The Sentimental Education of Henry Warren Roth: Spiritual Formation, Pedagogy, and Theological Learning in Nineteenth-Century Chicago

Elia, Anthony J.

The spiritual formation and direction of institutions comes from the spiritual formation and direction of its individuals. And these processes of formation ultimately come from moments of questioning, tragedy, and discernment. This year, 2011, marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the start of the American Civil War—the war “between” the states. That first December of the conflict, a young man, twenty-three years old, had been called from his travels, lecturing, preaching, and Hebrew studies in Pittsburgh. He was summoned by the news of his younger brother’s deteriorating health—his brother having recently been among the federal soldiers engaged in troop training and preparations against their rebel opponents in central Kentucky. The Battle of Munfordsville, Kentucky, which pit Union Colonel John T. Wilder against Confederate Brigadier General James R. Chalmers, would not happen for another year there. The horrors of war, though, were not simply in guns and their leaden bullets, but such things as dysentery and other illnesses, which decimated troops on both sides. This paper will address the education of a young man—the gradual learning of a nineteenth century thinker, writer, pastor, and theologian, who struggled with the doubt, pain, loss, and suffering of his place and times. The spiritual formation, pedagogy, and theological learning that we shall see is that of a young boy turned man, living and experiencing the Word of God in mostly rural Pennsylvania, until his travels bring him into the broader sphere of his mentor William Passavant in Chicago and elsewhere in the 1860s. By the time Roth went to live in Chicago in 1887, to take over a parish, his reputation as a pedagogue was significant, and led him to be one of the primary co-founders of the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary. Today we will look at what led up to this, and who this talented thinker and teacher was.

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February 21, 2013