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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

Frederick Denison Maurice

Text from pages 370-1The Gospel of St John: a series of discourses by Frederick Denison MauriceBest known today as the founder and leader of the Christian socialist movement, the theologian Frederick Denison Maurice (180572) is an important figure in the history of King’s, though his relationship with the College was marred by controversy.

Educated initially for a legal career, Maurice abandoned the Unitarianism of his family for ordination as a Church of England clergyman and became chaplain to Guy’s Hospital in 1836, a position which he combined with writing and editing periodical articles on the theological and social questions of the day. Invited to take up the post of professor of English literature at King’s in 1840, he subsequently became professor of theology at the College in 1846 and was instrumental in the foundation of Queen’s College, a pioneering sister institution which aimed to provide higher education for women, mainly those intending to be governesses.

As political turmoil swept Europe in the so-called year of revolutions,1848, and the Chartist movement for electoral reform gained strength in Britain, Maurice became increasingly convinced of the need for Christianity to act as a force for social change. Together with the writer Charles Kingsley and the barrister John Ludlow, he founded the movement known as Christian socialism.

Maurice’s views, though less revolutionary than those of Kingsley and Ludlow, brought him into disfavour with the College principal, Richard Jelf, and in1853 he courted further controversy in his Theological essays, which questioned the doctrine of eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners. Effectively dismissed from his post at King’s, he went on to found the Working Men’s College and to hold the Knightsbridge chair of casuistry, moral theology and moral philosophy at Cambridge.

On display is a copy of Maurice’s commentary on John’s Gospel. In his foreword to this work Maurice explains that he had made many unsuccessful attempts to write such a commentary, before realising thatunless he studied the Gospel first with a congregation through a series of sermons, he would not be able to express clearly what he wanted to say. This work, the transcript of those sermons, is the result.

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