Ramsden Balmforth on the Reformation and the Evolution of Christianity: A Post-Protestant South African Perspective

Frederick Hale

Abstract


Theologians and historians of the Protestant Reformation have often interpreted it in terms that are strongly determined by their own concerns. One such writer was Ramsden Balmforth (1862-1942), a prominent Unitarian minister and public intellectual in Cape Town from 1897 until the late 1930s. An advocate of Darwinian evolutionary thinking, liberal theology, religious freedom, the comparative study of religions, and social reform, this transplanted Yorkshireman perceived the Reformation as an important stage in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, one marked by liberation from the spiritual and intellectual shackles of Catholicism. However, he regarded it as a truncated and ultimately reactionary reform movement which substituted the authority of the Bible and creedal formulations for that of the Roman Catholic power structure. Balmforth called for a “new Reformation” which would resume the liberation of religious life.


Keywords


Ramsden Balmforth; Reformation; Unitarianism; evolution; religious freedom

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