Charles Hodge

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Charles Hodge (1797 - 1878), was a highly influential American theologian best known for formulating the "Princeton Theology" that later became the foundation of much Fundamentalist thought. Hodge was a Presbyterian who revised Calvinism, adding an emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible.


Hodge was the son of a surgeon in Philadelphia. He was educated at Princeton College (class of 1815) and at the Princeton Theological Seminary (class of 1819), where he studied with Archibald Alexander.[1] He took advanced training in France and Germany, where he studied the theology of Calvin and Turretin. Alexander was the founder of Princeton Theology, but Hodge systematized and deepened it. Hodge taught at Princeton Seminary 1820 to 1878, helping establish its reputation. He was professor of Oriental and Biblical literature from 1822 to 1840, and then of theology.

Hodge has a powerful impact on student—as much from his personal piety as his lectures. The Bible was his guide, and he developed the doctrine of verbal inspiration and infallibility. Hodge said his theology was only the teaching of the Bible, and his views hardly varied over time. He famously boasted after 50 years as a professor, "A new idea never originated in this seminary." While Calvinism was losing its role elsewhere in in American thought, Hodge stood as a solid wall against revivalism (which flourished in the Third Great Awakening), against the German higher criticism was altering understanding of the Bible, and against the notion that society and morality was continuously evolving. Princeton Theology became a powerfully conservative force in the thought of the Presbyterian Church and of other American Protestant denominations.

Hodge's writings were highly influential in conservative circles in America and Scotland. He began the Biblical Repertory in 1825[2] and edited it for more than forty years. His own essays and long book reviews treated theology, Biblical criticism, philosophy, ethics, politics, ecclesiastical polity, and the affairs of the Presbyterian Church. His major books were A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1835; 19th edition 1880), The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (2 vols., 1839–40), commentaries on other Pauline epistles, The Way of Life (1841), and finally his monumental Systematic Theology (3 vols., 1872–73).

He was a leader in the conservative or "Old School" wing of the Presbyterian church. He was moderator of the General Assembly (Old School) in 1846, and an active member of the missionary and educational boards.

Hodge in 1822 married a great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin; two of their eight children, Archibald Alexander Hodge and Caspar Wistar Hodge, became professors in Princeton Seminary.



Replacing the witness of the Holy Spirit by a doctrine of Scripture, the Princeton Theology as expounded by Hodge maintained that Biblical inspiration extended to words, although the text was not dictated, that the Bible taught its own inerrancy, and, in answer to rising Biblical criticism, that only the text was inerrant. Sandeen (1962) concludes that although the Princetonians insisted that their position was not new, they deviated from the principles they sought to defend and formulated not a theology so much as an apologetic.[3]

Common Sense Realism

Historians agree that Alexander and Hodge were strongly influenced by Common Sense Realism, a Scottish philosophy, and some have argued that have argued that they departed from Reformed Presbyterian orthodoxy by accommodating the prevalent "orthodox rationalism" of the period. Helseth (1999), however, says both theologians worked within a traditional Reformed view of the moral unity of the soul, which insists that mind, will, and emotion are determined by the moral character of a unified acting agent rather than the rational faculty alone. From this moral perspective, the emphasis on objectivity in Old Princeton apologetic need not be understood as an overly intellectualized faith but one whose concept of "right reason" leaves room for Reformed orthodoxy's theological and subjective concerns.[4]


Hodge's stress upon the authority of the Bible as the Word of God to be understood literally implied that Darwinism was contrary to the theory of design and was therefore clearly atheistic. Both in the Review and in What is Darwinism? (1874) Hodge vigorously attacked Darwinism. His views determined the position of the Seminary until his death in 1878.

Fundamentalism and dispensationalism

Sandeen (1970) finds the roots of Fundamentalism in an alliance of two 19th century theologies, dispensationalism derived from the Plymouth Brethren movement and the ministry of John Nelson Darby. Believers in dispensationalism held a view of the church as a small group separate from major ecclesiastical institutions and primarily a spiritual fellowship. Their emphasis on Biblical literalism and their view of history as divided into seven dispensations had considerable influence in American Calvinistic denominations in the latter part of the century.

