Lecture 5. The Providential Course of the Movement of 1833 Not in the Direction of a Party in the National Church

Movement Sought Basis for Church Authority

    In Prayer Book and Bishops
    In Anglican Divines
    In Fathers of Church
    Summary
System Destroyed by Fathers' Support of Rome
Why You cannot Continue as a Party

To Remain as Party is to Profess Private Judgment

Notes

—NR

Contents | Works | Home

1.

{126} I KNOW how very difficult it is to persuade others of a point which to one's self may be so clear as to require no argument at all; and, therefore, I am not at all sanguine, my brethren, that what I said in my last Lecture has done as much as I wished it to do. It is not an easy thing to prove to men that their duty lies just in the reverse direction to that in which they have hitherto placed it; that all they have hitherto learned and taught, that all their past labours, hopes, and successes, that their boyhood, youth, and manhood, that their position, their connections, and their influence, are, in a certain sense, to go for nothing; and that life is to begin with them anew. It is not an easy thing to attain to the conviction, that, with the Apostle, their greatest gain must be counted loss; and that their glory and their peace must be found in what will make them for a while the wonder and the scorn of the world. It {127} is true I may have shown you that you cannot coalesce with the National Church; that you cannot wed yourselves to its principles and its routine, and that it, in turn, has no confidence at all in you;—and, again, that you cannot consistently hang about what you neither love nor trust, cumbering with your presence what you are not allowed to serve; but still, nevertheless, you will cling to the past and present, and will hope for the future against hope; and your forlorn hope is this, that it is, perhaps, possible to remain as an actual party in the Establishment, nay, an avowed party; not, on the one hand, rising into ecclesiastical power, yet not, on the other, disorganized and contemptible; but availing yourselves of your several positions in it individually, and developing, with more consistency and caution, the principles of 1833. You may say that I passed over this obvious course in my foregoing Lecture, and decided it in the negative without fair examination; and you may argue that such a party is surely allowable in a religious communion like the Establishment, which, as the Committee of Privy Council implies, is based upon principles so comprehensive, exercises so large a toleration, and is so patient of speculatists and innovators, who are even further removed from its professed principles than yourselves.

Thus I am led to take one more survey of your present position; yet I own I cannot do so without an apology to others, who may think that I am trifling with a {128} serious subject and a clear case, and imagining objections in order to overthrow them. Such persons certainly there may be; but these I would have consider, on the other hand, that my aim is to bring before those I am addressing, really and vividly, where they are standing; that this cannot be done, unless they are induced steadily to fix their minds upon it; that the discussion of imaginary cases brings out principles which they cannot help recognizing, when they are presented to them, and the relation, moreover, of those principles to their own circumstances and duty; and that even where a view of a subject is imaginary, if taken as a whole and in its integral perfection, yet portions of it may linger in the mind, unknown to itself, and influence its practical decisions.

With this apology for a proceeding which some persons may feel tedious, I shall suppose you, my brethren, to address me in the following strain: "The movement has been, for nearly twenty years, a party, and why should it not continue a party as before? It has avowedly opposed a contrary party in the National Church; it has had its principles, its leaders, its usages, its party signs, its publications: it may have them still. It was once, indeed, a point of policy to deny our party character, or we tried to hide the truth from ourselves, but a party we were. The National Church admits of private judgment, and where there is private judgment, there must be parties. We are, of course, under a disadvantage {129} now, which then did not lie upon us; we have, at the present time, the highest ecclesiastical authorities in distinct and avowed opposition to our doctrines and our doings; but we knew their feelings before they expressed them. This misfortune is nothing new; we always reckoned on an uphill game; it is better that every one should speak out; we now know the worst; we know now where to find our spiritual rulers; they are not more opposed to us than before, but they have been obliged openly to commit themselves, which we always wished them to do, though, of course, we should have preferred their committing themselves on our side. But, anyhow, we cannot be said to be in a worse case than before; and, if we were allowably and hopefully a party before, we surely have as ample allowance to agitate, and not less hope of success, now."

2.

You think, then, my brethren, that today can be as yesterday, that you were a party then and can remain a party now, that your present position is your old one, that you can be faithful to the movement, yet continue just what you were. My brethren, you do not bear in mind that a movement is a thing that moves; you cannot be true to it and remain still. The single question is, What is the limit or scope of that which once had a beginning and now has a progress? Your principles, {130} indeed, are fixed, but circumstances are not what they were. If you would be true to your principles, you must remove from a position in which it is not longer possible for you to fulfil them.

Observe:—your movement started on the ground of maintaining ecclesiastical authority, as opposed to the Erastianism of the State. It exhibited the Church as the one earthly object of religious loyalty and veneration, the source of all spiritual power and jurisdiction, and the channel of all grace. It represented it to be the interest, as well as the duty, of Churchmen, the bond of peace and the secret of strength, to submit their judgment in all things to her decision. And it taught that this divinely founded Church was realized and brought into effect in our country in the National Establishment, which was the outward form or development of a continuous dynasty and hereditary power which descended from the Apostles. It gave, then, to that Establishment, in its officers, its laws, its usages, and its worship, that devotion and obedience which are correlative to the very idea of the Church. It set up on high the bench of Bishops and the Book of Common Prayer, as the authority to which it was itself to bow, with which it was to cow and overpower an Erastian State.

