Sunday, February 26, 2017

John Adams on Who First Compiled the Canon and When

In his marginalia on Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D., John Adams answers the question of who and when the Christian "canon" was first compiled. As he wrote:
What is meant by "received in Churches?"
The Gospel of St. Thomas and the Acts of Paul and Thekla were received, and so was the Prophecy of Enoch. The truth is that nothing was canonical till the Council of Nicaea. Then and not till then was settled the Norma of Canonicality. And by whom?
By whom? Yes, a classic rhetorical question. The Church who decided the Council of Nicaea. And such was, according to Adams, the Athanasian/Roman Catholic Church that Adams thought had already been corrupted.

Again, as he wrote in this same note:
When Homsousianity [sic] was established and Christianity totally corrupted, no doubt, authorities enough might be accumulated. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

John Adams' Marginalia

A largely untapped resource full of quotations.

John Adams was arguably the original blogger; he talked to his books. The Boston Public Library has some 3700 books on display owned by John Adams. As Richard Brookhiser noted in the linked to New York Times article:
Zoltan Haraszti, a former keeper of rare books and editor of publications at the library, published many of Adams’s marginalia in his 1952 book, “John Adams and the Prophets of Progress.” But now this quadrant of Adams’s mind will be completely mapped.
Little of John Adams' marginalia comes up in search engines. Though, to access a sample, you may follow this link. The book "Prophets of Progress" contains more. The book, available here, is also part of my school library's collection and it's now in my hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More On John Adams' Late in Life Support For The Third Way Defense of "Christianity"

I've noted before Dupuis was a figure whose meticulous project John Adams was both familiar with and interested in. Dupuis was either an atheist or a strict deist of the kind that wanted to debunk Christianity in general and the possibility of special revelation in particular. He was like the Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris of his day. 

Adams thought Dupuis was a fiercely learned man whose criticisms needed answers. Of course, orthodox Christianity of either the Roman Catholic or Protestant bent would defend their faith with answers.

But with rare exception, Adams didn't want their answers. Rather he saw their corruptions as part of the problem that gave the Dupuises of the world reasons to attack Christianity. So instead he looked to fellow unitarians, namely Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Van Der Kemp. 

Adams also positively mentions two other sources he found useful for his preferred project. One was the Bollandists who wrote the Acta Sanctorum, which Adams didn't read until around 1815.  The Acta Sanctorum was as Adams termed it, a compilation of "Legends, of the Lives and Writings of the Saints and even of the Fathers, and of Ecclesiastical History in general."

The other was English clergyman Conyers Middleton, whose work Adams had been familiar with much earlier. His original work attacked chiefly the Roman Catholic Church but left the impression in the minds of some of implicitly attacking the orthodox Protestant dogma institutionally ingrained in England. Originally, provided such institutional Protestantism could believe Middleton's work a mere attack on the Roman Catholicism they rejected, they could endorse it.

But then later as he became more explicit, Middleton got in trouble with such Protestants in England. As this source informs:
He had meanwhile got into a controversy with Waterland. Waterland had attacked Matthew Tindal's ‘Christianity as old as the Creation’ (1730), which marked the culmination of the deist controversy. Middleton published an anonymous ‘Letter to Waterland,’ urging that apologists placed themselves in a false position by endeavouring to maintain the historical accuracy of every statement in the Bible. He ridiculed some parts of the book of Genesis, and said that Tindal should be answered by proving the utility of a traditional religion, and confuting his à priori theories of the ‘religion of nature.’ This sceptical tendency, really latent in the ‘Letter from Rome,’ now became obvious. Zachary Pearce [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Rochester, accused him in a ‘Reply’ of covert infidelity. Middleton's authorship had become known, and he was threatened with a loss of his Cambridge degrees. Middleton replied in two pamphlets, making such explanations as he could. Some time later (1733), however, an anonymous pamphlet by Dr. Williams, the public orator, declared that his books ought to be burnt and himself banished from the university, unless he made a recantation.  
One of the offending quotations of Middleton's is as follows: "[T]hat every single passage of the Scriptures, we call Canonical, must needs be received, as the very word and as the voice of God himself."

