«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
Some cross-over between the philosophical perspective of Swinburne, and theological perspectives is explained in the words of Rahner in that ‘There must be ‘philosophising’ within theology’, understanding the activity as a reflective engagement of selfunderstanding.206 The point Rahner makes is that experience, including that of spiritual revelation, sits inside what an individual already knows. Thus philosophising, even when not in terms of formal systems, is inevitable. As human beings reflect on their spiritual experiences they theologise, as they theologise reflections are philosophical in questioning what is asked; such questioning may be tacit or explicit. It is in this sense that the examination of Quaker statements is both analytical and personally engaged or selfreflective in this thesis.
Swinburne justifies a particular methodology and Williams explains and utilises a formulation of his thesis concerning a typology of theological styles. The relevance of each to the methodological approach of this thesis is considered in turn.
Swinburne, in applying philosophical thinking to matters of theology, discusses comparisons and differences between scientific argument and personal explanation. 207 He utilises the latter to develop a case for dwelling on persons and purposes, rather than material and factual accounts, in theological arguments. Swinburne’s emphasis is on the importance of rational and coherent argument, comparable to scientific objectivity in making the case for God; within this approach, however, he acknowledges the validity of 205 Merton, T. (O’Connell, P.F. ed) Thomas Merton: Cassian and the Fathers, also Pre-Benedictine Monasticism (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2006).
206 Rahner, I. (McCool, G. ed.) A Rahner Reader (London: Darton, Longmans and Todd, 1975). p.
207 Swinburne, The Existence of God, pp. 35-45.
In The Existence of God Swinburne argues that certain religious experiences support the hypothesis that God exists. 209 Indeed, the argument from religious experience is of crucial importance in Swinburne’s philosophical theology. For, according to Swinburne, without argument from religious experience the combined weight of the other arguments he considers, e.g. the teleological, the cosmological, or the argument from miracles, does not render the theistic hypothesis very probable. However, the argument from religious experience, combined with these other arguments, makes theism more probable than its rivals for Swinburne.210 Swinburne’s line of argument has been useful in endorsing the significance of personal experience in Quaker theology.
Williams suggests that ‘British theologians are... inclined to begin haphazardly and let methodology look after itself’.211 However, he writes of methodological starting points, indicating a typology of theological styles which he terms ‘celebratory, communicative and critical’. In writing about theological approaches Williams warns about the dangers of excessive strictures arising from attempts at final clarity. 212 He maintains that such attempts can become ‘so densely worked that the language is in danger of being sealed in 208 Swinburne, The Existence of God, p. 303, ‘… in the absence of reason for challenge, we should believe what people tell us about their experiences’, p. 322.
For relevant discussion see Knitter, P. Without Buddha I could not be a Christian, (Oxford:
Oneworld, 2009) p. 15, ‘God must be an experience before “God” can be a word. Unless God is an experience, whatever word we might use for the Divine will be without content, like a road sign pointing nowhere, like lightbulbs without electricity.’ 210 Note Ward, K Why there Almost Certainly is a God, (Oxford: Lion, 2008), p. 23 addressing a criticism by Dawkins, who suggests that ‘“Like Swinburne, Ward mistakes what it means to explain something”. However, [says Ward], Swinburne and I are not making a mistake. We are claiming that there is more than one sort of explanation for why things happen as they do’. This perspective is maintained in this thesis in accounting for and explaining Inward Spiritual Experience.
211 Williams, R. On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), p. xii.
212 See also O’ Murchu, D. Quantum Theology Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2013) refers to an ‘open and creative horizon of exploration’ that is not constrained by narrow conceptual language, which he endorses throughout his book,. p. 11. He describes this as ‘an exploration of that wisdom which awakens and sustains the creative impulse of life’. p. 12.
47 on itself’.213 Thus, in arguing for theological integrity, he suggests ‘mobility’ between styles that will allow for God to be ‘addressed’ as well as ‘talked about’.214 The interaction between celebratory, communicative and critical theology engages a manner of thinking and expression that admits prayer and worship into the equation. However, as Williams suggests ‘Theology can be no more and no less (and not otherwise) ‘systematic’ than the, processes of faith to which it is answerable, and if it is confident of ways divorced from this, it loses its integrity’. 215 Every attempt has been made in this thesis to retain the integrity of Quaker theology to which the arguments presented are answerable, but at the same time mobility of approaches has been introduced.
The position of Swinburne has influenced the degree of concern with rational coherence aimed at in the writing of this thesis. At the same time Williams’ acknowledgment of the need for ‘mobility’ of approaches has endorsed the importance of valuing Quaker emphasis on experience, as authorial and setting this alongside academic consideration. Williams’ reference to an ‘informal theology’ includes prayer, worship, art and holy action.216 The latter requires an understanding of the different kinds of material used in the thesis as: a) that which addresses God, arising from approaches to worship, and is celebratory and devotional and b) that which talks about God and approaches to worship, and is, or may be, in the main critical.
It is thus acknowledged that there is a difference between two types of material used within the thesis: on the one hand there is use of academic analysis and there is also use of descriptive accounts of worship experience and states of knowing. 217 It is Williams’
215 Williams, R. ibid, p. 14. Also Ward, K. God: a guide for the perplexed, especially.p. 241-253, for relevant discussion of different sorts of interpretation (‘personal reality’) and appropriate recognition of ‘the beliefs to which we [all people] are most fundamentally committed’ p. 241. This recognition is comparable to the need for a degree of flexibility in the formulation of theoretical positions such as Williams’ plea for ‘mobility’.