It is hardly necessary to bring together passages from the early numbers of the "Tracts for the Times" in support of this statement. Each Tract, I may say, {131} is directed, in one way or other, to the defence of the existing documents or regulations of the National Church. No abstract ground is taken in these compositions; conclusions are not worked out from philosophical premisses, nor conjectures recommended by poetical illustrations, nor a system put together out of eclectic materials; but emphatically and strenuously it is maintained, that whatever is is right, and must be obeyed. If the Apostolic succession is true, it is not simply because St. Ignatius and St. Cyprian might affirm it, though Fathers are adduced also, but because it is implied in the Ordination Service. If the Church is independent of the State in things spiritual, it is not simply because Bishop Pearson has extolled her powers in his Exposition of the Creed, though divines are brought forward as authorities too; but by reason of "the force of that article of our belief, the one Catholic and Apostolic Church." If the mysterious grace of the Episcopate is insisted on, it is not merely as contained in Holy Scripture, though Scripture is appealed to again and again; but as implied in "that ineffable mystery, called in the Creed, the Communion of Saints." Scripture was copiously quoted, the Fathers were boldly invoked, and Anglican divines were diligently consulted; but the immediate, present, and, as the leaders of the movement hoped, the living authority, on which they based their theological system, was what was called the "Liturgy," or Book of Common Prayer. {132}

This "Liturgy," as the instrument of their teaching, was, on that account, regarded as practically infallible. "Attempts are making to get the Liturgy altered," says a Tract; "I beseech you consider with me, whether you ought not to resist the alteration of even one jot or tittle of it." Then as to the burial service: "I frankly own," says another Tract, "it is sometimes distressing to use it; but this must ever be in the nature of things, wherever you draw the line." Again, it was said that "there was a growing feeling that the Services were too long," and ought to be shortened, but it was to be "arrested" by "certain considerations" offered in a third. "There were persons who wished certain Sunday Lessons removed from the Service;" but, according to a fourth, there was reason the other way, in the very argument which was "brought in favour of the change." Another project afloat was that of leaving out "such and such chapters of the Old Testament," and "assigning proper Lessons to every Sunday from the New;" but it was temperately and ingeniously argued in a fifth, that things were best just as they were. And as the Prayer Book, so too was the Episcopate invested with a sacred character, which it was a crime to affront or impair. "Exalt our Holy Fathers," said a sixth Tract, "as the representatives of the Apostles, and the Angels of the Churches." "They stand in the place of the Apostles," said a seventh, "as far as the office of ruling is concerned; {133} and he that despiseth them despiseth the Apostles."

3.

Now, why do I refer to these passages? Not for their own sake, but to show that the movement was based on submission to a definite existing authority, and that private judgment was practically excluded. I do not mean to say that its originators thought the Prayer Book inspired, any more than the Bishops infallible, as if they had nothing to do but accept and believe what was put into their hands. They had too much common sense to deny the necessary exercise of private judgment, in one sense or another. They knew that the Catholic Church herself admitted it, though she directed and limited it to a decision upon the question of the organ of revelation; and they expressly recognized what they had no wish to deny. "So far," they said, "all parties must be agreed, that without private judgment there is no responsibility ... even though an infallible guidance be accorded, a man must have a choice of resisting it or not." [Note 1] But still, not denying this as an abstract truth, they determined that, as regards the teaching of the Liturgy, or the enunciations of the Bishops—which is the point immediately under our consideration—all differences of opinion existing between members of the Establishment could {134} be but minor ones, which might profitably, and without effort, be suppressed; that is, these were such as ought to be inwardly discredited and rejected, as less probable than the authoritative rule or statement, or at most must only be entertained at home, not published or defended. The matters in debate could not be more than matters of opinion, not of doctrine. Thus, with respect to alterations in the Prayer Book, the Tract says, "Though most of you would wish some immaterial points altered, yet not many of you agree in those points, and not many of you agree what is and what is not immaterial. If all your respective emendations are taken, the alterations in the Service will be extensive; and, though each will gain something he wishes, he will lose more in consequence of those alterations which he did not wish. How few would be pleased by any given alterations and how many pained!" Though, then, the Prayer Book was not perfect, it had a sort of practical perfection; and, though it was not unerring, it was a sure and sufficient safeguard against error. It was dangerous to question any part of it. "A taste for criticism grows upon the mind," said a Tract. "This unsettling of the mind is a frightful thing, both for ourselves, and more so for our flocks." The principle, then, of these writers was this: An infallible authority is necessary; we have it not, for the Prayer Book is all we have got; but since we have nothing better, we must use it as if infallible. I am not justifying {135} the logic of this proceeding; but if it be deficient, much more clearly does it, for that very reason, bring out the strength with which they held the principle of authority itself, when they would make so great an effort to find for it a place in the National Religion, and would rather force a conclusion than give up their premiss.

The Prayer Book, then, according to the first agents in the movement, was the arbiter, and limit, and working rule of the ten thousand varying private judgments of which the community was made up, which could not all be satisfied, which could not all be right, which were, every one of them, less likely to be right than it. It was the immediate instrument by means of which they professed to make their way, the fulcrum by which they were to hoist up the Establishment, and set it down securely on the basis of Apostolical Truth. And thus it was accepted by the party, not only as essentially and substantially true, but also as eminently expedient and necessary for the time.

