The American Revision Committee and
its Influence upon the Future of America
AS THE influence of the Oxford Movement crossed the ocean and began to spread in the United States, Dr. Hort could not refrain from writing to Westcott:
"A most singular movement is taking place among the German 'Reformation' settled in America, the center of the Movement being Mercersburg. The leading man is Dr. Nevin... I can compare him to no one but Newman, and higher praise it would be difficult to give. I fear he is fast drifting Romewards." Easter Eve, 1854.(1)
So wrote from England one who knew. The "Mercersburg Movement," or the "Mercersburg Theology," made a revolutionary and permanent change in American Theological colleges and American theology. Dr. Nevin, however, was not the American Newman. He was only the forerunner. The outstanding leader, his associate, was Dr. Philip Schaff, President of both American Committees of Revision, Old and New Testament.
The following quotation will show, in an introductory way, how the Mercersburg Movement stood related to American churches, to the Oxford Movement, and to Dr. Schaff:
"The works of the Mercersburg professors are fraught with dangerous tendencies. The Reformed Dutch Church has, by a public and solemn act, withdrawn from ecclesiastical relations with the German Reformed Church, her ancient ally, on account of her countenance of those works and of their authors. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (O.S.) has suspended her relations with that denomination for the present year, and awaits further developments. This painful step has, in both cases, been taken after much deliberation, and with the calmness and dignity which befit a Christian Church..."
"Romanism is known to have recently entered the Church of England in the disguise of Oxford Tractarianism, to have drawn off no inconsiderable number of her clergy and members, and to have gained a footing on British soil, from which the government and public opinion together are unable to eject her. The Mercersburg writers began with decided commendation of the system which is called Puseyism. Their own course has thus far strongly resembled that which has marked its history. Step by step they have advanced, till Romanism stands forth almost unveiled in the 'Apostles' Creed,' 'Early Christianity,' and 'Cyprian,' of Dr. Nevin in the Mercersburg Review... Yet Dr. Nevin and these very works are commended and endorsed by Dr. Schaff in this 'History of the Apostolic Church,' and that without caution or reserve."(2)
Before the part played by Dr. Schaff in contaminating American theology is presented, the fundamental doctrines which formed the issues of the Mercersburg Movement, as well as the background of its birth, must be considered. While on a visit to Germany in 1854, Dr. Schaff lectured before several organizations, on Dr. Nevin and the Mercersburg Movement. From a report of his remarks we quote the following:
"The 'Mystical Presence' published in 1846, was his (Dr. Nevin's) first dogmatic-polemic work, a Vindication of the Mystical Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and of the actual participation of believers in the power of His divine-human life, in opposition to the prevalent symbolical view in America, which sees in this sacrament only a commemoration of the death of Christ now absent in heaven..."
"But the Movement did not stop here. Already in the Mystical Presence, the idea of the Incarnation of Christ came to the front very clearly, as the central truth of Christianity..."
"In the same track with the more recent German theology, he (Dr. Nevin) studied with the deepest interest the entire Puseyite controversy, foremost the writings of Dr. John H. Newman, with whom he had many points of resemblance, and read the works of the most important Roman Catholic apologists and polemics, such as Bellarmine, Bossuet, Möhler, Wiseman, and Balmes, who of course represent their system of faith in a much more favorable light than their Protestant opponents, and know how to idealize it, so that to a deep, earnest spirit it becomes powerfully imposing."
"Dr. Nevin gave expression to his newly gained ideas in the Mercersburg Review, established by his pupils, edited by him, and read extensively beyond the Reformed Church, more particularly in the Episcopal. He there developed, in a series of essays and reviews, full of life and spirit, and always going back to fundamental principles, the doctrine of the Person of Christ."(3)
It was in 1844 that Dr. Schaff, still a young man, arrived from Germany to assume his duties as Professor of Church History and Biblical Literature in the Theological Seminary of Mercersburg, Pa. He was just at the beginning of his theological career in the University of Berlin, and was, says Dr. Appel, "a gift from the Fatherland to the daughter Church on this side of the ocean, and, we may add, to the country at large, destined to serve as an important link connecting the theological science of this country with that of Germany."(4) He came determined to use as his chief argument, the theory of historical development which, in the hands of the Catholic Möhler, had struck in Germany and everywhere, strong blows at Protestantism and brought about the reinstatement of the Catholic Church to a position of leadership.
