Quaker Universalist Conversations

Elias Hicks and his sources

In August, Friend Barbara Alison Bryant shared two passages from Elias Hicks (1748-1830). Here she offers some information about sources Hicks may have been influenced by. (See the previous post’s “Resources on Elias Hicks” for additional information.)

Elias Hicks engravingWhile Catholics looked to the teachings of the Church for their supreme guidance and Protestants examined the Scriptures, Quaker belief in group mysticism and divine illumination opened the portals for Elias Hicks. The inward light became for him the all-important and central feature of spiritual guidance.

Hicks reasoned that the primitive church was in error and questioned nearly every premise of Christianity. By shattering the credibility of the Bible and orthodoxy, Elias Hicks freed others to follow his lead and question for themselves!

We know that Hicks read Confucius and quite possibly was exposed to Hindu philosophy from such books as A View of All Religions and the Religious Ceremonies of All Nations at the Present Day, by William Ward, D.D.1 (1824). He read accounts by contemporary William Jones, the Orientalist.2

Interestingly, Hicks’ conclusions were similar to those of the Gnostics, who taught that self-knowledge was the path to divinity. Yet, Elias Hicks did not have access to the Nag Hammadi scriptures discovered a full century later.


1 See these sources on Rev. William Ward. D.D.:

2An Exposition of Christian Doctrine Respecting the Nature and Office of Jesus Christ, by Elias Hicks (1824).


“Interestingly, Hicks’ conclusions were similar to those of the Gnostics, who taught that self-knowledge was the path to divinity.” I personally do not believe the Gnostic view, because I believe that the “self” is a construct of the biological organ, the human brain. Before human consciousness and “sense of self,” there is the Real. “Self” is a tool of the more complex tool, “human consciousness,” which in turn is a tool of the brain for managing the body and its interactions with the environment during the life of the body. What is divine is the Real. As we transcend “self” we become more aware of the Real. Blessings, Mike
America was close when we used the expression, “It is what it is,” but “it,” like a cigar, is noxious when “What is, is” (Yahweh) is calling for acceptance.
Revisiting my Sunday comment: The Gnostic’s notion “that self-knowledge was the path to divinity” could mesh with my observations about “self” and “human consciousness”—if we remember and accept that the truest “self-knowledge” embraces the deeper reality that there is only divine Wholeness.
Well said, my Friend. As early Friends would say, “Truth favors thee!”.
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