The spirit of Love will be intensified to Godly proportions when reciprocal love exists between the entire human race and each of its individual members. — George de Benneville
This workshop introduces George de Benneville's Liberal Theology of Boundless Universal Love. The workshop tests the relevance of his Universalist theological legacy for our religious lives as Unitarian Universalists today. De Benneville (BEN-eh-ville) was a medical doctor, preacher, teacher, writer, translator, friend of the refugee, advocate for Native American rights and the welfare of indentured servants, host to European nobility through his own aristocratic background, and friend to such men as Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush through his liberal foreground. Today, de Benneville is recognized as one of the spiritual forebears of the Universalist Church of America. For 20 years in France, the German States, and the Netherlands, and for more than 50 years in Pennsylvania, he preached the restoration of all human beings "without exception," building religious communities united by fellowship and action rather than by church doctrine and creed. "My happiness will be incomplete," he declared, "while one creature remains miserable." This declaration of heartfelt compassion for the human race was born from his inner life, tried by sorrow and despair, and transformed by his personal experience of the spirit of universal love. By example, he gave those around him courage to pay attention to their feelings, emotions, and sentiments. "Let us search ourselves well," he said, "and test thoroughly what is within us, whether it degrades or elevates us." The pathway to Universal Love begins here, he said. Can his life, words and his deeds help us discover and practice a Unitarian Universalist liberal theology of Universal Love relevant to our own lives today?
Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction.
Preparing to lead this workshop
Read the George de Benneville entry in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography.
Read the story, "Remarkable Passages (Excerpt)," which includes excerpts from George de Benneville's autobiographical text. As you read, note each occurrence of the words "heart," "inward," and "inner." You may wish to circle or highlight the words to help you focus on the place where de Benneville believes human beings are regenerated by Divine Love: the human heart. Use these questions to help you understand the passages in the story. You may wish to write your responses in your theology journal.
- De Benneville recounts an experience where he initially felt anger toward some Moors, anger which was transformed as he became deeply moved rather than repelled by their behavior. Why did his emotions shift from negative to positive feelings about their behavior? Why did he feel as if his heart would break?
- De Benneville tells us that he had discovered the root of all his sins. What did he discover? Why did he believe there was no remedy for his troubles?
- De Benneville discovers Christ between God as judge and himself as criminal. What function does Christ play at this moment in de Benneville's life? What has Christ, according to de Benneville, done for him? Why does he describe Christ's love as penetrating? Is it penetrating his heart? De Benneville imagines Christ carrying on a conversation with his Father (God) on de Benneville's behalf. What's the point here?
- After his soul sank into a state of nothingness, de Benneville began to feel a "holy love." Why does de Benneville call this feeling holy?
- In another part of Remarkable Passages, De Benneville writes of a vision of "universal and everlasting restitution of all things." What does he mean?
This workshop will:
- Build historical knowledge about the power of personal, emotional awareness to create compassion for self and others as a faith in action practice of Unitarian Universalist theology
- Engage participants in thinking theologically about human feelings of guilt and shame, and about how those feelings can be transformed into compassion for oneself and for others as injured and broken souls.
- Gain basic knowledge about the life and work of George de Benneville (1703-1793)
- Examine de Benneville as a model for exploring emotional insights and discovering a living foundation of liberal faith
- Consider how feeling "loved" contributes to a personal feeling of well-being
- Demonstrate increased self-knowledge about the emotional foundations of their own faith.