Wednesday, June 29, 2011

specialists in virtue...

This may be the finest summary of the Boston Unitarian "angle of vision" that I have yet come across. Andrew Preston Peabody in his "Moral Philosophy"

"If it be asked what constitutes moral beauty, I hardly know a better answer than might be given in the one word moderation, if you will take into view all that the word means. It is derived from modus, " measure;" and in its proper use it signifies not imperfection, or slowness, or backwardness, but the due proportion in life of all the elements that go to make up a good life. Of virtue there can be no excess; and we have had, as I believe, the ideal of perfect virtue actualized but once on earth. But individual virtues may exist in such excess, so out of due proportion, as to cease to be virtues. The beauty of Christ's character consists, in great part, in its perfect balance. Probably among those who most opposed him there were not only bad men and hypocrites, but specialists in virtue*— men who nursed some one virtue out of due proportion, and held others in inferior esteem. Were he living on earth now with no external token of Christhood, among his strongest opponents would be some of the extremists in morals who call themselves by his name. I am inclined to think that their types of virtue would find as little sympathy from him as he would show with the vices that they denounce."


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

He fills, he bounds...

This on "balance," by Andrew Preston Peabody (often excerpted in these pages) who records this reminiscence of Asahel Stearns, Congressman from Mass. and later Harvard Law Professor...

"Professor Stearns was one of those terete men, in whose moral nature there are no prominences, simply because there are no depressions; who therefore leave a blessed memory, without specific details to be remembered. I have, however, one reminiscence of him which I like to recall, and am glad to record. When I first went to the White Mountains, it was in a stage-coach with Mr. and Mrs. Stearns, two young collegians, and two other young persons, their friends and mine. The eighth passenger was an elderly clergyman of a type now happily extinct, but which my older readers may recognize, — of that class of men who thought it their duty to vilify nature, and to treat contemptuously the beauty and grandeur of the outward universe. It ought to be said that he was not on a journey of pleasure, but on a mission from a certain anti-Catholic association which threatened great things, but had a very brief and inefficient life. As we reached one after another of the grand points of view on our route, my young friends were jubilant with delight and admiration, while our clerical companion glowered and growled in his corner. At length, when we came in full sight of Mount Washington, and there was a spontaneous shout of rapture, he exclaimed, as angrily as if he had been personally insulted, "How mean and paltry must all this be in the eyes of Him who weighs the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance!" Professor Stearns rejoined calmly and reverently, in Pope's couplet, —
"' To Him no high, no low, no great, no small:
He fills, he bounds, connects and equals all.'"


Friday, June 24, 2011

an expressive faculty...

The historian Daniel Walker Howe, author most recently of the monumental "What Hath God Wrought?" wrote perhaps the definitive work on the philosophy of the Boston Unitarians. His "Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861" was and is a very important part of my development as a Unitarian. An excerpt...

"If there were a single conception that dominated Harvard Unitarian thought, psychological, social, and religious, it was the conception of harmony. The Unitarian conscience was not a repressive, but an expressive faculty; not to crush, but to harmonize, regulate, and balance was the task of the ruling power. In twentieth-century psychological terminology, the Unitarians regarded a firm sense of values as essential to an integrated personality. Only when a man was following the guidance of prudence and the moral sense was he free...They frequently led their congregations in the contemplation of the balanced character of a virtuous man. To be overcome with passion was, in Unitarian opinion, to be enslaved by a usurping tyrant."


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

time for the seed...