On the eve of his leaving Germany, many Protestant leaders of the new German theology rejoiced with Dr. Schaff over his call to America. Among others who wrote to him, was Dr. Dorner, whose work on the Atonement has ever attracted so much attention. Of Dorner, Andrew Lang wrote in the Forum:
"Dorner's position, however, notwithstanding his protest, is simply the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory somewhat rationalized."(5) Dr. Dorner wrote to Schaff:
"Especially do I ask you to give attention to the Trinitarian and Christological controversies and the development of the theory of the Atonement."(6)
On his way to the United States, Dr. Schaff spent some time in England, visiting. He met Drs. Jelf, Stanley, Pusey, Maurice, and Jowett. He described Maurice as of a German temper of mind, and said of Jowett that he seemed to have more sympathy with German theological views than anyone else he met there. Pusey spoke strongly against the sect divisions in America, "expressing the wish that the bishops of the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church alone had the ground."(7)
On his arrival in this country, and at his inauguration into the office which he accepted within the German Reformed Church, Schaff made an address entitled, "The Principles of Protestantism." His speech was so revolutionary that, as soon as it was translated into English and circulated, it produced a storm of criticism. It brought forth charges of Romanizing and Tractarian tendencies. "The address involved the church irreversibly in the doctrinal agitation which went on within its pale for a quarter of a century."(8)
Some attribute to this address the opening note of the Mercersburg Movement. Others say it began with the tract written in the preceding year by Dr. Nevin, entitled, "The Anxious Bench." This tract was a terrific denunciation of the system of revivals held in the evangelical churches and pointed out the Sacramental System as a refuge from fanaticism. Nevertheless the inaugural address of Dr. Schaff resulted in his being tried for heresy. He was formally acquitted; so he and Dr. Nevin went back to the Theological Seminary to vindicate themselves and promote their views among the rising generation. Dr. Berg, pastor of the First German Reformed Church of Philadelphia, bore the brunt of opposing the Catholic tide which evidently now had set in, in America, as it had before in Germany and England. From a converted Catholic priest he had heard that the professors of Mercersburg were insidiously instilling Romanizing poison in their classroom teachings. He tried several times to bring about a change, but finding the Synod obdurate, he went over to the Dutch Reformed Church, taking with him the larger part of his congregation.
The time spent by Dr. Schaff at Mercersburg was approximately twenty years. "The Mercersburg period of Dr. Schaff's career," says his son, "coincided with the rise and development of the Mercersburg theology." In 1864 he removed to New York, and for six years was connected with the New York Sabbath Committee, whose aim, says his son, "was not to defend the Sabbath as a religious festival, but as an institution recognized by civil legislation." During this time he traveled all over the United States, north and south, seeking by documents, by editorials, and from the pulpit and platform, to enforce Sunday Laws.
In 1870, Dr. Schaff connected with the Union Theological Seminary where he taught for over a quarter of a century. It must not be thought, however, that his revolutionary influence upon American theology was limited to his stay at Mercersburg. In his later writings and correspondence, we find those peculiar doctrines which certain German theologians expected him to promote in the United States, and which he urged, at times with insistence, upon the Revision Committee.
