Frederick Denison Maurice

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Frederick Denison Maurice
Frederick Denison Maurice. Portrait c1865.jpg
Born (1805-08-29)29 August 1805
Normanston, Suffolk
Died 1 April 1872(1872-04-01) (aged 66)
Occupation Theologian, writer of Christian Socialism
Children John Frederick Maurice

John Frederick Denison Maurice, often known as F. D. Maurice (29 August 1805 – 1 April 1872), was an English theologian, religious author, and prominent Christian Socialist.

Early life[edit]

Maurice was born at Normanston, Suffolk, the son of a Unitarian minister. In his own account:

My father was a Unitarian minister. He wished me to be one also. He had a strong feeling against the English Church, and against Cambridge as well as Oxford. My elder sisters, and ultimately my mother, abandoned Unitarianism. But they continued to be Dissenters; they were not less, but some of them at least more, averse from the English Church than he was. I was much confused between the opposite opinions in our household. What would surprise many, I felt a drawing towards the anti-Unitarian side, not from any religious bias, but because Unitarianism seemed to my boyish logic incoherent and feeble.

— [1]

Young Maurice entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1823,[2] though only members of the Established Church were eligible to obtain a degree. Together with John Sterling (with whom Maurice founded the Apostles' Club) he migrated to Trinity Hall and obtained a first class degree in civil law in 1827.[2] Maurice then came to London and gave himself to literary work, writing a novel, Eustace Conway, or the Brother and Sister, and editing the London Literary Chronicle until 1830 and also, for a short time, the Athenaeum.


Maurice ultimately decided to take a further university course and seek Anglican ordination. Entering Exeter College, Oxford, he took a second class degree in classics in 1831 and was ordained three years later. He became a believer in Trinity as he would later state:

I not only believe in the Trinity in Unity, but I find in it the centre of all my beliefs ; the rest of my spirit, when I contemplate myself or mankind. But, strange as it may seem, I owe the depth of this belief in a great measure to my training in my home. The very name that was used to describe the denial of this doctrine is the one which most expresses to me the end that I have been compelled, even in spite of myself, to seek."

— [3]

After a short curacy at Bubbenhall in Warwickshire, Maurice was appointed chaplain of Guy's Hospital and became a leading figure in London's intellectual and social life. From 1839 to 1841, he was editor of the Education Magazine.

King's College[edit]

In 1840 Maurice was appointed professor of English history and literature at King's College London and to this post in 1846 was added the chair of divinity. In 1845 he was Boyle lecturer and Warburton lecturer. He held these chairs until 1853, when he published Theological Essays. However, R. W. Jelf, principal of King's College, reviewed it and considered it theologically unsound. Maurice had previously been called on to clear himself from charges of heterodoxy brought against him in the Quarterly Review (1851) and had been acquitted by a committee of inquiry. He maintained with great conviction that his views were in accord with Scripture and the Anglican standards, but King's College Council ruled otherwise and he was deprived of his professorships, although he received sympathy from friends and former pupils.[4]

Maurice resigned the chaplaincy at Guy's Hospital for the chaplaincy of Lincoln's Inn (1846–1860); later an offer to resign here was refused by the benchers. He held the incumbency of St. Peter's, Vere Street from 1860 to 1869, where a further resignation offer was refused.[4] He was engaged in a lengthy controversy[5] with Henry Longueville Mansel (afterwards dean of St Paul's), arising out of the latter's 1858 Bampton lectures on reason and revelation, The Limits of Religious Thought.

Those who knew Maurice best were deeply impressed with his spirituality. "Whenever he woke in the night", says his wife, "he was always praying." Charles Kingsley called him "the most beautiful human soul whom God has ever allowed me to meet with."

