Monday, October 01, 2018

Fea: The Author’s Corner with Gregg Frazer

It looks like our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer has a new book out entitled God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution (University Press of Kansas, 2018). John Fea has the details here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write God Against the Revolution?  
GF: My primary research interest is religion and the American Founding. I became re-acquainted with the sermons of Loyalist minister Jonathan Boucher while doing research on American Revolution-era sermons for my first book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders. I have always been impressed with Boucher’s biblical argument and with his rational challenges to John Locke’s theories. Having analyzed the basic arguments and assumptions of the Patriot preachers in my first book, I became intrigued with the idea of examining the arguments of the Loyalist clergymen and, as they were the primary spokesmen of Loyalism, the political thought of the Loyalists in general. Irrespective of the title, the book covers all of the Loyalist arguments.
I can't wait to read it and hopefully we will have much more discussion about this book.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ben Franklin on Religious "Diffidence"

In his autobiography Ben Franklin noted that at one point in his younger life he became a "thorough deist." Franklin immediately noted that he backtracked on the thoroughness of such creed. ("I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful.")

Elsewhere in his biography, Franklin gives more detail on his change of approach. Paragraph breaks are added:
And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it. Therefore I took a delight in it, practising it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.  
I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. 
This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversion are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purpose for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.  
For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet, at the same time, express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.
Shaftesbury and Collins were two of the "Deists" who influenced Franklin. Early in his life Franklin was imbibed in the game which we see played to this day of skeptics debunking conventional religious dogmas. Franklin claims he was quite good at it. But then opted for a different approach. The approach of making diffident arguments on issues that many hold dear.

More of a soft challenge than a hard one.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Thomas Jefferson Believed in the Resurrection

Just not of Jesus. At least not yet.

In his letter to to William Short, October 31, 1819, Jefferson listed the doctrines which he rejected:
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Elsewhere Jefferson posited his materialism and rejected the concept of an immaterial soul. Such got Jefferson accused of secret atheism. Likewise, that John Locke was a materialist is a component in the equation that gets him accused of the same.

Yes, Jefferson following Locke and Joseph Priestley was a materialist. All three believed in or at least professed to believe in a creator God and in a future state of rewards and punishments. I'll skip Locke's particulars for the moment and note that Priestley the Socinian believed in the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Socinians like Priestley believed Jesus 100% man, 0% divine in His nature. But on a divine mission.

For Priestley the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus was God doing for the most perfect man what He promised to do one day for all good men.

John Adams too believed in the resurrection of Jesus. I can't tell whether Adams was an Arian or Socinian (I'm not sure if he knew what he was in that respect). What I am sure of is Adams bitterly and militantly rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation and self identified as a unitarian.

But for a materialist like Jefferson, if one doesn't believe in the doctrine of an immaterial soul, but one does believe in a creator God and an afterlife, it stands to reason that the resurrection of humans into new material bodies will be the mechanism God uses to accomplish such.

So even if Jefferson rejected the resurrection of Jesus, he probably believed that Jesus would be resurrected in the end with himself and all other good men.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

St. Athanasius and the American Founding

I will admit that I have not done comprehensive research on the topic of St. Athanasius and the American founding. But I am aware of a few notable founders who broached the subject. And all the results are negative towards the name "Athanasius" or "Athanasian."

So, in this post, I attempt briefly to explain who St. Athanasius was, what he was famous for, and why certain founders (or their British influences) would speak negatively about him.

If you want to know more explicit detail about him, start off with his Wiki page and follow the sources in the footnotes there. As I see it, he was notable for three things I list below.

The first is that he played a leading role in the Council of Nicaea that was meant to clarify (small o) "orthodox" church doctrine and anathematize Arianism. The three most notable ecumenical creeds of the early church are as follows: 1. Apostles; 2. Nicene; and 3. Athanasian. People debate when the Apostles' creed was written; it could have been before or after the Nicene. The origins of the Nicene creed are clearer: it was done in 325 CE. Likewise the exact date of the Athanasian creed is debatable; but it appears to be somewhat after the Nicene.

All three of the creeds were meant to clarify the nature of God and anathematize heresy. All three are Trinitarian in their character. The Apostles' creed is the least specific, the Athanasian the most so, with the Nicene somewhere in the middle. The Athanasian creed gets so specific it became clumsy for some orthodox churches to use for liturgical recitation. But make no mistake, the purpose of these creeds was for the early church to clarify the "orthodoxy" of the collective, universal (i.e., small c catholic) church.

