Frederick Denison Maurice

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MAURICE, FREDERICK DENISON (18051872), Anglican theologian, founder of Christian Socialism. John Frederick Denison Maurice was born near Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, the only son of a Unitarian minister, Michael Maurice, and Priscilla Hurry Maurice. Childhood memories of bitter family religious dissension (his mother and three older sisters abandoned Unitarianism for a form of Calvinism) left the young Frederick with a thirst for unity that was to motivate him all his life.

At Cambridge from 1823 to 1826, Maurice was influenced by Coleridge. During his intense conversion experience beginning in 1828, Maurice was deeply affected by the Scottish theologians Edward Irving (17921834) and Thomas Erskine (17881870). He decided to read for holy orders as an undergraduate, this time at Oxford, and was rebaptized and ordained in the Church of England in 1834.

At the core of this experience was Maurice's desire to know God directly as an actual, living person, in contrast to the abstract God of the Unitarians. This was not merely a romantic reaction to Western rationalism, but the discovery of a biblical, Christocentric, Pauline worldview, the great paradox of Christian faith, in which the holy and invisible God was at the same time in the person of a man. For Maurice, the fundamental, unchanging relationship at the heart of reality was that between God as revealer and man, the creature formed to know God. Man as the receiving image possesses no nature or life of his own. Man's sin is his assertion of independence, his striving hard not to be a receiver. Christ, the perfect image of the Father, is the image after which man was created. Christ is in every man, but the condemnation of every man is that he will not believe or act as if this were true. Maurice found the objective structure of this subjective faith in the articles, creeds, and liturgy of the English church. These formed a permanent witness to the fact that God had established a spiritual and universal kingdom on earth.

Maurice applied this worldview consistently to what he perceived as the basic need of his time: the rediscovery of revelation as the ground of faith. A divine-human struggle has marked all human history through man's distortion or denial of God's revelation. Instead of receiving and living within the given, divine order or constitution of the universe, man has been busily creating theories, systems, and opinions of his own as substitutes. These have resulted in the fragmentations of religious and political sects, parties, and factions and in philosophical attempts to bring heaven and earth within the terms of the intellect, Hegel being the latest offender. Maurice's method was the reverse: to be a digger, uncovering the original purpose and intent of all institutions, in order to show they were meant to be signs to the world of something invisible and permanent, the lineaments of an actual, existing kingdom of Christ.

In his writings, Maurice deliberately took the offensive, impelled by an urgent sense that a serious crisis of faith was growing among the young and that what passed for religion was a perversion of the Judeo-Christian faith that could not win their allegiance. His experience with young men was considerable: with medical students as chaplain of Guy's Hospital, London (18361845); as professor of English literature and history and then of theology (18401853) at King's College, London; with law students as chaplain of Lincoln's Inn, London (18461860). His luminous personal qualities and passionate devotion to truth attracted a growing circle of young men who were deeply influenced by him. These close contacts increased his concern about their questionings and doubts. They were being dosed with religion about God rather than with the living God himself: "Religion against God: this is the heresy of our age."

The revolutions of 1848 and the potentially explosive social situation in England found Maurice as spiritual leader of the short-lived but significant Christian Socialist movement (18481854), together with John Malcolm Ludlow (18211911) and Charles Kingsley (18191875). Convinced that cooperation, not competition, was the true foundation of a Christian society, their practical focus became that of cooperative associations for tailors and other trades. For Maurice the kingdom of Christ was the actual constitution of the universe, the "great practical existing reality which is to renew the earth." Society was not to be made anew but regenerated through uncovering its true functions and purpose, a view opposed to Ludlow's aim for reorganizing society on a socialist base. Maurice's interest in the education of the young was extended through his experience with workers, resulting in the founding in London of the Working Men's College (1854) to express his conviction that the true ground of human culture was not utilitarian but theological, the original purpose for which the ancient universities had been founded. His concern to set high standards for the education of governesses led to the founding of Queen's College, London, early in 1848.

