The Evolution of Anglo-Catholicism



“Si jamais les chrétiens se rapprochent, comme tout les y invite, il semble que la motion doit partir de l’église d’Angleterre . . . elle peut être considérée comme un de ces intermèdes, capables de rapprocher des éléments inassociables de leur nature.”  (Joseph de Maistre, Considérations sur la France)

It is easy to form a distorted impression of the growth of the Anglo-Catholic Movement in the Church of England and those churches in communion with it. The dramatic story is that of the Oxford Movement. The dramatic character is Newman. The dramatic moment is his conversion to Roman Catholicism. Evangelicals, Low and Broad Churchmen, and Roman Catholics, have always seen the movement as a Romanizing one, reflecting in its theology and ritual orthodox Roman Catholicism, and have defined its objectives as implying “submission to Rome” as a necessary consequence. Nothing could be less true. Even to this day, many Anglo-Catholic clergy have never been inside a Roman Catholic Church or read a “Romanist” theological work written after the Council of Trent.

The growth and development of modern Anglicanism stems from seeds dormant in the Anglican church from its beginning. Newman’s theory of development of doctrine may or may not apply to the evolution of post-Tridentine dogma, but it certainly applies to the Church he left. On the other hand, the influence of the Oxford Movement, and the ritualist revival which succeeded it, has had a profound influence on Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism all through the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth.

Today the devotional and liturgical life of both Protestantism and Catholicism have been assimilated to a worldwide movement of purification and restoration which unquestionably first began with the Oxford reform. This influence of course did not only operate externally. Again and again Catholicizing priests, and sometimes whole religious orders, “swam the Tiber” from Canterbury to Rome, having lost hope of defending the Catholic heritage of the Church of England against militant Protestants, politically-appointed bishops and a secular Parliament. Once they got there however, many of their old practices and beliefs slowly reasserted themselves and acted to purge the Roman Catholic Church in England of many of the distortions and abuses and superstitions which had crept into the practices of the Church in the long dormant period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Looking back over the controversies that drove many an embattled and despairing priest to renounce the Anglican Communion and deny the validity of his own priesthood, and even question that of his baptism, it is tragic and ironic to realize that many, perhaps most, of these were over points of practice and doctrine then considered hopelessly Protestant or even sacrilegious which are now common in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II — the vernacular liturgy, open communion, communion in both kinds, birth control, divorce, married clergy, the redefinition of scriptural, traditional and magisterial authority, of baptismal regeneration, and justification. Once the now apparently inevitable permission for a married clergy is granted, many Anglican and even some Lutheran churches and priests and ministers will be considerably more “High Church” than their Roman Catholic fellows.

The importance of Anglican Catholicism is precisely that it worked out, for over a century in a far from authoritarian environment, most of the implications of a free Catholicism and demonstrated that even in so touchy a subject as the Higher Criticism of scripture, liberty was the mother, not the daughter, of order; that at the end of the process of freedom for development within a Catholic context, hardly defined except as a way of life based on a way of prayer, true Catholic orthodoxy would not be weakened but immeasurably strengthened. It is for this reason that the developments in Anglicanism since the beginning of the Oxford Movement are of such crucial importance and are so illuminating of the problems now confronting the Universal Church.

In all this history the coming and going of John Henry Cardinal Newman is only a minor episode. It would be tempting to be defiant and try to write the story of the Oxford Movement without mentioning him. That would be a foolish thing to do. Distortions of history cannot be corrected by equal and opposite distortions. It should be borne in mind in studying the Oxford Movement that Newman is a separate problem, just as it should be apparent on inspection that he represents a divergent tendency. He “went to Rome.” The other leaders did not. Certainly it was after his conversion that he became that special theological and even philosophical influence that is his unique contribution.

Historians of the Movement commonly represent it as saving the English Church from an abysm of sloth, indifference, simony, slovenliness, and secularization, into which it had sunk in the eighteenth century. This is only partially true, and it was nothing peculiar to the Church of England, but characteristic of religion in eighteenth-century Western civilization taken as a whole. The eighteenth century was not only the heyday of a secularizing rationalism, but it was the heyday of Erastianism as well. The State was supreme in secular affairs in Sweden as well as in Bavaria; in Prussia as in Spain; obviously, as we all know, in France and England, but also, as we forget, in Rome.

In the Papal States the State as such was as “value neuter” as anywhere else. It was just far less efficient than most, and was responsible for the Balkanization of central and southern Italy. Had the Borgias established the Papacy as a hereditary monarchy, things might have been different, but since the secular power of the Papacy was actually powerlessness, the Papal States were the victims of the maneuvering of great powers whose interest it was to keep the heart of Italy barbarous and weak. We forget that only a few generations ago the city of Rome was a wilderness of half-buried classical ruins, ill-kempt churches, ruinous Renaissance palaces, cow pastures and slums. The Light never went out in the Church, true. But it never went out in Canterbury either, although in both cases its rays shone far more from the Inner Light than from the radiance of the cathedra.

