Read CHAPTER XIV of The Oxford Movement Twelve Years‚ 1833-1845, free online book, by R.W. Church, on ReadCentral.com.

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The formation of a strong Romanising section in the Tractarian party was obviously damaging to the party and dangerous to the Church. It was pro tanto a verification of the fundamental charge against the party, a charge which on paper they had met successfully, but which acquired double force when this paper defence was traversed by facts. And a great blow was impending over the Church, if the zeal and ability which the movement had called forth and animated were to be sucked away from the Church, and not only lost to it, but educated into a special instrument against it. But the divergence became clear only gradually, and the hope that after all it was only temporary and would ultimately disappear was long kept up by the tenacity with which Mr. Newman, in spite of misgivings and disturbing thoughts, still recognised the gifts and claims of the English Church. And on the other hand, the bulk of the party, and its other Oxford leaders, Dr. Pusey, Mr. Keble, Mr. Isaac Williams, Mr. Marriott, were quite unaffected by the disquieting apprehensions which were beginning to beset Mr. Newman. With a humbling consciousness of the practical shortcomings of the English Church, with a ready disposition to be honest and just towards Rome, and even to minimise our differences with it, they had not admitted for a moment any doubt of the reality of the English Church. The class of arguments which specially laid hold of Mr. Newman’s mind did not tell upon them the peculiar aspect of early precedents, about which, moreover, a good deal of criticism was possible; or the large and sweeping conception of a vast, ever-growing, imperial Church, great enough to make flaws and imperfections of no account, which appealed so strongly to his statesmanlike imagination. Their content with the Church in which they had been brought up, in which they had been taught religion, and in which they had taken service, their deep and affectionate loyalty and piety to it, in spite of all its faults, remained unimpaired; and unimpaired, also, was their sense of vast masses of practical evil in the Roman Church, evils from which they shrank both as Englishmen and as Christians, and which seemed as incurable as they were undeniable. Beyond the hope which they vaguely cherished that some day or other, by some great act of Divine mercy, these evils might disappear, and the whole Church become once more united, there was nothing to draw them towards Rome; submission was out of the question, and they could only see in its attitude in England the hostility of a jealous and unscrupulous disturber of their Master’s work. The movement still went on, with its original purpose, and on its original lines, in spite of the presence in it, and even the co-operation, of men who might one day have other views, and serious and fatal differences with their old friends.

The change of religion when it comes on a man gradually, when it is not welcomed from the first, but, on the contrary, long resisted, must always be a mysterious and perplexing process, hard to realise and follow by the person most deeply interested, veiled and clouded to lookers-on, because naturally belonging to the deepest depths of the human conscience, and inevitably, and without much fault on either side, liable to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. And this process is all the more tangled when it goes on, not in an individual mind, travelling in its own way on its own path, little affected by others, and little affecting them, but in a representative person, with the responsibilities of a great cause upon him, bound by closest ties of every kind to friends, colleagues, and disciples, thinking, feeling, leading, pointing out the way for hundreds who love and depend on him. Views and feelings vary from day to day, according to the events and conditions of the day. How shall he speak, and how shall he be silent? How shall he let doubts and difficulties appear, yet how shall he suppress them? doubts which may grow and become hopeless, but which, on the other hand, may be solved and disappear. How shall he go on as if nothing had happened, when all the foundations of the world seem to have sunk from under him? Yet how shall he disclose the dreadful secret, when he is not yet quite sure whether his mind will not still rally from its terror and despair? He must in honesty, in kindness, give some warning, yet how much? and how to prevent it being taken for more than it means? There are counter-considerations, to which he cannot shut his eyes. There are friends who will not believe his warnings. There are watchful enemies who are on the look-out for proofs of disingenuousness and bad faith. He could cut through his difficulties at once by making the plunge in obedience to this or that plausible sign or train of reasoning, but his conscience and good faith will not let him take things so easily; and yet he knows that if he hangs on, he will be accused by and by, perhaps speciously, of having been dishonest and deceiving. So subtle, so shifting, so impalpable are the steps by which a faith is disintegrated; so evanescent, and impossible to follow, the shades by which one set of convictions pass into others wholly opposite; for it is not knowledge and intellect alone which come into play, but all the moral tastes and habits of the character, its likings and dislikings, its weakness and its strength, its triumphs and its vexations, its keenness and its insensibilities, which are in full action, while the intellect alone seems to be busy with its problems. A picture has been given us, belonging to this time, of the process, by a great master of human nature, and a great sufferer under the process; it is, perhaps, the greatest attempt ever made to describe it; but it is not wholly successful. It tells us much, for it is written with touching good faith, but the complete effect as an intelligible whole is wanting.

