Quaker Religion professor Max Carter of Guilford College discusses the Quakers (documentary interview format) the diggers, levelers and other movements, how they began and the different elements of influence, including Radicalism, Restorationism, Apocalypticism, Perfectionism and Paracelsianism.
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"How are we to understand the beginnings of Quakerism?
For some, it was a mystical movement. (Rufus Jones)
For some, it was a movement out of radical puritanism, left wing puritanism. (Hugh Barber)
Inward apocalypse, second coming. (Tim Pete, Doug Guinn, Ben Pink Dandelion)
Or was it a holiness movement? (a la Carol Spencer)
Actually, it was probably all of those and more.
If we take a look at the streams of influence of Early Quakerism you'll see that elements of all of that was in the genesis of Quakerism.
Quakerism arose out of the English Civil War period. 1640's, 1650's. A period of radicalism. Economic, political, religious, ecclesiastical radicalism as people sought to reform society from the grassroots up.
The Diggers: Digging up common greens to bring them back into the common people's usage after they'd been expropriated by the gentry.
The Levelers: seeking to level social distinctions in the class society of the time. We see elements of that in Quakers refusal to doff the hat, emphasizing equality, using thee and thou for those above them.
Restorationism was a movement that proceeded Quakerism by a good 150 years, rising out of the radical reform period following the protestant reformation. Those are the ancestors of the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Amish, the Anabaptist movement. It sought to restore original Christianity. It sought to go beyond even the reforms of Luther and Calvin and Zwingli to return Christianity to its purity of the gospel of the Early Church. And we see elements of that, as Quakers believed that they were primitive Christianity revived, primitive Christianity restored.
Apocalypticism: this was an apocalyptic time, the English Civil War period. They'd lopped off the head of their king in 1649. There's an intense expectation that the millennial kingdom, God's reign would be established on Earth as it is in heaven.
And for Friends, they experienced that inwardly: that "Christ is come to teach the people directly." - one of George Fox's great statements. That Christ is present in all the offices of Christ, as prophet, priest, redeemer, lord, king, prophet and that one could live as if the reign of God was present.
So all of those counsels of perfection in the sermon on the mount, Jesus' teachings, applied here and now.
And Perfectionism: rising out of a revival of Paracelsianism in England in the 1640's and 50's, a movement linked to the ancient hermetic tradition, that there was that key that would unlock the mysteries of the universe, that would unlock not only the secrets of nature - you could turn lead into gold - but you could perfect human nature: turn our inward leaden nature, spiritual deadness, into vital spirituality... turn our inward leaden nature into golden perfection. And you see that in Quaker understandings that we can perfect society. George Fox's own vision, that we can come up through the flaming sword into the state in which Adam was before the fall, and live in that original harmony.
So all those streams of influence were present in society, influencing Quakerism. It was the air they breathed, it was the water they drank. And so whether you go with Rufus Jones, Hugh Barber, Carol Spencer, Pink Dandelion and others, there's an element of truth in all of that and probably even more that we haven't even begun to explore."
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