Princeton Seminary - 1

Princeton Seminary - 1
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This is an early twentieth century rendering of Princeton Theological Seminary. The following brief history is exceprted from

The establishment of The Theological Seminary at Princeton by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1812 marked a turning point in American theological education. Within the last quarter of the eighteenth century all learning was of a piece and could be adequately taught and studied in the schools and colleges nearly all of which were church initiated. General education was also the context for professional studies in divinity medicine and the law. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century professional training became disengaged from the college curriculum medical and law schools were established and seventeen divinity schools and seminaries came into existence.

On the threshold of the nineteenth century powerful elements in American life both secular and religious were forcing some radical changes in the older more unitive education and intellectual climate. The emergence of scientific studies the expansion of the college curriculum new economic and social responsibilities associated with democratic government industrial development in the East and geographical movement toward the West all such factors required the churches to reconsider their own mission and message.

There were also intramural conflicts within the churches. As the denominations multiplied they became more self-conscious polemical and defensive. Local "parsons" found they were not always the undisputed intellectual "persons" in the community. The western migration created a sudden demand for ministers that could not be met under the old training programs and the rough and ready people on the frontier were less exacting in their requirements for an educated ministry. Religious and theological tides in the meantime were running between deistical rational influences and pietistic revivalistic enthusiasm.

The plan to establish a theological seminary at Princeton was in the interests of advancing and extending the theological curriculum. It was not as has sometimes been intimated a sectarian withdrawal from secular university life. The educational intention was to go beyond the liberal arts course by setting up a postgraduate professional school in theology. The plan met with enthusiastic approval on the part of authorities at the College of New Jersey later to become Princeton University for they were coming to see that specialized training in theology required more attention than they could give.

With fewer than a dozen students Archibald Alexander was the only Seminary professor in 1812. He was joined the following year by a second professor Samuel Miller who came to Princeton from the pastorate of the Wall Street Church in New York. Though the faculty of the Seminary was as big (or as small) as at the College it was a venture of faith bordering on the foolhardy to lay elaborate plans for the future.

To read back over the wording of the original "Design of the Seminary" is to perceive the early growth of the modern development in theological education in America though the Princeton innovators were not at all thinking of breaking new ground except in the literal sense. They were prophetic enough however and among other things the "Design" noted that the purpose of the Seminary was

to unite in those who shall sustain the ministerial office religion and literature; that piety of the heart which is the fruit only of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God with solid learning; believing that religion without learning or learning without religion in the ministers of the gospel must ultimately prove injurious to the church.

The dialectic suggested in the juxtaposition of piety and learning deserves some comment. It is an apt text for expounding the peculiar genius of Princeton Seminary and its view of theological education. The piety side of the formula stems from the accent on personal salvation the experience of repentance and forgiveness the Christian life of faith justification and sanctification the reality of new selfhood in Jesus Christ all of which can be traced to the roots of American religion whether of the Puritan Calvinist Lutheran Quaker Wesleyan or "left-wing" Reformation traditions. So it was that Princeton Seminary as was true of most other divinity schools deliberately defined itself as a school of "that piety of the heart" a training center for church leaders of all sorts which specialized in preaching the cure of souls evangelism and missions. To be sure there were many at Princeton unsympathetic with much of the methodology of the new pietism and revivalism; but regarding the religious goals interpreted as personal salvation "the fruit only of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God" there was unanimity between thumping revivalists and proper Princetonians.

The other side of the piety-learning formula was equally important for the founders of the Seminary. The new institution was never described as a Protestant monastery or retreat a place distinguished mainly for prayer and meditation. It was to be a school with teachers and students library and books ideas of the mind as well as convictions of the heart all in the service of "solid learning." The Reformed tradition to which Princeton Seminary was and is committed has always magnified the intellectual integrity of the faith. Theology has been a highly respected word on the campus. Systems and structures of thought reflection on the meaning and application of the faith clarity of expression and precision of definition--these are recognized norms for theological thinking.

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