Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Essential Elias Hicks

by Paul Buckley – A Review

The Essential Elias Hicks, by Paul Buckley (Inner Light Books, 2013; see excerpts). Paul Buckley attends Community Friends Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a Quaker historian and theologian, known among Friends of all stripes for his workshops, short courses, and retreats. He also teaches occasionally at the Earlham School of Religion.

Paul Buckley is a well-known Quaker historian and a measured author. Readers will be grateful that in The Essential Elias Hicks, the newest publication by Inner Light Books, Buckley has taken on the difficult subject of the early 19th century American Quaker Elias Hicks and placed him in the context of Quaker issues of today. Of particular importance is the section on the Inward Light, which Buckley makes as clear as humanly possible.

The Essential Elias Hicks, by Paul Buckley

The written sources available to the author on Elias Hicks are few and complex, due to 19th century efforts of Quaker combatants in publishing ideologically edited primary sources. Buckley has admirably untangled these distortions. His book gives us a valuable understanding of Hicks and his ministry, a test for our trust in the Truth which is essential to our lives.

The Quaker separations of 1827-28 seem to have focused on the relative authority of the Inward Light and the Bible in spiritual lives and on the need for candid reformation in the lives of Quakers, compounded by economic and political issues. Buckley addresses only the role of Elias Hicks in the advent of these separations in yearly meetings and defers to Larry Ingle’s Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation (Pendle Hill, 1998) for deeper analysis of these conflicts themselves.

Regarding Hicks’ role in the vicious family wars in the Quaker community in the early19th century, he appears in this book to be a person who became the focus of strong views, a rallying point and scapegoat, despite the reality that he was of advanced age and unengaged in the Quaker separations themselves. He and his Quaker opponents were not students of dispute resolution, made little mutual efforts in listening to the others, and saw little of integrity or merit in the views of those in opposition.

Buckley provides the reader with perceptive concluding thoughts for many sections of the book. The editorial sections entitled “Things I (the author) Believe But Can’t Prove,” add much for reflection by the book’s readers and increased this reader’s confidence in the integrity of the author’s diligence. These speculations are candid, clearly set apart, fair and presented thoroughly.

The book has an index-like table of contents yet lacks an index. The table of contents provides an extra-detailed and logical outline of Hick’s life and thought structured within thoughtful categories. This extra effort benefits the reader’s understanding of the man and his time.

Buckley also provides an unusual appendix, a form of glossary addressing the contemporary definitions of the Quaker structure, practice and terminology in the early 19th century context of the ministry of Elias Hicks. I recommend reading the Appendix first, which will remove several otherwise misleading questions as you read the book from the start.

The power of words is evident in this book. Like the name “Quaker,” which was originally intended to disparage, the term “Hicksite” was intended to disparage and to indicate denial of legitimacy within the Quaker movement of George Fox. To their opponents, these Hicksites were not true Quakers but followers of a deviant false prophet.

Yet the choice and power of words in pointing to the edges of humanly perceived reality was at the heart of Hick’s ministry and the lives of his hearers, proponents and opponents. Universally, we humans continue to struggle inadequately with human words and metaphors to describe the core and edges of reality and to point out where the bread of life is to be found. We ignore the power of words and metaphors at our peril. This was also the dilemma of the Quaker community in early 19th century America, with significant consequences.

Buckley’s new book is important for a fair understanding of the life and role of Elias Hicks in early 19th century Quaker America. It is clearly written and thoughtfully organized. The portrait on the book cover shows a formidable human presence. This book can have a strong presence in your thoughts. Buckley has provided a real service to Quaker reflection on the nature of Truth, its communication and implementation in our lives.