An inventory of Charles Francis Aiken Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
A Massachusetts native, Dr. Charles Francis Aiken was born in Boston on April 8, 1863. He attended grammar and high school in Somerville and higher education brought him to Harvard where he studied classics. Graduating in 1884, Aiken then began his lifelong teaching career at the Heathcote School of Buffalo, NY before leaving to become a priest. In 1886 he returned to Boston to enter St. John's Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1890. From there, Aiken would go on to attend Catholic University, where he distinguished himself as a theology student, and earned his degree in 1892. After graduation, Aiken returned to the Archdiocese of Boston ostensibly to resume the duties of a local priest. A number of his early sermons are contained in the collection. He might have remained there but an 1894 shake-up in the CUA Apologetics Department resulted with him being recalled to Washington to serve on the faculty under Rev. Thomas Bouquillon. Tapped for his youth, Aiken was required to study in Europe for the better part of two years to prepare for his new position. This helps explain one of the gaps in the continuity of the collection.
Initially serving as a theology instructor at CUA from 1897-1900, Aiken soon came to the attention of the University of Pennsylvania Philosophy Department under William Romaine Newbold. Asked to teach medieval philosophy as a guest professor, it was during this era that Aiken began to cement his academic reputation. Likewise, this is where the collection reveals Aiken's keen mind for religious history and anthropology which seemingly paved the way for numerous published works on comparative religion. His most recognized work, "The Dhamma of Gotama the Buddha and the Gospel of Jesus the Christ" was published in 1900 and earned him a doctorate in Theology.
Aiken would then serve as an associate professor from 1900-1906, and ordinary professor of apologetics from 1906-1924. He eventually rose to Dean of the Faculty of Theology (1909-1913) and remained a contributor to many scholarly journals including American Ecclesiastical Review, American Catholic Quarterly Review, and Catholic World. He died in Boston on July 8, 1925 at 62 years of age.
The Charles Francis Aiken Papers is a two series collection mostly composed of lecture notes spanning the late theology professor's 35 years at Catholic University. Series 1 focuses on his academic lectures and is perhaps of greater interest to scholars of theology, anthropology and religious history. Many of the notes in this series are handwritten, titled, and include bibliographic references. The lectures and marginalia from his stint at the University of Pennsylvania may be found in box 5. These suggest Aitken may have been a valuable intellectual contributor to that institution's Philosophy Department from 1897-1900 while he prepared his own master work comparing Jesus and Buddha.
As mentioned, Aiken was a published author and expert on apologetics. Though his published works are conspicuously absent from the collection, the scope of his lecture notes indicate a vast knowledge of world religions, the humanities, and the social sciences. (See boxes 2, 4 and 5.) Some evidence of this is revealed through assorted news-clippings pertaining to various anthropological and archeological discoveries from the early 20th century. In toto, the collection helps build the case that this robust era of emerging scientific theory and physical exploration had a profound impact on Aiken's thinking. In box 2 one may find extensive lecture notes titled "Early Man" and "The Origin of Species" blended with "Primitive Revelation." This suggests that Aitken was quite well versed in all manner of published work relating to the essence of humanity. Further, it is worth considering that much of Aiken's career coincided with the publication of sprawling ethnographic works such as Sir James George Frazer's "The Golden Bough." That work is particularly notable for it revealed a great deal of research on tribal and folkloric practices among polytheists, but drew controversy at the time due to Frazer's observations on Christianity.
Regardless "The Golden Bough" proved useful to Aiken through his notes in box 5 which reveal an articulate study of the origins of religion through lectures on Priests and Shamans and Sympathetic Magic. With the increasing popularity of anthropology and folkloric studies in more recent times, it is interesting to note the extent to which he researched non-Judeo-Christian belief systems. For example, cultural anthropologist E.B. Tylor is also frequently cited in the notes. That said, Aiken also felt compelled to assemble a comprehensive lecture on Mormonism, which is another rich resource in the collection. Looking back some 100 years, it is therefore tempting to view Charles Francis Aiken's broad curiosity about the world as a voice for human understanding at a time when the progress-minded colonial powers would soon find themselves descending into World War I.
Series 2 provides a more personal look at Aiken thanks to the inclusion of two personal diaries. Box 6 includes one box of sermons, possibly delivered in Boston, along with a personal diary from his seminary days. Finally, box 7 contains a travel diary from a cross-country journey in the spring of 1905 along with some papers from a Philadelphia area high-school.
The Charles Francis Aiken Papers consists of two series:
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Donor name and date unknown.
Processing completed in 2012 by Carter Rawson. EAD markup completed in 2012 by Carter Rawson.
Bishop John J. Keane Papers
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Aiken, Charles Francis, 1863-1925
Bouquillon, Thomas Joseph, 1842-1902
Newbold, William Romaine, 1865-1926
Archdiocese of Boston
St. John's Theological Seminary
University of Pennsylvania
Anthropology of religion
Apologetics--United States--History--20th century
Ahern, Patrick H.; The Catholic University of America 1887-1896 (The Rectorship of John J. Keane); CUA Press; Washington D.C., 1949 p.56
Aiken, Charles Francis; The Dhamma of Gotama the Buddha and the Gospel of Jesus the Christ - a Critical Inquiry into the Alleged Relations of Buddhism with Primitive Christianity; Boston, Marlier and company, limited, 1900.
Catholic University of America Annual Reports of the Rector 1-7 1890-1896
Catholic University Bulletin Volume XXXI, No. 8, p.96 (necrology)
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