Theodore Parker

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I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Theodore Parker (August 24, 1810May 10, 1860) was a reforming American minister of the Unitarian church, an abolitionist, and a Transcendentalist.

Quotes[edit]

Truth never yet fell dead in the streets; it has such affinity with the soul of man, the seed however broadcast will catch somewhere and produce its hundredfold.
Truth stood on one side and Ease on the other; it has often been so.
Every rose is an autograph from the hand of the Almighty God
  • Every man has at times in his mind the Ideal of what he should be, but is not. This ideal may be high and complete, or it may be quite low and insufficient; yet in all men, that really seek to improve, it is better than the actual character. Perhaps no one is satisfied with himself, so that he never wishes to be wiser, better, and more holy. Man never falls so low, that he can see nothing higher than himself.
    • "A Lesson for the Day; or The Christianity of Christ, of the Church, and of Society" in The Dial (October 1940), p. 196.
  • The world no doubt grows better; comfort is increased from age to age. What is a luxury in one generation, scarce attainable by the wealthy, becomes at last the possession of most men. Solomon with all his wealth had no carpet on his chamber-floor; no glass in his windows; no shirt to his back. But as the world goes, the increase of comforts does not fall chiefly into the hands of those who create them by their work. The mechanic cannot use the costly furniture he makes. This, however, is of small consequence ; but he has not always the more valuable consideration, TIME TO GROW WISER AND BETTER IN. As Society advances, the standard of poverty rises. A man in NewEngland is called poor at this day, who would have been rich a hundred and fifty years ago; but as it rises, the number that falls beneath that standard becomes a greater part of the whole population. Of course the comfort of a few is purchased by the loss of the many. The world has grown rich and refined, but chiefly by the efforts of those who themselves continue poor and ignorant. So the ass, while he carried wood and spices to the Roman bath, contributed to the happiness of the state, but was himself always dirty and overworked. It is easy to see these evils, and weep for them. It is common also to censure some one class of men — the rich or the educated, the manufacturers, the merchants, or the politicians, for example — as if the sin rested solely with them, while it belongs to society at large. But the world yet waits for some one to heal these dreadful evils, by devising some new remedy, or applying the old. Who shall apply for us Christianity to social life?
    • "Thoughts on Labour" in The Dial (April 1841).
  • Truth never yet fell dead in the streets; it has such affinity with the soul of man, the seed however broadcast will catch somewhere and produce its hundredfold.
    • A Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion (1842).
  • Truth stood on one side and Ease on the other; it has often been so.
    • A Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion (1842).
  • All men desire to be immortal.
    • A Sermon on the Immortal Life (20 September 1846).
  • If you lend me your ears, I shall doubtless take your hearts too. That I may not lead you into any wrong, let me warn you of this. Never violate the sacredness of your individual self-respect. Be true to your own mind and conscience, your heart and your soul. So only can you be true to God.
    • Two Sermons (1853), Sermon II : Of the Position and Duty of a Minister.
  • You and I may perish. Temptation which has been too strong for thousands of stronger men, may be too great for me; I may prove false to my own idea of religion and of duty; the gold of commerce may buy me, as it has bought richer men; the love of the praise of men may seduce me; or the fear of men may deter my coward voice, and I may be swept off in the earthquake, in the storm, or in the fire, and prove false to that still small voice. If it shall ever be so, still the great ideas which I have set forth, of man, of God, of religion, — they will endure, and one day will be "a flame in the heart of all mankind." To-day! why, my friends, eternity is all around to-day, and we can step but towards that. A truth of the mind, of the conscience, of the heart, of the soul, — it is the will of God; and the omnipotence of God is pledged for the achievement of that will. Eternity is the life-time of Truth.
    • Two Sermons (1853), Sermon II : Of the Position and Duty of a Minister.
  • Every rose is an autograph from the hand of the Almighty God. On this world about us He has inscribed His thought, in these marvelous hieroglyphics which sense and science have been these many thousand years seeking to understand. The universe itself is a great autograph of the Almighty.
    • "The Material World and Man's Relation Thereto", Lessons from the World of Matter and the World of Man (1872) edited by Rufus Leighton, p. 9.
  • Remorse is the pain of sin.
    • As quoted in Man a revelation of God (1888) by George Everett Ackerman, p. 254.
  • There is what I call the American idea. I so name it, because it seems to me to lie at the basis of all our truly original, distinctive, and American institutions. It is itself a complex idea, composed of three subordinate and more simple ideas, namely: The idea that all men have unalienable rights; that in respect thereof, all men are created equal; and that government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness' sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.
    • The American Idea, a speech at New England Anti-Slavery Convention, Boston (29 May 1850)
    • Variant : This is what I call the American idea of freedom — a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government of the principles of eternal justice — the unchanging law of God.
      • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (1891) by Tryon Edwards, p. 17; an earlier statement of such sentiments was made by Benjamin Disraeli in Vivian Grey (1826), Book VI, Ch. 7: "all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs, and all must exist." Parker was also very likely familiar with Daniel Webster's statements referring to "The people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people" in a speech on Foot's Resolution (26 January 1830); the most famous use of such phrasing came in Abraham Lincoln's, Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863) when using words probably inspired by Parker's he declared: "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Fifty eight years later, in 1921, Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), Founder of Modern China, credited Lincoln's immortal words as the inspiration of his Three Principles of the People (三民主义) articulated in a speech delivered on March 6, 1921, at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National People’s Party in Guangzhou. The Three Principles of the People are still enshrined in the Constitution of Taiwan. According to Lyon Sharman, "Sun Yat-sen: His Life and Its Meaning, a Critical Biography" (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1934), Dr. Sun wrote that his own three principles “correspond with the principles stated by President Lincoln—‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ I translated them into … the people (are) to have . . . the people (are) to govern and . . . the people (are) to enjoy.”
  • It is very sad for a man to make himself servant to a single thing; his manhood all taken out of him by the hydraulic pressure of excessive business. — I should not like to be merely a great doctor, a great lawyer, a great minister, a great politician.—I should like to be, also, something of a man.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts : Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors, Both Ancient and Modern (1891) edited by Tryon Edwards. p. 326.
  • Wealth and want equally harden the human heart, like frost and fire both are alien to human flesh. Famine and gluttony alike drive nature away from the heart of man.
    • As quoted in Treasury of Thought : Forming an Encyclopædia of Quotations from Ancient and Modern Authors (1894) edited by Martin M. Ballou, p.231.
  • Outward judgment often fails, inward judgment never.
    • As quoted in Dictionary of American maxims (1955) edited by David George Plotkin
  • Let others laugh when you sacrifice desire to duty, if they will. You have time and eternity to rejoice in.
    • As quoted in Checklist For Life For Moms (2005) by Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 139.
  • The books that help you the most are those which make you think the most.
    • As quoted in The Gigantic Book of Teachers' Wisdom (2007) by Erin Gruwell and Frank McCourt, p. 496.

