Comparing William Booth and Isaac Hecker: my paper at WTS

I’m looking forward to the annual Wesleyan Theological Society meeting late next week at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.  I’ve never been to Idaho, so I’ll be glad to see it first-hand, although I must confess I’d rather visit that state during a warmer time of the year!

This year’s theme is “Atonement in the Wesleyan Tradition,” and features keynote addresses by Ben Witherington III, Randy Maddox, and Jason Vickers.  A recent press release discussing the speakers and award recipients is available here.   You can find the full schedule of papers here.

I’ll be presenting a paper that builds on my dissertation research.  It will be presented in the Ecumenical Studies section, and the title is “Universal Atonement or Ongoing Incarnation? Comparing the Missional Theologies of William Booth and Isaac Hecker.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper will compare the missional theologies of William Booth and Isaac Hecker, two founders of 19th century missionary agencies. Booth, who started The Salvation Army in East London in 1865, was a Wesleyan revivalist who had previously been ordained in the Methodist New Connexion. Hecker was also raised in the Methodist church, but after a roundabout spiritual journey, became a Roman Catholic, first serving as a Redemptorist Priest, and then founding the Paulist Fathers in New York City, in 1858.

William Booth via wikimedia commonsBooth and Hecker were both possessed by visions of universal revival and reform in their later years, and both believed that God’s vision for universal reform extended beyond spiritual life, to social and political structures. However, the theological assumptions behind their universal visions for mission were markedly different, and are illustrative of divergences in 19th century Wesleyan and Catholic theology. The scope of Booth’s vision was founded upon the universality of the atonement, which provided a missionary mandate to evangelize the whole world, with a particular focus on those people not being reached by “the churches.” Hecker’s vision, on the other hand, was built on the universality of the Catholic Church as the historical extension of Christ’s presence in the world. These differing Christological starting-points funded two very different understandings of work of the Spirit, the place of the Church in God’s universal mission, and the relationship of their respective missionary bodies to established church structures. Whereas the Church has a rather ambiguous place in Booth’s understanding of world-wide redemption, Hecker’s view is thoroughly ecclesiocentric.

I will close by reflecting on the potential pitfalls of each view, and suggest some ways in which contemporary Wesleyans and Catholics might think together about universal mission in a way that avoids the theological extremes of our 19th century foreparents.

Hecker via wikimedia commonsFor Booth, the scope of Christian mission is very much related to his convictions about the universality of Christ’s atoning work, and the full implications of the atonement for human life.  As he got older, he came to believe that Christ had come not only to offer “spiritual” redemption, but to “destroy the works of the devil in the present time” by relieving humanity of temporal as well as spiritual evil (see his article “Salvation for Both Worlds” for example).  On other hand, for Hecker, the Catholic Church’s unviersality meant that the church was called to take up and incorporate the best of all the cultures of the world.  Hecker had a keen sense that the Spirit was guiding universal history, and had given “characteristic gifts” to the different cultures and races of the world, all of which needed to be directed to their proper ends and brought together in the one universal Church so that they might enrich the church’s life and bring glory to God.

As I’ve previously note here, I think Booth and Hecker are a very interesting comparison.  They are both compelling figures in their own right, but also provide an fascinating window into broader trends in the nineteenth-century church.   Hopefully the paper will help to bring out the contrast between the ecclesiological ambiguities of Wesleyan-holiness revivalism and the ecclesiocentrism of Catholic thinking from the same period.

In praise of interlibrary loans

I am blessed to study at the University of Toronto, which has a world-class library system.   In fact, U of T’s libraries were recently ranked third among research libraries in North America, behind only Harvard and Yale.   The theological collections are strengthened by the fact that students have access to the libraries of the seven TST seminaries, as well as theological books held in Robarts Library, and special collections such as the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies library.   The U of T library system has just about everything you could need as a researcher.

However, when you get into a doctoral disssertation, you are often dealing with subjects that are so obscure that even U of T libraries can’t meet your needs.  That’s where interlibrary loans come in.

I think many students aren’t even aware of the amazing service that is available to them through interlibrary loans.    If my library does not have a particular book, but it can be found in another library (anywhere in the world), interlibrary loans will get it for me, free of charge.

