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.

Universalist newspaper family tree

Universalists loved their newspapers. They spread Universalist doctrine and culture, particularly in areas where there there were no churches or no resident ministers. Controversies played out in them, news propagated through their pages and late into the pre-consolidation era, the polity required notices be published in them. Last week, I found more than a decade of pre- and post-consolidation Universalist magazines, which are the antecedent of today’s UUWorld, and the heir of dozens of Universalist titles. Universalist loved their periodicals, but not always liked paying for them and so the history is made up of consolidation upon consolidation.

Chart of Universalist periodicals

I was looking for, and today found, this chart (linking from this list of publications at the Harvard Divinity School Library site) which I had seen before but lost the citation. It charts out the antecedents of the Christian Leader, which would be renamed on more time to the Universalist Leader before being merged with the Unitarian Register. Which means that these aren’t all of the Universalist periodicals that existed. Some winked out of existence before it could be merged with another. And then there’s the Universalist Herald, which survives and never merged, still going since 1847. (Go ahead and subscribe.)

Transcribing Ballou on the Parables

I’ve been working through my study list and will be reporting out more soon. But since this is the first day of Lent, I thought I’d add a project to the mix (which I may or may not complete by Holy Week.)

Long ago, I learned that I am more likely to read a document and remember it if I transcribe it for the web. (My first project, Channing’s “Unitarian Christianity” was pre-web and I posted it via Gopher. Back then that meant having a book open and typing it out.) Time to do another one.

I’ve chosen the 1812 edition of Hosea Ballou’s Notes on the Parables. Because of all the long-ses, it’s an OCR mess, and not good for searching. A cleanup is worthwhile.

Why this? I wanted to see something of his early work, and something other than his Treatise on Atonement, which has already been transcribed. ( I’ll be posting it section by section as I complete it, and then find a home for it on one of my web properties once it’s done.

[February 23, 2023. There was another transcription project I stumbled across … on this blog. I wrote about it here in 2005 and the text of A Series of Letters in Defence of Divine Revelation may be read here.)

In the meantime, listen to this only other work of his that I know is being kept in current use: the hymn, sung with shape notes, “Come let us raise our voices high.”

Eddy: Contrasting the two early Universalist “denominations”

A passage in Richard Eddy’s Universalism in America says something to me about the period around 1803, deacons and baptism, three things I’m studying now.

First, it’s worth knowing a recalling there were two associations or conventions that might make a claim to being “the Universalist denomination” and they ran side by side with some overlap for years: one met in Philadelphia, and the other met in various places in New England. By 1803, both had statements of faith (the Philadelphia Articles, since I so rarely reference them) and plans of church government. But the Philadelphia Convention was dying, buoyed no doubt by the presence of John Murray. Indeed, Eddy’s not sure there even was a Philadelphia meeting in 1804. He points out the different approaches to church governance. The Philadelphia plan concerned itself with the inner workings of churches, while the New England plan really only concerned itself with itself, and thus the power to fellowship ministers, and thus mobilize them.

In the new [New England Convention] plan of organization one noticeable thing, distinguishing it from the [Philadelphia] Plan of Church Government adopted in 1794, was that it was a plan for the government of the Association, while the latter was for the government of individual churches only. It provided, indeed, for what it called “The Communion of Churches” in annual convention, but it made no provision for the officers or organization of the Convention, nor for the voice or vote of any church represented in the Convention (see vol. i., pp. 300-302). And its Plan for the Churches was, in the language of the Circular Letter which accompanied its publication, “nearly that of the Congregational Church.” The “Plan of the General Association” adopted at Winchester, repealed no portion of the previously-adopted “Plan of Church Government,” but expressly recognized the fact that “every Church possesses within itself all the powers of self- government.” In so far, then, it reaffirmed the Congregational character of the Universalist churches or societies, and did not seek, even by recommendation, to make them religious organizations which the courts could recognize as different and distinct from any other Congregational societies.

Eddy, Richard. 1891. Universalism in America. vol. 2, 63.

(How do you cite within a blog, anyway?)

So, perhaps a culture arose where deacons and baptism were considered internal matters, in addition to whatever theological issues Universalists might have had. It’s not like both vanished. This Sunday, I will be in church and from my pew I will see a deacon or two, and the occasionally-used baptismal font. I’ll nose around, but I won’t expect to find anything definitive. Universalist interest in the Lord’s Supper throws that for a loop, but perhaps because it was practiced by the conventions in meeting (see below) it would come up on the radar.

One more suspicion: Universalists kept fellowship on a parish or society basis, and these parishes and societies sometimes had associated with them churches of believers. (Their absence was a point of frustration, perhaps embarrassment among Universalist leaders, and spoke to a controversial rather than spiritual faith.) In this dynamic, the officers of the church are the pastor(s) and deacons, and indeed, they show up in a model church (as opposed to parish) constitution from 1891. With whom did the churches have fellowship? I’d be prone to say Jesus Christ, and that spiritual connection is not the jurisdiction of Universalist conventions.

Next up to read and study

I have to be careful about what I investigate or else I keep running down rabbit holes. Here’s what I intend to look at in the next weeks:

  • the role of deacons in the Universalist church
  • the sources of ambivalence around baptism among Universalists
  • the denominational climate around the time of the adoption of the Winchester Profession in 1803
  • resources for learning plainsong, which I have not sung since college when I shuttled between the Unitarian Universalists, the Episcopalians and the Quakers
  • low-cost video production for churches.

I hope also to write at least one article tying up my thoughts on the Kansas Universalist Convention Church, which I didn’t get back to.