Dr. Schaff's teachings endorse the papal hierarchy of the Middle Ages. He magnifies the priesthood until "its ministers have more than earthly power; its sacraments have inherent objective efficiency."(9) Dr. Schaff's conception of theology rests upon the doctrine of historical development. In his life's work, called "The History of the Apostolic Church," begun in 1853, may be found his scheme of doctrines. His theories in this book were so startling that several of America's leading theological reviews denounced them as anti-Scriptural, and anti-Protestant. In classifying the sources of history, he puts in first rank the "official letters, decrees, and bulls of Popes," pronouncing them "pure, original utterances of history."(10)
"Through the misty drapery of Dr. Schaff's philosophy, every essential feature of the papal system stands forth with a prominence so sharply defined, as to leave doubt impossible, and charity in despair," said one Reviewer.(11)
The following quotations from contemporary writers of standing, present the danger of Schaff's teachings:
"It is quite time that the churches of our country should awake to the extent and tendencies of this movement in the midst of American Protestantism. After a series of advances and retractations, strongly resembling the tactics of the Tractarian party in England, we have at length a bold avowal of the 'primacy of Peter,' the fundamental and test doctrine of the Papacy, followed by a concession of every vital point of Christianity — Church, Ministry, Worship, Sacraments, and the Right of Private Judgment — to Romanism, and that too, while the name and the forms of Protestantism are (as far as possible) studiously retained.(12)
Remember, these are not the teachings of a Catholic, but of the great modern leader in American theology, President of both American Revision Committees which produced the American Standard Revised Version. One of his tendencies is described as follows:
"The first of these which we shall mention is the 'primacy of Peter,' which Dr. Schaff pronounces 'a subject of vast importance,' and justly observes that 'the claims of the Papacy are well known to center here.' Dr. Schaff fully asserts 'the primacy of Peter,' and devotes about thirty pages of his work to the proof of it, and the exposition of its relations to the Christian church and its history."(13)
We shall now see that Dr. Schaff's anti-Scriptural doctrine of the "Person of Christ," modifies all doctrines and destroys Inspiration:
"As the conception of Christianity as a principle or life, the divine-human life of Christ, leads to unscriptural views of His person; modifies essentially the scheme of redemption, and the mode of its application; involves the theory of organic development, with all its consequences; so, finally, it includes a new and thoroughly anti-Protestant view of the Church."(14)
Or, as this writer says in another place on Dr. Schaff's conception of Christ:
"It involves the doctrine of organic development, which overturns all the established views of the nature of revelation and of Christian doctrine. Revelation can no longer be understood as the supernatural objective communication of divine truths, but the elevation of human nature to a higher state, by which its intuitions of spiritual objects become more distinct."(15)
What an indictment of this modern doctrine of the Person of Christ! This teaching transfers the revelation of God from the Bible to the feelings, emotions, intuitions, and human judgment of the individual. It places a church composed of such individuals above the written Word of God. May we not here direct the reader's attention to this startling truth, that rejecting the infallibility and inspiration of the Bible leads to seeking refuge in another infallibility. Among Hindus and others, this is the infallibility of the individual; among the Papists, it comes to the infallibility of the Church.
We further quote, from a monthly magazine of standing, to show that Dr. Schaff's system of doctrines is truly papal, and that he was disloyal to the faith he professed:
"The Church of Rome has committed it (treason). She has denied the sovereignty of her Lord, and appropriated His royal attributes to Peter, in order, from that shadowy source, to derive them, by her fictitious 'succession,' to herself. She alone, of all the nominal churches of Christ, has done this, and a heavy reckoning she will have for it."
"Dr. Schaff has taken his position in this system so boldly and distinctly, that he quite spares us the invidious office of giving him or his theory an odious name..."
"He has determined, too, to write a 'history of the Christian church' on this system. He has thus laid the foundation of it. We shall have occasion to see hereafter that he carries up the whole building plumb and true to the ground-plan, and 'after the pattern showed him' by the most approved masters of papal churchbuilding."(16)
