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Edward Irving

1792-1834. Scottish minister. Born at Annan, he graduated in arts from Edinburgh, where he also studied divinity, taught school at Haddington and Kirkcaldy (1810-19), then became assistant to Thomas Chalmers* at St. John's, Glasgow. In 1822 he went to the Caledonian Chapel, London, which proved so inadequate for the hundreds who wanted to hear him that a new church was built in Regent Square in 1827. Many famous people were among his listeners, entranced by one who so eloquently attacked the spirit of the age and the callous indifference of the rich to the poor man at his gate and in his factories.

Irving's friends included Carlyle, Coleridge, and Henry Drummond. Gradually, however, the novelty wore off, and Irving found it difficult to settle to the ordinary pastoral round. Unbalanced emphases crept into his preaching, and many were alienated by his treatment of prophecy, eschatology, his high view of the sacraments, and his encouragement of speaking in tongues during public worship. A sad process of deterioration set in, and latterly he inveighed against political reform, Catholic emancipation, and the University of London (“the synagogue of Satan”). Predictably there was a split in his congregation. Six hundred followers went with him into the wilderness and a succession of temporary meeting-houses. Many of these erstwhile Presbyterians were to join the Catholic Apostolic Church,* the founding of which is often wrongly attributed to Irving.

His writings include For the Oracles of God (1823) (The Times published daily extracts), The Doctrine of the Incarnation Opened (1828), and The Orthodox and Catholic Doctrine of Our Lord's Human Nature (1830). The latter particularly led to his arraignment before the London presbytery, charged with holding the sinfulness of Christ's humanity. Though he claimed his words had been misunderstood, he was excommunicated, and in 1833 deposed from the Church of Scotland ministry by the presbytery of Annan. He became an itinerant preacher, was given (and humbly accepted) the modest position of deacon in the emerging Catholic Apostolic Church, died in Glasgow, and was buried in the cathedral there.

See A.L. Drummond, Edward Irving and His Circle (1937), and H.C. Whitley, Blinded Eagle (1955).