Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - M for Mistaken

One much repeated 'Quaker saying' among British Friends is 'Think it possible that you may be mistaken'. It even appears at the back of Quaker Faith and Practice in the 'Index of well-loved phrases' where it is only attributed to A&Q or Advices and Queries.

The sentence certainly appears as part of A&Q and indeed also in the Advices in Christian Faith and Practice, the former version of Britain Yearly Meeting's book of discipline. So it has some pedigree as a 'Quaker saying' but who originally said it?

In fact it comes from the era of early Friends but not from a Quaker. The original, fuller, version was written by Oliver Cromwell to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1650 imploring them to step away from their pledge of allegiance to the royalist cause. His words were 'I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken'.

I can see the difficulty for the modern reader of 'the bowels of Christ' although in contemporary usage this was not biological but meant 'the pity or tenderness of Christ'. It is understandable that this part of the phrase should be omitted but I think it is a mistake not to acknowledge Cromwell as its author.

Is it a less powerful phrase if it cannot be truthfully claimed as a Quaker saying? I think not and even if taken out of context it can still give us food for thought. However I hope that in any future edition of Quaker Faith and Practice in which it appears as a well-loved phrase we will give Old Noll his due.


bookgeek:rhiannon said...

Well, I didn't know that! Thank you. :)

Doreen said...

Thanks, Gil. Being orignally of the Church of Scotand, I did know that Cromwell used the phrase but have never felt confident enough to challenge Quaker claims to it. Not that it matters really - the idea is what counts. Now 'speaking truth to power' - did that originate with Quakers, and if so, which one? The internet is a little equivocal!