret", the scandal that Jesus was not recognized as Messiah by the Jews, is relived in the drama of Christian disbelief in his return and his present power to save from sin, rather than in sin. In his first advent, Christ was revealed in a carpenter's son from Nazareth; in his second advent, he is revealed in a universally bestowed light. In both cases, his commonness is a stumbling block to the pious. (xxii)

This casts the Puritans more or less in the position of the Jews of the New Testament, whose beliefs about the coming Messiah didn't mesh with what they saw. (For more on those Jews' point of view, I strongly recommend Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. In this context, it might lead to more sympathy for Fox's Puritan opponents.) This telling makes me think I need to reread a lot of Fox's challenges to the Puritans; while I saw the parallel Fox draws, this adds layers of meaning to it.

Meanwhile, this return to "the consistent eschatology of the New Testament faith" combines the "Primitive Christianity Revived" story with the Second Coming story, making it easier to see how this approach includes much more of the New Testament than Revelation. As later generations took a less eschatological approach, they might well find different messages in the same statements. This combination makes it easier to read a lot of Fox's statements in a de-eschatologized way.

Fox's use of revelation also changes the way we look at that word, bringing it back to its original meaning in Greek:

Fox's preaching that "Christ is come to teach his people himself" therefore connects the hope of the parousia with the question of Christian knowledge. In other words, apocalypse and revelation are reunited in the basic sense of the Greek word apokalupsis as it is used in the New Testament. For example, the Apocalypse of John is the revelation of the end given him by Christ. Apocalypse as revelation itself leads us to conclude that Christian apocalyptic is most basically a matter of present experience, rather than speculation upon the future, as scholars have often assumed. (xxii)

This is a theme Gwyn will repeat throughout the book, structuring chapters around particular 'apocalypses', revelations Fox reported and preached. At the same time, he ties that preaching to Fox's distinctive eschatology and specifically (at times) to Revelation.

Before I move into the main body of the book, there's one more paragraph in the preface I'd like to highlight, as it suggests something of where this approach leads, and how it differs from Puritan and other traditionally Protestant perspectives:

Justification and sanctification become one continuous work of God in Fox's preaching that "Jesus Christ is come to teach his people himself." There is neither a retreat to metaphysics nor a resort to the interim ethic and government of the institutional church. Christ is come by his Spirit to judge, to empower, to war against Satan, and to rule among his people. The kingdom of God is revealed concretely on earth now. Fox comes to these conclusions without falling into the trap of spiritual enthusiasm or privatism. Unlike Paul's opponents at Corinth and Philippi, Fox by no means underestimates the problem of sin, but witnesses to the greater power of the risen Lord to save and gather his people. The cross relentlessly maintains its central position in Fox's writings. (xxi-xxii)

I've written a bit about the earlier Quaker position on justification (and later rejection of that position by the Gurneyite Orthodox), but hadn't thought deeply about where it came from, though I did test it against Romans 8. This piece (which I had read before I wrote all that, but apparently forgotten) fits that space of the Quaker puzzle neatly. It explains a divergence from other Protestants well.

As I noted before, there's still a dramatic tension in Gwyn's book. How much explanatory power does this perspective have? The preface is promising, the thesis interesting, but the bulk of the book will fill it out.

April 11, 2007

Two key texts from the Journal

I'd like to present two key moments in George Fox's Journal for readers to digest before moving into the explanations of Apocalypse of the Word. Think about these, ponder them, look them up, and come up with your own explanations.

First, Fox's discussion in the Journal about a 1648 experience:

Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.

The creation was opened to me, and it was showed me how all things had their names given them according to their nature and virtue. And I was at a stand in my mind whether I should practice physic for the good of mankind, seeing the nature and virtues of the creatures were so opened to me by the Lord.

But I was immediately taken up in spirit, to see into another or more steadfast state than Adam's in innocency, even into a state in Christ Jesus, that should never fall. And the Lord showed me that such as were faithful to him in the power and light of Christ, should come up into that state in which Adam was before he fell, in which the admirable works of the creation, and the virtues thereof, may be known, through the openings of that divine Word of wisdom and power by which they were made.

Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened in me, beyond what by words can be declared; but as people come into subjection to the spirit of God, and grow up in the image and power of the Almighty, they may receive the Word of wisdom, that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being. (Nickalls 27-8; Works I, 84-5, paragraph breaks added)

And then a 1656 letter to the parishes of Land's End, in Fox's somewhat repetitious style, better meant for speaking than writing:

The mighty day of the Lord is come, and coming, wherein all hearts shall be made manifest, and the secrets of every one's heart shall be revealed by the light of Jesus, who lighteth every man that cometh into the world, that all men through him might believe, and that the world might have life through him, who saith "Learn of me;" and of whom God saith, "This is my beloved son, hear ye him."

Christ is come to teach his people himself; and every one that will not hear this prophet which God hath raised up, and which Moses spake of, when he said, "Like unto me will God raise you up a prophet, his you shall hear:" every one, I say, that will not hear this prophet, is to be cut off. They that despised Moses's law, died under the hand of two or three witnesses; but how much greater punishment wil come upon them that neglect this great salvation, Christ Jesus, who saith, "Learn of me, I am the way, the truth, and the life;" who lighteth every man that cometh into the world; which light lets him see his evil ways and evil deeds.

But if you hate that light, and go on in evil, this light will be your condemner. Therefore, now ye have time, prize it: for this is the day of your visitation, and salvation offered to you.

Every one of you hath a light from Christ; which lets you see you should not lie, nor do wrong to any, nor swear, nor curse, nor take God's name in vain, nor steal. It is the light that shows you these evil deeds: which if you love, and come unto it, and follow it, will lead you to Christ, who is the way to the Father, from whom it comes; where no unrighteousness enters, nor ungodliness.

If you hate this light, it will be your condemnation; but if you love it, and come to it, you will come to Christ; and it will bring you off from all the world's teachers and ways, to learn of Christ, and will preserve you from all the evils of the world, and all the deceivers in it. (Nickalls 236-7 [edited]; Works I, 249, paragraph breaks added)

(In the Nickalls edition, Edward Pyott and William Salt are listed as signers of the letter along with Fox.)

April 9, 2007

Negativity around the Apocalypse

Yes, that's a strange title. However, there a couple of questions I'd like to clear away before getting deeper into the core of Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word. One involves a set of historical views Gwyn is trying to move past, while the other is a criticism of Gwyn's book from a fellow historian of Quakerism.

First, Gwyn's concerns. While it is clear throughout that he values the work others have done in researching and interpreting Quakerism, there are two primary streams of Quaker history he would like to escape: the mystical interpretation of Rufus Jones, and the Protestant interpretation of Geoffrey Nuttall, Hugh Barbour, and others. In my other Quaker history readings, it seems that Jones is out of favor anyway, while the Protestant interpretation is more or less dominant, but Gwyn seeks a different path:

Jones' sense of the universal is tied to an understanding of human reason as a divine, saving faculty. But we shall see repeatedly in this study that Fox understands the light as inward but fundamentally alien to human nature. Far from being optimistic about human capacity, Fox sees our nature as utterly dark; human reason may be creative, but it is ultimately unable to save. When we understand this, we see that the early Quaker conflict with Puritanism was hardly the chance collision of two different thought-worlds Jones imagined, but a struggle within the same world....

The philosophical liberalism of Rufus Jones' mystical interpretation of Quakerism therefore contains the same problem that the liberal theological interpretation of the New Testament created. It ignores the structural integrity of the message itself, finding a "buried treasure" at the core which, in fact, has been projected there by the investigator. There is too much in Fox's writings that Jones had to ignore in order to reach his conclusions. Fox's approach may perhaps be accurately called mystical, but not by the definition Jones gave to that word.... (xv-xvi)

The contributions of Nuttall and Barbour have provided a much-needed corrective to the liberal assumptions of Rufus Jones' mystical reading of Fox. Far from being incidental to Quakerism, the language early Friends used can be seen as partaking in an evolving theological debate, as research into the Puritanism of the day has shown....

Nevertheless, historical analysis can easily fall prey to the problem of reductionism; themes shared by different movements may be emphasized at the expense of their originality.... as we have already suggested with regard to Nuttall's work, the Protestant interpretation views early Quakerism too much through a Reformation theological framework; the Christian experience unfolds within the context of Christ's return, instead of scripture's record...

The Protestant interpretation of early Quakerism has dominated Church historical scholarship in recent decades. Yet while it corrected Jones' view of Quakerism operating in an alien thought world, it has overdrawn its image of the Quaker-Puritan debate as a filial squabble within Protestantism. (xviii-xix)

Gwyn doesn't say it explicitly, but it seems that both of these readings reflect efforts to make 1650s Quakerism more palatable to particular kinds of audiences at the times these writers were working. The mystical approach was aimed both at Quakers and at a particular group of religious scholars at the time Jones was writing, and the Protestant approach made Quakerism seem more reasonable to scholars of the Reformation and the English Reformation in particular. I don't think that's a particularly surprising problem, as it affects all retellings of the past, but it tends to leave tales of the past eroded by the needs of the present.

In my next installment, I'll look at the alternative vision Gwyn presents in his efforts to go beyond these two approaches.

Finally, one last caution before I go further. H. Larry Ingle complains in George Fox's Legacy of the dangers of looking at early Quaker work without careful attention to when things were written:

Moreover, as in the other traditions, there are different emphases at different times, meaning that over time there is a lack of consistency. I might add that this evolution in the Quaker message demands that those seeking to understand it can hardly avoid a historical approach, lest they distort their findings. (68)

[footnote] The most recent example of this tendency was Douglas Gwyn in his revised doctoral dissertation, Apocalypse of the Word: The Life and Message of George Fox (Richmond, Ind: Friends United Press, 1986.) See my earlier criticism of Gwyn's method in "On the Folly of Seeking the Quaker Holy Grail," Quaker Religious Thought 25 (May 1991), 17-29. Let it be noted that in his later works Gwyn has successfully moved away from what was an ahistorical approach. (78)

Curious, I ordered the QRT back issue - $4 seems like a wise investment before I proceed into explaining a book that supposedly has major flaws - and I don't think Ingle's case is particularly damaging. If Apocalypse of the Word had been written as a historical work, then yes, it might be devastating - but it's much more a theological work written about someone who thought long ago. Yes, Gwyn mixes 1650s Fox with 1680s Fox, and there's a case that can be made that they're different perspectives - but not so different that they aren't worth considering together.

