King's College London
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F. D. Maurice - a life at King's

The Theological Essays and Maurice’s correspondence with Jelf

This printed letter is the first letter from the published correspondence between R. W. Jelf and F. D. Maurice. Written on July 8 1853 it outlines Jelf’s case against Maurice, in particular his challenge over the meaning of the word eternal.Jelf’s accusationIf concerns had been raised in 1851, the publication of the Theological Essays in 1853 was an altogether more disturbing matter for the College Council.

As Maurice later wrote to Charles Kingsley, he realized that he was ‘writing my own sentence’ but also that it was ‘necessary.’ Indeed, the essays expressed ‘the deepest thoughts that are in me’ (as he told his mother) and could not ‘honestly’ have been put off.

Jelf was less than impressed. He wrote to Maurice on 8 July and outlined the case against him:

‘It is alleged that you therein deny the eternity of future punishments. I have read the Essay with attention, and confess that it appears to bear that interpretation; at least the impression it gives seems to throw an atmosphere of doubt on the simple meaning of the word eternal, and to convey a general notion of ultimate salvation for all.’

A printed extract from the first page of Maurice’s ‘Answer to the Principle’s Final Letter. It begins a comprehensive challenge to Jelf’s interpretation of Maurice’s texts.Maurice’s Answer to the Principal’s Final LetterDenying the eternity of future punishments was heresy.

However, Maurice fiercely denied that this conclusion could be drawn from his work.

He wrote back, arguing that he did believe in the doctrine of enteral punishment but that ‘eternity’ had been misunderstood as a ‘temporal’ category (i.e. one meaning ‘ever-lasting’).

He clarified further that if asked to ‘dogmatize on the duration of future punishment, I feel obliged to say, ‘I cannot do so, I find there at least nothing on the subject. I cannot apply the idea of time to the word eternal.’

A copy of the letter written by Jelf reporting Maurice to the Council. Jelf says that it is his ‘painful duty’ to call  their attention to Maurice’s recent work, the “Theological Essays.”Jelf reports Maurice to the CouncilThis was no trivial matter to either man: the debates touched on a number of fundamental theological issues.

Maurice argued that it was not mainly ‘for its bearing on the question of punishment’ that he rejected the ‘notion of eternity’ as a temporal category, but rather that he was ‘more disturbed by the effects which that notion produces on our theology and on our preaching generally.’

He proclaimed rather than challenging the Articles, he was appealing to them as protectors against dogmatic ideas that had become attached to them.

Jelf, however, filled with ‘the most intense alarm’ was not convinced. There was, he argued, ‘nothing wrong in thinking of eternity as duration.’ Above all, he feared what effects such ideas might have not only on the ‘half-trained students’ at King’s but also on ‘ignorant country congregations.’

At the end of their correspondence (which was later published) Jelf decided to put the matter before the Council.

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