Friends, The (Religious) Society of

views updated

Friends, The (Religious) Society of, often called Quakers. A religious group of Christian derivation, emerging in the 17th cent. under the leadership of George Fox. His followers first called themselves ‘children of the light’, following Fox's emphasis on the inner light which takes precedence over external guidance. They came to be called ‘Friends’ from the statement of Jesus (John 15. 14), ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.’ They were first called Quakers in 1650, when Fox commanded a magistrate to tremble at the name of the Lord—though the name occurs earlier, of those who experienced tremors in a religious ecstasy. The Friends oppose warfare (partly on grounds of the command of Christ, partly because warfare demonstrates a diseased humanity), and refuse to take oaths (since walking in the light means telling the truth). They were committed to the abolition of slavery ( John Woolman, 1720–72), women's suffrage ( Lucretia Mott, 1793–1880; Susan Anthony, 1820–1906), prison reform ( Elizabeth Fry, 1780–1845), and the care of the mentally ill.

The resistance of the Friends to 16th-cent. laws of religion led to considerable persecution. Many fled to the American colonies, where William Penn (1644–1718) founded Pennsylvania. Their spirit of personal truth was given classic expression in Robert Barclay's Theologiae Verae Christianae Apologia (1676: Apology for the True Christian Divinity, 1678). Despite Fox's Rule for the Management of Meetings (1688), which gave cohesion to the movement, there have been four subsequent divisions, especially that of the Hicksites, following Elias Hicks (1748–1830).

About this article

Friends, The (Religious) Society of

Updated About content Print Article