Chapter 15.

{124} THERE could not have been a lecture more unfavourable for Charles's peace of mind than that in which he found himself this term placed; yet, so blind are we to the future, he hailed it with great satisfaction, as if it was to bring an answer to the perplexities into which Sheffield, Bateman, Freeborn, White, Willis, Mr. Morley, Dr. Brownside, Mr. Vincent, and the general state of Oxford, had all, in one way or other, conspired to throw him. He had shown such abilities in the former part of the year, and was reading so diligently, that his tutors put him prematurely into the lecture upon the Articles. It was a capital lecture so far as this, that the tutor who gave it had got up his subject completely. He knew the whole history of the Articles, how they grew into their present shape, with what fortunes, what had been added, and when, and what omitted. With this, of course, was joined an explanation of the text, as deduced, as far as could be, from the historical account thus given. Not only the British, but the foreign Reformers were introduced; and nothing was wanting, at least in the intention of the lecturer, for fortifying the young inquirer in the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. {125}

It did not produce this effect on Reding. Whether he had expected too much, or whatever was the cause, so it was that he did but feel more vividly the sentiment of the old father in the comedy, after consulting the lawyers, "Incertior sum multo quam ante". He saw that the profession of faith contained in the Articles was but a patchwork of bits of orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Zuinglism; and this too on no principle; that it was but the work of accident, if there be such a thing as accident; that it had come down in the particular shape in which the English Church now receives it, when it might have come down in any other shape; that it was but a toss-up that Anglicans at this day were not Calvinists, or Presbyterians, or Lutherans, equally well as Episcopalians. This historical fact did but clench the difficulty, or rather impossibility, of saying what the faith of the English Church was. On almost every point of dispute the authoritative standard of doctrine was vague or inconsistent, and there was an imposing weight of external testimony in favour of opposite interpretations. He stopped after lecture once or twice, and asked information of Mr. Upton, the tutor, who was quite ready to give it; but nothing came of these applications as regards the object which led him to make them.

One difficulty which Charles experienced was to know whether, according to the Articles, Divine truth was directly given us, or whether we had to seek it for ourselves from Scripture. Several Articles led to this question; and Mr. Upton, who was a High Churchman, answered him that the saving doctrine neither was given {126} nor was to be sought, but that it was proposed by the Church, and proved by the individual. Charles did not see this distinction between seeking and proving; for how can we prove except by seeking (in Scripture) for reasons? He put the question in another form, and asked if the Christian Religion allowed of private judgment? This was no abstruse question, and a very practical one. Had he asked a Wesleyan or Independent, he would have had an unconditional answer in the affirmative; had he asked a Catholic, he would have been told that we used our private judgment to find the Church, and then in all matters of faith the Church superseded it; but from this Oxford divine he could not get a distinct answer. First he was told that doubtless we must use our judgment in the determination of religious doctrine; but next he was told that it was sin (as it undoubtedly is) to doubt the dogma of the Blessed Trinity. Yet, while he was told that to doubt of that doctrine was a sin, he was told in another conversation that our highest state here is one of doubt. What did this mean? Surely certainty was simply necessary on some points, as on the Object of worship; how could we worship what we doubted of? The two acts were contrasted by the Evangelist; when the disciples saw our Lord after the resurrection, "they worshipped Him, but some doubted"; yet, in spite of this, he was told that there was "impatience" in the very idea of desiring certainty.

At another time he asked whether the anathemas of the Athanasian Creed applied to all its clauses; for instance, whether it is necessary to salvation to hold that there is "unus ęternus" as the Latin has it; or "such {127} as the Father, ... such the Holy Ghost"; or that the Holy Ghost is "by Himself God and Lord"; or that Christ is one "by the taking of the manhood into God"? He could get no answer. Mr. Upton said that he did not like extreme questions; that he could not and did not wish to answer them; that the Creed was written against heresies, which no longer existed, as a sort of protest. Reding asked whether this meant that the Creed did not contain a distinctive view of its own, which alone was safe, but was merely a negation of error. The clauses, he observed, were positive, not negative. He could get no answer farther than that the Creed taught that the doctrines of "the Trinity" and "the Incarnation" were "necessary to salvation," it being apparently left uncertain what those doctrines consisted in. One day he asked how grievous sins were to be forgiven which were committed after baptism, whether by faith, or not at all in this life. He was answered that the Articles said nothing on the subject; that the Romish doctrine of pardon and purgatory was false; and that it was well to avoid both curious questions and subtle answers.

