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Taylor, Nathaniel William


American Congregationalist theologian and founder of Yale Divinity School, who had a formative influence on the liberal orthodoxy of the New Haven tradition; b. New Milford, Conn., June 23, 1786; d. New Haven, Conn., March 10, 1858. The son of an apothecary and grandson of the local pastor, Taylor was prepared for Yale by a neighboring minister and entered the college in 1800; poor health delayed his graduation until 1807. He then studied theology under Timothy dwight, acting for a time as his secretary. He was ordained in 1812 as pastor of the First Congregational Church, New Haven. He gave encouragement to a series of religious revivals beginning in 1815 and worked closely with Lyman bee cher to promote the American Bible Society and various reform groups; at the same time he was engaged in controversy with unitarians and Episcopalians (see episco pal church, u.s.). His departure from the theological tradition of Jonathan edwards, evident in such sermons as "Salvation Free to the Willing" preached in 1819, was signalized in his 1828 "Concio ad Clerum" at New Haven. In this address he maintained that moral depravity is not sinfulness and that sin consists in "man's own act, consisting of a free choice of some object rather than God, as his chief good." He argued further that it was impossible for God to prevent sin while maintaining the moral system in which free agents are inalienably able to sin. This sermon involved him in a series of published debates with Bennett Tyler, Leonard Woods, and other spokesmen of the older New England tradition. His stress on the freedom of the will, particularly as interpreted by his disciples, was an underlying cause of the breakdown of the Congregational-Presbyterian Plan of Union, as well as a direct influence on the liberal theology of Horace bushnell. In 1822 Taylor was instrumental in founding Yale Divinity School and became its first professor of didactic theology, a post he held, in addition to his pastoral charge, until his death. His classroom lectures were published posthumously as Lectures on the Moral Government of God (New York 1859).

Bibliography: s. e. mead, Nathaniel William Taylor, 17861858: A Connecticut Liberal (Chicago 1942). f. h. foster, A Genetic History of the New England Theology (New York 1963). c. r. keller, The Second Great Awakening in Connecticut (New Haven 1942).

[r. k. macmaster]

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