Theodore Parker 1810 - 1860
March 01, 2008
An erudite scholar, Parker spoke Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German. His journal and letters show that he was acquainted with many other languages, including Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Coptic and Ethiopic.
In the face of these disasters, Parker developed a strong faith in the immortality of the soul and in a God who would allow no lasting harm to come to any of His children (universalism).
Parker grasped the universals of life and religion believing God established the natural laws and the regularity of nature. Miracles would be in violation of these God-created natural laws.
Parker made a radical renunciation of the necessity of the person of Jesus to the Christian faith. He was one of the transcendentalists, contributed to the Dial, and edited (1847-50) the Massachusetts Quarterly Review.
He was a prophet in antislavery and other reform activities. He once preached with a gun on the pulpit so as to protect an ex slave.
The liberalism that Parker presented in Boston in 1841 and amplified in his scholarly 1841 sermon “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity” and a year later “Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion” (1842) was then so radical that by 1843 Rev. Theodore Parker became “The Pariah” of Boston Unitarian ministers.
Theodore Parker praised Universalism for having
"wrought a revolution in the thoughts and minds of men more mighty than any which has been accomplished . . . by all the politicians in the nation" (pp. 19, 51)
The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880…
“The Universalists are more human than we; they declare the Fatherhood of God and stick at the consequences. Everlasting Happiness to all men. I think they are the most human sect in the land.” --- from a letter written by Unitarian minister Theodore Parker to the Rev. Samuel J. May of Lexington, June 14, 1847:
Theodore Parker in his eloquent sermon “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity,” fired with the new American spirit of revolt, challenged the most sacrosanct doctrines of historic Christianity.
He questioned the authenticity and inspiration of the Bible itself, and declared heretically
"...it is not so much by the Christ who lived so blameless and beautiful eighteen centuries ago that we are saved directly, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and live out in our lives that we save ourselves, God [infinite good] working with us both to will and to do."
This truly great sermon resulted in Parker’s virtual ostracism by his more respectable townsmen, but it reflected infinite wisdom and fueled the flame of expanding understanding.
"Let the transient pass, fleet as it will, and may God send us some new manifestation of the Christian faith, that shall stir men's heart as they were never stirred; some new word which shall teach us what we are in the image of God....
”… give us the Comforter, who shall reveal all needed things!…”
Little did this great preacher realize how soon the “Comforter,” the Second Coming of the Christ, would arrive and fulfill Jesus’ prophecy of the “Comforter” that would “abide with you forever…and teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 16:16 & 26).
Theodore Parker, who made Unitarianism in America an intellectual torch… Unitarianism in New England was a revolt from the rule of the Congregational Church, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker were rebels from Unitarianism… Emerson and Parker were irrigators.
They gave the water to the land, instead of trying to keep it for a fishpond. Neither one ever ordered the populace to cut bait or fall in and drown. As a result we are enriched with the flowers and fruits of their energies; they bequeathed to us something more than a threat and a promise—they gave us the broad pastures, the meadows, the fertile fields, and the lofty trees with their refreshing shade…
Theodore Parker was the first of his kind in America—an independent, single-handed, theological fighter—a preacher without a denomination, dictated to by no bishop, governed by no machine…
Parker’s business was not to start a new world; rather, it was to collide with old, reeling, wobbling worlds, break them into pieces, and send these pieces spinning through space…
For fourteen years Theodore Parker spoke at the Music-Hall, Boston, every Sunday, to congregations that varied from a thousand to three thousand, the capacity of the auditorium.
During these years he was the dominating intellectual factor of Boston, if not all New England. People went to Boston, for hundreds of miles, just to hear Parker, as they went to Brooklyn to hear Henry Ward Beecher. continue reading:
Parker was extremely influential in the reform movement in America at this time.
Meanwhile, mounting frustration over the failure to achieve peaceful emancipation made many abolitionists receptive to Brown’s violent approach. Some of them, known subsequently as the “secret six” - Franklin Sanborn, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, George Luther Stearns, Gerrit Smith, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Theodore Parker - were aware of his intentions and became his financial supporters.
During twenty years of his life he was closely associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson in thoughts and social movements, without being intimately connected with the Emersonian circle.
Parker had his own circle, a wide and varied collection of men and women in all parts of the world, but particularly in Boston, where his pastorate was for some fifteen years. To that city his friends or their letters came, from all directions, to sympathize in his preaching and the numerous agitations in which he joined, while retaining, like Emerson, his special function in each movement where he took part.
There were, of course, Eastern churchmen who were known for their responsiveness to and sermons upon the beauties of nature and the inner meaning of nature. Some were in the dissident liberal tradition, like Theodore Parker and Ralph Waldo Emerson; others were closer to the mainstream, like Henry Ward Beecher.
Parker also attended Transcendentalist meetings at Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s home, and Peabody published Parker’s writings, as well as the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ellery Channing and Margaret Fuller.
