Paper: ‘Holy, Solemn, Humble Awe’ in the Spiritual Writings of Susanna Anthony

Another paper from the recent SSCS conference “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” at the University of Notre Dame, this time by Tom Schwanda, associate professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College.   Here is the abstract:

Healthy and balanced Evangelical spirituality in the eighteenth century included a deep awareness of the depravity of the human condition as well as the liberating experience of God’s grace.  Susanna Anthony (1726–1791), a Congregationalist woman from Rhode Island, was recognized as an exemplar of this noteworthy piety.  Her extensive letter and diary writings compiled by her pastor Samuel Hopkins, a disciple of Jonathan Edwards, as the Letters and Character of Susanna Anthony has been ranked among the top one hundred writings of eighteenth–century Evangelicalism.  Her memoirs are a prime example of the tension between holy fear and doubt of one’s salvation and the grateful assurance of divine love.  She records both the frustration that her life is not maturing in sanctification to the extent that she desires or feels God expects but also the assurance that she is loved and accepted in the presence of this holy God.  These experiences of “holy, solemn, humble awe” were not limited to the early years of Anthony’s spiritual pilgrimage but felt at various points throughout her life as she intentionally sought to grow in holiness.  Anthony’s processing of this paradox is often resolved through her prayerful conversation with God and expressed in her mystical language that soars with the contemplative transports of love and delight to heaven.  Significantly, Anthony’s spiritual writings reveal that grace sustained and relieved her from the abyss of fear and points to a balanced spirituality built upon the foundation of gratitude for God’s redeeming presence.

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