Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The year was 1638 (and 1726). Today we remember the enigmatic latitudinarian Daniel Whitby. The reading is from a 4th-century hymn by Aurelius Prudentius.

It is the 24th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1638. And 1726.

Daniel Whitby, an enigmatic theological rabble-rouser, was born on the 24th of March in 1638. He then died on the 24th of March in 1726. Daniel Whitby joins Peter Muhlenberg (the colonial Lutheran minister and soldier) as the only character on this show to have suffered from the so-called "Birthday effect." According to one study, you are 17% more likely to die on your birthday. Do you know who else died on their birthday? William Shakespeare. Raphael. Merle Haggard and Ingrid Bergman. And Daniel Whitby. But you've likely never heard of him unless English Latitudinarianism or post-millennialism is your thing. But if you're like most, you might need some help unpacking those big words, and that's what we are here for. Let's break down the life and thought of this curious, influential theologian and Anglican rector.

Whitby was born in Northamptonshire in 1638. His father was a rector, and Daniel attended Oxford as a commoner in 1653. This puts Whitby in the context of the fracas with Cromwell and the Interregnum, the Restoration of the crown, and the Glorious revolution. Whitby received his BA in 57, his MA in 1660 and was made a fellow of Trinity College in 1664. He was a chaplain to the Bishop of Salisbury before becoming the rector at St. Edmunds in Salisbury. His public output was primarily anti-Catholic treatises which, for an otherwise hairy time, were safe enough, and popular enough, for an Anglican minister to produce.

In 1682 he wrote an anonymous tract titled "the Protestant Reconciler," He argued for unity amongst various Protestant groups. It was a terribly received work by the Anglican establishment, and it was not a well-kept secret that Whitby was the author. Within a year, a second part was written that urged conformity to the Church of England. This era in England wasn't only marked by standard Catholic and Protestant bickering but theological Latitudinarianism. "Latitudinarianism" is what it kind of sounds like. It refers to the "latitude" given to those who do not conform theologically on every point. These were considered the "liberals" of the day.

Whitby was a latitudinarian and a Whig. That is, he supported the Glorious Revolution and saw no justification for any government outside of the welfare of the governed. He was nicknamed "Daniel Whigby" on account of these views. He was a friend and correspondent to a man with some similar theological and political views: John Locke.

Whitby's most lasting contribution to both England and New England's theological world came through his "Paraphrase of the New Testament Epistles." This was essentially a commentary where his views on the divinity of Christ, his anti-Calvinist leanings, and most of all, his doctrine of the end times were fleshed out.

His anti-Calvinism, or Arminianism, garnered the ire of one John Edwards, an Anglican Calvinist. But his post-millennial ideas attracted the attention of Jonathan Edwards, the famous Great Awakening, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" guy.

You may remember that "post-millennial" refers to the relationship between the second coming of Christ and the supposed millennium of peace on earth. A "post" millennial like Whitby and Edwards would see the coming of Christ "post," or after, the millennium of peace. The church as it is now is called to bring about the millennium, after which Jesus returns. Contrast this with the "pre" Millennial thought of 20th-century American dispensationalists who place the second coming before the millennium.

Daniel Whitby is considered now of the first modern post-millennial expositors. Johnathan Edwards was influenced by Whitby and believed that the opening of the New World was a portend of eventual peace on earth. The optimism of post-millennial eschatology was one of the major engines behind the first Great Awakening.

Whitby believed the Bible to be so clear that he believed any reliance on notions such as "mystery" regarding the Trinity, the Lord's Supper, etc., was an affront to God and His Word.

Charges of Arianism, Socinianism, and others were hurled at the Northhamptonshire-born divine, but he eluded anything serious. In his later years, he went blind, and he had to dictate his work. Sometime near the end of his life, Whitby completed his "Final Thoughts," a clarification of his theology to be published after he died. And, as you know already, Daniel Whitby died on the 24th of March in 1726. Having been born on the same day in 1638, Daniel Whitby was 88 years old.

The reading for today comes from the 4th-century poet Aurelius Prudentius. This is the first and last stanza of his "Now With Creation's Morning Song."

Now with creation's morning song
Let us, as children of the day,
With wakened heart and purpose strong,
The works of darkness cast away.

Grant us, O God, in love to Thee,
Clear eyes to measure things below;
Faith, the invisible to see;
And wisdom, Thee in all to know.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by an a-millennial millennial, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who would like a moratorium of naming people "John Edwards" for a while. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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