Charles Hodge

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Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) was the principal of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1851 and 1878. He was one of the greatest exponents and defenders of historical Calvinism in America during the 19th century.



He matriculated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1812, and after graduation entered in 1816 the theological seminary in Princeton, having among his classmates his two lifelong friends, John Johns, afterward bishop of Virginia, and Charles P. Mollvaine, afterward bishop of Ohio. In 1822 he was appointed by the General Assembly professor of Biblical and Oriental literature. In 1822 he married Sarah Bache, great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. Soon after he went abroad (1826-1828) to prosecute special studies, and in Paris, Halle, and Berlin attended the lectures of Silvestre de Sacy, Friedrich Tholuck, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, and August Neander.

In 1825 he founded the Biblical Repository and Princeton Review, and during forty years was its editor and the principal contributor to its pages. In 1840 he was transferred to the chair of didactic theology, retaining, however, the department of New Testament exegesis, the duties of which he continued to discharge until his death. He was moderator of the General Assembly in 1846.

Fifty years of his professorate were completed in 1872, and the event was most impressively celebrated on April 23rd of that year. A large concourse, including 400 of his own pupils, assembled to do him honor. Representatives from various theological institutes, at home and abroad, mingled their congratulations with those of his colleagues; and letters expressing deepest sympathy with the occasion came from distinguished men from all quarters of the land and from across the sea.

Dr. Hodge enjoyed what President Woolsey, at the jubilee just referred to, hoped he might enjoy, "a sweet old age." He lived in the midst of his children and grandchildren; and, when the last moment came, they gathered round him. "Dearest," he said to a beloved daughter, "don't weep. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. To be with the Lord is to see him. To see the Lord is to be like him." Of the children who survived him, three were ministers of the Gospel; and two of these succeeded him in the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. C. W. Hodge, in the department of exegetical theology, and Dr. A. A. Hodge, in that of dogmatics.

Literary and teaching activities

Dr. Hodge was a voluminous writer, and from the beginning to the end of his theological career his pen was never idle. In 1835 he published his Commentary on the Epistle to the and Romans, his greatest exegetical work, and one of the most masterly commentaries on this epistle that has ever been written. Other works followed at intervals of longer or shorter duration - Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1840); Way of Life (1841, republished in England, translated into other languages, and circulated to the extent of 35,000 copies in America); Commentary on Ephesians (1856); on First Corinthians (1857); on Second Corinthians (1859). His magnum opus is the Systematic Theology (1871-1873), of 3 volumes and extending to 2,260 pages. His last book, What is Darwinism? appeared in 1874. In addition to all this it must be remembered that he contributed upward of 130 articles to the Princeton Review, many of which, besides exerting a powerful influence at the time of their publication, have since been gathered into volumes, and as Selection of Essays and Reviews from the Princeton Review (1857) and Discussions in Church Polity (ed. W. Durant, 1878) have taken a permanent place in theological literature.

This record of Dr. Hodge's literary life is suggestive of the great influence that he exerted. But properly to estimate that influence, it must be remembered that 3,000 ministers of the Gospel passed under his instruction, and that to him was accorded the rare privilege, during the course of a long life, of achieving distinction as a teacher, exegete, preacher, controversialist, ecclesiastic, and systematic theologian. As a teacher he had few equals; and if he did not display popular gifts in the pulpit, he revealed homiletical powers of a high order in the "conferences" on Sabbath afternoons, where he spoke with his accustomed clearness and logical precision, but with great spontaneity and amazing tenderness and unction.

Dr. Hodge's literary powers were seen at their best in his contributions to the Princeton Review, many of which are acknowledged masterpieces of controversial writing. They cover a wide range of topics, from apologetic questions that concern common Christianity to questions of ecclesiastical administration, in which only Presbyterians have been supposed to take interest. But the questions in debate among American theologians during the period covered by Dr. Hodge's life belonged, for the most part, to the departments of anthropology and soteriology; and it was upon these, accordingly, that his polemic powers were mainly applied.