Another question turned up at another lecture, viz., whether the Real Presence meant a Presence of Christ in the elements, or in the soul, i.e., in the faith of the recipient; in other words, whether the Presence was really such, or a mere name. Mr. Upton pronounced it an open question. Another day Charles asked whether Christ was present in fact, or only in effect. Mr. Upton answered decidedly "in effect," which seemed to Reding to mean no real presence at all. {128}

He had had some difficulty in receiving the doctrine of eternal punishment; it had seemed to him the hardest doctrine of Revelation. Then he said to himself; "But what is faith in its very notion but an acceptance of the word of God when reason seems to oppose it? How is it faith at all if there is nothing to try it?" This thought fully satisfied him. The only question was, Is it part of the revealed word? "I can believe it," he said, "if I know for certain that I ought to believe it; but if I am not bound to believe it, I can't believe it." Accordingly he put the question to Mr. Upton whether it was a doctrine of the Church of England; that is, whether it came under the subscription to the Articles. He could obtain no answer. Yet if he did not believe this doctrine, he felt the whole fabric of his faith shake under him. Close upon it came the doctrine of the Atonement.

It is difficult to give instances of this kind, without producing the impression on the reader's mind that Charles was forward and captious in his inquiries. Certainly Mr. Upton had his own thoughts about him, but he never thought his manner inconsistent with modesty and respect towards himself.

Charles naturally was full of the subject, and would have disclosed his perplexities to Sheffield, had he not had a strong anticipation that this would have been making matters worse. He thought Bateman, however, might be of some service, and he disburdened himself to him in the course of a country walk. What was he to do? for on his entrance he had been told that when {129} he took his degree he should have to sign the Articles, not on faith as then, but on reason; yet they were unintelligible; and how could he prove what he could not construe?

Bateman seemed unwilling to talk on the subject; at last he said, "Oh, my dear Reding, you really are in an excited state of mind; I don't like to talk to you just now, for you will not see things in a straightforward way and take them naturally. What a bug-bear you are conjuring up! You are in an Article lecture in your second year; and hardly have you commenced but you begin to fancy what you will or will not think at the end of your time. Don't ask about the Articles now; wait at least till you have seen the lecture through."

"It really is not my way to be fussed or to fidget," said Charles, "though I own I am not so quiet as I ought to be. I hear so many different opinions in conversation; then I go to church, and one preacher deals his blows at another; lastly, I betake myself to the Articles, and really I cannot make out what they would teach me. For instance, I cannot make out their doctrine about faith, about the sacraments, about predestination, about the Church, about the inspiration of Scripture. And their tone is so unlike the Prayer Book. Upton has brought this out in his lectures most clearly."

"Now, my most respectable friend," said Bateman, "do think for a moment what men have signed the Articles. Perhaps King Charles himself; certainly Laud, and all the great Bishops of his day, and of the {130} next generation. Think of the most orthodox Bull, the singularly learned Pearson, the eloquent Taylor, Montague, Barrow, Thorndike, good dear Bishop Horne, and Jones of Nayland. Can't you do what they did?"

"The argument is a very strong one," said Charles; "I have felt it: you mean, then, I must sign on faith."

"Yes, certainly, if necessary," said Bateman.

"And how am I to sign as a Master, and when I am ordained?" asked Charles.

"That's what I mean by fidgeting," answered Bateman. "You are not content with your day; you are reaching forward to five years hence."

Charles laughed. "It isn't quite that," he said, "I was but testing your advice; however, there's some truth in it." And he changed the subject.

They talked awhile on indifferent matters; but on a pause Charles's thoughts fell back again to the Articles. "Tell me, Bateman," he said, "as a mere matter of curiosity, how you subscribed when you took your degree."

"Oh, I had no difficulty at all," said Bateman; "the examples of Bull and Pearson were enough for me."

"Then you signed on faith."

"Not exactly, but it was that thought which smoothed all difficulties."

"Could you have signed without it?"

"How can you ask me the question? Of course."

"Well, do tell me, then, what was your ground?"

"Oh, I had many grounds. I can't recollect in a moment what happened some time ago." {131}

"Oh, then it was a matter of difficulty; indeed, you said so just now."

"Not at all: my only difficulty was, not about myself, but how to state the matter to other people."

"What! some one suspected you?"

"No, no; you are quite mistaken. I mean, for instance, the Article says that we are justified by faith only; now the Protestant sense of this statement is point blank opposite to our standard divines: the question was, what I was to say when asked my sense of it."

"I understand," said Charles; "now tell me how you solved the problem."

"Well, I don't deny that the Protestant sense is heretical," answered Bateman; "and so is the Protestant sense of many other things in the Articles; but then we need not take them in the Protestant sense."

"Then in what sense?"

"Why, first," said Bateman, "we need not take them in any sense at all. Don't smile; listen. Great authorities, such as Laud or Bramhall, seem to have considered that we only sign the Articles as articles of peace; not as really holding them, but as not opposing them. Therefore, when we sign the Articles, we only engage not to preach against them."