Ingle's other complaint about Gwyn's approach seems to be that Gwyn dove deeply into Fox's Works, which are an edited subset of his actual writings, and didn't spend much time with other primary or secondary sources. Again, in a strictly historical setting, this would be a huge problem; in a theological setting, completeness is rarely a virtue.

Ingle also complains that Fox was not a theologian, and attempts to make him into one run counter to his message:

But at least we can avoid turning a person into a theologian whose thinking and writing was erratic and inconsistent, so "off the top of his head", that his greatest legacy may well have been his considered refusal to follow the gleam of a nonexistent holy grail.

While I didn't find Ingle's objections convincing, I'll certainly consider Ingle's kinds of concerns as I encounter them. While I share Ingle's sense that Quakerism itself changed over time, Fox's own views and their motivations seem to me to have changed less than those of the people around him, and while he was certainly not perfectly consistent, his inconsistencies do seem to gravitate in particular directions.

When I finish with Apocalypse of the Word, I'll also look at Heaven on Earth: Quakers and the Second Coming, where Gwyn restates (and simplifies) much of his core thesis but does so in a way that's more precise about timeline.

April 5, 2007

Looking to the Alpha and the Omega

I first read Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word a couple of years ago, and it dramatically deepened my interest in early Quakerism. I've been very cautious in writing about it, however. It's not an easy book to excerpt without losing critical context and meaning, and even the title can be read in multiple meanings, which resolve over the course of the book. (Is Apocalypse the end of the world, or revelation? Is the Word "In the beginning was the Word", or scripture, or something else?)

Gwyn's book was a surprise to me, because up until I found it I was much more accustomed to thinking of Quakerism as Primitive Christianity Revived, to use William Penn's classic title. Quakers (at least in my experience) often described themselves as going back to the beginnings of Christianity, when the message was clear but hadn't been codified into hierarchies and scriptures. George Fox was difficult to understand in this context, as he doesn't seem like, well, a church historian. Fox's classic message that "Christ is come to teach his people himself" sounds somewhat like a return to those early days when Christ taught in person, but also raises all the questions inherent in discussions of the second coming.

Gwyn focuses squarely on the eschatological aspects of Fox's writings, finding motivation there for Quaker beliefs and practices. At the same time, however, he differentiates them from other approaches to the same issues - approaches I think may have made Quakers less eager to acknowledge the importance of these angles on early Quakerism:

The key issue... which will dominate my investigation will be that of eschatology - the belief in end-times, the return of Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God. End-time language and expectation shaped and gave a particular energy to the socio-political struggles of both Puritans and Quakers.

In the case of Puritanism, this line of thought tended to be mainly a speculative, political ideology, based on apocalyptic books of the BIble, such as Daniel and Revelation. Texts were employed in order to identify certain political figures with the antichrist, to calculate the end of the world, or to make messianic claims for political agendas. Such speculation mobilized great political and military energies.

On the other hand, Quaker preaching, while sharing some of these characteristics, will be seen to lay primary emphasis on apocalypse in its literal sense of revelation. Geo-political speculation gave way to a knowledge of Christ's return in personal experience. This approach created much less political ideology... yet it generated a movement with dynamic social and economic reordering and a powerful political witness that far outdistanced the Puritan efforts. What we find in Fox's preaching are the same hopes shared by his Puritan contemporaries, yet a new basis for these hopes in a radically personal spirituality. It is an experience of apocalypse like that described in John 3:19 - "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world...." (3)

It seems that Fox captured the spiritual side of earlier eschatology without getting trapped in the challenges of setting dates for the end of the world. Fox's eschatology isn't speculation about the future - it's present eschatology, and Christ is here, with us, now.

I'll have a lot more to say about this book, though I don't plan to go through it page by page. I'm certainly not going to explain it any better than Gwyn already does. Still, I hope to bring forward some pieces that raise questions worth exploring, and see where they lead. This book already had a profound influence on my experience and views of Quakerism, and has been a quiet undercurrent in the writing of this weblog.

Next, I'll be looking at some criticisms of this book and its eschatological perspective. Was this Fox's view consistently? Which other early Quakers shared it? How necessary is it to an understanding of Quakerism then and today? (I don't promise answers on that last one.)

March 10, 2007

"minds.... turned toward God"

I wrote about humility a while ago, and the theme continues to reverberate. Early Quakers often talked about humility using a variety of descriptions, many of which are contained in this letter from George Fox:

Dear friends in the eternal truth of God, whose minds by the light of Jesus Christ are turned towards God, meet often together in the fear of the Lord, and to the light take heed, that with it all your minds may be kept up to God, from whence it comes.

And in all your meetings wait low in his fear, that ye may come to know the life and power of truth one in another. And all ye whom the Lord hath made overseers over his church in your several places, be faithful to the Lord, and watch over the flock of Christ with all diligence; ye which are strong watch over the weak, and stir up that which is pure on in another; see that all your meetings be kept in order.

Be faithful unto the Lord where he hath set you, and ye shall not lose your reward. Servants, be faithful unto your masters, not with eye service, serving them as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, as unto the Lord; that ye may come to undo the heavy burdens; being faithful in your places, where the Lord hath set you, there is your right service.

And take heed of forward minds, and of running out before your guide, for that leads out into looseness; and such plead for liberty, and run out in their wills, and bring dishonour to the Lord; and the unbridled will gets at liberty, and an exalted spirit gets up, and pride, and haughtiness, and high words. And such are they who add to the burden, and do not take it off.

Therefore all wait low in the fear of the Lord, and be not hasty nor rash, but see the way be made clear; and as the Lord doth move you, so do, and return with speed, (when ye have done,) to the place where ye were abiding, and be faithful there; that the truth of God be not evil spoken of through you, as they speak of vagabonds and wanderers, that it may not be so among you. For such are vagabonds and wanderers, who run before their guide.

And masters rules over your servants in love, with all diligence and meekness, knowing that ye have one master in heaven.

And friends, in all places, where any go abroad, as they pass by examine them, whither they are going, and what about? And if they cannot give a good account, exhort them to return back and abide faithful in their places until they see their way made clear.

So farewell in the Lord. The eternal God of power and wisdom direct and guide you to his eternal praise, that his name may be honored and glorified in you and through you all! Be diligent every one in your places, where the Lord hath set you, for the work of the Lord is great; and God Almighty keep you to be faithful laborers in his work.

From one who is a lover of your souls, and whose care is over the church of God, that it may be kept in order, and that all, that are guided by his spirit, may be led into all good order. G. F. London, the 15th of the 3d month, 1655. (Works VII, page 94-5, Epistle LXXXIII, paragraph breaks added for readability.)

There's a lot going on in this early epistle of Fox's, one which warns of the dangers of pride and the disorder it brings. The opening discussion of fearing God may seem a little unusual to modern Quakers more familiar with the light as comforter and leader, but Fox's emphasis on the right relationship between worshipper and worshipped still leaves plenty of room for a life rightly led - "as the Lord doth move you."

It's also interesting to think about the "servants" and "masters" lines, as the divisions between those groups is less clear today than it was then. As consumers, we are encouraged to think "the customer is always right", placing us in the master role in many interactions, while we also act as servants much of the time. Be diligent in your work, faithful, with "singleness of heart", and masters must "rule... in love, with all diligence and meekness.

All of this is possible when we "to the light take heed."

February 20, 2007


There's a classic saying, "Proud to be a humble Quaker", a joke with some truth to it. Lately, it seems like far too many conversations lead me to contemplate humility, both as a religious tenet and as an often-forgotten virtue.

Early Quakers spoke frequently of humility, and strove to cast out pride. These excerpts from a 1679 letter by George Fox (in the second volume of the Journal in the Works, pages 229-233) show the source of humility:

And therefore, my desire is, that you may all keep in the law of life and love, which ye have in Christ Jesus, by which love the body is edified, knit, and united together to Christ Jesus, the head. Which love doth bear all things, fulfils the law, will preserve all in humility, and in it to be of one mind, heart, and soul. So all may come to drink into that one spirit, that doth baptize them and circumcise them, plunging down and cutting off the body of the sins of the flesh, that is got up in man and woman by their transgressing of God's commands. So that in this holy pure spirit all may serve and worship the pure God in spirit and in truth, which is over all the worships that are out of God's spirit and his truth....

For the power of God keeps all in order, subjection, and humility, in that which is lovely, virtuous, decent, comely, temperate, and moderate; so that their moderation comes to appear to all men....

This holy seed will outlast and wear out all that which the evil seed since the fall of man hath brought forth and set up. As every one hath received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him in the humility which he teaches: and shun the occasions of strife, vain janglings, and disputings with men of corrupt minds, who are destitute of the truth; for the truth is peaceable, the gospel is a peaceable habitation in the power of God; his wisdom is peaceable and gentle, and his kingdom stands in peace. Oh! his glory shines over all his works! in Christ Jesus ye will have peace, who is not of the world; yea a peace that the world cannot take away; for the peace which ye have from him was before the world was, and will be when it is gone. This keeps all in that which is weighty and substantial over all chaff. Glory to the Lord God over all, for ever and ever! Amen.

The humility Fox describes here is humility before God, but it shows itself in a changed relation to the world, one leading to peace and glory.

