Thursday, August 9, 2018

On the Christian Creed: F. D. Maurice


“All superstition, all priestcraft, in its worst and most evil sense  we cannot repeat this proposition too often, or put it in too many shapes  has its root in vague, indefinite religious apprehensions; not resting upon the knowledge and confession of a Being who is not our image, but who has declared Himself to us that we might receive His image”

Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) was one of the great (some have argued he was the greatest) Anglican theologians of the 19th century. Maurice (pronounced like Morris) critiqued the usual church factions of his day and was seen as suspect by each of them as a result. He was hardly a conservative. He was accused of being a universalist. He was an early proponent of "Christian Socialism" which also made him suspect to both "unsocial Christians" and "unChristian socialists."

But he was also critical of liberal theology:
“Every hope I had for human culture, for the reconciliation of opposing schools, for blessings to mankind, was based on theology. What sympathy then could I have with the Liberal Party, which was emphatically anti-theological, which was ready to tolerate all opinion in theology only because people could know nothing about it?"

In our own era of church factionalism, I appreciate Maurice's ability to cut across party lines to engage appreciatively and critically with just about everyone. One might say he was something of a radical centrist.

The following is from a sermon of Maurice's on the significance of the Creed:

Let us understand this well, brethren, for it is very important in reference to notions that are current in the present day. If there is to be a religion of trust, and not of slavish cowardly fear, that religion must have a Revelation, the revelation of a Name for its basis. A religion which creates its own object cannot be one of trust. I cannot rest upon that which I feel and know that I have made for myself. I cannot trust in that which I look upon as a form of my own mind or a projection from it. . . Neither can I trust in any shadowy, impalpable essence, or in any Soul of the world. If this be the God I worship, my worship will be one of doubt and distrust, whenever it is at all sincere. If I do not seek all strange, monstrous means of propitiating the unknown Being, it is only because I am altogether uncertain whether he is real enough for such services. . . All superstition, all priestcraft, in its worst and most evil sense  we cannot repeat this proposition too often, or put it in too many shapes  has its root in vague, indefinite religious apprehensions; not resting upon the knowledge and confession of a Being who is not our image, but who has declared Himself to us that we might receive His image . . .

But the question – How is He a Father, how do I know He is? cannot be evaded. The Church had no wish to evade it. She acknowledged that something more was implied in the Revelation of a Father than His Name; that there must be some one to reveal Him. She proclaimed the Name of His only-begotten Son, our Lord. She says that He revealed Himself as he Son of God by being conceived of the Holy Ghost our Lord, by being born of the Virgin Mary, by suffering our death, our burial, by going down into the Hell we tremble to think of; by facing all our enemies visible and invisible, all that we actually know we must meet, all that our imagination dreams of; that He rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down on the right of the Father, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead.

If God be absolute, eternal love, as St, Augustine makes the Catechist affirm, how has he shewn it? Has it come forth, or is it all hidden in his own nature? Has it come forth to some other creature, or to man? Has it met him where he needs to be met or somewhere else? Has it encountered the actual woes of mankind, or only those which affect a particular set of men? Has it been found mightier than these, or has it sunk under them? Has this love been cheerfully entertained, or did it encounter ingratitude? Was the ingratitude too strong for the love, or the love for the ingratitude? Is the victory for all times, or only for that time? Is He who you say is our Lord really our Lord? Does He reign over us? Will he leave all things just as they are, or set them right at last? These questions have a claim to be answered; that is no Gospel to humanity which does not answer them; the Christian Church said, 'This is the answer' . . . And again, supposing the words be true, all we have to do is to proclaim them and live upon them. He who has sent us into the world for that end can prove them. Those that know His Name will trust in Him, and so they find that He has not deceived them. 
– F. D. Maurice, Sermons on the Prayer-Book, Sermon X, The Creed, 1848

See also: On the Christian Creed: Some Questions & Responses