Ten Sermons of Religion (1853)[edit]

III : Of Justice and the Conscience[edit]

Justice is moral temperance in the world of men. It keeps just relations between men; one man, however little, must not be sacrificed to another, however great, to a majority, or to all men.
I love justice, not for its consequences for bodily gain, but for itself, for the moral truth and loveliness thereof.
  • Justice is the constitution or fundamental law of the moral universe, the law of right, a rule of conduct for man in all his moral relations. Accordingly all human affairs must be subject to that as the law paramount; what is right agrees therewith and stands, what is wrong conflicts and falls. Private cohesions of self-love, of friendship, or of patriotism, must all be subordinate to this universal gravitation towards the eternal right.
  • The facts of man's history do not fully represent the faculties of his nature as the history of matter represents the qualities of matter. Man, though finite, is indefinitely progressive, continually unfolding the qualities of his nature; his history, therefore, is not the whole book of man, but only the portion thereof which has been opened and publicly read. So the history of man never completely represents his nature; and a law derived merely from the facts of observation by no means describes the normal rule of action which belongs to his nature. The laws of matter are known to us because they are kept; there the ideal and actual are the same; but man has in his nature a rule of conduct higher than what he has come up to, — an ideal of nature which shames his actual of history. Observation and reflection only give us the actual of morals; conscience, by gradual and successive intuition, presents us the ideal of morals.
  • Justice is moral temperance in the world of men. It keeps just relations between men; one man, however little, must not be sacrificed to another, however great, to a majority, or to all men. It holds the balance betwixt nation and nation, for a nation is but a larger man; betwixt a man and his family, tribe, nation, race; between mankind and God. It is the universal regulator which coordinates man with man, each with all, — me with the ten hundred millions of men, so that my absolute rights and theirs do not interfere, nor our ultimate interests ever clash, nor my eternal welfare prove antagonistic to the blessedness of all or any one. I am to do justice, and demand that of all, — a universal human debt, a universal human claim.
  • Man naturally loves justice, for its own sake, as the natural object of his conscience. As the mind loves truth and beauty, so conscience loves the right; it is true and beautiful to the moral faculties. Conscience rests in justice as an end, as the mind in truth. As truth is the side of God turned towards the intellect, so is justice the side of Him which conscience looks upon. Love of justice is the moral part of piety.
  • When I am a baby, in my undeveloped moral state, I do not love justice, nor conform to it; when I am sick, and have not complete control over this republic of nerves and muscles, I fail of justice, and heed it not; when I am stung with beastly rage, blinded by passion, or over attracted from my proper sphere of affection, another man briefly possessing me, I may not love the absolute and eternal right, private capillary attraction conflicting with the universal gravitation. But in my maturity, in my cool and personal hours, when I am most myself, and the accidents of my bodily temperament and local surroundings are controlled by the substance of my manhood, then I love justice with a firm, unwavering love. That is the natural fealty of my conscience to its liege-lord. Then I love justice, not for its consequences for bodily gain, but for itself, for the moral truth and loveliness thereof. Then if justice crown me I am glad, not merely with my personal feeling, because it is I who wear the crown, but because it is the crown of justice. If justice discrown and bind me down to infamy, I still am glad with all my moral sense, and joy in the universal justice, though I suffer with the private smart. Though all that is merely selfish and personal of me revolts, still what is noblest, what I hold in common with mankind and in common with God, bids me be glad if justice is done upon me; to me or upon me, I know it is justice still, and though my private injustice be my foe, the justice of the universe is still my friend. God, acting in this universal mode of moral force, acts for me, and the prospect of future suffering has no terror.
  • The people are not satisfied with any form of government, or statute law, until it comes up to their sense of justice; so every progressive State revises its statutes from time to time, and at each revision comes nearer to the absolute right which human nature demands. Mankind, always progressive, revolutionizes constitutions, changes and changes, seeking to come close to the ideal justice, the divine and immutable law of the world, to which we all owe fealty, swear how we will.
  • Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
    • This portion of Parker's sermon is thought to have inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.‎'s famous assertion of similar sentiments: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice".

External links[edit]

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