It is the 1st of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today, we head back to the United Kingdom in the 19th century. By now, it is a truly “united” Kingdom comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.
We are in the Victorian Age- the era of the so-called “Pax Britannica” under the queen whose progeny would become the heads of European nations and scuttle the peace in the next century.
Intellectually, it was a time ruled by two seemingly opposite passions: skepticism and romanticism. The former was inherited from German philosophies, and the latter was an attempt to make meaning from feeling.
The United Kingdom was the center of Anglophone Christianity- it would not pass the mantle to America until the next century.
The Anglican Church was still the established church, although reforms would lead to rights for dissenting Baptists, Methodists, other Evangelicals, and Catholics (to some degree). The Anglican Church had two competing factions: the high-church Anglicans following the Oxford movement and the low-church evangelicals.
All of this is a necessary prologue to introduce you to one of the most eccentric but also significant and often overlooked characters in 19th-century British Christianity: Richard Whatley.
Richard Whatley was born on this, the first of February in 1787, to Dr Richard and Jane Whatley; he was the youngest of 9.
His father was a lecturer at Gresham College, and the curious youngest son spent his youth investigating the nature afforded him at his grandfather's house. In 1805, he entered Oriel College, Oxford- an auspicious time at the college with Whatley, John Henry Newman (later head of the Oxford movement), Thomas Arnold, and the philosopher Frederick Coppleston.
He took his BA in 1808 and would be elected fellow. He held the fellowship until his marriage to Elizabeth Pope required him to give up the position. They would have three children. Mary Louisa was a famous missionary to Egypt and wrote popular books on Egypt for the British public.
In 1814, he took Holy Orders and then took a position teaching economics at St. Alban Hall, Oxford. Here, he would write his text, “The Elements of Logic,” which would be a standard text for the next century. He followed this with his “Elements of Rhetoric” in 1828.
But his main interests were theological and specifically apologetic. His first book was a curious and lighthearted work entitled Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte. In this work, Whatley took some of the skeptic's arguments about Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels and applied them to stories of Bonaparte- using their logic. He concluded that Napoleon could not have existed (despite being alive when he wrote the book). Another text, Historic Certainties Respecting the Early History of America, used the skeptic's methods to retell the story of America, a farce connecting it directly to Palestine.
He was an eccentric character- nicknamed the “White Bear” for his habit of wearing all white while accompanying his large white dog. At the table, he had the habit of crossing his legs such that his leg would end up in the lap of the person sitting next to him, and there’s an oft-told story of him holding a dinner party at his parsonage when the conversation upset him he left through the window and did not return until the morning.
Surprisingly, in 1831, he was named the Archbishop of Dublin. From this position, he upset his fellow Protestants by arguing for civil rights for Catholics. He proposed a non-denominational public school system for Protestants and Catholics using his text “Introductory Lessons on Morals and Christian Evidences.”
As Archbishop, he held a seat in the House of Commons and was President of the Royal Commission on the Irish Poor, arguing for agricultural reform- he was ignored and then witnessed the tragic Potato famine. His theology was eclectic; he didn’t fit in any specific camp, and so-called “Whaleyites” surrounded him, perhaps encouraging an independent, rebellious streak.
His work in apologetics would be an influence on the evidential school among American Evangelicals in the 20th century, and he is remembered today in the United Kingdom as an eccentric but ecumenical Christian leader. He died in Dublin in 1863. Born on February 1st, 1787, Richard Whately was 76 years old.
The last word for today is from Whatley himself, the text from his hymn "God, who made the earth and heaven":
1 God, who made the earth and heaven,
darkness and light:
you the day for work have given,
for rest the night.
May your angel guards defend us,
slumber sweet your mercy send us,
holy dreams and hopes attend us
all through the night.
2 And when morn again shall call us
to run life's way,
may we still, whate'er befall us,
your will obey.
From the pow'r of evil hide us,
in the narrow pathway guide us,
never be your smile denied us
all through the day.
3 Guard us waking, guard us sleeping,
and, when we die,
may we in your mighty keeping
all peaceful lie.
When the last dread call shall wake us,
then, O Lord, do not forsake us,
but to reign in glory take us
with you on high.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose own “Gillespie-ites” are known for their meticulous attention to audio, luscious beards followed by the constant aroma of coffee- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose most eccentric habit is rooting for teams that don’t do well. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
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.