Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Frederick Maurice

John Frederick Denison Maurice (August 29, 1805 - April 1, 1872) was an English theologian.

He was born at Normanston, Suffolk, the son of a Unitarian minister, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1823, though only members of the Established Church were eligible to obtain a degree. Together with John Sterling (with whom he founded the Apostles' Club) he migrated to Trinity Hall, and obtained a first class in civil law in 1827; he then came to London, and gave himself to literary work, writing a novel, Eustace Conyers, and editing the London Literary Chronicle until 1830, and also for a short time the Athenaeum.

At this time he was undecided about his religious opinions, and he ultimately found relief in a decision to take a further university course and to seek Anglican orders. Entering Exeter College, Oxford, be took a second class in classics in 1831. He was ordained in 1834, and after a short curacy at Bubbenhall in Warwickshire was appointed chaplain of Guy's Hospital, and became a leading figure in the intellectual and social life of London. From 1839 to 1841, Maurice was editor of the Education Magazine. In 1840 he was appointed professor of English history and literature at King's College, London, and to this post in 1846 was added the chair of divinity. In 1845 he was Boyle lecturer and Warburton lecturer. These chairs he held till 1853.

In that year he published Theological Essays;the opinions it expressed were viewed by the principal, Dr RW Jelf, and by the council, as being of unsound theology. He had previously been called on to clear himself from charges of heterodoxy brought against him in the Quarterly Review (1851), and had been acquitted by a committee of inquiry. Now he maintained with great conviction that his views were in accord with Scripture and the Anglican standards, but the council, declining to submit the case to the judgment of competent theologians, ruled otherwise, and he was deprived of his professorships. He held the chaplaincy of Lincoln's Inn, for which he had resigned Guy's (1846-1860), but when he offered to resign this the benchers refused. The same happened with the incumbency of St. Peter's, Vere Street, which he held for nine years (1860—1869), becoming the centre of a sympathetic circle. During the early years of this period he was engaged in a hot and bitter controversy with Henry Longueville Mansel (afterwards dean of St Paul's), arising out of the latter's Bampton lecture on reason and revelation.

During his residence in London, Maurice was identified with two important educational initiatives. He helped to found Queen's College for the education of women (1848), and the Working Men's College (1854), of which he was the first principal. He strongly advocated the abolition of university tests (1853), and threw himself with great energy into all that affected the social life of the people. Certain abortive attempts at co-operation among working men, and the movement known as Christian Socialism, were the immediate outcome of his teaching. In 1866 Maurice was appointed professor of moral philosophy at Cambridge, and from 1870 to 1872 was incumbent of St Edward's in that city.

He was twice married, first to Anna Barton, a sister of John Sterling's wife, secondly to a half-sister of his friend Archdeacon Hare. His son Major-General Sir J Frederick Maurice (b. 1841), became a distinguished soldier and one of the most prominent military writers of his time.

Those who knew Maurice best were deeply impressed with the spirituality of his character. "Whenever he woke in the night," says his wife, "he was always praying." Charles Kingsley called him "the most beautiful human soul whom God has everallowed me to meet with." As regards his intellectual attainments we may set Julius Hare's verdict "the greatest mind since Plato" over against John Ruskin's "by nature puzzle-headed and indeed wrong-headed." Such contradictory impressions reveal a life made up of contradictory elements.

While many "Broad Churchmen" were influenced by ethical and emotional considerations in their repudiation of the dogma of everlasting torment, Maurice was swayed by intellectual and theological arguments, and in questions of a more general liberty he often opposed the Liberal theologians. He bad a wide metaphysical and philosophical knowledge which he applied to the history of theology. He was a strenuous advocate of ecclesiastical control in elementary education, and an opponent of the new school of higher biblical criticism, though so far an evolutionist as to believe in growth and development as applied to the history of nations.

As a preacher, his message was apparently simple; his two great convictions were the fatherhood of God, and that all religious systems which had any stability lasted because of a portion of truth which had to be disentangled from the error differentiating them from the doctrines of the Church of England as understood by himself. The prophetic, even apocalyptic, note of his preaching was particularly impressive. He prophesied "often with dark foreboding, but seeing through all unrest and convulsion the working out of a sure divine purpose." Both at King's College and at Cambridge Maurice gathered a following of earnest students. He encouraged the habit of inquiry and research, more valuable than his direct teaching.

As a social reformer, Maurice was before his time, and gave his eager support to schemes for which the world was not ready. The condition of the city's poor troubled him; the magnitude of the social questions involved was a burden he could hardly bear. Working men of all opinions seemed to trust him even if their faith in other religious men and all religious systems had faded, and he had a power of attracting both the zealot and the outcast.

The following are his most important works--some of them were rewritten and in a measure recast, and the date given is not necessarily that of the first appearance of the book, but of its more complete and abiding form:

The greater part of these works were first delivered as sermons or lectures. Maurice also contributed many prefaces and introductions to the works of friends, as to Archdeacon Hare's Charges, Kingsley's Saint's Tragedy, etc. See Life by his son (2 vols., London, 1884), and a monograph by CFG Masterman (1907) in “Leader of the Church” series; WE Collins in Typical English Churchmen, pp. 327-360 (1902), and T Hughes in ''The Friendship of Books'\' (1873).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.