In 21st century America, humility seems to me a neglected virtue. Humility before God is still a virtue for some during services, but humility as used in political speeches often seems to be a weapon. Proclaiming one's humility may also be defensive, as quotes like this one (from Anglican Archbishop Akinola), I fear, may demonstrate:

"Self-seeking, self-glory, that is not me," he said. "No. Many people say I embarrass them with my humility."

Anyone who criticizes him as power-seeking is simply trying to undermine his message, he said. "The more they demonize, the stronger the works of God," he said.

Perhaps it is reasonable to question those who proclaim their own humility, but at the same time I worry about those who question humility more broadly. Some strains of modern atheism seem intent on proclaiming human understanding a complete key to the workings of the universe, happily dethroning God in favor of their own wisdom. From that perspective, this quote from Proverbs is dangerous advice:

Trust in the Lord with all thy heart;
and lean not on thy own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.

Be not wise in thy own eyes;
fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel,
and marrow to thy bones. (3:5-8)

Humility seems to remain a Quaker virtue even in this period when the larger society questions its value. Early Quakers managed to combine valuing an intensely personal religious experience without (often) lurching to the "if it makes you feel good, it's right" individualism at the heart of consumerism.

I'll be writing more about this, but thought it was time to put some of my tangled thoughts into a place where I can refer to them and hopefully collect guidance on the subject from others.

February 10, 2007


To complete (for now) the look at "answering that of God in every one" (1 2), I'd like to mention that Ithaca Monthy Meeting's February newsletter included a quote from a local Friend that offers some additional richness to 'answer' as well:

George Fox wrote, “Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” Part of beginning to recognize that of God in others may be the word “answering”. The 17th century meaning of answering is quite different from our modern understanding of the word. Some of the meanings include: to be responsible for, to fulfill the expectations of, to echo, to correspond or give back in kind. (I’m indebted to Paul Buckley, Earlham School of Religion adjunct faculty member, for introducing me to this idea.) I love the idea that George Fox was calling us to echo that of God in others. If God whispered us into being, then to echo back to another the image of God that they were created in, is to let that whisper grow louder, carry farther, and sing out longer. When I truly learn to answer that of God in every one, I will begin to help the song of God carry throughout the world. - Priscilla Berggren-Thomas, Friends Journal 7/03

Most of the focus in discussing this seem to fall on "that of God in every one", but the choice of verb - "answering" - is also worth consideration. There are so many different levels of answering even before we get into possible 17th century meanings.

How do they fit together?

February 6, 2007

that of God... confounding the deceit

Last week I quoted the full text of a frequently cited letter of George Fox, often quoted as:

be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.

There are actually two other uses of "answer[ing] that of God" in the same letter, both in contexts which raise some challenges that aren't prompted by the use above:

In the power of life and wisdom, and dread of the Lord God of life, and heaven and earth, dwell; that in the wisdom of God over all ye may be preserved, and be a terror to all the adversaries of God, and a dread, answering that of God in them all, spreading the truth abroad, awakening the witness, confounding the deceit, gathering up out of transgression into the life, the covenant of light and peace with God....

Now will I arise, saith the Lord God Almighty, to trample and thunder down deceit, which hath long reigned and stained the earth. Now will I have my glory out of every one. The Lord God Almighty over all in his strength and power keep you to his glory, that you may come to answer that of God in every one in the world. Proclaim the mighty day of the Lord of fire and sword, who will be worshipped in spirit and in truth; and keep in the life and power of the Lord God, that the inhabitants of the earth may tremble before you: that God's power and majesty may be admired among hypocrites and heathen, and ye in the wisdom, dread, life, terror, and dominion preserved to his glory; that nothing may rule or reign but power and life itself, and in the wisdom of God ye may be preserved in it.

While the first quote shown above reflects the positive message I think most Quakers would prefer to discuss today, these last two (which actually surround the top quote in the letter) present a darker - but still compelling - picture.

"Be a terror to all the adversaries of God, and a dread, answering that of God in them all, spreading the truth abroad." I don't think Fox is calling for Quaker terrorism, but rather points to something powerful that Quakerism suggests about the "adversaries of God": the truth is within them as well. "Love your enemies" indeed. Quakers were known for praying for their persecutors and jailers, and this call shows their further motivation.

The last of these quotes emphasizes that God's glory is in everyone, with a millenarian-sounding call of His return. Here we see "answer that of God in every one in the world," followed immediately by "Proclaim the mighty day of the Lord of fire and sword" - this answering isn't remotely a simple recognition of the potential for good in people. Rather, it calls them to a witness which will force them to challenge themselves and their world, joining a powerful force that may carry them places for God's glory, not their glory.

February 1, 2007

...walk cheerfully over the world...

I've always liked the quote from George Fox that:

Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one

It's also one where I've wondered what the full context was, as this epistle seems always to appear in edited form. The New Foundation Fellowship has it here, in a version that differs from the version on page 263 of the Nickalls edition of George Fox's Journal.

The most complete version - though perhaps it's still been edited - seems to be in the Ellwood version of the Journal, pages 287-289 of Volume I of The Works of George Fox. Here's the full text of the epistle, written in 1656 from Launceston Gaol, with the part I've seen quoted most frequently highlighted, and some paragraph breaks added to make it more readable:


In the power of life and wisdom, and dread of the Lord God of life, and heaven and earth, dwell; that in the wisdom of God over all ye may be preserved, and be a terror to all the adversaries of God, and a dread, answering that of God in them all, spreading the truth abroad, awakening the witness, confounding the deceit, gathering up out of transgression into the life, the covenant of light and peace with God. Let all nations hear the sound by word or writing. Spare no place, spare no tongue, nor pen; but be obedient to the Lord God: go through the work; be valiant for the truth upon earth; tread and trample upon all that is contrary. Ye have the power, do not abuse it; and strength and presence of the Lord; eye it, and the wisdom; that with it you may all be ordered to the glory of the Lord God.

Keep in the dominion; keep in the power over all deceit; tread over them in that which lets you see to the world's end, and the utmost parts of the earth. Reign and rule with Christ, whose sceptre and throne are now set up, whose dominion is over all to the ends of the earth; whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, his throne an everlasting throne, his kingdom an everlasting kingdom, his power above all powers.

Therefore this is the word of the Lord to you all, "Keep in the wisdom of God," that spreads over all the earth; the wisdom of the creation, that is pure from above, not destructive. For now shall salvation go out of Zion, to judge the mount of Esau; now shall the law go forth from Jerusalem, to answer the principle of God in all; to hew down all inventors and inventions. For all the princes of the earth are but as air to the power of the Lord God, which you are in, and have tasted of; therefore live in it, that is the word of the Lord God to you all; do not abuse it; keep down and low; and take heed of false joys, that will change.

Bring all into the worship of God. Plough up the fallow ground. Thresh and get out the corn; that the seed, the wheat, may be gathered into the barn: that to the beginning all people may come; to Christ, who was before the world was made. For the chaff is come upon the wheat by transgression. He that treads it out is out of transgression, fathoms transgression, puts a difference between the precious and the vile, can pick out the wheat from the tares, and gather into the garner; so brings to the lively hope the immortal soul, into God out of which it came. None worship God but who come to the principle of God, which they have transgressed. None are ploughed up but he who comes to the principle of God in him, that he hath transgressed. Then he doth service to God; then is the planting, watering, and increase from God.

So the ministers of the spirit must minister to the spirit that is in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one; that with the spirit of Christ people may be led out of captivity up to God, the Father of spirits, to serve him, and have unity with him, with the scriptures, and one with another. This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.

Spare no deceit. Lay the sword upon it; go over it. Keep yourselves clear of the blood of all men, either by word or writing, and keep yourselves clean, that you may stand in your throne, and every one have his lot and stand in the lot in the ancient of days. The blessing of the Lord be with you, and keep you over all the idolatrous worships and worshippers.

Let them know the living God; for teachings, churches, worships must be thrown down with the power of the Lord God, set up by man's earthly understanding, knowledge, and will. All this must be thrown down with that which gave forth the scripture; and who are in that, reign over it all. That is the word of the Lord God to you all. In that is God worshipped, that brings to declare his will, and brings to the church in God, the ground and pillar of truth: for now is the mighty day of the Lord appeared, and the arrows of the Almighty gone forth; which shall stick in the hearts of the wicked.

Now will I arise, saith the Lord God Almighty, to trample and thunder down deceit, which hath long reigned and stained the earth. Now will I have my glory out of every one. The Lord God Almighty over all in his strength and power keep you to his glory, that you may come to answer that of God in every one in the world. Proclaim the mighty day of the Lord of fire and sword, who will be worshipped in spirit and in truth; and keep in the life and power of the Lord God, that the inhabitants of the earth may tremble before you: that God's power and majesty may be admired among hypocrites and heathen, and ye in the wisdom, dread, life, terror, and dominion preserved to his glory; that nothing may rule or reign but power and life itself, and in the wisdom of God ye may be preserved in it. This is the word of the Lord God to you all. The call is now out of transgression, the spirit bids, come. The call is now from all false worships and gods, from all inventions and dead works, to serve the living God. The call is to repentance, to amendment of life, whereby righteousness may be brought forth, which shall go throughout the earth.

Therefore ye that be chosen and faithful, who are with the Lamb, go through your work faithfully in the strength and power of the Lord, and be obedient to the power; for that will save you out of the hands of unreasonable men, and preserve you over the world to himself. Hereby you may live in the kingdom that stands in power, which hath no end; where glory and life is.

G. F.

I can understand why the edited version is popular, but every now and then I'd like to see the original. Much of this is repetitive and filled with imagery less used today than then, but it has its own rhythm, its own calls to action.

