Following up on the previous posting on this subject (i.e., John Henry Newman), we need to look at the specific situation in which he found himself. As was the case with all mainstream Christian churches in the early nineteenth century, the Church of England was in serious trouble. Nor was this situation limited to religious society. In the wake of the French Revolution, Church, State, and Family seemed to be dissolving in chaos everywhere in Europe.
|William Cobbett, "the Apostle of Distributism"
This was deceptive in a sense, as it gave the impression that the French Revolution was the primary, if not sole cause of the “new things” afflicting the post-revolutionary world. As appears obvious from the argument in Enthusiasm (1950) by Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957), however, or from the contemporary writings of William Cobbett (1763-1835), whom G.K. Chesterton called “a sort of Radical” (and then spent a hundred pages or more in his book on Cobbett explaining why Cobbett was both less and more radical than any Radical), the problems were rooted in fundamental changes that had taken place long before the French Revolution, and were themselves the result of other problems.
We can go out on a limb and risk saying that in our opinion, if anything can be said to have been the cause of the “new things” of the modern age it was the changing idea of what it means to be human. There was a shift from the idea that each individual human person is important and is thus the whole reason for having society or even the world, to the belief that the abstraction of the collective is more important than any one person, group, or institution could ever be.
|Fulton J. Sheen
The idea that the collective has a greater claim to being fully human than any actual human being strikes at the heart of a sound understanding of civil, religious, and domestic society — at the foundation of State, Church, and Family. It makes the human person inferior to his or her own institutions, which (after all) are human creations, and thereby necessarily subordinates the Creator of human beings (God) to a creation of human beings, as Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) pointed out. This creates, as Sheen put it, a “Religion Without God.”
This did not come from out of nowhere. It had been building up for centuries. As the opportunity to acquire and possess private property in capital (primarily land) gradually disappeared and ownership of the land became increasingly concentrated, ordinary people were unable to produce except with their labor.
As long as labor and land were the primary inputs to production of marketable goods and services, this was adequate — barely. With human beings able to produce more efficiently than technology, however, the temptation was always there to enslave people in order to get their labor at the lowest possible cost. As Rome discovered following the devastation of small agriculture during and after the Second Punic War, concentrated ownership of land made chattel slavery on a commercial scale very profitable.
|The Second Punic War, the "War With Hannibal"
Prior to the Second Punic War, most Roman families included a couple of slaves as a matter of course and the slaves were usually treated more or less the same as other family members, albeit with an inferior social status. Unlike the Greek system, in which slaves were not even considered human, Roman law gave slaves the legal status of children under the tutelage of the pater familias; the only legal difference between a Roman and his slave was the fact of slavery, i.e., the Roman had rights, while slaves (and children) had none. The situation of children and slaves prior to the Second Punic War was similar, except that a child could expect to be freed (“emancipated”), but it was not required, while a slave did not expect to be freed (“manumitted”), but often was, anyway.
|Cato the Elder, "Old Roman Virtue"
Concentrated ownership of land changed everything. Except among those who attempted to preserve “Old Roman Virtue” (and then usually only affecting household slaves), slaves became viewed as mere chattels instead of family members with an inferior social status. The new type of latifundia agriculture that came in after the Second Punic War mandated much more labor than the old subsistence type, and widespread slavery became very profitable. Slave revolts, practically unheard of prior to the Second Punic War, became a major concern of the Res Publica, as did lower class unrest as propertyless citizens and others drifted into the cities in search of some form of subsistence. Many people became dependent on the State for their means of survival.
Something similar happened following the “Financial Revolution” of the late seventeenth century. With the invention of commercial insurance and central banking minimizing risk and making the new labor-displacing technologies financially feasible, ordinary people found their labor becoming relatively less valuable as an input to production, and consequently became hard put to generate sufficient income from labor alone to meet their needs. Many were forced to apply for public assistance, which in England at that time was handled by “the parish,” the local division of the Church of England charged with taking care of the poor and indigent.
|Society of Friends dissenter
At the same time, as a direct result of the establishment of religion as a branch of government, many people had simply ceased any meaningful practice of religion. Others had left the Church of England and joined “dissenting” sects, such as the Methodists or the Society of Friends (Quakers).
With some notable exceptions, clergymen lived as country gentlemen, holding several “livings” at one time, sometimes never seeing the parishes or dioceses from which they drew their income, leaving the religious duties to some underling when they were carried out at all. Services were often social occasions, with the box or pew set aside for the local gentry having the appearance and function of a parlor or sitting room. Attendance was the exception rather than the rule, with resident clergy seen as spies or government agents.