Character and significance

Though always honorable in debate, one would not gain a correct idea of Hodge's character through judging him only by the polemic relations in which his writings reveal him. Controversy does not emphasize the amiable side of a man's nature.

Dr. Hodge was a man of warm affection, of generous impulses, and of John-like piety. Devotion to Christ was the salient characteristic of his experience, and it was the test by which he judged the experience of others. Hence, though a Presbyterian and a Calvinist, his sympathies went far beyond the boundaries of sect. He refused to entertain the narrow views of church polity which some of his brethren advocated. He repudiated the unhistorical position of those who denied the validity of Roman Catholic baptism. He gave his sympathy to all good agencies.

He was conservative by nature, and his life was spent in defending the Reformed theology as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Westminster Shorter Catechisms. He was fond of saying that Princeton had never originated a new idea; but this meant no more than that Princeton was the advocate of historical Calvinism in opposition to the modified and provincial Calvinism of a later day. And it is true that Dr. Hodge must be classed among the great defenders of the faith, rather than among the great constructive minds of the Church. He had no ambition to be epoch-making by marking the era of a new departure. But he earned a higher title to fame in that he was the champion of his Church's faith during a long and active life, her trusted leader in time of trial, and for more than half a century the most conspicuous teacher of her ministry. The garnered wisdom of his life is given in his Systematic Theology, the greatest system of dogmatics in our language.

Hodge and slavery

Hodge supported slavery in the 1830s, and while he condemned the mistreatment of slaves he did not condemn the institution of slavery itself. The background to this attitude, however, was not primarily his understanding of the Bible's teaching on the matter, but rather his churchmanship.

The Presbyterian church was divided along the same lines that would later split it during the American Civil War. Hodge himself was torn between the abolitionists in the North and the conservatives in the South, and he used his considerable influence in an attempt to restore order and find a middle ground between the two factions. In 1846, however, he became convinced that slavery was wrong, reversing his earlier anti-abolitionist stance, and he then publically denounced slavery and supported both the Abolitionist movement and President Lincoln (Adams, 2003).


  • Systematic Theology. Hendrickson Publishers (1999). ISBN 1565634594 (also available abridged by Edward N. Gross, ISBN 0875522246, and online for free (
  • Romans (The Crossway Classic Commentaries). Crossway Books (1994). ISBN 0891077243
  • 1 Corinthians (Crossway Classic Commentaries). Crossway Books (1995). ISBN 0891078673
  • 2 Corinthians (Crossway Classic Commentaries). Crossway Books (1995). ISBN 0891078681
  • Ephesians (The Crossway Classic Commentaries). Crossway Books (1994). ISBN 0891077847
  • The Way of Life (Sources of American Spirituality). Mark A. Noll, ed. Paulist Press (1987). ISBN 0809103923


  • Adams, John H. (April 21, 2003). Charles Hodge: A voice for today’s PCUSA? ( The Layman.
  • Hicks, Peter (1997). The Philosophy of Charles Hodge: A 19th Century Evangelical Approach to Reason, Knowledge and Truth Edwin Mellen Pr. ISBN 0773486577
  • Hodge, A. A. (1880). The life of Charles Hodge: Professor in the Theological seminary, Princeton, N.J.. C. Scribner's sons. Reissued 1979 by Ayer Co. Pub. ISBN 0405002505
  • Hoffecker, W. A. (1981). Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield P&R Publishing. ISBN 0875522807
  • Noll, Mark A., ed. (2001). Princeton Theology, 1812-1921: Scripture, Science, and Theological Method from Archibald Alexander to Benjamin Warfield. Baker Publishing Group. ISBN 0801067375
  • Stewart, J. W. and J. H. Moorhead, eds. (2002). Charles Hodge Revisited: A Critical Appraisal of His Life and Work. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0802847501

External links

This article includes content derived from the public domain Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1914.


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