John Randolph of Roanoke’s Christian Vision

From Adam L. Tate’s Conservatism and Southern Intellectuals, 1789-1861, an account of the religious thought of John Randolph of Roanoke (pg. 101-102):

Randolph perceived in Christianity a brotherhood of the faithful bound together by love and the traditions of the faith. Christianity, like society, was ultimately a family. Thus Christianity complemented his familial social vision. The grace of his conversion manifested itself in love and understanding. He noted, “I feel my stubborn and rebellious nature to be softened.” Randolph was able to “cultivate and cherish feeligns of good will towards all mankind” and “to strive against envy, malice, and all uncharitableness.”…Randolph experienced a commonality in religious experience as well. He remarked, ‘Taking up, a few days ago…the life of John Bunyan…I find an exact coincidence in our feelings and opinions on this head as well as others.” Christianity not only supplied links to the next life and with one’s fellow man, but also joined one to the Christians of the past. Thus Randolph’s Christianity became a remembrance of the Christian tradition in his own past…Because of the power of Christianity to link the present with the past and the future, tradition took on a new meaning for Randolph. Tradition was relevant to the present, and Christianity had made it so. Thus, Randolph’s view of religion and society complemented his traditional social vision, one that was Christian, familial, hierarchical, civilized, cultured, and part of the Western tradition.

John Randolph of Roanoke: anti-imperialist and anti-war, theorist of the proper construction of republican governments, Aristotelian concerned with the cultivation of public virtue, Christian Humanist. What he says about John Bunyan I, the more I read about him, say about him; what he says about the ways in which faith shapes and connects us to those things before and after us, I say as well.

As a younger man, I was an awful cad, a pagan of the crudest sort, but without the courage of my convictions that would lead me to embrace my crude paganism. My conversion to the Faith was not simply a recalling of my youthful faith, but a long process of measured consideration and regression back to what I had been and then progressing forward to something new, a conversion that is still going on. It is good to know that in this, I am preceded by others who felt the same, who came to the same conclusions about duty, virtue, and the need for union, the ways in which the Faith defines and shapes how we think of these things. My attraction to liturgy in the past two-three years has also been largely a part of this participation in past and present and future collapsing together in Christian time. Reading about Randolph of Roanoke, I see myself; this is both liberating and comforting, as well as frightening, sobering, and demanding. As it should be, methinks.

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