Clergyman, educator and social critic, Bernard Iddings Bell (October 13, 1886-September 5, 1958) was born in Dayton, Ohio, and educated at the University of Chicago (B.A., 1907), Western Theological Seminary (S.T.B., 1912), The University of the South (S.T.D., 1923), and he also received numerous honorary degrees. In college Bell temporarily rejected his Episcopal Church upbringing. Under the influence of a local Catholic priest and his reading of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Bell returned to a belief in the classic, consensual tradition of Christianity, and would spend the remainder of his life defending such a faith. Ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1910, he served as vicar and dean of a midwestern Episcopal church and cathedral during the next nine years until his appointment as President (Warden) of St. Stephen’s College (now Bard College), where he served from 1919-1933. As a college president, Bell demonstrated an unusual propensity for spiritual and administrative leadership. During the last three years of his tenure at St. Stephen’s (1930-1933) Bell also taught at Columbia University.
The remainder of Bell’s life was devoted to the religious training of adults, serving as Canon of St. John’s Cathedral, Providence, Rhode Island (1933-1946), as well as Canon of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and St. James Cathedral Church in Chicago. He also served as a consultant to the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago on education, and as a highly popular and influential preacher and lecturer throughout the country.
The author of over twenty books, Bell believed the future of the West depended upon reclaiming the virtues of the Christian life. As a gifted man of letters, Bell attempted to relate the Christian faith to his contemporaries in a “postmodernist” America. Canon Bell used the term postmodern to describe a notion of renewed doubt regarding ideological formulations in social, religious, and political life. The recovery of civilization became possible, Bell posited, when humankind recovered the sacred, as the transcendent allowed for an appreciation of life beyond the limits of human reason.
Bernard Iddings Bell’s works include: Right and Wrong After the War (1918), a work that encouraged Christians to confront the modern, “codeless” world they had inherited after W. W. I; The Church’s Work for Men at War (1919); The Good News (1922); Post-modernism and Other Essays (1926); Common Sense in Education (1928); Beyond Agnosticism: A Book for Tired Mechanists (1929); Unfashionable Convictions (1931); The Holy Week (1933); Men Wanted! (1933); Preface to Religion (1935); O Men of God! (1936); A Catholic Looks at His World (1936); In the City of Confusion (1938); The Priestly Way (1938); Religion for Living (1939); Christian Virtues (1940); Understanding Religion (1941); Still Shine the Stars (1941); The Church in Disrepute (1943); The Altar and the World (1944); God is Not Dead (1945); A Man Can Live (1947); Crisis in Education (1949); and Crowd Culture: An Examination of the American Way of Life (1952).
Books by Bernard Iddings Bell may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.