Old Princeton: Charles Hodge, A Spiritual Son

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) was the third professor appointed to Princeton Theological Seminary by the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Like his predecessors and professorial colleagues Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, Hodge was not only a famous teacher but also a voluminous author and editor. He is perhaps best known for his three volume Systematic Theology which is still in print and available through electronic media. He also known for other books and his editorship of the Princeton Review (this theological journal experienced several name changes during Hodge’s time with it). What may be less known is how Hodge was the beneficiary not only of an immense intellectual heritage, but was the recipient of spiritual care and fathering.

Hodge, who was born in Philadelphia and whose father Hugh was a military surgeon and successful physician and whose mother was Mary Blanchard, soon became orphaned of his father. Charles and his brother Hugh would be raised by their mother in Philadelphia (three other brothers would die in two severe yellow fever outbreaks) and would also attend Second Presbyterian Church where well-known Old School pastor Ashbel Green served. Green, who would serve as president of the Princeton College and would be heavily involved in the establishment of Princeton Seminary, provided help to Charles’ mother as she sought to raise her two surviving sons in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Charles and Hugh were taught the Scriptures and were drilled in the particulars of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Mary Hodge moved with her sons to New Jersey to be closer to a school in the Somerville area and then to Princeton specifically so Charles could study at Princeton College (Princeton became a university years later under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson). Hodge entered Princeton College in 1812 at about the time his former pastor became the college’s president and no doubt, Hodge benefitted from Green’s paternal and spiritual care and oversight. That same year the seminary was established with its first professor, Archibald Alexander.

Hodge entered Princeton Seminary in 1816 and graduated in 1819. During his student days Archibald Alexander took a special interest in Charles and brought him under his wings and soon Hodge was, as it were, another son to Alexander. Following graduation and independent studies in Hebrew, Hodge published a pamphlet entitled A Dissertation on the Importance of Biblical Literature. It was this work which enabled Alexander to lobby the general assembly on behalf of his spiritual son to be appointed professor of oriental and biblical literature. Alexander and Miller were pleased when Hodge was ordained in the Presbytery of New Brunswick and provided fatherly advice and admonition to Hodge when he traveled to Europe to study with the great minds of biblical studies and theology of the day such as Friederich Scleiermacher, Ernst Hengstenberg, and August Tholuck.

Charles Hodge would eventually become the professor of didactic and polemical theology, the role for which Hodge is best known. The theological giant Hodge was a giant because he was fathered and discipled by other giants such as Alexander and Miller. Hodge would name his eldest son Archibald Alexander Hodge (usually referred to as A. A. Hodge). A. A. would eventually be called to serve as his father’s associate at Princeton and then his successor. When Alexander was on his death bed he passed along his ivory handled walking stick to Charles Hodge and this became a symbol of the passing of the baton at Princeton.

Charles Hodge was the beneficiary of an outstanding biblical and theological heritage. But he was also the recipient of personal fatherly and spiritual care from Ashbel Green, Samuel Miller, and most importantly from Archibald Alexander. These were not disparate gifts from God but two sides of one coin. Reformed theology and piety are mutually entailing realities. While Hodge is best known for passing on the theological legacy to more than 2,000 students, he also passed along the spiritual legacy in his care of his students. Present day seminary professors could benefit from studying and modeling their own ministry on the legacy of Charles Hodge. Hodge was a spiritual son who became a spiritual father.

*We now have three excellent biographies of Charles Hodge: The Life of Charles Hodge by A. A. Hodge, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy by Paul Gutjahr, and Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton by W. Andrew Hoffecker. Two recent studies of Princeton include Gary Steward’s Princeton Seminary (1812-1929): It’s Leader’s Lives and Works and James Moorehead’s Princeton Seminary in American Religion and Culture.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

Jeffrey Waddington