Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
200 Years of True Peace
This year, 2013, is the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Quaker work “A Guide to True Peace”. It was originally published in England in 1813. The first American Edition is dated 1816; so it found a place among American Quakers very quickly.
It has been in continuous publication ever since its initial offering. There are numerous editions published in the 19th century. I have personally read the 1816, 1818, 1820, 1829, 1834, and 1846 editions. In the 20th century there appeared a significant edition in 1946. The 1946 edition contained an ‘Introduction’ by Howard Brinton. This 1946 edition was reprinted in 1979 by Pendle Hill and for many years was the most widely available and read edition among 20th century Quakers.
But in some ways the 1946/79 edition is peculiar. It is the only edition I have come across that lacks scriptural references. Scriptural quotes are used frequently in the ‘Guide’. The standard practice for editions up to the 46/79 edition was to give a citation for the quoted scripture either in the body of the text itself, or as a footnote; the normal way scriptural quotations are referenced. The absence of these references in the 46/79 edition remains a puzzle to me. All previous editions I have looked at, and all subsequent editions as well, have them. For those who want to use the ‘Guide’ as an actual manual for contemplation, the absence of the references is a puzzling lapse.
Fortunately, all the newer editions, including ones issued in 2012, contain the references; so those purchasing newer editions will have these easily available. In addition, two reprint houses currently offer the 1846 Edition; which is the 3rd American Edition, which also contains the references. In addition, the 3rd American Edition also contains William Shewen’s “Counsel to the Christian Traveller”, a short, inspirational work also popular among Quakers in the 19th century. Together they make a good pair.
The ‘Guide’ is a remarkable work that has assisted countless Quakers in their Faith and Practice, in their spiritual journey. It is a work that emerged out of the tradition of Quietism. The ‘Guide’ consists of passages culled from the writings of Madame Guyon, Francois Fenelon, and Miguel Molinos; the three continental Quietists of greatest significance. All three of these writers were Catholic. All three of them were at times arrested and interrogated by the Inquisition; Molinos died in prison for his beliefs. Madame Guyon was arrested four times and finally released to her son’s house in Southern France. Fenelon was exiled from Paris and assigned the bishopric of Cambray, where he lived out the rest of his days in evident serenity.
The result of these attacks on Quietist thought was that Protestants in England, particularly Quakers, and Pietists in Lutheran Germany, felt free to borrow from their writings without becoming too ‘Catholic’ in the process. Because Quietism was designated a heresy, and because Protestants were already ‘heretics’, it was easy for some Protestants to sense a commonality of view with these Catholic thinkers.
One result of this interaction is the ‘Guide to True Peace’ put together by William Backhouse and James Janson in England, using the writings of the continental Quietists as the basis for their work. In the case of the Quaker tradition, Quietism found a ready audience; the Quaker tradition already contained a significant tilt towards many of the basic teachings of Quietism. As early as Robert Barclay we can find views that are either in sympathy with what would become Quietism, or are in fact of the same essence as the views put forth by Guyon, Molinos, and Fenelon. So it is not surprising that Quakers would become a significant conduit for the spread of the ideas of continental Quietism through the publication of the ‘Guide’.
During this 200th anniversary year I hope to post observations on the history of the text as well as comments on passages from the ‘Guide’. Each edition makes some editorial changes; most of these are trivial, but a few are significant and are worth looking at.
But more importantly, I feel that the ‘Guide’ can function as a means for recovering the Quaker heritage of Quietism, a heritage that I feel has been too long neglected, being either dismissed or obscured. Some of the teachings of the ‘Guide’ run counter to some of the inclinations of contemporary Quaker Faith and Practice. I think it is worth looking at what has changed and, perhaps, what can be recovered; using the ‘Guide’ to map out the territory we have travelled.
Thy Friend Jim