Monday, September 8, 2008

New Wesleyan disharmonies

Charles Wesley was perhaps the most prolific English hymn author, with more than 5,000 hymn lyrics to his name. He recently celebrated his 300th birthday (or rather, his fans celebrated on his behalf). Today he’s best known as the younger brother John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement within the 18th century Church of England.

Recently, Kenneth Newport, English professor (and Anglican priest) decoded Charles Wesley's secret diaries. Those diaries reveal his feelings about his brother's personal and professional choices. Newport's findings were reported last month in the Daily Independent and then reprinted in VirtueOnline.

Rev. Prof. Newport’s website notes that he is preparing to release a two-volume edited set of letters of Charles Wesley. So if there's a living expert on what Wesley was thinking, it would appear Newport is it.

One discovery from the diaries was that Wesley objected to the timing of his brother's marriage. More relevant to church history are his feeling sabout forming a separate Methodist church:
The diaries confirm Wesley's clear opposition to a break-off from the Church of England. "There was a suspicion of lay preaching and Methodism was frowned upon by the established church," said Professor Newport. "Charles had a very clear line on separation. He wrote: 'I am for church first and then Methodism.'"
Fortunately, Anglican hymnody borrows liberally from Methodist hymnals, as well as Lutheran and often Catholic and other Christian songs. (Not counting those hymns sung in the Church of England before Henry decided he wanted his own church).

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