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The Oxford Movement
Twelve Years 1833-1845

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 stage on which what is called the Oxford movement ran through its course had a special character of its own, unlike the circumstances in which other religious efforts had done their work. The scene of Jansenism had been a great capital, a brilliant society, the precincts of a court, the cells of a convent, the studies and libraries of the doctors of the Sorbonne, the council chambers of the Vatican. The scene of Methodism had been English villages and country towns, the moors of Cornwall, and the collieries of Bristol, at length London fashionable chapels. The scene of this new movement was as like as it could be in our modern world to a Greek polis, or an Italian self-centred city of the Middle Ages. Oxford stood by itself in its meadows by the rivers, having its relations with all England, but, like its sister at Cambridge, living a life of its own, unlike that of any other spot in England, with its privileged powers, and exemptions from the general law, with its special mode of government and police, its usages and tastes and traditions, and even costume, which the rest of England looked at from the outside, much interested but much puzzled, or knew only by transient visits.

And Oxford was as proud and jealous of its own ways as Athens or Florence; and like them it had its quaint fashions of polity; its democratic Convocation and its oligarchy; its social ranks; its discipline, severe in theory and usually lax in fact; its self-governed bodies and corporations within itself; its faculties and colleges, like the guilds and "arts" of Florence; its internal rivalries and discords; its "sets" and factions. Like these, too, it professed a special recognition of the supremacy of religion; it claimed to be a home of worship and religious training, Dominus illuminatio mea, a claim too often falsified in the habit and tempers of life. It was a small sphere, but it was a conspicuous one; for there was much strong and energetic character, brought out by the aims and conditions of University life; and though moving in a separate orbit, the influence of the famous place over the outside England, though imperfectly understood, was recognised and great. These conditions affected the character of the movement, and of the conflicts which it caused. Oxford claimed to be eminently the guardian of "true religion and sound learning"; and therefore it was eminently the place where religion should be recalled to its purity and strength, and also the place where there ought to be the most vigilant jealousy against the perversions and corruptions of religion. Oxford 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. And for this reason, too, feelings were apt to be more keen and intense and personal than in the larger scenes of life; the man who was disliked or distrusted was so close to his neighbours that he was more irritating than if he had been obscured by a crowd; the man who attracted confidence and kindled enthusiasm, whose voice was continually in men's ears, and whose private conversation and life was something ever new in its sympathy and charm, created in those about him not mere admiration, but passionate friendship, or unreserved discipleship. And these feelings passed from individuals into parties; the small factions of a limited area. Men struck blows and loved and hated in those days in Oxford as they hardly did on the wider stage of London politics or general religious controversy.

The conflicts which for a time turned Oxford into 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 Arrabbiati, of the older strife, began round a student of retired habits, interested more than was usual at Oxford in abstruse philosophy, and the last person who might be expected to be the occasion of great dissensions in the University.

Dr. Hampden was a man who, with no definite intentions of innovating on the received doctrines of the Church--indeed, as his sermons showed, with a full acceptance of them--had taken a very difficult subject for a. course of Bampton Lectures, without at all fathoming its depth and reach, and had got into a serious scrape in consequence. Personally he was a man of serious but cold religion, having little sympathy with others, and consequently not able to attract any. His isolation during the whole of his career is remarkable; he attached no one, as Whately or Arnold attached men. His mind, which was a speculative one, was not one, in its own order, of the first class. He had not the grasp nor the subtlety necessary for his task. He had a certain power of statement, but little of co-ordination; he seems not to have had the power of seeing when his ideas were really irreconcilable, and he thought that simply by insisting on his distinctly orthodox statements he not only balanced, but neutralised, and did away with his distinctly unorthodox ones. He had read a good deal of Aristotle and something of the Schoolmen, which probably no one else in Oxford had done except Blanco White; and the temptation of having read what no one else knows anything about sometimes leads men to make an unprofitable use of their special knowledge, which they consider their monopoly.