January 16, 2007

Prize your time and the love of the Lord

Epistle XVII from George Fox's Works is a short but dense meditation on the work of the 'light in you' from 1652, early in Fox's ministry:

Dear Friends -
Prize your time, and the love of the Lord to your souls above all things; and mind that light in you, that shows you sin and evil. Which checks you, when you speak an evil word, and tells you, that ye should not be proud, nor wanton, nor fashion yourselves like unto the world; for the fashion of this world passeth away. And if ye hearken to that, it will keep you in humbleness of mind, and lowliness of heart, and turn your minds within, to wait upon the Lord, to be guided by it; and bring you to lay aside all sin and evil, and keep you faithful to the Lord; and bring you to wait on him for teaching, till an entrance thereof be made to your souls, and refreshment come to them from the presence of the Lord.

There is your teacher, the light, obeying it; there is your condemnation, disobeying it. If ye hearken to the light in you, it will not suffer you to conform to the evil ways, customs, fashions, delights, and vanities of the world; but lead you to purity, to holiness, to uprightness, even up to the Lord. Dear hearts, hearken to it, to be guided by it. For if ye love the light, ye love Christ; if ye hate that, ye hate Christ. Therefore in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ consider of it; and the Lord open your understandings to know him. G. F.

The light 'shows you sin and evil', defending you from the ways of the world and lighting a path 'to purity, to holiness, to uprightness, even up to the Lord'.

January 15, 2007

Fox's literacy

I've had my doubts about whether or not to publish this story, but I ran into a paragraph introducing George Fox's Epistles (part of his Works) that makes me think it's worth publishing.

It's hard to question Fox's literacy after exploring his classic Journal, his pamphlets and books, or his letters, and he had a deep grasp of the Bible. At the same time, his works read very differently from those of other early Quakers. There's a lot of repetition, as if he was speaking to a group of people, and much of the progress is through building on themes rather than filling a neat outline. It's a very rich style, especially when read aloud, but it's not exactly what I expect to find on the printed page.

Fox's works nearly all passed through a series of editors. He dictated correspondence and his Journal, and a number of editors, especially including Thomas Ellwood and Ellis Hookes, polished them. He did annotate correspondence in his later years, but as Braithwaite relates in The Second Period of Quakerism, we don't have much that comes direct from Fox:

Fox, to the last, with all his robustness of mind, remained in the narrower sense of the word illiterate. He usually dictated his correspondence and his books, and there is little of his own writing preserved. An interesting bit, undated, on the conduct of a school, may serve to illustrate his handling of the King's English:

If any mare [mar] ther bovkes, &blot ther bovkes throw carlesnes, lat them sit with ovt the tobel [table] as disorderly children, & if any on torenes [turns] from these things & mendeth & doeeth soe noe more, & then if any doe aqves [accuse] them of ther former action after the[y] be amendd, the same penalaty shall be layd vp on them as vpon them that is mended from his former doinges; & if any be knon to s[t]eale, leat him right with ovt the tabel & say his leson & she his copy with ovt the bare [bar]: & all mvst be meeke, sober, & ientell & qviet & loving & not give one another bad word noe time, in the skovell nor ovt of it, leats [lest] that the[y] be mad to say thr lesen or shew ther copy bovk to the master at the bare: & all is to mind their lesones & be digelent in their rightings; & to lay vp their bovkes when the[y] goe from the skovell, & ther pens & inkornens, & to keep them sow, eles the[y] mvst be lovk'd vpon as carles [careless] & slovenes: & soe yov mvst keep all things clean, svet, & neat & hanson.

Men were impressed by the outward man, but the influence of this unlettered prophet lay supremely in what may best be called his "over-worldliness." (441)

The spelling is strange, though easier if you substitute 'u' for 'v', and spelling hadn't yet standardized to the extent we expect today. He doesn't like to end a sentence, though in speech it's often unclear where one sentence ends and another cleanly begins. I'm not sure that Braithwaite makes a strong case for Fox's illiteracy, but he certainly makes it clear than he wasn't a scholar.

The introduction to Fox's Epistles, written by George Whitehead, who knew Fox well, makes it clear that Fox's talents were not limited by his lack of polish:

The simplicity and plainness of the author's style is not to be despised, he being more in life and substance than in the wisdom of words, or eloquence of speech. And the Lord being pleased in his day to make great use of him, and to do great things by him, for his name and seed's sake; of which there yet remain clouds of witnesses, even to that divine powers and hidden wisdom of God, (in the mystery of Christ), which was with him, and supported him, and lifted up his head through many great fights of afflictions and trials. (Works, 7, v.)

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for those of us writing on Quakerism to reflect regularly on the limited value of scholarship in the remarkable happenings of early Quakerism. Learning certainly had its place, as shows in Samuel Fisher, in William Penn, in Robert Barclay, and in many others - but much of what gave early Quakerism its power was Fox's realization that an Oxford or Cambridge degree was not a calling by the Lord to preach. Worlds opened for Fox, for Quakers, and for others following similar paths.

January 11, 2007

Notes on George Fox

I mentioned in my last piece that I'd used Notes on George Fox to look up mentions by Fox of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Since Fox's Works are unindexed, and don't even have Tables of Contents in many cases, having an external index is incredibly helpful.

Lewis Benson's works, including the Notes, are available from the New Foundation Fellowship. Benson describes their creation in the Introduction:

These notes were accumulated over a period of forty years. They represent an attempt to devise a means for quickly assembling what Fox wrote on a particular subject, as it appears in his Journal, his Collected Works, and some of his unpublished writings. The notes were put together for my own use on the basis of a very broad and loose scheme. Categories were added as subjects or words recurred frequently and seemed important to Fox...

The notes can be of real use to students who want to inform themselves about Fox's preaching and teaching. Perhaps it is inevitable that there will now be users of these notes who are more interested in finding support for a thesis than in listening to Fox. These notes were not intended for that kind of user...

I want to stress that I did not set out to produce a subject index to Fox's writings. This, I hope, will be done by others. With the exception of the notes on the unpublished writings of Fox, which were done on a Woodbrooke Fellowship (1954-1955), these notes were put together in broken time while learning my trade as a printer and earning my living by it. It was always my intention to devote as little time as possible to compiling these notes and I have never thought of them as representing a great contribution to scholarship.

Benson's humility aside, these Notes are a tremendous help in finding what Fox had to say on a given subject. It's better than an index, because it includes excerpts, not just page numbers, though Benson rightly warns users of the index that they should always check the original context rather than pulling quotes from these volumes.

It's not always the easiest pile of paper to work with, and it's unfortunate that their small volume of purchasers means that the NFF prints off copies as they're ordered, leading to a high price tag. Hopefully mentioning it here might eventually lead to a few more people finding and using it.

August 28, 2006

George Fox's Legacy

Commenting on an earlier posting on New Light on George Fox, Martin Kelley suggested that I look into the more recent collection, George Fox's Legacy: Friends for 350 Years. The first was the result of a conference marking the 300th anniversary of Fox's death. The latter is the result of a conference marking 350 years since Quaker preaching took off.

While New Light on George Fox focused sharply on Fox himself and early Quakers, George Fox's Legacy explores the ways that Quakers have related to Fox. There are two excellent essays, one on Fox and Penn and another on Fox and Penington, that could probably have appeared in either volume, but overall the two collections are very complementary.

Running down the list of essays, here's a thumbnail sketch of my perspective on each:

George Fox and William Penn: Their Relationship and Their Roles within the Quaker Movement

Melvin Endy challenges the notion that William Penn took Quakerism in a very different direction than Fox had intended, exploring the relationship between Fox and Penn and concluding that differences are smaller than they are often described.

Liberal Friends (Re)Discover Fox

Chuck Fager looks at how far FGC Friends had drifted from Fox by the early 1900s and explores rising interest in Fox from the 1950s onward. There's some amazing stuff in here about what Quaker psychics reported Fox (and Jesse Holmes) as saying, as well as a general story that raises all kinds of questions about what it means to be a liberal Quaker.

"New Light on Old Ways": Gurneyites, Wilburites, and the Early Friends

Thomas Hamm, whose Transformation of American Quakerism I'll be visiting soon, examines the uses Orthodox Quakers made of early Friends' writings, especially the dwindling interest the Gurneyite wing had for them and the increasing interest of the Wilburites.

The Search for Seventeenth-Century Authority During the Hicksite Reformation

H. Larry Ingle examines the interest Hicksites took in the early Quakers, and how their perspective biases toward the early Fox and his companions, rather than the later more conservative Fox.

Early Friends and the Renewal of British Quakerism, 1890-1920

Thomas Kennedy examines a subject I know little about, British Quakerism's shift from the evangelical toward a more liberal approach, and how the early writings of Friends factored into that.

Isaac Penington and the Authority of George Fox

Rosemary Moore writes a provocative piece following Isaac Penington's shift from support for a more open, individualist approach to the more centralized, communitarian approach that Fox created after the Restoration. Penington's own journey illustrates many of the splits that Ingle describes as inspiration for the Hicksite split. Moore's final question - "Pope George Fox?" - is a difficult one.

"Come in at the Door!" - How Foxian Metaphors of Salvation Speak to Evangelical Friends

Arthur Roberts does something different here. In some ways he demonstrates what others are describing here, by reading Fox and excerpting Fox with an eye to reinforcing his own evangelical perspective. It's an excellent telling, but in the end it doesn't convince me that Fox would have agreed with Roberts or show me the path from Fox's perspective to Roberts'.

Holiness: The Quaker Way of Perfection

Carole D. Spencer here writes an essay that I'll keep coming back to. I like the whole book, but Spencer does an amazing job of connecting early Quakerism with the later holiness movement (citing Hannah Whitall Smith as a key example). The article ranges from Smith to Fox to Catholic and Orthodox perspectives on holiness, integrating Quaker perspectives with a broader Christian framework.

Jerry Frost's introduction helps tie them together and point out where they differ. It's an amazing collection, well worth the $10 for anyone who'd like to explore the diverse perspectives Quakers have taken toward their origins.

August 14, 2006

What canst thou hear?

