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The Oxford Movement
Twelve Years


by R. W. Church, M.A., D.C.L.,
Sometime Dean of St Paul's, and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford

London: Macmillan & Co. 1894

Transcribed by The Revd R D Hacking
AD 2003


THE Hampden controversy had contributed to bring to the front a question, which from the first starting of the Tracts had made itself felt, but which now became a pressing one. If the Church of England claimed to be part of the Catholic Church, what was the answer of the Church of England to the claims and charges of the Church of Rome? What were the true distinctions between the doctrines of the two Churches on the great points on which they were supposed to be at issue? The vague outcry of Popery had of course been raised both against the general doctrine of the Church, enforced in the Tracts, and against special doctrines and modes of speaking, popularly identified with Romanism; and the answer had been an appeal to the authority of the most learned and authoritative of our writers. But, of course, to the general public this learning was new; and the cry went on with a dreary and stupid monotony. But the charges against Dr. Hampden led his defenders to adopt as their best weapon an aggressive policy. To the attack on his orthodoxy, the counter buffet was the charge against his chief opponents of secret or open Romanising. In its keenest and most popular form it was put forth in a mocking, pamphlet written probably under Whately's inspiration by his most trusted confidant, Dr. Dickinson, in which, in the form of a "Pastoral Epistle from his Holiness the Pope to some Members of the University of Oxford," the Tract-writers are made to appear as the emissaries and secret tools of Rome, as in a jeu d'esprit of Whately's they are made to appear as the veiled prophets of infidelity. It was clever, but not clever enough to stand, at least in Oxford, against Dr. Pusey's dignified and gravely earnest Remonstrance against its injustice and trifling. But the fire of all Dr. Hampden's friends had been drawn on the leaders of the movement. With them, and almost alone with them, the opposition to him was made a personal matter. As time went on, those who had been as hot as they against Dr. Hampden managed to get their part in the business forgotten. Old scores between Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Liberals were wiped out, and the Tractarians were left to bear alone the odium of the "persecution" of Dr. Hampden. It must be said that they showed no signs of caring for it.

But the Roman controversy was looming in earnest, and it was idle to expect to keep it long out of sight. The Tracts had set forth with startling vehemence the forgotten claims of the Church. One reason why this had been done was the belief, as stated in the first volume of them, "that nothing but these neglected doctrines, faithfully preached, will repress the extension of Popery, for which the ever-multiplying divisions of the religious world are too clearly preparing the way." The question, What is the Church? was one which the conditions of the times would not permit men any longer to leave alone. It had become urgent to meet it clearly and decisively. "We could not move a step in comfort till this was done." "The controversy with the Romanists," writes Mr. Newman in No. 71 of the Tracts, about the end of 1835, "has overtaken us 'like a summer's cloud.' We find ourselves in various parts of the country preparing for it, yet, when we look back, we cannot trace the steps by which we arrived at our present position. We do not recollect what our feelings were this time last year on the subject; what was the state of our apprehensions and anticipations. All we know is, that here we are, from long security ignorant why we are not Roman Catholics, and they on the other side are said to be spreading and strengthening on all sides of us, vaunting of their success, real or apparent, and taunting us with our inability to argue with them."

