As we saw in Those with a vested interest in adapting doctrine and practice to modern conditions to make the Church of England more relevant to the modern age needed a cause around which they could rally., a number of people became worried by the success of the Oxford Movement in waking people up to the perceived need to return the Church of England to a more traditional understanding of Christian doctrine and even the meaning and purpose or religion.
|Alexis de Tocqueville
These included Whig (liberal) politicians, adherents of the “democratic religion” soon to be known as socialism, and “Protestantizers,” i.e., those who disagreed with the theory that the Church of England is a “Catholic” church. It was becoming increasingly apparent, just as de Tocqueville was observing at this time in his notes for Democracy in America— possibly with the Church of England in mind — that the Church of England was beginning to come apart at the seams, always a danger for a political religion of any faith or philosophy if the political entity to which it is linked changes its philosophy of government or loses its independence.
As related in the previous posting on this subject, the incident that provoked a storm of protest from virtually all the parties at Oxford except for the budding “Broad Church” (socialist) sect was the appointment by Lord Melbourne of Reverend Renn Hampden to the Regius Divinity professorship. Hampden’s Bampton Lectures, which had pretty much been forgotten until Melbourne gave Hampden the plum assignment in an obviously political move, were filled with what Newman and others declared would cause dissension among the members of the university — which proved to be the case. A large number of University faculty petitioned King William IV to rescind the appointment. Having no effective power, of course, the king was not about to withdraw the Royal Assent, regardless of his personal feelings in the matter.
|John Henry Newman
Once again, the basic issue was the question of the identity of the Church of England. Is it Protestant as the “Low Church” party claimed? Is it Catholic as the “High Church” party theorized? Or is it even Christian as that term is traditionally meant, or in the “democratic religious” (socialist-modernist) sense as the new “Broad Church” party was beginning to assert?
Newman responded with his theory of “the Via Media,” the “Middle Way,” an existing concept to which he added the results of his researches into the early Church Fathers. This was a term found in the philosophy of Aristotle, who taught that the way of virtue is to follow the middle way between two extremes; “moderation in all things.”
In Anglicanism, the origin of the Via Media has traditionally been assigned to the theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600) in his Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie (1594, 1597, and later). Recent scholarship reveals that Hooker never actually used the term, although he used the concept — in a different sense than Newman.
The older, pre-Newman sense of the Via Media dates from the earliest days of the English Reformation in an effort to avoid the political controversies that led to open warfare on the continent. To ensure political stability — an important consideration in an England still divided following the Wars of the Roses — the idea was that civil authority would have the final say-so in religious disputes.
This understanding of the Via Media, as might be expected, was unacceptable to the members of the Oxford Movement as it supported Erastianism, the belief that the State has the ultimate power to decide matters of religious truth. As this was one of the chief complaints that inspired the Movement, Newman’s use of the term was a very bold as well as clever move.
By using a term that scholars associated with the “Elizabethan Settlement” that had led to the adoption of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Newman sought to strengthen the link between the original reformers and the Movement. This would allow the members of the Movement to assert with some degree of credibility that both they and the early Anglican divines were walking a middle way between the radical reformers who sought to change fundamental Christian doctrines, and the Catholic Church under the pope. Its validity remains controversial in Anglicanism to this day.
What made the situation much more volatile was the fact that the Oxford Movement had now caught the attention of the public. Unfortunately, this was a public almost as ill-equipped to understand the complexity of the issues as the people of today. Almost the sole advantage the Oxford Movement (as well as Gregory XVI) enjoyed was that socialism, modernism, and New Age thought were still in their infancy and had not yet entered the public consciousness as the right way to think.
Newman’s concept of the Via Media appeared in a number of tracts, later collected and published in book form. The authorities and the public, however, were beginning to get suspicious of what was going on. It was at this point that the old charge of “Romanism” or “Popery” reared its head and began gaining a great deal of force.
|Rev. R.W. Church
The problem was that Newman and a number of others, in order to counter the popularity of Hampden’s pamphlet, adopted a more aggressive stance in defense of orthodox Christianity against what in substance was a vague deism. In defense of Hampden’s new version of Christianity and innovative theology tailored to the presumed needs of the modern age, Hampden’s supporters accused Newman and the other leaders of the Movement of “Romanizing.” This was a little ironic, as the Thirty-Nine Articles had been designed and intended to institute a religious test specifically to exclude Catholics.
According to R.W. Church, suggesting the opponents of the Movement realized they could not defeat Newman and the others on the basis of logical argument or empirical evidence, a satirical pamphlet was published. The pamphlet, Pastoral Epistle from His Holiness the Pope to Some Members of the University of Oxford, was probably (according to Church) written by Charles Dickinson (1792-1842) under the inspiration — or at the direction — of Richard Whately, a strong supporter of Hampden.
Playing to ignorance and popular prejudice, the pamphlet was (in Church’s opinion) clever, but hardly truthful or honest. It purported to be an encyclical from Pope Gregory XVI to the leaders of the Oxford Movement who — in the best style of the peculiarly English type of anti-Catholic bigotry — are portrayed as secret agents of the pope and dupes of Rome.
It was perhaps just a little too cunning. As Church remarked, “It was clever, but not clever enough to stand, at least in Oxford, against Dr. Pusey’s dignified and gravely earnest Remonstrance against its injustice and trifling.” (Church, The Oxford Movement, op. cit., 141.) Dickinson, by the way, was given the Anglican bishopric of Meath in 1840, and served until his death, coincidentally on July 12, 1842, the day of the annual celebration of the defeat of “popery” in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne, July 12, 1690 (July 1, O.S.).
|Rev. Renn Hampden
The pamphlet, however, accomplished its purpose, which was not so much to defend Hampden’s religious opinions. Rather, it was to divert attention away from the issue — the effort to transform Christianity — by turning Hampden into a martyr and calling into question the motives of the members of the Oxford Movement. To this day histories of the Oxford Movement written from a “Broad Church” perspective neglect to mention that Hampden had the full force of Church, State, and public opinion behind him and present the whole episode as a “persecution” of Hampden rather than as a defense of orthodoxy.
The tactic, while violating the principles of both faith and reason, succeeded in diverting attention away from the real issue of religious orthodoxy, and united former antagonists under the banner of “No Popery.” Those who had been angry with Hampden for his reinvention of Christianity — Evangelicals, High Church, Low Church, and political liberals and conservatives — were now united against the Movement by the fear of the Romish Menace.
Nor was the Movement prepared for either the accusation or the manner in which it was made. It is one thing to counter bad arguments with logic or alleged facts with the truth. This the members of the Oxford Movement were well capable of doing, as they had proven time and again.
It is quite another thing altogether to be confronted with vague and formless assertions with no specific accusation ever being leveled. After all, how can anyone disprove an accusation that is never made, or deny a hidden or interested motive based on mere assertion?
The answer, of course, is that no one can. As might be expected, the underlying problem — as far as the anti-Catholic parties were concerned — were the Tracts themselves. By inserting fundamental Christian principles and the traditional concept of religion into a debate over the definition of the Church of England, the Movement went directly contrary to the spirit of the age as established by the French Revolution.