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The Religion of Feeling: Wesleyan Catholicism

Wesleyan Catholicism - a contradiction in terms? Not in the 18th century, argues Charles Goodwin.




He was superstitious! – he was; but it was not in the sense [of] hesitating which foot to put over the threshold of the door on a Friday morning. His superstitions were all connected with an invisible state, and he was well aware that one well authenticated tale, respecting apparitions, and what not, would operate powerfully upon the minds of the uneducated, for whose benefit he chiefly wrote, than a long chain of metaphysical reasoning upon the immateriality and immorality of the human soul.



In John Wesley’s preaching, and in his journals, full credence was given to what the foremost eighteenth-century authority on popular customs roundly condemned as ‘the residual rubbish of Roman superstition’ – namely, belief in the significance of dreams and other forms of foreknowledge; faith-healing and exorcism with the aid of charms and spells; practitioners of occult powers; and the general conviction that one lived in a world subject to the intervention of either benevolent divine spirits or malevolent demonic spirits.


In 1744 a chaise that Wesley was travelling in together with his step-daughter and her two children went out of control on the brow of a steep hill when the two horses drawing the chaise inexplicably took fright and bolted, unseating the driver. The horses going at full gallop, safely negotiated a narrow bridge and the entrance and exit gates of a farmyard before being pulled up short of a steep precipice by his step-daughter’s husband. Wesley’s verdict on the incident was ‘both evil and good angels had a large share in the transaction…’.


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