«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
1) The fact that there is no work which examines the inward dimension of Quakerism as its primary focus, despite its foundational significance for Friends, leaves a notable omission in the body of research into Quakerism. This thesis builds on earlier learning (1.3 and 1.4) to underpin a comprehensive and detailed investigation of early thinking, development and understanding of one of the major concepts of Quakerism. This has not been undertaken previously.
The theoretical position that this thesis advances acknowledges that controversy has surrounded other contentions regarding a mystical framework for Quakerism. William Braithwaite and Rufus Jones, for example, argued that Quakerism is basically mystical. Hugh Barbour and Arthur O. Roberts, although accepting mystical elements in the early development of the Religious Society of Friends, question this view of some aspects of 17th-century Quakerism. Barbour, H. and Roberts, A.O. (eds.) Early Quaker Writings, 1650-1700, Introduction, pp.13-44, (Wallingford, PA :Pendle Hill:2004)[1973 copyright]. See also Endy, M.
‘The Interpretation of Quakerism. Rufus Jones and his Critics’ in Quaker History, 70, No 1, (1981) pp. 3-21.
As is shown throughout this thesis, Quakers are keen to gain immediate/direct experience of God.
Descriptions of direct experience include that given by Carmody, D.L. and Carmody, J.T., Mysticism:
Holiness East and West, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 10 and concluding chapter. This resonates with Quaker accounts. Additionally Fox’s ‘openings’, for example, recorded as among the earliest of Quaker descriptions, may be likened, albeit analogously, to the ‘showings’ of Julian of Norwich. Both Fox and Julian, in their own way, spent their lives being transformed by experience, which led to a prolonged period of growth, their need to fully comprehend their experience, and to transmit it to others. This resulted in ongoing journeying in the awareness of God.
10 The existence of the Quaker Study Centre, at Woodbrooke, in Birmingham, and courses designated for ‘spiritual nourishment’ is noted. However, it is argued that to date there is nothing offered that approximates to a practical application of Fox’s Quaker spiritual practice as analysed in detail in this thesis.
Thus, in this respect, there is a gap in Quaker studies in both its theoretical and practical dimensions..
11 Throughout the thesis the term ‘consciousness’ is understood as the foundation of awareness; the means by which individuals have the capacity to be both objectively and subjectively conscious (conscious of objects and self-referringly conscious).
2) Since there is to date no significant literature that deals directly with inwardness in processes of and practices for spiritual development in Quakerism, analysis of this dimension is important. In the present day, the Quaker position on equality militates against any notion of a hierarchy of spirituality within the Religious Society of Friends.12 However, there is the need for this view to be examined objectively. Therefore, the Quaker notion of ‘measure’ [g] of spiritual endowment and development is discussed. The thesis analyses interpretations of spiritual growth (1.4.1, 1.4.2 and 1.4.3) in relevant Quaker literature in order to account for understandings of different stages or levels of experiential knowing. This is a new consideration within studies of Quakerism.
3) The lack of research in 1) and 2) above leaves a gap in Quaker theology, since there is no body of prior scholarship that provides a comprehensive explanation of how spiritual maturity might be gained or understood in terms of Quakerism.13 This thesis locates a framework for considering main concerns of the spiritual practice of Friends from within Quaker texts as the basis on which the issue of maturing experience, in different stages of development, is examined.14 It is suggested that these are available to Friends by means of their own practice. Consideration of the possibility of sequentially cognised states of inward expansion, and analysis of developmental experience and understanding of inwardness is new within Quaker theology.15 12 The end of recorded ministers (1924) is noted in relation to growing ambivalence about spiritual hierarchy.
13 For many Quakers this is found in the ‘ideal’ of Christ’s life. Rufus Jones writes of the ‘supreme instance’ demonstrated in the life of Christ. He continues, ‘There are no known limits to the possible translation of the spirit of God – the Eternal Christ – into human personality’. ‘The historical and inward Christ’ in Bernet, C. Rufus Jones (1863–1948), (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009), p. 35.
14 Stages of development are examined in relation to experiential multiplicity, duality and unity and shown with reference to a diagrammatic representation of spiritual advancement – See chapters 2 and 6.
15 This is not a reference to merely cognitive knowing, understood as intellectual, but rather to experiential knowing and developmentally revealed understanding, known personally, which is consistent with Quaker theology.
4 These three areas of examination combine in offering a significant contribution to understanding: a) Quaker spirituality b) spiritual development within Quakerism, c) Quaker worship and the Quaker way of life, in mature spirituality. Although understanding of each of these three areas is developed within the thesis, the primary concern is a detailed theological examination of Inwardness within the faith and practice of British Friends.
Subsequent sections of this chapter include consideration of the context within which main issues discussed arose (1.2). Sections 1.3 and 1.4 focus on reviewing the relevance of previous literature to the research. Methodological approach and sources are discussed in relation to narrative, descriptive and analytic accounts of Inwardness (1.5). Section 1.6 outlines the thesis as a whole, and 1.7 summarises and concludes the chapter.
1.2 Context within which main issues discussed arose
Quakerism was, in its formation, in need of a developed theology, a clear statement of principles and practices, which was a theology of its own period and place: for the Quakers of the mid seventeenth century it is, then, relevant to note that ‘in the culture of the English Revolution…in this period of intense religious conflict religion and politics were inseparable: religion was politicized and radicalism often took a religious form’. 16 However, Fox’s teaching was a fully committed response to spiritual seeking and, in turn, a revelation that led to his concern for spiritual, inward worship.
