by D. C. Lathbury
The English Churchman's Library
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co. , 1905
Transcribed by Dr
Elizabeth G. Melillo
The Oxford Movement: Second Phase
It was at this highest point of triumph and satisfaction - the happiest moment of the Movement's history, when sixty thousand of the Tracts had been sold in one year - that Church became one of "those dear friends resident in Oxford," of whom Newman wrote long afterwards that they "did so much to comfort and uphold me by their patient, tender kindness and their zealous services in my behalf." From 1839 to 1845 Church was in the very heart of all that went on. Unfortunately his most intimate friends were, like himself, resident in Oxford, and this circumstance has deprived us of much material that would now be of the utmost interest. "Constant intercourse," says his daughter, "took the place of letter-writing." The loss is made up in part by the history of those years which he has left us in The Oxford Movement. But it is made up only in part. We miss the small details which are in place in a letter but not in a history, and we miss Church's own name. We can but guess at the part he played in a society which is best described in his own words: "The scene of this new Movement was as like as it could be in our modern world to a Greek , or an Italian self-centred city of the Middle Ages." It was "a place where every one knew his neighbour and measured him and was more or less friendly or repellent; where the customs of life brought men together every day and all day, in converse or discussion, and where every fresh statement or every new step taken furnished endless material for speculation or debate, in common-rooms or in the afternoon walk." Feelings were keen in so limited an area and factions were quickly formed. "Men stroke blows and loved and hated in those days as they hardly did on the wider stage of London politics or general religious controversy, and so Oxford became a kind of image of what Florence was in the days of Savonarola, with its nicknames, Puseyites, and Neomaniacs, and High and Dry, counterparts to the Piagnoni and Arrabiati of the older strife." Nor did the resemblance stop here. This little society had its own courts and its own methods of bringing offenders to the bar. If the leaders of the Movement had been beneficed in London they might have preached and written without molestation. The machinery of the ecclesiastical courts was then too rusty and too cumbrous to be easily set in motion. But in Oxford it was possible to censure and silence opponents, and in the end these expedients were freely employed.
In 1839, however, these things were hardly dreamt of. The authorities were getting to hate the Movement more and more, but they had not seen their way to attack it except by the petty methods of espionnage and delation. The Tractarian position was still too well-guarded to be openly assailed. But the course of events was soon to arm its adversaries with more effective weapons. In 1839 the controversy with Rome was already more than two years old. It had been forced upon Newman alike by Protestant and Roman Catholic assailants. As the Movement gathered strength and volume its main positions, the existence of an ecclesiastical authority and the duty of submission to it, were challenged by the one on the ground that no such authority existed, by the other on the ground that its true seat was at Rome. From 1833 to 1836 Newman had been meeting the former challenge, and the simple appeal to antiquity had furnished him with the means of doing this. Protestantism might call itself the religion of the Bible if it chose, but it could not possibly maintain that it was the religion of the Early Church. Could the Roman assault be met in the same way? Was it equally plain that the Early Church knew nothing of the papal claims? In the first instance Newman was just as confident upon this point as upon the other. The Church of Rome and the Church of England " were two great portions of the divided Church, each with its realities of history and fact and character," its special excellencies and its special sins. But the Church of England "was in possession, with its own call and its immense work to do, and striving to do it. Whatever the Church of Rome was abroad, it was here an intruder and a disturber." This argument, Church goes on, "was new in its moderation and reasonable caution, in its abstention from insult and vague abuse, in its recognition of the primä facie strength of much of the Roman case, in its fearless attempt, in defiance of the deepest prejudices, to face the facts and conditions of the question." All the same it was an argument that had its own dangers. So long as Rome was held to be all bad there was no temptation to have any thing to say to her. But when it beame the duty of the controversialist to see her as she was, with her lights as well as her shadows, her virtues as well as her defects, it was impossible to set a limit to the gradual conversion of appreciation into admiration. A wider knowledge of Christian antiquity brought to light the fact that in some, at least, of the features in which we differed from Rome, we differed from antiquity also; that if a Christian of the fourth century were to rise from the grave and to first into a Roman and then into an Anglican church, he would feel more at home at the Mass of the one, than at the Communion Service - as it was in the thirties - of the other; that upon miracles, or celibacy, or the place of the Eucharist in Christian worship, he would hear the teaching he was familiar with from the Roman rather than from the Anglican preacher.