A message from J.F.W Ware to those attending General Assembly:

"The American Unitarian Association held its Fiftyfourth Annual Business Meeting, in Hollis-street Church, on the morning of Tuesday, May 27, 1879. (the following words are from Ware)

Friends, this is the day of our opportunity. Do not ask whether the fields be ripe to the harvest. If it be not the time for the sickle, it is the time for the seed, and without the seed the sickle shall hang and rust through the eras of eternity. The seed is good. It wants sowers. The field is broad; but we have dropped sparingly, only in a corner here and there. Go ye out, all of you, into the broad acres between, and fling it broad, fearing neither bird of the air nor tread of foot. Broadcast it everywhere. Living here, you do not know the value, the power, of your faith. You do not dare to trust it to its God-anointed work; you do not know, you do not believe, in what it can do, what it is doing. You do not realize its worth, its power, its vitality. And you cannot know these till you see for yourselves what it does when you get it out of its ruts, away from antecedent and precedent; from handsome church and silk gown; from the respectabilities, the graces, the antecedents; — till you get it among the far away, and the ignoraut and poor. There is no man who has stood at an outpost of duty, no man who has taken it among the lowly, but could tell you what this faith we think too little of can do, only it be properly applied: how it makes waste places blossom; how it is felt to be as a very revelation from on high; how hungering and thirsting recognize, accept, and are blessed by it. It has a mighty career before it, only you are wise and true. Do not lay the burden upon the officers of your Association, but take hold of it according to your several ability, clergy and laity. The work has got to be done by the temper of the whole body, by unity within the whole body. Let every unoccupied clergyman put himself, by Sunday next, at some mission-post among the people, and every layman consecrate some part of his owning to carry the gospel just where it is most wanted, and our next anniversary will be glad with hallelujahs over the new promise of the kingdom."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

intoxicated with delight...

Seasons and sound were deeply important to Henry David Thoreau. In his Journal he wrote,

"All sights and sounds are seen and heard both in time and eternity. And when the eternity of any sight or sound strikes the eye or ear-they are intoxicated with delight."

And this on the sounds of summer from "A Natural History of Massachusetts"

"In May and June the woodland quire is in full tune, and given the immense spaces of hollow air, and this curious human ear, one does not see how the void could be better filled.

Each summer sound
Is a summer round."

Have a blessed summer

Saturday, June 18, 2011

a good husband...

Some modestly offered, pre-Father's Day, ancient advice for (ex) Congressman Weiner from Plutarch's life of Cato Major...

"He was...a good father, considerate husband, and a household manager of no mean talent, nor did he give only a fitful attention to this, as a matter of little or no importance...he thought it more praiseworthy to be a good husband than a great senator..."


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

the clear faced man of God...

William Gannett on a hero of mine, Rufus Ellis (often excerpted in these pages...

"In the long and honorable line of its [the First Church] ministers, there could have been none who more visibly illustrated the great Beatitude than Rufus Ellis. A certain something in him always suggested spotlessness; it was in his face, his dress, his manner, his high-bred courtesy, his ever-kindly manliness. A man to be remembered as one remembers some clear blue day of special grace and beauty; a minister who enriched his people with himself, — even the best of the sermon reaching them at least as much by eyes as by the ear. . . . We greatly need such men among us, — men whose presence and emphasis suggest religion, the deep things of the spirit, rather than their theology and christology, those shallower things of the spirit, while none the less they love these last and let us know it. We need such "conservatives "... among us. Not, then, for all was Rufus Ellis a prophet as to the minor matters; but for all he was the clear-faced man of God, for whom his city and the world are permanently a little better,—a nobleness to miss on Boston streets."


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thou sluggard...

This from today's devotion in "The Altar At Home" published in 1873 by the American Unitarian Association (and often excerpted in these pages.)

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise. — Prov. vi. 6.

"See that little bee that goes laden with honey to his hive: does he not reproach you? See that little ant carrying its burden to its hiding-place: does not even it reproach you? Go to work and do something, and be in harmony with creation about you."

"God is living, working still;
All things work and move:
Work, would'st thou their beauty feel,
And thy Maker's love."

Labor is man's great function. He is nothing, he can be nothing, he can achieve nothing, fulfil nothing, without working. — Dewey.

Work for some good, be it ever so slowly!
Labor! all labor is noble and holy.
Frances Osgood

And work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts. — Haggai ii. i."


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This from Plutarch's biography of Solon. Seems a fitting description of the Boston Unitarian way of life...

