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VII. A Divergence of Ideas.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) beheld incredible changes in life of the British Nation. It experienced a social, political, cultural, and economic thrust forward. There was nothing from the nation’s past that could compare to these six decades. The Christian Churches were dramatically affected by this transformation, especially the Church of England. In many ways, religion was a constant feature of the Victorian age. Religion never stopped mattering, whether one was a doubting Thomas, had moral concerns, or wanted to use it as a rallying cry for denominational warfare.

Even the Queen and her successive Prime Ministers could not separate political decisions from their own religious beliefs. An example of diversity would be William Gladstone’s (1809-1898) second cabinet of 1880, which contained three zealous Non-conformists, as well as three Anglican hymn-writers. The new reality was that there had to be an understanding of the need for diversity and an acknowledgment of competing secular and religious views. In many ways, this new outlook stemmed from the Social and Religious Reforms that had occurred a decade prior to Queens Victoria’s coronation.

At the dawn of the Victorian era, two great movements were emerging. The first movement was ‘Romanticism’.1 In Europe, it was the primary force behind the revival of the Roman Church and in England it took shape as the Oxford Movement.

The desire for a transcendental experience became the norm. In essence, it was a response to the Age of Enlightenment and Reason. Whether it was in any of the arts, or even in theology, people sought to experience the mystery or divine, to be closer or even get in touch with something that was beyond their normal environment. The Ritualists were no exception as they, “gave fresh vitality to its corporate and liturgical aspect, its Catholic quality and its Ministry of the Sacraments.”2

The second movement was the phenomenon known as ‘Liberal Secularism’. In England, this philosophy was empowered by the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, and in the eyes of the Oxford Movement these people were simply self-obsessed “Rationalists”3. Newman’s Doctrine of Faith can be seen as a direct response to Rationalism. He regarded Rationalist thought as a means to “dissolving men’s sense of tradition and solidarity with the past.”4

To the Romantic, Rationalist thought was a deliberate turning away from both the creation and the Creator. “The Rationalist makes himself his own centre, not his Maker; he does not go to God, but he implies that God must come to him.”5 For the Rationalist, The Christian faith could principally be reduced down to cultural matters. “This reduction is the central inspiration behind theological intellectual modernism, with its tendency to view Tradition as obscurantist and intent on replacing traditional interpretations by “the latest finding,” in the interest of “relevance” and “experience”.6

Despite Liberal Secularism and its Rationalist philosophy, Romanticism and Traditionalism carried on. For all intents and purposes the Oxford Movement ended in 1845 with Newman's departure to the Roman Catholic Church. However, Tractarian Ritualism, as a distinct movement within the Church of England continued on well into the second half of the nineteenth century under the leadership of John Keble, Edward Pusey, Isaac Williams (1802-1865), as well as a large number of parochial clergy.

Closely related to the Oxford Movement was the ‘Cambridge Movement’. These scholars presented a vision of Christian life, as articulated by the Tracts, through their religious art, music and architecture. They were much more expressive in their faith than their Oxford compatriots. However, it should be understood that the Tractarians were somewhat reserved about Ritualist developments which stemmed from their writings. They were theologically driven, and thus, it was Tractarian thought which inspired Ritualist expression. For the most part, Tractarians were not involved with the development of ceremonial.

John Mason Neale

The Ritualists continued with their reforms. Candles, crosses, altars, and flowers were no longer the weapons of battle for Anglo-Catholics. These introductions had become accepted practice. The Cambridge Movement leader, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), did not read the Tracts until 1836. As a Ritualist, he was most interested in developing the ceremonial process. “Neale had interest in the question of Eucharistic Vestments and purposed that his work would lead to a reintroduction of the vestment in Church of England services.”7

By the middle of the century a new term was coined to describe a state of mind; it was called ‘Unbelief’. This attitude became apparent with the Religious Census of 1851. It provided the disquieting revelation that showed that there was substantial religious indifference amongst the population. The three major parties within the Church of England, along with other denominations, rose to the challenge of battling ‘unbelief’.

Effected most by ‘unbelief’ were the Evangelicals, who lost support due to the rise of Catholic sympathies brought about by the Tractarians. Many Evangelicals looked back longingly to the “Clapham Sect”8, feeling that their party had introduced an atmosphere of ill will and belligerence; plus the effect of ‘Darwinism’ and the ‘Higher Criticism’ presented by German Protestant scholars was to throw them into a state of single-minded biblical fundamentalism. Nevertheless, Evangelical missionary zeal could not be stopped and the second half of the nineteenth century proved that they would continue be a force for spreading the Christian faith.

