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Divinity School Address


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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882) American philosopher and poet

 

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Name commonly given to the address delivered by Emerson before the senior class of Divinity College, Harvard (July 15, 1838), published that year, and reprinted in Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849). The discourse provoked a strong reaction among the faculty, and Andrews Norton attacked it as irreverent and atheistic in On the Latest Form of Infidelity (1839). Received with enthusiasm by W. E. Channing and Theodore Parker, the address had no immediate effect on the church, but caused Emerson's virtual ostracism from strict Unitarian circles.

In “The American Scholar,” the author appeals for a return to original intellectual experience; here he appeals for a return to original spiritual experience. Truth is attainable only through intuition, “it cannot be received at second hand.” Since historical Christianity has fallen into errors, its influence is baneful. By emphasizing past revolution, it limits and discourages the direct exploration of Moral Nature, which alone communicates spiritual greatness and the divine spirit. The formal church is dry, false, and moribund; the “great and perpetual office of the preacher is not discharged.” Young men entering the ministry must search their own hearts, preach their own message:speak the very truth, as your life and conscience teach it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts of men with new hope and new revelations.

speak the very truth, as your life and conscience teach it, and cheer the waiting, fainting hearts of men with new hope and new revelations.

Subjects: Literature.


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