Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

XII. Currents of Thought

FROM THE TIME OF NEWMAN to the days of Bishop Weston, a strong spirit of traditionalism has animated the Catholic Revival. Newman in his Apologia, describing how he called upon clergy everywhere disseminating the Tracts for the Times, says: "I did not care whether my visits were made to High Church or Low Church. I wished to make a strong pull in union with all who were opposed to the principles of Liberalism, whoever they might be." And Dr. Weston, in his book The Christ and His Critics, in 1919, made a vigorous onslaught on the 'Liberalism' of our own day. What exactly is meant by this term is not easy to define. The 'Modernism' of our age and the 'Liberalism', the peril against which the Tractarians armed themselves, represent rather a temper of mind than a settled programme or policy. A modern R.C. opponent has described the Anglo-Catholic Movement, in an elegant metaphor, as 'crawling with Modernism', and certainly there is a gulf between the outlook of the die-hards like Archdeacon Denison and that of the authors of Essays Catholic and Critical. Yet it is difficult to point to any one period when the movement swung over to a position at variance with its former principles.

Lux Mundi might, perhaps, be said to register such a moment. Between 1875 and 1885 a band of young Oxford tutors worked and studied and prayed together, and in the course of their meetings, as Bishop Gore said in the preface to Lux Mundi, "a common body of thought and sentiment, and a common method of commending the Faith to others tended to form itself." At first, the new method aroused violent opposition, and a public protest was made by well-known priests shortly after Lux Mundi appeared. This, however, was but the repetition of a process which had become familiar in the preceding twenty-five years. Essays and Reviews had been assailed in 1861: Liddon's Bampton Lectures in 1866 on the Divinity of Christ were considered by old-fashioned Churchmen to exhibit dangerous tendencies. Liddon himself was saddened in turn by Lux Mundi. These composite volumes of essays seem to have had some provocative element which called out hostility. Another, Contentio Veritatis, was facetiously known as 'Stretching the Truth'! And Foundations, as readers will recall, elicited the slashing rejoinder 'Some Loose Stones', aimed with vigour, if not always with accuracy, at the apologists for the Faith who sought to interpret it to the modern world.

On the whole, it may be said that there has been a steady drift of the Movement in the direction of 'Liberal Catholicism.' Again, the adjective is difficult to define. It is certainly not incompatible with entire orthodoxy. Bishop Talbot and Bishop Gore pointed out repeatedly that Dr. Scott Holland, their fellow-contributor to Lux Mundi, was throughout a remarkably orthodox, even conservative theologian. But as Dr. Lyttelton has pointed out "he welcomed every new discovery of the Higher Criticism or of the pioneers of Science, and showed with the utmost readiness how it fitted into the Church view of the universe and of history." In discussion with opponents, he always showed sympathy with and understanding of their underlying assumptions, though by no means identifying himself with them. T. H. Green, who had been Holland's mentor at Oxford, was an extreme Modernist, but Holland himself was always definitely ranged on the side of Tradition. Where he proved himself so valuable a guide to the younger generation was in his power to convey Catholic truth under forms which it could recognize and assimilate. What Professor Clement Webb says of him is true of his fellows and followers: "I should be inclined to say that the atmosphere of his teaching, so different from that of the' Tractarian tradition, did a very great deal to commend his religion to a generation for which that tradition was associated with the things of yesterday, against which each generation in its turn revolts." Possibly the present generation has left behind the reconciliation which the 'Liberal Catholics' strove so laboriously to effect, but it is the opinion of many that we have not yet caught up with it! As Mr. Chesterton shrewdly observes "The tendency of all that is printed and much that is spoken to-day is to be, in the only true sense, behind the times . . . the newspaper of our time which every day can be delivered earlier and earlier, is every day less worth delivering at all. . . . Fifty years ago, the journalist was barely fifty years behind the times. Just now, he is rather more than a hundred years behind the times: and the proof of it is that the things he says, though manifest nonsense about our society, really were true about society 130 years ago. The best instance of his belated state is his perpetual assertion that the supernatural is less and less believed. ..."