"To do anything effectually," said a speaker in a dialogue of mine, who is expressing the philosophy (so to call it) of the movement in answer to a Romanizing friend, "we must start from recognized principles and customs. Any other procedure stamps a person as wrong-headed, ill-judging, or eccentric, and brings upon him the contempt and ridicule of those sensible men by whose opinions society is necessarily governed. Putting {136} aside the question of truth and falsehood (which, of course, is the main consideration), even as aiming at success, we must be aware of the great error of making changes on no more definite basis than their abstract fitness, alleged scripturalness, or adoption by the ancients. Such changes are rightly called innovations;—those which spring from existing institutions, opinions, and feelings, are called developments, and may be recommended, without invidiousness, as improvements. I adopt then, and claim as my own, that position of yours, that 'we must take and use what is ready to our hands.' To do otherwise is to act the doctrinaire, and to provide for failure. For instance, if we would enforce observance of the Lord's Day, we must not, at the outset, rest it on any theory, however just, of Church authority, but on the authority of Scripture. If we would oppose the State's interference with the distribution of Church property, we shall succeed, not by urging any doctrine of Church independence, or by citing decrees of general councils, but by showing the contrariety of that measure to existing constitutional and ecclesiastical precedents among ourselves. Hildebrand found the Church provided with certain existing means of power; he vindicated them, and was rewarded with the success which attends, not on truth as such, but on this prudence and tact in conduct. St. Paul observed the same rule, whether in preaching at Athens or persuading his countrymen. It was the gracious {137} condescension of our Lord Himself, not to substitute Christianity for Judaism by any violent revolution, but to develope Judaism into Christianity, as the Jews might bear it." [Note 2]

4.

Now all this was very well, if expedience was the end, and not merely a reason, of their extolling the Episcopate and the Prayer Book; but if it was a question of truth (and as such they certainly considered it), then it was undeniable, that Prayer Book and Episcopate could not support themselves, but required some intellectual basis; and what was that to be? Here again, as before (and this is the point to which all along I wish to direct your attention), these writers professed to go by authority, not by private judgment; for they fell back upon the divines of the Anglican Church, as their channels for ascertaining both what Anglicanism taught and why. It is scarcely necessary to remind any one who has followed the movement in its course, how careful and anxious they were, as soon as they got (what may be called) under weigh, at once to collect and arrange Catenas of Anglican authorities, on whom their own teaching might be founded, and under whose name it might be protected. Accordingly the doctrines, especially of the Apostolical succession, of Baptismal Regeneration, of the Eucharistic {138} sacrifice, and of the Rule of Faith, were made the subject of elaborate collections of extracts from the divines of the Establishment. And so in like manner, when a formal theory or idea was attempted of the Anglican system, the writer said, and believed, that "he had endeavoured, in all important points of doctrine, to guide himself by our standard divines; and, had space admitted, would have selected passages from their writings, in evidence of it. Such a collection of testimonies," he continued, "is almost a duty on the part of every author, who professes, not to strike out new theories, but to build up and fortify what has been committed to us." [Note 3]

5.

But now a further question obviously arises: by what rule will you determine what divines are authoritative, and what are not? for it is obvious, unless you can adduce such, private judgment will come in at last upon your ecclesiastical structure, in spite of your success hitherto in keeping it out. This answer, too, was ready—Scripture itself suggested to them the rule they should follow, and it was a rule external to themselves. They professed, then, to take simply those as authorities whom "all the people accounted prophets." [Note 4] {139} As it was no private judgment, but the spontaneous sentiment of a whole people, that canonized the Baptist, as the ancient saints are raised over our altars by the acclamation of a universal immemorial belief; so, according to these writers, the popular voice was to be consulted, and its decision simply recorded and obeyed, in the selection of the divines on whom their theology was to be founded. They professed to put aside individual liking; they might admire Hooker, or they might think him obscure; they might love Taylor, or they might feel a secret repugnance to him; they might delight in the vigour of Bull, or they might be repelled by his homeliness and his want of the supernatural element; these various feelings they had, but they did not wish to select their authorities by any such private taste or reason, in which they would differ from each other, but by the voice of the community. For instance, Davenant is a far abler writer than Hammond, but how few have heard of him? Horne or Wilson is far inferior in learning, power, or originality to Warburton, yet their works have a popularity which Warburton's have not, and have, in consequence, a higher claim to the formal title of Anglican divinity. Such was the principle of selection on which the authors of the movement proceeded; and if you say they were untrue to their principles in the Catenas they drew out, and, {140} after all, selected partially, and on private judgment, I repeat, so much the more for my purpose. How clearly must the principle of an ecclesiastical and authoritative, not a private judgment, have been the principle of the movement, when those who belonged to it were obliged to own that principle, at the very time that it was inconvenient to them, and when they were driven, whether consciously or not, to misuse or evade it!

6.