This post at American Creation written by a guest blogger contains research showing Adams became interested in this fight and ended up siding in favor of Middleton and against Waterland. In the meantime, it features the following quotation showing Adams doubted the veracity of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
But the question recurs, why was the original destroyed? What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed of fabrication, might be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?
This was a marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. See Zoltán Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. See also James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

(Jefferson would claim to Adams in 1813 that Middleton and Priestley were the basis of his own faith.)

And here in this 1813 letter to Jefferson, Adams puts together his understanding of Dupuis, Priestley and Middleton:
Dr Priestley pronounced [Dupuis] an Atheist, and his Work “The Ni Plus ultra of Infidelity.” Priestly agrees with him that the History of the Fall of Adam and Eve, is “an Alegory,” a Fable, [and] an Arabian Tale, and so does Dr Middleton, to account for the origin of Evil; which however it does not[.]
And in his 1814 letter to Francis Van Der Kemp, Adams puts together Priestley, Middleton and the Acta Sanctorum:
I know nothing of Th. Browns popular Errors. Enfield contains enough. The Acta Sanctorum in 47 Volumes in Folio contains a pretty Specimen of them. Dr Middletons Works, the Model of Priestleys, without his excentricities, are a fine Sample. 
And invoking his old friend and mentor the unitarian Richard Cranch, Adams' letter to Van Der Kemp ends in a bang:
When I was a Boy, I wrote a Letter to my Friend Cranch more than 60 years ago in which this Globe was asserted to be the Bedlam of the Universe, into which all the insane, in Mercury Venus and Mars &c &c &c, were Sent to be cured or confined.
Neither The Acta Sanctorum nor Priestley nor Middleton nor Bruker nor the 18th nor the 19th Century have confuted my juvenile Hypothesis.

Friday, February 17, 2017

John Adams Wants to Potentially Add to the Canon of Revelation

A subtitle for this post could be apples don't fall far from trees, even though sometimes they do.

I noted before that I was surprised that John Quincy Adams circa 1814, when he had converted to an orthodox Calvinist understanding of Christianity endorsed a heterodox notion of the Bible's canon that sounded like something a unitarian rationalist (like his father) would endorse. JQA is open to the notion that some of the writings of John Milton, Homer and Virgil were divinely inspired along the same grounds he believed the inspired parts of the biblical canon were.

As I was rereading the elder Adams' letter to Thomas Jefferson dated Nov. 14: 1813, I noticed that he too is open to the notion that Virgil's writings constitute special revelation along the line of the parts of the biblical canon Adams believed were revealed by God.

As he wrote:
Blacklocks translation of Horace’s “Justum” is admirable; Superiour to Addisons. Could David be translated as well; his Superiority would be universally acknowledged. We cannot compare the Sybbiline Poetry. By Virgils Pollio we may conjecture, there was Prophecy as well as Sublimity. Why have those Verses been annihilated? I Suspect platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks, in this case; as in all other cases of the destruction of records and litterary monuments. ...
Did you notice that? In Virgil's Pollio, Adams conjectured there was "Prophesy," whose "[v]erses been annihilated" by "platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks" coupled with "the destruction of records and litterary monuments."

One of the issues that John Adams had with fellow unitarian Joseph Priestley was Priestley not finding more "Christian principles" in words of Stoic figures like Cleanthes. One could argue that Christendom, the Roman Catholic Church in particular, but other traditions as well, have found ways to reconcile and incorporate the noble pagan teachings of the Ancient Greeks and to a lesser extent Romans into the faith.