While many "Broad Churchmen" were influenced by ethical and emotional considerations in their repudiation of the dogma of everlasting torment, Maurice was swayed by intellectual and theological arguments, and in questions of a more general liberty he often opposed the Liberal theologians. He had a wide metaphysical and philosophical knowledge which he applied to the history of theology. He was a strenuous advocate of ecclesiastical control in elementary education, and an opponent of the new school of higher biblical criticism, though so far an evolutionist as to believe in growth and development as applied to the history of nations.[citation needed]

As a preacher, Maurice's two great convictions were the fatherhood of God, and that all religious systems which had any stability lasted because of a portion of truth which had to be disentangled from the error differentiating them from the doctrines of the Church of England. Some were impressed by the prophetic, even apocalyptic, note of his preaching. He prophesied "often with dark foreboding, but seeing through all unrest and convulsion the working out of a sure divine purpose."[citation needed] Both at King's College and at Cambridge Maurice gathered a following of earnest students. He encouraged the habit of inquiry and research, considering it more valuable than direct teaching.

Social activism[edit]

Maurice (right) depicted with Thomas Carlyle in Ford Madox Brown's painting Work

Maurice was involved with important educational initiatives. He helped found Queen's College for the education of governesses in 1848. He was the leading light and one of the promoters and founders of The Working Men's College (est. 1854), being its principal between 1854 and 1872.[6] With Frances Martin he set up the Working Women's College in 1874.[6] He strongly advocated the abolition of university tests (1853), and threw himself with great energy into all that affected the social life of the people.[citation needed] Certain abortive attempts at co-operation among working men, and the movement known as Christian Socialism, were the immediate outcome of his teaching.[citation needed] In 1866 Maurice was appointed Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge, and from 1870 to 1872 was incumbent of St Edward's in that city.

As a social reformer, some consider Maurice before his time. The condition of the city's poor troubled him; the magnitude of the social questions involved was a burden he could hardly bear. Working men of all opinions seemed to trust him even if their faith in other religious men and all religious systems had faded, and he had a power of attracting both the zealot and the outcast.[citation needed]


Maurice's activism and personality caused a wide range of opinions. Julius Hare considered him "the greatest mind since Plato", but John Ruskin thought him "by nature puzzle-headed and indeed wrong-headed."

One important literary and theological figure who was impressed and clearly understood Maurice's ideas was the reverend Charles Dodgson (a/k/a Lewis Carroll.[7] In fact so impressed was Carroll with Maurice's sermons that he continued to attend Vere St – travelling from Oxford each Sunday to do so for many years – he also assisted Maurice in his services. The last entry regarding Carroll at Vere St is Sunday 7 April 1867; 'Went as usual to Vere St Chapel, where I met Mr and Mrs McDonald' (the famous author). When Carroll First attended Maurice's sermons (the particular series being the sermons later published by McMillan as, 'The Acts of the Apostles', ('20 October 1861 and 27 July 1862), Carroll was considered unanimously by his biographers as being of High Church persuasion (cite Hudson, Clarke, Cohen et al) yet within a short period of time Carroll had moved to Maurice's 'Broad Church' persuasion.

Not everyone however was appreciative of his sermons or company:

CARLYLE LETTERS, Vol 10: Thomas Carlyle to John A. Carlyle ; 1 February 1838:

The Maurices are also wearisome, and happily rare; all invitations "to meet the Maurices" I, when it is any way possible, make a point of declining. Yet this very night I am "to dine with the Maurices" in Stimabiledom, and again on Saturday night "to meet the Maurices and Lady Lewis" there,—if mercy or good management prevent not. One of the most entirely uninteresting men of genius that I can meet with in society is poor Maurice to me. All twisted, screwed, wiredrawn; with such a restless sensitiveness; the uttermost inability to let Nature have fair play with him! I do not remember that a word ever came from him betokening clear recognition or healthy free sympathy with any thing. One must really let him alone; till the prayers one does always offer for him (purehearted, earnest, humane creature as he is) begin to take effect.

CARLYLE LETTERS, Vol 9: Jane W Carlyle to John Sterling ; 1 February 1837
Mr Morris (sic) we rarely see—nor do I greatly regret his absence; for to tell you the truth, I am never in his company without being attacked with a sort of paroxysm of mental cramp! he keeps one always with his wire-drawings and paradoxes as if one were dancing on the points of one's toes (spiritually speaking)— And then he will help the kettle and never fails to pour it all over the milk pot and sugar bason [sic]!—

Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes
I went, as usual about this time, to hear F.D. Maurice preach at Lincoln's Inn. I suppose I must have heard him, first and last, some thirty or forty times, and never carried away one clear idea, or even the impression that he had more than the faintest conception of what he himself meant.