So one possible meaning of "Athanasius" or "Athanasian" to America's founders is Trinitarianism in the form of a creed. And the most notable Trinitarian creed is the Nicene (not the Athanasian, ironically) where the doctrine of the Trinity was firmly articulated and where St. Athanasius played a leading role in the process.

So to use the term "Athanasian" in a negative sense might mean a Founder is signifying his theological unitarianism. For instance, John Adams in 1815 comes out of his unitarian closet and attempts to straighten out Jedidiah Morse, a notable orthodox Trinitarian enemy of Unitarianism at the time. Adams states:
In the preface, Unitarianism, is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old Age. Sixty five years Ago, my own Minister the Reverend Lemuel Briant, Dr Jonathan Mayhew of the West Church in Boston, The Reverend Mr Shute of Hingham The Reverend John Brown of Cohasset, and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, The Reverend Mr Gay of Hingham; were Unitarians. Among the Laity, how many could I name Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesmen, Farmers? I could fill a Sheet, but at present will name only one. Richard Cranch a Man who had Studied Divinity, and Jewish and Christian Antiquities more than any Clergyman now existing in New England. 
More than fifty years ago I read Dr Samuel Clark, Emlyn, and Dr Waterland. Do you expect, my dear Doctor to teach me any new thing in favour of Athanasianism?
So when William Livingston slammed St. Athanasius in a letter to, again, Jedidiah Morse (but in 1787), he could have been signalling his unitarianism.

But St. Athanasius is also know for the creed which bears his name: the Athanasian creed. Ironically, scholars conclude he had nothing to do with the writing of that creed; it was as mentioned above, at Nicaea where Athanasius played the leading role. The Athanasian creed came later and is more wordy than the Nicene. The early church felt the need to add more words because it felt the need to further clarify what is orthodoxy, what is heresy.

The creed was adopted by not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Anglicans and many other (though certainly not all) orthodox Protestant churches.

One of the controversial "additions" that the Athanasian creed makes to the Nicene are the so called "damnatory clauses." It's the part at the end which says basically, not only do we believe in the Trinity and other aspects of orthodoxy against heresy, but if you don't believe in this, you are damned.

It's supposedly a "faith" of the universal church "which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved."

Now keep in mind that many orthodox Protestants affirm this creed. Just as many orthodox Protestants believe in a small c catholic or "universal" church. I have encountered a few orthodox Trinitarian Protestants who say they believe in everything the Athanasian creed says except for the damnatory clauses. Meaning that you can have a mistaken view that qualifies as heresy, but not necessarily soul damning heresy.

Most of the fulminations against the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian creed in the 18th Century come from unitarians (as far as I have seen). So for instance, as the Arian Richard Price noted in an address that George Washington endorsed:
Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.
The third thing that Athanasius is notable for is his work in establishing what constitutes the canon of the Bible. In other words, he helped write the Bible. When we say "write the Bible," this is what we mean: If one wants to believe that the Holy Spirit breathed all scripture, fine. However the Bible didn't just fall out of the sky or wasn't just discovered written in gold plates as a complete set of books.

The Bible isn't a novel; it's a canon that had to be complied. And from day one, there were disagreements on which books belonged. From day one (the first century) believers had "scripture." But what they didn't have was a book of 27 that comprised the New Testament or a book of 66 or 73 or some other number that comprised the Old and New Testaments.

Many orthodox Protestants seem under the misimpression that once the ink was dry on the last book in the New Testament in the first century, that all true believers simply knew that it was these 27 books that comprise the NT and those 39 that comprised the OT.

The problem with this is that it's not true; or at least there is no historical evidence for it. Again, they all believed in *some* scripture, but the process for determining "it's these books and not those" took hundreds of years to settle. And in reality, it's still not settled in that Protestants, Catholics and the capital O Orthodox each have canons with slightly different sets of books.

Long story short: the heretic Marcion came forth with the first written canon that struck many in the community as whack. So the community of believers got together and started a long process that attempted to answer him and settle matters of orthodoxy and canonicity.

Some mistakenly believe that Nicaea settled the matter of the canon. In fact, that was John Adams' impression. But Nicaea didn't deal with the canon, rather the Trinity. The reason why someone might make this error is because Athanasius not only played a leading role at Nicaea, but also in establishing the canon of the Bible.

In fact, the earliest historians can trace a complete list of 27 books of the New Testament is to Athanasius in the year 367. Now, let me be clear on what is meant here. Yes, all the books in the canon may well have been written in the first century. But what we are looking for is evidence of "it's these 27, not those other books." Terms like "mostly the NT" or "basically" won't cut it. Yes, much earlier, we can demonstrate figures believing in groups of books that are part of the NT. But you don't get those 27 until Athanasius and 367.

