As we hinted in the previous posting on this subject, even after the defeat of the motion at Oxford University in the 1830s to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles with something even more vague and stripped of all substance that students and faculty could sign, the situation did not improve. John Henry Newman had earlier predicted that “bitterness” would ensue as a result of the conflict, and he was right.
|Renn Dickson Hampden|
Nor did the acrimony, however expected, fade away once the immediate cause was resolved and the decision made to retain the requirement to subscribe to the Articles. There seems to be some sort of correlation between how radical a proposed innovation is and the resentment of those who are disappointed at it not being introduced.
Part of the problem was that R.D. Hampden’s theology could not be considered orthodox Christianity by any stretch of the imagination. His concept of “Divine Fact” — knowledge of God’s existence and thus of the natural law written in the hearts of all human beings — dismissed the idea of a natural law discernible by human reason and based everything on faith. It thereby relegated all religious doctrines other than the mere fact of God’s existence to the level of personal opinion, even if supported by logic and empirical evidence.
Ultimately, of course, rejecting the idea of a natural law discernible by reason also rejected the theory that the “Divine Fact” could be known at all by any means, faith or reason. Given that the Absolute Source of all exists — as is self-evident from the fact that such a Source is logically necessary — then the natural law also exists, for the Source and the natural law are necessarily the same.
|The creature cannot in essence contradict its Creator.|
Briefly, the argument is that the nature of anything created by an Absolute Source cannot contradict that Source, or the source would, ipso facto, not be absolute. The nature of everything that exists must be in conformity with the Nature of the Source, hence the absolute character of the natural law — the rules that govern existence.
But what of the “problem of evil”? If contradiction is impossible in nature (and evil certainly contradicts good), how do we account for the fact that evil exists?
In two words, free will. By deliberately willing non-conformity with nature — which nature is in conformity with the Absolute Source — beings with free will can go contrary to the rules of existence that emanate from the Absolute Source. They thereby contradict their own nature; they can go “against nature.”
Hampden’s theories, therefore, paved the way for a form of pseudo Christianity, a new religion ultimately based on pure moral relativism, or “might makes right.” In this framework, anything goes as long as someone is strong enough or has sufficient power to force his will on others, a “Triumph of the Will.”
As a result of Newman’s opposition to the proposal to abolish the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles, and very likely because Newman had been honest in his assessment of Hampden’s pamphlet, Hampden viciously attacked him. Hampden accused Newman of duplicity, falsehood, “and dark malignity, the latter quality arising from a ‘fanatical persecuting spirit’.” (Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 289.)
Half-seriously, Newman declared that Hampden was so angry with him that he, Newman, believed the Professor of Moral Philosophy would challenge him to a duel or “take up a knife and stick me in the fifth rib” (Ibid.) Despite the diversion, however, the Movement gained a great deal of momentum. As R.W. Church recalled,
From the end of 1835, or the beginning of 1836, the world outside of Oxford began to be alive to the force and the rapid growth of this new and, to the world at large, not very intelligible movement. The ideas which had laid hold so powerfully on a number of leading minds in the University began to work with a spell, which seemed to many inexplicable, on others unconnected with them. This rapidity of expansion, viewed as a feature of a party, was noticed on all sides, by enemies no less than friends. (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 137.)
This resurgence of orthodoxy in a church that had until recently seemed a spiritual corpse and thus ripe for takeover by the socialists, modernists, and New Agers (modern terms are used here for convenience) did not fail to alarm the innovators. Articles and pamphlets appeared expressing grave doubts about the wisdom of allowing outdated doctrines and foreign ideas into the venerable Church of England . . . said outdated doctrines and foreign ideas being the essence of Christianity, as far as the members of the Oxford Movement were concerned.
This being the case, the first line of attack for the innovators was to make the champions of orthodoxy appear to be going contrary to true Christianity. That is, “true Christianity” as it was being redefined throughout Europe by the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, de Lamennais, and the home-grown Robert Owen, among others.
|Frances "Fanny" Wright|
Owen had lived for a few years in the United States where he had set up socialist communities such as the one in New Harmony, Indiana. During one of his later trips to that country he had worked with Frances “Fanny” Wright (1795-1852) and Orestes Brownson on the socialist Working Men’s Party (1829-1831). The relationship with Brownson lasted until Brownson became convinced Owen and Wright were promoting themselves to gain wealth and power instead of trying to better the lot of the poor without harming the rich.