There is still among working folk, and in many other circles, a belief that religion is discredited and its claims exploded, and it is news to them that any reconciliation has been attempted, or can be effected, between old beliefs and new knowledge. To effect such a reconciliation was the aim of the 'Liberal Catholic' writers and teachers. This has been well put by the Dean of King's College, Cambridge, in Essays Catholic and Critical. Speaking of the task of reconciling modern discovery with the ancient Faith, he says: "The brunt fell on that communion, which under the standard of the Catholic Creeds and the discipline of Apostolic Order, had the necessary freedom to march to the guns, and make contact with the armies of science. The work of the Church of England, throughout the scientific and critical revolution, has been at least of an importance sufficient to justify at the bar of History her position in temporary separation from her fellow-communions of East and West. She has done for the Catholic Church what Rome was not free to do and what the East was too remote from the centres of modern thinking to comprehend."

That this attempt met with the support of the majority of Anglo-Catholics, it would be idle to pretend. Many were alarmed and distressed by the spread of 'Liberal Catholic' ideas. They felt that the only end to such a course must be that of the unhappy French Christian democrat, Lamennais, whose career had been the subject of one of Newman's most powerful essays ('The Fall of Lamennais' in Essays Critical and Historical), and a similar aim was detected, and a similar fate predicted, for those who espoused the new theological liberalism. In general, the movement remained true to tradition, and the disintegration of belief in revealed religion on the part of the various Protestant communions has acted as a warning to English Churchmen. From the time of Bishop Colenso in 1863 onwards, English Catholics have been found on the side of orthodoxy. The Voysey Case some years later and the great meeting in defence of the Athanasian Creed, when Canon Liddon, Charles Kingsley and Dr. Pusey spoke in favour of its retention and recital, in 1873 at St. James's Hall, were salient examples of the loyalty of English Catholics to the Faith of the Church. In 1883 the Pusey House was erected as a memorial to the great theologian who had fought so long and so strenuously for the Faith, and it was from that house that Lux Mundi was dated, on Michaelmas 1889.

And with the concluding words of Bishop Gore in his volume on The Reconstruction of Belief we may close this estimate of the effect of 'Liberal' currents of thought upon Catholicism. "There cannot, I am convinced, be a reunited Church except on the basis of the Catholic creeds and the acknowledgment of the Sacramental principle as well as the due administration of the sacraments and the recognition of the episcopal succession as the link of connexion and continuity in the Catholic body. . . ." "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" means, with St. Thomas, "I believe in the Holy Spirit vivifying the Church."

Allied with this current of thought is another which has not been without its effect on the Church of post-Tractarian days. The Social Movement, originating perhaps in Broad Church circles and associated with the great names of Maurice and Kingsley soon penetrated the ranks of the Anglo-Catholic school, and as Mr. C. F. G. Master-man expressed it "the bulk of the honey passed into the Ritualistic hive." To-day, working-men do not go to Church in any numbers, but they are, in the main, friendly to the clergy and decline to be stampeded into a Bolshevist attitude by the fervid oratory of agitators. This is in no small degree due to the labours of the Stantons and Dollings and many more who chose the life of slum priests and identified themselves with the lives of their people. The Dean of Rochester has pointed out that, while the Tractarians laid solid foundations of doctrine, and the post-Tractarian era saw the recovery of sacramental practice, mainly the Mass and the Confessional, "the Pastoral Work in slum parishes threw a sharp light on some of the darker realities of industrial civilization. Traditionally, Catholicism had cared for men's bodies almost as ardently as for their souls. There could be no doubt about the duty of charitable efforts, but these were soon seen to be no more than palliatives. From noting its results, it was no great step to questioning the justice of the system on which Victorian prosperity had been built. Men of another theological school had led the way. Their work was carried on by a Stewart Headlam, a Charles Marson, a Scott Holland, whose standpoint was definitely Catholic. Thus one large section of the Movement had been permeated before the end of the nineteenth century by a Christian Socialism, sometimes very vaguely conceived, sometimes attempting the heroic, perhaps we may say the impossible task of combining Catholic with Marxian orthodoxy."