Quakers are fond of "What canst thou say?", a question George Fox asked that was key to converting Margaret Fell, a powerful early Quaker and much later Fox's wife. It reminds us that we too are active participants, fitting tightly with Quakerism's abolition of the laity which makes us all ministers.

Sometimes I see it expanded further to:

You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say?

That seems to suggest an opening for anything, even potentially a rejection of the prior revelations on which early Quakers built their world. Going a step further, however, to explore the surrounding story in Fell's telling of her convincement, reveals that this is not a wholesale rejection. Instead, it is an enormous step toward inclusion and construction:

And so [Fox] went on, and said how that Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and that by this Light they might be gathered to God, etc. And I stood up in my pew, and I wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before.

And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said The scriptures were the prophets' words, and Christ's and the apostles' words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed and had it from the Lord.

And said, "Then what had any to do with the scriptures but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a Child of Light, and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is inwardly from God, etc. ?"

This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart, and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly : and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, "We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have take the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves." (The Beginnings of Quakerism to 1660, 101, from Margaret Fell's account.)

"And what thou speakest is inwardly from God" clarifies what is to be spoken, what thou canst say. Speaking in this instance requires learning from the inward Light, listening before speaking. What "thou" says here isn't coming directly from "thou", but from "thou" with assistance from God.

Margaret Fell's reaction to Fox telling her this isn't relief that she can say whatever she likes, but rather the painful realization that she has been following the wrong path, and she weeps in her pew.

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!'

Continue reading "But it seems crazy..." »

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.

June 30, 2006

Apocalypse of the Word

Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word is a stunning re-telling of early Quakerism, focusing on "The Life and Message of George Fox." Gwyn builds on Lewis Benson's earlier work (which unfortunately I haven't yet read) to present a comprehensive overview of Fox's work, exploring Fox primarily through the Journal and the Works.

I don't think I can write a review of the book - beyond to say that it's compelling, and has me reading a lot deeper into Fox. I'll be writing about and around it here for a long time to come. Its very title - Apocalypse of the Word - can be read with a eschatological perspective (Fox did, after all, have a tremendous interest in the Book of Revelation), or as Apocalypse meaning revealing, and the Word as Christ.

June 25, 2006

Revelation old and new

I wrote earlier of the competition between Tradition, Scripture, and Spirit. The world George Fox inhabited had seen seen Scripture raised to new heights in England - mostly at the expense of the old Catholic (and Anglican) tradition, but also at the explicit expense of Spirit.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, made law by Parliament in 1648 as part of the Articles of Religion, led with a section on Scripture:

I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased....

Continue reading "Revelation old and new" »

June 22, 2006

First Among Friends

The cover of H. Larry Ingle's First Among Friends is a first sign that it isn't going to be the typical biography/hagiography of George Fox. The picture is a cartoonish "supposed portrait" of Fox, not an idealized vision of a man with long hair wearing leather.

Inside, the book promises "a biography firmly rooted in [Fox's] period," attempting "to rescue Fox from poorly grounded, usually uncritical, and theologically oriented works." Ingle seems determined to go back to the sources, including but not defined by Fox's own Journal.

So far, it's been an interesting ride. I'll post more here when I've finished it, but I'll be posting a few tidbits well before that.

June 13, 2006

To dwell in that which keeps peace

Another letter by George Fox, this one a very short one from 1657:

Dear friends,—Dwell in that which keeps your peace, and comprehends the deceit, and answers that of God in every one. And let Friends keep their meetings, and never hearken to tales, nor things without; but keep their peace, and know the life and power, union and fellowship, which stand in God, in and with which ye may stand over the world in the one power, life, and wisdom, and therein be kept to the glory of the Lord God. So, in that which is pure, the Lord God Almighty preserve you! - G. F. (Works, VII, 133, letter CXXXVI.)

June 5, 2006

A child's Quaker catechism

I mentioned earlier that the Speller by George Fox and Elias Hooke contained a catechism. Steve Angell had written an article on the catechism, and other Quaker catechisms, and hopefully having this available will make that more accessible. (Angell is right that this particular catechism spends little time on the Peace Testimony, though it certainly discusses the suffering of Christians and the warlike tendencies of false prophets and deceivers.)

I've put the full text of the catechism in the extended entry, so as not to overwhelm the front page of this and other sites, but I especially enjoyed this question and answer:

Sch. How many Faiths are there? and which is the true one?

Mast. There is one Faith, and the true Faith is that which works by love, and purifies the heart, and justifies thee, and saves thee, and gives thee Victory over that which separates thee from God, through which Faith thou hast access to God, in which Faith thou pleasest God, and hast unity with him, and them that please God. (47-48)

I can't say this is aimed at especially young children, though it does feel simplified from much of Fox's other writing.

Continue reading "A child's Quaker catechism" »

June 2, 2006

History, Quakerism, Christianity

Reading New Light on George Fox was a rather jarring experience, though since my background is in history, a not entirely surprising one. I didn't expect Fox or other early Quakers to be perfect saints, or Quakerism born at once, wholly formed. Still, there's always something unsettling about history done right, something that rarely fits with settled opinion.

Tonight I returned to my quest to finally finish Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (Since 1700), the last volume of Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, and found:

Like any good historian, the historian of the church and of Christian doctrine in any period had the responsibility to begin with the sources and to lead the reader back to the sources.

In the course of doing so, the historians of all the churches learned how questions that seemed to be purely historical could become doctrinally explosive and profoundly divisive. "The assembly in Moscow of ancient manuscripts from various places of Russia" in the seventeeth century might have seemed to an outside observer to be a harmless exercise in antiquarianism and what Orthodoxy called "ecclesiastical philology," but a nineteenth-century historian showed how it had become the occasion for the Russian schism or "Raskol"; the history of the liturgy was an indispensable part of the history of the church.

Even while one Roman Catholic historical theologian was seeking to reject as a slander the charge that the Catholic faith required "an assent to views and interpretations of Scripture which modern science and historical research have utterly discredited" and another was declaring the rejection of the sacrificial interpretation of the Mass by the Protestant Reformers to be a "stubborn denial" of the clear results of honest historical investigation, the debate over the doctrine of papal infallibility was about to involve yet another in researches whose conclusion it was that "to the adherents of the theory of infallibility the history of the ancient church for the first millenium must appear to be an insoluble riddle."

Such contradictions were taken by Protestants that honest historiography would necessarily clash with the authoritarian teachings of "the Roman church." For their part, Roman Catholics strove to rescue and rehabilitate history from its domination by "Germans and Protestants" and, because Protestants denied both the authority of tradition and the validity of doctrinal development, to insist that "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (236-7, additional paragraph breaks added.)

That's just the history of the church itself - the discussion hasn't yet reached the Bible. It's clear that history can be a problem for religion, and I think it's also clear that early Quakers were aware of this:

For example, much of Thomas Holme's exalted language toward Fox has been so severely edited (and literally ripped from the record) that it cannot now be recovered. This occurred when Fox personally tampered with letters now contained in the Swarthmore Manuscripts. He made deletions with broad ink strokes and made corrections indisputably in his own hand. He struck out extravagant phrases of adoration and substituted more moderate ones. In places where whole patches were torn from the record (probably at a later date by Margaret Fell), the jagged edges still revealing the broad ink crossings out. (New Light, 113)

When the founders were clearly aware of the functions of history, and take steps to manage it (the writing and editing of Fox's Journal among those steps), it can be especially dangerous to raise the cry of "back to the Founders". I'm enjoying reading Fox and exploring early Quakerism, but his valuable insights require much context.

I don't think history is incompatible with Quakerism or Christianity in the way, I'd say, for example, economics is, but it's definitely a complex relationship, one I hope to explore much further. I expect the Light will prove a necessary guide, not just a subject to research.

May 31, 2006

New Light on George Fox

Some discussion on the QuakerInfo forums led me to this book, which is now fifteen years old. It's a collection of essays presented at a 1991 University of Lancaster conference marking 300 years since the death of George Fox, and its various essays look at early Quakerism from a variety of perspectives rather different from the canonical view of Quakerism created by Fox's Journal and the writings of Friends like Robert Barclay and William Penn.

Perhaps the most startling theme of these essays is the early development of Quakerism, especially during the swirling chaos and explosive expectations of the later years of the Commonwealth. Millenarianism, the slow development of the Peace Testimony, and a sense of Christ's physical presence go well outside my usual expectations of Quaker doctrine. They do, however, help to explain a lot of seemingly strange situations in the 1650s, especially James Naylor's Christ-like entry into Bristol and his ensuing blasphemy trial. Splits like that of John Perrot, the Wilkinson-Story separation, and the Keithians make more sense when the early Quaker enthusiasm is looked at more for what it was than what it became.

The early radicalism and later (relative) conservatism also help explain how Quakers of varying kinds can go back to the writings of George Fox and find a variety of messages to support their current causes. One essay looks at how Robert Barclay (the 19th century descendant of the theologian) could argue that Quakers were predecessors of 19th century evangelicals, while another essay looks at how a cautiously anti-slavery tract by Fox was published in Philadelphia by Friends eager to slow abolitionist tendencies. Many early Quaker pieces were later edited heavily, notably Fox's correspondence and Journal, and it seems that later printings of early tracts were often more cautious than the original.

I suspect I'll be citing this book a lot in the future, but for now this summary, from David Boulton's essay, seems a good place to stop:

Quakerism was born in a critical overlap between a time when faith in regeneration by political means, strongest in the civil war period, was dying but not yet dead, and a time when faith in a 'kingdom not of this world' was making waves but had yet to reach high tide. Fox and his fellow Quaker pioneers of the early 1650s had to face the confusions and uncertainties of this transition (which they did not know was a transition), and their early utterances on public policy illustrate the tension between the old vision, not yet wholly discarded, and the new, not yet fully embraced. Paradoxically, not until after the restoration to power of Quakerism's bitterest enemies did the movement fully develop its unique and most radical approach to politics and public policy, when the perceived demands of the 'kingdom not of this world' led them into direct action and civil disobedience as means of furthering social justice in this world.

