Sunday, November 2, 2008

"God Bearers"

Driving to Church this All Soul's Sunday morning, I heard a small fragment of a radio sermon in which the preacher asked all listening to think about who our "God Bearers" are. Who are the people who have personified the religious life and brought God nearer to us? It was, I thought, a great way to think about the day. Who are your "God Bearers?"
Many of mine are, of course, the Boston Unitarians, especially right now, Henry Ware Jr. And speaking of...

Peacebang( asks in response to Henry Ware (see Arduous and Delightful post) "BU, what do you make of "charitable" and "humble" for those of us who seem designed to be more fiery and, well, fiercely loving rather than gently loving? Is "niceness" part of what Ware is talking about, here? Can I be a decent Christian without being a nice person? Or is the virtue in the effort?"

Its a great question that gets at the heart of what was wonderful about the Boston Unitarians and what was sometimes lacking. I am afraid that for the most part, Peacbang, you would have made the BU's pretty dang nervous! They were not, as a group, fiery and fierce, especially in expression, and people that were (even if they admired them-say Andrews Norton) made them decidedly uncomfortable.

I have to believe, however, (and this requires a bit of a hermeneutical leap) that your desire (and great ability) to look at all things (from the sublime to the ridiculous) in a moral and religious light would have won many of them over, had they read enough of your writing to see the light themselves.

I think also of more "transcendentally" minded BU Christians such as James Freeman Clarke (a particular hero of mine.) Clarke was a great friend and admirer of Margaret Fuller and would have, I feel safe to say, thought Peacebang a pretty "decent Christian".

Finally, Ware probably would not think one could be a decent Christian without being a nice person, but the question, of course, is what is "nice." Ware believed that one who subjected their mind, heart and body (actions) to God and earnestly sought to "use the faculties which God has given them" (see below) was living a religious life. Sounds like Peacebang to me!

Many thanks also to the Eclectic Cleric. It's great to hear your insights on the Ware family and I would love to read more! I agree with all you say about them and was especially informed by your discussion of the "metaphor of family" in their theology. It was certainly applicable to today's devotional reading in Chap. 2 of "Formation" Our Power to Obtain That Which We Seek. An exerpt:

As soon as he can love and obey his parents, he can love and obey God; and this is religion...There is an animal life, and there is a spiritual life. Man is born into the first at the birth of his body; he is born into the second when he subjects himself to the power of religion, and prefers his rational and immortal to his sensual nature...He has a nobler nature and nobler interests. He must learn to live for these...this is to be born into the spiritual life...Cherish therefore the conviction of this necessity. Cultivate by every possible means a deep persuasion of the truth, that the service and love of God are the only sufficient sources of happiness...Feeling thus the importance of a religious life, let them next be persuaded that its attainment is entirely in their power. It is but to use the faculties which God has given them, in the work and with the aid which God has appointed...It were as reasonable to urge that a child cannot love and obey its father and mother, as that a man cannot love and obey God.
We can do it, Ware can help. Blessings


PeaceBang said...

Quit making me cry.

The Eclectic Cleric said...

What are you crying about? Stop being such a crybaby and quit yer belly-achin', for crissakes!

It's the centrality of this notion that God is a stern but loving parent, and we are all God's children and brothers and sisters to one another, that forms the heart of Ware's criticism of Emerson's Divinity School Address. Ware had once considered Emerson a protege (it's not really clear to me how deeply this understanding was reciprocated), and had essentially hand-picked him as his successor at 2nd Church...but Emerson's assertion that "the Soul knows no persons" and his understanding of the Oversoul in generally basically left the older man cold.

"Take away the Father of the universe," Ware wrote, and "mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum." Or to put it even more strongly, it is as though "the little child, with its full heart longing for the embrace of its absent mother, should be told, 'That mother is but an idea, not a person; you may think of her, but you can have no intercourse with her; be satisfied with this.' "

The other great document to look at if you truly want to understand where the Wares are coming from is Daniel Shute and Henry Ware Sr's A Compendious and Plain Catechism: designed for the benefit of the rising generation, and recommended to the attentive use of heads of families in the education of their children, as adapted to improve them in piety and virtue. This was published in Boston in 1794, and is doubtlessly at least one of the reasons Ware Sr. was offered the Hollis Professorship at Harvard. As far as I know, it is only available on microfilm, as part of the Early American Imprints series #27702.

Ware Sr. also wrote a much more substantial Inquiry into the Foundation, Evidences, and Truths of Religion, but by the time this was eventually published in 1842, the Transcendentalism of the younger generation had essentially passed him by.

Thank you, BU, for this wonderful excuse to trot out all this research I did a decade ago now. And thank you, PB, for bringing us all together like this. We must definitely do this in real life soon.

slt said...

Thank you for sharing your scholarship and it would be great to talk about these things in real life. Blessings

PeaceBang said...

Road Trip!!!