As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, John Henry Newman rapidly became the prime mover in the Oxford Movement. Between the friends and enemies of Newman, however, it is difficult to decide which has made understanding him more difficult. Enemies tend to portray him as the arch-traitor to the Church of England. He is a veritable Ahriman who led so many down the primrose path along the road to apostasy and out of the nurturing cradle of the Anglican Communion into the arms of the Whore of Babylon.
These defenders of the faith root out evidence of “Romanizing” from Newman’s earliest days. They assume that his animadversions on the evils of the Catholic Church before his conversion are an instance of the lady protesting too much.
|Charles Kingsley, Muscular Christian Minister|
Anything Newman said disparaging the Catholic Church prior to 1840 is therefore a lie told to deceive others and catch them off guard, so he could insinuate Romanism into their belief systems without their realizing it. Anything and everything that can be twisted or invented to support Newman’s perfidy is trotted out and presented as evidence that he was a consummate villain from the very beginning.
Of these, the most notorious example is, of course, the attacks by Charles Kingsley that began in the January 1864 issue of Macmillan’s Magazine and that called forth Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Even more scurrilous, however, and certainly much more influential on current public opinion, is the snarky Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement (1933) by Sir Geoffrey Cust Faber (1889-1961).
Having a certain credibility due to the fact that Faber was related to an important figure in the Movement who also converted to Catholicism and became a priest, Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), Oxford Apostles is a thinly veiled hatchet job on Newman. Faber skillfully employed innuendo and sly, unsupported accusations to suggest not only that Newman was a traitor to Christ, the Church of England, socialism, and modernism, but a pervert as well. With no evidence to support it, the last was something Faber invented out of whole cloth, but which has now become “common knowledge” through repetition without investigation.
|Young Mister Newman|
Friends of the more superficial variety have the tendency to do, in a sense, even worse. They unconsciously corroborate the theory that Newman was conniving, cunning, and deceitful by searching for every possible hint that prior to 1840 he was not merely in sympathy with Rome despite his clear statements to the contrary, but a Catholic in all but name, i.e., lying about being an Anglican.
Maisie Ward in particular fell into this trap in her biography of Newman, Young Mr. Newman (1948). Ward’s book gained credibility due to the fact that her grandfather, William George Ward, was also a participant in the Movement, a convert to Catholicism, and a friend of Newman.
Consequently, while acknowledging that Newman did not hesitate while an Anglican to declare his animus against the Catholic Church, Ward comes across as hinting more than a little broadly that Newman and the others who ended up converting were always Catholics at heart. Not only that, but that Newman fully supported her interpretation of everything G.K. Chesterton — the subject of two of Ward’s other biographies — said or did before Chesterton was even born. As Ward closed her chapter on the beginning of the Movement,
As we try to recall in imagination the actual England in which Newman and his friends were working we feel the truth of Richard Holt Hutton’s comment — that they lived “more like a colony of immigrants amongst a people of different languages and customs than like a band of patriots who were reviving the old glories of their native country.” He noted in their efforts “an air of anxious venturesomeness, of hesitating audacity, of careworn courage”: but it took an outsider to notice it: for them the courage had lifted their hearts high and they were living in an unreal world in which they were carrying all England with them on a tide of returning Catholicism. (Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 251.)
Even William Cobbett (1763-1835) made a rather uncomfortable series of appearances in Ward’s book, evidently on the strength of Chesterton’s self-consciously witty sketch of the noted Radical politician and journalist, sadly for admirers of Cobbett and Chesterton not one of the latter’s better efforts (G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Limited, 1925). This is despite the fact that Cobbett was dead by the time the movement was in full swing, and Newman had little or no sympathy with him or any other liberal or radical politician, especially one who was a strong advocate of the Catholic Emancipation Newman opposed.
