As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, John Henry Newman’s goal when he published “Tract 90,” otherwise known as “Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles,” was not to try and turn the Church of England into the Catholic Church. Rather, it was to show the continuity of doctrine in both churches and their fundamental agreement on what makes Christianity specifically Christianity.
|John Henry Newman, years later. . . .|
Others had done the same thing, some of them even at almost the same time as Newman. There was, in fact, nothing in what Newman did that should have caused any problems. As more than one authority has pointed out, the Thirty-Nine Articles were deliberately intended to be vague, and to be interpreted literally only when it suited the powers-that-be to do so. Some Articles, in fact, contradicted other articles. As Newman explained years later in Chapter 3 of his Apologia Pro Vita Sua,
[T]he great stumbling-block lay in the 39 Articles. It was urged that here was a positive Note against Anglicanism: — Anglicanism claimed to hold, that the Church of England was nothing else than a continuation in this country, (as the Church of Rome might be in France or Spain,) of that one Church of which in old times Athanasius and Augustine were members. But, if so, the doctrine must be the same; the doctrine of the Old Church must live and speak in Anglican formularies, in the 39 Articles . . . it did; that is what I maintained; it did in substance in a true sense. Man had done his worst to disfigure, to mutilate, the old Catholic Truth; but there it was, in spite of them, in the Articles still.
Thus, in order to keep papists, non-conformists, and Jews out of the Universities, the professions, and parliament, the Articles were interpreted one way. To allow them to pay taxes and meet other civic duties, they were interpreted in another way. To allow Church of England members to hold widely divergent religious opinions ranging from “Broad Church” that some considered Christian in name only to “High Church Anglo-Catholicism,” the Articles were interpreted in quite another way altogether.
|Charles Kingsley, Broad Churchman|
Being concerned with proving that the Church of England is Catholic but not papist, Newman fell into the last category. Unfortunately, it also meant that he and the other members of the Oxford Movement fell afoul of the more vociferous members of the Broad Church party who demanded toleration for all beliefs in the Church of England except those with which they disagreed, viz., anything smacking of traditional or orthodox Christianity and adherence to the natural law.
Since they obviously could not protest the Movement on the grounds of orthodoxy — or they would alienate the “Low Church” Evangelicals who insisted on traditional Christian beliefs — Broad Church champions had to divert attention to the alleged drift into Romanism, which Evangelicals tended to view as virtual paganism, and the hierarchy as a threat to their power, both spiritual and temporal.
In this the Broad Church people were helped more than a little by a significant minority of newer members of the Movement who did, in fact, desire reunion with Rome. Part of Newman’s purpose in writing Tract 90, in fact, was to explain to people that while the Church of England was in doctrinal agreement with Rome, this in no way meant that the Movement as a whole was in any way acknowledging the spiritual supremacy of the pope or condoning Roman practices.
|Rev. John Keble|
Unfortunately, the Church of England had become a very political body, which was, in fact, one of the problems that helped launch the Movement. It was also what made the Anglican hierarchy and the Heads of the Colleges at Oxford at first uneasy, then hostile. Regardless how necessary the Movement and the need to return to orthodoxy, anything that threatened the status quo so directly — as proven by the Hampden Affair — was a clear threat to the positions and power of the bishops and the Heads. As Ollard explained,
The Movement started with a passionate desire to serve God by presenting His Church in England in her full truth and beauty. And the Oxford Heads came to treat it as a mere revival of popery, and refused to see that “the Tractarians could be anything but fools or traitors.” (Church, The Oxford Movement, p. 309.) Their leader in this evil course was principally the Provost of Oriel (Church, Occasional Papers, vol. ii, p. 347.), Dr. Hawkins, once the friend of Newman, Keble and Pusey. Indeed, it was to Newman that Hawkins owed his election. (Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 67.)
As a result, a tract that should not even have caused a raised eyebrow ended in what Anglo-Catholics have termed a catastrophe — which, from their point of view, it was. A little over a week after its publication on February 27, 1841, Tract 90 covering a “strictly theological and technical matter” (ibid., 69) caused a storm of fury — with most, if not all, of the anger directed at Newman coming from people who had no idea what he was talking about and could not care less.
|Rev. Edward Pusey|
Leaders at Oxford wanted an excuse to rid themselves of Newman and the Movement as a whole that was putting them in such a bad light. After all, with some notable exceptions, they were far from orthodox in their own beliefs, and heavily influenced by European type liberalism and the New Christianity or were political churchmen and academics of the usual type.
Tract 90 really did nothing more than give them something on which they could focus their ire and vent their spleen, even while few of them could have stated with any accuracy what their specific complaint was aside from a vague “Romanizing,” and none of them bothered to allow Newman to explain himself or clarify any presumably doubtful points. Their minds were made up, in most if not all cases before they read a word of the Tract.
Egged on by Broad Church adherents, on March 8, 1841 four University Tutors protested the Tract. Almost immediately, and without giving Newman any chance to defend himself, the Heads of the Colleges solemnly condemned the Tract and declared it was “dishonest”(!). The condemnation was posted throughout the university.