I’m a Unitarian And I’m All Right! (I Question All Day and I Wonder All Night)…
This is an excerpt from an assignment in one of my seminary courses: write about two theologians on a theme of your choice, your opinion included. We were expected to refrain from using secondary sources.–So in disclaimer, yes, there very well could be a lot of things in here others have already thought, and yes, it is my academic writing, which is not my strongest medium.
(Or low, or pre-heat, or ‘warm’…)
Love, Reason and Truth Between 19th Century Unitarians and Universalists
Hosea Ballou and Samuel Calthrop wrote theological arguments that demonstrated the importance of love in 19th century Unitarian and Universalist philosophies of salvation and the relationship between humanity and God. Ballou spent his American career in Boston Massachusetts. Calthrop began as an earlier incarnation of today’s “interim ministers” in the same city. He eventually settled permanently as minister of the May Memorial Unitarian Church of Syracuse NY (May Memorial website).
Neither of these astonishing theologians lived to see the alliance of the Unitarians and Universalists in the 20th century or the fully developed Seven Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Church. However, the two left passionately articulated ideas and convictions behind in their articles and sermons that presaged the Seventh UU Principle of “Respect for the interconnected web of all existence of which we are all a part” (UUA). The legacies of Ballou’s faith in a loving and universal salvation, and Calthrop’s sense of wonder in celebrating the universe through science and exploration continue to resonate into the modern era.
Ballou’s acknowledgement of the role of reason in discerning the nature of love and salvation connects him with a minister of the other magnetic pole of the UUA’s evolutionary roots; the Unitarian Church. Ballou’s Universalist advocacy of reason and love finds an answer in Samuel Calthrop’s work, which moves through the rest of the 19th century. Calthrop actually began his citizenship in America, and his very ministry serving in a Universalist church in Long Island, New York after immigrating to the United States in 1853, a year after Ballou’s death in Boston Massachusetts. Ordained as a Unitarian Minister in 1860, Calthrop’s 1874 article “Religion and Science,” fourteen years after embracing Unitarian ministry, twenty years after his tenure in Ballou’s Church, demonstrated that there were ideas that he valued across the denominational gap. For Calthrop, thoughtful exploration to get an idea of all that is going on in the universe is essential to understand and to fully celebrate God as a divine entity.
In Calthrop’s “Religion and Science” God comes into play briefly, if stirringly at the beginning of his article before science takes the “front row” position—although as in any tiered argument, God may be on a separate level but remains relevant to the discussion. Calthrop’s opening reference to Saint Paul gives a clear indication of the direction of his theological focus:
“The invisible things of God” says Saint Paul, “are clearly seen by the things that are made.” If this be true, then the way to clearly see the Invisible God in the things made is to look at the things themselves. In other words, the things themselves will show us how they were made. (Samuel Calthrop, “Religion and Science,” 309).
Calthrop leads into his article with a precedent from Christianity and the celebration of an emotional as well as a reasonable approach, although in his case it is “humility.” This is one of Calthrop’s more subtle links between science and emotion, specifically love. Humility is not a rational or scientific principle, but one based in respect and, frequently, love. Therefore, although Calthrop explores love and intellectual reasoning quite openly later in his work, he ties the two separate concepts together from his opening arguments.
As Calthrop was arguing its relevance to religion, Science, the geology, chemistry, physiology and evolutionary biology he extolled, were all in their infancy. Germ theory was not proven. Nobody had seen an Atom. Some of the building blocks of what would become Richard Feynman’s beloved quantum electro dynamics were in place, and Darwin’s work was emerging as well as beginning its own long evolution in the scientific community (Feynman, Jim Ottaviani, 198-199/Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin). Reason, then, played a critical role in the gathering and evaluation of data. But for Calthrop, reason is beloved, something more than a simple means to an end. Reason and science are the keys to celebrating and understanding a vast universe which correspondingly ties humanity to the divine.