The creed and dogmas of the Christian Church are, at least in their broad features, not a speculation, but a fact. That not only the Apostles' Creed, but the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds, are assumed as facts by the whole of anything that can be called the Church, is as certain as the reception by the same body, and for the same time, of the Scriptures. Not only the Creed, but, up to the sixteenth century, the hierarchy, and not only Creed and hierarchy and Scriptures, but the sacramental idea as expressed in the liturgies, are equally in the same class of facts. Of course it is open to any one to question the genuine origin of any of these great portions of the constitution of the Church; but the Church is so committed to them that he cannot enter on his destructive criticism without having to criticise, not one only, but all these beliefs, and without soon having to face the question whether the whole idea of the Church, as a real and divinely ordained society, with a definite doctrine and belief, is not a delusion, and whether Christianity, whatever it is, is addressed solely to each individual, one by one, to make what he can of it. It need hardly be said that within the limits of what the Church is committed to there is room for very wide differences of opinion; it is also true that these limits have, in different times of the Church, been illegitimately and mischievously narrowed by prevailing opinions, and by documents and formularies respecting it. But though we may claim not to be bound by the Augsburg Confession, or by the Lambeth articles, or the Synod of Dort, or the Bull Unigenitus, it does not follow that, if there is a Church at all, there is no more binding authority in the theology of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. And it is the province of the divine who believes in a Church at all, and in its office to be the teacher and witness of religious truth, to distinguish between the infinitely varying degrees of authority with which professed representations of portions of this truth are propounded for acceptance. It may be difficult or impossible to agree on a theory of inspiration; but that the Church doctrine of some kind of special inspiration of Scripture is part of Christianity is, unless Christianity be a dream, certain. No one can reasonably doubt, with history before him, that the answer of the Christian Church was, the first time the question was asked, and has continued to be through ages of controversy, against Arianism, against Socinianism, against Pelagianism, against Zwinglianism. It does not follow that the Church has settled everything, or that there are not hundreds of questions which it is vain and presumptuous to attempt to settle by any alleged authority.