In the nonconformist Churches, the battle for the souls of the less educated and the indifferent was waged steadfastly by the Salvation Army; and all the Protestant denominations joyfully tallied up new converts through their revivalist meetings. The Baptist, C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), led congregations in the thousands.

The Broad Church party greeted “Darwinism”9 with open arms. Their leaders were the formidable Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) and the true Godfather of liberal theology, the ex-Unitarian Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872). Their passionate style of preaching and teaching, taken up especially by the evangelicals, began to bring in more and more adherents. In the bitter conflict between the parties, things got so heated that the liberal Anglo-Catholic, Charles Gore (1853-1932), actually accused the fundamentalists of cultivating ‘unbelief’, causing a rebellion of the conscience against current religious teaching, promoting any action of God as authoritarian, capricious and unmerciful.

Some Anglo-Catholic churches attempted to offer a broad appeal in order to fight religious indifference. They demonstrated a willingness to borrow some aspects of Evangelical worship by combining reverential ceremonial with spirited hymn-singing and ad lib intercessions. Perhaps in part because of this, secular society also began to look at the Church of England and its clergy in a different light. Since the ritualistic Anglo-Catholics brought back a sense of the sacred through their worship and lifestyle, the public began to perceive them in a new way.

The change that was most notable in the writings of Charles Dickens. “In earlier novels the Church obviously counts for very little, but in the latter materials, clergy of real character appear as Mr. Milvey in ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (1864) and Mr. Chrisparkle in ‘Edwin Drood’ (1870).”10 Anglo-Catholicism had a broad impact on popular literature, with novelist Charlotte Younge (1823-1901) as one of its most prolific supporters, as well it also found a welcoming audience in the United States and British North America, and it encouraged missionary work throughout the Empire and on all continents.

After 1880, the battles between the Evangelicals and the Ritualists were abating. Both parties seemed war weary and ready to at least accept the existence of the other. Anglican posture toward Catholics at the beginning of the century had been very frosty. Keble had given a condescending appeal for his generation in 1827 to speak nicely about the Roman church. However, this negative attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church was less common by the end of the century.

A major turning point was when the pious Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King (1829-1910) was brought before an archiepiscopal court and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson (1829-1896), to hear the charges against him. Fortunately, Benson was an expert in liturgy, and in 1890 exonerated King on most of the charges, while at the same moment signaled an end to internal Anglican warfare. The Archbishop condemned the extremists on both sides, the Ritualists for unnecessarily presenting provocative practices, and the Evangelicals for inciting harassing lawsuits.

Long forgotten was the 1851 attempt of Lord John Russell (1792-1878), who in a vicious, yet unsuccessful attempt to respond to the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. This attitude most likely encouraged Anti-Catholic riots. In spite of this, and because of government policy, the situation improved for English Catholics by the end of the Victorian era.

As a sign of the times, a convergence of ideas actually occurred in the late nineteenth century between that of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Broad Church Theology. In 1889, a group of young Oxford-based Anglo-Catholics led by Charles Gore, published a theological reassessment in the symposium volume, Lux Mundi, subtitled, A Series of Studies in the Doctrine of the Incarnation.

Charles Gore-Bishop of Oxford (1911-1919)

The message that “Gore and the Liberal Anglo-Catholics”11 proclaimed was that Christianity did not have to back away from Darwinism and fall into some kind of inflexible fundamentalism. In fact, all it had to do was to recognise that the magnificence of the Incarnation was the reality that God chose to become man in the person of His Son. Humanity, therefore, held a sacred position in creation and in the Creator’s plans.

Meanwhile at Cambridge, the three New Testament scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), all followers of F.D. Maurice, came to the same conclusion. A remarkable shift in Anglican theological thought took place. Between the two central themes of Christ’s mission, the Incarnation and the Redemption, more importance was now given the Incarnation. It was, in essence, a shift from ‘Christus Redemptor’ to ‘Christus Consummator’.

Nonetheless, at this point in time, one could argue that the war against unbelief and religious indifference was both too little and too late. Seemingly, secularization could no longer be held back and religion was on its last legs. However, certain facts contradict this opinion.

