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Julian Casserly Research Center

History and Mission

The Julian Casserley Research Center, reestablished in 2010 after its initial founding in 1986, introduces Internet versions of works of and about Julian Victor Langmead Casserley (1909-1978). The literary style of this forward thinking philosopher/theologian/sociologist is grounded in the classics, always insightful and often humorous. He wrote more than twenty books, most of which are accessible to non-specialists.

 

julian casserly
Julian Victor Langmead Casserley

 

Casserley received the BA and AKC from King’s College, London, and the MA DLitt and FKC from the University of London. A parish priest in the Church of England, he subsequently held a number of academic positions: Lecturer in Sociology, University College, Exeter, England, 1947-1952; Professor of Dogmatic Theology, General Theological Seminary, 1952-1959; and Professor of Philosophical Theology, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 1960-1975. Casserley became my theological mentor when I was a student at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, six years before I would become Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the General Theological Seminary in 1967.

Walter C. Dennis and I founded the Julian Casserley Research Center in 1986, when we were respectively Suffragan Bishop of New York and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Duquesne University. The Board of Directors consisted of us as Supervisors, and seven other members: James Carpenter (Professor of Systematic Theology, The General Theological Seminary), Winston F. Crum (Professor of Theology, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary), John Gessell (Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics, School of Theology, University of the South), James Griffiss (Professor of Philosophical and Systematic Theology, Nashotah House), W. Frisby Hendricks, III (Rector, St. Martin’s Church, Richmond), Eric Mascall (Professor Emeritus, University of London), Charles Moore (Rector, St. Mark’s Church, Philadelphia), J. H. Walgrave (Professor Emeritus, University of Louvain, Belgium).

On October 18, 1986, the Center donated unpublished manuscripts by Casserley to the Archives of the General Theological Seminary. The event was sponsored by the Catholic Clerical Union of New York and the General Theological Seminary. Edna Casserley, his widow, was present. I presented the keynote address, “The Theology of the Future: Casserley’s Hope for the 21st Century.” I also announced:

"The Center’s purpose is to encourage scholarship into Dr. Casserley’s works and to make his thought more available to clergy and lay persons throughout the church. It maintains copies of all his published works, all of his known unpublished manuscripts, and some tapes of his lectures, speeches, and sermons. Complete collections of such tapes, lecture notes, and other materials are being sought from those who wish to provide them to the Center."

Another account of the founding of the Julian Casserley Research Center at the General Theological Seminary can be found in An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians, edited by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2000, p. 72).

During the early 1990s, when David E. Green was Director of the Library of the General Theological Seminary, the Library funded expenses for periodic conferences near Philadelphia to advance the work of the Center. Bishop Dennis and I met with Robert V. Wilshire (Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York), Robert Moore (Rector, St. Mark’s, Philadelphia), and Charles Moyer (Rector, Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania). The most important result of our efforts was the publication of a book I edited in 1990 for the Toronto Studies in Theology series of the Edwin Mellen Press. It contains two of Casserley’s essays, Why Pain and Evil? and Theology of Man, under the title Evil and Evolutionary Eschatology. The following excerpts from my Preface identify both essays and explain the history of events leading up to the establishment of the Center in 1986:

"Why Pain and Evil? is a reprint of one of Casserley’s earlier theological writings. This popular essay, which possibly grew out of his discussions with the sociology faculty at the University of Exeter, was published in England in 1950 and 1952. An expanded version, Man’s Pain and God’s Goodness, which I quote extensively in “Julian Casserley’s Hope” (my Introduction to the book) was published in England and the United States in 1951. This gives a more detailed statement of the same argument contained in Why Pain and Evil?.

Theology of Man, probably Casserley’s last work, is my edition of an unfinished and previously unpublished book. The Precis of the entire book (dated October 17, 1969) and two drafts of the text (c. 1969), all of which were written at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, are now in the Casserley Archives at the General Theological Seminary.

Casserley wrote Theology of Man in Evanston, Illinois, during a period when I telephoned him each time I went through Chicago, but he never mentioned it. I didn’t even know it existed until four years after he died. In “Julian Casserley’s Hope,” I explain how Theology of Man caused me to revise my interpretation of the problem of evil. My struggle with this manuscript started in August of 1982 when Mrs. Casserley gave it to me in Kittery, Maine. It rode with me through the rain to Pittsburgh where I tried to figure out what to do with it. That effort spawned the Julian Casserley Research Center, a network of some of Casserley’s former students and others who help advance scholarship into his thought. The center was first based at Duquesne University, but I moved it, together with the Casserley Archives, to the General Theological Seminary. Theology of Manand I rode the train together from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to New York. I am told that it then lived for a while under a bed in the Rectory of the Church of the Transfiguration (Little Church Around the Corner) before it went to its new home in the Library at General." (Evil and Evolutionary Eschatology: Two Essays, edited and introduced by C. Don Keyes [Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990, pp. i-ii])

The Julian Casserley Research Center has now returned to its original location at Duquesne University, whose Gumberg Library contains over twenty primary sources by Casserley.