I’ve received dozens of rare books through interlibrary loans in the past two years.  Most have come from North America, but the 1921 book Les Charismes De Saint-Esprit by Bernard Maréchaux was sent to me from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands!

Earlier this fall I was able to get a copy of the 1917 Paulist Constitutions, sent from the Catholic University of America.   Twice I have accessed a two-volume unpublished official history of the Paulists by James McVann, which came from the U.S. Library of Congress (I had to read that one on-site in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library).   Without interlibrary loans, I would have only been able to access those materials in Washington, either at the Library of Congress or the Paulist Archives.

Today I picked up an 1883 book attacking The Salvation Army, Read and Judge the (So-Called) Salvation Army, written by a Swiss Countess and translated from the French.  This one came from Duke Divinity School.

Every time I receive something on interlibrary loan, I say to myself, “I can’t believe this service exists.”  And I wonder how long it has been since anyone else has picked up this obscure book that I’m holding in my hands.  I guess I am a total geek, since I find interlibary loans so exciting, but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do the research I’ve done without the help of the interlibrary loans staff.

Methodist Influence on Isaac Hecker

One of the reasons I chose to study the Paulist Fathers alongside The Salvation Army in my dissertation is because the Paulist Founder, Isaac Hecker, had connections to the Methodist tradition.  Hecker’s Methodist grounding was tenuous, and nothing like William Booth’s ardent devotion to all things Wesleyan.  Booth is famously quoted as describing his early commitment to Methodism in the following terms: “To me there was one God, and John Wesley was his prophet.” (Booth-Tucker, Life of Catherine Booth, I: 52). Hecker had a fairly negative view of all the Protestant denominations, and spoke very negatively of his religious upbringing.  However, some have suggested that Methodism had more of an influence on Hecker than he himself might have wanted to acknowledge.

Issac Hecker was born in New York, the son of German immigrants, in 1819.  His parents married in the Dutch Reformed Church, but his mother Caroline soon joined the Methodist Church, and was a faithful member of Forsythe Street Church for the remainder of her life, even though most of her family members had no association with Methodism.  Of the four Hecker children, only one, Elizabeth, joined her mother’s church.  Caroline Hecker seems to have maintained a remarkably tolerant attitude in matters of religion, and was quite content to let her sons worship in other traditions.

Although not a great deal is known of Isaac Hecker’s involvement with the Methodists, it seems clear that he did have at least some exposure to Methodism as a child, and he had his first job working for a Methodist publishing house.  Vincent Holden, one of his biographers, claims Hecker “became acquainted with fundamental Methodist doctrine and with the Methodist form of worship.”  (The Yankee Paulp. 7)

Indeed, it has been argued that some of the Methodist ethos remained with Hecker in subtle ways throughout his life.  The point is made by John Farina, both in his Introduction to Isaac T. Hecker, The Diary: Romantic Religion in Ante-Bellum America, as well as in chapter 2 of his book, An American Experience of God.

Farina highlights several features of Methodism that would have been formative to Hecker’s early religious instruction, and which remained prominent in his own thinking and experience throughout his life:

  • The ideal of Christian community
  • A doctrine of God’s special providence
  • The doctrine of Christian perfection
  • A focus on personal experience
  • An emphasis on free will and human agency

Anyone picking up Hecker’s own writings, or reading the story of his life, can see how these emphases remained an important part of his spirituality after he became a Catholic.

Hecker was surely exaggerating when he later claimed, “no positive religious instructions were imparted to me in my youth.” (The Paulist Vocation, 49).  By the time he had reached adolescence, however, he seems to have decided that Methodism was not sufficient for the spiritual desires he felt had been placed in his own heart.  He started off on a circuitous spiritual quest that led him through political action and Transcendentalism, before he came back to the Christian Church, and eventually entered the Roman Catholic church.

Hecker was an enthusiastic Catholic, and had some strong criticisms for the Protestant traditions. In a document submitted to his spiritual directors in Rome as part of his petition for permission to found the Paulists (1858), Hecker recalled that he considered the various protestant bodies but “none answered the demands of my reason or proved satisfactory to my conscience.” In The Paulist Vocation, 52.

More specifically, regarding Methodism, Hecker commented in 1887: “…in our time it had no stated intellectual basis.  It was founded totally on emotional “conversion,” with the notorious exclusion of the intellect.” See “Dr. Brownson and Catholicity,” The Catholic World 46 (November 1887): 231.