Margaret Fuller’s famous “conversations” were held at West Street in late 1839 and the early 1840s. William Ellery Channing, the “father of Unitarianism” and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s mentor, came to read the newspaper. George and Sophia Ripley, Orestes Brownson, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, John Sullivan Dwight, and others talked over the reform of society and planned the Brook Farm community there.
”I had … a foreign library of new French and German books, and then I came into contact with the world as never before. The Ripleys were starting the Brook Farm community, and they were friends of ours.
Theodore Parker was beginning his career, and all these things were discussed in my book-store by Boston lawyers and Cambridge professors. Those were very living years for me.”
Parker’s sermons ignited the revolution, and alongside many others, they did ‘turn the World upside down’
In our own contemporary search for spiritual renewal, Unitarian Universalists have explored a variety of religious paths - Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Wicca and other earth-based spiritualities - but not our own religious heritage.
"Like a pauper who searches for the next meal, never knowing of the relatives whose will would make him rich, American Unitarians lament their vague religious identity, standing upon the richest theological legacy of any American denomination.
“Possessed of a deep and sustaining history of spiritual achievement and philosophical speculation, religious liberals have been, ironically, dispossessed of that heritage.
“The heritage to which Robinson refers is that left to us by that group we call the American Transcendentalists - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, and dozens of others, mostly young Unitarian ministers.
Most UUs know vaguely of the Transcendentalists, their alleged pantheism, their love of Nature, their intellectual and literary power. But what is the “spiritual achievement” the Transcendentalists have bequeathed to us?
American Transcendentalism curiously found itself in a similar situation to our own. Theodore Parker described the Transcendentalists’ desire for spiritual growth when he wrote in his journal,
“I felt early that the liberal ministers did not do justice to simple religious feeling:…all their preaching seemed to relate too much to outward things, not enough to the inward pious life….
“Most powerfully preaching to the Understanding, the Conscience, and the Will, the cry was ever, ‘Duty, Duty!’ ‘Work, Work!’ They failed to address with equal power the Soul, and did not also shout, ‘Joy, Joy!’ ‘Delight, Delight!‘”
Theodore Parker was a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose social circle glittered with homeopaths and their supporters Moncure Daniel Conway, Mary Gove Nichols (who wrote one thousand professional letters a year), Mercy Bisbee Jackson, Carolina Maria Seymour Severance, Caroline Wells Healey Dall, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody and Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, the Wesselhoeft family, Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott, Lucretia Coffin Mott and many others were supporters of homeopathy and a friend of homeopathic supporters.
Harriet Clisby was in turn influenced and assisted by them. Samuel F Tappan was encouraged in his abolitionism by family members and prominent men who included Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker and others.
Tappan staked a claim to land that abutted the claim of the homeopathic physician Dr. John Doy… He was also a correspondent for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and did some writing for the Boston Atlas and several other newspapers, thus spreading the revolution even further.
Besides Wendell Phillips, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and his wife, speakers included George Bancroft, Theodore Parker, Horace Greeley, Orestes Brownson, Dr. Charles T. Jackson (the chemist and geologist, Mrs. Emerson’s brother), James Freeman Clarke, Charles Lane, and Ephraim W. Bull, the inventor of the far-famed Concord grape.
On the day of his funeral, these tributes of affection were hung about his coffin ; and the Rev. Theodore Parker - friend, and in part a patient - stood at the head of it, and made a tributary discourse to his memory, which was responded to by the tears of a large company that encircled the weeping family…
Mr. Parker, in a touching prayer, thanked God for the life that had been so noble and beneficent, and implored consolation for the misfortune such a death must ever be to the surviving…
Dr. Wesselhoeft, as Mr. Parker said at his funeral, when he saw what his path was to be, had too much dignity to complain, or rail at or ridicule others ; but, with modest self-respect, proceeded to practice down opposition, for which he had ample opportunity.
Augusta J. Evans in her novel Beulah asks:
”They mock earnest, enquiring minds with their refined, infinitesimal, homeopathic ‘developments’ of deity; metaphysical wolves in Socratic cloaks. Oh, they have much to answer for! ‘Spring of philosophy!’ ha! ha! They have made a frog pond of it, in which to launch their flimsy, painted toy barks. Have done with them, Beulah, or you will be miserably duped.”
“Have you lost faith in Emerson and Theodore Parker?” asked Beulah.”
The fourth subseries, Friends and associates, consists of the same type of materials as subseries three with the addition of published writings and memorabilia.
This subseries contains information on many noted people. Although most of the material included here concerns friends of the Garrisons, there is also information about others that that the family collected. They include Susan B. Anthony; Alice Stone Blackwell; Josephine Elizabeth Butler; Frederick Douglass; Henry George; Thomas Wentworth Higginson; the May, McKim, and Pankhurst families; Harriet Martineau; Theodore Parker; Wendell Phillips; Parker Pillsbury; Joseph Lindon Smith (including drawings and sketches); Harriet Tubman; Booker T. Washington; Theodore Dwight Weld; and Marie Zakrzewska.