(Unfortunately, the book is now listed at $119 on Amazon, though it was $31.25 at Quaker Hill Bookstore in an earlier edition. It's definitely a book worth finding through a library, excellent though it is. For a much cheaper, shorter piece that still conveys much of the chaos of the 1650s and its impact on Quakerism, try the Pendle Hill pamphlet The Atonement of George Fox, which looks at Fox and James Nayler.)

(Correction: The $119 book referenced above has a similar title and publication date, but it's for a book that expands on one of the essays in the conference papers collection. Amazon lists New Light on George Fox: 1624 to 1691 (ISBN: 1850721424) as unavailable, so it doesn't come up in searches.)

May 29, 2006


After the Marks of a True Christian, the Speller continues with three lists of names:

One part of the section on Devils, describing "them that rage so against the Light within", includes a reference worth following for more about the Light:

Turners of the World upside down, a people that are cursed and unlearned, ignorant, Schismaticks, Hereticks, Phanaticks; and these are them that rage so against the Light within, which doth give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ Jesus, and are so mad against the heavenly Treasure in the earthen Vessels, 2 Cor. 4.

The "earthen Vessels" reference appears to be to 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, which in the King James Version reads:

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us.

I've posted the full excerpt from the speller in the extended entry.

Continue reading "Names" »

Marks of a True Christian

This is another piece from the speller I mentioned a few weeks ago, Instructions for Right Spelling and Plain Directions for Reading and Writing True English, by George Fox and Elias Hooke. I still haven't found this speller anywhere else, so I'll post pieces of it as I find time to type them in. (I'm focusing first on pieces about religion rather than on the actual spelling parts.)

The Marks of a True Christian.

To love one another, and to add to your Faith Vertue, to your Vertue Knowledge, which Knowledge is to know God, and Jesus Christ who he hath sent, which is Life Eternal; and to your knowledge at Temperance, and to your Temperance add Patience, for that runs the Race and obtains the Crown of Life; and unto Patience, Godliness, in that Brotherly kindness is known. (36)

May 28, 2006

Possession above Profession

Reading the Doctrinal Works section of Fox's Works often makes me marvel that Fox survived the periods of Puritan and Restoration persecution at all. Pieces that I find fascinating expositions of his belief in the Light are often prefaced by blasts at other sects, reinforced by the persecutions those sects have already led. The extended title of Possession above Profession includes both aspects:

Possession Above Profession;

Being a Discourse, in which it may be clearly seen that many that make a Profession of Christ in the Flesh, and deny him in his Light, which he enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world withal, (which Light is the Life in the Word,) and speak evil against it, are such as possess him not, but persecute his Light and Life as the Jews, that persecuted him in the days of his Flesh.

And how that many Turks and Heathens will own his Divine Light more than many of them that make a Profession of Christ in the Flesh.

And likewise, how that all such as profess Christ Jesus has bought them, are to be governed and ordered by him, their owner; for the worldling's reason will say, ‘that which he hath bought and paid for, is his own to order and govern,’ &c.

The opening of the piece is a challenge to other believers, warning them that they may in fact be more closed to Christ's light than those with less claim to be Christian, including the Jew, the Turk, the Indian, and the heathen. As the piece develops, Fox comes to a large paragraph (which I've broken up as best I can) which explores how people know the 'light of Christ':

And Christ Jesus is not known as he is God in his divinity, nor in his flesh, as was manifest, but by this 'divine heavenly light, which we own, and believe in as he commands, who are children of the light; which name or title Christ bestowed upon us before you professors nicknamed us with the name of Quakers, in the year 1650, which name one Bennet, at Darby, gave us when he cast us into prison:

and as it is said, 'young men, you are strong, you have overcome the wicked one; fathers,you have known him from the beginning;' that is, you have known him in his divinity, you have known him in the promise, and in the prophets, you have known him in his birth and 'conception by the Holy Ghost,' ye have known him in his 'life, preaching, and miracles,' and the 'contradiction and blasphemies of sinners against him;' so you have known him in his sufferings, and have fellowship with him;

you have known him in his death and passion, as he was crucified without the gates at Jerusalem, and buried, ('who saw the travail of his soul, and was satisfied;') you have known him in his death, burial, and suffering, who lay three days and nights in the sepulchre, (or heart of the earth. Matt. xii. 40.) you have known him again in his resurrection, who is ascended above all principalities, powers, thrones, and dominions, and remains in the heavens till all things be restored; and restoring, by his light, power, spirit, grace, and faith, who is before all, and above all, first and last, and has made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, where our bread is sure, and our water is sure, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed.

And we that do believe in the light of Christ, which is the life in him, cannot deny the flesh of Christ, our heavenly bread, who remains in the heavens. I say, that Jesus Christ that died without the gates of Jerusalem above sixteen hundred years since, who hath enlightened us with his heavenly divine light, which is the life in himself, through which light we are grafted into Christ, the heavenly spiritual man, who hath saved, redeemed, and purchased and bought us with his precious blood, the blood of the heavenly man, the second Adam, who does cleanse and sanctify us with his blood, the blood of the new covenant, Christ Jesus: so I say, he that bought us, and purchased us, and hath given a price for us, to wit, his heavenly and precious blood,

we believing in the light, as he has commanded, which is the life in him, and he hath sealed us, Christ, the heavenly man hath set his heavenly seal upon us: so here is his heavenly mark upon us, his sheep, and we are his that has purchased us, and given a price for us, to wit, his heavenly blood; we are not our own, and are not to live to ourselves, nor to order ourselves, but to live unto him, and be ordered, ruled, and governed by him, of the increase of whose government there is no end; and so to be counselled by him, and led by him, and taught by him, as he is our heavenly prophet, and to be fed by him, our 'heavenly shepherd,' in his heavenly pasture and fold; and to be overseen by him, as he is our 'heavenly bishop,' that we his sheep do not go astray out of his heavenly pasture, that are come in by him, the 'heavenly door;' who is our 'heavenly priest,' that offered up himself for us, and ends all the outward typical offerings, that were offered up for sin, as well as the other;

and 'he offered himself up to God once for all, for our sins, a sweet-smelling sacrifice;' wherefore 'the offerings of bulls and goats thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me to do thy will, O God;' so God prepared him a body to do his will, and with his body he did fulfil his will, according to all his prophets and promises, whose flesh saw no corruption, which is the heavenly bread, and his blood, which purchases, which is not corruptible; for the blood of bulls and goats was corruptible, but this precious blood of Christ is incorruptible, that cleanseth from corruption: so, by his precious blood are we cleansed from all sin; he is a priest, made higher than the heavens, a 'heavenly priest,' and a 'heavenly spiritual man,' offered up himself first for us, and offers us, and cleanses, and washes, and sanctifies us with his blood, he who is without spot or wrinkle, to make us without spot or wrinkle, that he may present us pure and clean, without spot or wrinkle, up to the eternal, pure, holy, uncorruptible, infinite God, who is a consuming fire to the wicked, who dwells in glory, and inhabits eternity.

(202-3; paragraph breaks and emphasis added)

Much of this large paragraph would feel familiar to Puritans and other Christians, including doctrines of the crucifixion, Christ's saving power, and Christ as a leader, but there is a particularly Quaker moment in the section I highlighted:

we believing in the light, as he has commanded, which is the life in him, and he hath sealed us, Christ, the heavenly man hath set his heavenly seal upon us: so here is his heavenly mark upon us, his sheep, and we are his that has purchased us, and given a price for us, to wit, his heavenly blood; we are not our own, and are not to live to ourselves, nor to order ourselves, but to live unto him, and be ordered, ruled, and governed by him, of the increase of whose government there is no end; and so to be counselled by him, and led by him, and taught by him, as he is our heavenly prophet

The light here is described as "the life in him", the mark that we are his. The light is not of us, or of our desires, which Fox condemns frequently, but rather those believing in the light are "to live unto him, and be ordered, ruled, and governed by him". This direct connection places a tremendous burden on us, one Christ can help us carry through the light.

We may own the light, but the light owns us.

May 19, 2006

Private vices, public goods?

I've always wondered how it was that Christians take capitalist economics so calmly or even eagerly embrace it. It's not just conflict with the Sermon on the Mount, but more a general worldliness. Consumerism in particular seems to distribute avarice to everyone while claiming it serves a public good.

Tillich had some comment on this in A History of Christian Thought, which I noticed a while ago and had to hunt down again this morning:

If we have a society of economic exchange that is dependent on selling and buying, it happens that human desires must be aroused to make such selling and buying possible. Thus an antipuritan principle developed in the midst of the Enlightenment and bourgeois discipline. If everyone should work and no one should buy and use the products of industry, there would soon be no work to do and the whole system would collapse.

Therefore it is not only good but essential to arouse in people the desire for goods. This resulted in the introduction of the pleasure principle as a dynamic into bourgeois society in opposition to the original Calvinistic and early bourgeois principle of work with its ascetic character. To put it in a formula, one can say that private vices are public goods. (353)

This echoed in my head when I stumbled onto "The Serious People's Reasoning and Speech with the World's Teachers and Professors", one of the works collected in Volume I of the Doctrinal Books in Fox's Works. (It's available online from Earlham.) Fox seems in part to be addressing 17th century proponents of trickle-down economics, who would suggest that their vices in fact support people who would otherwise be poor:

The priests and professors, and the world's table talk, is "...the Quakers, like a company of fools and novices, cry against us, and say we are all daubed about and dressed with pride: how must the poor live if we must not wear their lace? and gold and silver, and ribands on our backs?"

"Ay, but," saith the serious people, "are not thou burthened with all this garb upon thy back, and this vanity?... and if you say how should the poor live if you do not wear that; give them all that money which you bestow upon all that gorgeous attire, and needless things, to nourish them, that they may live without making vanities, and needless things, and costly attire for you, and through that you will live, and they will live both..."