Aubrey de Vere was quite right when he said that listening to him was like eating pea-soup with a fork, and Jowett's answer was no less to the purpose, when I asked him what a sermon which Maurice had just preached at the University was about, and he replied—'Well! all that I could make out was that today was yesterday, and this world the same as the next.

Personal life[edit]

1854 portrait of Maurice by Jane Mary Hayward

He was twice married, first to Anna Barton, a sister of John Sterling's wife, secondly to a half-sister of his friend Archdeacon Hare. His son Major-General Sir John Frederick Maurice (1841–1912), became a distinguished soldier and one of the most prominent military writers of his time. Frederick Barton Maurice was a British General and writer, and like his grandfather F.D. Maurice, principal of The Working Men's College (1922–1933).


Maurice is honoured with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 1 April. Despite his career difficulties there, a chair at King's College, the F.D. Maurice Professorship of Moral and Social Theology, now commemorates his contribution to scholarship. His son Frederick Maurice edited "The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice Chiefley Told in His Own Letters" – Two volumes, Macmillan, 1884. Many streets in London are named in F D Maurice's honour, including Maurice Walk, a street in Hampstead Garden Suburb.


The following are his most important works—some of them were rewritten and in a measure recast, and the date given is not necessarily that of the first appearance of the book, but of its more complete and abiding form:

'The Acts of the Apostles' (A series of Lectures that dominated his period at St Peter's, Vere St (possibly his most influential tenure. Not published until 1894 (Posthumously). Macmillan & Co, London & New York. Possibly his most controversial series of lectures.

The greater part of these works were first delivered as sermons or lectures. Maurice also contributed many prefaces and introductions to the works of friends, as to Archdeacon Hare's Charges, Charles Kingsley's Saint's Tragedy, etc. See Life by his son (2 volumes, London, 1884 Volume 1 and Volume 2; a monograph by C. F. G. Masterman (1907) in "Leaders of the Church 1800–1900" series; W. E. Collins in Typical English Churchmen, pp. 327–360 (1902), and T. Hughes in The Friendship of Books (1873).


  1. ^ Maurice, Frederick Denison (1884). The life of Frederick Denison Maurice : chiefly told in his own letters. London: Macmillan, p. 175
  2. ^ a b "Maurice, John Frederick Denison (MRY823JF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  3. ^ Maurice, Frederick Denison (1884). The life of Frederick Denison Maurice : chiefly told in his own letters. London: Macmillan, p. 41
  4. ^ a b [1]
  5. ^ Maurice, Frederick Denison. A Sequel to the Inquiry What is Revelation? in a Series of Letters to a Friend Containing a Reply to Mr. Mansel's "Examination of the Rev. F.D. Maurice's Strictures on the Bampton Lectures of 1858", MacMillan & Co., Cambridge, (1860)
  6. ^ a b J. F. C. Harrison ,A History of the Working Men's College (1854–1954), Routledge Kegan Paul, 1954
  7. ^ The first mention of Maurice in Carroll's Diaries (ed Wakeling Vume 4 -May 1862 – Sept 1864) is: 'Morning and afternoon at Vere St. Mr Maurice preached both times. I like his sermons very much.'

See also[edit]


  • Masterman, C. F. G., Frederick Dennison Maurice, in series, Leaders of the Church, 1800–1900, London: A.R. Mowbray (1907), xi, 240 p.
  • Alec Vidler, Witness to the Light: F. D. Maurice's Message for Today (1948)
  • Alec Vidler, The Theology of F. D. Maurice (1948)
  • Alec Vidler, F. D. Maurice and Company (1966)
  • Jeremy Morris, F. D. Maurice and the Crisis of Christian Authority. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-926316-5
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Maurice, John Frederick Denison". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]