Founding the Fathers

Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 576
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    Founding the Fathers
    Book Description:

    Through their teaching of early Christian history and theology, Elizabeth A. Clark contends, Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary functioned as America's closest equivalents to graduate schools in the humanities during the nineteenth century. These four Protestant institutions, founded to train clergy, later became the cradles for the nonsectarian study of religion at secular colleges and universities. Clark, one of the world's most eminent scholars of early Christianity, explores this development in Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America. Based on voluminous archival materials, the book charts how American theologians traveled to Europe to study in Germany and confronted intellectual currents that were invigorating but potentially threatening to their faith. The Union and Yale professors in particular struggled to tame German biblical and philosophical criticism to fit American evangelical convictions. German models that encouraged a positive view of early and medieval Christianity collided with Protestant assumptions that the church had declined grievously between the Apostolic and Reformation eras. Trying to reconcile these views, the Americans came to offer some counterbalance to traditional Protestant hostility both to contemporary Roman Catholicism and to those historical periods that had been perceived as Catholic, especially the patristic era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0432-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction: Higher Education and Religion in Nineteenth-Century United States
    (pp. 1-18)

    Founding the Fathers explores how the study of early Christian history and theology became instantiated as a discipline in four nineteenth-century Protestant seminaries in the United States: Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary.¹ Although these four began in differing degrees as sectarian outposts—Princeton, Union, and Yale variously represented the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) branch of Protestantism, while renegade Harvard “defected” from Congregationalism to Unitarianism early in the century—they functioned for most of this period as America’s closest equivalent to graduate schools in the Humanities.² I track their hesitant transition from institutions of...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Institutions and the Professors
      (pp. 21-54)

      For my study, I have selected four seminaries or “theological departments” founded in the first half of the nineteenth century that later developed into major centers of graduate education: those at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Union.¹ These institutions’ importance in pioneering the study of Christian history in nineteenth-century America renders them central to my project. Each, we shall see, had its own denominational and doctrinal allegiances—allegiances that sometimes provoked clashes among them.

      Theological study at Yale and Harvard began within their respective colleges and later moved into distinctive theological schools or “departments.” At Princeton, by contrast, the Theological Seminary...

    • CHAPTER 2 Infrastructure: Teaching, Textbooks, Primary Sources, and Libraries
      (pp. 55-94)

      Before exploring the professors’ theoretical approaches to and assumptions about history, I examine the (woefully inadequate) academic “infrastructure”—the material conditions of knowledge production and transmission—that attended the teaching of church history in early and mid-nineteenth-century America. Suitable textbooks seemed nonexistent, let alone anthologies of primary sources in translation. Libraries, conceived as book depositories for (shockingly) small collections, were open only a few hours a week. As the century progressed, new methods of teaching placed greater demands on professors: they could no longer simply listen to students recite from textbooks, but must prepare lectures and guide advanced students in...

    • CHAPTER 3 Defending the Faith: European Theories and American Professors
      (pp. 97-137)

      Although nineteenth-century American seminary professors looked to Europe for scholarship, textbooks, and teaching methods, they recognized not only the differences between European universities and American colleges and seminaries, but also the dangers—most keenly felt by the professors at Union and Yale—to which American evangelical piety might be exposed by contact with them.¹ These perceived dangers centered on Infidelity (often linked to Pantheism, an offshoot of Hegelian philosophy) and Materialism (largely Comtian Positivism), as well as on a more radical biblical criticism than most American teachers could countenance.² Although Germany was the site from which the alleged dangers most...

    • CHAPTER 4 History and Church History
      (pp. 138-167)

      History as a distinctive academic subject, we shall shortly see, had a slow and uncertain entry to American academia.¹ Hence it is not surprising that its incorporation into the seminary curriculum was similarly halting. The spirit of evangelical piety that so colored its teaching renders dubious the above claim that “science”—in the German sense of Wissenschaft—had “triumphed.” Although most of the American professors here considered had imbibed some newer, “German” (largely Romantic and Hegelian) approaches to history, these they interpreted through the lens of God’s providential design. Moreover, older assumptions lingered on: that history contributed to the formation...