“In the spring of 1839,” we read in the Apologia, “my position in the Anglican Church was at its height. I had a supreme confidence in my controversial status, and I had a great and still growing success in recommending it to others." This, then, may be taken as the point from which, in the writer’s own estimate, the change is to be traced. He refers for illustration of his state of mind to the remarkable article on the “State of Religious Parties,” in the April number of the British Critic for 1839, which he has since republished under the title of “Prospects of the Anglican Church." “I have looked over it now,” he writes in 1864, “for the first time since it was published; and have been struck by it for this reason: it contains the last words which I ever spoke as an Anglican to Anglicans.... It may now be read as my parting address and valediction, made to my friends. I little knew it at the time.” He thus describes the position which he took in the article referred to:

Conscious as I was that my opinions in religious matters were not gained, as the world said, from Roman sources, but were, on the contrary, the birth of my own mind and of the circumstances in which I had been placed, I had a scorn of the imputations which were heaped upon me. It was true that I held a large, bold system of religion, very unlike the Protestantism of the day, but it was the concentration and adjustment of the statements of great Anglican authorities, and I had as much right to do so as the Evangelical party had, and more right than the Liberal, to hold their own respective doctrines. As I spoke on occasion of Tract 90, I claimed, on behalf of the writer, that he might hold in the Anglican Church a comprecation of the Saints with Bramhall; and the Mass, all but Transubstantiation, with Andrewes; or with Hooker that Transubstantiation itself is not a point for Churches to part communion upon; or with Hammond that a General Council, truly such, never did, never shall err in a matter of faith; or with Bull that man lost inward grace by the Fall; or with Thorndike that penance is a propitiation for post-baptismal sin; or with Pearson that the all-powerful name of Jesus is no otherwise given than in the Catholic Church. “Two can play at that game” was often in my mouth, when men of Protestant sentiments appealed to the Articles, Homilies, and Reformers, in the sense that if they had a right to speak loud I had both the liberty and the means of giving them tit for tat. I thought that the Anglican Church had been tyrannised over by a Party, and I aimed at bringing into effect the promise contained in the motto to the Lyra: “They shall know the difference now.” I only asked to be allowed to show them the difference.

I have said already (he goes on) that though the object of the movement was to withstand the Liberalism of the day, I found and felt that this could not be done by negatives. It was necessary for me to have a positive Church theory erected on a definite basis. This took me to the great Anglican divines; and then, of course, I found at once that it was impossible to form any such theory without cutting across the teaching of the Church of Rome. Thus came in the Roman controversy. When I first turned myself to it I had neither doubt on the subject, nor suspicion that doubt would ever come on me. It was in this state of mind that I began to read up Bellarmine on the one hand, and numberless Anglican writers on the other.

And he quotes from the article the language which he used, to show the necessity of providing some clear and strong basis for religious thought in view of the impending conflict of principles, religious and anti-religious, “Catholic and Rationalist,” which to far-seeing men, even at that comparatively early time, seemed inevitable:

Then indeed will be the stern encounter, when two real and living principles, simple, entire, and consistent, one in the Church, the other out of it, at length rush upon each other, contending not for names and words, a half view, but for elementary notions and distinctive moral characters. Men will not keep standing in that very attitude which you call sound Church-of-Englandism or orthodox Protestantism. They will take one view or another, but it will be a consistent one ... it will be real.... Is it sensible, sober, judicious, to be so very angry with the writers of the day who point to the fact, that our divines of the seventeenth century have occupied a ground which is the true and intelligible mean between extremes?... Would you rather have your sons and your daughters members of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome?