Such, then, was the principle on which they professed to select the authorities they were to follow; nor was their anxiety in consulting them less than their carefulness in ascertaining them. Here again, I am not going into the question whether they deceived themselves in consulting, as well as in ascertaining these divines; whether they followed them where they agreed with themselves, and, where they stopped short, went forward without them: I am not aware that they did, but, whether they did or no, they tried not to do so; they wished to make the Anglican divines real vouchers and sanctions of their own teaching, and they used their words rather than their own. They shrank from seeming to speak without warrant, even on matters which in no sense were matters of faith, and I can adduce an instance of it, which is more to the point, for the very reason it was singularly misunderstood; {141} and, though it may seem to require some apology that I should again refer to an author from whom I have made several extracts already, I mean myself, I have an excuse for doing so in the circumstance, that I naturally know his works better than those of others, and I can quote him without misrepresenting him or hurting his feelings. In a Retractation, then, which he published in the year 1843, of some strong statements which he had made against the Catholic Church, these words occur:—"If you ask me how an individual could venture, not simply to hold but to publish such views of a communion so ancient, so wide-spreading, so fruitful in Saints, I answer, that I said to myself, 'I am not speaking my own words, I am but following almost a consensus of the divines of my Church. They have ever used the strongest language against Rome, even the most able and learned of them. I wish to throw myself into their system. While I say what they say, I am safe. Such views, too, are necessary for our position.'" Now, this passage has been taken to mean, that the writer spoke from expediency what he did not believe; but this is false in fact, and inaccurate in criticism. He spoke what he felt, what he thought, what at the time he held, and nothing but what he held with an internal assent; but still, though he internally thought it, he would not have dared to say it—he would have shrunk, as well he might, from standing up, on his own private judgment, an accuser {142} against the great Roman communion, and unless in doing so he felt he had been doing simply what his own Church required of him, and what was necessary for his Church's cause, and what all his Church's divines had ever done before him. This being the case, he "could venture, not simply to hold but to publish;" he was not "speaking his own words," though he was expressing his own thoughts; and, as using those words, he was behind "a system" received by his Church, as well as by himself. He felt "safe," because he spoke after, and "throwing himself into," he was sheltering himself according to its teaching and its teachers. It had, indeed, been one sin that he had thought ill of the Catholic Church; it had been another and greater, that he had uttered what he thought; and there was just this alleviation of his second sin, that he had not said it wantonly, and that he had said what others had said before him. There is nothing difficult or unnatural, surely, in this state of mind; but it is not wonderful that to the mass of Protestants it was incomprehensible that any one should shrink from the display of that private judgment in which they themselves so luxuriated, that any one should think of clearing himself from what in their eyes was simply a virtue, or should be shocked at having the credit given him of making use of a special privilege. {143}

7.

But I have not yet arrived at the ultimate resolution of faith, in the judgment of the theological party of 1833: the Anglican divines, it seems, were to be followed, but, after all, were they inspired more than the Prayer Book? else, on what are we to say that their authority in turn depended? Again, the answer was ready: The Anglican divines are sanctioned by that authority, to which they themselves refer, the Fathers of the Church. Thus spoke the party: now at length, you will say, they are brought to a point, when private judgment must necessarily be admitted; for who shall ascertain what is in the Fathers and what is not, without a most special and singular application of his own powers of mind, and his own personal attainments, to the execution of so serious an undertaking? But not even here did they allow themselves to be committed to the Protestant instrument of inquiry, though this point will require some little explanation. It must be observed, then, that they were accustomed to regard theology generally, much more upon its anti-Protestant side than upon its anti-Roman; and, from the circumstances in which they found themselves, were far more solicitous to refute Luther and Calvin than Suarez or Bellarmine. Protestantism was a present foe; Catholicism, or Romanism as they called it, was but a possible adversary; "it was not likely," they said, "that {144} Romanism should ever again become formidable in England;" and they engaged with it accordingly, not from any desire to do so, but because they could not form an ecclesiastical theory without its coming in their way, and challenging their notice. It was "necessary for their position" to dispose of Catholicism, but it was not a task of which they acquitted themselves with the zeal or interest which was so evident in their assaults upon their Protestant brethren. "Those who feel the importance of that article of the Creed," the holy Catholic Church, says a work several times quoted, "and yet are not Romanists, are bound on several accounts to show why they are not Romanists, and how they differ from them. They are bound to do so, in order to remove the prejudice with which an article of the Creed is at present encompassed. From the circumstances, then, of the moment, the following Lectures are chiefly engaged in examining and exposing certain tenets of Romanism." [Note 5] The author's feeling, then, seems to have been,—I should have a perfect case against this {145} Protestantism but for these inconvenient "Romanists," whose claims I do not admit indeed, but who, controversially, stand in my way.

