"Faith is Worth Study at Harvard., et. al" a Commentary by David C. Steinmetz

November 25, 2006

Author: David C. Steinmetz

Source: The Dallas Morning News


The Puritans who founded Harvard College in 1636 did so for religious reasons. They were convinced that their Calvinist God wanted to be loved with the mind as well as with the heart.

And so in the midst of clearing the wilderness, building houses and establishing communities, they erected a small college dedicated to the pursuit of truth. They were buoyed in this endeavor by the serene confidence that all truth was, in one way or another, God's truth.

The Puritans were particularly interested in forming a learned clergy. Unlike, say, the Irish Catholics who came to Boston later, they venerated the pulpit over the altar. The sermon, to them, was the principal means through which men and women heard the voice of the living God.

Because preaching was such serious business, Puritan ministers were expected to read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and to have mastered the fine points of theology in Latin. Indeed, the standard Puritan compliment for a good sermon was that it had been "well studied."

Even Harvard students who weren't bound for the ministry were expected to read, in Latin, the classic exposition of Christian faith and morals by the great Puritan theologian, William Ames.

Over time, of course, the Calvinist consensus at Harvard broke down--although the campus retains symbols of its explicitly Christian past, including its divinity school, the Memorial Church, and the motto at Sanders Theater, "Truth for Christ and the Church."