Friday, January 17, 2014

Prayers Written by Philosophers II

Joseph Butler (1692-1752) is one of the great moral philosophers. He was an Anglican (he actually converted to Anglicanism from Presbyterianism) and became a priest, quickly becoming trusted with important offices. He became chaplain to Queen Caroline, then was appointed Bishop of Bristol, and eventually Bishop of Durham. It is even said, although it's probably just a story, that he turned down the chance to be Archbishop of Canterbury. His most important work is Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel in which he gives an important argument for the nature and authority of conscience, argues against Hobbes and Locke, and develops notable philosophical analyses of love, compassion, and self-deception. (His sermon on self-deception is still one of the major philosophical texts on the subject.) Butler heavily influenced David Hume, who actually revised and sent his Treatise to Butler, hoping to get his approval and support (he didn't get it); Butler also became standard reading in British universities in the nineteenth century. The following evening prayer is a fragment from Butler's papers, never published in his lifetime.

Almighty God, whose continued providence ordereth all things both in Heaven and Earth; Who never slumberest nor sleepest; but hast divided the light from the darkness, and made the day for employment and the night for rest to Thy creatures the inhabitants of the earth: we acknowledge with all thankfulness Thy merciful preservation of us this day, by which we are brought in safety to the evening of it. We implore Thy forgiveness of all the offences which we have been guilty of in it, whether in thought, word, or deed; and desire to have a due sense of Thy goodness in keeping us out of the way of those temptations by which we might have fallen into greater sins, and in preserving us from those misfortunes and sad accidents, common to every day, and which must have befallen many others. We humbly commit ourselves to the same good providence this night, that we may sleep in quiet under Thy protection, and wake, if it be Thy will, in the morning in renewed life and strength. And we beg the assistance of Thy grace to live in such a manner, that when the few days and nights which thou shalt allot us in this world be passed away, we may die in peace, and finally obtain the resurrection unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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