As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, in March of 1834 members of the Cambridge University Senate petitioned parliament. Their goal was to abolish the requirement for students and faculty to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England in order to take a degree or obtain a fellowship, respectively. Although it was not rigorously enforced at Cambridge, requiring someone to sign the Third-Nine Articles kept anyone who was not a member of the established church from obtaining a degree or teaching.
|Pusey left, Newman middle, possibly Keble second from right.|
To the modern — or any other — mind with a proper grounding in principles of natural law and a justly structured social order, requiring a religious test to get an advanced degree or enter a profession is not merely unfair. It is an offense against the dignity of the human person. Yet it is essential to the maintenance of some form of orthodoxy in an established religion, or there is a real and present danger that political considerations will begin to influence religious doctrines and disciplines.
Members of the Oxford Movement thereby found themselves on the horns of a dilemma, a paradox that ultimately could not be resolved. Orthodoxy of doctrine and discipline absolutely require that a religion be independent of the civil power. At the same time, conservative adherents of an established religion are usually absolutely convinced that establishment of the religion is essential to safeguard orthodoxy of doctrine and discipline.
Adding another complexity was the situation of the Church of England in the early nineteenth century. Liberalism of the European type, almost inevitably accompanied by socialism, combined with liberalism of the English type (usually accompanied by capitalism) to threaten traditional notions of both civil and religious society.
|Charles Lever, "the Forgotten Victorian"|
Members of the Oxford Movement consequently found themselves in what amounted to a “three-front war.” The first and most obvious front was the attack from the European type liberals who were working to change the whole meaning not merely of Christianity, but of all religion, turning it into what amounts to a materialist social service agency under the auspices of the government.
Second was the intrusion of European liberalism into English government. Growing ever-stronger as the evils of English liberalism and capitalism became increasingly evident, liberalizing forces inside the Church of England were quick to seek allies among the more radical type of liberal politicians.
Third was the slower, but just as inexorable intrusion of English type liberalism and the principles of capitalism into the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. This is not surprising, given that local parishes were responsible for such social welfare as was available. As workers in the new factories tended to be grossly underpaid and subjected to subhuman conditions (as recorded, e.g., in the fiction of Charles Dickens and Charles Lever and the non-fiction of Peter Gaskell), religious doctrines regarding charity and justice tended to be distorted to the point of incomprehensibility to decrease the financial burden on the local church and increase the income of far too many non-resident clergy.
Eventually this would result in the merging of socialism and capitalism in what Hilaire Belloc called “the Servile State.” In the meantime, however, as Newman and the other participants in the Oxford Movement now discovered, it meant that liberals of both types in the Church, in the government, and in civil society all had a vested interest in changing fundamental religious doctrines and even the nature of religion itself.
Unless this point is clearly understood, the whole history of Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (and to a great extent that of organized religion itself in modern times) becomes incomprehensible. Efforts were under way to change what religion itself means and to subsume religion into civil society even if not directly controlled by the State, creating what Fulton Sheen a century later would call a “religion without God.”
|William Hurrell Mallock|
The demand that established doctrine be changed to accommodate to a personal, political, or religious agenda that had its own doctrines at odds with those defined by an organized religion in its “laws and formularies” would gain momentum in the Church of England as well as in the Catholic and Protestant world in general. By 1900 William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923) would note,
Though every party in the English Church to-day — including even the extreme Broad Churchmen — desires, so far as it can, to prove that its own doctrines are consistent with those embodied in the laws and formularies of the Reformation, it desires to do this for the practical reason only, that it thus will at once secure for itself a tolerable modus vivendi; but no party is prepared to give its own doctrines up, even if every historical expert and every legal authority should conclusively show that the laws and the formularies of the Reformation condemned them. Each party, under circumstances such as these, would indeed admit that some kind of change was necessary; but each would maintain that the things requiring change were the laws and formularies, which should be made to accommodate themselves to the doctrines; not the doctrines, in order that they should accommodate themselves to the laws and formularies. (W.H. Mallock, Doctrine and Doctrinal Disruption: Being an Examination of the Intellectual Position of the Church of England. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900, 5-6.)
Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the effort was centered on the Church of England and the Catholic Church. These were at the time the most dogmatic and organized Christian bodies apart from the autocephalous Orthodox churches which were not at that time under assault, at least directly. Thus, had it not been for the efforts of Gregory XVI and subsequent popes, and to a lesser degree the Oxford Movement, the recent history of Christianity could have been significantly different.
To explain, the members of the Oxford Movement were socially just in loving their institution (the Church of England) as they loved themselves and were also correct that the fundamental principles of the institution were under attack. Nevertheless, their strategy was flawed, as they defended another social organization — the university — which was itself in need of reform, enmeshed as it was in English type liberalism. As R.W. Church noted, bringing us dramatically back to the point,
Oxford was the fulcrum from which theological revival hoped to move the Church. It was therefore a shock and a challenge of no light kind, when not merely the proposal was made to abolish the matriculation subscription with the express intent of attracting Dissenters, and to get Parliament to force the change on the University if the University resisted, but the proposal itself was vindicated and enforced in a pamphlet by Dr. Hampden by a definite and precise theory which stopped not short of the proposition that all creeds and formularies — everything which represented the authority of the teaching Church — however incidentally and temporarily useful, were in their own nature the inventions of a mistaken and corrupt philosophy, and invasions of Christian liberty. This was cutting deep with a vengeance, though the author of the theory seemed alone unable to see it. (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 109.)
As Church observed, then, Hampden’s reason for trying to abolish all doctrine was to expand de facto membership in the Church of England to non-Anglicans, even non-Christians by making membership in the Church meaningless to all intents and purposes. It did not occur to Hampden and his supporters, or to his antagonists for that matter, that the obvious way out of the problem of treating non-Anglicans unjustly due to the existence of an established church is not to destroy, redefine, or “re-purpose” religion into a non-religious institution (a “Religion without God”), but simply to disestablish the Church of England.
In direct consequence to the effort mounted by the members of the Oxford Movement and faced with what amounted to a public outcry against the measure, the House of Lords threw out the bill to abolish the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles in July of 1834. Efforts to abolish the requirement to subscribe to the Articles, however, continued. On November 10, 1834, a few months after the measure failed in parliament, the Provost of Oxford, Edward Hawkins (1789-1882), persuaded the heads of the colleges to introduce a measure of their own into the university Convocation.
A modified version of the petition to parliament, the proposal was not to abolish the subscription requirement. Rather, the idea was to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles with a much milder document that would dissenters to sign in good conscience. Inauspiciously, the decision to introduce the measure passed by a single vote.
This new initiative was the occasion for the issuance in November 1834 of a second edition of Hampden’s pamphlet, Observations on Religious Dissent. Possibly out of a sense of fair play, Hampden sent a copy of the second edition to Newman . . . and got a little more than he bargained for in return.
|John Henry Newman|
Newman was polite when he acknowledged receipt of the pamphlet, but he was also honest. He thanked Hampden for his thoughtfulness, but then expressed his “very sincere and deep regret” that the little publication had ever seen the light of day. As Maisie Ward described Newman’s reaction to Observations on Religious Dissent,
Deprecating Hampden’s pamphlet Newman had prophesied that it would prove the first step “towards interrupting that peace and mutual good understanding that has prevailed so long in this place,” and that there would result “dissensions the more intractable, because justified in the minds of those who resist innovation by a feeling of imperative duty.” (Ward, Young Mr. Newman, op. cit., 288-289.)
Newman was, of course, wrong about the “peace and mutual good understanding” that had allegedly prevailed up to that time. A goodly number of people had been taken completely off guard by the Movement. Others had not completely understood what a significant challenge it represented to the growing encroachment of European type liberalism, socialism, and modernism — the total focus on purely religious matters ensured that. Yet others kept silent for fear of offending members of a group that appeared to be in the ascendant.