Dr. Hampden was in fact unexceptionably, even rigidly orthodox in his acceptance of Church doctrine and Church creeds. He had published a volume of sermons containing, among other things, an able statement of the Scriptural argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, and an equally able defence of the Athanasian Creed. But he felt that there are formularies which may be only the interpretations of doctrine and inferences from Scripture of a particular time or set of men; and he was desirous of putting into their proper place the authority of such formularies. His object was to put an interval between them and the Scriptures from which they professed to be derived, and to prevent them from claiming the command over faith and conscience which was due only to the authentic evidences of God's revelation. He wished to make room for a deeper sense of the weight of Scripture. He proposed to himself the same thing which was aimed at by the German divines, Arndt, Calixtus, and Spener, when they rose up against the grinding oppression which Lutheran dogmatism had raised on its Symbolical Books, and which had come to outdo the worst extravagances of scholasticism. This seems to have been his object -- a fair and legitimate one. But in arguing against investing the Thirty-nine Articles with an authority which did not belong to them, he unquestionably, without seeing what he was doing, went much farther--where he never meant to go. In fact, he so stated his argument that he took in with the Thirty-nine Articles every expression of collective belief, every document, however venerable, which the Church had sanctioned from the first. Strangely enough, without observing it, he took in--what he meant to separate by a wide interval from what he called dogma--the doctrine of the infallible authority and sufficiency of Scripture. In denying the worth of the consensus and immemorial judgment of the Church, he cut from under him the claim to that which he accepted as the source and witness of "divine facts." He did not mean to do this, or to do many other things; but from want of clearness of head, he certainly, in these writings which were complained of, did it. He was, in temper and habit, too desirous to be "orthodox," as Whately feared, to accept in its consequences his own theory. The theory which he put forward in his Bampton Lectures, and on which he founded his plan of comprehension in his pamphlet on Dissent, left nothing standing but the authority of the letter of Scripture. All else--right or wrong as it might be--was "speculation," "human inference," "dogma." With perfect consistency, he did not pretend to take even the Creeds out of this category. But the truth was, he did not consciously mean all that he said; and when keener and more powerful and more theological minds pointed out with relentless accuracy what he had said, he was profuse and overflowing with explanations, which showed how little he had perceived the drift of his words. There is not the least reason to doubt the sincerity of these explanations; but at the same time they showed the unfitness of a man who had so to explain away his own speculations to be the official guide and teacher of the clergy. The criticisms on his language, and the objections to it, were made before these explanations were given; and though he gave them, he was furious with those who called for them, and he never for a moment admitted that there was anything seriously wrong or mistaken in what he had said. To those who pointed out the meaning and effect of his words and theories, he replied by the assertion of his personal belief. If words mean anything, he had said that neither Unitarians nor any one else could get behind the bare letter, and what he called "facts," of Scripture, which all equally accepted in good faith; and that therefore there was no reason for excluding Unitarians as long as they accepted the "facts." But when it was pointed out that this reasoning reduced all belief in the realities behind the bare letter to the level of personal and private opinion, he answered by saying that he valued supremely the Creeds and Articles, and by giving a statement of the great Christian doctrines which he held, and which the Church taught. But he never explained what their authority could be with any one but himself. There might be interpretations and inferences from Scripture, by the hundred or the thousand, but no one certain and authoritative one; none that warranted an organised Church, much more a Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded on the assumption of this interpretation being the one true faith, the one truth of the Bible. The point was brought out forcibly in a famous pamphlet written by Mr. Newman, though without his name, called "Elucidations of Dr. Hampden's Theological Statements." This pamphlet was a favourite object of attack on the part of Dr. Hampden's supporters as a flagrant instance of unfairness and garbled extracts. No one, they said, ever read the Bampton Lectures, but took their estimate of the work from Mr. Newman's quotations. Extracts are often open to the charge of unfairness, and always to suspicion. But in this case there was no need of unfairness. Dr. Hampden's theory lay on the very surface of his Bampton Lectures and pamphlet; and any unbiassed judge may be challenged to read these works of his, and say whether the extracts in the "Elucidations" do not adequately represent Dr. Hampden's statements and arguments, and whether the comments on them are forced or strained. They do not represent his explanations, for the explanations had not been given; and when the explanations. came, though they said many things which showed that Dr. Hampden did not mean to be unorthodox and unevangelical, but only anti-scholastic and anti-Roman, they did not unsay a word which he had said. And what this was, what had been Dr. Hampden's professed theological theory up to the time when the University heard the news of his appointment, the "Elucidations" represent as fairly as any adverse statement can represent the subject of its attack.

In quieter times such an appointment might have passed with nothing more than a paper controversy or protest, or more probably without more than conversational criticism. But these were not quiet and unsuspicious times. There was reason for disquiet. It was fresh in men's minds what language and speculation like that of the Bampton Lectures had come to in the case of Whately's intimate friend, Blanco White. The unquestionable hostility of Whately's school to the old ideas of the Church had roused alarm and a strong spirit of resistance in Churchmen. Each party was on the watch, and there certainly was something at stake for both parties. Coupled with some recent events, and with the part which Dr. Hampden had taken on the subscription question, the appointment naturally seemed significant. Probably it was not so significant as it seemed on the part at least of Lord Melbourne, who had taken pains to find a fit man. Dr. Hampden was said to have been recommended by Bishop Copleston, and not disallowed by Archbishop Howley. In the University, up to this time, there had been no authoritative protest against Dr. Hampden's writings. And there were not many Liberals to choose from. In the appointment there is hardly sufficient ground to blame Lord Melbourne. But the outcry against it at Oxford, when it came, was so instantaneous, so strong, and so unusual, that it might have warned Lord Melbourne that he had been led into a mistake, out of which it would be wise to seek at least a way of escape. Doubtless it was a strong measure for the University to protest as it did; but it was also a strong measure, at least in those days, for a Minister of the Crown to force so extremely unacceptable a Regius Professor of Divinity on a great University. Dr. Hampden offered to resign; and there would have been plenty of opportunities to compensate him for his sacrifice of a post which could only be a painful one. But the temper of both sides was up. The remonstrances from Oxford were treated with something like contempt, and the affair was hurried through till there was no retreating; and Dr. Hampden became Regius Professor.

