Paige, Lucius

Lucius PageLucius Robinson Paige (March 8, 1802-1896) was a Universalist minister, biblical scholar, historian, and public official. Lucius was the youngest of nine children born to Timothy and Mary (Robinson) Paige of Hardwick, Massachusetts. His parents were Calvinists, but as Paige later wrote, “their hearts were so much better than their doctrine.” He was educated in the town’s public schools.

In his early twenties, Paige read Hosea Ballou’s A Treatise on Atonement, which caused him to reject the Calvinistic faith of his parents, and, in 1823, to write Ballou, informing him of the impact the book had had on him: “it was a means in the hand of God of removing from my mind many clouds which had heretofore obscured my vision.” As a result, he entered Ballou’s home as a student, and, after several weeks of study, began preaching as a layman. In 1825 he was settled and ordained in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he remained four years. This was followed by a ministry of two years in Rockport. He moved to Cambridgeport in 1832, succeeding Thomas Whittemore at the First Universalist Society.

Paige was married four times. His second wife was Abby Whittemore, sister of his colleague Thomas Whittemore. Paige had five children: three died in infancy, two died as young adults.

Paige’s growing involvement in town affairs led him to resign his pastorate in 1839. He remained active in denominational affairs and continued to preach occasionally for nearly thirty years, until failing health led him to decline invitations. He had periodic bouts of ill health over the years, but outlived many of his contemporaries, surviving to the age of ninety-five.

Paige served as Cambridge Town Clerk, 1839-40 and 1843-46, and, when the city was incorporated, as City Clerk, 1846-55. His public service was followed by a career in banking until 1871. These secular pursuits supported his family while he engaged in scholarship. He entered public life once more, serving as a representative in the Massachusetts legislature, 1878-79.

In 1833, Paige published Selections from Eminent Commentators, a compendium of biblical passages, in which he sought to demonstrate that orthodox critics were incorrect in claiming that Universalists distorted biblical passages for their own purposes. He drew on a large group of recognized orthodox biblical scholars, outlining their views, in order to demonstrate that their interpretations were at one with those of Universalists.

The six-volume Commentary on the New Testament, published between the years 1844 and 1870, Paige called “the principal labor of my life.” In these volumes he provided the full text of the New Testament and comments in notes that often run up the page to within one line of the biblical text. He did not include the Book of Revelation in his work, because his close friend and colleague Thomas Whittemore had already published a volume on the topic. This work, he explained, was different from any commentary previously published, in that it “illustrates the doctrine, that Divine Love is both universal in extent and effectual in operation; that it will triumph over sin and destroy it; that it will subdue and convert the hearts of sinners; and that it will secure the final holiness and happiness of all men, in the most unlimited sense of the phrase.”

In interpreting the New Testament books, Paige often cites his Selections from Eminent Commentators. His work, except for its stress on Universalist ideas, is consistent with the standard interpretations of the time, accepting the customary attributions of authorship of the New Testament books. His series was completed before the work of German and other scholars of the Higher Criticism of the Bible, which radically challenged orthodox interpretations, became known in the United States. Therefore, one finds Paige often attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable, e.g., the inconsistencies between the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke. He believed that the Gospel of Matthew was written first and that Mark, being familiar with it, often used similar phrasing. However, he is convinced that Mark’s version was based on what Peter, from time to time, recounted to him. The Higher Criticism, of course, maintained that Mark was the earliest of the gospels included in the Christian canon, with the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both making use of it, as well as other sources, such as the postulated “Q” document, thought to have been a collection of the teachings of Jesus. The publications of Orello Cone, the most distinguished of the Universalist scholars of the Higher Criticism, still lay in the future.

There is a poignant note in the introduction to volume five of Paige’s Commentary, published in 1867: “This volume was written more than six years ago. The disturbed state of the country and the high price of labor and materials for printing have hitherto hindered its publication. I regret both the delay and the cause of it.”

During the years he devoted to his Commentary, as a form of what he referred to as “relaxation from severer studies,” Paige collected materials for an extensive History of Cambridge, 1630-1877, published in 1877. He includes history of the several Unitarian and Universalist churches, the controversies over heresy and witchcraft, the scourging of Quakers, and imprisonment of those who defied authorities. He apologizes for the fact that his History of Cambridge does not contain the “lore” one expects to find in most town histories. He explains that this was because he was not a native. Of course, this was not true of his History of Hardwick, 1883. Writing of his hometown, he was cognizant of its lore and made full use of it.

His public and business duties did not keep him from active involvement in denominational affairs. Paige served on a committee that drew up a statement condemning slavery, which was mailed to all Universalist ministers for their signatures in September, 1845. He also served on a committee of the Boston Association, which drew up a statement opposing the encroachments of transcendentalism on the Universalist ministry. This “German philosophy,” or “Parkerism, ” was condemned in 1847, when the Association affirmed the necessity of ministers in fellowship to believe in the biblical account of the miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paige was also one of those who opposed the rising tide of spiritualism in the denomination.

When his mentor Hosea Ballou died in 1852 Paige served as a pall bearer.

Paige was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and held prominent positions in the Masonic Order, in the United States and internationally.

Paige’s scholarship was recognized by Harvard, which awarded him the honorary degree of Master of Arts in 1850, and by Tufts College, which awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1861. His long service, from 1859 on, as a member of the board of trustees of Tufts led to the dedication of the dormitory building for divinity school students as “Paige Hall,” on its completion in 1892.

In addition to the works mentioned above, Paige wrote Universalism Defended: A Reply to Several Discourses delivered by Rev. Timothy Merrit, in 1827, Against that Doctine (1830); Questions on Select Portions of the Gospels: Designed for Use of Sabbath Schools and Bible Classes (1838); and List of Freemen of Massachusetts, 1630-1691 (1978). Information on Paige can be gleaned from Thomas Whittemore, Life of Rev. Hosea Ballou, 4 vols (1854-55); John G. Adams, Fifty Notable Years: Views of the Ministry of Christian Universalism (1882) and Memoir of Thomas Whittemore (1878); Oscar F. Safford, Hosea Ballou: A Marvellous Life-Story (1889); Ernest Cassara, Hosea Ballou: The Challenge to Orthodoxy (1961) and Universalism in America (1971); and Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-1870 (1979).

Article by Ernest Cassara
Posted April 10, 2002