As far as most ordinary people were concerned, then, Church and State were simply different aspects of the same unjust system that ruled England. As Alexis de Tocqueville explained,
|Alexis de Tocqueville
As long as a religion rests only upon those sentiments which are the consolation of all affliction, it may attract the affections of all mankind. But if it be mixed up with the bitter passions of the world, it may be constrained to defend allies whom its interests, and not the principle of love, have given to it, or to repel as antagonists men who are still attached to it, however opposed they may be to the powers with which it is allied. The church cannot share the temporal power of the state without being the object of a portion of that animosity which the latter excites. . . . As long as a religion is sustained by those feelings, propensities, and passions which are found to occur under the same forms at all periods of history, it may defy the efforts of time; or at least it can be destroyed only by another religion. But when religion clings to the interests of the world, it becomes almost as fragile a thing as the powers of the earth. It is the only one of them all which can hope for immortality; but if it be connected with their ephemeral power, it shares their fortunes and may fall with those transient passions which alone supported them. The alliance which religion contracts with political powers must needs be onerous to itself, since it does not require their assistance to live, and by giving them its assistance it may be exposed to decay. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. I, xvii.6.)
In consequence, according to religious historians, in the early nineteenth century the Church of England was faced with four serious problems, all of which can be traced directly to the problems de Tocqueville identified with the establishment of religion, and its downgrading from a primary focus on spiritual matters to a concentration on material and political concerns while paying lip service to a vague humanistic morality that supported the government that maintained the status quo:
|Dan O'Connell, "the Great Emancipator"
· The Political Game Itself. Having been made an integral part of the political establishment by having the head of state as the head of the national church, the Church of England had become increasingly identified with the “Tory” party, that is, the conservatives . . . and the Tories had become increasingly reactionary. Opposition to change and to popular opinion had by the 1830s become the unspoken Tory party platform, which was of course supported by the hierarchy and beneficed clergy (i.e., clergy who received an income from church property, usually land, were endowed by the local landlord, or some similar arrangement), whose economic wellbeing and social status depended in large measure on maintaining the status quo. As the established church became less and less responsive to the needs of the people and instead supported the government against popular opinion, and dissenters (1828), Catholics (1829), and Jews (1835 et seq.) gained civil rights, the power and influence of the Church of England declined in proportion. Anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism were not, therefore, mindless bigotry in many cases, but an understandable fear on the part of those who felt that anything threatening the security of the established church (and their incomes) was a personal danger to themselves. The fact that most Catholics were Irish or of Irish descent, and after 1829 tied the “Catholic cause” to repeal of the 1800 Act of Union with Great Britain and, eventually, the vague demand for “Home Rule” only confirmed the papist menace in the eyes of conservatives.
|Thomas Lieber, "Erastus"
· “Erastianism.” This is the term applied to the belief that the State has the ultimate power to decide matters of religious truth. It is something of a misnomer, as the doctrine of Thomas Lieber or Liebler (1524-1583), “Erastus” being the Latinized form of his name, was that the State should punish religious offenders, not define or determine doctrine, policy, or practice, which actually derived from the theology and political philosophy of Richard Hooker (cir. 1554-1600) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), respectively. For at least a century and a half by the early nineteenth century the State had been taking an active role in the internal affairs of the Church of England, treating it as just another branch of government.
|John Henry Newman at Oxford
· Religious Identity. An unusual feature of the Church of England is one that completely baffles outsiders. As a body that separated from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, Catholics tend to categorize the Anglican establishment as Protestant, but within the Church of England there were and remain all varieties of belief from extreme Protestant, even atheist, to orthodox. This lack of unity of belief was of great benefit for a national church as it allowed for differences of opinion that approached an official toleration for almost anything that called itself Christian and subscribed to the “Thirty-Nine Articles” . . . which were made purposely vague and open to different interpretations to avoid conflict. The problem was that, as a result, it became impossible for anyone to say what, exactly, it meant in doctrinal terms to be a member of the Church of England or even in any meaningful sense a Christian.
· Liberalism. Possibly the greatest danger to Church, State, and Family in England and elsewhere in the early nineteenth century was the rise of liberalism. One of the main problems with liberalism, however, was that far too many people were simply unaware of the fact that the term was a very broad umbrella and covered a spectrum of things many of which contradicted each other. For that reason, we will cover it in the next posting on this subject.