Negative reactions to Maurice's theological and social views and to his growing influence reached a climax with the publication of his Theological Essays in 1853. These essays were written with the doubts and questions of the young in mind, as an alternative to the prevailing evangelical orthodoxy, which presented only theories and systems about God, Judgment Day, the verbal inspiration of the Bible, and everlasting punishment. This last Maurice viewed as a cosmic struggle between two eternal opposites: eternal life, which God presents to man, and eternal death, which man chooses for himself. But Christ's gospel reveals an abyss of love below that of death. This view was interpreted by the religious press as a denial of everlasting punishment and led finally to Maurice's expulsion from King's College in 1853 for unsettling the minds of the young.

Despite such controversies, increasing recognition and acceptance came to Maurice in his lifetime and he is viewed today as one of the most original thinkers of the Church of England. His permanent influence remains that of a prophet whose writings formed a sustained, passionate critique of the religious world of his time, comparable in depth to that of Søren Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century and of Karl Barth in the twentieth.


Works by Frederick Denison Maurice

The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice Chiefly Told in His Own Letters, edited by his son, Frederick Maurice (London, 1884), is a major source for understanding Maurice's thought. For a selection of the letters, see Toward the Recovery of Unity, edited by John F. Porter and William J. Wolf (New York, 1964). Characteristic themes appear in his early work The Kingdom of Christ, or, Hints on the Principles, Ordinances, and Constitution of the Catholic Church in Letters to a Member of the Society of Friends (1838; revised, London, 1842). A new edition by Alec Vidler, based on the 1842 edition, has been published in two volumes (London, 1958). The post-Reformation religious bodiesProtestant, Roman Catholic, and Anglicanhave turned their true principles into separate systems and theories, thereby losing sight of that church universal that existed before these systems and whose signs are indicated in the book's title. A variation of this theme is applied to the history of philosophy in Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy: Philosophy of the First Six Centuries, 2 vols., 2d ed., rev. (1854; reprint, London, 1872), begun in 1835, which contrasts man's independent search for wisdom with that Wisdom that first sought him. A lengthy controversy over Henry L. Mansel's Bampton Lectures of 1858 resulted in an important statement of the actual revelation of God to man presented in two works: What Is Revelation? A Series of Sermons on the Epiphany (Cambridge, 1859) and A Sequel to the Inquiry, What Is Revelation? (Cambridge, 1860). Some of the flavor of Maurice's views on Christian Socialism may be gleaned from Politics for the People, weekly papers from May through August 1848 (London), and Tracts on Christian Socialism (London, 1850).

Works on Frederick Denison Maurice

Among the works by the many distinguished twentieth-century Anglicans interested in Maurice, Alec Vidler's pioneering study Witness to the Light: F. D. Maurice's Message for Today (New York, 1948), his later F. D. Maurice and Company (London, 1966), and Arthur M. Ramsey's F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology (Cambridge, 1951) are outstanding. Frank M. McClain's Maurice: Man and Moralist (London, 1972) is a perceptive account of how Maurice's personal relationships shaped his outlook on those givens of the Kingdom: the self, the family, the nation, and the church as universal society. My own Frederick Denison Maurice: Rebellious Conformist (Athens, Ohio, 1971) is a historical study emphasizing the centrality of Maurice's conversion from Unitarianism to Anglicanism and assessing his stature as a major Victorian figure. The Danish scholar Torben Christensen's The Divine Order: A Study of F. D. Maurice's Theology (Leiden, 1973) is a detailed analysis of Maurice's thought as a fusion of the message of the Bible and the Platonic idea of reality, in which Christianity is adjusted to Platonism. See also his excellent critical work Origin and History of Christian Socialism, 18481854 (Aarhus, 1962).