Other authors are also guilty of this sort of wishful thinking, although it may be because Catholic writers tend to focus on the Oxford Movement and its aftermath, while non-Catholics concentrate on the Oxford Movement and its buildup. The massive two-volume biography of Newman by Wilfrid Ward, Maisie’s father (Wilfrid Ward, The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Vols. I and II. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912), falls into this category, as does Charles Stephen Dessain’s book (John Henry Newman. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., 1966). None of them precisely comes out and says it, but the selection of events and their presentation suggests a flattering (to Catholics) hidden longing on the part of Newman to find his true home in the Catholic Church.
|Fabians: self-proclaimed wolves in sheep's clothing.|
This is understandable up to a point, for Newman’s conversion has always been something of a puzzle to those who isolate his life as an Anglican from his life as a Catholic, and people love to speculate on such things instead of leaving conversions to God. Less understandable is the tendency to turn Newman into a proto liberal or modernist Catholic, as Harold L. Weatherby did in his obscurely written tome, Cardinal Newman in His Age (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1973), which credits Newman with advocating everything to which he was most strongly opposed.
Newman was therefore, by these enthusiasts’ lights, a “fifth column” in the Church of England, attempting to bore from within and convert Anglicans to Catholicism without them (or him) being aware of it — the program of the Fabian Society in reverse. His 1852 “Second Spring” sermon is taken as confirming this in the eyes of both friends and enemies.
Lost in the shuffle are works like those of R.W. Church, who while he did not get everything right in his book, at least did not get anything profoundly wrong, and was sympathetic to both sides of the issue. Church was a follower of Newman, one of those castigated by Faber as mesmerized by Newman’s wiles and part of the “escort of hermaphrodites” that shadowed Newman constantly. (Geoffrey Faber, Oxford Apostles. London: Pelican Books, 1954, 328.) Faber commented further that Newman was never “a man” (ibid.); his book overflows with this sort of sneering and amateur advocacy psychoanalysis.
|Reverend Edward B. Pusey|
Church, however, remained in the Church of England, as did Keble and Pusey. Pusey, in fact, gave his name to the ultra-conservative (i.e., orthodox), “Anglo-Catholic” branch of the High Church party in the Church of England as a result of his involvement in the Movement.
A great gain to the Movement, almost a coup, was the formal adherence of Pusey late in 1833, which also corroborates Newman’s utter fidelity to the Church of England. Before Pusey joined, the core group of the Movement had been perceived as a set of brilliant but radical Young Turks, a group of out-of-control Oxford Dons and viewed with a somewhat jaundiced eye.
Pusey gave the Movement not merely his intellectual guidance — Newman greatly admired his learning — but a large measure of respectability. Having been appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in 1828, he was counted among the great dignitaries of the University.
Although the Tracts had been revolutionary in conception and execution before Pusey came on board, they now became much more academic in tone — and much longer. Another innovation was that prior to Pusey’s first tract (on fasting), all contributions had been anonymous. His he signed with his initials, and publicly acknowledging authorship became the rule.
By the end of 1834, the term “tract” could be said to have been used only by courtesy to maintain the integrity of the series. A more accurate label would have been “treatise.” At the end of 1835, Pusey published an extended treatise on baptism in a series of three tracts consisting of a total of more than three hundred pages (hardly a tract!) that changed the whole character of the series as well as its form, being tantamount to a doctoral thesis in both content and intellectual rigor.
|"The Oriel Fellows"|
An ironic footnote is although Pusey was not one of the original group, the Movement became pejoratively known as “Puseyite,” which name still applies to the more tradition-minded High Church party of the Church of England. It worked its way into a number of other European languages, including French, German, Italian, and Greek. Ollard claimed that he had found it even in a Danish dictionary erroneously derived from “pussy-cat” (Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 48). The term, however, did not come into common use until after 1840. Before then the denigrating term was “Tractarian” or, more often, “Newmanite.”
For it becomes clear that, whatever the contributions of the other members of the Movement, it was Newman who became the public face of it. Most authorities credit this to Newman’s sermons.
In 1828 Newman had become Vicar of Saint Mary’s, the University church. He used his position to try and re-instill the fundamentals of Christianity as traditionally held by the Church of England in his parishioners.
|John Wesley preaching|
It is difficult for most people today to understand the impact of a good preacher and a substantive sermon in the days before radio and television. For example, one of the attractions of John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism — and why we know so much about his style of preaching — is that people who had no interest whatsoever in Wesley’s message or even religion in general would go to a Methodist prayer meeting just for the entertainment value.
This makes the dullness of the typical Anglican sermon of those days even less understandable — and much less forgivable. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was not unusual for a minister of the Church of England to give exactly the same series of sermons his entire career on a rotating cycle, or even just take them out of a collection of someone else’s sermons. Nor was the delivery anything likely to interest a congregation in the subject matter, with the text being rattled off in an inaudible or incoherent monotone.