The attitude taken by Mr. Newman at this time, as regards the Roman Church, both in the Tracts and in his book on Romanism and Popular Protestantism, published in the early months of 1836, was a new one. He had started, as he tells us, with the common belief that the Pope was Antichrist, and that the case was so clear against the whole system, doctrinal and practical, of the Church of Rome, that it scarcely needed further examination. His feeling against Rome had been increased by the fierce struggle about Emancipation, and by the political conduct of the Roman Catholic party afterwards; and his growing dissatisfaction with the ordinary Protestantism had no visible effect in softening this feeling. Hurrell Froude's daring questions had made his friends feel that there might be more to be known about the subject than they yet knew; yet what the fellow-travellers saw of things abroad in their visit to the South in 1832 did not impress them favourably. "They are wretched Tridentines everywhere," was Froude's comment. But attention had been drawn to the subject, and its deep interest and importance and difficulty recognised. Men began to read with new eyes. Froude's keen and deep sense of shortcomings at home disposed him to claim equity and candour in judging of the alleged faults and corruptions of the Church abroad. It did more, it disposed him--naturally enough, but still unfairly, and certainly without adequate knowledge--to treat Roman shortcomings with an indulgence which he refused to English. Mr. Newman, knowing more, and more comprehensive in his view of things, and therefore more cautious and guarded than Froude, was much less ready to allow a favourable interpretation of the obvious allegations against Rome. But thought and reading, and the authority of our own leading divines, had brought him to the conviction that whatever was to be said against the modern Roman Church--and the charges against it were very heavy--it was still, amid serious corruption and error, a teacher to the nations of the Christian creed and hope; it had not forfeited, any more than the English Church, its title to be a part of that historic body which connects us with the Apostles of our Lord. It had a strong and consistent theory to oppose to its assailants; it had much more to say for itself than the popular traditions supposed. This was no new idea in Anglican divinity, however ill it might sort with the current language of Protestant controversy. But our old divines, more easily satisfied than we with the course of things at home under the protection of the Stuart kings, and stung to bitter recrimination by the insults and the unscrupulous political intrigues of Roman Catholic agents, had exhausted the language of vituperation against a great aggressive rival, which was threatening everything that they held dear. They had damaged their own character for fairness, and overlaid their substantial grounds of objection and complaint, by this unbalanced exaggeration. Mr. Newman, in his study of these matters, early saw both the need and the difficulty of discrimination in the Roman controversy. It had to be waged, not as of old, with penal legislation behind, but against adversaries who could now make themselves listened to, and before a public sufficiently robust in its Protestantism, to look with amused interest on a dialectical triumph of the Roman over the Anglican claims. Romanism, he thought, was fatal both to his recent hopes for the English Church, and to the honour and welfare of Christianity at large. But in opposing it, ground loosely taken of old must be carefully examined, and it untenable, abandoned. Arguments which proved too much, which availed against any Church at all, must be given up. Popular objections, arising from ignorance or misconception, must be reduced to their true limits or laid aside. The controversy was su~re to be a real one, and nothing but what was real and would stand scrutiny was worth anything in it.

Mr. Newman had always been impressed with the greatness of the Roman Church. Of old it had seemed to him great with the greatness of Antichrist. Now it seemed great with the strange weird greatness of a wonderful mixed system, commanding from its extent of sway and its imperial authority, complicated and mysterious in its organisation and influence, in its devotion and its superstitions, and surpassing every other form of religion both in its good and its evil. What now presented itself to Mr. Newman's thoughts, instead of the old notion of a pure Church on one side, and a corrupt Church on the other, sharply opposed to one another, was the more reasonable supposition of two great portions of the divided Church, each with its realities of history and fact and character, each with its special claims and excellences, each with its special sins and corruptions, and neither realising in practice and fact all it professed to be on paper; each of which further, in the conflicts of past days, had deeply, almost unpardonably, wronged the other. 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. That to his mind was the fact and the true position of things; and this ought to govern the character and course of controversy. The true line was not to denounce and abuse wholesale, not to attack with any argument, good or bad, not to deny or ignore what was solid in the Roman ground, and good and elevated in the Roman system, but admitting all that fairly ought to be admitted, to bring into prominence, not for mere polemical denunciation, but for grave and reasonable and judicial condemnation, all that was extravagant and arrogant in Roman assumptions, and all that was base, corrupt, and unchristian in the popular religion, which, with all its claims to infallibility and authority, Rome not only permitted but encouraged. For us to condemn Rome wholesale, as was ordinarily the fashion, even in respectable writers, was as wrong, as unfair, as unprofitable to the cause of truth and Christianity, as the Roman charges against us were felt by us to be ignorant and unjust. Rome professes like England to continue the constitution, doctrine, traditions, and spirit of the ancient and undivided Church: and so far as she does so--and she does so in a great degree--we can have no quarrel with her. But in a great degree also, she does this only in profession and as a theory: she claims the witness and suffrage of antiquity, but she interprets it at her own convenience and by her own authority. We cannot claim exemption from mistakes, from deviations from our own standard and principles, any more than Rome; but while she remains as she is, and makes the monstrous claims of infallibility and supremacy, there is nothing for English Churchmen but to resist her. Union is impossible. Submission is impossible. What we have to beware of for our own sake, as well as for our cause, are false arguments, unreal objections, ignorant allegations. There is enough on the very surface, in her audacious assertions and high-handed changes, for popular arguments against her, without having recourse to exaggeration and falsehood; she may be a very faulty Church, without being Babylon and Antichrist. And in the higher forms of argument, there is abundance in those provinces of ancient theology and ecclesiastical history and law, which Protestant controversialists have commonly surrendered and left open to their opponents, to supply a more telling weapon than any which these controversialists have used.

