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Gegensätze and Widersprüche gehören überhaupt zur geistigen Lebendigkeit.1

In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell speaks the following memorable line: ‘To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness’.2 This line has come to mind as I have reflected on the fact that, in recent years, I have spent much time studying scholars who were dismissed from their posts. W.M.L. de Wette, on whom I published a biography in 1992.3 was dismissed from his post at the University of Berlin in 1819, while the two scholars who are treated in the present volume also lost their jobs (all three happily found other employment). F.D. Maurice was dismissed from King's College, London in 1854 and W. Robertson Smith lost his chair at the Free Church College in Aberdeen in 1881. What Lady Bracknell would have said about my predilection for dismissed scholars must remain speculation; but if she had observed that it was not entirely carelessness she would have been correct. For while I have never consciously made a decision to study scholars who lost their jobs at some point in their careers, I have found myself drawn to the type of scholar who was most likely to be dismissed, in those heady days before the churches decided to deal with the prophetic voices in their midst by simply ignoring them.

Although de Wette, Maurice and Smith were quite different from each other, what they shared incommon was the conviction that the Bible had to be interpreted from the standpoint of the world in which they lived and worked. In de Wette's case the setting was the crisis of faith brought about by the use of historical criticism and the challenge of Kantian philosophy, combined with the political upheavals in the German states at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Maurice was responding to the rapid industrialization of Britain in the mid-nineteenth century and to the attempts of the Church of England to recover its role as the national church. Smith lived through the most exciting period of modern biblical studies and sought to bring the new biblical criticism as well as the exploding amount of scientific and other knowledge of his day into the service of theology. All three were bound to collide with ecclesiastical authorities because, in their different ways, they saw that the received orthodoxies of their respective traditions could not meet the needs of their day.4 This is one of the factors that makesthem into figures of abiding interest.

My own interest in Maurice and Smith would probably have remained nothing more than that had Inot been invited to give courses of lectures which provided the opportunity for research and publication. The invitation to give the F.D. Maurice Lectures at King's College, London in 1992 was open-ended, but since, as far as I was aware, there was no treatment anywhere of Maurice as an interpreter of the Old Testament. I decided to devote the three Maurice lectures to that theme. I am grateful to the Maurice trustees for the invitation and to Professor Michael Knibbfor arranging excellent hospitality on the occasion of then delivery.

The lectures on Smith were specifically requested. Some years ahead ol the 1994 centenary of Smith's death, Professor William Johnstone of Aberdeen began to ensure that the occasion would not pass unnoticed. The result of his hard work was an outstandingly successful international Congress in Aberdeen in April 1994, whose proceedings will be published in 1995.5 My own contribution to that Congress also appears as Chapter 10 in the present volume, for the sake of completeness and with Professor Johnstone's permission. However, 1994 saw not only the centenary of Smith's death but also the beginnings of the quincentenary celebrations of the University of Aberdeen in 1995. The trustees of the Gifford Lectures decided to arrange five series of six lectures on aspects of the intellectual life of Scotland during the period 1495–1995, and I was asked to deliver six Gifford Lectures on Smith. This I did in April-May 1994 under the title ‘Criticism and Faith in the work of William Robertson Smith’. I am most grateful to the Principal of the University of Aberdeen for the invitation and to Professor William and Dr Elizabeth Johnstone for many kindnesses during my visits to Aberdeen.

On the assumption that there may be readers who are unfamiliar with the careers of Maurice and Smith I shall outline them briefly, together with some general observations by way of introduction to the lectures. Maurice was born in 1805, the son of a Unitarian minister who was orthodox and non-subscribing.6 The household was not free from religious strife, with Maurice's mother and sister embracing forms of Calvinism. Maurice also abandoned Unitarianism, although after studying law at Cambridge he still felt sufficiently strongly about subscribing to Articles of Religion of the Church of England that he declined to be a candidate for a college fellowship. However, in 1830 he went to Oxford with a view to being ordained in the Church of England, and following ordination and a curacy he was Chaplain at Guy's Hospital, London, before being appointed in 1840 to a professorship in English literature and history at the recently founded Church of England King's College, London. In 1846 he was elected to be Chaplain at Lincoln's Inn and in 1848 he was involved in founding Queen's College, a pioneering institution for higher education for women. Maurice's increasing involvement with Christian Socialism made him suspect in some quarters, and in 1853 he was obliged to resign from his post at King's College because of his view, expressed in his Theological Essays (1853), that punishment in hell was not everlasting.7 His resignation at Lincoln's Inn was refused, and he continued his Chaplaincy until 1860, when he became Chaplain at St Peter's, Vere Street in London. In 1866 he became Professor of Moral Theology and Philosophy at Cambridge, which post he combined with the Vere Street Chaplaincy, until ill health forced him to resign from the latter in 1869. He died in 1872.

Smith's dismissal from the Free Church College in Aberdeen in 1881 affected his life radically. The work that he fell back upon initially was editing the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and this task occupied him for many more years. However, in 1883 he removed to Cambridge where he remained for the rest of his short life, occupying posts as University Librarian and Professor of Arabic. Like Maurice, Smith was a son of the manse, in this case that of the Free Church minister and schoolmaster in Keig near Aberdeen. When Smith was born in 1846 it was only three years since hundreds of ministers and elders had left the Church of Scotland to form a Free Church, free from interference from secular patrons and civil courts of law. This great movement entailed the building of new churches, schools and colleges and it was in the Free Church's college in Aberdeen that Smith taught from 1870–1881.

