Maurice, Frederick Denison
Maurice, Frederick Denison a very celebrated English divine of our day, the successor of Dr. Arnold as leader of the "Broad Church" party of the Anglican clergy, was born in 1805, the son of a Unitarian minister of high reputation for intelligence and philanthropic zeal. Young Maurice at an early age entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he formed an intimate friendship with the late Scotch divine John Sterling (q.v.), a friendship which lasted through the whole of Sterling's life, and which was made closer in the end by the marriage of the friends to two sisters. From Trinity College both Maurice and Sterling removed to the smaller corporation of Trinity Hall; and here thus early the former began to exert that singular influence, partly intellectual and partly moral, upon all who came near him, which accompanied him throughout his whole career. His examinations at college were passed with such great distinction that he was recommended for a fellowship notwithstanding his nonconformity, and when he refused, upon the ground that he could not conscientiously subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles, he was given a year or two that he might overcome his scruples, take his degree, and enjoy a fellowship. This also he declined, on the ground that, by holding out to himself such a prospect, he would be subjecting his intellectual independence to the risk of a temptation, and bribing his conscience. Accordingly, quitting Cambridge without a degree, he removed to London, where for some time he devoted himself to literature. With his friend Sterling he became connected with the "Athenaeum," then just starting, and opened a literary career that lasted for a period of forty-four years, within which "the ink of his pen was seldom dry." Experiencing a change in his religious sentiment, he finally decided to enter the ministry of the Established Church, but, lest his motives should be misinterpreted, he went to Oxford instead of Cambridge, and there about 1828 received ordination. From that very moment his activity in the Church began, and as he commenced so he continued through life. Earnestly devoted to the interests of the Christian religion, he sought to present the truths of the Gospel in a manner that might bring within the pale of the Church the educated and the liberal. He held that the Church ought to grapple intellectually, in its theological aims and expositions, with the most advanced forms of skeptical thought, in such a manner as to evince a liberal sympathy with much that is non-theological in its apparent aspect, in order the more surely to exhibit the supremacy of religion over all, and that the Church, as an institution, ought so to grapple with contemporary forms of social evil as to exhibit Christianity as the true source of every effective social amelioration. In carrying out these ideas he necessarily came into conflict with the views of others, both in and out of the Church; his orthodoxy on various doctrinal points was questioned, and he was severely attacked by those who believed him guilty of injuring the best interests of the Church.
Mr. Maurice was holding a position as preacher, but it is especially as a writer that he exerted his influence and secured a reputation, and, as a proper estimate of this man is impossible without a glance at his works, we proceed to a hasty consideration of his written productions in the field of theology and philosophy. Omitting numerous separate sermons and occasional tracts, we note his Doctrine of Sacrifice deduced from the Scriptures: — Lectures on the Ecclesiastical History of the First and Second Centuries: — Theological Essays: — Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament: —The Unity of the New Testament: — Christmas Day and other Sermons: — On the Religions of the World: — On the Prayerbook: —The Church a Family: — On the Lord's Prayer: — On the Sabbath; and Law on the Fable of the
Bees. To the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" he contributed History of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, in ancient and in mediaeval times, which was afterwards collected into book form and republished (2 vols. 8vo). He also published a reply to Mansel's Bampton Lectures in 1859. Particularly noteworthy among all these productions are his Theological Essays (Lond. 1853, 8vo; N. Y. 1854). A Unitarian by birth and education, Mr. Maurice had imbibed much of the humanitarian principles. In these essays he proposed for himself the task of influencing the general religious thought of England, determined, as a faithful ambassador of his Savior, to meet the actual wants of the disturbed and reluctantly skeptical age in which he lived. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Maurice had failed to make due allowance for the moderate degree of toleration that was in vogue twenty years ago when he came forward to act as a religious and theological reformer, and for the ignorance that prevailed among his fellow-men concerning the man who sought to do this work. Now that careful inquiry and investigation have clearly revealed his character, even the most orthodox of all orthodox Christians need not hesitate to speak in terms of highest commendation of the labors and services of Frederick Denison Maurice. But not so in the days of his travail. It was the specialty of his position," says a writer in the British Quart. Rev. (Jan. 1873, p. 30), "that he stood midway, as it were, between the professors of the Christian faith, as commonly received, and the modern skeptical and rationalizing spirit which attracted his sympathies, in so far as it was a spirit of free and earnest inquiry, aiming sincerely at the attainment of the truth. Thus he came to be considered by many as affording a sort of half-way house of shelter to those who did not or could not accept the ordinary orthodoxy, and who were yet too much in earnest about life and destiny to be satisfied with the cheerless negations of atheism or the cold comforts of a provisional skepticism. It was natural that he should meet the fate of those who strive to reconcile contraries. Disowned by orthodoxy — which is no matter for wonder — he was rejected and often also despised by skepticism. By the one party he was charged with unsettling the faith of ingenuous youth, while the others accused him of paltering with words in a double sense, and seeking to reconcile things really irreconcilable." The Lessing of the English Church, he held many views akin with the great German writer. Seeking, like the latter, to spread truth by giving it a fair test, Mr. Maurice often went beyond reasonable limits, and unknowingly endangered the interests of the cause he so unhesitatingly served; his language respecting both the atonement and the question of eternal
punishment was made the text of many attacks, the most noted of which was that by Dr. Candlish of the Scottish Church, in a sermon entitled Examination of Mr. Maurice's "Theological Essays."
