Edward Irving

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Edward Irving bigraphy, stories - Scottish theologian

Edward Irving : biography

4 August 1792 – 7 December 1834

Edward Irving (4 August 1792 – 7 December 1834) was a Scottish clergyman, generally regarded as the main figure behind the foundation of the Catholic Apostolic Church.

Forerunner of the Catholic Apostolic Church

For years the subject of prophecy had occupied much of his thoughts, and his belief in the near approach of the second advent had received such wonderful corroboration by the perusal of the work of a Jesuit priest, Manuel Lacunza, writing under the assumed Jewish name of Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, that in 1827 he published a translation of it, accompanied with an eloquent preface. Probably the religious opinions of Irving, originally in some respects more catholic and truer to human nature than generally prevailed in ecclesiastical circles, had gained breadth and comprehensiveness from his intercourse with Samuel Taylor Coleridge but gradually his chief interest in Coleridge’s philosophy centred round what was mystical and obscure, and to it in all likelihood may be traced his initiation into the doctrine of millenarianism.

It was through Irving that Lacunza’s theory was introduced to the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren such as John Nelson Darby, who had attended one of the conferences on biblical prophecy at Powerscourt House (the home of Lady Powerscourt) and various other localities in County Wicklow from 1830 to 1840. The Letters and Papers of Lady Powerscourt has been published.

The first stage of his later development which resulted in the establishment of the Irvingite or Holy Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832 was associated with the ‘Albury Conferences’., moderated by Hugh Boyd M‘Neile (1795-1879), at his friend Henry Drummond’s seat, Albury Park at Albury, Surrey concerning unfulfilled prophecy, followed by an almost exclusive study of the prophetical books and especially of the Apocalypse, and by several series of sermons on prophecy both in London and the provinces. His apocalyptic lectures in 1828 crowding the largest churches of Edinburgh on summer mornings.

In 1830, however, there was opened up to his ardent imagination a new vista of things spiritual, a new hope for the age in which he lived, by the revival in a remote corner of Scotland of those apostolic gifts of prophecy and healing which he had already in 1828 persuaded himself had only been kept in abeyance by the absence of faith.

At once, he welcomed the new powers with an unquestioning evidence that could be shaken by neither the remonstrances nor the desertions of his dearest friends, the recantation of some of the principal agents of the gifts, his own decent into a subordinate position, the meagre and barren results of the manifestations, nor their general rejection both by the church and the world. His excommunication by the presbytery of London in 1830 for publishing his doctrines of the humanity of Jesus Christ, and the condemnation of these opinions by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in the following year, were secondary episodes that only affected the main issue of his career insofar as they further isolated him from the sympathy of the church; but the irregularities connected with the manifestation of the gifts gradually estranged the majority of his own congregation, and on the complaint of the trustees to the presbytery of London, whose authority they had formerly rejected, he was declared unfit to remain the minister of the National Scotch Church of Regent Square.

After he and those who adhered to him (describing themselves as of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church) had in 1832 removed to a new building in Newman Street, he was, in March 1833, deposed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland by the Presbytery of Annan on the original charge of heresy. With the sanction of the power, he was now, after some delay, reordained chief pastor of the church assembled in Newman Street, but unremitting labours and ceaseless spiritual excitement soon completely exhausted the springs of his vital energy. He died, worn out and wasted with labour and absorbing care while still in the prime of life, 7 December 1834. He is buried in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral near to the tomb of St. Mungo.