His dismissal resulted mainly from the publication of the pioneering article ‘Bible’ in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1875. This article is discussed fully in Chapter 6. Proceedings against Smith in the college, the Presbytery and the General Assembly lasted from 1876 to 1881, with the cruel twist that he was acquitted and admonished in May 1880 only to be suspended a matter of weeks later and dismissed the following year on account of two further articles that were in the press at the time of his acquittal.8 Smith's education and theological formation are described in Chapter 5.

Of the two men, I have a much clearer impression of Smith than of Maurice, probably because he was a larger than life character. He was a brilliant linguist. As a student he could already read German and Dutch and he became a master of colloquial and literary Arabic. This was in addition, of course, to Hebrew and the classical languages. He was a great traveller—to the continent of Europe, Egypt and the Arabian peninsular. His coverage of subjects was phenomenal, for not only could he have had an academic career in mathematics or physics had he wished, his Old Testament and Arabian studies led him into the field of social anthropology and sociology where his work had an immediate impact His ties with scholars in all parts of the world were probably unmatched in his lifetime. Partly, this came from his work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but also from his interest and expertise in so many fields. Although the Cambridge University Library archive contains a vast collection of his letters (and of letters to him) it is evident that there are also Smith letters in archives in Holland, Germany and North America. Their addition to the Cambridge collection as photo-copies is an urgent task for the future.9

In spite of this enormous erudition and thirst for knowledge, and his removal from theology to Arabian Studies, Smith remained a theologian and one of the aims of the lectures that are presented here is to give an account of Smith as a theologian. Further, in preparing the lectures I have become aware of the extent to which Smith was a contributor to the development of biblical criticism and not, as his critics often alleged, merely a purveyor of others’ ideas. I have tried to show how Smith combined a willingness to embrace quite radical critical theories with an evangelical faith that was convinced to the last that the Old Testament contained a divine revelation.

If Smith was a man riding the crest of the new wave of biblical criticism, Maurice was essentially a transitional figure, ready to be open to moderate criticism but scandalized by the first hints of the radical implications of criticism. If Smith was the great international figure, Maurice concentrated on matters closer at home; and good matters they were too. He was a pioneer in the education of women and working-class men. He was involved in setting up trades associations to protect workers and provide them with decent working conditions. He was a trusted adviser to workers’ leaders. He stood for a view of religion that refused to see it compartmentalized or restricted to an area marked ‘sacred’; he wanted religion to inform all human activity. In this respect he and Smith stood close together, and it is this aspect of Maurice's work that I have tried to explore in my lectures.

The lectures that follow are printed as they were written for oral delivery, which is why each tries to end with a punch line designed to tempt listeners back for the next session. As such, they cannot pretend to be exhaustive treatments.

Among the people that I wish to thank are Dr F.W. Ratcliffe, recently retired as the Cambridge University Librarian, for permission to use the Smith archive, and for his hospitality. Generous hospitality was also provided by Professor J.A. Emerton on my visits to Cambridge, while Professor R.E. Clements provided many kindnesses both at King's College, London and in Cambridge. During my current brief visit to Göttingen I have had the opportunity to discuss Smith's relationship with Wellhausen and Lagarde with Professor Rudolf Smend, for whose insights and suggestions I am always grateful. My final thanks go to my wife Rosalind, and to Gill Fogg and Janet Needham in the Sheffield Department of Biblical Studies, all of whom have assisted in the typing and formatting of the lectures.

J.W. Rogerson

Göttingen, November 1994

  • 1.

    W. Valke, Die biblische Theologie wissenschaftlich dargrstellt. I. Die Religion des Alten Testaments (Berlin, 1835).

  • 2.

    O. Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, in R. Ross (ed.), Works (London: Methuen, 3rd edn, 1909), VII, p. 44.

  • 3.

    J.W. Rogerson. W.M.L. de Wette, Founder of Modern Biblical Criticism: An Itellectual Biography (JSOTSup, 126; Sheffield: JSOT Press. 1992).

  • 4.

    De Wette was dismissed, officially, on political grounds, for writing a letter of sympathy to the mother of a theological student who had carried out a political assassination. But he had been a marked man because of his advanced theological views, and theological considerations affected the political decisions that led to his dismissal. See further my W.M.L. de Wette, pp. 145–58 n. 2.

  • 5.

    W. Johnstone (ed.), William Robertson Smith: Essays in Reassessment: Proceedings of the Robertson Smith Congress, Aberdeen 5–9 April 1994 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, forthcoming).

  • 6.

    By way of over-simplification it can be said that two types of unitarianism had emerged, partly out of English Presbyterianism, by the beginning of the nineteenth century. One type was mostly orthodox in belief but refused to be bound by subscription to the traditional dogmatic and credal formulae of the church. In some cases the New Testament was appealed to in support of this position. If the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ sufficed for admission to the church in New Testament times, why should more be required now? The other type, which most people associate with Unitarianism, was subordinationist in its Christology and universalist in outlook.

  • 7.

    For further details see F. Maurice, The Life of Frederick Dennison Maurice chiefly told in his own letters (London, 1884), II, pp. 163–209.

  • 8.

    The trials are described fully in J.S. Black and G. Chrystal, The Life of William Robertson Smith (London: A. & C. Black, 1912).

  • 9.

    The Cambridge University Archive contains scores of letters relating to Smith's editorial work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.