Not that all, or many, of the leaders were "Christian Socialists." Not a few were thoroughly conservative in political outlook. Fr. Wainright, Fr. Richard Wilson and Fr. Le Couteur ("Father John of Hoxton") were, perhaps, the most successful East London priests in gaining the confidence of the poor and commending the Church's faith to the 'disinherited', yet they were far removed from any suspicion of 'Christian Socialism.' Fr. Lowder and Dr. Linklater stood for the robust type of old-fashioned 'Tory', and their slogan might well have been expressed in the appeal which Canon Scott Holland was wont to make to Oxford men, "Come down and be the squires of East London!" [The Rev. Edw. Denny, and Canon J. W. Horsley, were definite 'Liberals' in policy and as definite Catholics in outlook. Both belonged to a school which took a prominent part in Local Government, one being on the L.C.C., the other Mayor of Southwark. Both share with Mr. Lowder the distinction of having London streets named after them.] A good many priests of this period might, for want of a better term, be described as 'Ruskinites' in their philosophy of life, finding support in their religion for a romantic loyalty to a more Christian past and desiring to conserve the best elements in national tradition. Ruskin died in 1900, so that his life and writings coincided with the blossoming of the Church Revival in its second phase, and his influence was greater than is commonly realized in estimating the currents of thought by which the Movement was influenced. The practical effect of their contact with the seamy side of life was reinforced by the theological emphasis laid by Westcott and others upon the doctrine of the Incarnation, with the result that the Church of England during the period between 1875 and 1910 developed a strongly sacramental outlook and a vigorous social conscience, which found expression in the utterances of the Pan-Anglican Congress of 1910 and in all subsequent pronouncements.

The growth of the system by which the laity take their share in the affairs of the Church owes something to post-Tractarian influence. Bishop Gore pointed out that "even the Catholic Movement in the Church of England which makes its special appeal to authority has in fact maintained itself and spread largely by an appeal to the rights of congregations to worship and believe as they please." The danger of this will be obvious, but it has its good side. The majority of Anglo-Catholic parishes, particularly where these have been established definitely for the propagation of the principles for which the Tractarians contended, enjoy the loyal support of the laity, hence the Enabling Act, which might easily have become a serious menace to the cause, has made little difference in practice. In 1880 a "Church Boards Bill" was introduced into Parliament with the object of placing the control of the services in the hands of a mixed multitude of ratepayers who need not be members of the Church. This was defeated by the energy of the English Church Union and exemplified the truth, so often noticeable in the story of the Revival, that "no weapon formed against thee shall prosper." Mr. Outram Marshall, the sagacious organizing secretary of the Union, saw the value of an enrolled body of communicant laity in every parish, and put forward in 1882 a scheme for a 'Church Council' on lines which have since become familiar. At St. Augustine's, Kilburn, an electoral roll of 500 communicants was at once formed, and a Church Council of forty members elected. This was taken up in certain other parishes. When the new parish of St. Aidan's, Birmingham, since so unhappily famous as the victim of Dr. Barnes' prejudices, was formed, it was equipped with a Church Council of communicants, and it would have been well if the plan had been more widely adopted, instead of that decided upon by the Church Assembly, which gives a vote to non-communicants. However, the principle of the cordial co-operation of the laity has been accepted in most Anglo-Catholic parishes, and there are few clergy who, like the celebrated Roman ecclesiastic, would dismiss the function of the laity as "to hunt, to shoot, to entertain"!

The English Church Union, the first annual meeting of which took place in 1860, has always been a lay society, and under its venerated President, Lord Halifax, has done incalculable service to the cause of Catholic truth.

The alleged "alienation of the laity" is unsupported by any convincing evidence, and though 'Clericalism' in the continental sense is unknown amongst us, we have no organized 'Anti-clerical' faction, and co-operation between priest and people is happily the rule in the great majority of Anglo-Catholic parishes.

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