"That such a work should have proceeded from the bosom of the Protestant church, and from a chair of ecclesiastical history in a church especially renowned of old for its learned and powerful champions of reformed Christianity, is a portentous fact. It is, to say the least, not less so, that it has somehow gained the strongest testimonials from several of the most respectable and influential Protestant journals. The Papacy has never won a victory but by stealing a march. Her tactics have fairly been successful this time. This book is circulating through the Protestant church with an imprimatur from authorities which no American Protestant has been in the habit of questioning. One of them goes so far as to recommend that Dr. Schaff's book (then only published in German) be translated and introduced as a textbook into our theological seminaries. It would be well, as a preparatory measure, in case that were done, to apply to the 'General of the order of Jesus' to send us over professors to teach it. Our Protestant professors would (till properly initiated and trained) betray some awkwardness in laying down the primacy of Peter as the foundation of the church of Christ, drawing the waters of history from such sources as bulls of the Popes, and weaving together beautiful legends and oral traditions into an osier-work of church history, instead of piling up, as heretofore, the solid granite of historical fact, and the pure marble of Christian doctrine. Our students of divinity, too, for whose 'benefit' Dr. Schaff's work is especially intended, would be sorely puzzled when set to learn 'beautiful legends' by heart, to search among 'bulls of the Popes' for 'doctrine and government,' and to take, for the first lesson in Church History, 'the Primacy of Peter.' A sad change must come over our Theological Schools when this 'broad road leading Rome-ward' is substituted for the 'old path.'"(17)
It may be urged that Dr. Schaff at times spoke against the Papacy. This point is noticed by the following writer:
"It is quite true that Dr. Schaff has said some hard things of the Papacy. He speaks of the 'extravagant claims,' 'the deadly coils of the Papacy.' But we have not yet forgotten that Mr. Newman pronounced the Roman Church 'impious,' 'blasphemous,' 'gross,' 'monstrous,' 'governed by the Evil One,' 'bound by a perpetual bond and covenant to the cause of Antichrist,' which 'we ought to flee as a pestilence.' Yet a short time after, beheld him at the feet of a Romish priest, exclaiming, 'I ask your blessing,' and 'withdrawing' before the world 'these expressions and the arguments derived from them.' His peace was easily made... Dr. Schaff has said, also, handsome things of Protestantism. He has used Protestant phrases, and made Protestant observations not a few. If Dr. Schaff had written a book of unmixed Romanism, it would have found few readers in this country."(18)
The American Revision Committee
As in England, so in America, two Companies were formed for Revision, one for the Old Testament, one for the New. Bishop Ellicott and Dr. Angus of the English Revision Committee requested Dr. Schaff to take the initiative and a leading part. In consultation with them he selected the American members. The Episcopalians, having declined to nominate members from their body, Dr. Schaff filled out the list. He drew up the provisional draft of the Constitution, made arrangements for the organization and first meeting. During the fourteen years of their labors, Dr. Schaff was the life and soul of the work. He often traveled to England, meeting with Ellicott, Westcott, Hort, and others to smooth out difficulties and save the day in delicate situations. "For the American share in the work," says Dr. T.W. Chambers, a member of the American Old Testament Committee, "the Christian public is indebted to Philip Schaff more than to all others persons together."(19)
The American Committees entered upon their work prejudiced in favor of the Vulgate. They considered the Bible of the Papacy more accurate than the King James. "But the text which the Protestants used," said the final editor of the American Version, "was in many cases, it is now acknowledged, less accurate than that represented by the Vulgate."(20) This attitude of mind certainly would be one desired by Catholics. We have evidence that Dr. Schaff felt at liberty to read his Roman prepossessions into the Sacred Text. In his Church History he translated that famous passage in Matthew 16:18, more in favor of Peter being the first Pope than even papal writers, thus: "Thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." One writer, reviewing his "Church History," said, "Dr. Schaff has laid his hand on the text itself. With unparalleled audacity he has translated Matthew 16:18, 'thou art a rock, and on this rock,' etc., as if 'Peter' and the 'rock' were expressed in the original by the same word. Bellarmine has not ventured to do this, nor any other Romanist within our knowledge."(21) Could one who had such papal leanings and who dared to mistranslate the Scripture in his own history, be considered safe as a leader in translating all of the rest?
The sacerdotal leaning of Dr. Schaff can be further seen from the fact that the American Committee changed, at his personal insistence, the rendering of the English Revision Committee of Acts 20:28, from "overseers" to "bishops." The report of this incident, by his son, we give in full: "The final Revision, — Paul's address to the elders, Acts 20:28, — as it came from England in 1879, contained 'overseers' in the text and 'bishops' in the margin. In Dr. Schaff's own copy he has written on the margin 'Bishops in the text in all passages, and overseers in the margin (moved by Schaff and adopted unanimously April 30, 1880). The discussion was long.' The printed copies of the Revision, it will be seen, contain the American change and read: 'Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops.'"(22)