“The last words that I spoke as an Anglican to Anglicans,” so he describes this statement of his position and its reasons; so it seems to him, as he looks back. And yet in the intimate and frank disclosures which he makes, he has shown us much that indicates both that his Anglicanism lasted much longer and that his Roman sympathies began to stir much earlier. This only shows the enormous difficulties of measuring accurately the steps of a transition state. The mind, in such a strain of buffeting, is never in one stay. The old seems impregnable, yet it has been undermined; the new is indignantly and honestly repelled, and yet leaves behind it its never-to-be-forgotten and unaccountable spell. The story, as he tells it, goes on, how, in the full swing and confidence of his Anglicanism, and in the course of his secure and fearless study of antiquity, appearance after appearance presented itself, unexpected, threatening, obstinate, in the history of the Early Church, by which this confidence was first shaken and then utterly broken down in the summer of 1839. And he speaks as though all had been over after two years from that summer: “From the end of 1841 I was on my death-bed, as regards my membership with the Anglican Church, though at the time I became aware of it only by degrees.” In truth, it was only the end which showed that it was a “death-bed.” He had not yet died to allegiance or “to hope, then or for some time afterwards.” He speaks in later years of the result, and reads what was then in the light of what followed. But after all that had happened, and much, of course, disturbing happened in 1841, he was a long way off from what then could have been spoken of as “a death-bed.” Deep and painful misgivings may assail the sincerest faith; they are not fatal signs till faith has finally given way.

What is true is, that the whole state of religion, and the whole aspect of Christianity in the world, had come to seem to him portentously strange and anomalous. No theory would take in and suit all the facts, which the certainties of history and experience presented. Neither in England, nor in Rome, and much less anywhere else, did the old, to which all appealed, agree with the new; it might agree variously in this point or in that, in others there were contrarieties which it was vain to reconcile. Facts were against the English claim to be a Catholic Church how could Catholicity be shut up in one island? How could England assert its continuity of doctrine? Facts were against the Roman claim to be an infallible, and a perfect, and the whole Church how could that be perfect which was marked in the face of day with enormous and undeniable corruptions? How could that be infallible which was irreconcilable with ancient teaching? How could that be the whole Church, which, to say nothing of the break-up in the West, ignored, as if it had no existence, the ancient and uninterrupted Eastern Church? Theory after theory came up, and was tried, and was found wanting. Each had much to say for itself, its strong points, its superiority over its rivals in dealing with the difficulties of the case, its plausibilities and its imaginative attractions. But all had their tender spot, and flinched when they were touched in earnest. In the confusions and sins and divisions of the last fifteen centuries, profound disorganisation had fastened on the Western Church. Christendom was not, could not be pretended to be, what it had been in the fourth century; and whichever way men looked the reasons were not hard to see. The first and characteristic feeling of the movement, one which Mr. Newman had done so much to deepen, was that of shame and humiliation at the disorder at home, as well as in every part of the Church. It was not in Rome only, or in England only; it was everywhere. What had been peculiar to Anglicanism among all its rivals, was that it had emphatically and without reserve confessed it.

With this view of the dislocation and the sins of the Church, he could at once with perfect consistency recognise the shortcomings of the English branch of the Church, and yet believe and maintain that it was a true and living branch. The English fragment was not what it should be, was indeed much that it should not be; the same could be said of the Roman, though in different respects. This, as he himself reminds us, was no new thing to his mind when the unsettlement of 1839 began. “At the end of 1835, or the beginning of 1836, I had the whole state of the question before me, on which, to my mind, the decision between the Churches depended.” It did not, he says, depend on the claims of the Pope, as centre of unity; “it turned on the Faith of the Church”; “there was a contrariety of claims between the Roman and Anglican religions”; and up to 1839, with the full weight of Roman arguments recognised, with the full consciousness of Anglican disadvantages, he yet spoke clearly for Anglicanism. Even when misgivings became serious, the balance still inclined without question the old way. He hardly spoke stronger in 1834 than he did in 1841, after N.

