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Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

On-line version ISSN 2412-4265
Print version ISSN 1017-0499

Studia Hist. Ecc. vol.35 n.1 Pretoria  2009


A Cape Town minister contra orthodoxy: Ramsden Balmforth's evolution as a religious liberal



Frederick Hale

Department of English, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa




South African Unitarianism remains a minimally explored topic in church history. Beginning as the Free Protestant Church in Cape Town, it traced its primary roots to liberal theology, especially historical criticism of the Bible, in the Netherlands, which was brought to the Cape of Good Hope by David P Faure and other young Afrikaners in the 1860s. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the movement in South Africa had become linked to the tradition of British Unitarianism. The present article traces the theological development of Ramsden Balmforth (1861-1941), who served as the minister of the Free Protestant, or Unitarian, Church in Cape Town for forty years beginning in 1897. It is demonstrated that until in his twenties Balmforth was an irreligious sceptic, but his exposure to the study of social Christianity and comparative religion while still in Yorkshire made him amenable to certain strands of liberal Protestantism. He consequently studied theology in Oxford and brought his convictions, many of which were anchored in historical criticism of the Bible, social Darwinism, and optimistic assumptions about human perfectibility, to South Africa, where he propagated them and linked the fledgling Unitarian movement there to that of the United Kingdom.



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