Mr. Palmer has recorded how various efforts were made to neutralise the effect of the appointment. But the Heads of Houses, though angry, were cautious. They evaded the responsibility of stating Dr. Hampden's unsound positions; but to mark their distrust, brought in a proposal to deprive him of his vote in the choice of Select Preachers till the University should otherwise determine. It was defeated in Convocation by the veto of the two Proctors (March 1836), who exercised their right with the full approval of Dr. Hampden's friends, and the indignation of the large majority of the University. But it was not unfairly used: it could have only a suspending effect, of which no one had a right to complain; and when new Proctors came into office, the proposal was introduced again, and carried (May 1836) by 474 to 94. The Liberal minority had increased since the vote on subscription, and Dr. Hampden went on with his work as if nothing had happened. The attempt was twice made to rescind the vote: first, after the outcry about the Ninetieth Tract and the contest about the Poetry Professorship, by a simple repeal, which was rejected by 334 to 219 (June 1842); and next, indirectly by a statute enlarging the Professor's powers over Divinity degrees, which was also rejected by 341 to 21 (May 1844). From first to last, these things and others were the unfortunate incidents of an unfortunate appointment.

The "persecution of Dr. Hampden" has been an unfailing subject of reproach to the party of the Oxford movement, since the days when the Edinburgh Review held them up to public scorn and hatred in an article of strange violence. They certainly had their full share in the opposition to him, and in the measures by which that opposition was carried out. But it would be the greatest mistake to suppose that in this matter they stood alone. All in the University at this time, except a small minority, were of one mind, Heads of Houses and country parsons, Evangelicals and High Churchmen--all who felt that the grounds of a definite belief were seriously threatened by Dr. Hampden's speculations. All were angry at the appointment; all were agreed that something ought to be done to hinder the mischief of it. In this matter Mr. Newman and his friends were absolutely at one with everybody round them, with those who were soon to be their implacable opponents. Whatever deeper view they might have of the evil which had been done by the appointment, and however much graver and more permanent their objections to it, they were responsible only as the whole University was responsible for what was done against Dr. Hampden. It was convenient afterwards to single them out, and to throw this responsibility and the odium of it on them alone; and when they came under the popular ban, it was forgotten that Dr. Gilbert, the Principal of Brasenose, Dr. Symons, the Warden of Wadham, Dr. Faussett, afterwards the denouncer of Dr. Pusey, Mr. Vaughan Thomas, and Mr. Hill of St. Edmund Hall, were quite as forward at the time as Dr. Pusey and Mr. Newman in protesting against Dr. Hampden, and in the steps to make their protest effective. Mr. Palmer, in his Narrative, anxious to dissociate himself from the movement under Mr. Newman's influence, has perhaps underrated the part taken by Mr. Newman and Dr. Pusey; for they, at any rate, did most of the argumentative work. But as far as personal action goes, it is true, as he says, that the "movement against Dr. Hampden was not guided by the Tract-writers." "The condemnation of Dr. Hampden, then, was not carried by the Tract-writers; it was carried by the independent body of the University. The fact is that, had those writers taken any leading part, the measure would have been a failure, for the number, of their friends at that time was a very small proportion to the University at large, and there was a general feeling of distrust in the soundness of their views."