But let's be clear on what they did. As the story goes, the canon constitutes special revelation. What Aristotle et al. offer is objective truths found in essences in nature discoverable by reason alone. When reason is used properly, these discoveries won't contradict special revelation and indeed, the findings of the two will support one another.

For instance, as it relates to the nature of sex, as the theory goes, the canon of special revelation neither forbids nor permits contraception between married couples. Aristotelian chains of reasoning relating to the nature of the sexual act demonstrate a law in nature that forbids contraception. This law doesn't contradict anything in the canon. Indeed if the same author of the canon is the author of nature, then it's simply a different channel to the same source. However, that channel comes from man's potentially flawed reason and is not in and of itself special revelation.

To the extent that the Church has the authority to make divine pronouncements, it can take what is discoverable from reason in the natural law and make it official dogma.

But that's not what John Adams (and later John Quincy Adams) did. Rather, what we see is being open to the notion that the writings of Virgil constitute special revelation, that if so should be added to the Bible, but that we can't presently (i.e. when he wrote the letter) be sure of because some corrupt, politicized churchy cabal destroyed the evidence.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Adams on the Prophecy of Enoch

I am very familiar with John Adams' post-Presidential musings on religion. I am familiar with the prior period too; but in his post-Presidency, he seemed fascinated by theology and loved discussing the particulars with his intimate friends who would engage him. The problem is, he can be rambling and incoherent at times.

On the Prophesy of Enoch and how it relates to books in the biblical canon, I think he does good critical study of the Bible's texts. Or at least asks the right questions.

The Book of Enoch isn't part of the canon of Protestants, Roman Catholics or the standard Eastern Orthodox; it is part of the canon of "the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Church."

In canonical books, Enoch is mentioned as a character in general in a few places. The controversy -- which persisted from the days of the early church, throughout the ages -- is that in one, arguably two or more places in the canon, Enoch's prophesy that derives from the Book of Enoch is quoted as though what was being quoted is true (as sacred scripture).

So Enoch mentioned as a character by name in Genesis in a manner otherwise unrelated to the Book of Enoch isn't controversial. Enoch quoted in Jude, on the other hand, IS controversial because Jude invokes the Prophesy of Enoch which the Book of Enoch speaks of in more detail.

Of course, for those who want to thread the needle as to why there is good reason to accept the canon but exclude Enoch, there is an argument which we need not get into here. Another way of threading the needle is to conclude the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches got it right and that the Book of Enoch belongs in the canon.

John Adams didn't just reject the Book of Enoch, he also rejected the Prophesy of Enoch. (Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for the reference.) As Adams wrote to F. Van der Kemp, Jan. 4, 1814:
That this Prophecy of Enoch was as gross a Forgery as the Gospell of the Infancy, which Some ascribed to St. Mathew and Some to St Thomas; or as the Acts of Paul and Thecle, I have no doubt. To call Such impious and execrable forgeries by the pious Epithet Apocryphal, is abominable.
But if not just the Book but the Prophesy of Enoch is false, what then of when this fake prophesy is invoked in books of the accepted canon as though it were true. In Jude and in the 2nd Peter, the Prophesy of Enoch is so mentioned.

So Adams asks his son John Quincy, who at that time was supposedly more orthodox in that he professed Calvinism, about whether he thought Jude (along with Song of Solomon and Apocalypse (Book of Revelation)) properly belonged in the canon. (The younger Adams basically confessed agnosticism on the matter.)

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated December 25, 1813, Adams asks:
Do you know any thing of the prophecy of Enoch ? Can you give me a comment on the 6th, the 9th, the 14th verses of the epistle of Jude?
And in a later letter to Jefferson, from February 1814, Adams reveals more when he mentions Priestley's treatment of the issue. There Adams faults Priestley for not tracing "the Prophecy of Enoch [to] India in which the fallen Angels make Such a figure."

