Tuesday, April 18, 2017
The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee -- A Book Review
by Mike Jones
Although I've read many biographies on the life of the great General Robert E. Lee, they understandably dealt mostly with Lee's military career. When I first saw the "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee" by R. David Cox (Eerdsman's Publishing Co. 2017) was coming out, I immediately wanted to get it.
Now that I have read it, I must say I was not disappointed. The author was very complete in his analysis of Lee's religious beliefs, but also the major theological and familial influences on his spiritual formation. It also goes into how his faith became stronger and stronger throughout his life. While I don't necessarily agree with all of Cox's opinions and interpretations, I think he was very fair and balanced in his evaluation.
Starting out with Lee's family ancestry and the religious world into which he was born, the author goes into quite a bit of detail about Anglicism and how it evolved in to a more evangelical form in Virginia. Cox notes the great influence Lee's mother (Ann Hill Carter Lee) had on his spiritual formation. She was a devout Protestant Evangelical Episcopalian. Lee formed a life long practice of church attendance, daily prayer and Bible reading no matter where he was.
This obviously was a powerful influence in shaping his character and the way he conducted himself in all aspects of life. He married into a likewise Protestant Evangelical Episcopalian family when he married Mary Custis, the step-great-granddaughter of George Washington. While his wife was at first worried that Lee was not religious enough, he steadily increased in the power of his faith until he matched or exceeded her own evangelical fervor.
Robert and Mary were blessed with seven healthy children, three boys and four girls, that formed into a truly ideal Christian family unit. The Lee family was very strong in its daily prayer life. Lee was also active in the various churches he attended and was a member of during his long and varied military career.
During the War for Southern Independence, Lee was supportive of military chaplains of all faiths and encouraged and supported their spiritual guidance of the Confederate soldiers under his command. Lee was also a paragon of virtue and courage in the personal example he always presented to those who served under him, as well as to his whole family.
After the war, as president of Washington College in Lexington, Va., Lee considered the Christian formation of each student to be the most important part of their education. Besides having the historic chapel at Washington & Lee University built, he encouraged daily student chapel attendance for an ecumenical service, for which he himself set the example. Lee also encouraged the students to attend the church of their choice in the community.
In spite of all the trials and tribulations that he underwent in his eventful life, he never wavered in his unshakable Christian faith and came down with his last fatal disease shortly after attending a vestry meeting at the Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington.
The book, published by Eerdman's Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. (www.eerdmans.com), has 336 pages, photographs, endnotes, bibliography, index, photographs. $26.00, trade paperback.
Posted by Michael Jones at 12:14 PM