April 1: Frederick Denison Maurice, Priest, 1872

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

In the same year that Karl Marx declared religion to be the “opiate of the people,” Frederick Denison Maurice wrote, “We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God.” Like Marx, Maurice wanted to solve the questions of our complex society; unlike Marx, he called for a radical, but non-violent, reform, by the renewal of “faith in a God who has redeemed mankind, in whom I may vindicate my rights as a man.” Maurice was a founder of the Christian Socialist Movement, which, he wrote, “will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the unsocial Christians and unchristian Socialists.”

Maurice was born in 1805 into the family of a Unitarian minister whose life was marked by intense religious controversy. Maurice studied civil law at Cambridge, but refused the degree in 1827, because, as a Dissenter, he could not subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. After several personal crises, however, he became an Anglican and was ordained in 1834. Soon afterwards he was appointed Professor of English Literature and History at King’s College, London, and, in 1846, to the chair of Theology.

In his book, The Kingdom of Christ, published in 1838, Maurice investigates the causes and cures of Christian divisions. The book has become a source of Anglican ecumenism. Maurice was dismissed from his professorships because of his leadership in the Christian Socialist Movement, and because of the supposed unorthodoxy of his Theological Essays (1853).

Maurice saw worship as the meeting point of time and eternity, and as the fountain of energies for the Church’s mission. He wrote, “I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it. When we do not want it for our life, we may begin to talk of it as a beautiful composition.”

After the death of the Christian Socialist Movement in 1854, Maurice founded the Working Men’s College, and resumed teaching at Queen’s College, London. Maurice awakened Anglicanism to the need for concern with the problems of society. In later years, he was honored even by former opponents. He was rector of two parishes, and was professor of Moral Theology at Cambridge from 1866 until his death.


I    Almighty God, who hast restored our human nature to heavenly glory through the perfect obedience of our Savior Jesus Christ: Keep alive in thy Church, we beseech thee, a passion for justice and truth; that we, like thy servant Frederick Denison Maurice, may work and pray for the triumph of the kingdom of thy Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II     Almighty God, you restored our human nature to heavenly glory through the perfect obedience of our Savior Jesus Christ: Keep alive in your Church, we pray, a passion for justice and truth; that, like your servant Frederick Denison Maurice, we may work and pray for the triumph of the kingdom of your Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Genesis 33:1-10

Ephesians 3:14-19

John 18:33-37

Psalm 72:11-17

Preface of Baptism

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

11 thoughts on “April 1: Frederick Denison Maurice, Priest, 1872

  1. Bravo paragraph four & the first quotation in paragraph one! These make Maurice come alive for me as an holy example–something not all of the current bios do.

  2. Although not as challenging as the pronunciation of Alaskan tribal names, it might be useful to point out that “Maurice” is pronounced “Morris.”

    “After the death of the Christian Socialist Movement in 1854 . . .” Did it die of natural causes, or was foul play involved?

    “He was rector of two parishes . . .” I have found evidence that he was “incumbent” of St. Peter’s, Vere Street, London, and later, St. Edward’s, Cambridge. In the C of E, an “incumbent” is not necessarily the rector, but, more frequently, the vicar, so I suggest, unless someone can definitively find out which title he held at each parish, that “rector” be changed to “incumbent.”

  3. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

    Bio: He needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and he needs a ‘He died in 1872.’statement.

  4. In opening paragraph. it would help context if the year Marx and Maurice wrote these statements were included in brackets. And I, too, am curious about “The Curious Case of the Death of the Christian Socialist Movement. ” Perhaps we can enlist Mr. Holmes…

  5. Here I am again! When I wrote this decades ago I consciously chose “rector” because almost no Americans understand “incumbent” or other such C of E-specific terms. Also, it doesn’t really need a “He died…” sentence because HWHM like LFF before it puts the year, 1872 in this case, at the top of the page after the name of the person being commemorated. Finally, “death” is a metaphor for finality without necessarily having to set forth the causes — there were space limitations and it was something of a miracle for me to have collapsed a two-volume doctoral dissertation on Maurice into one page. If I had the chance to change anything I would add “1848” to the first sentence because of the reference to the publication date of “Communist Manifesto.”

    • Most Americans don’t know what a rector is, although most Episcopalians do. I’m not sure Maurice’s incumbencies of these two churches are particularly relevant to “who he was,” but if they are to be included, his correct titles, or the general term “incumbent” should be used. Most Episcopalians have a notion of what a vicar is, and he was vicar of St. Peter’s, Vere Street, London, and vicar-chaplain of St. Edward King-and-Martyr, Cambridge. Reluctance to use a partially obscure term is no excuse for sloppy editing.

      People who followed Maurice by decades (e.g., Percy Dearmer) styled themselves “Christian Socialists,’ and indeed there is a Christian Socialist Society affiliate of the British Labour Party today, so I still would like to know what exactly it was that died in 1854.

      • John –

        So that Dean Petersen doesn’t have to say it himself … let me say that ‘sloppy editing’ is hardly a term to use to characterize Dr. Petersen’s biography of FD Maurice. I am sure that you wrote this in haste.

      • I meant no offense, and if some were taken , I apologize. However, each of St. Peter’s and St. Edward’s had a (lay) rector when FDM was the vicar, so I don’t think he should be misidentified as the former. You can’t say that what the C of E calls a rector, the EC calls a vicar, because it’s not true. Hence the preferable term is, I think, “incumbent.” Correctness of fact should not be sacrificed for perceived better understandability.

  6. I suggest a more appropriate subtitle, such as “Theologian and Reformer”. That he (eventually) became a priest is irrelevant here, and appears in the text.

    Here again we have the journalist summing up F.D.Maurice’s life in the first paragraph. I suggest that the first paragraph be moved down to follow the present third paragraph.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “on August 29,” for “in”.

    Line 5, fifth paragraph: insert “in London on April 1, 1872” after “death”.

  7. I am a great fan of F.D. morris and feel he deserves a place in the calendar, but whatever the connection between him and the Jacob and Esau passage (Gen. 33) appointed for the OT reading is, it is too subtile for me and, I assume for most people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s