Category Archives: Theology

On sanctification

The task of Universalist saints was to actualize the potential for perfection made available to humans by Christ the creator, former, and restorer. Each soul received its own unique form of the truth and individually grew towards sanctification. The communion of saints, therefore, did not exist to provide a means of grace or a standard of authority. Rather, it was a pilgrim community that enabled those who knew the truth to identify one another in gospel liberty and to aid one another in the travel towards sanctity.

Stephen A. Marini’s Radical Sects in Revolutionary New England, p. 147. Citing Hosea Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement, 1805 ed., p.220.

Selections from Parish Practice in Universalist Churches: on Religion

For the next few days, I’ll be lifting out fragments from Parish Practice in Universalist Churches (with little commentary).

This is from early-on: a review of what religion is. Already in the post-war, post-Christian mode, but with a purpose and biblical orientation that’s worth examining. And a nice shout out from the Te Deum.

'Religion' by Robert Cummins

More James Relly texts online

The Lord be praised! The original works of James Relly, the preacher of universal salvation and John Murray’s minister, have been miserably hard to find. I republished his Union (PDF) a few years ago, but — apart from a few awkward moments in front of some scanned microprints, a late monograph and a collection of hymns — have never seen anything else. And I have tried.

That is, until last night, when I found high-quality scans at OpenLibrary.org, presented in a format that’s pleasant to read on a screen. A nice variety of other Universalist and Unitarian imprints, beside, but this is the lost treasure.

Bound into a single volume:

 

 

 

 

My bit for Trinity Sunday

I’ve seen more Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists make comment — positive, thoughtful or inquisitive comments — about the doctrine of the Trinity in the last few days than I’ve seen in my twenty-five years as a (Unitarian) Universalist. (Parenthetical, because I do believe in the Trinity now, but it’s not the sort of thing I lead with.)

So these references are more than today’s observation of Trinity Sunday, but I’m at a loss to say what that cause is.

The least I can do is add in a strange and — until the age of Google Books — little seen South Carolina work. So little seen that I couldn’t even get a copy when I was working on my (unfinished) thesis on Southern Universalism in 1992-3. But now you can read…

The Evangelists manual; or A guide to Trinitarian Universalists: Containing articles explanatory of the doctrines, tenets and faith of the Associates of the Primitive, Apostolic Church of the Trinitarian Universalists, in the city of Charleston. : To which is prefixed five introductory sections. And the eighteen articles of the Church, concluded with thirteen propositions, and an appeal to the Christian world. : With a copious index. (1829)

Historical note: Paul Dean was their minister for a few months. They dubbed him bishop, to the cocked eyebrows of the Universalists up north.

Reading for June 2011

I’m a miserably slow reader, so it’s a good thing I’m taking the bus to General Assembly (and that I don’t get motion sickness.) In no particular, order. this is far more than a month’s worth. Perhaps more than two.

First edition of Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement available for download

It’s been years since I’ve read in full Hosea Ballou’s influential masterwork, the Treatise on Atonement, from the last print edition (UUA, 1986) which itself was reproduced from a mid-nineteenth century edition.

But this was the revision of the mature Ballou, and I’ve been meaning to read the more direct and homspun theology of the thirty-four year old man who wrote the first edition, published in 1805.

For some years, I have owned an original 1811 “surreptitious” or “pirate” edition, which has the same text, but it’s hard to cuddle up to a book that’s two centuries old.

Fortunately, I’m more than happy to read a book on a screen, and Google Books has a copy of the 1805 original available for download.

Which I have. Go and do likewise.

A (sad) reminder of faith from Japan

Like many of you, I’ve been watching video of the tsumami that destroyed towns in northeastern Japan, and have been stunned by the immensity and power of the water. Pray for the people; their anguish will last a long time.