Between 1840 and 1876, a parliamentary paper gave evidence of unprecedented growth in new church construction: 1,727 new Anglican churches had been built and as many as 7,144 had been restored. Another incredible situation was the publication of a large number of hymnal books for congregational singing. The British Library catalogue lists more than 1,200 different collections of hymns published during the Queen’s reign. “In 1857 a small meeting of experts was called together and a committee formed to consider the production of a really good hymn-book.”12 The result of which was the 1859 publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The demand for the 1889 edition was so great that a million copies were on the day of publication.

Another thing that both Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics did well on behalf of their theological camp was to establish theological colleges. The nineteenth century was the great era of theological colleges. St. Bee’s was established in 1816, followed by Lampeter in 1822. Things were well under way when the Tractarians entered the scene, but the building of new schools advanced rapidly after their appearance. “Chichester was founded in 1839, Wells in 1840, S.Aidan’s, Birkenhead, in 1846, Cuddesdon in 1854, Litchfield in 1857, Salisbury in 1860,” as well both parties developed a zeal for clerical education with the formation of “Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1877) and Ridley Hall, Cambridge (1879.)”13

In the 1830's pessimism prevailed within all three church parties. By 1880, due to the incredible convergence of so many ideas, England had become transformed. As noted previously, things also improved between thelo-Catholics and Evangelical Protestants within the Church of England, as tensions were eased while each camp did their own thing for the greater glory of the God. By 1901, at the end of the Victorian era, the mood within the Church, despite all the previous acrimony, had become hopeful and forward-looking.

Sources for this Article

  1. Romanticism: Encyclopedia Britannic online: Literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that began in Europe in the 18th century and lasted roughly until the mid-19th century. In its intense focus on the individual consciousness, it was both a continuation of and a reaction against the Enlightenment. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

  2. Worship - The Anglican Tradition - Evangelical and Tractarian Movements - Chapter XV - Part III - Page328

  3. Rationalism: New Webster’s Dictionary Page 829. Rationalism is the belief that all knowledge and truth consist in what is ascertainable by rational processes of thought and that there is no supernatural revelation. It is the doctrine that true and absolute knowledge is found only in reason.

  4. Discerning The Mystery - An Essay on the Nature of Theology - Living the Mystery Chapter VI - Page 140

  5. The Heart of Newman - John Henry Newman: Essays Critical and Historical - Faith - Chapter VI Section IV Page 126; (Newman's Ess.,31-33)

  6. God Encountered - A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology - Volume 1: Understanding the Christian Faith Chapter 3: The Loss of Catholicity Inadequate Systematizations - Section 20 - Modernism: Systematization by Selection - Part 4 Pages 65-66

  7. The Influence of John Mason Neale and the Theology of Symbolism - Page 2

  8. From Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia The Clapham Sect was an influential group of like-minded social reformers in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century (active between 1790-1830). Its members were chiefly prominent and wealthy evangelical Anglicans who shared common political views concerning the liberation of slaves, the abolition of the slave trade and the reform of the penal system. The group’s name originates from the village of Chapham, south of London, home of their founders.

  9. Darwinism: Encyclopedia Britannia Online: Darwin developed the concept that evolution is brought about by the interplay of three principles: variation (present in all forms of life), heredity (the force that transmits similar organic form from one generation to another), and the struggle for existence (which determines the variations that will be advantageous in a given environment, thus altering the species through selective reproduction).

  10. A History of the Church in England - The Mid–Victorians-1854-1882 - Changes in Church life - I. - Chapter XX - page 362

11. Charles Gore and the Liberal Anglo-Catholics -

Charles Gore and the Lux Mundi School In 1892 Gore founded the ‘Community of

the Resurrection’, a religious community of men with a strong Christian social

commitment. Some of its priests, like Fr. Paul Bull, played a major role in

the Church Socialist League in the early 1900's and in support of the Independent

Labour Party then forming in the north of England. The Community's influence continues.

12. A History of the Church in England - The Industrial Age - The Mid-Victorians -

Chapter XX - IV. - Page 364

13 A History of the Modern Church - Educational and Social Movements - Chapter XVII -

Page 229

Next Article: Assessment of the Nineteenth Century Anglo-Catholic Movements

This article was taken from the Master's thesis The Oxford Movement: Anglo-Catholicism and the Birth of Anglican Catholic Identity. The link for the complete thesis can be found at Library and Archives Canada: extension://elhekieabhbkpmcefcoobjddigjcaadp/https://centr X6UzP3r74_R AQh3MhGkYbLi7crXkUyMK4FAUYBpKs

© Dr. Charles Warner 2005

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