I said yesterday that I wouldn’t read ahead in Fox’s Journal, but I’m taking that back because I’m taken aback by the implications of Fox’s claim to have been essentially the perfect child at age eleven. As those implications become more evident to me, I need to take a new look at Fox’s record of his development. I don’t know how successful that can be, because I think Fox becomes lax with the chronology after the brief childhood section and may not present his development quite linearly. But I’ll see what I can make of it.
To take stock briefly: when we left George Fox (in yesterday’s post), he was, at eleven years of age, a boy who thought of himself as a “pure and righteous” person in an impure and unrighteous world. Moreover, he seems to have thought of himself as already saved, “sanctified by the [W]ord” (although the reference is ambiguous there) through which he felt himself to be “in unity with the creation.” That provides us with insight into the type of Christianity that Fox must have learned from his parents: salvation is not so much about belief in correct doctrine or performance of correct ritual, but about having a “pure and righteous” heart that is in accord with the creative Word, which, as Fox knew from the book of Genesis (read in light of John 1), is that which gives divine order to the chaos of the natural world. Such a heart will order its life and behavior so as to express and continue in its harmony with that Word. (The possibility of purity and righteousness in this life would, of course, become a major point of disagreement between Friends, with their doctrine of perfection, and other Christians.)
As I noted in yesterday’s post, the extended passage I quoted there is remarkable for attributing a number of Quaker distinctives to the young boy Fox: plain, restrained speech and refusal to swear; simple living; even what we now call “unity with nature.” Perhaps the most important is Fox’s assertion that God taught him directly: “The Lord taught me to be faithful in all things, and to act faithfully…”, and “the Lord showed me, that though the people of the world have mouths full of deceit and changeable words, yet I was to keep to yea and nay in all things.” The Lord taught him how to behave and what to avoid; the Lord also reinforced Fox’s perception that he was different than, morally superior to, most people. I’m sure I’ll return to that later.
Perhaps more significant for our inquiry at present is the explicit biblical reference (“yea and nay”: Matt. 5:37): when God speaks directly to Fox, he sometimes quotes scripture. We can hardly avoid the conclusion that what Fox thought of as direct communications from God were in fact Fox’s own applications to his life of a particular reading of, or hermeneutical approach to, the scriptures. I’m interested in understanding what that hermeneutic was and how Fox arrived at it. From childhood on, Fox appears to have thought within the specific form of Christian metanarrative he had learned, and he believed that God was actively guiding him in his attempt to live according to its moral demands. But I’m thinking that at some point there was a shift, a new insight arising no doubt in response to a failure that challenged (deconstructed?) his belief system. As a result, that system was transformed, and the distinctly Quaker metanarrative came into existence.
The SQM (Standard Quaker Myth) identifies that catalyst as the famous “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” I want to examine that in future posts as part of my inquiry. In the meantime, I have some reading to do.