Reading Gary Dorrien’s The Making of American Liberal Theology has sent me back to the Divinity School Address, in particular to confirm Dorrien’s interpretation that Emerson claimed, “To Jesus, all of life was a miracle.” “Did he really say that?” I wondered. Yes, here’s the passage:

“[Jesus] spoke of miracles; for he felt that man’s life was a miracle, and all that man doth, and he knew that this daily miracle shines, as the character ascends.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, but what justifies attributing it to Jesus, RWE doesn’t say. I would like to think that Jesus was a Transcendentalist, but the evidence in the canonical gospels doesn’t support it.

Almost everyone, even those as iconoclastic as Emerson, wants to claim Jesus as one of their own. A revolutionary, a feminist, an upholder of law and order, a Taoist or Buddhist master, a prophet, a communist, a capitalist. We have just a few texts to judge by, and they support only a few of these interpretations. I would love to embrace the image of Jesus as a saint, the best humanity can be, but I don’t see him as having an exemplary character; he’s impatient and hot-tempered at times. And I would love to see him as a Transcendentalist, perceiving and proclaiming the miracle in the ordinary, but I think that’s Emerson, not Jesus.

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