Religion was increasingly simply not part of people’s lives. The growth and spread of liberalism and Christian socialism in opposition to the Oxford Movement greatly accelerated the process in the generation following, although it appeared to make religion more relevant to the then-modern world, at least for a while, until people realized that a religion without spirituality really wasn’t much worth having when the State could do all that a materialistic religion could do, and better.
|Effect of typical early 19th century sermon.|
In any event, in the early 1830s on the eve of the Movement, the Church of England was virtually an institutional corpse. As Ollard noted,
It is easy to exaggerate the state of things, and there were oases in that desert . . . but on the whole and broadly, in 1833, the English Church appeared to be nearly spiritually dead. . . . [T]he picture of the clergyman of the time suggests that they had gradually forgotten their calling. They had become, for the most part, amiable and respectable gentlemen, who were satisfied to read Morning and Afternoon Service on a Sunday, and to dislike Dissenters. The bishops were little better. (Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 28.)
As Ollard concluded, “With worldly bishops and a worldly clergy the Church was not likely to have a great hold on the hearts of her children. The day of visitation was at hand: ominous changes lay ahead.” (Ibid., 30.)
Thus, even though Newman would come off a distant second or third in comparison with some of today’s more spectacular televangelists, at least in delivery, the effect of his preaching on the Oxford student body and faculty, which soon spread far beyond those confines, was nothing less than electrifying. Decades later, J.R. Froude, the review of whose book by Charles Kingsley resulted in Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and whose repudiation of Christianity was almost notorious, sent a letter to the Catholic Duke of Norfolk asking permission to hear Newman preach once again.
As Froude said, “Since last I heard that musical voice my faith is all but shattered. Perhaps if I might hear him again it would at least awaken in me some echoes of those old days.” (Moody, John Henry Newman, op. cit., 315-316.) Whatever the charms of Newman’s voice, however, it was the substance of the sermons, not their delivery, that swayed people; maudlin sentimentality, even less than honest sentiment, is not a solid foundation on which to build or rebuild faith. Perhaps influenced or disillusioned by the materialism of his brother in law Kingsley’s “muscular” Christian socialism, Froude never returned to the practice of any form of Christianity.
|John Campbell Shairp|
Others more thoughtful, intellectual, or just less emotional were, however, persuaded or impressed if not persuaded by Newman’s sermons, despite the rising tide of liberalism and socialism. Worldlings, dissenters, and liberals who had no sympathy whatsoever with the Movement were, to put it mildly, stunned. Even Charles Kingsley claimed to have been enthralled by hearing Newman preach, and had to bring himself forcibly back to the principles of Christian socialism to which he devoted his own clerical career — and he resented ever after almost being persuaded to abandon his “muscular Christianity” and the principles of socialism.
Yet there were none of the novelties and extravagant theologies so common to popular preachers in any day and age, but sound teaching and common sense. As the Presbyterian John Campbell Shairp (1819-1885) of Saint Andrew’s University related of Newman’s sermons,
Here was no vehemence, no declamation . . . one who came to hear “a great intellectual effort” was almost sure to go away disappointed. His power showed itself in the new and unlooked-for way in which he touched into life old truths, which all Christians acknowledge but most have ceased to feel, . . . After hearing these sermons you might come away still not believing the tenets peculiar to the High Church system, but you would be harder than most men if you did not feel more than ever ashamed of coarseness, selfishness, worldliness, if you did not feel the things of faith brought closer to the soul. (J.C. Shairp, Studies in Poetry and Philosophy, 1868, pp. 275-8, quoted in Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 49.)
As the liberal Matthew Arnold, who had no sympathy at all with the Movement, said, “Happy the man who in the susceptible season of youth hears such voices. They are a possession to him for ever.” (M. Arnold, Discourses in America, p. 139, quoted in Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 49.) As R.W. Church noted,
None but those who remember them can adequately estimate the effect of Mr. Newman’s four o’clock sermons at St. Mary’s. The world knows them, has heard a great deal about them, has passed its various judgments on them. But it hardly realises that without those sermons the movement might never have gone on, certainly would never have been what it was. Even people who heard them continually, and felt them to be different from any other sermons hardly estimated their real power, or knew at the time the influence which the sermons were having upon them. (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 92.)