William Stringfellow

Theologian and Social Critic (1928–1985)
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William Stringfellow, a lawyer by training and a lay theologian raised in the Episcopal Church, sought through his many books to apply the Word of God to the moral issues of his age: poverty, war, racism, sexism, the abuse of political and ecclesial authority. His experience of practicing poverty law in Harlem alerted him to the capacity of impersonal institutions—“the powers and principalities”—to invest themselves with an ersatz spiritual authority. In a series of books he defined what he called an American moral theology, seeking “to relate the American experience of society and nationhood to the biblical saga and social witness.” “My concern,” he wrote, “is to understand America biblically.” This was counter to the opposite and all-too-common tendency, namely, to understand the Bible “Americanly.”  

In the late 1960s he was found to be suffering from a lifethreatening metabolic disorder. This contributed to his tendency to view the world in the light of Eternity and a willingness to risk unpopular stands. He was charged with harboring a fugitive when Fr. Daniel Berrigan—who had evaded imprisonment following his conviction for destroying draft files—was apprehended at his home. At Stringfellow’s funeral, following his death on March 2, 1985, Berrigan described him as “the honored keeper and guardian of the Word of God.”  

“I believe biography (and history) . . . is inherently theological in the sense that it contains already—literally by virtue of the Incarnation—the news of the gospel whether or not anyone discerns that. We are each one of us parables.”  

—William Stringfellow 

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Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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