The priests and professors of the world say, "These fools, these Quakers, cannot endure to see us with two or three rings upon our fingers, nor jewels in our ears, nor bracelets about our necks... how should poor people live if we should not wear them?"

Say the serious people, "All your gold rings, your cuffs, your great band-strings, your lace, your jewels, your bracelets, your gorgeous apparel, and attire, turn it all into money, and give it to the poor to buy them bread, and I will warrant you, that they and you will have all enough, and there will be no want amongst you, for you are always wanting..."

The teachers and professors of the world say, "The Quakers are offended at us, because our women have a dressing come down to the middle of their backs, and a great pair of cuffs upon their hands, and how must the poor people live if they should not do so?"

"The makers of these things," say the serious people, "let them make plain things, and do you wear plain things, and that money which you lay out on these costly things, give you to them; for who are you like in the scriptures? you are not like the christians, for what service is there is your wearing a bunch of ribands at your women's back?..." (194-197)

The main target of this piece is vanity, but Fox repeatedly destroys the claim that such vanities help the poor, arguing that while there is a place for the making and exchange of plain goods, the notion that luxury goods support the poor is repugnant.

(This also fits well with Fox's 1659 call for the houses of power to be given over to the poor.)

Quakers have a long history of profitable interactions with capitalism, even as captains of industry, but it's hard to reconcile the notion that private vices are public goods with "answering that of God in every man". And should be.

May 16, 2006

Fox's speller?

While hunting for A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched, a book of George Fox's that doesn't seem to be available online or in the Works, I stumbled upon Instructions for Right Spelling and Plain Directions for Reading and Writing True English, apparently a speller with religious instruction. I hadn't seen it referenced before, and it also appears to be largely unavailable except in libraries. (You can see card catalog entries for this book at Cornell.)

The title page identifies it as "By G.F. and E.H. Enlarged by A.S.", and it's listed under Fox regularly. "E. H." is probably Ellis Hookes, with whom Fox wrote The Arraignment of Popery in 1669. Cornell dates the original speller at 1673, though the edition I have is 1691. (Update: I found a bit more on it, focusing on the catechism, and confirming Fox's participation.)

The piece that intrigues me most is "The Child's Lesson", pages 8 to 12 of the speller. It reads like it could be Fox, or might not be. It could be Ellis Hookes, or the mysterious "A.S." (If anyone has ideas, I'd love to hear them.) Most of it is in blackletter script, but once transcribed, it looks like:

The Child's Lesson

Christ is the Truth. Christ is the Light. Christ is My Way. Christ is my Life. Christ is my saviour. Christ is my hope of Glory.

Christ is my Redeemer. Christ is my Rock. Christ is the Door. Christ is my king, and Lord of Lords. Christ is the Corner-stone. Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away my sin.

Christ is the Power of God. Christ is my wisdom. Christ is my Righteousness. Christ is my Sanctification. Christ is my Justification. Christ is the Seed, Christ is the Resurrection.

Christ destroyeth the Devil and his Works, which leadeth Man and Woman from God; and so Christ is the Way to God again.

Sarah was a good Woman.

Jezebel was a bad Woman, who killed the Just, and turned against the Lord's Prophets, with her attired head and painted face, peeping out of the Window.

Christ I must feel within me, who is my Life and my Light, and the Truth; and that is God that sheweth me my Thoughts and Imaginations of my heart; and that is the Lord God that doth search my heart.

It is the Spirit of Truth that doth lead into all Truth.

It is the Spirit of Truth that reproves the World of Sin.

And that is the good Spirit which reproves the bad and his Works.

And the Light manifesteth and reproveth; and that which doth make manifest and reprove, is the Light.

And that which giveth the Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, is the Light which shineth in the heart.

And that which may be known of God is manifest within, which God hath shewn unto you; that is that which shews you Sin and Evil.

The Gospel is the Power of God.

The Cross of Christ is the Power of God, which crucifieth from the State of Adam and Eve in the Fall; in that Power is the Glorying, an Everlasting Glorying: And this is above the fleshly Glorying of Adam and Eve in the fall, with his Sons and Daughters.

The Church is in God the Father of Christ, and not a Steeple-house, and that is the Spirit that mortifies from my Sin.

And they that are led by the Spirit of God are the Suns [sic] of God; and that is the Spirit of God, which doth instruct me in God's ways, which are good, and that is the bad Spirit which leadeth into bad ways.

And if I be a Child of God, I must not grieve him, but must be meek, and sober, and gentle, and loving and quiet, righteous and humble, and live in the fear of God, and live godly, and not Lye, nor do any wrong to any one.

So if I be wild, froward, wicked, heady, high-minded, wilful, stubborn, proud, envious, disdainful, scornful, unrighteous, ungodly, and Lye, and do not the Truth, and forget God, such God turneth into hell, that Grieveth him.

In the beginning was the Word.

Since the beginning were the Words; and since the beginning was Babel; which is the beginning of Tongues, which is the Priests Original, but the Saints Original is the Word before Babel was, and that is the Originel [sic], makes Divine, and not the Tongues that began at Babel.

Continue reading "Fox's speller?" »

May 14, 2006

Fifty Nine

While re-reading Douglas Gwyn's excellent Apocalypse of the Word (more on that soon), I found a reference to a piece by George Fox I don't think I'd seen before: Fifty Nine Particulars laid down for the Regulating things, and the taking away of Oppressing Laws, and Oppressors, and to ease the Oppressed.

Written in 1659, as the Puritan government was crumbling and the Restoration was coming, Fox's list is a mixture of Quaker concerns past and present. Some of them (especially around tithing, oaths, theeing and thouing, and churches) are specific to the persecutions Quakers faced at the time. Others likely felt puritanical in their time, but would have seemed too loose to many 19th-century Quakers, like:

46. And let none keep Ale-houses or Taverns, but those who fear God, that are come into the Wisdom of God, that will not let the Creatures of God be destroyed by Drunkards.

Images in churches, the use of the cross on flags and seals, bells, music, gold lace, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, weapons, sports, plays, and ballads all come in for reproach.

One item that still feels contemporary is this:

29. Let all those Abbie-lands, Glebe-lands, that are given to the Priests, be given to the poor of the Nation, and let all the great houses, Abbies, Steeple-houses, and White-Hall be for Alms-houses (or some other use than what they are) for all the blind and lame to be there, and not to go begging up and down the streets....

33. Let all the poor people, blinde and lame, and creeples be provided for in the Nation, that there may not be a beggar in England nor England's Dominions, that you may say you come to be equal with the Jewes, that had the law that made provision for widows, strangers and fatherless. He that turns his ears from hearing the poor, turns his ears from the Law, which says to provide for them, for ye have read the practice of the Church, the Saints which were in the Gospel, which doth condemn this Nation's practice. Where is so many Beggars among them, both the Jews in the Law, and the Church in the Gospel? And so let all great gifts given to great men, be given to the poor. Let the receiver deny it, and the giver return it to the poor; for the rich may give to the rich, but the poor cannot give it him again, so minde Christ's Doctrine.

Fox calls for the centers of power, religious and secular, to be given over to the poor of the nation. Then he calls for the "great men," again the people with power, to reject the gifts given them, again for the benefit of the poor.

I read this earlier this week, but wasn't quite sure how to talk about it. I knew that I should post, though, when I read this at the end of a book review this morning:

history has put America in a position where its national security depends on its further moral growth. This is scary but also kind of inspiring.

I don't think it's 1659 again, but it does feel like it's a good time to reread Fox's exhortations and consider what they might mean today.

May 7, 2006

Dwell in stillness and silence

Another letter from George Fox, this time CCI, from page 198 of Volume VII of the Works:

Dear Friends,—

In the stillness and silence of the power of the Almighty dwell, which never varies, alters, nor changes, but preserveth over and out of, and above all the changeable worships, religions, ministers, churches, teachings, principalities, and powers, with the power of God, which keepeth over all this, to the kingdom of Christ, that is everlasting, in which there is no changing, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords. All power in heaven and earth is given unto him, of whose light, life, power, and wisdom, grace, and riches have ye received, which comes from him that doth not change.

So in that live, that doth not change, the unchangeable life, the unchangeable mind, the unchangeable spirit and wisdom, and the unchangeable worship and church, of which Christ is the unchangeable head, who remains the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; in that ye will feel the blessing and presence of the Lord God of life amongst you, as ye all abide in the unchangeable kingdom, dominion, power, and life, who are heirs of it according to your measures, who have received the light, and received the life and grace, and the power of a kingdom and world that hath no end.

So wait all in it, that ye may be the possessors and inheritors of the kingdon, and of the life and power which hath no end, and of the promises, that are yea and amen; and let nothing, that is of the world, alter you, but keep ye that which keepeth you in the everlasting kingdom of God.

G.F. The 3d of the 3d month, 1661.

Fox's style, here as elsewhere, is repetitive, even swirling. When I first started reading Fox, this was difficult, as I'm used to writing that gets more directly to the point, but I think Fox's purpose is more complex. It's an exhortatory letter, perhaps to be read aloud, and in that swirling is room for the contemplation Fox proposes.

(I've added additional paragraph breaks to the letter.)

April 30, 2006

Reading Scriptures in the Spirit

When biblical literalists question Quakers about how they read the Bible, a common response is to cite Robert Barclay's Apology's third proposition, where Barclay declares that:

Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.

