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R. L. Dabney

Robert Lewis Dabney (March 5, 1820 – January 3, 1898) was an American Christian theologian, a Southern Presbyterian pastor, and Confederate Army chaplain. He was also chief of staff and biographer to Stonewall Jackson. His biography of Jackson remains in print today.

Dabney and James Henley Thornwell were two of Southern Presbyterianism's most influential scholars. They were both Calvinist, Old School Presbyterians, and social conservatives. Some conservative Presbyterians, particularly within the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, still value their theological writings, although both these churches have repudiated Dabney's and Thornwell's beliefs on race and support of Antebellum slavery.[1][2]


Dabney studied at Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Virginia (M.A., 1842), and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1846.

He was then a missionary in Louisa County, Virginia, from 1846 to 1847 and pastor at Tinkling Spring, Virginia from 1847 to 1853, being also head master of a classical school for a portion of this time. From 1853 to 1859 he was professor of ecclesiastical history and polity and from 1859 to 1869 adjunct professor of systematic theology in Union Theological Seminary, where he later became full professor of systematics. In 1883, he was appointed professor of mental and moral philosophy in the University of Texas.

By 1894 failing health compelled him to retire from active life, although he still lectured occasionally. He was co-pastor, with his brother-in-law B. M. Smith, of the Hampden-Sydney College Church 1858 to 1874, also serving Hampden-Sydney College in a professorial capacity on occasions of vacancies in its faculty. Dabney, whose wife was a first cousin to Stonewall Jackson's wife, participated in the Civil War: during the summer of 1861 he was chaplain of the 18th Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army, and in the following year was chief of staff to Jackson during the Valley Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.

After the Civil War Dabney spoke widely on Jackson and the Confederacy. He continued to hold racial views typical in the South before the Civil War, and his continued support of slavery in speeches and a book published after the war and his strong loyalty to the Confederacy until the 1890s made him a visible figure in the post-war South (Hettle, 2003).

While at the University of Texas he practically founded and maintained the Austin School of Theology (which later became Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary), and in 1870 was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Major works[]

  • Memoir of Rev. Dr. Francis S. Sampson (1855), whose commentary on Hebrews he edited (1857);
  • Life of General Thomas J. Jackson (1866)
  • A Defense of Virginia, and Through Her, of the South, in Recent and Pending Contests Against the Sectional Party (1867), an apologia for the Confederacy.
  • Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric (1870)
  • Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology (1871; 2nd ed. 1878), later republished as Systematic Theology.
  • Systematic Theology (1878)
  • Sensualistic Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century Examined (1875; 2nd ed. 1887)
  • Practical Philosophy (1897)
  • Penal Character of the Atonement of Christ Discussed in the Light of Recent Popular Heresies (1898, posthumous), on the satisfaction view of the atonement.
  • Discussions (1890–1897), Four volumes of his shorter essays, edited by C. R. Vaughan.

Also, the Banner of Truth Trust reprinted many of Dabney's theological works in the late 20th Century.


  • Johnson, T. C. J (1903). Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney.
  • Hettle, Wallace (2003). "The Minister, the Martyr, and the Maxim: Robert Lewis Dabney and Stonewall Jackson Biography," in Civil War History, Volume 49, Number 4, December 2003, pp. 353–369.
  • Lucas, Sean Michael (2005). Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life. See also the review by Iain D Campbell.
  • Smith, Morton H. (1962). Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology. ISBN 0-87552-449-4
  • Woods, Henry M. (1936) "Robert Lewis Dabney: Prince Among Theologians and Men", a memorial address delivered at Stonewall Church, Appomattox, Virginia, celebrating the founding of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1861. (PDF)


  1. "E-Books". PCA Historical Center. Retrieved 2007-03-11. "Any statements in [Thomas Cary Johnson's History of the Southern Presbyterian Church] in support of the institution of slavery or in support of racial supremacy should be clearly and obviously understood to be rejected by the Presbyterian Church in America, by the PCA Historical Center, and by the Center's director." 
  2. "Hermeneutics of Women in Ordained Office". Report presented to the Fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. 1987. Retrieved 2007-03-11. "Slavery is a man-made institution, a sinful one at that, and it is rightfully abolished altogether." 

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