As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, there was a very natural desire on the part of the members of the Oxford Movement to come to grips with the serious danger threatening the Church of England. This, combined with some difficulties in completing any plan of association, prevented the formation of an organization to provide a base from which to carry out a coordinated campaign.
|Hugh James Rose|
Failure to organize properly also prevented the adoption of a clear set of principles or core values, and a coherent mission statement. As a result, it was all very well to say that they wanted to restore the doctrines and disciplines of the Church of England, but precisely what those doctrines and disciplines were remained a matter of opinion, except in the most general terms.
Not that there wasn’t an effort to promulgate a standard doctrinal and disciplinary approach, a project that had been in the works even before the Hadleigh meeting. Arthur Perceval drafted The Churchman’s Manual as a supplement to the Church Catechism and submitted it to William Palmer and Hugh Rose for review and revision. As R.W. Church described it, the Manual was intended to explain —
. . . the nature and claims of the Church and its Ministers. It is a terse, clear, careful, and, as was inevitable, rather dry summary of the Anglican theory, and of the position which the English Church holds to the Roman Church, and to the Dissenters. It was further revised at the conference, and “some important suggestions were made by Froude.” (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 89.)
Perceval, who not unnaturally had great hopes of what would result from the book’s publication, spared no pains to try and make it perfect. After doing everything he thought possible, he submitted it for review by a number of religious and civil leaders, all of which apparently approved of the project, the Scottish bishops in particular not stinting their praises. Finally, Perceval submitted the book to the Archbishop of Canterbury for correction or suppression if he found it unsuitable, or for his endorsement and sanction if he approved.
Not surprisingly, the Archbishop — the quintessential political prelate — did neither, avoiding the issue altogether. He replied that he had no objection to it, but that “official sanction must be declined on general grounds.” (Ibid.)
Recovering from this — to him — unexpectedly equivocal response from the highest religious authority in England, Perceval decided that his book was really the first Tract, and thus had a special place in the Oxford Movement. He seemed to believe to the end of his life that he, not John Henry Newman, initiated and inspired the Tracts. The fact that the book was all but forgotten even during his own lifetime made no difference. Perceval continued to assert its publication (it did achieve a small number of sales) as his chief claim to fame.
|John Henry Newman|
Of the first one, Sidney Leslie Ollard (1875-1949) remarked in his book, A Short History of the Oxford Movement (1932), “Certainly no other tract in all religious literature was ever like this one.” (S.L. Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement. London: A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1983, 44.) As R.W. Church commented on the surprising effect the Tracts had from the very beginning,
[T]he ring of these early Tracts was something very different from anything of the kind yet known in England. They were clear, brief, stern appeals to conscience and reason sparing of words, utterly without rhetoric, intense in purpose. They were like the short, sharp, rapid utterances of men in pain and danger and pressing emergency. The first one gave the keynote of the series. Mr. Newman “had out of his own head begun the Tracts”: he wrote the opening one in a mood which he has himself described. He was in the “exultation of health restored and home regained”: he felt, he says, an “exuberant and joyous energy which he had never had before or since”: “his health and strength had come back to him with such a rebound” that some of his friends did not know him. (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 80.)
It is common when analyzing the Oxford Movement to give extensive quotes from the first Tract, or even (since it is fairly short) present it in its entirety. Other studies of Newman or the Movement, however, are primarily religious in nature, and consequently focus on matters of doctrine and discipline as they relate to religious belief.
That of course is important, and the subject is what most people find of interest in the life of Newman and the history of the Oxford Movement. This study, however, is on social justice and the fact of doctrine and solid discipline based on sound doctrine, not necessarily the specific doctrines or disciplines themselves.
Social justice involves organized acts directed to the common good intended to reform institutions to make them “structures of virtue,” that is, to conform discipline (applications of doctrine) to doctrine (principles of good), whether in religious, civil, or domestic society. Focusing only on the religious aspects of the Oxford Movement obscures the importance of its social and political character when it does not result in ignoring it altogether.
It is therefore the fact of the Tracts themselves, not their content (even though they were and remain works of literature presenting the Movement’s views on Anglican doctrine and discipline) that is of importance to social justice. The Tracts also served to bring the members of the movement together in solidarity, at least up to a point.
Because the principles of the Movement went back to the early Church Fathers, short translations of selections from their works were published in tandem with the Tracts. The Church Fathers were writers of the first centuries of Christianity who are revered as saints for their special witness to the faith, and are characterized by their antiquity, orthodoxy, sanctity, and approval by the Church. They are usually divided into the “Latin Fathers” and the “Greek Fathers.” Like the Tracts, these “Records of the Church” were sold for one penny.
Having, so they thought, organized sufficiently and gained a beachhead, the members of the Movement now began their campaign in earnest. During the “Long Vacation” in the closing days of 1833, Newman and the others traveled around the country with bundles of Tracts, distributing them wholesale at country parsonages and even bishops’ palaces.
An amusing but sad anecdote Newman related in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua is of a bishop who read the Tract on “the Apostolic Succession” — the theory that the Christian priesthood descends directly from the companions of Jesus. Such was the state of this prelate’s understanding of theology and, demonstrating how far matters had degenerated within the Church of England, he could not decide whether he believed the doctrine on which he based the validity of his own ordination!
