Princeton vs. Mercersburg: Some Primary Sources

from Sep 10, 2009 Category: Articles

Recently, I posted a blog on the nineteenth century debate between Charles Hodge and John Williamson Nevin regarding the Lord’s Supper. In that blog, I posted links only to the documents related specifically to the Lord’s Supper debate. It was suggested that it might be helpful to provide the links to some of the other primary source documents involved in the larger debate between Princeton Seminary and the Mercersburg theologians (John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff).

One note on Nevin is necessary. In his debate with Hodge over Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Nevin had the weight of the historical evidence on his side. This is generally acknowledged. The fact that Nevin was correct on this point of history, however, does not mean that he can be read uncritically. Nevin was better educated in history than Hodge. Hodge was the more consistent theologian. Nevin was correct to confront the Finneyite new measures and the rampant individualism in the nineteenth century American church, but Nevin was also far too sympathetic to some aspects of the theology of Schleiermacher and to Rome for that matter. In fact, for a few years beginning around 1851, Nevin came very close to converting to Roman Catholicism. He ultimately decided against Rome, but some of his articles from this period reflect an almost despairing attitude toward Protestantism.

All of this said, however, the theological debate between Princeton and Mercersburg remains important and instructive on several levels.   

For those interested in understanding the larger context of the debate, I recommend D.G. Hart’s book John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist. He has a helpful bibliography for those wanting to dig deeper. Another good resource is James Hastings Nichols’ book Romanticism in American Theology: Nevin and Schaff at Mercersburg. Nichols has also compiled an anthology of writings by Nevin and Schaff in his anthology The Mercersburg Theology.

Here then are links to some of the more important primary documents in the debate over the Mercersburg Theology.  

John Williamson NevinThe Anxious Bench (1844) - This is Nevin’s blistering critique of the new measures commonly associated with Finney’s revivalism. 

Biblical Repertory and Princeton ReviewReview of The Anxious Bench (1844) - A short and positive review.

Philip SchaffThe Principle of Protestantism (1845) - Schaff’s provocative text (published the same year as Newman’s essay on doctrinal development) with  Nevin’s sermon on Catholic Unity appended. Readers will note that Schaff’s name is spelled “Schaf” on the title page. He changed the spelling of his name to “Schaff” in the years following his arrival in the United States.

Charles Hodge. Review of The Principle of Protestantism (1845)

John Williamson NevinThe Mystical Presence (1846) - Nevin’s defense of Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. This is the book that started the major debate between Hodge and Nevin.

John Williamson NevinHistory and Genius of the Heidelberg Catechism (1847)

Charles HodgeReview of The Mystical Presence (1848) - A very critical review of Nevin’s book.

John Williamson Nevin.  Preface to Antichrist.pdf (1848) - In this brief Preface, Nevin responds to Hodge’s accusation that he adopted much of Schleiermacher’s theology - particularly his Christology.

Charles HodgeReview of Antichrist (1848)

John Williamson NevinResponse to Hodge’s Review of The Mystical Presence (1850) - A lengthy and detailed response to Hodge’s review of his book. This article focuses primarily on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

Charles HodgeArticle - “What is Christianity?” (1860) - In this later article, Hodge discusses different conceptions of Christianity, mentioning Nevin and Mercersburg again.

John Williamson Nevin.  Vindication of the Revised Liturgy (1867)


This is only a sampling of some of the major texts in the dispute between Princeton and Mercersburg. I would include Nevin’s tract Antichrist, but I have not found an online version yet. It is available in print together with two other short works by Nevin. The title of the book is The Anxious Bench, Antichrist & the Sermon Catholic Unity. Many more articles, reviews, and essays related to the topics that were being debated are available in the pages of the Princeton Review, the Mercersburg Review, and the Weekly Messenger of the German Reformed Church.

Princeton Review (1825-1929)

All of the old issues of the Princeton Review (under its various names) are available in digitized form here at the website of Princeton Theological Seminary.

I have not yet been able to locate any unrestricted free online digitized issues of the Weekly Messenger, to which Nevin regularly contributed. They may not exist online except in the subscription only databases. Most of the issues of the Mercersburg Review (under its various names) have been digitized and can be found through Google Books. I could find Volume 18, however, only at the Internet Archive (the Google Books version of this volume is only a snippet view), and I have not been able to locate Volume 22 (1875) at all. [NOTE: If anyone has links to non-subscription based online digitized copies or pdf files of the Weekly Messenger from this time period (1840s), or to the volumes of the Mercersburg Review that are missing below, please forward them through the comments section of this blog. I will then add them to this list.]

Here are links to the volumes of the Mercersburg Review that I have found:

Mercersburg Review (1849-1852)

Volume 1 (1849)
Volume 2 (1850)
Volume 3 (1851)
Volume 4 (1852)

Mercersburg Quarterly Review (1853-1856)
Volume 27 (1880)
Volume 32 (1885)
Volume 33 (1886)
Volume 37 (1890)
Volume 40 (1893)