Olive J. Brose (1987)

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English theologian and Christian Socialist; b. Normanstown, near Lowestoft, April 29, 1805; d. Cambridge, April 1, 1872. Maurice's father was a Unitarian minister, but others in his family were Calvinists or Anglicans. He was baptized an Anglican (1831) and was ordained (1834). With Whitmore he was joint editor of the Metropolitan Quarterly Magazine, and edited the London Literary Chronicle before and after it was amalgamated with the Athenaeum (1830). In 1840 he was appointed professor of English literature and history at King's College, London, and in 1846 he combined this position with the chair of theology. He was dismissed from both positions in 1853, however, for his denial of the eternity of hell. From 1848 to 1854 he was associated with J. M. F. Ludlow and Charles Kingsley as a leader of the Christian Socialists, and acted as joint editor of their publication, Politics for the People. He drew up a scheme for a workingmen's college in London and became its first principal. From 1866 until his death he taught moral philosophy at Cambridge, and from 1871 he was also incumbent of St. Edward's church in Cambridge. His Christian Socialism was ahead of its time and was largely a failure, although his views later influenced Anglo-Catholics such as Charles gore and the Lux Mundi school. The most important of his many writings are: The Kingdom of Christ (1838), What is Revelation? (1859), The Claims of the Bible and of Science (1863), and Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (187172).

Bibliography: The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, Chiefly Told in His Letters, ed. f. maurice, 2 v. (New York 1884). a.r. vidler, The Theology of F. D. Maurice (London 1948), issued in U.S. as Witness to the Light (New York 1948). f. m. g. higham, Frederick Denison Maurice (London 1947). f. l. cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 877878. w. m. davies, An Introduction to F. D. Maurice's Theology (London 1964).

[w. hannah]

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Maurice, Frederick Denison (1805–72). Christian clergyman and social reformer. He was the son of a Unitarian minister, and was unable to graduate from Cambridge University because he could not subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles. Influenced by the writings of Coleridge and by a profound conversion experience, he became an Anglican and was ordained in 1834. After a curacy, he became chaplain to Guy's Hospital in London in 1836, when he published The Kingdom of Christ. In this he argued that since Christ is the head of every person, all people are bound in a universal fellowship which life in all its aspects should make manifest. In 1853, he published Theological Essays, which included a rejection of eternal punishment determined at the moment of death. He had ‘no faith in man's theory of a Universal Restitution’ (i.e. universalism), but maintained that the quest for the return of the prodigal would have no end.

This cautious view was nevertheless taken to be a subversion of the necessary foundation for moral life, and he was therefore dismissed from the College (although the real animus against him lay in his connection with Christian Socialism.

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Maurice, Frederick Denison (1805–72). Anglican theologian and social reformer. Son of a unitarian minister, Maurice was ordained in the Church of England and became professor of theology at King's College, London, but was forced to resign in 1853 because of his unorthodox views on eternal punishment. Maurice rejected the narrow moralism of his day and called for a wider understanding of the kingdom of God. He was deeply moved by the political events of 1848 and declared himself a Christian socialist. In 1854 he founded the Working Men's College in London and became increasingly recognized as a leader of Christian social reform. Contemporaries like John Stuart Mill criticized Maurice as muddled and obscure; but to his friends he was a saintly and prophetic figure. His writings supported the tenets of the broad-church school of Anglicans (modernists) and also influenced the Christian socialist revival of 1877–1914.

John F. C. Harrison

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Frederick Denison Maurice, 1805–72, English clergyman and social reformer. He was brought up a Unitarian but became an Anglican. He studied law at Cambridge and was a founder of the Apostles' Club. Entering Oxford in 1830, he took holy orders in 1831, but in 1853 he lost the post of professor of divinity at King's College, London, because of the views contained in his Theological Essays (1853). He held the chair of moral philosophy at Cambridge from 1866 until his death. Besides one novel, Eustace Conway (1834), he wrote many religious works, including Lectures on Ecclesiastical History (1854) and The Doctrine of Sacrifice (1854). Maurice was a leader of the Christian socialism movement and also a leader in education, being a founder of Queen's College for women (1848) and the Working Men's College (1854), both in London.

See biographies by his son, Sir J. F. Maurice (1884), and C. F. G. Masterman (1907); studies by F. M. McClain (1972) and O. J. Brose (1972).