216 Williams, ibid, p. xiii.
217 As for example, sections 1.3 and 1.4 and chapter 5.
48 argument for a degree of flexibility in pursuing honest and truthful theology that has provided support for acknowledging “informal” theology (i.e. in prayer, worship and holy action or expression as indicated above) as important in understanding and interpreting religious faith and practice, including that of Friends.
Smart and McGinn have also influenced the way material has been discussed in the thesis. Smart’s ‘joint appeal to religious experience and philosophical analysis’ provides an exemplar for considering faith and practice.218 The fact that his approach is primarily comparative does not diminish its importance for examining specific faiths and their practices. The ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’ that are to be located in the specific example of Quakerism are attributed to experience and amenable to analysis in context. In this thesis the task is conducted by evaluating narrative, descriptive and analytic accounts of Inwardness from the 17th century (chapters 2, 3 and 4) and examining them in relation to development and changes in the more recent history of the 20th and 21st century (chapter 5). This process involves, what Smart terms as, engaging in relevant selectivity. He indicates that ‘the philosopher, when he contemplates religious facts, is not merely interested in history, but in central likeness and difference…’219 This selectivity is, then, required in the analysis and interpretation of Quaker statements about Inwardness, in order to evaluate the meaningfulness of Quaker accounts of one of their central concepts, and of analysis of this by relevant scholars.
McGinn reminds scholars that explanatory perspectives need to be aligned with description that acknowledges the background of Christian history and any particular, and related, example of mystical/spiritual faith or practice.220 This point is relevant both to the study of Quakerism and other faith positions. In this connection his heuristic approach emphasises the significance of interconnection between (mystical) experience and its (theological) interpretation in relation to historical record. Any reference to text thus 218 Shepherd, J.( ed.), Ninian Smart on World Religions, (Vol. 1), p. xvi, on Smart’s concern for ‘the importance of comparative studies in religion’.
219 Smart, N. (in Shepherd, J. ed.), ‘Empiricism and Religions’, World Religions, 1, p. 37.
220 McGinn, Essential Writings, p. xiv, ‘... mysticism is best understood in the light of its interaction with the other aspects of the whole religious complex in which it comes to expression’.
McGinn also warns of over-emphasis on autobiographical accounts.221 However, he points out that ‘the only thing directly available [to us] … is the evidence, largely in the form of written record left to us of ‘former ages’. 222 In the case of Quakerism, much of this is in the form of Journals that are mainly autobiographical. Nonetheless, in the 360year history of Quakerism, which both departs from and aligns with records of the key elements and stages of Christianity’s development, different nuances arise which make for a rich texture of Quaker statements that are amenable to discussion.223
1.5.2 Methodological approach
The fact that Quakerism is largely non-creedal, non-sacramental, and an experiential faith and practice based on mystical characteristics does create difficulties in identifying relevant theological certainties.224 For this reason the methodological influences outlined above are, as indicated, influences only rather than determining factors. They offer guidelines to the procedure undertaken in the analysis of descriptive, narrative and interpretative texts. However, the experiential theology of Friends is not without its clarifying statements and it is these that are analysed in this thesis as a means to discover the processes and outcomes of Quaker spiritual practice.
Critical analysis of Friends’ faith commitments, to the extent that these are written into the understandings cited, offers a means of interpreting the Quaker way of worship
and living. The methodology used involves careful reading of texts, for the purpose of:
222 McGinn, ibid. p. xiv.
223 An example of consonance is the liberalising effect of new knowledge, such as science and biblical criticism, on Christianity in general and also on Quakerism. An example of dissonance is, in the development in early Quakerism, including rejection of dogma and liturgy to the extent that Quakerism became a creedless religion, depending in the main on individual and corporate experience.
224 Spencer, C. D. ‘Quakers in Theological Context’ in The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. p. 141 on profound contemplation
2) systematising the relationships between the concepts in order to reflect an understanding of the practice of inwardness
3) drawing out the consequences of the concepts separately and in combination to develop a significant body of evidence for main arguments, and
4) building the theoretical perspective that informs ongoing discussion.
Stillness and Silence are identified initially in Fox’s work as the primary Conditions of Quaker spiritual practice. Subsequent references to each of these concepts, are found to indicate an important relationship between the two as their practise is infused in experience of profound contemplation. Fox’s regard for the importance of Stillness and Silence is endorsed in the writings of the other Quakers discussed. Investigation into the literature of the seventeenth and the twentieth/twenty-first century further confirms that Friends’ spiritual practice relies on ‘still silence’ or ‘silent stillness’. The two concepts, Stillness and Silence, thus make plain the initial processes of spiritual practice as introduced by Fox.
Consideration of the primary concepts, as the Conditions that need to be created for involvement in Quaker spiritual practice, identifies the manner in which they are foundational. However, further analysis of relevant literature indicates that a number of other considerations (Elements) rest on this foundation to create, in combination, a sequence of significant concerns. These are examined to demonstrate their relationship and to draw out the consequences of their inclusion in the teachings and preachings of Fox, Penington and Barclay in the seventeenth century and other influential Quakers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.