*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 2nd of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
So, sometimes when I’m working on the Almanac, I’ll be scouring sources and books for “dated” events for me to play with. And sometimes I’ll see a familiar name and be familiar enough to know that they are a big deal, but perhaps they fall into one of my Academic Lacunae (which is a fancy way of saying, I have gaps, we can’t know everything).
So- this was the name Thomas Hardy served to me as being born on this, the 2nd of June in 1840. I know that he wrote a book I was supposed to read in High School but didn’t. I know my wife is a fan, but reservedly on account of Jude the Obscure (which she doesn’t recommend to anyone). I also knew that Thomas Hardy lived in the Victorian Age- an age that is sometimes underrepresented on this show (which I dig, but didn’t when I was younger and thus don’t have the broad reading that I should on the topic and am remedying).
So, I see this big name, and I wonder, “perhaps he was Anglican” or “perhaps like so many, he had thought of a job in the church?” These can make for profitable deep dives. And then, I realized that the question of Thomas Hardy’s faith had been a modern battleground for scholars. Hardy’s faith has been explored in various works from Hand’s “Thomas Hardy: Distracted Preacher?” Deborah Collins “Thomas Hardy and His God” and Jan Jedrzejewski’s “Thomas Hardy and the Church.” Also, I found Yui Kajita’s 2019 doctoral dissertation from Cambridge on the subject.
Who was Thomas Thomas Hardy, and Was Thomas Hardy a Christian? Let’s take a brief look at his life.
Thomas was born to Thomas Sr and Jemima Hardy OTD in 1840 in Dorsett. He was the oldest of four and excelled in homeschooling and at the local school. His parents could not afford to send him to school, so he was apprenticed as an architects’ assistant. He moved to London and worked on Ecclesiastical architecture. He grew up in the Church of England and had considered taking religious orders as part of his education. Instead, he saw the educated and upper classes as he toiled as an apprentice and laborer.
He came into contact with non-conformists and baptists, and here we read that he was taken up with a bit of enthusiasm and was baptized for a second time.
BY 1867 his poor health sent him back to Dorsett, and the next three decades of his life would see him write the likes of Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure.
A constant theme in the works is a criticism of Victorian mores, of a bifurcated society of “have’s and have nots,” and the brutality of humankind (a bunch of the books end in suicide).
He was critical of his old church- or at least what he called “dogmatic ecclesiasticism,” which he referred to as “Christianity So-called”… wherein the “real teaching of Christ has hardly anything in common.”
He dabbled in agnosticism, but this is where hermetically sealed camps and definitions do us little favor. This wasn’t necessarily the agnosticism of the “-ists” who weren’t uncertain as they were certain we must all be uncertain.
When Hardy died in 1928 (btw, 1840 to 1928 is a WILD life span), he was buried at Westminster- some criticized the move while others saw Hardy and his work as thoroughly Christian but with an independent spirit and distaste for what he considered dogmatic theology. When asked about the problem of evil by a Presbyterian minister, Hardy responded concerning the “mournful many-sidedness of things.”
To wrap up, the story of the academic conflict over whether someone was a Christian or not struck me. IN a way, it’s part of the work I do daily, but I also wonder how helpful it can be trying to divine the innermost thoughts of someone who has it in their best interest to hide those- at least in their lifetime. Nevertheless, the life and work of Hardy centered on the problem of sin- even if not from a Victorian perspective. Without knowing his innermost thoughts, we can find sin and redemption in his stories- a worldview certainly steeped in his Christian upbringing. Thomas Hardy was born on this the second of June in 1840
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary from Galatians 5:
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if the Spirit leads, you are not under the law.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org
The show is produced by a man who knows that if you’re on the West Coast- He’s “Thomas Carl’s Jr.” He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man reminded by Hardy’s hometown of how running back Tony DORsett changed to “dorSETT” 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.