The Pipe

  • an object made in any of various shapes and sizes, consisting of a small bowl with an attached tubular stem, in which tobacco is smoked

In many Christian communities residing on this earth pipe smoking has always and continues to be appreciated for the benefits it brings to moments of relaxation, conversation, and mental clarity.

A Brief Historical Sketch

Pipe smoking and Christianity (if not Christian theology) go way back. A little over a century after Europe was introduced to that glorious weed, tobacco, one of the church’s most brilliant liturgists, and one of the world’s most brilliant musicians began to smoke enthusiastically. I am of course talking about Johann Sebastian Bach. Besides such masterpieces as “Chaconne,” and “The ‘Little’ Fugue,” Bach is responsible for what is probably the first written artifact describing the intersection of Christian faith and practice with pipe smoking—a poem in which Bach meditates on how certain aspects of smoking a pipe remind him of the transitory nature of human life, and of the sorrow of an eternity spent in hell. From a literary standpoint the poem or at least the English translation of the poem is no Paradise Lost, but, like meerschaum which hasn’t been smoked too fast or too slow, it ends well because the last two lines of the poem are easily the best quote concerning Christianity and pipe smoking I’ve ever come across:

On sea, on land, at home, abroad/ I smoke my pipe and worship God.

What a classic statement of a truth today’s church needs badly:

Our entire lives should be lived as worship to God, and anything we do, whether it be attending the Cathedral, riding our bike, drinking a beer, or smoking our pipe—if done with a heart full of thanksgiving and humility—can be an act of worship.

After Bach, the history of pipe smoking and Christianity gets hazy. Since the Church thought nothing strange about smoking a pipe for most of its history, there was very little controversy, and thus very little record of the history in question.

Then in the late 19th and early 20th century we come to the rise of fundamentalism in response to developments in biblical criticism, the so-called social gospel, and other changes in Christendom. Fundamentalists felt that what was needed to combat the forces of liberalism was a “return” to holiness and piety. As a result, campaigns against popular entertainment, drinking, and smoking were launched by many early fundamentalists, and of course, the banner has been picked up by several subsequent generations on into the present day. Though, not directly about pipe smoking, a story involving Billy Sunday one of the fathers of fundamentalism will do much to illustrate, the fact however, that even within the early evangelical/fundamentalist movement there was not total consensus.

William “Billy” Sunday was a famous baseball player in the 1880s until he was converted to Christianity. He heard the call to ministry and became an evangelist. He was a charismatic preacher, a fund raising genius, and reportedly told more individuals his version of what the gospel was than any other person up to that time. By the 1910s and 20s he was America’s most famous evangelical Christian. He was outspoken about social issues of the day, and was an especially voracious supporter of prohibition.

At some point just before the turn of the 20th century, Billy Sunday was invited to visit Charles Spurgeon’s church in London. During the course of his sermon, Billy began to preach against the “evils” of drinking and smoking, and how Christians could not do it, and expect admission into heaven. It is reported that though he was polite all the way through the sermon, Spurgeon went to the pulpit at the end, looked at Billy and said, “Be that as it may, sir. I will go home to tonight and smoke a cigar to the greater glory of God!”

An Annotated List of Christian Pipe Smokers 
And Charles Spurgeon was only one of the many evangelical “traitors.” What proceeds is an annotated list of some theologians, pastors, evangelists, Christian authors, and other personalities in some way connected to Christendom who smoke or have smoked (both Pipe and Cigar smokers are included).

  • Bach, Johann Sebastian- the aforementioned genius.
  • Barth, Karl- Do you really think he couldn’t have written all 98 volumes (I approximate, of course) of Church Dogmatics without the help of Lady Tobacco?
  • Chesterton, G.K.- The man who made the quote that divides the sections for this site, one of my favorite Christian authors. Not only did he smoke pipes and cigars, but could also allegedly write one thing with his pen sitting at a desk, while simultaneously dictating an entirely different piece of writing to his secretary.
  • Colson, Chuck- owns one of C.S. Lewis’ pipes.
  • Erskine, Ralph- Scottish Presbyterian.
  • Frassati,The Blessed Pier Giorgio– Italian Catholic social justice advocate and anti-fascist.  Called the Man of the Eight Beatitudes by Blessed John Paul II (who beatified him in 1990); don’t think he was a pipe smoker?  Here is some definitive proof: proof
  • Lewis, C. S.- Lewis’ Narnia books took shape in a pub o’er many a pint. He is also the author of many works that help philosopher and theologies in Christian theology to date.
  • Ogden, Schubert- Methodist minister. Author of “May a Christian smoke?” {The Log 9, no.14 (1959): 2}, and I believe his answer was “yes.”
  • Scott, Gene-  this dude was crazy. He charged admission into his church. He had a Bible study TV show, on which he was fond of smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of wine. Favorite Bible study passage: you guessed it, the Wedding Feast of Cana.
  • Spurgeon, Charles- the aforementioned Cigar aficionado.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R.- Catholic, as we all know. Tolkien was the man.
  • Williams, Charles- probably the least known.

*Taken and edited from James Stambaugh at http://theophiliacs.wordpress.com/*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: