In Although not clearly defined, the battle lines were beginning to be drawn between the more or less orthodox “High Church” Anglicans centered (more or less) around Newman, and the less or more unorthodox “Broad Church” Anglicans who started coalescing (less or more) around the Reverend Renn Dickson Hampden.— John Henry Newman and what later became known as “the act of social justice” — we saw that the controversy at Oxford University in the 1830s at the height of the Oxford Movement was starting to heat up.
|John Henry Newman|
Adherence of the “Low Church/Evangelicals” was the prize for which both sides contended. This was because as the main body of believers in the Church of England they would determine the future course of that institution and possibly Christianity itself by giving one group a clear majority of members of the Anglican Communion.
Political maneuvering of this sort was deprecated by virtually all members of the Church of England except those of the Broad Church party. It was, in fact, the original inspiration for the Movement and the main reason for its initial popularity in reaction against the suppression of a number of Irish bishoprics for political reasons.
For its part, the Broad Church party as the advance guard of the New Christianity and socialism actively sought government control of religion, especially since at the same time they sought control of government. By controlling a government that controlled a religion, adherents of “the democratic religion” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age would be in the position to redefine not merely politics to suit themselves, but religious doctrine, even to the point of defining God out of existence in the name of democracy or political expedience.
|Saint Robert Bellarmine|
Obviously, the “democracy” or liberalism espoused by the Broad Church New Christians bears only a superficial resemblance to the democracy of Saint Robert Bellarmine, Pope Pius VII, or Alexis de Tocqueville. Broad Church democracy, “democratic socialism” (as Pope Pius XI would point out a century later) “is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120.) And that “theory of human society” is?
The theory of democracy acceptable to orthodox Christianity is that God builds natural rights into each human person. Every child, woman, and man is therefore a sovereign being under the highest sovereignty of God. The socialist theory is that humanity in general — the collective — is sovereign, not individual human beings.
The implications of the socialist theory are profound, to say the least. To be brief, the most significant problem is that the socialist theory requires that God deals in abstractions such as “humanity,” “the collective,” and so on. God, however, is omniscient, and does not abstract, which is an imperfection; abstractions have no existence apart from the human mind which creates them.
Instead of a democracy in which individuals delegate rights to the collective (whatever form it takes) — which is perfectly acceptable to the Catholic Church — the collective delegates rights to human beings. The whole concept of natural right is turned on its head and redefined. Natural rights such as life, liberty, and private property are no longer natural in the sense of being inherent aspects of human nature but become expedient because it is “natural” to have rights under conditions determined by those who control the collective and not otherwise.
|Rev. Renn Dickson Hampden|
The socialist theory, then, puts the collective created by man over man created by God, thereby making man greater than God! That is why the socialist theory of democracy is completely unacceptable to the Catholic Church or any other form of Christianity with a claim to orthodoxy.
The immediate trigger of the conflict between Broad Church adherents and the High Church Oxford Movement was Hampden’s appointment as Regius professor of Divinity at Oxford University. This was clearly a political appointment by the Whig (liberal) prime minister, William Lamb, Second Viscount Melbourne. It may even have been a move to punish the University for its conservative (Tory) position and the fact that Sir Robert Peel, the preceding Tory prime minister, had been the Member of Parliament for Oxford.
Hampden’s innovative, Broad Church view of Christianity was that all doctrinal positions are equally valid . . . which logically meant that all were equally invalid, a fact that Newman and others were quick to point out. Thus (for example), under Hampden’s theory Jesus could be both God Incarnate and the Second Person of the Trinity, and just an ordinary human being, albeit especially inspired by God. God, in turn, was a sense of the divine about which nothing could be known for certain except that there was Something there.
Given Hampden’s theory, it became clear (at least to the members of the Oxford Movement) that it was not merely the character of the University as an Anglican institution that was at stake, nor only the identity of the Church of England, but the meaning of Christianity itself. This brought the “Low Church/Evangelical” members of the Church of England over to the side of the High Church Oxford Movement, despite their earlier suspicions of the Movement’s ritualism and Romanizing tendencies. The survival of Christianity was, after all, far more important than a few candles or possible lack of hostility to the pope.