But now, with this explanation, to the point before us:—The consequence of this state of mind was, that the persons in question were not very solicitous (if I dare speak for others) how far the Fathers seemed to tell for the Church of Rome or not; on the whole, they were sure they did not tell materially for her; but it was no matter, though they partially seemed to do so; for their great and deadly foe, their scorn, and their laughing-stock, was that imbecile, inconsistent thing called Protestantism; and there could not be a more thorough refutation of its foundation and superstructure than was to be found in the volumes of the Fathers. There was no mistaking that the principles professed, and doctrines taught by those holy men, were utterly anti-Protestant; and, being satisfied of this, which was their principal consideration, it did not occur to them accurately to determine the range and bounds of the teaching of the early Church, or to reflect that, perhaps, they had as yet a clearer view of what it did not sanction, than of what it did. They saw, then, that there simply was no opportunity at all for private judgment, if one wished to exercise it ever so much, as regards the question of the anti-Protestantism of the Fathers; it was a patent fact, open to all, written on the face of their works, that they were anti-Protestant; you might {146} defer to them, you might reject them, but you could as little deny that they were essentially anti-Protestant, as you could deny that "the Romanists" were anti-Protestants. It was a matter of fact, a matter of sense, which Protestants themselves admitted or rather maintained; and here, in this public and undeniable fact, we have arrived at what the movement considered the ultimate resolution of its faith. It argued, for instance, "A private Christian may put what meaning he pleases on many parts of Scripture, and no one can hinder him. If interfered with, he can promptly answer, that it is his own opinion, and may appeal to his right of private judgment. But he cannot so deal with Antiquity: history is a record of facts; and facts, according to the proverb, are stubborn things." [Note 6] And accordingly, these writers represented the Church as they conceived of it, as having no power whatever over the faith; her Creed was simply a public matter of fact, which needed as little explanation, as little interpretation, as the fact of her own existence. Hence they said: "The humblest and meanest among Christians may defend the faith against the whole Church, if the need arise. He has as much stake in it, and as much right to it, as Bishop or Archbishop; ... all that learning has to do for him is to ascertain the fact, what is the meaning of the Creed in particular points, since matter of opinion it is {147} not, any more than the history of the rise and spread of Christianity itself." [Note 7]

Accordingly, as their first act, when they were once set off, had been to publish Catenas of the Anglican divines, so their second was to publish translations of the Fathers—viz., in order to put the matter out of their own hands, and throw the decision upon the private judgment of no one, but on the common judgment of the whole community, Anglicans and Protestants at once. They considered that the Fathers had hitherto been monopolised by controversialists, who treated them merely as magazines of passages which might be brought forward in argument, mutilated and garbled for the occasion; and that the greatest service to their own cause was simply to publish them [Note 8]. "A main reason," it was said, "of the jealousy with which Christians of this age and country adhere to the notion that truth of doctrine can be gained from Scripture by individuals is this, that they are unwilling, as they say, to be led by others blindfold. They can possess and read the Scriptures; whereas, of traditions they are not adequate judges, and they dread priestcraft. I am not here to enter into the discussion of this feeling, whether praiseworthy or the contrary. However this be, it does seem a reason for putting before them, if possible, the {148} principal works of the Fathers, translated as Scripture is; that they may have by them what, whether used or not, will at least act as a check upon the growth of an undue dependence on the word of individual teachers, and will be a something to consult, if they have reason to doubt the Catholic character of any tenet to which they are invited to accede." [Note 9]

By way, then, of rescuing the faith from private teaching on the one hand, and private judgment on the other, it was proposed to publish a Library of the Fathers translated into English. And let it be observed, in pursuance of this object, the Translations were to be presented to the general reader without note or comment. It was distinctly stated in the Prospectus, that "the notes shall be limited to the explanation of obscure passages, or the removal of any misapprehension which might not improbably arise." And this was so strictly adhered to at first, that the translation of St. Cyril's Catechetical Lectures was criticised in a Catholic Review on this very ground [Note 10]; and it was asked why his account of the Holy Eucharist was not reconciled by the Editor with the Anglican formularies, when the very idea of the Editor had been to bring out {149} facts, and leave the result to a judgment more authoritative than his own, and favourable on the whole, as he hoped, in the event, to the Church to which he belonged. "We can do no more," he had said in the Preface, "than have patience, and recommend patience to others; and with the racer in the Tragedy, look forward steadily and hopefully to the event, 'in the end relying,' when, as we trust, all that is inharmonious and anomalous in the details, will at length be practically smoothed." [Note 11]

8.

Such, then, was the clear, unvarying line of thought, as I believed it to be, on which the movement of 1833 commenced and proceeded, as regards the questions of Church authority and private judgment. It was fancied that no opportunity for the exercise of private judgment could arise in any public or important matter. The Church declared, whether by Prayer Book or Episcopal authority, what was to be said or done; and private judgment either had no objection which it could make good, or only on those minor matters where there was a propriety in its yielding to authority. And the present Church declared what her divines had declared; and her divines had declared what the Fathers had declared; and what the Fathers had declared was no matter of private judgment at all, but a matter of fact, {150} cognizable by all who chose to read their writings. Their testimony was as decisive and clear as Pope's Bull or Definition of Council, or catechisings or direction of any individual parish priest. There was no room for two opinions on the subject; and, as Catholics consider that the truth is brought home to the soul supernaturally, so that the soul sees it and no longer depends on reason, so in some parallel way it was supposed, in the theology of the movement, that that same truth, as contained in the Fathers, was a natural fact, recognised by the natural and ordinary intelligence of mankind, as soon as that intelligence was directed towards it.