And now (he writes in his Letter to the Bishop of Oxford) having said, I trust, as much as your Lordship requires on the subject of Romanism, I will add a few words, to complete my explanation, in acknowledgment of the inestimable privilege I feel in being a member of that Church over which your Lordship, with others, presides. Indeed, did I not feel it to be a privilege which I am able to seek nowhere else on earth, why should I be at this moment writing to your Lordship? What motive have I for an unreserved and joyful submission to your authority, but the feeling that the Church in which your Lordship rules is a divinely-ordained channel of supernatural grace to the souls of her members? Why should I not prefer my own opinion, and my own way of acting, to that of the Bishop’s, except that I know full well that in matters indifferent I should be acting lightly towards the Spouse of Christ and the awful Presence which dwells in her, if I hesitated a moment to put your Lordship’s will before my own? I know full well that your Lordship’s kindness to me personally would be in itself quite enough to win any but the most insensible heart, and, did a clear matter of conscience occur in which I felt bound to act for myself, my feelings towards your Lordship would be a most severe trial to me, independently of the higher considerations to which I have alluded; but I trust I have shown my dutifulness to you prior to the influence of personal motives; and this I have done because I think that to belong to the Catholic Church is the first of all privileges here below, as involving in it heavenly privileges, and because I consider the Church over which your Lordship presides to be the Catholic Church in this country. Surely then I have no need to profess in words, I will not say my attachment, but my deep reverence towards the Mother of Saints, when I am showing it in action; yet that words may not be altogether wanting, I beg to lay before your Lordship the following extract from a defence of the English Church, which I wrote against a Roman controversialist in the course of the last year.

“The Church is emphatically a living body, and there can be no greater proof of a particular communion being part of the Church than the appearance in it of a continued and abiding energy, nor a more melancholy proof of its being a corpse than torpidity. We say an energy continued and abiding, for accident will cause the activity of a moment, and an external principle give the semblance of self-motion. On the other hand, even a living body may for a while be asleep.

“It concerns, then, those who deny that we are the true Church because we have not at present this special note, intercommunion with other Christians, to show cause why the Roman Church in the tenth century should be so accounted, with profligates, or rather the profligate mothers of profligate sons for her supreme rulers. And still notwithstanding life is a note of the Church; she alone revives, even if she declines; heretical and schismatical bodies cannot keep life; they gradually became cold, stiff, and insensible.

“Now if there ever were a Church on whom the experiment has been tried, whether it had life in it or not, the English is that one. For three centuries it has endured all vicissitudes of fortune. It has endured in trouble and prosperity, under seduction, and under oppression. It has been practised upon by theorists, browbeaten by sophists, intimidated by princes, betrayed by false sons, laid waste by tyranny, corrupted by wealth, torn by schism, and persecuted by fanaticism. Revolutions have come upon it sharply and suddenly, to and fro, hot and cold, as if to try what it was made of.

It has been a sort of battlefield on which opposite principles have been tried. No opinion, however extreme any way, but may be found, as the Romanists are not slow to reproach us, among its Bishops and Divines. Yet what has been its career upon the whole? Which way has it been moving through 300 years? Where does it find itself at the end? Lutherans have tended to Rationalism; Calvinists have become Socinians; but what has it become? As far as its Formularies are concerned, it may be said all along to have grown towards a more perfect Catholicism than that with which it started at the time of its estrangement; every act, every crisis which marks its course, has been upward.

“What a note of the Church is the mere production of a man like Butler, a pregnant fact much to be meditated on! and how strange it is, if it be as it seems to be, that the real influence of his work is only just now beginning! and who can prophesy in what it will end? Thus our Divines grow with centuries, expanding after their death in the minds of their readers into more and more exact Catholicism as years roll on.

“Look across the Atlantic to the daughter Churches of England in the States: ‘Shall one that is barren bear a child in her old age?’ yet ‘the barren hath borne seven.’ Schismatic branches put out their leaves at once, in an expiring effort; our Church has waited three centuries, and then blossoms like Aaron’s rod, budding and blooming and yielding fruit, while the rest are dry. And lastly, look at the present position of the Church at home; there, too, we shall find a note of the true City of God, the Holy Jerusalem. She is in warfare with the world, as the Church Militant should be; she is rebuking the world, she is hated, she is pillaged by the world.

“Much might be said on this subject. At all times, since Christianity came into the world, an open contest has been going on between religion and irreligion; and the true Church, of course, has ever been on the religious side. This, then, is a sure test in every age where the Christian should stand.... Now, applying this simple criterion to the public Parties of this DAY, it is very plain that the English Church is at present on God’s side, and therefore, so far, God’s Church; we are sorry to be obliged to add that there is as little doubt on which side English Romanism is.