Dr. Schaff was on such good terms with the Papacy that he sought and obtained unusual privileges to study Vatican documents. His biographer writes: "Through Cardinal Hergenröther, the Cardinal librarian, he received almost unrestricted access to the Vatican Library and Archives. The latter is a distinct department, containing the papal correspondence, encyclicals, regesta, and other documents pertaining to the curia."(23)
What Greek text was followed in the American New Testament Revision Committee, may be gathered from the report given by Dr. Schaff of his visit to the home of Bishop Westcott, Durham, England, 1869. He said, — "Westcott and Hort's Greek Testament I think will suit me exactly."(24)
Dr. Riddle tells us that in discussing the readings of the Greek New Testament to be adopted, that, "while in the vast majority of cases the preferences of the English Revisers were approved, this was due to independent judgment."(25) Dr. Riddle further informs us that the Versions, English and American, are in substantial agreement.(26)
While time does not permit to study theologically the individual members of these two committees, it is evident that Dr. Schaff carried into the committees, the atmosphere of his doctrines and European contacts. All the serious changes in the English Revised, which so greatly aroused public hostility, also appear in the American Revised. In the New Testament Company, in which the most critical questions came up, Dr. Ezra Abbott was accounted the most competent in problems of textual criticism. He was a Unitarian. As a Unitarian he differed on some points from his fellow Revisers. Of him Dr. Riddle writes, — "Dr. Ezra Abbott presented a very able paper on the last clause of Romans 9:5, arguing that it was a doxology to God, and not to be referred to Christ."(27)
He succeeded in getting his view into the margin. In the article by Dr. Abbott on Bible Texts, in Schaff-Herzog's Encyclopedia, he claims that the early church was not so bent, as those of this generation, upon preserving the exact words of the original autographs of the apostles. Who will believe that those who lived nearest the apostles cared less for the sacred writings than we do now? To make such an arbitrary — and in the very nature of things, unreasonable — statement indicates too low an estimate of the sacred words for us to trust him as a qualified Reviser. Unitarians and Romanizers may serve to revise the Bible for others, but not for evangelical Protestants.
Thirteen colleges and universities located along the Atlantic seaboard had members of their faculties on these two Revision Committees. What the result has been of linking America's educational institutions with European theology, which Dr. Schaff set out to do, may be seen in the letter written him by the famous Dr. Weiss of the Berlin University. He says:
"If to-day the famous theological seminaries in the United States have become nurseries of theological science, so that the old world no longer gives to them alone, but receives from them instruction in turn, this is owing chiefly to your activity."(28)
If the influence of Dr. Schaff's scheme was so revolutionary upon all the theological seminaries of the United States, what must have been his influence and that of his Revision activities upon the American Revised Version? Will not this explain the peculiar acceptability of the American Revised Version to those who lean toward advanced and liberal theology?
Cardinal Newman and Dr. Schaff drank their inspiration from the same fountain, — from the higher critical theology of Germany, — at the same time both pagan and papal. As to the results of Newman's life and the Oxford Movement, let a quarterly Review testify:
"He (Newman) had left the leprosy of Popery cleaving to the very walls of Oxford, to infect the youth of England, through an unknown future."(29)
As to the effect of Dr. Schaff, the Mercersburg theology, and his doctrines, let the same witness testify again:
"Our examination has extended only to a little beyond the middle of Dr. Schaff's work (i.e. his History of the Apostolic Church). But the positions he has already advanced, are such as to lay the whole truth and grace of God, and the whole liberty, hope, and salvation of the human race, at the feet of the Roman Papacy."(30)
Under such influences were born the English and American Revised Versions.
(1) Life and Letters of Dr. Hort, Vol. I, p. 277
(2) New Brunswick Review, Aug. 1854, pp. 282, 283
(3) Appel, Life of John W. Nevin, pp. 412-414
(4) Life of Nevin, pp. 200, 201
(5) The Forum, June 1887, p. 336
(6) David Schaff, Life of Philip Schaff, p. 75
(7) Life of Schaff, p. 88
(8) Ibid, p. 107
(9) Princeton Review, Jan. 1854, p. 189
(10) New Brunswick Review, May 1854, p. 20
(11) Ibid, p. 23
(12) Ibid, p. 62
(13) New Brunswick Review, May 1854, p. 23
(14) Princeton Review, Jan. 1854, pp. 182, 183
(15) Ibid, p. 180
(16) New Brunswick Review, May 1854, pp. 60, 61
(17) Ibid, pp. 61, 62
(18) Ibid, p. 322
(19) Life of Dr. Schaff, p. 389
(20) Dr. Riddle, Story of the Revised New Testament (American), p. 28
(21) New Brunswick Review, May 1854, p. 57
(22) Life of Dr. Schaff, p. 380
(23) Ibid, p. 417
(24) Ibid, p. 245
(25) Dr. Riddle, Story of American Revised Version, p. 30
(26) Ibid, p. 73
(27) Ibid, p. 39
(28) Life of Dr. Schaff, p. 467
(29) New Brunswick Review, Aug. 1854, p. 322
(30) Ibid, p. 325
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