Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

10 An Intellectual Tradition The Quest for a Middle Way

IN 1851 Charleston Presbytery, meeting at the Second Presbyterian Church, assigned responsibilities for the examination of candidates for the ministry. George Howe and Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the younger, were to examine in "Ancient Languages, including Hebrew" (Howe was the one member of the presbytery who could converse fluently in Latin). James Dunwoody, graduate of Yale and Columbia Theological Seminary and pastor at Stoney Creek, was to examine in "Natural Sciences, including Mathematics" (and also including astronomy, geography, and botany). James Henley Thornwell and John L. Girardeau had responsibility for "Moral Sciences," which covered philosophy, rhetoric, and logic. Thomas Smyth, Edward Palmer, and Girardeau were given responsibility for "Natural Theology & Religion"; Aaron Leland, Palmer, and John Adger had "Evidences of Christianity"; "Christian Theology" was assigned to Leland and Thornwell; "The Sacraments" to Smyth and Howe; and "Church Government, History, & Pastoral Care" to Thornwell, Smyth, and Palmer. Before candidates reached such a formidable examination, they were to have presented--in addition to an exegesis of both an Old Testament Hebrew text and a New Testament Greek text--a paper in Latin on a theme such as "An scriptura sit verbum Dei?" and a theological paper on a subject such as "The nature and necessity of repentance." Finally the moderator was given responsibility to examine the candidates' "personal piety and reasons for seeking the ministry." Because presbytery meetings generally lasted three days, there was ample time for the papers to be read and the examinations given.1

Those who made it through such an examination--or even made it to such an examination--were representatives of an established order, expected to have a broadly based education, a thorough grounding in the traditional disciples of theology, and an evangelical piety and a moral rectitude. These cultured candidates for the ministry, bearers of civility and tradition, seemed far removed from the farmer preachers of the backwoods who plowed their farms during the week and sowed the Word on Sunday as the Spirit moved them, and far distant from the circuit riders who, with little formal education, were sweeping West across much of the nation. In contrast to the Charleston candidates, these popular preachers and other "religious insurgents" were speaking the language

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