The Center will post selections written by Casserley and others, which will be of interest to generally educated readers who are concerned about the bearing that Christian faith has on social responsibility today. The greatest difficulty the Center faces is securing copyright permissions. This has been slow going; nonetheless, two book chapters from Casserley’s later works have been selected to initiate the series. Casserley published these books in 1965 and 1967. The first (entitled The Church To-day and To-morrow) addresses the challenge of “post-Christianity,” and the second (entitled In the Service of Man) shows how Christians might conserve the sources of liberation that the challenge requires.

We are now happy to present an abridged version of The Church To-day and To-morrow: The Prospect for Post-Christianity (London: SPCK, 1965), which he wrote at Seabury-Western, as the first of his works in this series.

Introductory Material
What do we Mean by Post-Christian?
The Intellectual Background
The Sociological Background
Towards a Cautious Optimism

In this short book, Casserley looks towards the post-Christian 21st century and argues that the world will need the Church “far more desperately” than vice versa. He writes in the Preface to the entire book, “I fear I have done a disgraceful thing. I have written an optimistic book. This is something that, among contemporary Anglicans, and especially in England, is simply not done. Of course I am very ready to apologize, but that will count for very little, because I am unable to repent.” In the final chapter, which he calls “Towards a Cautious Optimism,” he states that

"Christians…have now experienced the full impact of the world’s hostility and indifference. We are staggered and alarmed by the extent of it, and dumfounded by its partial success. Numerically we are drastically reduced, proportionately to the enormously increased population, and we shall probably continue in that way; perhaps with even greater numerical reductions…No doubt we survive as a minority but by no means as a pitiful or contemptible minority. We die daily because of our own weakness and unworthiness, yet we live, nevertheless because God is with us…Modern man relies on nothing that will not some day be taken away from him. Those who are utterly committed to the Christian faith rely in the last resort on nothing that could possibly be taken away. That is why the Church, contrary to all appearances, is stronger than the world. And that is why it is the duty of Christians to be sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful in their dealings with their estranged brethren." (The Church To-day and To-morrow: The Prospect for Post-Christianity [London: SPCK, 1965, pp. 102, 113f.])

A selection from In the Service of Man will be published next. In the introductory chapter Casserley distinguishes three types of conservatism: economic, political, and cultural. He defends the third as compatible with progress toward social justice:

"[T]here is a Cultural Conservatism, which is chiefly preoccupied with maintaining the momentum and identity of the specifically Western culture, including humane, naturalistic, scientific, aesthetic and theological elements of the profoundest significance. … In my judgment, this third type of conservatism is far more significant then either of the others, and it is this element of our past that can and should survive. The proper role of conservatism is not to resist change in a stubborn misunderstanding of the necessity of history, but rather to insist that all change be tactfully assimilated or wholesomely digested – the art of assimilating and digesting change is what we call politics, at all events when we use that much abused word intelligently – rather than allowed to destroy the identity of the changing society, which only survives through such changes as become from time to time necessary." (In the Service of Man: Technology and the Future of Man [Chicago: Regnery Company, 1967, pp. 9-10)])

Because of their roots in Greek Patristic sources belonging to the undivided Christian Church, both the Center and IST are culturally conservative in Casserley’s sense. This traditionalism is at once critical of theological “liberalism,” is a point of departure for innovative interpretations of it in post-Christian times, and shows why social justice is obligatory at all times.

Casserley’s way of thinking exemplifies those qualities. As philosophical theologian, Casserley freely crossed disciplinary, historical, and conventional conceptual boundaries. In his social theology, a typical springboard for his radical critique of the existing order is the Definition of Chalcedon, which says that Christ is both divine and human and that these two natures are simultaneously inseparable and not confused with one another. Casserley’s Christology eventually led to the following formulation of the basic position concerning the relation between Incarnation and social justice. The Incarnation of the Word (John 1:14) contains the events of salvation history reported in the Gospels. This narration and the Chalcedonian dialectic of the two natures of Christ both require social justice. His human nature includes all humankind and is therefore social. His divine nature, by becoming flesh, affirms and enhances the value of matter, including the materiality of human nature. Consequently, it is one’s duty to promote the physical as well as the spiritual well being of humankind.

The challenge Casserley presents in The Church To-day and To-morrow: The Prospect for Post-Christianity is even more timely in 2010 than when he published it in 1965, since Western civilization is in fact collapsing and our struggle in the face of greed triumphant sometimes seems futile.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving 2010. I struggle with the burning question of how to do what the Incarnation requires in our seemingly hopeless age. I find the full set of notes from the speech I gave at General in 1986 almost a quarter of a century ago. I see my quotation of a statement attributed to Casserley in about 1950: “Nothing remains except to endure the absurdities with heroic defiance to the end.”

The Center seeks volunteers to help with its development. It welcomes correspondence with all who are interested in its purpose, especially Casserley’s former students of the General Theological Seminary (1952-1959) and Seabury-Western (1960-1967).


New article by C. Don Keyes:

Last Update - July 18, 2013



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