As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, worried that the Church of England might return to orthodoxy and undermine or repudiate all the gains that had been made by “the democratic religion” or New Christianity that was intended to replace traditional political and religious institutions, the “Broad Church” faction comprised of socialists, modernists, unitarians, and even followers of esoteric cults whipped up fear of “Romanism” among the Evangelical faction that adhered to traditional Christian beliefs.
This served the dual purpose of characterizing the members of the Oxford Movement as enemies of Christianity and playing down or hiding the fact that the Broad Church position had rapidly become Christian in name only. It was, as G.K. Chesterton noted a century or so later in his sketch of Saint Francis of Assisi and drawing a parallel between the Franciscan renegades of the Middle Ages with the socialists, modernists, and New Agers of the nineteenth century, the invention of a new religion under the name of Christianity:
St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilization was to be consumed. (G. K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1943, 175)
There was thus no logical reason why Newman’s somewhat academic exercise should have caused the controversy it did or even have stepped on anybody’s toes. He was not the first one to try and make consistent sense of the Thirty-Nine Articles, nor would he be the last. He was not even the first to attempt to reconcile the Articles with orthodox Christianity.
|John Henry Newman|
Newman was, however, the first member of the Oxford Movement to give the Broad Church adherents a pretext that they could magnify and turn into a weapon against orthodoxy. That is the real significance of Tract 90, not anything Newman actually said or wrote.
Tract 90 is always presented in histories of the Oxford Movement and in biographies of Newman as the key event in his life. That characterization, however, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding both of the Movement and of Newman himself.
The ideas in Tract 90 were nothing more than what members of the Movement had been saying from the very beginning: that the Church of England and the Catholic Church are both Christian, and Christian in the same way. Nor were the members of the Movement the first to make this claim, which has been part of the tradition of the Church of England from the very beginning.
Henry VIII Tudor tried to make it clear that he was separating the Church in England from the authority of the pope, nothing more; it was for the first century or so referred to as “the Anglican Schism,” not a heresy. Those who first attempted to assert “Lutheran” ideas were persecuted at least as fiercely as those who maintained an allegiance to the pope in spiritual matters.
|Queen Henrietta Maria|
Francis Davenport, O.M.R. (1598-1680), an English Catholic theologian, was royal chaplain to Queen Henrietta Maria during the reign of Charles II. He wrote a treatise, Paraphrastica Expositio Articulorum Confessionis Anglicanae, explaining how the Thirty-Nine Articles could be interpreted in a manner consistent with Catholic doctrine.
As late as the reign of James II/VII many people claimed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had political differences, not doctrinal. The slogan was “No Popery!” not “No Catholicism!”
James Boswell recorded that Samuel Johnson in his less crotchety moods was well-disposed to the Catholic Church, only grousing about the practice of not distributing communion under both species . . . although when irritated complaining about the presumed tyranny of the pope. In her 1791 parody written when she was sixteen years old, Jane Austen — the daughter of an Anglican clergyman — noted,
As I am myself partial to the roman catholic religion, it is with infinite regret that I am obliged to blame the Behaviour of any Member of it; yet Truth being I think very excusable in an Historian, I am necessitated to say that in this reign [James I/VI] the roman Catholics of England did not behave like Gentlemen to the protestants. Their Behaviour indeed to the Royal Family & both Houses of Parliament might justly be considered by them as very uncivil.
Contemporary with Newman, although Newman claimed he was not aware of it before he wrote Tract 90, William Patrick Palmer (1803-1865) published his Treatise on the Church of Christ (1838) in which he presented “Branch Theory” (Palmer seems to have coined the term) as a formal proposition. As Palmer argued, any church that maintained the unbroken Apostolic Succession (i.e., could show direct descent in its doctrine and orders from the Apostles) was a branch of the Catholic Church. Logically, since the Anglican Church had done so in the opinion of many people, the Thirty-Nine Articles had to be consistent with Catholic doctrine.
Thus when Newman wrote Tract 90, neither he nor anyone else in the Oxford Movement had any reason to expect that it would cause the stir it did — nor would it have, had the Broad Church faction not stirred up the fears of the Evangelicals and upset the complacency of the hierarchy and political leaders. The plain fact was that the movement back to orthodoxy had to be quashed at all costs, or the socialism, modernism, and New Age thought that constituted the democratic religion of the New Christianity would lose its beachhead in England. Newman had to be neutralized, and the Movement had to be stopped.