This line, though substantially involved in the theory of our most learned divines, from Andrewes to Wake, was new in its moderation and reasonable caution; in its abstention from insult and vague abuse, in its recognition of the prima 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. Mr. Newman dared to know and to acknowledge much that our insular self-satisfaction did not know, and did not care to know, of real Christian life in the Church of Rome. He dared to admit that much that was popularly held to be Popish was ancient, Catholic, edifying; he dared to warn Churchmen that the loose unsifted imputations, so securely hazarded against Rome, were both discreditable and dangerous. All this, from one whose condemnation of Rome was decisive and severe, was novel. The attempt, both in its spirit and its ability, was not unworthy of being part of the general effort to raise the standard of thought and teaching in the English Church. It recalled men from slovenly prejudices to the study of the real facts of the living world. It narrowed the front of battle, but it strengthened it enormously. The volume on Romanism and Popular Protestantism is not an exhaustive survey of the controversy with Rome or of the theory of the Church. There are great portions of the subject, both theological and historical, which it did not fall within the scope of the book to touch. It was unsystematic and incomplete. But so far as its argument extended, it almost formed an epoch in this kind of controversial writing. It showed the command of a man of learning over all the technical points and minutiae of a question highly scholastical in its conceptions and its customary treatment, and it presented this question in its bearings and consequences on life and practice with the freedom and breadth of the most vigorous popular writing. The indictment against Rome was no vague or general one. It was one of those arguments which cut the ground from under a great established structure of reasonings and proofs. And its conclusions, clear and measured, but stern, were the more impressive, because they came from one who did not disguise his feeling that there was much in what was preserved in the Roman system to admire and to learn from.

The point which he chose for his assault was indeed the key of the Roman position--the doctrine of Infallibility. He was naturally led to this side of the question by the stress which the movement had laid on the idea of the Church as the witness and teacher of revealed truth: and the immediate challenge given by the critics or opponents of the movement was, how to distinguish this lofty idea of the Church, with its claim to authority, if it was at all substantial, from the imposing and consistent theory of Romanism. He urged against the Roman claim of Infallibility two leading objections. One was the way in which the assumed infallibility of the present Church was made to override and supersede, in fact, what in words was so ostentatiously put forward, the historical evidence of antiquity to doctrine, expressed by the phrase, the "consent of the Fathers." The other objection was the inherent contradiction of the

notion of infallibility to the conditions of human reception of teaching and knowledge, and its practical uselessness as an assurance of truth, its partly delusive, partly mischievous, working. But he felt, as all deep minds must feel, that it is easier to overthrow the Roman theory of Church authority than to replace it by another, equally complete and commanding, and more unassailable. He was quite alive to the difficulties of the Anglican position; but he was a disciple in the school of Bishop Butler, and had learned as a first principle to recognise the limitations of human knowledge, and the unphilosophical folly of trying to round off into finished and pretentious schemes our fragmentary yet certain notices of our own condition and of God's dealings with it. He followed his teacher in insisting on the reality and importance of moral evidence as opposed to demonstrative proof; and he followed the great Anglican divines in asserting that there was a true authority, varying in its degrees, in the historic Church; that on the most fundamental points of religion this authority was trustworthy and supreme; that on many other questions it was clear and weighty, though it could not decide everything. This view of the "prophetical office of the Church" had the dialectical disadvantage of appearing to be a compromise, to many minds a fatal disadvantage. It got the name of the Via Media; a satisfactory one to practical men like Dr. Hook, to whom it recommended itself for use in popular teaching; but to others, in aftertimes, an ill-sounding phrase of dislike, which summed up the weakness of the Anglican case. Yet it only answered to the certain fact, that in the early and undivided Church there was such a thing as authority, and there was no such thing known as Infallibility. It was an appeal to the facts of history and human nature against the logical exigences of a theory. Men must transcend the conditions of our experience if they want the certainty which the theory of Infallibility speaks of.