"But I grow old ever learning new things."
(for more bits from Plutarch, see my summer reading blog here)


Sunday, June 5, 2011

the pulse beats of devotional feeling...

This,the first part of Andrew Preston Peabody's "The Discipline of Life," (from the volume "Christian Belief and Life" 1875) an excellent warning not to miss the forest through the trees...

"THE DISCIPLINE OF LIFE. "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me."—Psalm cxxxviii.8.
A FRIEND said to me one Sunday, on the way from church, " How sad it is that we cannot devote ourselves more constantly to our own spiritual culture! There are so many utterly unspiritual things to be done or gone through with, that it is really very little time that we can give to the great work of this life, — our preparation for a higher and better life." This would have been well said, were it not that the very condition of things complained of is a providential necessity, of God's appointment, and therefore undoubtedly better for us than any method that we might deem preferable. If the soul and God and heaven are not fictions, we are constrained to believe that the Divine Providence orders our discipline here with a view to our surest nurture and our highest good, that its school is our best school, its designated way the best way for us.
I doubt whether the concentrated devotion to the soul for which the devout often yearn is the fit mode of educating the soul. Probably, even to the most religious mind, the cloister has never been so favorable to the growth of piety as the duties of an active life or of a Christian home would have been. A good man somewhat given to cant, meeting Wilberforce one day, said to him, "Brother, how is it now with your soul?" and was shocked beyond measure by the philanthropist's reply, "I have been so busy about those poor negroes, that I had forgotten I had a soul." Yet there can be no doubt that by means of "those poor negroes " Wilberforce's soul had been growing a great deal faster than that of his friend, who had perhaps spent half his time in counting the pulse-beats of devotional feeling."


Thursday, June 2, 2011

a beautiful proportion...

The Unitarian minister Cyrus Bartol said this of William Phillips Tilden at the latter's 70th Birthday celebration.

"We know him, with his radical thought, conservative heart, courageous speech, reverent and spiritual mind, uniting all extremes in a beautiful proportion."

One could be described in worse ways...


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Easter morning rays...

Long a favorite of Boston Unitarians (including this one) Plutarch is the subject of my summer reading project this year. I have read a good part of the "Lives" and the "Moralia" already but in my usual disjointed and undisciplined way. Each summer, I set myself a reading project in the often futile hope of bringing some discipline to my reading. This year I am going to keep a blog "commonplace book" of my reading-if you want bits of Plutarch (and who doesn't) go here. This morning, Andrew Preston Peabody on Plutarch...

"But the "Lives," though the best known, are but a small part of Plutarch's works. The treatises included under the general title of " Moralia " are, most of them, on distinctively moral subjects, and cover a very wide range of topics, discussing at"~length what are commonly, though wrongly, called the minor morals, that is, the evils that infest and disturb the happiness of families and of social life, and their opposite virtues, and no less full and thorough on the reputedly larger subjects usually treated in works on moral philosophy. Thus we have, on the one hand, essays on Idle Talking, Curiosity, Self-Praise, and the like; on the other hand, such grave themes as "The Benefits that a Man may derive from his Enemies," and " The Best Means of Self-Knowledge." There is in these essays a blending of common sense and of keen ethical insight; and so little does human nature change with its surroundings, that a very large proportion of Plutarch's counsels, cautions, and precepts are as closely applicable to our own time as if they had been written yesterday. There are, too, letters of consolation, rich, sweet, and tender, and breathing so firm a faith in immortality as to be hardly transcended by the most glowing utterances of St. Paul when the crown of martyrdom seemed close at hand. There is a letter to his wife on the death of a daughter two years old during his absence from home, which contains very little that a Christian father might not have written, and which seems to me to surpass in elevation and purity of thought and feeling, in spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, all other writings of the kind that I have ever seen. I cannot but feel that somehow Easter-morning rays had struggled through the dense Boeotian atmosphere, and that Christ had spoken to the receptive hearts of those whose "eyes were holden so that they could not see him."