Farina suggests that his critique of the “intellectual basis” of Methodism (and other protestant traditions) was aimed not at the internal coherence of protestant doctrine, but more fundamental questions about the nature of religious faith, and the correspondence between inner religious experience and the external world (Farina, An American Experience of God, 29).

In spite of his criticisms of the Methodism he had known as a child, I think Farina is correct in suggesting that Methodist influence can be seen in Hecker’s own thought.  I hope that at some point in my future writing I will have a chance to take up this question and provide a thorough scholarly demonstration the Methodist influence on Hecker.

The Salvation Army and the Paulist Fathers: two interesting cases of missional diversity in the church

I’m switching gears now with my dissertation and moving into writing about two historical case studies: The Salvation Army and the Paulist Fathers.   While these two particular movements might seem like an odd pair, there are a number of reasons why I’m looking at them.

First of all, there are a number of similarities between their two founders, William Booth and Isaac Hecker.   They were near-contemporaries in age (Booth lived 1829-1912 and Hecker 1819-1888).  Both have Methodist roots, with Booth originally ordained in a Methodist tradition  and Hecker raised at Forsyth Street Church in New York City.  Both are, in many respects, men of their time, typifying the optimistic, industrious, world-encompassing spirit of the nineteenth century.  Both were “home missionaries,” who brought a missionary approach to ministry in their native countries, and each could be classified as “revivalists” in their respective traditions.  Both Booth and Hecker began their ministries in other movements – Booth the Methodist New Connexion, Hecker the Redemptorists – and both ended up branching out to found their own missionary societies because of conflicts with established leadership of those movements.  Finally, both eventually developed comprehensive visions for the worldwide mission of the Church.

I’m also interested in these two movements because they both raise interesting questions about unity and diversity in the church – questions I think might be addressed using the theology of ecclesial charisms.

The Salvation Army is an interesting case because of its original insistence that it was a missionary movement, and not a church, even while it remained independent of any formal ties to a church. Its members were not members of any other churches, creating the strange situation where Salvationists could claim to be Christians but to not be part of any church.  A decisive historical moment in the movement’s history came in 1882, when a series of serious discussions with the Church of England caused William Booth to ask himself if The Salvation Army should remain an independent mission or be placed under the auspices of the Church (if you’re interested in this episode see Roger Green, The Life and Ministry of William Booth, 140-145). The fact that such discussions took place shows that Booth was not completely sure whether or not he wanted the Army to remain autonomous.  The fact that they decided to remain independent was the result, I believe, of a lack of clarity regarding ecclesiological questions (noted by Green, p. 144-145).  The Army’s independence was of decisive significance for its future course, including its non-sacramental stance and its slow progression towards claiming “churchly” status.

The Paulists, on the other hand, were never outside of the Church’s fold, but rather press the question of unity and diversity from the side of the Church’s authoritative discernment.  First of all, very early in their history they were forced to make a compromise regarding their specific mission.  The founding members wanted to be an exclusively missionary society, but they could not find a Bishop who would support them unless they took on a parish.  This meant that they had to divert some of their energy to traditional parish concerns.  It seems that the bishops they approached did not recognize the particular gift of the Paulists, and so, in order to remain a part of the Catholic church, they were forced to compromise.  Another Paulist “gift” that wasn’t recognized was Hecker’s progressive ecclesiology, in which he saw the Spirit at work, adapting the Church to particular cultures and places, in concert with the providential developments in each society.  In Americathis meant making Catholicism more “American,” by becoming more democratic and embracing the separation of Church and state. This was not received well by a Catholic hierarchy which was struggling to ensure uniformity around the world, and had been marginalized by democratic governments throughout the nineteenth century.    After Hecker’s death, his ideas were taken out of context and twisted into the “phantom heresy” of “Americanism,” which was censured by Pope Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae, issued in 1899.

If the theology of charisms is in fact useful in helping us to understand reform movements as a legitimate form of diversity in the Church, then it should be able to be applied to these two cases.  My hope is that a study of their history and self-understanding, along with a sustained critical engagement with the theology of charisms in the context of the question of the church’s visible unity, will clarify some of the questions surrounding the limits of legitimate diversity in the church.