For Newman and the older generation of the Movement, such discoveries had no terrors. They had undertaken to supply what was wanting in the English Church and as yet they were fully satisfied with the progress they had already made. But in May, 1839, there occurs a passage in one of Newman's letters, which, in the light of after events, seems like Gehazi's cloud. "The only real news," he writes, "is the accession of Ward of Balliol to good principles. It is a very important accession. He is a man I know very little of, but whom I cannot help liking very much." The recruit whose arrival was thus welcomed brought into the Movement a very strong and remarkable personality. Into whatever company of men William George Ward had entered, its composite character and action could not have remained what it had been without him. His mental history had been quite unlike that of any one of the leaders whom he found in possession of the field. Newman had begun as an Evangelical, Keble and Froude as old-fashioned High Churchmen. Ward had first been influenced by Bentham and John Mill. "Alike in method and ethos they were singularly attractive to him, and left evident traces on his mind . Mistiness was to him the greatest of intellectual trials, and dialectics the keenest of pleasures. And those who canonised mistiness as all one with religious mystery, and looked askance at argumentative discussion as savouring of rationalism, were at all times his natural enemies. Mill and Bentham represented the completest imaginable antithesis to such a spirit.(1)"
Long afterwards, when his attitude towards religion had completely changed, he wrote in praise of Bentham's "boldness," of Mill's "earnestness and single-mindedness," of his "manifest devotion to truth," and of his "susceptibility to every breath of reason." But though this logical clearness delighted Ward's intellect, it left his religious instinct unsatisfied. This want was supplied for a time by Arnold, whose influence was transmitted to Ward through his chief Balliol friends, Oakeley and Clough. He found in Arnold something quite unlike the ordinary respect for conventions which to so many people stands in the place of religion. For years his feelings had been "oppressed and tortured by this heavy, unspiritual, unelastic, prosaic, unfeeling, unmeaning Protestant spirit," and his ears "stunned with the din of self-laudation, with the words 'pure and apostolical,' 'evangelical truth and apostolical order,' and the like most miserable watchwords." The moral side of religion, the placing the glory of God beyond and above all other objects, the extension of the religious spirit to all the actions of life, the recognition of worldliness as a more dangerous adversary than even the flesh and the devil - all these things Ward found in Arnold and for a time they contented him. Arnold's teaching gave him the two things he most wanted - intellectual candour and moral discipline.
But his intellectual candour soon landed him in difficulties for which Arnold had no answer. Free inquiry and private judgement seemed to Ward to lead, at best, to uncertainty. Arnold found in Scripture so much dogmatic belief as he wanted. So did the Socinians whom Arnold would not admit to be Christians. And how about the previous question, the inspiration of Scripture? How about the proofs of revelation? How about the existence of God Himself? To these questions Ward could only say that, if faith must be founded on inquiry, "five times the amount of a man's natural life might qualify a person endowed with extraordinary genius to have some faint notion on which side the truth lies(2)." Thus he was left with his belief in Arnold's ethical teaching unshaken, but resting on no intellectual principle. The end to which this process would naturally have led him in the first instance was the same as that which he ultimately reached. Ward had none of that traditional dread of Rome which weighed so strongly on Newman. On the contrary, he had always been drawn to Roman services, which Newman had not attended even when he was abroad. He was familiar with the Roman breviary, of which at this date Newman knew nothing. He liked the liturgical and disciplinary sides of the Roman Church, and had learned, even earlier than Hurrell Froude, to hate the Reformers. Everything pointed, therefore, to his reception into the Roman Church when he found himself no longer in agreement with Arnold. But a fresh intellectual influence got hold of him, and for a time gave new direction to his thoughts. For some time he had steadily refused so much as to hear Newman preach. But "at last one of his friends laid a plot against him. He invited him to take a walk and brought him to the porch of Saint Mary's precisely as the clock was striking five. 'Now, Ward,' said he, 'Newman is at this moment going up into his pulpit. Why should you not enter and hear him once? It can do you no harm. If you don't like the preaching you need not go a second time, but do hear and judge what the thing is like.' By the will of God Ward was persuaded and he entered the church . That sermon changed his whole life.(3)" Not at once, however. In 1839, Ward was a diligent attendant in Adam de Brome's Chapel, where Newman delivered the lectures which were afterwards published under the title Romanism and Popular Protestantism. But he still listened as a critic, not as a disciple. "His admiration of the power shown in the lectures," says Dean Goulburn, "was only qualified by his indignant repudiation of their conclusions." What finally decided him to join the Oxford Movement was the publication of Hurrell Froude's Remains. The influence which had done so much to shape the course of Newman and Keble was to exert an equal force on Ward. But, though the force was equal, the direction was different. "Ward," said Cardinal Newman long afterwards, "was never a High Churchmen, never a Tractarian, never a Puseyite, never a Newmanite."
Mr Wilfrid Ward has described with great clearness the state of his father's mind in 1838. "Tractarianism did not supply him with reluctant conclusions in favour of Rome; on the contrary, it stopped short his conclusions, and made him an Anglican. He had no distinctive affection for the Anglican Church. He disliked it in the present, and he knew nothing of its past. The study of primitive times was uncongenial to his unhistorical mind. Nor had he any acquaintance with the divines of the seventeenth century . The existing Roman Church was the avowed object of his admiration. He was driven by the inconsistency of Anglicanism, and the sceptical tendency of private judgement, to admire the most thorough and consistent scheme attainable of authoritative teaching(4)."