    • CHAPTER 5 Development and Decline: Challenges to Historiographical Categories
      (pp. 168-202)

      Did the early church develop or did it decline? This question occupied nineteenth-century German and American church historians years before Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were to trouble their intellectual worlds with other, but similarly disturbing, notions of development.¹ Decline, on the other hand, was a theme to which American Protestants warmed: the post-apostolic church had abandoned Jesus’ lofty spiritual message with distressing alacrity. Since the New Testament stood as the apex of Christianity, how could the patristic era not represent decline? Church historians of the Enlightenment era, despite their endorsement of human dignity and progress, did little to thwart...

    • CHAPTER 6 Polity and Practice
      (pp. 205-237)

      On no topic was the Protestant professors’ “quest for origins” more patent than on early Christian polity and practice. Exploring the question of when and how episcopacy developed afforded a broad opportunity for contemporary denominational apologetics and polemics. As this chapter shows, debates over the “authenticity” of various patristic writings and their authority for the present were fuelled in part by low-church Protestants’—especially Presbyterians’—need for early Christian allies in their challenge to the governmental structures of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches. Moreover, preferences in models of secular government could be deployed to ideological effect: forms of ecclesiastical...

    • CHAPTER 7 Roman Catholicism
      (pp. 238-270)

      While the Protestant professors here considered, like their Reformation forebears, sharply criticized contemporary Roman Catholicism, the concept of historical development mitigated the nineteenth-century critique: if no events in history had been totally devoid of divine purpose, Catholic belief and practice in times past might be more sympathetically registered.

      The Catholic present, however, was a different matter. The Syllabus of Errors (1864) and Vatican decrees on the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854) and on Papal Infallibility (Pastor Aeternus, 1870), when added to Protestant unease at the swelling tide of Catholic immigrants,¹ sorely tested the professors’ tolerance. The ultramontane and...

    • CHAPTER 8 Asceticism, Marriage, Women, and the Family
      (pp. 271-313)

      Nineteenth-century evangelical professors found the rise and development of early Christian asceticism difficult to explain, since to their eyes the phenomenon lacked scriptural foundation.¹ If asceticism stood against the confession that Jesus’ sacrifice was all-sufficient and implied that human “works” were needed (“Pelagianism”²), what Protestant could not see that it was based on a “false ideal”?³ Yet, since the professors believed that God had guided all history, early Christian asceticism must have served some providential purpose. This dilemma plagued their teaching and writing. They veer between “explaining” (i.e., justifying) ascetic practice in early Christianity, and “explaining it away,” largely through...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Uses of Augustine
      (pp. 314-342)

      Augustine—that is, Augustine-the-anti-Pelagian—was the chief theologian between the time of Paul and the Protestant Reformation to whom the evangelical professors warmed. Of all the Church Fathers, he had most fully professed God’s electing grace and most avidly decried “works-righteousness.”¹ Luther and Calvin (so the professors told their classes) had been “very thorough students” of his writings.²

      Aspects of Augustine’s theology, however, remained highly elusive—and hence offered a site for heated nineteenth-century debates. Had he taught that Adam was the “natural father” of all humans, or only their “representative”? Why had he not made clear the view of...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 343-346)

    This book has charted the uncertain path by which early church history entered the Protestant academy in nineteenth-century America. It has shown with what scanty resources professors of the subject attempted to build a discipline, what daunting obstacles they faced. Yet, I have argued, seminary education as here described, for all its deficiencies, was the closest approximation to graduate education in the Humanities that America could boast until late in the century.

    Readers today may with reason doubt whether the professors here discussed deserve the title “historian.” As their class notes and publications suggest, they often appealed to early Christian...

  8. APPENDIX: Student Notetakers
    (pp. 347-350)
  9. List of Abbreviations and Archival Sources
    (pp. 351-354)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 355-498)
    (pp. 499-540)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 541-558)
    (pp. 559-561)