Despite the caution or ignorance of the higher clergy, the Tracts were well received among the working clergy and ordinary Christians; they could almost be said to have taken the country by storm, at least in a religious sense. Even the liberal Evangelicals of the early nineteenth century (not necessarily related to modern conservative Evangelicals) approved of the effort at first. Newman had, in fact, himself started out as a member of the Evangelical branch of the Church of England and in 1828 had been one of the founders of The Record, an Evangelical newspaper.
Now Newman took the opportunity to write a series of letters to the Record advocating Church reform along the lines developed and promoted by the Movement. Five of the letters were published before the sixth was rejected on the somewhat specious grounds that they attacked the Temperance Societies.
The editor, however, mentioned in his note to Newman rejecting the final letter that he “seriously regretted the character of the Tracts.” It is therefore more probable that it was the perception of a drift in the direction of Rome that made the Evangelicals — or at least the editor — suspicious, not any promotion by Newman of the cause of insobriety.
To lay a charge of “Romanism” against Newman at this time or any other up to his actual decision to enter the Catholic Church was, frankly, ludicrous. It was simply the easiest way for anyone who accepted English or European type liberalism in any form and to any degree to attack orthodoxy without appearing to do so.
The truth was that Newman had up to the beginning of the Movement viewed the pope as Antichrist, as he himself admitted later. It was only after discussions with the others, especially Froude, that Newman began to modify his views somewhat, although remaining (in his own words) “anti-Catholic.”
What baffles both Catholics and Anglicans to this day is the attitude of those in the Movement, especially Newman, to the Catholic Church or (as they preferred to call it) “the Church of Rome.” It is actually a grave injustice to call Newman a “Romanizer” or to assume that he had the slightest sympathy with the Catholic Church.
When Newman visited Rome in 1833, a few months before the Movement began, scarcely any of his letters home failed to include a condemnation of the Catholic Church. Some of the extracts read like a Chick Publications tract; they drip with disgust, even horror. His behavior when he visited the future Cardinal Wiseman was barely civil, bordering on outright rudeness.
To be blunt, the frequency with which Newman described Rome under the pope as “cruel” becomes tiresome to the researcher hunting for facts instead of fanaticism. As he wrote to one of his sisters just before leaving Rome for Sicily,
Oh, that Rome were not Rome! but I seem to see as clear as day that a union with her is impossible. She is the cruel Church asking of us impossibilities, excommunicating us for disobedience, and now watching and exulting over our approaching overthrow. (Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 203.)
Newman’s antipathy to Rome had been increased by the struggle for Catholic Emancipation, that culminated in 1829 by granting civil rights to Catholics, and the (to Newman) disreputable behavior of “the Catholic Party” afterwards. Nor did the fact that he was at the same time increasingly dissatisfied with English Protestantism ameliorate his feelings.
What did alter Newman’s opinion of Catholic doctrine — but not his feelings about Rome’s presumed corruption of discipline and practice — were the pointed questions Froude began asking. Froude had accompanied Newman to Rome and shared his emotional antipathy toward the eternally corrupt church that unfortunately controlled the Eternal City. Newman’s consideration of Froude’s questions appears to have marked the beginning of Newman’s theory of the “Via Media,” a “Middle Way” between the reactionary corruption of Rome and the liberal perversion of Protestantism.
As the theory developed, the idea was that up until the Council of Trent in 1545-1563, the Church of England and the Catholic Church shared a common body of doctrine, even discipline in many instances. Immediately following the Tridentine Council, official doctrine of both churches remained in agreement, but practices (disciplines) began to differ, just as they did among the autocephalous (“self-headed”) Orthodox churches in the east that did not acknowledge papal supremacy.
Gradually, however — so the theory goes — Rome began adding doctrines such as infallibility to the deposit of faith to bolster her claim to papal supremacy. At the same time, Protestant and liberal doctrines began infiltrating the Church of England.
|Richard Hurrell Froude|
The post-Tridentine Catholic Church was the bogeyman, both of the ordinary Anglican in the pew, and the member of the Oxford Movement in the pulpit, and Newman held this opinion as firmly as anyone. The only difference was that where Froude would comment, “There are wretched Tridentines everywhere,” Newman was now persuaded to be a trifle more indulgent toward what he viewed as Roman failings than before; the problems of Rome were for the Romanists, his concern was the Church of England.
Even with the hints of possible Romanizing, however unfair or unjustified, the Tracts — and the Tractarians, as they were soon termed — were extraordinarily successful. The effort began taking on the character of a genuinely popular movement.
Nor was the effect limited to religious society. People joined the Movement in droves, and even barristers and important men in the City (i.e., people involved in finance, the stock exchange, and the money market) became associated with it. Gladstone, the future prime minister, also came on board, and was to remain on good terms with Newman until Gladstone’s misunderstanding of the decrees of the First Vatican Council drove a wedge between them.
Remarkably successful as the Tracts were, however, what really turned the Movement into a virtual religious Juggernaut in the Church of England — and spread fear and consternation among the higher clergy as well as the liberals, Evangelicals, New “Muscular” Christians, and socialists — were the sermons of John Henry Newman.