Calthrop concludes his opening with a statement furthering his correlation of science and the divine:
The way God made the stars is to be discovered by looking at the stars, the way God made plants and animals by looking at the plants and animals. A noble motto, this, for all reverent students of nature; and one would suppose that Theology, backed up by such high authority, would in all ages, have been the first to insist upon this method. (309).
In this statement, Calthrop begins to explore a sad disconnect that he perceives between a relationship that humanity could have with the divine and the limitations preventing that closeness. Much of Calthrop’s narrative of the conflict between theology and science approaches example after example of Christian church authorities rejecting and demonizing science as a challenge to the authority of God. He uses a highly poignant image of the slow predation of a newly growing plant: “…and the guardians of the Faith, year after year, century after century, devoured every little green shoot of original thought…” (311).
In a history that is indeed fraught with an often tragic struggle between scientists and religious authorities, it is not as if Calthrop’s frustration and sorrow lacks precedent. As Ballou tries to present the error of humanity’s love for the divine based on quid pro quo, faith in exchange for salvation from hell, Calthrop too, sees something better and healthier for love between humankind and God.
Calthrop sees the world and universe as an equally tangent proof of divine love when it is further explained and explored, not revered as a mysteriously distant point: “We have looked for God’s creating power in the wrong place,” he argues “We have put it afar off beyond the Stars when it was daily working all around us” (330). Calthrop’s call to embrace the reality of a divine kingdom in the physical world surrounding him is an incredibly passionate statement of universal salvation, in its way, equal to Ballou’s. He provides a powerful furthering of Ballou’s exhortation for unconditional divine love and wholehearted human love for the divine.
Calthrop is careful to clarify that he is not seeking to replace theology with science:
But in the last place, I say that Science is going to give Religion a mighty equivalent for all, and more than all, the trouble she has given. She does not pretend to discover Religious Truth: that were to repeat the absurdity of Religion pretending to discover Scientific Truth. (331)
Here, again, is a rejection of strictly practical exchange or supplantation that Ballou rejects in promoting pure, wholehearted love over bargaining. In Ballou’s defense of Universal Salvation, humanity does not and should not embrace the divine solely because they have been delivered from hell. In Calthrop’s embrace of knowledge, there is no need to replace religious faith, contemplation or truth with hard scientific data. Instead he argues passionately for a sense of wonder from understanding the world around him and his belief that this understanding brings him closer to love of all that is truly divine.
One of the most human statements Calthrop makes on behalf of this universal approach is in a break from the statements of his argument into the poetic and personal moment of working out his thoughts:
I was writing this alone in my room at night. My little ones were asleep near by, and the whole house was still, when the thought of the wonder and glory of all this came upon me as never before, and I said in my heart, “Father! Father! In Thee our bodies live; by Thee our senses are daily fed; by Thee our brain and heart and hand grow to power! Not a movement of the limbs, not a vibration of the chambers of sound, but Thou art there! (331).
This is not a statement of repentance or moving away from defense of his beloved science for Calthrop, no more than Ballou’s arguments support blind obedience in contemplating the generosity of God. Instead, Calthrop is taking the time to describe his personal moment of connection with a loving and omnipresent divine spirit.
Although these men are representing different churches and setting their ideas in different contexts, their ideas about the ties between nourishment, reinforcement and inspiration between human and divine resonate strongly with one another.
Where Calthrop draws his affirmation of divine love from his physical world, Ballou finds equal support from scripture for his faith in the strength and nourishment of divine love:
All the duties required by this law of our heavenly Father are here represented to be sweeter than honey, or the honeycomb. Hear the language of the prophet: ”Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye buy and eat; yea come buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” (103-104).
Ballou’s assertion and scriptural references are about more than moving beyond quid pro quo, just as Calthrop’s are about more than science and its importance; these lines are about love as nourishment and internalizing God. One minister is operating from a base of scripture, one from the physical world. Both are resoundingly infused and rooted in the love of God.