The loss of life is devastating and the lost will be mourned. More than 11,000 have been confirmed dead. Perhaps it seems in poor taste to recall the houses, vehicles, businesses and whole towns lost, but walk with me. First, they will be bitterly missed by those who lived a long time in those communities, and especially by those who depended on the security of a home and have no equal resources. So, too, as we age, it’s hard not to think about the items, places and thing we’ll leave behind: these are our visible legacy, and tied up with the idea of “leaving the world better than I found it.” The houses, street life and communities washed away destroyed the accomplishment of generations that died long before the earthquake and tsunami. Time and fortune are the great destroyers.

As a Christian, and a Protestant at that, it’s hard not to think about what has been lost in the faith but, unlike a natural disaster, the losses are of our own making. To try and overcome the errors and abuses in the middle ages, Protestants have developed a particular attitude towards it. In short, remove anything that stands between us and an imagined, pure, undivided Apostolic Age. For many low-church Protestants, God revealed all that was necessary for salvation in the scripture, and then has been curiously mute since. Or perhaps God is heard to speak, but centuries of Christians past are thought corrupt, superstitious and untrustworthy. Few would say as much, but the implication is there when “the truth” is carefully traced through a particular line down the ages. Universalists, too, have been guilty of this.

But our tradition also offers some ways, here in the form of question, to make some sense of the enormous and ambiguous past. (I’m thinking of the touching stories of “memorabilia” hunters who glean the ravaged areas for photos and other irreplaceable artifacts.) First, does the thrust of a particular Christian community honor God’s love and glory, or obscure God’s being? Next, do the virtues cultivated in a particular Christian community lead to happier and richer lives in its members, and non-members nearby? Also, is a particular Christian community able to allow predictable — it need not be limitless — spectrum of views without coercing minority opinions? And, last for now, does a particular Christian community value a reasonable and practical approaches to measuring claims to truth? With these ways in mind, it’s possible to step back and now ask: what guideposts should we first put back up? what lost homes restored?

(As for Japan: keep up with the news at NHK World.)

Universalism: not heresy

I’ve long ago rejected the tittering proclamation that Universalism is a heresy — said like this was a good thing. And also the self-serving etymology; that since heresy is derived from the Greek word meaning to choose that this it’s necessarily, again, a good thing. The implication of the word is clearly and honestly one of a false choice meant to mislead others. I won’t joke about that, or align myself with it. I’m a Universalist — particularly a Universalist Christian — and I’m no heretic.

I’ve also been pleased that the universalist theology angle of Evangelical minister Rob Bell — and whether or not universalism is honestly heresy — has been carefully and theologically considered in the Quaker end of the blogosphere. See, in particular, this blog post by Quaker minister and blogger Micah Bales. I’d like to think I had an influence, as we lunched yesterday and Bell and kin came up.

Quakers, as you might know, have their own version of Universalism which isn’t unlike the more general, non-Christian meaning found in Unitarian Universalism today, and which I don’t uphold. A meaning and understanding of Universalism that makes me wonder if most Unitarian Universalists really see a fellow-traveller in Rob Bell, or just an opportunity to get some press.

“Everlasting Gospel” in PDF, October 2

Well, I figured the best way to carefully read Siegvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel is to clean up a scan for re-publication. (It’s worked before.) And the best way to get to out is to promise a PDF (and text file of the LaTeX markup) to my readers.

So, on October 2, I will publish both. I will not promise they will be beautiful. That’s for a later iteration. Both will, however, be in the public domain.

Paul Siegvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel

Just a quick note. It’s hard to find The Everlasting Gospel by Paul Siegvolck — pseudonym of George Klein-Nicolai — even though it’s continued mentioned in Universalist history, particularly for its value in converting then-Baptist Elhanan Winchester to faith in the universal restoration.

Copies of a 1840s reprint hide at Google Books, anthologized in the Select Theological Library, published for a later generation of Universalists. Unfortunately, it was printed cheaply as a serial with very thin margins. Between this version (start at page 77) and this one (start at page 135, though the numbering restarts, so about half way through or page 438 if you download the PDF; better quality) you should be able to make it out.