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Charles Hodge

Scholar, educator, churchman, and distinguished American Presbyterian systematic theologian of the nineteenth century, Charles Hodge was born in Philadelphia in 1797. Following his father’s untimely death a few years after he was born, Charles and his brother were raised by their godly widowed mother. In 1812 Hodge’s mother moved the family to Princeton in hope of matriculating her sons at Princeton College.

Charles Hodge graduated from Princeton College in 1815. During the 1814-15 school year a revival broke out on the college campus: Charles was one of a number of students converted during this time of spiritual refreshing. At the encouragement of Archibald Alexander, he enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with the class of 1819.

Ordained in 1821, his scholarly gifts led to an appointment by his denomination in 1822 to serve as the seminary’s third faculty member. As Professor of Oriental and Biblical Literature, Hodge’s primary responsibility was instruction in biblical languages, hermeneutics, biblical criticism, and study of Old Testament texts. During 1826-28, he travelled to Europe to study with the leading European biblical and theological scholars. Hodge focused his studies on theology and biblical interpretation, with additional concentration in Semitic and cognate languages. His studies in Europe made him one of the leading Hebraists teaching in an American theological institution in the early nineteenth century. In the coming decade, Hodge would be assisted by the linguistic talent and philological expertise of Joseph Addison Alexander.

With Addison’s arrival, Hodge concentrated his labours on New Testament texts and studies, serving as Professor of Exegetical and Didactic Theology from 1840 to 1854. From 1854 until his death in 1878, he served as Professor of Exegetical, Didactic, and Polemic Theology.

During his half-century tenure at Princeton, Charles Hodge held several chairs, but is probably best remembered for the reputation he established as Professor of Systematic Theology. A stout Calvinist with a deep love for the Reformed confessions, his literary labours often involved a polemical thrust, as he sought to defend and expound the Reformed theology of the Protestant Reformation, and the teachings of the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as received and adopted by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

A prolific author, Hodge served for many years as editor of the seminary journal, Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review. Under his editorship, it became the leading theological journal of the nineteenth century: Hodge’s personal contributions included articles on biblical studies, spirituality, church history and historical theology, ecclesiological issues, philosophy, politics, slavery, abolition and the Civil War. An active churchman, he was at the forefront of ecclesiastical debates and discussion. In addition to articles and essays, Hodge published commentaries on Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Ephesians. A major historical work in defence of old-school Presbyterian doctrine and practice, The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, appeared in 1840. His popular work on piety, The Way of Life, was published in 1841. His three-volume magnum opus, Systematic Theology, was published in 1872-73, and confirmed him as the outstanding Calvinistic systematic theologian of the nineteenth century. Additional publications on the relationship between Christianity and science, and a collection of essays delivered at the Sabbath Afternoon Conferences (published by the Trust as Princeton Sermons), served to further confirm the breadth of his academic competency and the depth of his Christian piety.

[James M. Garretson in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, Volume 2 (Banner of Truth, 2012)]