As Adams quotes Priestley's treatment of the matter:
In his remarks on Mr Dupuis. p. 342. Priestley Says, “The History of the fallen Angels is another Circumstance, on which Mr Dupuis lays much Stress. ‘According to the Christians,’ he says, Vol. 1. p. 336, ‘there was from the beginning, a division among the Angels; Some remaining faithful to the light, and others taking the part of Darkness’ &c.17 But this Supposed history is not found in the Scriptures. It has only been inferred, from a wrong interpretation of one passage in the 2d Epistle of Peter, and a corresponding one in that of Jude, as has been Shewn by judicious Writers. That there is such a Person as The Devil is no part of my Faith, nor that of many other Christians; nor am I sure that it was the belief of any of the christian Writers. Neither do I believe the doctrine of demoniacal possessions, whether it was believed by the Sacred Writers or not; and yet my unbelief18 in these Articles does not affect my faith in the great facts of which the Evangelists were eye and ear Witnesses. They might not be competent Judges, in the one case, tho perfectly So, with respect to the other.”
(Again, the words in quotations are Priestley's not Adams'.)

Adams then discusses his opinion of Priestley's treatment:
I will19 ask Priestley, when I See him, Do you believe those Passages in Peter and Jude to be interpolations? If so; by whom made? and when? and where? and for what End? Was it to Support, or found the doctrine of The Fall of Man, Original Sin, the universal Corruption depravation and guilt of human nature and mankind; and the Subsequent Incarnation of God to make Attonement and Redemption!—Or do you think that Peter and Jude believed the Book of Enoch to have been written, by the 7th from Adam, and one of the Sacred cannonical Books of the Hebrew Prophets? Peter, 2. Ep. c. 2. v. 4, Says “For if God Spared not the Angels that Sinned, but cast them down to Hell and delivered them into chains of Darkness, to be reserved unto Judgment.” Jude v. 6th Says “And the Angels which kept not their first Estate, but left their own habitations, he hath reserved in everlasting Chains under darkness, unto the Judgment of the great day.20 v. 14th “And Enoch also, the 7th from Adam, prophesied of these Saying, behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his Saints, to execute Judgment upon all &c” Priestley Says “a wrong Interpretation” has been given to these Texts. I wish he had favoured Us with his right interpretation of them.
(Keep in mind Joseph Priestley died in 1804; this letter was written in 1814. Adams expects to see Priestley in the afterlife and discuss these issues with him.)

Again, Adams rejects both the Prophesy and Book of Enoch and there are at least two logical conclusions that flow therefrom: 1. the entire Books of Jude and Peter which reference the Prophesy are not inspired; or 2. those passages in Jude and Peter are "interpolations."

Given his premises, Adams asks the right questions. Priestley, alas didn't give Adams answers that satisfied him.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Adams Letter to His Son on the Biblical Canon

Here we go. This is the letter John Adams wrote to John Quincy Adams on the 24th of December 1813 on the biblical canon.
I perceive my son that you are a great Student in the Bible: I know you have been a long time; perhaps all your Life. But have you studied the Canon of Scriptures? its History? its Evidence? its Authority? In what sense do you understand the Inspiration, the Infallibility, and the Sanctity of the Books of the old and New Testament? How far do you believe them inspired? and how far not? Have you considered what is to be understood in a litteral Sense, and what in a figurative? What is History? and what is Allegory? Have you read Lardner and Jones? Have you considered the Darkness of the 3 first Centuries and the false Light of all that followed? Do you believe Solomons Song, the Apocalypse and St. Jude to be cannonical inspired and infallible.

I wish you procure the Books I have mentioned for your future Use.

I have a million more things to say. But Our liberal Christians and biblical Criticks are Setting up Alexander Hamilton Fisher Ames and Theophylus Parsons, as great Authorities in Support of Christianity. I dare say that not one of three knew more of the Argument than they did of Shastaism, Lamaism, or Koranism.
In his response, John Quincy Adams, at this time supposedly more orthodox than his self described "liberal unitarian Christian" father couldn't commit to belief in the infallibility of scripture or the divine inspiration of the books of Song of Solomon, Apocalypse and St. Jude.