“As for the English Church, surely she has notes enough, ’the signs of an Apostle in all patience, and signs and wonders and mighty deeds.’ She has the note of possession, the note of freedom from party-titles; the note of life, a tough life and a vigorous; she has ancient descent, unbroken continuance, agreement in doctrine with the ancient Church. Those of Bellarmine’s Notes, which she certainly has not, are intercommunion with Christendom, the glory of miracles, and the prophetical light, but the question is, whether she has not enough of Divinity about her to satisfy her sister Churches on their own principles, that she is one body with them.”

This may be sufficient to show my feelings towards my Church, as far
as Statements on paper can show them.

How earnestly, how sincerely he clung to the English Church, even after he describes himself on his “death-bed,” no one can doubt. The charm of the Apologia is the perfect candour with which he records fluctuations which to many are inconceivable and unintelligible, the different and sometimes opposite and irreconcilable states of mind through which he passed, with no attempt to make one fit into another. It is clear, from what he tells us, that his words in 1839 were not his last words as an Anglican to Anglicans. With whatever troubles of mind, he strove to be a loyal and faithful Anglican long after that. He spoke as an Anglican. He fought for Anglicanism. The theory, as he says, may have gone by the board, in the intellectual storms raised by the histories of the Monophysites and Donatists. “By these great words of the ancient father Securus judicat orbis terrarum” the theory of the Via Media was “absolutely pulverised.” He was “sore,” as he says in 1840, “about the great Anglican divines, as if they had taken me in, and made me say strong things against Rome, which facts did not justify." Yes, he felt, as other men do not feel, the weak points of even a strong argument, the exaggerations and unfairness of controversialists on his own side, the consciousness that you cannot have things in fact, or in theory, or in reasoning, smoothly and exactly as it would be convenient, and as you would like to have them. But his conclusion, on the whole, was unshaken. There was enough, and amply enough, in the English Church to bind him to its allegiance, to satisfy him of its truth and its life, enough in the Roman to warn him away. In the confusions of Christendom, in the strong and obstinate differences of schools and parties in the English Church, he, living in days of inquiry and criticism, claimed to take and recommend a theological position on many controverted questions, which many might think a new one, and which might not be exactly that occupied by any existing school or party. “We are all,” he writes to an intimate friend on 22d April 1842, a year after N, “much quieter and more resigned than we were, and are remarkably desirous of building up a position, and proving that the English theory is tenable, or rather the English state of things. If the Bishops would leave us alone, the fever would subside.”

He wanted, when all other parties were claiming room for their speculations, to claim room for his own preference for ancient doctrine. He wished to make out that no branch of the Church had authoritatively committed itself to language which was hopelessly and fatally irreconcilable with Christian truth. But he claimed nothing but what he could maintain to be fairly within the authorised formularies of the English Church. He courted inquiry, he courted argument. If his claim seemed a new one, if his avowed leaning to ancient and Catholic views seemed to make him more tolerant than had been customary, not to Roman abuses, but to Roman authoritative language, it was part of the more accurate and the more temperate and charitable thought of our day compared with past times. It was part of the same change which has brought Church opinions from the unmitigated Calvinism of the Lambeth Articles to what the authorities of those days would have denounced, without a doubt, as Arminianism. Hooker was gravely and seriously accused to the Council for saying that a Papist could be saved, and had some difficulty to clear himself; it was as natural then as it is amazing now.

But with this sincere loyalty to the English Church, as he believed it to be, there was, no doubt, in the background the haunting and disquieting misgiving that the attempt to connect more closely the modern Church with the ancient, and this widened theology in a direction which had been hitherto specially and jealously barred, was putting the English Church on its trial. Would it bear it? Would it respond to the call to rise to a higher and wider type of doctrine, to a higher standard of life? Would it justify what Mr. Newman had placed in the forefront among the notes of the true Church, the note of Sanctity? Would the Via Media make up for its incompleteness as a theory by developing into reality and fruitfulness of actual results? Would the Church bear to be told of its defaults? Would it allow to the maintainers of Catholic and Anglican principles the liberty which others claimed, and which by large and powerful bodies of opinion was denied to Anglicans? Or would it turn out on trial, that the Via Media was an idea without substance, a dialectical fiction, a mere theological expedient for getting out of difficulties, unrecognised, and when put forward, disowned? Would it turn out that the line of thought and teaching which connected the modern with the ancient Church was but the private and accidental opinion of Hooker and Andrewes and Bull and Wilson, unauthorised in the English Church, uncongenial to its spirit, if not contradictory to its formularies? It is only just to Mr. Newman to say, that even after some of his friends were frightened, he long continued to hope for the best; but undoubtedly, more and more, his belief in the reality of the English Church was undergoing a very severe, and as time went on, discouraging testing.

