Paul Dean at 240

Today is the 240th birthday of Universalist minister Paul Dean.

He is much less well remembered than his Boston colleague and contemporary Hosea Ballou, and when I recently learned that Dean (and his wife) have an unmarked grave in the same cemetery that Ballou has a grand monument with a statue. I’ve started transcribing his only book the 1832 A Course of Lectures in Defence of the Final Restoration and I will release chapters of it on this site, starting today.

But first, a taste. Dean, on why not to believe the orthodox Calvinist position on election:

Lastly, we object to this as a scripture doctrine, because we think it calculated most unreasonably to discourage and drive, even into despair, beyond the reach of hope, the erring, weak minded, and scrupulous, who most of all need to be soothed in affliction, and encouraged to reform, and then to grow in grace daily. — Nor is this all; — on the other hand it has a tendency to countenance the arrogant, and lift up with pride the presuming, and embolden the hardened hypocrite.

A pivot to Paul Dean

I’ve been reading Universalist history for decades, but the details of the Restorationist Controversy ( escaped me. I know the broad strokes, the theological points, the key players and the slogans, mostly from Richard Eddy, but the social, economic and ecclesiologial dimensions weren’t clear until I read Peter Hughes’s two (2000, 2002) essays in The Journal of Unitarian and Universalist History. They’re online here and here respectively ( and I highly recommend them.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I read it in jags, breaking to find “where are they now” by which I meant the later careers and legacies of the main figures.

Then I looked for Paul Dean‘s grave. ( I have a soft spot for him, both for being a prominent Trinitarian Universalist, and for his curious ministry in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m also a Restorationist in theology and ethos, as was he. I think I would have liked him.

He is buried in Mt. Auburn like Murray and Ballou, but his grave is unmarked. ( That’s when my blood ran cold. Perhaps there’s some unphotographed common Dean marker, but there’s no evidence of it with the other photos. On the other hand, the grand statue of his Boston colleague ( and rival makes me think that Ballou has enough attention at the moment. He certainly had his way in life.

I was going to transcribe Hosea Ballou’s work on the parables for Lent, but I think Paul Dean is worth a pivot. He wrote several pamphlets, but only one book — A Course of Lectures in Defence of the Final Restoration (1832)( — and that’s what I’ll be transcribing instead. I hope to have some it ready by his 240th birthday, on March 28.

Why deacons and baptism?

My interest in deacons and baptism in Universalist churches isn’t arbitrary, and it’s not about the past. It’s about the future.

I figure the remaining Universalist Christians within the UUA are going to have to rely on each other and the ecumenical church more in the future, or perish. Those “new Universalists” who gather into distinct churches might want to know what makes “denominational Universalism” cohesive and distinct. So, where do we stand? Where have we stood? Do you have a good answer to that? I don’t.

What I think Universalists had was a churchly culture to rely on when there were gaps, and a culture of tolerance (or indifference) where there were conflicts. We no longer have the one, and the other leaves you gasping when you ask, “what do you believe in?” (I don’t think Unitarian Universalists of any stripe deal with this in a convincing way, and this might contribute to its self-isolation and sectarianism.) I’m finding bits and pieces that glint in a fast moving, occasionally murky, stream.

I felt a sense of historical and theological isolation keenly when I was in seminary, in a class which studied the landmark 1982 document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. We students were expected to bring our denominational response to it to class and reflect on it. The Baptist students and I commiserated — and scrambled for a make-do. I ended up using the response ( of the Remonstrant Brotherhood (site in Dutch), which was the closest “relative” that made one.

I’m not suggesting future Universalists are bound to decisions past Universalists made on these matters, especially if they were made poorly, grudgingly or in couched terms. Perspectives on one ordinance (the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist) and one of two orders of ministry (pastor) are better understood. Focusing on the other ordinance and other order of ministry might inform me and my readers about how past Universalists saw themselves. And from that method, we might be able to reconstruct an authentic Universalist voice, and then assess it has what we need in the future.

Deacons in The Universalist

The Universalist, one of the two national Universalist newspapers of the 1880s and 1890s, is available online and with searchable (if imperfect) text. It also gives a view from “the west” namely Chicago and Cincinnati. What does it say about deacons?

In one case, it speaks of a deacon who participated in the 1887 Universalist General Convention, but in the main, deacons appear in one of two ways:

  1. Elderly Universalist men, noted in an obituary.
  2. As a stock character in an entertaining, but hard-boiled tale. (One time, we get a deacon’s wife with a switch ending.) The deacon — an older, established and respected or feared man — has rigid or misplaced morals that place him or the ones he loves in harm’s way. I get a sense that these deacons aren’t Universalist, but they are so broadly drawn that who knows?

I like a soap opera as much as the next person, but it’s not the ecclesiology I was looking for, so I’ll leave further reading to interested parties.