The Princeton theology was a unique system constructed by Alexander and Hodge. It emphasized a pre-Kantian rationalistic methodology and Biblical inerrancy. Dispensationalism and Princeton theology, two movements with certain similarities and a common foe in Modernism were drawn together in informal cooperation in a series of International Prophetic Conferences beginning in 1878. Premillennialism and Biblical inspiration provided the themes for the alliance. The Fundamentals, a series of 12 pamphlets published from 1910 to 1915, was supported by Lyman Stewart, a Presbyterian layman and a follower of dispensationalism. Fundamentalism at the turn of the century was a religious movement of great vitality with definable antecedents in theological innovations of the 19th century and centered in the urban North. In the religious conflict of the 1920s Fundamentalists split often along dispensational and Princeton lines.[5]

Coker (1998) compares Hodge with Plymouth Brethren founder John Nelson Darby (1800–82) to test Sandeen's notion that American fundamentalism was an alliance between dispensationalism and Princeton theology against modernism. Hodge embraced the regnant postmillennialism of American Protestantism, which asserted that Christ would return after the world had been evangelized by the church, after which he would judge those who refused to embrace him and then rule forever on a regenerated earth. Darby's premillennialism offered a more pessimistic view in which evil would be overcome only through judgment of those opposing Christ. Darby also introduced the doctrine of the rapture as a means of rescuing believers from the tribulation that would occur just prior to the return of Christ. Hodge's and Darby's differing interpretations of Scripture were central to their contrasting eschatologies. Whereas Hodge considered prophetic and apocalyptic texts to be unclear and insisted that they be interpreted spiritually rather than literally, Darby put the prophetic texts, interpreted literally, at the center of his doctrinal system. These incompatible eschatologies and interpretations of Scripture prevented any united front, even in the face of encroaching of modernism.[6]


Though opposed to the institution of slavery, Hodge strongly denounced the abolitionists, and contended that slave-holding was not necessarily a sin. While Hodge admitted that the Bible endorsed the institution of slavery, his outrage at the inhumane practice of slavery led him to support plans for emancipation and colonization. Hodge's insistence on the infallible word of God formed the basis for his unfailing centrist support of gradual emancipation, a position that ostracized him from both abolitionists and Southern slaveholders. Labeling himself antislavery, yet not abolitionist, Hodge elaborated his position from 1836 to 1865 in articles in the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review.[7]

During the Civil War, he resisted the church's declaring itself on the question of political allegiance, but he supported the Federal government. In the January 1861 issue of the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, Hodge laid out his case against secession, calling it unconstitutional.[8]

See also


  • Hewitt, Glenn A. Regeneration and Morality: A Study of Charles

Finney, Charles Hodge, John W. Nevin, and Horace Bushnell. (1991). 234 pp.

  • Hodge, Archibald Alexander. The Life of Charles Hodge (1880) 1880 - 620 pages; full text online
  • Hoffecker, W. Andrew. Piety and the princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield (1981)
  • Moorhead, James H. "Between Progress and Apocalypse: A Reassessment of Millennialism in American Religious Thought, 1800-1880," Journal of American History, Vol. 71, No. 3 (Dec., 1984), pp. 524–542 in JSTOR
  • Murchie, David Neil. "Morality and Social Ethics in the Thought of Charles Hodge." PhD dissertation Drew U. 1980. 392 pp. DAI 1981 41(9): 4073-4074-A. 8104826
  • Sandeen, Ernest. The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (1970), the standard scholarly history
  • Wells, John Corrigan. "Charles Hodge's Critique of Darwinism: The Argument to Design." PhD dissertation Yale U. 1986. 265 pp. DAI 1987 47(9): 3461-A. DA8629517

Primary sources

  • Hodge, Charles. Charles Hodge: The Way of Life. ed by Mark A. Noll, (1988). 291 pp.
  • Hodge, Charles. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (1860) full text online
  • Hodge, Charles. Systematic theology (1873) full text online
  • Hodge, Charles. Essays and Reviews: Selected from the Princeton Review‎ (1857) 633 pages; full text online
  • Hodge, Charles. A commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. (1864) full text online
  • Hodge, Charles. other writings online


  1. The college and seminar were both in the village of Princeton but were not connected.
  2. It was renamed in 1836 as as the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review
  3. Ernest R. Sandeen, "The Princeton Theology: One Source of Biblical Literalism in American Protestantism". Church History 1962 31(3): 307-321. 0009-6407
  4. Paul Kjoss Helseth, "'Right Reason' and the Princeton Mind: The Moral Context." Journal of Presbyterian History 1999 77(1): 13-28. 0022-3883
  5. Ernest R. Sandeen, "Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism". Church History 1967 36(1): 66-83. 0009-6407; Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (1970).
  6. Joe L. Coker, "Exploring the Roots of the Dispensationalist /Princetonian 'Alliance': Charles Hodge And John Nelson Darby on Eschatology and Interpretation of Scripture." Fides et Historia 1998 30(1): 41-56. 0884-5379
  7. Peter J. Wallace, "The Defense of the Forgotten Center: Charles Hodge and the Enigma of Emancipationism i Antebellum America." Journal of Presbyterian History 1997 75(3): 165-177. 0022-3883
  8. James Mclean Albritton, "Slavery, Secession, and the Old School Presbyterians: James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge on the Relationship between Church and State." Southern Historian 2000 21: 25-39.