There were especially two weak points in this view of Anglicanism. Mr. Newman felt and admitted them, and of course they were forced on his attention by controversialists on both sides; by the Ultra-Protestant school, whose modes of dealing with Scripture he had exposed with merciless logic, and by the now eager Roman disputants, of whom Dr. Wiseman was the able and not over-scrupulous chief. The first of these points was that the authority of the undivided Church, which Anglicanism invoked, though it completely covered the great foundations of Christian doctrine, our faith as to the nature of God, did not cover with equal completeness other important points of controversy, such as those raised at the Reformation as to the Sacraments, and the justification of the sinner. The Anglican answer was that though the formal and conciliar authority was not the same in each case, the patristic literature of the time of the great councils, all that it took for granted and preserved as current belief and practice, all that resulted from the questions and debates of the time, formed a body of proof, which carried with it moral evidence only short of authoritative definition, and was so regarded in the Anglican formularies. These formularies implied the authority of the Church to speak; and what was defined on this authority was based on good evidence, though there were portions of its teaching which had even better. The other point was more serious. "Your theory," was the objection, "is nothing but a paper theory; it never was a reality; it never can be. There may be an ideal halting-place, there is neither a logical nor an actual one, between Romanism and the ordinary negations of Protestantism." The answer to the challenge then was, "Let us see if it cannot be realised. It has recognised foundations to build upon, and the impediments and interruptions which have hindered it are well known. Let us see if it will not turn out something more than a' paper theory." That was the answer given at the time, abandoned ten years afterwards. But this at least may be said, that the longer experience of the last fifty years has shown that the Church of England has been working more and more on such a theory, and that the Church of England, whatever its faults may be, is certainly not a Church only on paper.

But on the principles laid down in this volume, the Roman controversy, in its varying forms, was carried on--for the time by Mr. Newman, permanently by the other leaders of the movement. In its main outlines, the view has become the accepted Anglican view. Many other most important matters have come into the debate. The publicly altered attitude of the Papacy has indefinitely widened the breach between England and Rome. But the fundamental idea of the relations and character of the two Churches remains the same as it was shadowed forth in 1836.

One very important volume on these questions ought not to be passed by without notice. This was the Treatise on the Church of Christ, 1838, by Mr. W. Palmer, who had already by his Origines of the English Ritual, 1832, done much to keep up that interest of Churchmen in the early devotional language of the Church, which had first been called forth by Bishop Lloyd's lectures on the Prayer Book. The Treatise on the Church was an honour to English theology and learning; in point of plan and structure we have few books like it. It is comprehensive, methodical, well-compacted, and, from its own point of view, exhaustive. It is written with full knowledge of the state of the question at the time, both on the Anglican side and on the Roman. Its author evades no objection, and is aware of most. It is rigorous in form, and has no place for anything but substantial argument. It is a book which, as the Apologia tells us, commanded the respect of such an accomplished controversialist as Perrone; and, it may be added, of a theologian of an opposite school, Dr. Döllinger. It is also one on which the highest value has been set by Mr. Gladstone. It is remarkable that it did not exercise more influence on religious thought in Oxford at the critical time when it appeared. But it had defects, and the moment was against it. It was dry and formal--inevitably so, from the scientific plan deliberately adopted for it; it treated as problems of' the theological schools, to be discussed by the rules of severe and passionless disputation, questions which were once more, after the interval of more than a century, beginning to touch hearts and consciences, and were felt to be fraught with the gravest practical issues. And Mr. Newman, in his mode of dealing with them, unsystematic, incomplete, unsatisfactory in many ways as it was, yet saw in them not abstract and scholastic inquiries, however important, but matters in which not only sound argument, but sympathy and quick intelligence of the conditions and working of the living minds around him, were needed to win their attention and interest. To persons accustomed to Mr. Newman's habit of mind and way of writing, his ease, his frankness, his candour, his impatience of conventionality, his piercing insight into the very centre of questions, his ever-ready recognition of nature and reality, his range of thought, his bright and clear and fearless style of argument, his undisplayed but never unfelt consciousness of the true awfulness of anything connected with religion, any stiff and heavy way of treating questions which he had treated would have seemed unattractive and unpersuasive. He had spoiled his friends for any mere technical handling, however skilful, of great and critical subjects. He himself pointed out in a review the unique merit and the real value of Mr. Palmer's book, pointing out also, significantly enough, where it fell short, both in substance and in manner. Observing that the "scientific" system of the English Church is not yet "sufficiently cleared and adjusted," and adding a variety of instances of this deficiency, he lets us see what he wanted done, where difficulties most pressed upon himself, and where Mr. Palmer had missed the real substance of such difficulties. Looking at it by the light of after-events, we can see the contradiction and reaction produced by Mr. Palmer's too optimist statements. Still, Mr. Newman's praise was sincere and discriminating. But Mr. Palmer's book, though never forgotten scarcely became, what it at another time might well have become, an English text-book.

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