Edward Irving (1792-1834) was born in Scotland. Graduating from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in 1809, he taught and studied mathematics and science for a few years, while also pursuing classes in divinity, with a view to ordination in the Church of Scotland.
Licensed to preach in 1815, he became an assistant minister in Glasgow four years later. His love of Romantic literature had led him to develop an original preaching style – loved by some but denigrated by others as affected. He believed himself to be called to greater things – as in evangelising the great, fashionable and powerful – and he happily accepted a call in 1822 to a congregation in London which would put him in proximity to his presumed target audience.
Initially, things went as Irving hoped – his peculiar preaching style became fashionable. But the fad passed, and his church – while still full – ceased to attract the haute monde. As a result, he concluded the world was irredeemably corrupt, and that the Second Coming must soon arise.
In 1826, he became involved with the Prophetic Conferences, a series of gatherings at a country house involving Protestant ministers of various kinds. Under their influence, Irving began allowing laymen to preach and speak in tongues, and began preaching throughout England and Scotland about Christ’s imminent return. Having come to believe that Christ’s flesh was the same as ours – rather than glorified – he was excommunicated by the Church of Scotland in 1830 and founded a congregation of his own.
He died in 1832, and his followers joined other members of the Prophetic Conferences to found the Catholic Apostolic Church. Although starting after his death, the new group was nicknamed “Irvingites”.
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