Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I was wanting to try to do some reading of Quaker literature and did a search on Amazon for Quaker books. Everything that comes up by default is always newer, more modern Quaker books. I was wanting to read some of the older literature except the question of just how old came to mind. So my question is what time period is generally considered to be the "golden age of Quakerism"?
That depends very much on what you mean by 'Quakerism'. Some people value different aspects of our movement than others, so that some of us might consider that we've never been better.
Persecution in the first days, 1650's to around 1700, kept the group pretty dedicated at first.
But by 1700 we had descendants of early Friends who were basically warming benches, the kind of member that in a Buddhist monastery might be called 'a rice bag.' Samuel Bownas said that he'd grown up in that condition: "All this time I had no taste of religion, but devoted myself to pleasure." Anne Wilson, a travelling woman preacher, stood up one day and pointed to him, saying: "A traditional Quaker : thou comest to meeting as thou went from it (the last time) and goes from it as thou came to it, but art no better for thy coming ; what wilt thou do in the end?" This woke him up rather sharply and began a change that made him a powerful preacher.
Not everyone wakes up that way, so we've had our share of benchwarmers ever since. But in all periods we've also had truly inspired Friends among us.
If you want an excellent summary of how we've developed, and a better idea of what you might like, there is _Living the Quaker Way_ by Ursula Jane O'Shea.
My own notions about this?: See my talk to a group at my wife's church.
The golden age of Quakerism was when Central London meeting befriended a rather introverted young Indian student named Mohandas Gandhi.
The golden age of Quakerism was when Friends organized the feeding of Europe twice.
The golden age of Quakerism was when 15th Street Meeting's Bayard Rustin organized the March on Washington and counseled Dr. King to embrace nonviolence.
The golden age of Quakerism was when the Clamshell Alliance was trained in nonviolence by Frances Crowe and others. Then their training manuel spread nationally and over to Germany. Then people in Eastern Europe started emulating the nonviolent tactics that they saw on West German TV and in time the Soviet Union fell apart. There were other international nonviolence consultations that weren't Quaker.
The golden age of Quakerism was when Friends faced the extinction of most of the world's larger animals and trees, not to mention trouble for their own descendents.
Hello, Scott Fike! If by "golden age," you mean the period when the Quaker faith became the basis for a full-blown, enduring culture, I would zero in on the tradition of "ministers' journals" and take a good look at how they expressed and recorded the Quaker spirituality of their time. Howard Brinton's *Quaker Journals* will introduce you to this tradition. But, be aware, Brinton writes from a liberal point of view, which significantly influences his work.
Another source for understanding the Society of Friends and its theology and religious experience is *Quaker Religious Thought*. Back issues of QRT are available for a modest price, and will provide lots of insight into the history and variety of Quaker religious thought. See: https://qtdg.wordpress.com/ ; For a list of back issues, see: https://qtdg.wordpress.com/back-issues/ QRT tends to reflect a Christian Quaker point of view.
Chuck Fager's *Quaker Theology* is also a worthwhile publication to look at, as long as you understand its liberal outlook. See: http://quakertheology.org/ The back issues are all available online.
You may also want to look over *Quaker History*, published by the Friends Historical Association. It focusses on historical issues and also reviews books of historical interest. See: http://www.haverford.edu/library/fha/
*Quaker Studies* is published by the Quaker Studies Research Association, based in the UK. It is an interdisciplinary journal, reflecting the vigorous academic research of scholars associated with Woodbrooke in England.
I would be happy to recommend some ministers' journals to read, if you are interested. They are nowadays available as reprints, often at a reasonable price.
Hello Scott. The first Quaker literature that I read was Isaac Penington's The Light Within and Selected Writings, which is published by the Tract Association of Friends. Penington was a first-generation Friend whose writing is easier to follow than George Fox's, and I'm glad to have come upon his writing first. It's a small book but gives a good account of Friends faith. For example, here is the beginning of one section:
The Ancient Principle of Truth: or the Light Within Asserted according to true experience, and the faithful testimony of the Scriptures: In answers to four questions. 1) What this Light is which we testify of, and what is the nature of it? 2)What it doth inwardly in the heart? 3)How it cometh to be lighted, set up, and increased there? 4)How it cometh to be diminished or extinguished in any?
As Friends faith is inwardly discovered and can only appear following a regeneration in the soul, it can easily be lost and then misrepresented within the faith community as time goes by. In fact, we began as a movement to pronounce the reclamation of our faith's foundation in Christ Within, the foundation which had been lost since the apostolic Christianity of the first century. You are wise, I think, to avoid later writings until you grasp what the Gospel was that the 17th century Quakers were preaching. Robert Barclay, foremost apologist for Quaker faith, began his work to declare and defend our faith with the caution that "he that misseth his road from the beginning of his journey...the more difficult will be his entrance into the right way." May you find declared in Quaker faith, in concert with your spirit, that which is both the right beginning and the right end, that who is the Alpha and the Omega.