Starting from the divine center as the root and source of all, religion is to Mr. Maurice a mode of life conditioned and determined on all sides by dependence upon God — the human personality upon the divine Person. "As a life it is a series of experiences through and in which man is acted upon by God, so as to be filled full out of the Infinite fullness. But how shall there be a communion between God and man? In order to the revealing of God, there must be a revealer. This revealer must be able to manifest forth what is in God, who is the Father universal, and to do this by such means that man may thereby know him as his Father. A mediator between God and man is essential to the satisfying and fulfilling of human wants. Only one who was himself God could adequately unfold the Eternal. And he must do this by manifestation of the divine in and through the human, otherwise man could not apprehend the revelation; the light would continue shining in darkness without being comprehended of the latter.... The Father has shown us what he is by an actual man like ourselves, who told us that he came forth from the Father, and that he knew him.... He could reveal God to men because, having been ever with the Father, he had also been near to all men from their beginning, as the Light lightening every man coming into the world. He was the Root, and because he was the Root, he was also the Head of humanity. He could redeem humanity, and he alone could, because it was his own because he was in some way already one with it; because in its deepest roots the human personality was bound to him. He did not, therefore, first become a Redeemer when he came to our earth in human form. He could redeem in time, because he had been the Deliverer before his incarnation — because it was his nature to be so." So far so well. There is, however, one great aspect of the work and mission of Christ which Mr. Maurice ignored, that brought the charge of heterodoxy to his door. The necessity of vindicating the authority of a broken law, the obligation from which even God himself could not escape of only pardoning when justice had been satisfied, and which, therefore, magnified and made honorable the law that man had disowned and the authority he had despised, are altogether tossed aside by Mr. Maurice. According to him, it is the sin, and not alone, if at all, the penalty of the sin of the world that Christ takes away. The penalty is and must always be borne by those against whom it is directed, and cannot be endured by any at second hand. Need we wonder that this view of the atonement exposed Mr. Maurice to much obloquy? "He transforms the atonement," says the writer already quoted, "into a mere means of reconciling man to God by a process of education. The subjective influence of the sacrifice of Christ — its effects, that is, upon the souls of men, ethically and spiritually — was alone emphasized by him. And whatever benefits may have been wrought by bringing this aspect of the atonement into prominence, obviously it is not the whole scriptural doctrine of sacrifice, as unfolded in the work in which he seeks to deduce that from the Scriptures." Fundamentally defective in this one great doctrine of Christianity, there are yet others in which his influence was mainly pernicious. "Grateful to him as we are for the power with which he vindicated that great truth on which Christianity rests — the incarnation of our Lord — is it not evident that he was apt to resolve this, and with it the whole work of Christ, into the fulfillment of a merely naturalistic order?... He clung to the indefinite, afraid of losing hold of the reality by putting thoughts in the place of things — opinions, theories, and speculations about the real, for true contact with and genuine apprehension (or laying hold and grasping) of it. He would not let go his hold upon reality, which somehow was brought near by being revealed to man; but he was satisfied with the somehow." And yet, while there are some points like those mentioned on which we must differ from the teachings of Mr. Maurice, we must concede that, in face of a rationalism which menaces the foundations of Christianity, Mr. Maurice might well be counted, even by the most orthodox, "a champion of revelation." We do not so much refer to his influence upon those who, accepting his theological teaching in its entirety, may be called his disciples, as to the far more diffused influence exercised by him upon the general religious thought of England. The very corner stone of this influence lies in his vivid and unfailing apprehension of the revelation of God in Christ as a present reality, exactly fitted to accomplish all that the world needs.
Mr. Maurice held for many years the professorship of divinity in King's College. The peculiar views advocated in his Theological Essays deprived him of this position, and he was thereafter confined to the office of chaplain to Lincoln's Inn. In 1860 the queen, in addition, appointed him incumbent of the district church of Vere Street, Marylebone, and in 1866 he was honored with a call to the chair of moral philosophy at Cambridge. He died at his residence in London, April 1, 1872, the object of universal admiration. "By not a few he was 'worshipped on this side idolatry,' while by a large number of outsiders he was regarded with affectionate veneration. These feelings culminated at his death in a display of feeling such as it is given to few to call forth. The unanimity of the testimony borne to his character and work by the many journals, secular and religious, that chronicled his decease, was an index of the general sentiment. It was felt everywhere that England had lost a veritable hero in the battle for truth, and the Church a bright ornament and exemplar of the practical graces of the Christian life." It must not be believed that Mr. Maurice's labors were confined to the theological or philosophical arena. It has been truly said by the Athenaeum that he "lived during his allotted term the lives of many men." He was the originator, or one of the originators, of the Christian socialistic movement, the design of which was to break down tie system of competitive labor, and elevate the working classes by teaching them to associate together in little companies, undertaking work in common, and sharing the proceeds. With a view to preparing working-men for such a task, he founded a working- men's college in London, to which in his last years he devoted much of his time and attention. He also took great interest in the cause of female education. Indeed, there are few social questions of any importance to which his sympathies did not extend. See Fraser's Magazine, 1854 (April); Scribner's Monthly, 1872 (Sept.); British Quart. Rev. 1873 (Jan.), art. 2; English Cyclop. s.v.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; New Amer. Cyclop s. sv.