As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, with the publication of “Tract 90,” John Henry Newman inadvertently gave leverage to the enemies of the Oxford Movement. By playing on the fears of “creeping (or galloping) Romanism,” the more liberal (in the bad sense) elements in the Church of England were able to undermine and eventually marginalize almost completely the effort to return to orthodoxy.
|John Henry Newman|
The fact is that prior to being accused in such a spectacular — and unfair — way of attempting to “Romanize” the Church of England, Newman had himself been alarmed at the trend among certain members of the Movement. It was said quite justly that if Newman went over to the Catholic Church, he would take the Movement with him.
That this, in fact, proved to be the case eventually does nothing to change the fact that Newman actually wrote Tract 90 in an effort to persuade people‚ especially the Romanizers in the Movement — that it is possible to be Anglican and Catholic without being Roman. The Thirty-Nine Articles were a stumbling block to those who thought of themselves as Anglo-Catholic, as the Articles were “militantly Protestant.”
Nor did it help any when one of the leading Romanizers in the Movement, William Ward, kept hounding Newman by demanding, “What will you make of the Thirty-Nine Articles?” In response, Newman took up the cudgels in defense of the Anglo-Catholic position and defended it brilliantly.
. . . and then had the ground cut out from under his feet by the very people whose position he was defending! With the Heads of the University condemning Tract 90, Newman was in a very difficult position. They were not his ecclesiastical superiors — that was the Bishop of Oxford — but they might as well have been. They were the intellectual heart of Anglicanism, and to oppose them was to be faced with an extraordinarily problematic situation.
|Richard Bagot, Bishop of Oxford|
It was at this point that Newman made a tactical error. He approached his religious superior, Richard Bagot, Bishop of Oxford, and received an “understanding” that if he, Newman, stopped publishing the Tracts, then the bishops would not condemn Tract 90 and it could continue to be published. As Newman related in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua,
Not a scrap of writing was given to me as a pledge of performance on their side of the engagement. . . . It was an understanding. A clever man had warned me against understandings six years before. I have hated them ever since.
Newman’s suspicion of “understandings” was more than justified. Despite all the assurances he had been given, the Bishop of Oxford condemned Tract 90. Over the course of six months, other bishops chimed in.
True, there was no official condemnation. That only made it worse. By refusing to charge Newman officially, and instead going about condemning him without doing anything to which they could be pinned down and held accountable, the hierarchy of the Church of England made certain that Newman would not be able to present his case to them or to anyone else for anything specific. As he said later,
It was a formal movement, and there was no one to enforce the understanding. They went on this way, directing charges at me, for three whole years. I recognized it as a condemnation. . . . At first I intended to protest, but I gave up the thought in despair.
Newman’s despair is completely understandable. The bishops would simply have looked blank had he made any protest. After all, they were not doing anything other than giving their personal opinions, and how could Newman or anyone else object to that? They had not officially condemned either Tract 90 or Newman, so he had no reason to complain.
On the other hand, Newman was well aware that if he had protested he would have been ignored, and if he had restarted the Tracts, he would instantly have been condemned — based on the “understanding,” of course. The bishops could “honestly” say that they had not condemned Tract 90 . . . officially. If Newman said otherwise, then he must be as dishonest as the Heads of the University had maintained. There was no way Newman could win, not when some people were already calling him a thief as well as a liar, e.g.,
When I first read No. 90, I did not then know the author; but I said then, and I repeat it now, not with any personal reference to the author, that I should be sorry to trust the author of that Tract with my purse.
One is tempted to say, “Uh, huh. ‘Not with any personal reference to the author’? You just called him a thief. If that’s not ‘personal’, what is?” And that was only a single example. It was multiplied many times over, and always in a way that Newman could not respond. They knew from the way that Newman had handled Hampden’s errors in fact and logic that they could not afford to let him defend himself. When he finally did get the opportunity — twenty years later — Newman absolutely destroyed their case in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
Such utter viciousness and complete lack of Christian charity precipitated a crisis — not of faith, for Newman’s faith in Christ remained absolutely unshaken. Nor was he one to believe that the personal failings of the ordinary clergy or even the bishops of the Church of England affected in any way the truths he believed the Church of England taught.
|Nicholas Patrick Cardinal Wiseman|
This is a position that many Catholics in our day can sympathize with, faced as they are seemingly at every hand with spectacularly personal evil committed by Catholic bishops and priests. The fact that so many of the clergy committing horrifying personal sins are also teaching doctrines that may be of questionable orthodoxy confuses matters, but it does not alter what the Catholic Church really teaches.
No, Newman was not one to doubt his own faith or think that personal failings of the clergy changed the truths of Christianity. He was one, however, to have his confidence shaken in his faith that the Church of England is part of the universal Church established by Christ.
Not that this happened immediately. It was a long process. Cardinal Wiseman was convinced that the controversy over Tract 90 would bring Newman into the Catholic Church and wrote immediately to Newman giving his arguments why Newman should do so.
Justifiably offended, Newman wrote back politely, responding to Wiseman’s effusions. Conceding none of his religious opinions, Newman effectively said his difficulties were with the people who happened to be bishops of the Church of England, not with the Church of England.
The seed had been planted, however. Not by Wiseman or any other Catholic or even Newman himself. It was the stubborn refusal to let Newman defend his position that seems to have raised doubts in his mind. If the position of the Church of England was as Newman said, i.e., Catholic but not Roman, then why all the nastiness?
If, however, the position of the Church of England was not Catholic at all, why did the bishops not present their arguments? If they were sound, Newman would accept them. If they were not sound, he would refute them. The issue was the identity of the Church of England. There was no need to bring Rome into the question at all.
. . . unless there was some reason that the bishops could not give an argument that would stand up. If the authorities of the Church of England refused either to allow Newman to present his case or present one of their own . . . what did it mean? That was what threw Newman into a turmoil. It was not a question whether the “Church of Rome” was true, but whether the Church of England was false! By refusing to take a stand, the bishops and others raised in Newman’s mind the possibility that there was more wrong with the Church of England than a mere drift from orthodoxy. It was now a question as to whether the Church of England had ever been orthodox or even legitimate in the first place!
And the bishops had only themselves to blame for raising the question in Newman’s mind.