I assume from the overall context that Adams the Sr. didn't believe those three books inspired. "[T]he Darkness of the 3 first Centuries and the false Light of all that followed ...." That's when the canon, including those three mentioned books disputed among some in the early Church and by the Christian-Deists and "liberal Christians" of John Adams' era was starting to be compiled. In fact, the canon, to the extent it was ever "settled" at all, wasn't done so until the early 4th Century and included the deuterocanonicals/apocrypha as part of sacred scripture. 

Also notice how Adams trashes Alexander Hamilton's and Fisher Ames' (who were both dead by that time) understanding of the Christian faith. They were both orthodox authorities. I don't know as much about Ames' beliefs during the trajectory of his life. I know Hamilton became orthodox by the end of his life.

The overall context is Adams the elder trying to push his son's faith into a heterodox direction. And part of that heterodoxy is rejecting the orthodox -- Protestant, Catholic or whatever -- view of the biblical canon, including which books are inspired. 

John [Quincy] Adams on the Biblical Canon's Inspiration

* Update: Read below on my error.

This letter to his son dated July 7, 1814 clarifies John Adams' position on the inspiration of scripture. He believed parts of the biblical canon were inspired. He thought all modern (as of 1814) translations had errors. He didn't think himself competent in the original languages to judge errors in the original. And he was open to the notion that the writings of John Milton, Homer and Virgil were divinely inspired along the same grounds he believed the inspired parts of the biblical canon were. He admits Song of Solomon and Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) questionably belong in the canon. But, if Homer, Virgil and Milton had a good claim on writing sacred scripture, "those of the Apocalypse and of Solomon’s Song, are unquestionable." He is agnostic on whether St. Jude's Epistle is inspired. 

It has been asserted that "rationalists" like John Adams used their reason to determine what was valid revelation. Here is how Adams describes his method:
I am not altogether ignorant, but am far from being properly acquainted with the History of the Bible, or its Evidence; and with regard to its Authority my Mind rests upon two Pillars—the prejudice of my Education; and my own judgment, upon its internal Evidence—You Sir, and my ever dear and honoured Mother, took care to give me a pious education; and although at the same time you sent me upon the theatre of an infidel World, at an age perhaps the most accessible to impressions of infidelity, I never found any thing there, that could serve me as a substitute for the duties or the pleasures, the Morals or the Hopes which I derive from my Religion—I have seen nothing in the glories of this World, nothing in the pride of human learning which should make me ashamed of the Cross of Christ—My Judgment therefore has confirmed the Prejudice of my Education—My idea of Inspiration, as applied to the Scriptures is neither very clear nor very definite—That in the composition of parts of the Sacred Books, the Writers were actuated by a preternatural interposition of the divine power, I believe, because it is expressly declared by the Writers themselves, and because I cannot disbelieve it without rejecting the whole Bible as an imposture.
 The bold is mine.

*I made a mistake. The letter was from John Quincy Adams to his father. I think a reason I had this brain freeze was as of 1814 John Quincy Adams supposedly had, as many assumed, embraced a form or orthodox Calvinistic Christianity. I assumed wrongly an orthodox Calvinistic Christian would have accepted the plenary inspiration of the biblical canon. He sounds in this letter like a unitarian/theistic rationalist like his father. I will follow up on John Adams the elder's letter to his son that prompted this response.

Fortenberry Compiles John Adams' Discussions of Priestley

You can read through this 31 page document that Bill Fortenberry compiled that has John Adams discussing his opinions on fellow unitarian Joseph Priestley. I come to a different conclusion than Mr. Fortenberry. I think Adams' opinion on Priestley is a net positive.