In this state of things he published the Tract N. It was occasioned by the common allegation, on the side of some of the advanced section of the Tractarians, as well as on the side of their opponents, that the Thirty-nine Articles were hopelessly irreconcilable with that Catholic teaching which Mr. Newman had defended on the authority of our great divines, but which both the parties above mentioned were ready to identify with the teaching of the Roman Church. The Tract was intended, by a rigorous examination of the language of the Articles, to traverse this allegation. It sought to show that all that was clearly and undoubtedly Catholic, this language left untouched: that it was doubtful whether even the formal definitions of the Council of Trent were directly and intentionally contradicted; and that what were really aimed at were the abuses and perversions of a great popular and authorised system, tyrannical by the force of custom and the obstinate refusal of any real reformation.

It is often urged (says the writer), and sometimes felt and granted, that there are in the Articles propositions or terms inconsistent with the Catholic faith; or, at least, if persons do not go so far as to feel the objection as of force, they are perplexed how best to answer it, or how most simply to explain the passages on which it is made to rest. The following Tract is drawn up with the view of showing how groundless the objection is, and further, of approximating towards the argumentative answer to it, of which most men have an implicit apprehension, though they may have nothing more. That there are real difficulties to a Catholic Christian in the ecclesiastical position of our Church at this day, no one can deny; but the statements of the Articles are not in the number, and it may be right at the present moment to insist upon this.

When met by the objection that the ideas of the framers of the Articles were well known, and that it was notorious that they had meant to put an insuperable barrier between the English Church and everything that savoured of Rome, the writer replied that the actual English Church received the Articles not from them but from a much later authority, that we are bound by their words not by their private sentiments either as theologians or ecclesiastical politicians, and that in fact they had intended the Articles to comprehend a great body of their countrymen, who would have been driven away by any extreme and anti-Catholic declarations even against Rome. The temper of compromise is characteristic of the English as contrasted with the foreign Reformation. It is visible, not only in the Articles, but in the polity of the English Church, which clung so obstinately to the continuity and forms of the ancient hierarchical system, it is visible in the sacramental offices of the Prayer Book, which left so much out to satisfy the Protestants, and left so much in to satisfy the Catholics.

The Tract went in detail through the Articles which were commonly looked upon as either anti-Catholic or anti-Roman. It went through them with a dry logical way of interpretation, such as a professed theologian might use, who was accustomed to all the niceties of language and the distinctions of the science. It was the way in which they would be likely to be examined and construed by a purely legal court. The effect of it, doubtless, was like that produced on ordinary minds by the refinements of a subtle advocate, or by the judicial interpretation of an Act of Parliament which the judges do not like; and some of the interpretations undoubtedly seemed far-fetched and artificial. Yet some of those which were pointed to at the time as flagrant instances of extravagant misinterpretation have now come to look different. Nothing could exceed the scorn poured on the interpretation of the Twenty-second Article, that it condemns the “Roman” doctrine of Purgatory, but not all doctrine of purgatory as a place of gradual purification beyond death. But in our days a school very far removed from Mr. Newman’s would require and would claim to make the same distinction. And so with the interpretation of the “Sacrifices of Masses” in the same article. It was the fashion in 1841 to see in this the condemnation of all doctrine of a sacrifice in the Eucharist; and when Mr. Newman confined the phrase to the gross abuses connected with the Mass, this was treated as an affront to common sense and honesty. Since then we have become better acquainted with the language of the ancient liturgies , and no instructed theologian could now venture to treat Mr. Newman’s distinction as idle. There was in fact nothing new in his distinctions on these two points. They had already been made in two of the preceding Tracts, the reprint of Archbishop Ussher on Prayers for the Dead, and the Catena on the Eucharistie Sacrifice; and in both cases the distinctions were supported by a great mass of Anglican authority.

