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October 16, 1938

Speaking on “The Meaning of History” at Sunday evening Chapel, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, professor of applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, claimed that “all notions about simple meanings of history have proved themselves false.” A writer for The Miscellany News reported, “Professor Niebuhr said that the old Biblical idea of a meaningful history—a history which is moving toward a climax, ‘an ultimate Apocalypse’—is beginning to be accepted again today. This concept was rejected for many centuries and replaced by simple but false philosophies.”

Reviewing early Christian, Aristotelian, Platonic and Helgelian concepts of history, Niebuhr claimed the “modern mind is returning to the Biblical interpretation. People are once more realizing that human life has limitless possibilities of both good and evil…. In the discussion which followed in Main parlors, Mr. Niebuhr stated that the only absolute standard of good is to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’; the sole alternative to this is relativism, which will end in nihilism. In Europe today…the powers for good are cowardly, while the forces for destruction are agressive.”

This was the sixth of many visits by Reinhold Niebuhr to Vassar.

The Years