One thing about unitarians like Adams and Thomas Jefferson -- and I agree this radical individualism is a consequence of Protestantism -- is they liked to make their minds up for themselves on theological matters and didn't necessarily carry anyone else's water. Jefferson for instance, loved Priestley but had plenty of disagreements with him. Priestley actually thought the Book of Revelation was inspired (and foretold the coming success of the French Revolution) while Jefferson thought it represented the delusions of a madman.

I seriously doubt Adams believed the Book of Revelation was inspired at all. He had a falling out with Priestley over their differences about the French Revolution. It was issues like this and others like the perfectibility of man that caused Adams to criticize Priestley. It was not over Priestley's core tenets of unitarianism, the orthodox doctrines they both thought of as "corruptions of Christianity" on which orthodox Protestants AND Roman Catholics agree.

On balance, I support Dr. Gregg Frazer's work, but also not without qualification. Instead of naming Priestley as guru to the "key Founders," rather I would have included Priestley as notable figure in a cohort of British contemporaries including Richard Price and lesser known figures like Benjamin Vaughan. These are the "dissenters" in Britain who Ben Franklin invoked to Ezra Stiles that had "doubts" about Jesus' divinity and were members of the Club of Honest Whigs. I would have explored their beliefs as a cohort and noted the parallels with those of the "theistic rationalists."

There were earlier American unitarians who mentored John Adams into the creed when he was a young man. The one figure who seemed to touch Adams then and leave a lasting impression was Richard Cranch, someone most today who study this issue have never heard of.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Analogy Between "State of Nature" and "Evolution"

I mentioned in my last post a challenge to use the method of some Christian nationalists that puts documents they wish to authenticate as "Christian" by tying the words to those in the Bible and see if you can authenticate modern secular documents with it. I hypothesized that documents Christian nationalists would be quick to term "modern secular" could be authenticated as "Christian" under such.

On the other hand, there are plenty of modern figures, like President Obama who explicitly rely on the Bible in their public utterances and in their attempt to argue for modern left-liberal policies.

Is this secularism or is it religious leftism? One response is that they are misusing the Bible. Funny though, that is a charge often brought against John Locke.

In his time Locke was accused of smuggling not authentically Christian ideas into his writings. And today scholars like Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin and their students continue to press similar charges.

For instance, I noted some time ago Leo Strauss termed the notion of a "state of nature" "wholly alien to the Bible." "State of nature" was the common ground in discourse that Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau shared. Though they profoundly differed on how such played out.

Is this common ground of "state of nature" compatible with the Bible? The answer is it's debatable. The analogy I find useful is to Darwin's theory of evolution. Some argue this is inconsistent with "Christianity" or "biblical Christianity" or whatever you want to call it. Others have found ways to, as they understand, reconcile evolution with Christianity.

A similar point could be made about "state of nature" and Christianity.

More Drama From Barton, Fea and Throckmorton

This is John Fea's account. And here is Warren Throckmorton's.

This is from Throckmorton's:
In September 2015, I challenged Barton to produce evidence for his claim and demonstrated that for one to claim Locke cited over 1500 Bible verses, one would have to count every verse in the book of Proverbs because Locke mentioned that book once.
Barton, apparently, is going to rise to the challenge by parsing through John Locke's words and attempt to credit the Bible in places where Locke might not explicitly cite a verse and chapter or where a prior academic might not footnote such to the Bible. Mix and match, throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

I don't trust Barton for any special insights here. For that, Daniel Dreisbach has a new book out which we will be learning more about later.

I've long made the point: The Bible, specifically, but not limited to the King James version has had a profound impact on American culture and language that continues to this day. We could make a similar point about other Western nations, and translations, etc.

Barton, as I see it, will try to spin a tale about how much more biblically literate the past was as compared to how badly secular we are now. For a really illuminating exercise, we should take Barton's method and use it to analyze some kind of what is understood to be a modern secular document. And I would bet we would be able to come up with loads of references that we could trace to the Bible.

And with that I will continue to keep fighting the good fight.