But on the road he met Newman, and for some years Newman was able to keep him in the Church of England. For the time, he became to Ward the very thing he was in search of - a living authority. Although, therefore, Ward had brought into the Movement a new tendency, it was a tendency which Newman was at first able to control. "He kept before their minds continually," says Church, speaking of Newman's influence on Ward and his friends, "those difficulties of fact which stood in the way of their absolute and peremptory conclusions, and of which they were not much inclined to take account. He insisted on those features, neither few nor unimportant nor hard to see, which proved the continuity of the English Church with the Church Universal. Sharing their sense of anomaly in the Anglican theory and position, he pointed out with his own force and insight that anomaly was not in England only, but everywhere. There was much to regret, there was much to improve, there were many unwelcome and dangerous truths, invidiosi veri, to be told and defended at any cost. But patience, as well as honesty and courage, was a Christian virtue; and they who had received their Christianity at the hands of the English Church had duties towards it from which neither dissatisfaction nor the idea of something better could absolve them. Spartam nactus es, hanc exorna is the motto for everyone whose lot is cast in any portion of Christ's Church. And as long as he could speak with this conviction the strongest of them (Ward and his friends) could not break away from his restraint(5)." There could be no better testimony to the force and character of the Movement than that it had proved strong enough to arrest on his way to Rome a man of such devotion and ability as Ward, and to retain, or rather replant, him in the Church of England.
But the time when Newman could not longer speak with this conviction was already drawing near. There is something strangely pathetic in the way in which in the Apologia he lingers over the closing days of his conscious and convinced Anglicanism: "The Long Vacation of 1839 began early. There had been a great many visitors to Oxford from Easter to Commemoration; and Dr Pusey and myself had attracted attention more, I think, than in any former year. I had put away from me the controversy with Rome for more than two years. In my parochial sermons the subject had never been introduced: there had been nothing for two years, either in my Tracts or in the British Critic, of a polemical character. I was returning, for the vacation, to the course of reading which I had many years before chosen as especially my own. I have no reason to suppose that the thoughts of Rome came across my mind at all(6)."
The first hint of coming change occurs in a letter to Frederick Rogers, afterwards Lord Blachford, on September 22nd. "Since I wrote to you (just one week earlier), I have had the first real hit from Romanism which has happened to me." Dr Wiseman had written an article in the Dublin Review on the Donatists. Newman had read it and had not thought much of it. But a friend pointed out the "palmary words" of Saint Augustine, which were contained in one of the extracts made in the review, Securus judicat orbis terrarum. "He repeated these words, "says Newman, "again and again, and when he was gone they kept ringing in my ears By these great words of the ancient father the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverised." This is how the incident appeared to him five-and-twenty years later. At the time it seemed less serious, but still serious enough to disturb him. "It does certainly come upon one," he goes on in the letter just quoted, "that we are not at the bottom of things." And a month later he told Henry Wilberforce that, though he felt confident that when he returned to his rooms - the two were walking in the New Forest - and was able fully and calmly to consider the whole matter an answer would present itself, still a vista had been opened before him, to the end of which he did not see.
Another letter to Rogers shows that he was already casting about for some secondary justification of the Anglican position. He hopes to find Saint Augustine "agreeing that grace may be given in a schismatical church," and refers with satisfaction to a Romanist admission that the bona fide adherents of an Anti-Pope are "virtually in communion with the centre of unity." This change from confidence to uncertainty had its counterpart outside. On his return to Oxford he found that the Heads of Houses were "getting more and more uneasy," that the bishops were less favourable than formerly, and that he himself was beginning to doubt whether "any religious body is strong enough to withstand the league of evil but the Roman Church."
It was at this juncture that Ward and his friends came to exert so decisive an influence on the fortunes of the Movement. Had the University and the bishops left things alone, Newman's alarm might have disappeared in thankfulness at "the wonderful way in which the waters are rising here," i.e., in Oxford. But these rising waters brought their own difficulties. The new adherents of the Movement were asking whether the doctrine of the Church of which Athanasius and Augustine were members really lived and spoke in the Thirty-Nine Articles. "Did it? Yes, it did; that is what I maintained; it did in substance, in a true sense." The old Catholic truth "was there, but this must be shown." For to show it was a matter of life and death, not to Newman only, but to Ward and those whom Ward represented. Unless the Movement was to go to pieces, the Articles must be shown to be patient of a Catholic sense. This was the origin and purpose of Tract No. 90. Newman put no new meaning on the Articles; he merely limited their meaning to that which the words necessarily conveyed. He pointed out that to condemn the Romish doctrine of purgatory is not to condemn the patristic doctrine of purgatory, any more than to condemn the Lutheran doctrine of Justification by Faith is to condemn the Pauline doctrine of Justification by Faith. History and Christian charity alike demand that theological anathemas shall be construed in the narrowest sense that their words will bear. To-day this is regarded as plain common sense; it was accounted pestilent heresy in 1841.
1. William George Ward and the Oxford Movement, by Wilfrid Ward, page 61.
2. Ward in British Critic, volume xxxiii, page 214.
3. William George Ward and the Oxford Movement, page 80, quoted from notes by the late Professor Bonamy Price.
4. William George Ward and the Oxford Movement, page 141.
5. Oxford Movement, pages 208-209.
6. Apologia, page 208.