But the Tract had sufficient novelty about it to account for most of the excitement which it caused. Its dryness and negative curtness were provoking. It was not a positive argument, it was not an appeal to authorities; it was a paring down of language, alleged in certain portions of the Articles to be somewhat loose, to its barest meaning; and to those to whom that language had always seemed to speak with fulness and decision, it seemed like sapping and undermining a cherished bulwark. Then it seemed to ask for more liberty than the writer in his position at that time needed; and the object of such an indefinite claim, in order to remove, if possible, misunderstandings between two long-alienated branches of the Western Church, was one to excite in many minds profound horror and dismay. That it maintained without flinching and as strongly as ever the position and the claim of the English Church was nothing to the purpose; the admission, both that Rome, though wrong, might not be as wrong as we thought her, and that the language of the Articles, though unquestionably condemnatory of much, was not condemnatory of as much as people thought, and might possibly be even harmonised with Roman authoritative language, was looked upon as incompatible with loyalty to the English Church.

The question which the Tract had opened, what the Articles meant and to what men were bound by accepting them, was a most legitimate one for discussion; and it was most natural also that any one should hesitate to answer it as the Tract answered it. But it was distinctly a question for discussion. It was not so easy for any of the parties in the Church to give a clear and consistent answer, as that the matter ought at once to have been carried out of the region of discussion. The Articles were the Articles of a Church which had seen as great differences as those between the Church of Edward VI and the Church of the Restoration. Take them broadly as the condemnation strong but loose in expression, as, for instance, in the language on the “five, commonly called Sacraments” of a powerful and well-known antagonist system, and there was no difficulty about them. But take them as scientific and accurate and precise enunciations of a systematic theology, and difficulties begin at once, with every one who does not hold the special and well-marked doctrines of the age when the German and Swiss authorities ruled supreme. The course of events from that day to this has shown more than once, in surprising and even startling examples, how much those who at the time least thought that they needed such strict construing of the language of the Articles, and were fierce in denouncing the “kind of interpretation” said to be claimed in N, have since found that they require a good deal more elasticity of reading than even it asked for. The “whirligig of time” was thought to have brought “its revenges,” when Mr. Newman, who had called for the exercise of authority against Dr. Hampden, found himself, five years afterwards, under the ban of the same authority. The difference between Mr. Newman’s case and Dr. Hampden’s, both as to the alleged offence and the position of the men, was considerable. But the “whirligig of time” brought about even stranger “revenges,” when not only Mr. Gorham and Mr. H.B. Wilson in their own defence, but the tribunals which had to decide on their cases, carried the strictness of reading and the latitude of interpretation, quite as far, to say the least, as anything in N.

Unhappily Tract 90 was met at Oxford, not with argument, but with panic and wrath. There is always a sting in every charge, to which other parts of it seem subordinate. N was charged of course with false doctrine, with false history, and with false reasoning; but the emphatic part of the charge, the short and easy method which dispensed from the necessity of theological examination and argument, was that it was dishonest and immoral. Professors of Divinity, and accomplished scholars, such as there were in Oxford, might very well have considered it an occasion to dispute both the general principle of the Tract, if it was so dangerous, and the illustrations, in the abundance of which the writer had so frankly thrown open his position to searching criticism. It was a crisis in which much might have been usefully said, if there had been any one to say it; much too, to make any one feel, if he was competent to feel, that he had a good deal to think about in his own position, and that it would be well to ascertain what was tenable and what untenable in it. But it seemed as if the opportunity must not be lost for striking a blow. The Tract was published on 27th February. On the 8th of March four Senior Tutors, one of whom was Mr. H.B. Wilson, of St. John’s, and another Mr. Tait, of Balliol, addressed the Editor of the Tract, charging N with suggesting and opening a way, by which men might, at least in the case of Roman views, violate their solemn engagements to their University. On the 15th of March, the Board of Heads of Houses, refusing to wait for Mr. Newman’s defence, which was known to be coming, and which bears date 13th March, published their judgment They declared that in N “modes of interpretation were suggested, and have since been advocated in other publications purporting to be written by members of the University, by which subscription to the Articles might be reconciled with the adoption of Roman Catholic error.” And they announced their resolution, “That modes of interpretation, such as are suggested in the said Tract, evading rather than explaining the sense of the Thirty-nine Articles, and reconciling subscription to them with the adoption of errors which they are designed to counteract, defeat the object, and are inconsistent with the due observance of the above-mentioned statutes."

