Spring 2007

Open Inquiry

"Higginson knew that truth reveals herself, not merely with the passing of time, but under the open and careful inquiry of 'prudent and sagacious' minds accustom to 'searching into the narrows of things.' "

At the end of my street, just 200 yards from my doorstep, lies buried the body of Rev. John Hale (1636-1700). Hale, who served as a pastor in Beverly during the witch panic of the early 1690's, wrote a significant work entitled: A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft, and How Person Guilty of that Crime may be Convicted: And the means used for their Discovery Discussed, both Negatively and Affirmatively, according to Scripture and Experience. Hale himself attended several of the witch trials and was acquainted with some of the accused. Being convinced of the enemy's power and intention to deceive, he was, at first, sympathetic to the proceedings of the trials and condoned the unhappy, but seemingly necessary executions. However, as sound reason gave way to fear and panic and the number of accused multiplied, Hale found himself less convinced that wisdom, justice and righteousness were being served by the trials. He began to suspect that Satan's greatest attack might lie in deceiving the masses rather than in possessing a few. His suspicion turned to conviction when his own wife was accused of witchcraft. 

In the introduction to Hale's Modest Enquiry, John Higginson (1616-1708) writes: "It hath been said of Old, that Time is the Mother of Truth, and Truth is the Daughter of Time. It is the Prerogative of the God of Truth, to know all the truth in all things at once and together; it is also his Glory to conceal a matter, and bring the truth to light in that manner and measure, and the times appointed, as it pleaseth him; it is our duty in all humility, and with fear and trembling, to search after the truth, knowing that secret things belong to God, and only things revealed belong to us." Higginson knew also, that truth reveals herself, not merely with the passing of time, but under the open and careful inquiry of "prudent and sagacious" minds accustom to "searching into the narrows of things."

In an age of suicide bombers and school shootings, when some among us are willing to sacrifice themselves to perpetuate violence and destruction as a style of political engagement, we too are in danger of being greatly deceived. The enemy wins twice when threats to our communities are met with actions steaming from fear, pride and ignorance; when we are fooled into believing that violence can secure lasting peace or that shouting leads to understanding. In such times, cool headed and even handed open inquiry is more important than ever. I am grateful that our community is a place where open inquiry exists.

Greg Carmer, Dean of Chapel
October, 2006