Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The Bible in the ‘Guide’
The presence of the Bible in the Quaker work ‘A Guide to True Peace’ is pervasive. This is in keeping with traditional Quaker writings. The Bible is used in the ‘Guide’ as a proof text, meaning that the point of view that the ‘Guide’ presents is placed in a biblical context and supported by numerous biblical quotations.
There are 102 quotes from the Bible in a work that is roughly 80 pages (the number of pages varies somewhat depending on the edition). There are 35 quotes from the Old Testament and 67 quotes from the New. 19 New Testament books, and 13 Old Testament books, are quoted.
The most frequently quoted book is the Book of Psalms, with 11 quotes. The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew each get 10 quotes. That makes for 31 quotes, roughly a third of the quotes are in these three sources.
I think it is significant to note that these quotes are, for the most part, selected by the editors. Some of these quotes appear in the works of Guyon, Molinos, and Fenelon; but for the most part the Quaker editors have selected them on their own. It is also noteworthy that no Church Fathers or Catholic Saints are quoted in the ‘Guide’, but they are referenced in the works of Molinos, Guyon, and Fenelon. In particular, Fenelon’s work, “The Maxims of the Saints”, is steeped in a long history of Catholic mysticism and frequently refers to Catholic Saints that, from Fenelon’s perspective, support the perspective of Quietism. Molinos also makes frequent reference to Catholic Saints; Madam Guyon less so.
All of these references to Church Fathers and Catholic Saints are dropped in the process of putting together the ‘Guide’. So there is a shift of context; that is to say the context in which the Catholic Quietists present their teachings is Catholic history and tradition. The context in which the ‘Guide to True Peace’ presents its understanding of Quietism is the Bible.
This reflects the reformation character of Quaker Faith and Practice. It is central to Reformation traditions that their views and practice be grounded in the Bible. The Reformation saw ‘tradition’ as a means for subverting genuine biblical teaching and bringing into Christianity all sorts of customs and habits that were either not central to Christian teachings, or actually subverted those teachings (indulgences being the most famous example). Quakers were rooted in this view and this is reflected on how the ‘Guide’ uses the Bible.
Yet the Quaker tradition did not adopt the rallying cry of so many Reformation thinkers, the cry of ‘Sola Scriptura’, or ‘Scripture Alone’. That is to say the Quaker tradition also has the experience of the inner light of the Lord as an authoritative source and experience. There is an ongoing tension in Quaker history between how the Bible and the experience of the inner light relate to each other. The ‘Guide’ is all about the inner experience; it is a manual of silent, inward prayer. Yet that turning inward is ratified and justified through frequent Biblical citations.
It is worth noting that among the Old Testament references is one quote from ‘Wisdom’, which is an apocryphal book, known as the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’. It is Wisdom 7:11 and the quote is found in Chapter 16 of the ‘Guide’, “All good things come together with her.” What is interesting is that this quote is not differentiated from other scriptural quotes; it is simply quoted as scripture. This is at a time, 1813, when the apocrypha were being strongly rejected by many Protestant groups. Yet in this instance the Quaker community seems to have accepted the apocrypha as on the same level as the other books of scripture that it quotes.
In addition, there is one quote that comes from the Vulgate version of the Bible. It is John 3.3 which appears in Chapter 5 of the ‘Guide’. In the King James Version, and other Reformation translation versions, this verse reads that ‘you must be born again.’ In the Vulgate version it reads ‘you must be born from above.’ In the ‘Guide’ it is ‘from above’ that is quoted rather than ‘born again’. In the King James Version original edition marginal notes offer the ‘from above’ as an alternate translation. Most published editions of the KJV do not include the marginal notes; but the translators of the KJV had thousands of these alternative readings, and John 3.3 is one of them. Footnotes to this quote that appear in the ‘Guide’ refer the reader to this marginal note as found in the KJV. Here is the passage from Chapter 5 of the 'Guide:
"True religion is a heaven-born thing, it is an emanation of the truth and goodness of God upon the spirits of men, whereby they are formed into a similitude and likeness of himself, and become 'partakers of the Divine nature.' 2 Pet. 1. 4. A true christian is every way of a most noble extraction, of a heavenly and divine pedigree, being born, as St. John expresseth it, 'from above.' John 3.3 And in another place he saith, 'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.' 1 John 3.1."
The apocryphal quote, and the Vulgate usage, indicate a rather expansive view of what constitutes scripture. The compilers of the ‘Guide’ were willing to go beyond a strictly ‘Protestant’ view of authorized scripture and they seem to have done so without comment. That the ‘Guide’ was widely accepted by the 19th century Quaker community would indicate that this did not pose a problem.
In summary, it is of great importance to the compilers of the ‘Guide’ that their view be biblically based. On the other hand, what exactly constitutes the Bible, what books of the Bible are to be considered as included in holy write, and which version of the Bible is to be used do not seem to be central issues for the Quaker community at that time. Personally, I find this a balanced and considered view and it is one of the things which makes the ‘Guide’ a powerful presentation of the Christian and Biblical basis for the prayer of inward silence.