Reding thought; then he said: "Tell me, Bateman, would not this view of subscription to the Articles let the Unitarians into the Church?"

Bateman allowed it would, but the Liturgy would still keep them out. Charles then went on to suggest {132} that they would take the Liturgy as a Liturgy of peace too. Bateman began again.

"If you want some tangible principle," he said, "for interpreting Articles and Liturgy, I can give you one. You know," he continued, after a short pause, "what it is we hold? Why, we give the Articles a Catholic interpretation."

Charles looked inquisitive.

"It is plain," continued Bateman, "that no document can be a dead letter; it must be the expression of some mind; and the question here is, whose is what may be called the voice which speaks the Articles. Now, if the Bishops, Heads of houses, and other dignitaries and authorities were unanimous in their religious views, and one and all said that the Articles meant this and not that, they, as the imponents, would have a right to interpret them; and the Articles would mean what those great men said they meant. But they do not agree together; some of them are diametrically opposed to others. One clergyman denies Apostolical Succession, another affirms it; one denies the Lutheran justification, another maintains it; one denies the inspiration of Scripture, a second holds Calvin to be a saint, a third considers the doctrine of sacramental grace a superstition, a fourth takes part with Nestorius against the Church, a fifth is a Sabellian. It is plain, then, that the Articles have no sense at all, if the collective voice of Bishops, Deans, Professors, and the like is to be taken. They cannot supply what schoolmen call the form of the Articles. But perhaps the writers themselves of the Articles will supply it? No; for, {133} first, we don't know for certain who the writers were; and next, the Articles have gone through so many hands, and so many mendings, that some at least of the original authors would not like to be responsible for them. Well, let us go to the Convocations which ratified them: but they, too, were of different sentiments; the seventeenth century did not hold the doctrine of the sixteenth. Such is the state of the case. On the other hand, we say that if the Anglican Church be a part of the one Church Catholic, it must, from the necessity of the case, hold Catholic doctrine. Therefore, the whole Catholic Creed, the acknowledged doctrine of the Fathers, of St. Ignatius, St. Cyprian, St. Augustin, St. Ambrose, is the form, is the one true sense and interpretation of the Articles. They may be ambiguous in themselves; they may have been worded with various intentions by the individuals concerned in their composition; but these are accidents; the Church knows nothing of individuals; she interprets herself."

Reding took some time to think over this. "All this," he said, "proceeds on the fundamental principle that the Church of England is an integral part of that visible body of which St. Ignatius, St. Cyprian, and the rest were Bishops; according to the words of Scripture, 'one body, one faith'."

Bateman assented; Charles proceeded: "Then the Articles must not be considered primarily as teaching; they have no one sense in themselves; they are confessedly ambiguous: they are compiled from heterogeneous sources; but all this does not matter, for all {134} must be interpreted by the teaching of the Catholic Church."

Bateman agreed in the main, except that Reding had stated the case rather too strongly.

"But what if their letter contradicts a doctrine of the Fathers? am I to force the letter?"

"If such a case actually happened, the theory would not hold," answered Bateman; "it would only be a gross quibble. You can in no case sign an Article in a sense which its words will not bear. But, fortunately, or rather providentially, this is not the case; we have merely to explain ambiguities and harmonize discrepancies. The Catholic interpretation does no greater violence to the text than any other rule of interpretation will be found to do."

"Well, but I know nothing of the Fathers," said Charles; "others too are in the same condition; how am I to learn practically to interpret the Articles?"

"By the Prayer Book; the Prayer Book is the voice of the Fathers."

"How so?"

"Because the Prayer Book is confessedly ancient, while the Articles are modern."

Charles kept silence again. "It is very plausible," he said; he thought on. Presently he asked: "Is this a received view?"

"No view is received," said Bateman; "the Articles themselves are received, but there is no authoritative interpretation of them at all. That's what I was saying just now; Bishops and Professors don't agree together." {135}

"Well," said Charles, "is it a tolerated view?"

"It has certainly been strongly opposed," answered Bateman; "but it has never been condemned."

"That is no answer," said Charles, who saw by Bateman's manner how the truth lay. "Does any one Bishop hold it? did any one Bishop ever hold it? has it ever been formally admitted as tenable by any one Bishop? is it a view got up to meet existing difficulties, or has it an historical existence?"

Bateman could give but one answer to these questions, as they were successively put to him.

"I thought so," said Charles, when he had made his answer: "I know, of course, whose view you are putting before me, though I never heard it drawn out before. It is specious, certainly: I don't see but it might have done, had it been tolerably sanctioned; but you have no sanction to show me. It is, as it stands, a mere theory struck out by individuals. Our Church might have adopted this mode of interpreting the Articles; but from what you tell me, it certainly has not done so. I am where I was."

Chapter 1-16

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