The idea, then, of the divines of the movement was simply and absolutely submission to an external authority; to such an authority they appealed, to it they betook themselves; there they found a haven of rest; thence they looked out upon the troubled surge of human opinion and upon the crazy vessels which were labouring, without chart or compass, upon it. Judge then of their dismay, when, according to the Arabian tale, on their striking their anchors into the supposed soil, lighting their fires on it, and fixing in it the poles of their tents, suddenly their island began to move, to heave, to splash, to frisk to and fro, to dive and at last to swim away, spouting out inhospitable jets of water upon the credulous mariners who had made it their home. And such, I suppose, was the undeniable {151} fact: I mean, the time at length came, when first of all turning their minds (some of them, at least) more carefully to the doctrinal controversies of the early Church, they saw distinctly that in the reasonings of the Fathers, elicited by means of them, and in the decisions of authority, in which they issued, were contained at least the rudiments, the anticipation, the justification of what they had been accustomed to consider the corruptions of Rome. And if only one, or a few of them, were visited with this conviction, still even one was sufficient, of course, to destroy that cardinal point of their whole system, the objective perspicuity and distinctness of the teaching of the Fathers. But time went on, and there was no mistaking or denying the misfortune which was impending over them. They had reared a goodly house, but their foundations were falling in. The soil and the masonry both were bad. The Fathers would protect "Romanists " as well as extinguish Dissenters. The Anglican divines would misquote the Fathers, and shrink from the very doctors to whom they appealed. The Bishops of the seventeenth century were shy of the Bishops of the fourth; and the Bishops of the nineteenth were shy of the Bishops of the seventeenth. The ecclesiastical courts upheld the sixteenth century against the seventeenth, and, regardless of the flagrant irregularities of Protestant clergymen, chastised the mild misdemeanours of Anglo-Catholic. Soon the living rulers of the Establishment {152} began to move. There are those who, reversing the Roman's maxim [Note 12], are wont to shrink from the contumacious, and to be valiant towards the submissive; and the authorities in question gladly availed themselves of the power conferred on them by the movement against the movement itself. They fearlessly handselled their Apostolic weapons upon the Apostolical party. One after another, in long succession, they took up their song and their parable against it. It was a solemn war-dance, which they executed round victims, who by their very principles were bound hand and foot, and could only eye with disgust and perplexity this most unaccountable movement, on the part of their "holy Fathers, the representatives of the Apostles, and the Angels of the Churches." It was the beginning of the end.

My brethren, when it was at length plain that primitive Christianity ignored the National Church, and that the National Church cared little for primitive Christianity, or for those who appealed to it as her foundation; when Bishops spoke against them, and Bishops' courts sentenced them, and Universities degraded them, and the people rose against them, from that day their "occupation was gone." Their initial principle, their {153} basis, external authority, was cut from under them; they had "set their fortunes on a cast;" they had lost; henceforward they had nothing left for them but to shut up their school, and retire into the country. Nothing else was left for them, unless, indeed, they took up some other theory, unless they changed their ground, unless they ceased to be what they were, and became what they were not; unless they belied their own principles, and strangely forgot their own luminous and most keen convictions; unless they vindicated the right of private judgment, took up some fancy-religion, retailed the Fathers, and jobbed theology. They had but a choice between doing nothing at all, and looking out for truth and peace elsewhere.

9.

And now, at length, I am in a condition to answer the question which you have proposed for my consideration. You ask me whether you cannot now continue what you were. No, my brethren, it is impossible, you cannot recall the past; you cannot surround yourselves with circumstances which have simply ceased to be. In the beginning of the movement you disowned private judgment, but now, if you would remain a party, you must, with whatever inconsistency, profess it;—then you were a party only externally, that is, not in your wishes and feelings, but merely because you were seen to differ from others in matter of fact, when the {154} world looked at you, whether you would or no; but now you will be a party knowingly and on principle, intrinsically, and will be erected on a party basis. You cannot be what you were. You will no longer be Anglo-Catholic, but Patristico-Protestants. You will be obliged to frame a religion for yourselves, and then to maintain that it is that very truth, pure and celestial, which the Apostles promulgated. You will be induced of necessity to put together some speculation of your own, and then to fancy it of importance enough to din it into the ears of your neighbours, to plague the world with it, and, if you have success, to convulse your own Communion with the imperious inculcation of doctrines which you can never engraft upon it.