And even then it wasn't settled; that's just the earliest we can find those 27 as defined as "the list" of books that comprise the NT. Though it became formalized in the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

So if one takes issue with what constitutes the canon of scripture, especially the 27 books which make up the NT, one might take issue with St. Athanasius.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Who Was Henry Marten?

Another question related to this post is "what is reformed Protestantism?"

I was involved in the comments section at the Law and Liberty site on BRUCE P. FROHNEN's latest. One learned commenter stressed the "reformed Protestant" element in the development of the concept of "liberty" in America and Great Britain.

Though, the commenter seemed to have a very broadly defined understanding of reformed Protestant Christianity. They asserted it encompassed the Arian and Socinian doctrines. As they put it:
... I don’t know that [Roger] Williams ever expressed an opinion about Servetus but non-trinitarinism has been a feature of Christianity since about 300 AD and Arianism was the Christianity of the Goths and Theodoric the Great who conquered Italy in 493. Further, Socinianism had been in the air in England and since 1610, it was part of the Polish Brethren’s belief system in the 1560s. It is a common place observation that rationalist and biblical literalist Reformed christians like Newton, Henry Marten, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson exhibited a marked tendency [toward] non-trinitarianism.
I replied that I didn't know anything about Henry Marten and that very few people associate theological unitarianism with the label “biblical literalist Reformed christian[ity].” Though, yes, arguably it was part of the theologically liberal (for the time) wing of “Protestant Christianity.”

So the commenter noted:
Henry Marten was perhaps the most radically republican member of the Long Parliament. He was John Lilburne’s best connection in Parliament after Cromwell put Lilburne on trial for treason in 1649. Lilburne appeared pro se and told the jury they were final deciders of both the law and the facts. The jury acquitted Lilburne and the cheering spectators carried “Freeborn John” out of the courtroom on their shoulders.  
Like Col. Thomas Rainborowe’s brother, William, Marten was often called a Ranter. Here it is interesting to note that John Winthrop became Thomas and William Rainborowe’s brother-in-law in December 1647 when Winthrop married their widowed sister, Martha Coytmore, in Boston. Winthrop’s son, Stephen, had already been commissioned in the New Model Army. He rose quickly and died in Scotland a Lt. Colonel in what had formerly been Sheffield’s regiment of horse. Things might have been very different in both England and New England had Winthrop and Col. Rainborowe not died so young and so close together in 1648-49.
I briefly looked online for evidence of Marten's creed. This is what Wiki noted:
Although a leading Puritan, Marten enjoyed good living. He had a contemporary reputation as a heavy drinker and was widely said to be a man of loose morals.[2] According to John Aubrey he was "a great lover of pretty girls to whom he was so liberal that he spent the greatest part of his estate" upon them.[10] In the opinion of King Charles I he was "an ugly rascal and whore-master".[11] He married twice (to Elizabeth Lovelace and Margaret Staunton (née West) but had an open and lengthy relationship with Mary Ward, a woman not his wife, by whom he had three daughters.[12] Ward ultimately was to remain with him throughout his later imprisonment.[4] His enemies branded him an atheist but his religious views were more complex, and influenced his position regarding the need to allow freedom of worship and conscience.[13] His political views throughout his life were constant: he opposed one-man rule[14] and was in favour of representative government. In 1643, even while the king was losing the First Civil War and Parliament's cause was beginning to triumph, Marten's republican sentiments led to his arrest and brief imprisonment.[15] Thus for his time Marten was unusual in his political stance, being unashamedly in favour not of reforming the monarchy but of replacing it with a republic.[16]


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fideists Ought Not Try to Claim the Political Theology of the American Founding

From Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825:
All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & . …
The Declaration of Independence's, that is.

You can read a philosophical muckety muck definition of fideism here. For the sake of this post, see below Francis Schaeffer as he slams Aristotle and Aquinas.

 

Years ago I think we noted Barry Hankins' book that featured the battle between Schaeffer on the one hand v. Mark Noll and George Marsden on the other. This article by Hankins summarizes the controversy.

As I see it, Noll and Marsden chewed Schaeffer up and spat him out. They ended up adding Nathan Hatch, currently the highest paid college President in America (Wake Forrest), to their cohort and together they wrote the book "The Search For Christian America" which demolished Schaeffer's "Christian America" claim on his own grounds. 

Schaeffer and the three authors apparently share the same theological premise, which is a kind of fideistic form of reformed orthodox Protestant Christianity. Schaeffer's fideism was the weakest part of his "Christian America" argument. The three academic authors nailed him on it.