Ballou defends the need for un-reserved love from humanity toward the divine because of his belief that the divine has un-reserved love for humanity. He recalls a powerful statement from early Christian tradition: “An Apostle says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Again, — “He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” (106). His circular argument makes a succinct counterpart a powerful and even ecstatic celebration by Calthrop:
Yes! Down a ladder of Souls the Heavenly message speeds. First the Light of God shines on Angels’ Eyes and all Heaven rejoices with joy unspeakable. The rapt Soul of Jesus sees the Heavenly Vision! In his eyes the Apostles and Prophets see the shining of the Eternal Light. They make that Light shine among men; and lo! common men and women are nerved to heroism, to martyrdom, to brave life and glorious death. To ever widening circles the Light is carried on and on, until, at last, the Holy Church throughout all the world feels the Father’s Presence in that world forevermore! 335.
Calthrop’s ending imagery is full of humanity’s love radiating up. For Ballou, it is coming down, down from heaven as bounties of milk and honey, as the inestimable gift of universal salvation, as the unconditional love of a divine creator. The two ideas become even more connected, not simply echoing but resonating from one era and religious movement to tie into another, creating a sense of an expanding arc.
The Unitarian Universalist church of the 21st century is diverse, and nurtures a wide network of congregations. These worshiping bodies embrace a span of beliefs and practices from that Ballou and Calthrop would find familiar to congregational cycles of worship that might well leave both ministers utterly perplexed. The UUA’s union of Unitarianism and Universalism is also a steadily evolving process. But the certainty and faith in the love of the divine, or the spirit of life, the belief in the absolute importance of including science and humanistic principles have grown stronger and more prevalent since the 19th century. Ballou and Calthrop’s initial struggles to overcome a fixation with theories of hell and the exclusion of science from religious celebration have sprouted links in the UUA’s own evolutionary tree. Today their ideas have resonant echoes in the UUA’s embrace of inclusive and all-loving views of God, in the celebration of an interconnected web of life that stretches across all of the Earth and includes (without electing as leader) humanity.
For the aspiring UU minister from multiple traditions, earth-based, Judeo-Christian, and Humanist, the ideas of love, nourishment from the divine—or even the spirit of life and the joy of the natural world can be a vital aspect of personal spirituality. The very nature of pursuing ministry can make the embrace of different theological ideas, different philosophies and practices of life essential. The writings of earlier theologians who embraced rationality and logic as well as concepts of universal love, unconditional love and perpetually evolving love through the exploration of the surrounding world are an enormous resource. They provide a link between religious thoughts and philosophical change between the present and the past. They make the bones of the evolving church as apparent as Calthrop’s beloved physiology, and the nourishment of faith as powerful as Ballou’s sustaining vision of divine grace.
On the day of his wedding, Abraham Lincoln put a ring onto Mary Lincoln’s finger with the words Love is Eternal engraved along the inside (Lincoln Home). Hosea Ballou and Samuel Calthrop would have known that to be true. Their love, of the divine and of the world was apparent in everything they sought to share in their writings. It remains a legacy for the theologian, the aspiring minister, the curious and the thoughtful. In a way, that very endurance provides the final reinforcement and championship of their ideas, their compassion and their love.
Ballou, Hosea. “The Doctrine of Universal Salvation.” In A Voice to Universalists. Boston: 1849. Pgs. 96-100.
Calthrop, Samuel. “Religion and Science.” Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine.
Vol. 2., November, 1874, #4. Pgs. 309-335.
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. London, 1859.
Green, Miranda. The World of the Druids. London, 1997.
Lincoln Home, Indiana IL. Website. “Mary’s Wedding Ring.” http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/ring.htm
May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, Syracuse, NY. Website. “Rev. Dr. Samuel Calthrop.” http://www.mmuus.org/who-we-are/history/ministers.html#calthrop
Ottaviani, Jim. Feynman. New York: 2011.
UUA Website. “A Look at Hosea Ballou.” http://www.uua.org/beliefs/history/277162.shtml
UUA Website. “Beliefs and Principles.”