Experimental Theology in America: A Review

Dear Friends:

 

I have been reading 'Experimental Theology in America: Madame Guyon, Fenelon, and Their Readers' by Patricia A. Ward. In my ongoing exploration of our Quietist Heritage this was recommended to me by a poster here at QuakerQuaker.

 

For those who have an interest in the second period of Quaker history, the period of Quietism, this book offers valuable insights. Ward shows how the continental Quietists were quickly picked up by Quakers, and many others (such as the Pietists in Germany), and used to enrich their own tradition. It is a complex story; there are many threads to it. Ward manages to present the history in an accessible way and I was impressed that I, as a reader, did not lose track of the many manifestations of Quietism as the story progresses.

 

Most of the book is not directly about Quakers; the primary focus seems to be how various groups reconfigured Quietism as these teachings crossed linguistic and cultural boundaries. What is surprising is how pervasive the teachings were, particularly in the 19th century.

 

The most direct influence on the Quaker tradition was the production of 'A Guide to True Peace', a manual consisting primarily of selections from Guyon, Fenelon, and Molinos, but subtly altered for a Quaker context. This manual of Quaker contemplation was widely distributed, frequently published in various editions, and is still extant in two modern editions.

 

The common focus between the Quietists and the Quakers is the primacy of turning inwards to what the Quietists refer to as the 'Divine Teacher' or 'Presence', or what the Quakers would refer to as the 'Inner Light' or 'Christ Within'. This view lead to a common practice: that of silent contemplation that allowed for the Divine Presence to become known.

 

I recommend the book for those interested in the contemplative dimension of Quaker history and practice. It places the period of Quietism in a broad historical context and gives us a glimpse of the richness of that heritage.

 

Thanks,

 

Jim

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