The New International Encyclopædia/Parker, Theodore

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PARKER, Theodore (1810-60). An American preacher, scholar, and reformer. He was born in Lexington, Mass., August 24, 1810. His father was farmer and mechanic, and the son shared actively in his occupations in the intervals of study at the district school and Lexington Academy. He entered Harvard College in 1830 and took the full course of study privately, passing all the examinations, but getting no A.B. degree because he had paid no tuition fees. In 1840 the degree of M.A. was given him. By that time he had mastered several languages which the college did not teach. In 1833 he entered the Harvard divinity school, from which he graduated in 1836. He was ordained Juue 21, 1837, and the same day installed pastor of the West Roxbury Unitarian Church. May 19, 1841, he preached in South Boston an ordination sermon, “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity,” which attracted much attention and elicited violent opposition. With Channing's “Baltimore Sermon” of 1819 and Emerson's Divinity School Address of 1838, it is accounted one of the three epoch-making sermons of the Unitarian development. It was virtually a rejoinder to Andrew Norton's “Latest Form of Infidelity,” which, replying to Emerson's address, contended that no man can be a Christian who accepts the teachings of Jesus for any other reason than that of their miraculous attestation. The sermon did not deny the miraculous in Christianity, but men's present need of it. Invited to preach in Boston, his first important sermons were gathered into a book, A Discourse on Matters Pertaining to Religion (1842), which increased the controversial heat. There were Unitarians who wished formally to expel him from their fellowship, and did achieve his virtual exclusion. In 1846 the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society was formed in Boston and he became its minister, preaching in the Melodeon until 1852, and for the next seven years to a congregation of several thousands in Music Hall. To much controversial preaching, he added more of the kind represented by his Lessons from the World of Matter and the World of Man (1865). He had inherited a tendency to consumption, and in January, 1859, was attacked with severe illness. He was taken to Santa Cruz and there wrote his Experience as a Minister (1859). From Santa Cruz he went to England and thence to Italy, and died, May 10, 1860, at Florence, where he is buried in the Protestant cemetery. Theodore Parker's Christianity was anti-supernatural: his philosophy intuitional, transcendental; his theology theistic, affirming God, the moral law, and immortality as certainties of consciousness. His conception of Jesus was purely humanitarian and his criticism of the Bible anticipated the results of more recent orthodox scholarship. He was one of the most conspicuous leaders of the New England abolitionists, uniting a great personal admiration for Garrison with some differences from his views and aims. His works have been published collectively (edited by Frances Power Cobbe, 14 vols., London, 1863-70: 10 vols., Boston, 1870). Consult also his Historic Americans (Boston, 1870); Discourse on Matters Pertaining to Religion, with introduction by Hannah E. Stevenson (New York, 1871); Prayers, with memoir by F. B. Sanborn (Boston, 1882); Views of Religion, with introduction by James Freeman Clark (ib., 1885); West Roxbury Sermons (ib., 1892). For his life, consult Weiss (New York, 1864), Frothingham (Boston, 1874), and Chadwick (with full bibliography, ib., 1901).