From the above linked article:
Like Noll, Marsden again tried to educate Schaeffer as to what Christian scholars do. The first goal is to be accurate, not to fashion a story that is useful for an agenda, however just that agenda might be, Marsden chided Schaeffer. In a more critical vein, Marsden charged Schaeffer with his own inconsistency, in that throughout his career as a Christian author he had argued that Aquinas and theological liberals were similarly guilty of creating a nature/grace dualism, yet America's founding fathers seemed to get a free pass when they engaged in the same type of thinking. Elaborating on Noll's arguments, Marsden charged that at no time in the history of Christianity had the nature/grace dichotomy that Schaeffer had criticized for two decades been more prevalent than in Britain and her colonies in the eighteenth century. Portraying such thinking as broadly Christian, as long as it was not militantly anti-Christian like the French Revolution, was in Marsden's view precisely what had opened the door for the twentieth century secular revolution that he, Noll, and Schaeffer all lamented.
Gotcha! Right between the eyes.

However, one wonders whether the fideistic premise these interlocutors all apparently share is a necessary tenet, central to the orthodox reformed Protestantism on which grounds they argue. J. Daryl Charles argues below, to the contrary.

 

Still, even conceding the kind of Protestant theology for which Dr. Charles argues has a proper place in authentic orthodox Protestant Christianity, it's still debatable how well the kind of "nature" appealed to in America's Declaration of Independence mixes with traditional orthodox Christianity.

Thomist Robert Kraynak, for instance, argues said appeal to nature is too "modern" for such. But if one refuses to recognize those appeals to nature for what they are (appeals to reason, not scripture) one ought not be taken seriously.

I think that's a reason why Noll and Marsden spent a great deal of ink remonstrating with Schaeffer. Unlike David Barton, I think they respected Schaeffer in a sense, as a theologian who was very good at his particular craft with which they personally sympathized.

As a historian, not so much.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part VII, Final.

Last month I ran a series of posts which reproduced the first half of this article by Robert P. Kraynak about Roman Catholicism and the Declaration of Independence, with minor edits (omission of footnotes and a few ellipses [...]) and my sparse commentary.

I stopped somewhere in the middle of page 17 out of 30. This will be my final post on the matter. Those interested in a careful reading can read the entire article. These pages are where the article goes deep into the philosophical weeds to explain why the natural law the Roman Catholic Church endorses is not the same thing as the natural rights encapsulated in the Declaration and the tension between the two. I'm just going to post one short excerpt from the rest of the article.
Applied to the American situation, Thomistic natural law requires one to judge the work of the American founding fathers by the objective hierarchy of ends which God has ordained for man. Here, the decisive question would seem to be whether the natural law doctrine of the Declaration of Independence which guided the Americans contains some of the elements of a true natural law found in original Thomism~ The answer, we now must admit, is that the Declaration contains only a partial or incomplete version of true natural law, because it does not provide sufficiently for the perfection of the rational soul. The Declaration of Independence asserts a right to pursue happiness, but does not provide sufficiently for the higher goods of temporal and eternal happiness, ·leaving them more to personal choice than to corporate responsibility or leaving them to the larger culture which surrounded the Declaration and the Constitution that still contained vital remnants of classical and Christian culture and of the English common law tradition. Yet, if the American founders had been more attentive to preserving these traditional elements, they might have been Tories rather than revolutionaries. Or, since they themselves were gentlemen politicians of quasi-aristocratic character, they might have waged a war of independence on less sweeping principles than natural rights and established a more hierarchical regime than a constitutional republic.

However, a Thomistic approach to politics requires prudence, which counsels statesmen to seek the best approximation of the true hierarchy of goods in the given circumstances. After the American Revolution occurred and the regime was settled in favor of republicanism, Catholic Thomists could be American republicans-they could have acted like Alexander Hamilton, who favored constitutional monarchy while accepting constitutional democracy or republicanism as the only practical option in the circumstances. Within that basic acceptance and loyalty to of the American natural rights republic, Catholic Thomists could hold reservations about the natural rights basis of the regime and hope to move it in a ·more hierarchically ordered and less individualistic and less materialistic direction. ... 
 As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kraynak would later write an entire book on this topic entitled "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy." Those who enjoyed books such as "The Search For Christian America," "Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction," and "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution" will surely enjoy this book.

And I especially recommend Kraynak's book for those who enjoyed Patrick Deneen's current best seller "Why Liberalism Failed" as the two make similar arguments.