Fox’s injunction to ‘turn within’ became the foundation of his developing theology, but it did not imply a turning away from the issues of the age, which Quakers addressed as the outcome or consequence of Inwardness and discernment.17 Within a background of 16 Corns, T and Loewenstein, D. (eds.) The Emergence of Quaker Writing, (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1995) indicate that examination of Quakerism facilitates examination of ‘… the ways radical religious literature actively contributed to the culture of both the Interregnum and the Restoration, whose social, religious and political orthodoxies it vigorously questioned’ (p. 2). However, Fox’s spiritual and religious concerns were not merely a response to socio-political trends, rather he was primarily a seeker of God and Truth caught up in the upheavals of the time.
17 Braithwaite’s, Beginnings, writes ‘we find ourselves not in a region of dogma or tradition or external authority, but of the vital and vitalizing relations with God, and with each other which filled the Quaker groups with radiant strength’ (p. 526) and the ‘manifold social service for the Kingdom of God which should exercise and develop the faculties of countless groups of disciples’ (p. 529).
5 extreme political unrest in the mid seventeenth century and a context of proliferating sects [g] and separatists, Quakers, and some Puritans, began to practice their faith differently from the rest of contemporary Christianity. A growing emphasis on the need for personal experience, that would free all seekers from the binding influence of the Churches, developed. Quakers, in particular, engaged in meeting for worship based in silence. This bore resemblance to mystical observance with characteristics that were unique outside the monastic tradition.18 As Carole Dale Spencer maintains, ‘All Christian mysticism values the element of silence, the end of speech, but no Christian tradition, outside of monasticism, has elevated the use of silence on a regular, communal basis to the extent of the early Quakers’.19 Indeed aspects of Quaker worship bear comparison with the mystical silence of other traditions.20 This research acknowledges and accepts key features of seventeenth century Quaker thinking as context-specific and compatible with the Christian roots of its birth. These include, for example, aspects of biblical teaching and the significance of the Person and work of Jesus Christ.21 It is, then, important to have an understanding of Inwardness within Quaker faith and practice to acknowledge not only specific features of Christian 18 Exact parallels cannot be drawn between aspects of early contemplative teachings and those of Quakerism, but similarities do exist. For example, St. Basil (329 or 330-379) speaks of the three phases of Monastic spiritual discipline: the purgative, illuminative (contemplative) and the unitive. By way of comparison in present day Quakerism, Rex Ambler, writes about ‘Experiment with Light’ [g], in terms of initial stages of recognising and removing sin and transgression (purgative) and subsequent transformation that leads to a new way of seeing (illuminative) and is ultimately unitive. Experiment with Light is an introspective practice concerned less with Inwardness itself and more with thoughts and issues that the practice discloses, which the individual feels in need of facing and, possibly, freeing himself or herself from.
It is for this reason that the practice is regarded as purgative in this thesis. See section 1.4.2. Rex Ambler questions my interpretation of Quaker spiritual practice, as explained fully in chapter 6 of the thesis. It is my contention, however, that our main difference is that Ambler’s emphasis is on Fox’s teaching to ‘turn to the Light’ which he maintains discloses sin and transgression, whereas I place emphasis on the need to ‘turn within’ to find the Light and thus to ‘look over’ sin and transgression. See also Gwyn. Apocalypse, p. 66, on the need to cleanse transgressions in the process of spiritual development i.e. ‘the light in the first instance acts as revealer of sin and inwardly known law’. ‘Convincement is not by words as preached but by the inward Word known in spiritual silence to which Quaker preaching turned them [hearers]’ p. 67. Parallels are discussed in chapter 6.
19 Spencer, C. D. Holiness: the Soul of Quakerism, (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007), p. 30.
1) The experiential nature of Quaker theology,
2) Friends’ selectivity and rejection of some Christian principles in the formation of the growing Quaker Movement.
Having its setting in a Christian framework, influenced by academic, philosophical, historical, and socio-political trends of the period, Quaker theology inherits a ‘structure’, an ‘architecture’ and modes of thinking about key issues, including inwardness.23 It is, however, as William James suggested, ‘a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel truth than men had ever known in England.’24 The specific and identifying features of Quakerism as radical are: 1) the extent of emphasis on the inwardness of experience, 2) its relative lack of liturgy and 3) Friends’ distinctive social behaviours. 25 These arose out of the background of religious upheaval of the mid seventeenth century and the then current challenges to the church arising within the Puritan revolution.26 Quaker theology is, thus, sharply distinguished from much of the Christianity of its day. 27 22 Creasey, Christology, p. 194, ‘... Friends were compelled to reconsider their message and, in some directions, to modify their manner of expressing it’.
23 McGrath, A. Christian Theology: An Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p.105.
24 James, W. The Varieties of Religious Experience,( London: Fontana, 1960), p. 30.
25 It is the first of these that is given primary consideration in this research i.e. extent of emphasis on inwardness.
26 Braithwaite, Beginnings, chapter 1.
27 For example, Quakers rejected the authority of the professors (academic, university trained ministers and theologians), much of the prevailing dogma and doctrine, and certain modes of behaviour, thus challenging what had been normative Christianity. However, Richard Bailey (New Light) suggests that many of the features associated with Quakerism were already to be found among other religious groups. For Bailey the truly radical element of early Quakerism was Fox’s theology of ‘christopresentism’. See his Introduction.