For me, my dear brethren, did I know myself well, I should doubtless find I was open to the temptation, as well as others, to take a line of my own, or what is called, to set up for myself; but whatever might be my real infirmity in this matter, I should, from mere common sense and common delicacy, hide it from myself, and give it some good name in order to make it palatable. I never could get myself to say, "Listen to me, for I have something great to tell you, which no one else knows, but of which there is no manner of doubt." I should be kept from such extravagance from an intense sense of the intellectual absurdity, which, in my feelings, such a claim would involve; which would shame me as keenly, and humble me in my own sight as utterly, as {155} some moral impropriety or degradation. I should feel I was simply making a fool of myself, and taking on myself in figure that penance, of which we read in the Lives of the Saints, of playing antics and making faces in the market-place. Not religious principle, but even worldly pride, would keep me from so unworthy an exhibition. I can understand, my brethren, I can sympathise with those old-world thinkers, whose commentators are Mant and D'Oyly, whose theologian is Tomline, whose ritualist is Wheatly, and whose canonist is Burns; who are proud of their Jewels and their Chillingworths, whose works they have never opened, and toast Cranmer and Ridley, and William of Orange, as the founders of their religion. In these times three hundred years is a respectable antiquity; and traditions, recognized in law courts, and built into the structure of society, may well without violence be imagined to be immemorial. Those also I can understand, who take their stand upon the Prayer Book; or those who honestly profess to follow the consensus of Anglican divines, as the voice of authority and the standard of faith. Moreover, I can quite enter into the sentiment with which members of the liberal and infidel school investigate the history and the documents of the early Church. They profess a view of Christianity, truer than the world has ever had; nor, on the assumption of their principles, is there anything shocking to good sense in this profession. They look upon the Christian Religion as something {156} simply human; and there is no reason at all why a phenomenon of that kind should not be better understood, in its origin and nature, as years proceed. It is, indeed, an intolerable paradox to assert, that a revelation, given from God to man, should lie unknown or mistaken for eighteen centuries, and now at length should be suddenly deciphered by individuals; but it is quite intelligible to assert, and plausible to argue, that a human fact should be more philosophically explained than it was eighteen hundred years ago, and more exactly ascertained than it was a thousand. History is at this day undergoing a process of revolution; the science of criticism, the disinterment of antiquities, the unrolling of manuscripts, the interpretation of inscriptions, have thrown us into a new world of thought; characters and events come forth transformed in the process; romance, prejudice, local tradition, party bias, are no longer accepted as guarantees of truth; the order and mutual relation of events are readjusted; the springs and the scope of action are reversed. Were Christianity a mere work of man, it, too, might turn out something different from what it has hitherto been considered; its history might require rewriting, as the history of Rome, or of the earth's strata, or of languages, or of chemical action. A Catholic neither deprecates nor fears such inquiry, though he abhors the spirit in which it is too often conducted. He is willing that infidelity should do its {157} work against the Church, knowing that she will be found just where she was, when the assault is over. It is nothing to him, though her enemies put themselves to the trouble of denying everything that has hitherto been taught, and begin with constructing her history all over again, for he is quite sure that they will end at length with a compulsory admission of what at first they so wantonly discarded. Free thinkers and broad thinkers, Laudians and Prayer-Book Christians, high-and-dry and Establishment-men, all these he would understand; but what he would feel so prodigious is this,—that such as you, my brethren, should consider Christianity given from heaven once for all, should protest against private judgment, should profess to transmit what you have received, and yet from diligent study of the Fathers, from your thorough knowledge of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom, from living, as you say, in the atmosphere of Antiquity, that you should come forth into open day with your new edition of the Catholic faith, different from that held in any existing body of Christians anywhere, which not half-a-dozen men all over the world would honour with their imprimatur; and then, withal, should be as positive about its truth in every part, as if the voice of mankind were with you instead of being against you.

You are a body of yesterday; you are a drop in the ocean of professing Christians; yet you would give the {158} law to priest and prophet; and you fancy it an humble office, forsooth, suited to humble men, to testify the very truth of Revelation to a fallen generation, or rather to almost a long bi-millenary, which has been in unalleviated traditionary error. You have a mission to teach the National Church, which is to teach the British empire, which is to teach the world; you are more learned than Greece; you are purer than Rome; you know more than St. Bernard; you judge how far St. Thomas was right, and where he is to be read with caution, or held up to blame. You can bring to light juster views of grace, or of penance, or of invocation of saints, than St. Gregory or St. Augustine,—

                                         "qualia vincunt
Pythagoran, Anytique reum, doctumque Platonia."

This is what you can do; yes, and when you have done all, to what have you attained? to do just what heretics have done before you, and, as doing, have incurred the anathema of Holy Church. Such was Jansenius; for of him we are told, "From the commencement of his theological studies, when he began to read, with the schoolmen, the holy Fathers, and especially Augustine, he at once saw, as he confessed, that most of the schoolmen went far astray from that holy Doctor's view, in that capital article of grace and free will. He sometimes owned to his friends, that he had read over more than ten times the entire works of Augustine, with lively attention and diligent annotation, {159} and his books against the Pelagians at least thirty times from beginning to end. He said that no mind, whether Aristotle or Archimedes, or any other under the heavens, was equal to Augustine ... I have heard him say more than once, that life would be most delightful to him, though on some ocean-isle or rock, apart from all human society, had he but his Augustine with him. In a word, after God and Holy Scripture, Augustine was his all in all. However, for many years he had to struggle with his old opinions, before he put them all off, and arrived at the intimate sense of St. Augustine ... For this work, he often said, he was specially born; and that, when he had finished it, he should be most ready to die." [Note 13] Such, too, was another nearer home, on whom Burnet bestows this panegyric:—"Cranmer," says he, "was at great pains to collect the sense of ancient writers upon all the heads of religion, by which he might be directed in such an important matter. I have seen two volumes in folio, written with his own hand, containing, upon all the heads of religion, a vast heap of places of Scripture, and quotations out of ancient Fathers, and later doctors and schoolmen, by which he governed himself in that work."

10.

Topic - Private Judgment And now, my brethren, will it not be so, as I have said, of simple necessity, if you attempt at this time to {160} perpetuate in the National Church a form of opinion which the National Church disowns? You do not follow its Bishops; you disown its existing traditions; you are discontented with its divines; you protest against its law courts; you shrink from its laity; you outstrip its Prayer Book. You have in all respects an eclectic or an original religion of our own. You dare not stand or fall by Andrewes, or by Laud, or by Hammond, or by Bull, or by Thorndike, or by all of them together. There is a consensus of divines, stronger than there is for Baptismal Regeneration or the Apostolical Succession, that Rome is, strictly and literally, an anti-Christian power:—Liberals and High Churchmen in your Communion in this agree with Evangelicals; you put it aside. There is a consensus against Transubstantiation, besides the declaration of the Article; yet many of you hold it notwithstanding. Nearly all your divines, if not all, call themselves Protestants, and you anathematize the name. Who makes the concessions to Catholics which you do, yet remains separate from them? Who, among Anglican authorities, would speak of Penance as a Sacrament, as you do? Who of them encourages, much less insists upon, auricular confession, as you? or makes fasting an obligation? or uses the crucifix and the rosary? or reserves the consecrated bread? or believes in miracles as existing in your communion? or administers, as I believe you do, Extreme Unction? In some points you prefer Rome, in others {161} Greece, in others England, in others Scotland; and of that preference your own private judgment is the ultimate sanction.