While I find "only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself" to be a useful description, Barclay's presentation is very theological, and sometimes feels, well, remote. Fox's Journal offers a much more detailed explanation of the hazards of reading scripture without the Spirit:

I saw the state of those, both priests and people, who, in reading the scriptures, cry out much against Cain, Esau, Judas, and other wicked men of former times, mentioned in the holy scriptures; but do not see the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Judas, and those others, in themselves. These said, it was they, they, they, that were the bad people; putting it off from themselves; but when some of these came, with the light and spirit of Truth, to see into themselves, then they came to say I, I, I, it is I myself, that have been the Ishmael, the Esau, &c. For then they saw the nature of wild Ishmael in themselves; the nature of Cain, Easu, Corah, Balaam, and of the son of perdition in themselves, sitting about all that is called God in them.

So I saw, it was the fallen man that was got up into the scriptures, and was finding fault with those before mentioned; and with the backsliding Jews, calling them the sturdy oaks, tall cedars, fat bulls of Bashan, wild heifers, vipers, serpents, &c. and charging them, that it was they that closed their eyes, stopped their ears, hardened their hearts, and were dull of hearing; that it was they that hated the light, rebelled against it, quenched the spirit, vexed and grieved it, walked despitefully against the spirit of grace, and turned the grace of God into wantonness; that it was they that resisted the holy ghost, got the form of godliness, and turned against the power; and that they were the inwardly ravening wolves who had got the sheep's clothing; and that they were the wells without water, clouds without rain, trees without fruit, &c. But when these, who were so much taken up with finding fault in others, and thought themselves clear from these things, came to look into themselves, and with the light of Christ thoroughly to look into themselves, and with the light of Christ thoroughly to search themselves, they might see enough of this in themselves; then the cry could not be, it is he or they, but I and we are found in these conditions.

I saw also how people read the scriptures without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states. For when they read, that death reigned from Adam to Moses; that the law and the prophets were until John; and that the least in the kingdom is greater than John; they read these things without them, and applied them to others, (and the things were true of others,) but they did not turn in to find the truth of these things in themselves. As these things were opened in me, I saw death reigned over them from Adam to Moses; from the entrance into transgression, till they came to the ministration of condemnation, which restrains people from sin that brings death. When the ministration of Moses is passed through, the ministry of the prophets comes to be read and understood, which reaches through the figures, types, and shadows into John, the greatest prophet born of a woman; whose ministration prepares the way of the Lord, by bringing down the exalted mountains, and making straight paths. As this ministration is passed through, an entrace comes to be known into the everlasting kingdom.

I saw plainly, that none could read Moses aright without Moses's spirit, by which he saw how man was in the image of God in paradise, how he fell, how death came over him, and how all men have been under this death. I saw how Moses received the pure law, that went over all transgressors; and how the clean beasts, which were the figures and types, were offered up, when the people were come into the righteous law that went over the first transgression.

I saw that none could read John's words aright, and with a true understanding of them, but in and with the same divine spirit by which John spake them; and by his burning, shining light which is sent from God. For by that spirit their crooked natures might be made straight, their rough natures, smooth, and the exacter and violent doer in them might be cast out; and those that had been hypocrites might come to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, and their mountain of sin and earthliness might be laid low, and their valley exalted in them, that there might be a way prepared for the Lord in them: and then the least in the kingdom is greater than John. But all must first know the wilderness in their hearts, which through transgression were to become a wilderness. Thus I saw it was an easy matter to say, death reigned from Adam to Moses; and that the law and the prophets were until John; and that the least in the kingdom is greater than John; but none could know how death reigned from Adam to Moses &c. but by the same holy spirit which Moses, the prophets, and John were in.

They could not know the spiritual meaning of Moses, the prophets, and John's words, nor see their path and travels, much less to see through them, and to the end of them into the kingdom, unless they had the spirit and light of Jesus; nor could they know the words of Christ and his apostles without his spirit. But as man comes through by the spirit and power of God to Christ, (who fulfils the types, figures, shadows, promises, and prophecies that were of him,) and is led by the holy ghost into the truth and substance of the scriptures, sitting down in him who is the author and end of them, then they are read and understood with profit and delight.

(Nickalls, 30-32; Works, Volume I, 87-89.)

The words on the page are not, by themselves, enough to enlighten us, however much we may hope for that. We must instead allow ourselves to be led by the spirit - a spirit separate from our fallen nature, the same spirit which animated the writing of scripture - as we read the scriptures. Reading and study will take people into the words, but not into "the light of Christ thoroughly to look into themselves". With the spirit, however, the scriptures "are read and understood with profit and delight."

George Fox's Journal

There are several editions of George Fox's Journal available. I mentioned the one in the Works of George Fox, which is substantially similar to the one published by Penguin. A version of the Journal edited by Rufus Jones is available online.

I'm generally using John L. Nickalls' edition of the Journal of George Fox, which includes a lot of material that was left out of the earlier editions, and marks where material was added.

April 26, 2006

Letter from Worcester Prison

Fox wrote letters long and short, and reading them in series often finds me falling into patterns as his thoughts echo back and forth. Here's a short and general one, connecting many common threads of his thought, written from prison in 1673.

Dear friends,—All be faithful in the eternal power of God that is over all; I say, keep in this power of God, that you may answer that of God in all, and not that which is contrary; for the kingdom standeth in power, and in righteousness, and joy in the holy ghost: so that which doth not live in the power, and righteousness, and joy in the holy ghost, cometh not into the kingdom. So this kingdom, and power, and righteousness, and holy ghost, in which is the joy, is over all; and this kingdom standeth not in word, but in power. So know one another in the power, and in the spirit of God, (who is a spirit,) know and confess Christ in his death and sufferings, and in his resurrection. So no more but my love in him. G. F. Worcester Prison, the 21st of the 9th month, 1673.

(From Volume VIII of the Works, page 54, letter CCCIII.)

March 19, 2006

A Prayer of George Fox

On page 2 of Fox's Epistles (Volume VII of his Works), a prayer appears just before the first epistle:

Upon the Fourth-day of the First month, 1650, I felt the power of the Lord to spread over all the world in praise.

Praise, honour, and glory be to the Lord of heaven and earth! Lord of peace, Lord of joy! thy countenance maketh my heart glad. Lord of glory, Lord of mercy, Lord of strength, Lord of life, and of power over death, and Lord of lords, and King of kings! In the world there are lords many, but to us there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things: to whom be all glory, who is worthy! In the world are many lords, and many gods, and the earth maketh lords, coveting after riches, and oppressing the creatures; and so, the covetous mind getting to itself, lords it above others. This nature of lordly pride is head, until subdued by the power of God: for everyone in that state, doth strive to be above another; few will strive to be the lowest. Oh! that everyone would strive to put down in themselves, mastery and honour, that the Lord of heaven and earth might be exalted!

George Fox's Works

In 1831, defending themselves against charges that they had strayed from Quakerism, Hicksite publishers assembled and printed an 8-volume collection of The Works of George Fox. That collection was reprinted in 1975 by AMS for libraries, and again in 1990 for the George Fox Fund and the New Foundation Fellowship. Its contents are also available through Earlham School of Religion's Digital Quaker Collection.

(The easiest way for me to navigate through Fox's works in the DQC and elsewhere is through the Quaker Heritage Press's catalog entry for Fox.)

The eight volumes break down as follows:

  • Volumes I-II are George Fox's Journal, in the version edited by Thomas Ellwood, including the preface by William Penn.

  • Volume III, a book responding to a vast number of critics of Quakerism, is usually referred to as The Great Mystery, but the full title and explanation is The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded; and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction, with another two paragraphs of similarly contentious description on the title page. Fox definitely expressed his opinions strongly!

  • Volumes IV-VI are the "Doctrinal Books", containing a wide variety of publications Fox wrote. It lacks a Table of Contents, but the catalog entry for Fox breaks out individual titles of pieces included here.

  • Volumes VII-VIII are Epistles of George Fox, letters organized chronologically. It's a wonderful volume to open to random pages and read for inspiration, though I'm also trying to read it in sequence.

The collection isn't quite complete, as, for example, A New England Fire-brand Quenched isn't in it. (I've tracked that down on microfilm.) Still it's a vast set of George Fox's writings that goes well beyond the Journal, and which provides endless material for contemplation.

February 5, 2006

Can speak to thy condition

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, spent years in spiritual ferment, talking with ministers, or priests and professors, as he often calls them. None seemed able to address his concerns. As Fox reached the bottom of his despair over his concerns and the inability of the ministry to address them, he was raised by the insight that created Quakerism:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition," and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have pre-emninence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus, when God doth work who shall let [prevent] it? And this I knew experimentally.

(Nickalls, 11; QR, 47; QS1, 65-66; QS2, 11-12 )

This founding story combines key elements that appear elsewhere in Fox's Journal, and which develop through Quakerism:

  • Christ (through the Inner Light) "enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power."

  • Even the best of men - priests and ministers included - can't communicate this grace.

  • Fox knows this through his experience of God - "experimentally" meaning "through experience" - not through the ministry or even the scriptures. (It corresponds well to scriptures, but it is Christ's authority which makes it true, not the Bible's.)

This initial insight may in some ways been seen as completing the Reformation, as James Wood pointed out in his The Distinguishing Doctrines of the Religious Society of Friends:

The true understanding of this requires some definite test as to what is the fundamental difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The formula of Schleiermacher is generally accepted by both sides as a correct statement of this. "Catholicism makes the believer's relation to Christ depend upon his relation to the church; Protestantism make the believer's relation to the church depend on his relation to Christ." It follows from this that if the believer's relation to Christ is made, in any degree, dependent upon his observance of any ordinance or ceremony of the church, or upon any exercise of sacerdotal authority by its priests or ministers, in so far, the fundamental principle of Protestantism is violated and the principle of Catholicism is maintained.

...both in the Church of England and among the numerous bodies of dissenters that arose, some upon one point of doctrine or practice and some on another, there was continually some recognition of the Catholic principle, and it was not until a hundred years had passed after the Reformation began that a body arose that clearly and unequivocally took the position that the believer's relation to Christ does not depend upon his relation to the church, and which brought the Reformation to its logical conclusion. That body was the Society of Friends.

Much to contemplate.