Monday, January 24, 2011

* Julian N. Hartt

Julian N. Hartt
William Kenan Professor of Philosophical Theology
University of Virginia

D. C. Macintosh was one of the principal reasons for my deciding to go to Yale, in 1937, for doctoral studies.  I had read The Reasonableness of Christianity as a seminary student.  Macintosh was the big name in "empirical theology" in this country at that time (he shared some of that distinction, actually, with Henry nelson Wieman).  The Macintosh I met in the fall of 1937 was a fine man.  Of medium height, he was strongly built, and gave the impression of being in excellent physical condition.  His hair was white; his complexion was florid.  He dressed conservatively and in fine taste - - - he was in fact (I learned much later) proud of his good clothes.

I should have to say that Macintosh was not an electric presence in the classroom. My first year as a graduate student I took his famous year-long seminar in Theory of Knowledge.  On no occasion that year did he ever raise his voice above a soft conversational tone, either to underscore a philosophical point or to reprove dullness or perversity.  He listened in apparently inexhaustible patience to things he must have known were ill-considered, if not stupid; but the most extreme criticism I think I heard him utter all year was, "Well, I suppose what you say might be possible". We all learned that that was the full equivalent, from others, of, "How can you possibly propose such an absurdity?"

At the beginning of my second year Macintosh asked me whether I would like to read papers written by the students in his Systematic Theology course - -- the  required course for Divinity School students in those years.  Macintosh knew that the Hartts were poor (years before the gravy-train of graduate school fellowships came into sight!). He was much too thoughtful a person to simply offer us charity.  So he offered me a job instead; which I gladly accepted; and which he paid for out of his pocket. (Later I learned that he subsidized a lot of students one way or another, but never with any advertisement).  So all that year I listened to Macintosh's lectures in Systematic Theology.  He was always completely prepared, so far as I could judge. He presented his material as largely finished lectures, relying on full manuscript rather than on notes or direct inspiration. But again he made very few vocal gestures.  It was quite as though he assumed that reasonable men would be content to listen, for fifty minutes at a throw, to the voice of reason interpret the heart of the Faith.

It was later, a good bit later, that I learned that this eminently reasonable man was also a man of deep piety, indeed, of a piety largely traditional.  Neither in the lecture hall nor seminar did he make any sort of emotional pitch.

Going to the Macintosh home for high tea was a great experience for my wife and me.  Occasionally he would invite a small group of his students to his house.  Mrs. Macintosh prepared lavish teas and served them in high style.  There was little of professional-academic talk on those occasions, but almost everything else under the sun was touched on --- all the way from Charlie McCarthy to international politics (perhaps not as big a leap as one might think).  As seminary students we had been entertained, very occasionally, by faculty people, but not in the Macintosh style.

Macintosh was one of my doctoral dissertation advisors.  For that purpose I saw him seldom, mostly for morale purposes, as it turned out; but that was a considerable contribution.  He didn't say that what I was doing was all right; but he didn't say that it wasn't either.  He was not much given to wasting words.

Then the time came to go in to talk with him about the job offers I brought back from a swing through the south in the spring of '40.  He was a fine listener.  I came away feeling that my decision surprised him somewhat, but he didn't say he thought it was a mistake - - -but I wasn't sure about that.  I really wasn't sure until quite early in the fall of my first year teaching, along came a large box of books: copies of all his writings - - -books and articles --- and all of them autographed.  This was the sort of gesture entirely characteristic of the man: no parade of sentiment, no self-referential gestures; just something he thought a young man new in his  profession, new in his situation, would appreciate. He was entirely right.  He liked being entirely right.

Macintosh talked very little about the Great Legal Battle of his life until his partial recovery from his devastating strokes in the spring of ' 42.  I used to go round on Saturday mornings to take him for a ride - - - in Hope's [Mrs. Macintosh's] car ( we didn't have a car during the war years).  He never recovered full power of  speech, but when he was rested and relaxed he did pretty well.  The Great Case was much on his mind; in fact he had a huge volume of pictures and news stories about it. I am sure that he believed to the day he died that he had been right in his courageous and unflinching stand.  Many distinguished legal minds, then and since, agree altogether with him.

He was a person of the highest rectitude of character and conduct. Indeed in these respects he was a good bit of a Calvinist --- in the best sense.

Not of course in his religious vision and theological system.  Moreover, he was not greatly inclined, once his mind was made up on a matter of crucial importance, to change it before any ordinary show of force.  Once, years and years ago, I heard Millar Burrows say that when Macintosh was prepared to stay in the trenches to the end on a great matter, his voice got softer and softer as his will got stronger and stronger.

It is a melancholy commentary on the state of theological knowledge both at YDS and  elsewhere in the country that so little is known of Douglas Macintosh.  It is not too much to say that he put YDS on the theological map for several generations of theological  thinkers.  But theological styles are subject to sudden shifts of interest and sentiment; quite as much as the size and cut of a man's ties.  During the latter part of the '30's Macintosh could see such shifts coming. He thought these were largely regressive and he said so.

Finally, it is worthy of note that one of the truly rich pieces of theological work to have come out of YDS in the last 35 years is dedicated to Douglas Clyde Macintosh and to Frank Porter.  I refer to H. Richard Niebuhr's The Meaning of Revelation. A worthy tribute offered by one great spirit to another one.


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