What am I to say in answer to conduct so preposterous? Say you go by any authority whatever, and I shall know where to find you, and I shall respect you. Swear by any school of Religion, old or modern, by Ronge's Church, or the Evangelical Alliance, nay, by Yourselves, and I shall know what you mean, and will listen to you. But do not come to me with the latest fashion of opinion which the world has seen, and protest to me that it is the oldest. Do not come to me at this time of day with views palpably new, isolated, original, sui generis, warranted old neither by Christian nor unbeliever, and challenge me to answer what I really have not the patience to read. Life is not long enough for such trifles. Go elsewhere, not to me, if you wish to make a proselyte. Your inconsistency, my dear brethren, is on your very front. Nor pretend that you are but executing the sacred duty of defending your own Communion: your Church does not thank you for a defence, which she has no dream of appropriating. You innovate on her professions of doctrine, and then you bid us love her for your innovations. You cling to her for what she denounces; and you almost anathematise us for taking a step which you would please her best by taking also. You call it restless, impatient, undutiful in us, to do what she would have {162} us do; and you think it a loving and confiding course in her children to believe, not her, but you. She is to teach, and we are to hear, only according to your own private researches into St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine. "I began myself with doubting and inquiring," you seem to say; "I departed from the teaching I received; I was educated in some older type of Anglicanism; in the school of Newton, Cecil, and Scott, or in the Bartlett's-Building School, or in the Liberal Whig School. I was a Dissenter, or a Wesleyan, and by study and thought I became an Anglo-Catholic. And then I read the Fathers, and I have determined what works are genuine, and what are not; which of them apply to all times, which are occasional; which historical, and which doctrinal; what opinions are private, what authoritative; what they only seem to hold, what they ought to hold; what are fundamental, what ornamental. Having thus measured and cut and put together my creed by my own proper intellect, by my own lucubrations, and differing from the whole world in my results, I distinctly bid you, I solemnly warn you, not to do as I have done, but to accept what I have found, to revere that, to use that, to believe that, for it is the teaching of the old Fathers, and of your Mother the Church of England. Take my word for it, that this is the very truth of Christ; deny your own reason, for I know better than you, and it is as clear as day that some moral fault in you is the cause of your differing from {163} me. It is pride, or vanity, or self-reliance, or fulness of bread. You require some medicine for your soul; you must fast; you must make a general confession; and look very sharp to yourself, for you are already next door to a rationalist or an infidel."

Surely, I have not exaggerated, my brethren, what you will be obliged to say, if you take the course which you are projecting; but the point immediately before us is something short of this; it is, whether a party in the Establishment formed on such principles (and as things are now it can be formed on no other) can in any sense be called a genuine continuation of the Apostolical party of twenty years ago? The basis of that party was the professed abnegation of private judgment; your basis is the professed exercise of it. If you are really children of it as it was in 1833, you must have nothing to say to it as it is in 1850.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Note

1. Proph. Off., p. 157.
Return to text

2. British Mag., April 1836.
Return to text

3. Proph. Off. p. vi.
Return to text

4. Viz., the text prefixed to the Catenas, Tract 74. There was another obvious rule also, but still not a private one. They had recourse to those Anglican divines who alone contemplated, and professed to provide, an idea, theory, or intellectual position, for their Church, as Laud and Stillingfleet.
Return to text

5. Proph. Office, p. 7. I am not unmindful of the following "ground" for publishing the Translations of the Fathers, contained in the prospectus:—"II. The great danger in which the Romanists are of lapsing into secret infidelity, not seeing how to escape from the palpable errors of their own Church, without falling into the opposite errors of ultra-Protestants. It appeared an act of especial charity to point out to such of them as are dissatisfied with the state of their own Church, a body of ancient Catholic truth, free from the errors alike of modern Rome, and of ultra-Protestantism." I have nothing to say in explanation, but that this passage was not written by me, and that I do not consider it to have expressed my own feelings, or those of the movement.
Return to text

6. Proph. Office, p. 45.
Return to text

7. P. 292.
Return to text

8. See this brought out in an article on the Apostolical Fathers, in the British Critic of January 1839. [Vide the author's "Essays Critical and Historical," No. 5.]
Return to text

9. Proph. Office, p. 203. This passage, moreover, negatives the charge, sometimes advanced against the agents in the movement, that they wished every individual Christian to gain his faith for himself by study of the Fathers. They have enough to bear without our imagining absurdities.
Return to text

10. Viz., the "Dublin Review." The rule of publishing without note or comment was, in consequence of such objections, soon abandoned.
Return to text

11. Page xi.
Return to text

12. "Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos." It may be right here to say, that the author never can forget the great kindness which Dr. Bagot, at that time Bishop of Oxford, showed him on several occasions. He also has to notice the courtesy of Dr. Thirwall's language, a prelate whom he has never had the honour of knowing.
Return to text

13. Synops, Vit. ap. Opp. 1643.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.