It was then that the “Broad Church/New Christians” carried out a political masterstroke. To this day it is a little puzzling how they were able to pull it off, what with Broad Churchmen tending to be socialists and often not Christian in the usual meaning of the term.
The Evangelical, Low Church party, however, was composed largely of the merchant classes, small farmers, businessmen, and so on. If anything, they tended to what would today be called “ethical capitalism.”
Religiously, Low Church Evangelicals tended to be much more vocal in their support for faith in the divinity of Jesus than members of the High Church Oxford Movement. Movement members tended to talk and write in more intellectual terms that suggested faith alone might not be the only thing necessary for salvation. To the Evangelicals, this raised suspicions of Romish influence.
|Rev. R.W. Church|
With a little judicious distortion of the facts, Hampden’s Broad Church/New Christian supporters were able to divert Evangelical attention away from Hampden’s unorthodox understanding of Christianity. They did this in part by insisting that the members of the Oxford Movement were persecuting Hampden.
What clinched the matter, however, was that Hampden’s supporters were then able to get the Evangelicals to become alarmed at the presumed “Romanizing” by the members of the Oxford Movement. This, of course, was news to the members of the Movement.
Today’s Catholics and even many of them in the 1830s are and were baffled by the claim made by a number of High Church Anglicans to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic. This bafflement has resulted in a certain degree of acrimony in return, even among such well-disposed and genuinely charitable Anglicans as R.W. Church.
Members of the church headed by the pope could by their lights quite reasonably ask, “Well, if you people want to say you’re Catholic, why don’t you just be Catholic, and stop all this nonsense about there being a single invisible Church but a number of visible churches?”
Members of the church headed by the ruler of England politically and by the Archbishop of Canterbury religiously could in turn equally reasonably ask, “As long as we all agree on essential doctrines, why do you people insist on a purely political arrangement that depending on the interpretation of Scripture is either weakly attested to or not at all?”
|Pope Gregory XVI, a.k.a. "Antichrist"|
Of course, both sides could then point out that quite a few people claimed there were serious doctrinal difficulties, others that they were only disciplinary, and still others that there were not even those. Fortunately, however, that is not something we need to address in this series.
What we can address is the surprise of people like Newman who, although they had softened somewhat on their antipathy to all things Roman, still rejected papal authority, and even regarded the body headed by the pope as something of a threat to the independence of the Church of England. Newman, in fact, as an Evangelical and even during his pre-Movement High Church period had regarded the pope as Antichrist — and not as a metaphor.
Movement leaders had even gone to the length of inserting a statement in Tracts for the Times when collected in book form. This was to the effect that the Movement’s investigation of the original doctrines of Christianity as explained by their interpretation of the early Fathers of the Church, if “faithfully preached . . . [would] repress the extension of Popery, for which the ever-multiplying divisions of the religious world are too clearly preparing the way.” (Advertisement to Vol. I, November 1, 1834, quoted by Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 141.) As Newman said in Tract LXXI toward the end of 1835,
The controversy with the Romanists has overtaken us “like a summer’s cloud.” We find ourselves in various parts of the country preparing for it, yet, when we look back, we cannot trace the steps by which we arrived at our present position. We do not recollect what our feelings were this time last year on the subject; what was the state of our apprehensions and anticipations. All we know is, that here we are, from long scrutiny ignorant why we are not Roman Catholics, and they on the other side are said to be spreading and strengthening on all sides of us, vaunting of their success, real or apparent, and taunting us with our inability to argue with them. (Quoted in Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 141.)
Much to their own surprise, and most assuredly against their will, Newman and the others in the Movement found themselves castigated as being the very thing they had been at the greatest of pains to criticize and reject: “Roman” Catholics.