As touched on briefly in the previous posting, Hampden’s pamphlet set out his doctrines much more clearly than had been the case in the Bampton Lectures. It thereby provided both a trigger and a rallying point for a significant number of people who had become increasingly uneasy about the direction of the Oxford Movement, as well as what they considered its radical, even revolutionary methods.
The main bone of contention as far as Newman was concerned was the fact that Hampden claimed his theories returned the teachings of the Church of England to “the simple religion of Christ.” This, of course, has been the claim behind virtually every schism, heresy, or division in Christianity, with similar claims made for the same circumstances in other faiths and philosophies.
|Renn Dickson Hempden|
Specifically, Hampden argued that “Religion” is entirely distinct from “Theological Opinion,” and then proceeded to group essential Christian doctrines under the heading of “Theological Opinion.” For example, the doctrine of the Trinity (that God is one God in three divine Persons) is — according to Hampden — just as true and as valid as the Unitarian belief that God is a single entity and Jesus, while specially inspired by God, is not God.
With, e.g., the Trinitarian “opinion” being equally valid with the Unitarian “opinion,” then, the Church of England — being non-dogmatic — could therefore embrace everyone. Embrace everyone, that is, except those like members of the Oxford Movement who insisted on the absolute nature of the absolute doctrines and principles of faith and reason.
As for the appearance of the Church of England being dogmatic on which the members of the Oxford Movement insisted, that (according to Hampden) was an illusion. The Church of England is — according to Hampden — not dogmatic in spirit, although some of its formulation of Theological Opinions might sound that way.
And the specific formulation at issue? The Thirty-Nine Articles, to which every student and faculty member of Oxford University had to subscribe if he wanted to attend the university or teach there. These had been made purposely vague, even contradictory in some points, in order to prevent anyone who was not a member of the Church of England from attending Oxford.
This meant that dissenters and non-conformists (as well as Catholics and Jews) were barred from higher education. Hampden therefore proposed abolishing the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles as they constituted mere opinion; believing or refusing to believe specific religious doctrines should not, in Hampden’s view, preclude anyone from membership in the Church of England or attending the university.
To this day Newman’s stand on Hampden’s proposal excites extreme emotional responses among many Church of England members. The campaign to retain the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles is often described as a persecution or the martyrdom of Hampden at Newman’s vindictive and malicious hands.
Newman’s stand, and that of others in the Movement, was it was not only proper that members of the Church of England subscribe to a specific set of beliefs, it should be required. He considered that deliberate vagueness of points of doctrine and specific beliefs led to liberalism, socialism, modernism, as well as the latitudinarianism and religious indifference that were the main problems the Movement was attempting to counter.
Hampden’s most notable — and vocal — supporters included Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Richard Whately (1787-1863), and Hawkins. Arnold took the position that since during the tenure of Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715), Bishop of Salisbury, Church of England authorities had censured the particular expression of the Thirty-Nine Articles in use at Oxford, demanding that the requirement to subscribe to the Articles should be abolished. Whateley maintained that their meaning was vague, and therefore it was unfair to require anyone to agree to them when he might not know what they meant.
Hawkins, who owed his election to the position of Provost to Newman (for persuading Keble to withdraw his candidacy), opposed Newman and the others possibly because he felt Hampden’s political power was growing and, in any event, he had introduced the measure in the first place. When the measure finally came to a vote, it was defeated 459 to 57.
That was not, however, the end of the matter. Even though the measure had been defeated, and resoundingly at that, the acrimony not only did not diminish, it increased. The real issue — what did Christianity mean in the Church of England? — was something at which Newman had only hinted, but which was the battleground that would determine the roles of Church and State, as well as the direction of economic and social development, down to the present time, with the results that we see around us today.