We are a long way from those days in time, and still more in habits and sentiment; and a manifold and varied experience has taught most of us some lessons against impatience and violent measures. But if we put ourselves back equitably into the ways of thinking prevalent then, the excitement about Dr. Hampden will not seem so unreasonable or so unjustifiable as it is sometimes assumed to be. The University legislation, indeed, to which it led was poor and petty, doing small and annoying things, because the University rulers dared not commit themselves to definite charges. But, in the first place, the provocation was great on the part of the Government in putting into the chief theological chair an 'unwelcome man who could only save his orthodoxy by making his speculations mean next to nothing--whose prima facie unguarded and startling statements were resolved into truisms put in a grand and obscure form. And in the next place, it was assumed in those days to be the most natural and obvious thing in the world to condemn unsound doctrine, and to exclude unsound teachers. The principle was accepted as indisputable, however slack might have been in recent times the application of it. That it was accepted, not on one side only, but on all, was soon to be shown by the subsequent course of events. No one suffered more severely and more persistently from its application than the Tractarians; no one was more ready to apply it to them than Dr. Hampden with his friends; no one approved and encouraged its vigorous enforcement against them more than Dr. Whately. The idle distinction set up, that they were not merely unsound but dishonest, was a mere insolent pretext to save trouble in argument, and to heighten the charge against them; no one could seriously doubt that they wrote in good faith as much as Dr. Whately or Dr. Faussett. But unless acts like Dr. Pusey's suspension, and the long proscription that went on for years after it, were mere instances of vindictive retaliation, the reproach of persecution must be shared by all parties then, and by none more than by the party which in general terms most denounced it. Those who think the Hampden agitation unique in its injustice ought to ask themselves what their party would have done if at any time between 1836 and 1843 Mr. Newman had been placed in Dr. Hampden's seat.

People in our days mean by religious persecution, what happens when the same sort of repressive policy is applied to a religious party as is applied to vaccination recusants, or to the "Peculiar People." All religious persecution, from the days of Socrates, has taken a legal form, and justified itself on legal grounds. It is the action of authority, or of strong social judgments backed by authority, against a set of opinions, or the expression of them in word or act-- usually innovating opinions, but not by any means necessarily such. The disciples of M. Monod, the "Momiers" of Geneva, were persecuted by the Liberals of Geneva, not because they broke away from the creed of Calvin, but because they adhered to it. The word is not properly applied to the incidental effects in the way of disadvantage, resulting from some broad constitutional settlement--from the government of the Church being Episcopal and not Presbyterian, or its creed Nicene and not Arian--any more than it is persecution for a nation to change its government, or for a legitimist to have to live under a republic, or for a Christian to have to live in an infidel state, though persecution may follow from these conditions. But the privilegium passed against Dr. Hampden was an act of persecution, though a mild one compared with what afterwards fell on his opponents with his full sanction. Persecution is the natural impulse, in those who think a certain thing right and important or worth guarding, to disable those who, thinking it wrong, are trying to discredit and upset it, and to substitute something different. It implies a state of war, and the resort to the most available weapons to inflict damage on those who are regarded as rebellious and dangerous. These weapons were formidable enough once: they are not without force still. But in its mildest form--personal disqualification or proscription--it is a disturbance which only war justifies. It may, of course, make itself odious by its modes of proceeding, by meanness and shabbiness and violence, by underhand and ignoble methods of misrepresentation and slander, or by cruelty and plain injustice; and then the odium of these things fairly falls upon it. But it is vary hard to draw the line between conscientious repression. feeling itself bound to do what is possible to prevent mischief, and what those who are opposed, if they are the weaker party, of course call persecution.

If persecution implies a state of war in which one side is stronger, and the other weaker, it is hardly a paradox to say that. (1) no one has a right to complain of persecution as such, apart from odious accompaniments, any more than of superior numbers or hard blows in battle; and (2) that every one has a right to take advantage and make the most of being persecuted, by appeals to sympathy and the principle of doing as you would be done by. No one likes to be accused of persecution, and few people like to give up the claim to use it, if necessary. But no one can help observing in the course of events the strange way in which, in almost all cases, the "wheel comes full circle."--Chi la fa, l'aspetti are some of the expressions of Greek awe and Italian shrewdness representing the experience of the world on this subject, on a large scale and a small. Protestants and Catholics, Churchmen and Nonconformists, have all in their turn made full proof of what seems like a law of action and reaction. Except in cases beyond debate, cases where no justification is possible, the note of failure is upon this mode of repression. Providence, by the visible Nemesis which it seems always to bring round, by the regularity with which it has enforced the rule that infliction and suffering are bound together and in time duly change places, seems certainly and clearly to have declared against it. It may be that no innovating party has a right to complain of persecution; but the question is not for them. It is for those who have the power, and who are tempted to think that .they have the call, to persecute. It is for them to consider whether it is right, or wise, or useful for their cause; whether it is agreeable to what seems the leading of Providence to have recourse to it.

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