Frederick Denison Maurice

Priest, Theologian


Frederick Denison Maurice
Frederick Denison Maurice
Priest, Theologian

Photograph from 1865 original edited in Photoshop CS2. CC BY 3.0

F. D. Maurice was the son of a Unitarian minister. His early life was marked by angry debates on religious matters among his family, and at the age of 18 he left home. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1823 to study law, but as a non-Anglican he was debarred from formal graduation and from taking up a college fellowship. He moved to London and in 1830, concluding that only a national church could provide the best spiritual renewal in society, he was baptised and entered Exeter College, Oxford, to prepare for Anglican ordination. He was Ordained in 1834.

Maurice's novel “Eustace Conway”, begun c. 1830, was published in 1834 and was praised by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

For his first clerical assignment, Maurice served an assistant curacy in Bubbenhall in Warwickshire from 1834 until 1836. During his time there, he began writing on the topic of "moral and metaphysical philosophy" he would continue to do so for the rest of his life, 'Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, 2 vols in 1871–1872', was published the year he died. He was a prolific writer, whose theological opinions brought him into conflict with accepted opinion. In 1838, his most significant work, 'The Kingdom of Christ' was published. For Maurice the signs of this kingdom are "the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, to which must be added the creeds, the liturgy, the episcopate, and the scriptures — in fact, all the marks of catholicity as exemplified in the Church of England." The book was met with criticism when published, a criticism "that lasted throughout Maurice's career." In 1836, he was appointed chaplain of Guy's Hospital here he took up residence and "lectured the students on moral philosophy". He continued this post until 1860.

Maurice served as editor of the Educational Magazine during its entire 1839–1841 existence. He argued that "the school system should not be transferred from the church to the state." Maurice was elected professor of English literature and history at King's College, London, in 1840. When the college added a theological department in 1846, he became a professor there also. That same year Maurice was elected chaplain of Lincoln's Inn and resigned the chaplaincy at Guy's Hospital.

In 1845, Maurice was made both the Boyle lecturer by the Archbishop of York's nomination and the Warburton lecturer by the Archbishop of Canterbury's nomination. He held these chairs until 1853.

During his London years in 1848 he founded Queens College for women, and the Working Men's College in 1854.

As a professed Christian Socialist he differed profoundly from his opponents on either flank. Christian Socialism he said, “will commit us at once to the conflict . . . with the unsocial Christians and the unchristian Socialists”. He parted with the socialists of his day by his insistence on a religious base to social action. On the other hand, he was widely distrusted by many in the church for having anything to do with socialism at all. He called for radical but non-violent reform through the renewal of faith, and saw worship and prayer as the source of energy for the church’s mission.

By his ideals of Christian Socialism he sought to arouse the conscience of church people and to gain their support and help for the material and spiritual welfare of working people. With the passing of time he became highly respected for the nobility of his character and his dedicated service to others. In 1860 he was appointed to St Peter’s Chapel, Vere Street. He became professor of moral theology at Cambridge in 1866 and incumbent of St Edward’s, Cambridge.

BORN: 29 August 1805, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England

DIED: 1 April 1872, London, United Kingdom