The fact was that the Movement’s growing popularity was disturbing both to the conservatives (bishops and Tory politicians), and to the liberals (modernists and socialists), radicals, and Evangelicals. Conservatives wanted to keep things just the way they were, while liberals, radicals, and Evangelicals demanded change.
The problem, of course, was what kind of change — and if there should, in fact, be change. Still, all factions, even (or especially) the Movement, could come together on the perceived need to prevent “Romanism” from infiltrating the Church of England. That, however, was as far as it went. Members of the Movement wanted to restore orthodoxy in doctrine and discipline, conservatives wanted to maintain the status quo, while the rest wanted to revive or redefine Christianity according to their lights.
Members of the Oxford Movement believed they were working to restore both the doctrines and disciplines of the Church of England to the purity of what was taught by the Fathers of the Church. For their part, liberals claimed to be restoring primitive Christianity, which just happened to be modernist and socialist. As the members of the Movement tried to base their case on reason, and the liberals and others based their arguments on faith, there was a built-in conflict that only massive goodwill and charity could have overcome.
Goodwill and charity, however, were the very things in short supply when the Movement came under scrutiny by either liberals or conservatives. Unfortunately for both groups, the fight over the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles had demonstrated that the members of the Movement, especially Newman, were well able to respond to challenges, especially when the reasoning, philosophy, or theology of their opponents was flawed or in error. The only thing that could bring anyone together even for a brief period of time was a common enemy, and once again Hampden was the trigger.
Matters went well until 1836. The Movement, dedicated to religious orthodoxy and Tory (conservative) politics, was at its height. It was then that Edward Burton (1794-1836), the Regius Professor of Divinity died. The Whig (liberal) prime minister, William Lamb (1779-1848), Second Viscount Melbourne, seeing no other politically reliable candidate at the university of equal stature — liberals being rare birds at Oxford at the time — appointed Hampden to the position.
Melbourne’s action in giving the appointment to Hampden is not free from the suspicion that he did so to punish the University. The previous prime minister, Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), was not only a Tory, but had been the member for Oxford University during his term of office. He had resigned on the grounds he had broken his gentleman’s agreement with the University when he felt himself obliged out of political necessity to back Catholic Emancipation in 1829.
Hampden’s previous appointment to the chair of moral philosophy had been bad enough. That, however, had at least been a University appointment. Obtaining the Regius Divinity professorship, however, was purely a political appointment. Melbourne, an “amateur theologian,” made his selection of Hampden for reasons having nothing to do with academic standards or religious orthodoxy.
Oxford exploded in outrage. Maisie Ward described the outburst of anger as “perfectly electrical.” (Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 289.) As Frederic Rogers, First Baron Blachford (1811-1889), noted in a letter,
The more the matter is thought of, the more I hope people will see the absurdity of allowing all the King’s Church Patronage to be distributed by a premier, who may be himself a heretic, or anything else. (Letters of Frederic Lord Blachford, p. 29, quoted in Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 290.)
As it had a few years earlier with the suppression of the Irish bishoprics, the event that had triggered the Movement in the first place, people raised the charge of Erastianism. Dissenters and Tractarians forgot their quarrel over whether the Church of England was Protestant or Catholic, respectively, in their fury over the appointment of a man whose theology had everyone convinced he was neither. As Ollard noted,
[T]he appointment raised a storm of indignation, and the Evangelicals joined with the men of the Movement to try to oppose it. This alliance between the Tractarians and the Evangelicals against what would now be called the Broad Church school is to be remarked, for a few years later it would have been impossible. Indeed, a Protestant paper of the time asserted that in Dr. Hampden’s teaching “Protestantism was stabbed to its very vitals.” [J.B. Mozley, Letters, p. 54. (note in text.)] All that they succeeded in doing was to enact at Oxford a statute which deprived the new professor of his power over University preachers. The victory, however, showed the strength of the new School, for although the Tractarians had not won it alone, theirs were the most powerful pens wielded in its cause. Henceforward those who had supported Hampden were to be their most determined foes. (Ollard, A Short History of the oxford Movement, op. cit., 51.)
Needless to say, one of the more avid supporters of Hampden, and thus an enemy of Newman — who knew nothing of the young man’s animus — was a student at Kings College London by the name of Charles Kingsley.#30#