It was an ungenerous and stupid blunder, such as men make, when they think or are told that “something must be done,” and do not know what. It gave the writer an opportunity, of which he took full advantage, of showing his superiority in temper, in courtesy, and in reason, to those who had not so much condemned as insulted him. He was immediately ready with his personal expression of apology and regret, and also with his reassertion in more developed argument of the principle of the Tract; and this was followed up by further explanations in a letter to the Bishop. And in spite of the invidious position in which the Board had tried to place him, not merely as an unsound divine, but as a dishonest man teaching others to palter with their engagements, the crisis drew forth strong support and sympathy where they were not perhaps to be expected. It rallied to him, at least for the time, some of the friends who had begun to hold aloof. Mr. Palmer, of Worcester, Mr. Perceval, Dr. Hook, with reserves according to each man’s point of view, yet came forward in his defence. The Board was made to feel that they had been driven by violent and partisan instigations to commit themselves to a very foolish as well as a very passionate and impotent step; that they had by very questionable authority simply thrown an ill-sounding and ill-mannered word at an argument on a very difficult question, to which they themselves certainly were not prepared with a clear and satisfactory answer; that they had made the double mistake of declaring war against a formidable antagonist, and of beginning it by creating the impression that they had treated him shabbily, and were really afraid to come to close quarters with him. As the excitement of hasty counsels subsided, the sense of this began to awake in some of them; they tried to represent the off-hand and ambiguous words of the condemnation as not meaning all that they had been taken to mean. But the seed of bitterness had been sown. Very little light was thrown, in the strife of pamphlets which ensued, on the main subject dealt with in N, the authority and interpretation of such formularies as our Articles. The easier and more tempting and very fertile topic of debate was the honesty and good faith of the various disputants. Of the four Tutors, only one, Mr. H.B. Wilson, published an explanation of their part in the matter; it was a clumsy, ill-written and laboured pamphlet, which hardly gave promise of the intellectual vigour subsequently displayed by Mr. Wilson, when he appeared, not as the defender, but the assailant of received opinions. The more distinguished of the combatants were Mr. Ward and Mr. R. Lowe. Mr. Ward, with his usual dialectical skill, not only defended the Tract, but pushed its argument yet further, in claiming tolerance for doctrines alleged to be Roman. Mr. Lowe, not troubling himself either with theological history or the relation of other parties in the Church to the formularies, threw his strength into the popular and plausible topic of dishonesty, and into a bitter and unqualified invective against the bad faith and immorality manifested in the teaching of which N was the outcome. Dr. Faussett, as was to be expected, threw himself into the fray with his accustomed zest and violence, and caused some amusement at Oxford, first by exposing himself to the merciless wit of a reviewer in the British Critic, and then by the fright into which he was thrown by a rumour that his reelection to his professorship would be endangered by Tractarian votes. But the storm, at Oxford at least, seemed to die out. The difficulty which at one moment threatened of a strike among some of the college Tutors passed; and things went back to their ordinary course. But an epoch and a new point of departure had come into the movement. Things after N were never the same as to language and hopes and prospects as they had been before; it was the date from which a new set of conditions in men’s thoughts and attitude had to be reckoned. Each side felt that a certain liberty had been claimed and had been peremptorily denied. And this was more than confirmed by the public language of the greater part of the Bishops. The charges against the Tractarian party of Romanising, and of flagrant dishonesty, long urged by irresponsible opponents, were now formally adopted by the University authorities, and specially directed against the foremost man of the party. From that time the fate of the party at Oxford was determined. It must break up. Sooner or later, there must be a secession more or less discrediting and disabling those who remained. And so the break-up came, and yet, so well grounded and so congenial to the English Church were the leading principles of the movement, that not even that disastrous and apparently hopeless wreck prevented them from again asserting their claim and becoming once more active and powerful. The Via Media, whether or not logically consistent, was a thing of genuine English growth, and was at least a working theory.