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faith no fancy

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Oct 05, 2007

Before there were blogs, there were pamphlets. The 17th and early 18th centuries were especially fertile of theological attacks and counter-attacks carried out by preacher-pamphleteers. Concision of argument was not highly prized by the disputants, and one interesting feature (not without its parallel in blogdom) is the way in which the titles of successive screeds reflect the escalating temper of their clergyman authors. In browsing through Harvard Library's on-line catalog the other day, I came upon a work by one Ralph Erskine (1685-1752, according to the entry) which bears this particularly enchanting title:

Faith no fancy, or, A treatise of mental images discovering the vain philosophy and vile divinity of a late pamphlet intitled Mr. Robe's fourth letter to Mr. Fisher, and shewing that an imaginary idea of Christ as man (when supposed to belong to saving faith, whether in its act or object), imports nothing but ignorance, atheism, idolatry, great falsehood, and gross delusion : with an appendix, relating to part of the late writings of the Rev. Messrs. Willison and Currie, especially touching some points of gospel doctrine injured by their defence of the act of assembly, 1722, &c. : together with a sermon, titled, The true Christ no new Christ : and some other extracts from the same author.

Impressive. If the Rev. Erskine couldn't spit out his title in less than a hundred words, imagine would it must have cost his congregation to sit through the actual harangue. We web-rats rejoice in this advantage over our Forefathers in Theological Truculence, that even the most prolix and intemperate controversialist can be zapped into oblivion with a click.

Not that prolixity and intemperance, mind you, are necessarily bad.

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  • Posted by: - Oct. 05, 2007 8:29 AM ET USA

    The Reverend Mr. Ralph Erskine, as befits a dour Presbyterian, was ordained to the ministry in Scotland after studies at Edinburgh. But of greater local interest is that in1839 Erskine College, named for our scribe, was established by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Due West, South Carolina, one hour south of Greenville. Today Erskine is a small liberal arts college "in the Presbyterian tradition." O tempora, O mores!

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