We forget too, that William of Orange was an aggressive Presbyterian and Calvinist publicly, and devoid of religion privately, and that from the death of Queen Anne the throne of England has been occupied, until recent years, by rulers who were not really members of the Church of England at all, as it had been defined by the Elizabethan Establishment, or by the great theologians of the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline days. For two hundred years the entire tendency of the secular authority, whether throne or Parliament, was against the Anglican heritage. This did not mean that the heritage was forgotten, or that the Christian life died out, or went underground in the eighteenth century.

Samuel Johnson is a perfect example of a devout but worldly Anglican layman of those times. His religious opinions and prejudices can be found in Boswell, distorted by Boswell’s worldly and secular bias — as is the whole Boswell-Johnson — but his religious life is revealed in the rare entries in his diary, always at least at Easter, the anniversary of his wife’s death, and usually his own birthday and New Year’s Day and in his prayers and few personal poems. True, he only went to communion on Easter. That’s all anybody else did, anywhere, except for a few specially devout persons and members of religious orders. Coleridge is another example at the end of the century. As a theologian and philosopher he may be very confused, but the tremendous importance of religion in his life could not have existed in a completely irreligious milieu, nor even grown out of it by reaction.

Religious life in the Church of England was pretty well confined to the Nonjurors, the Evangelicals, the old High Church party and the pietists who were influenced by French Quietism, German piety, and the writings of William Law. Again the eighteenth century was the flowering time of Quaker piety, when Quakerism turned from an apocalyptic Pentecostal sect into a society of lay monastics. The printed literature of spiritual diaries kept by Friends in the eighteenth century is immense, and reveals the continued existence in England on a very wide scale of that lay monasticism that is the characteristic form of the English religious life. Of course the Society of Friends were a people apart, an alternative society; nevertheless, they existed within the dominant culture, would have been something very different without it, and radiated an influence all about them.

This kind of devoted, “concerned” Friends call it, life appears in the first English religious writing. It can be found in Bede as well as Walter Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Marjorie Kempe and all the other great English mystics of the end of the Middle Ages. It can be found in the devotional literature of the English families who remained true to the old religion, and where, in an underground church, the religious life was necessarily the family life. It can be found in the poetry of Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and even Herrick, and it is perfectly expressed in Walton’s Lives of Donne, Herbert, Sanderson, Hooker, Wotten. All of them were distinguished by a domestic monasticism, a cheerful piety and a gentleness of disposition. At least three of them — Donne, Wotten and Herbert — were fishermen, wanderers by quiet streams and flowered meadows, contemplating the mysteries of life in moving water. The Compleat Angler itself is a book about the contemplative life, under the symbolism of fishing. This is not a witticism.

To understand the profound changes which took place in the Church of England through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it is necessary to establish the sympathy of a special mood, and that mood can be found in Roper’s Life of Sir Thomas More and in The Compleat Angler as well. England’s special contribution to monasticism was the Order of St. Gilbert of Sempringham. The Gilbertine villages or city communities were organized with a convent of nuns at one end and of monks, both contemplative and active, at the other, and in between the homes of lay monastics whose religious life was the fulfilment of family life. I myself have always hoped to see, amongst the many other revivals of a purified medieval monasticism within the Anglican Church, a revival of the Gilbertines. Perhaps as we enter the Apocalypse that will be the final resolution of aggiornamento.

Contrary to popular belief, Henry VIII was not interested in founding a “Church of England.” Nor was he interested in reforming the Church. He was interested in robbing it. The looting of the monasteries was occasioned by the impending bankruptcy of a vastly overextended international policy. The coming and going of Henry’s wives reflected political forces, and policies national and international, not unlike the coming and going of prime ministers in later days. As Henry’s chancellors and queens succeeded each other, the doctrinal position of the Church under its royal head swung like a pendulum. As long as Henry was alive it did not swing very far. The succession of official formularies from the parliamentary declarations of 1529 to 1536 summed up in the Ten Articles, The Institution of a Christian Man (The Bishops’ Book), the Act of Six Articles, 1539, The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition of a Christian Man (The King’s Book, 1543), Archbishop Cranmer’s Primer issued in the last year of Henry’s life, were all considerably more orthodox and more specifically Roman than much of the liturgics and theology popular since Vatican II — always saving the Royal Supremacy. It should be borne in mind that quarrels of king and throne were nothing new in the history of either the Western or Eastern Church. The extreme lengths to which Henry had pushed the Royal Supremacy fell far short of the claims of most Byzantine emperors. Had the personal revolt of Henry VIII not coincided with the Reformation on the continent and the attendant political struggles of the German states, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, the schism of the English Church would have quietly healed over with changes in the occupants and policies of the throne. The Communion Service of the first Prayer Book of Edward VI was still unmistakably a Mass. Even the second Prayer Book was susceptible of a Catholic interpretation and would be reformed drastically in that sense by Elizabeth’s bishops.

There was a great deal of iconoclasm and destruction throughout all these years, but it is extraordinary how much of the artistic heritage of the Middle Ages survived to be destroyed by the Protestant revolt in the next century. Nothing shows the comparative superficiality of the Henrician and Edwardian Reformation than the comparative ease with which Mary was able to restore the Roman obedience. The persecutions of Mary have made her name a household word. In fact the majority of the clergy and the vast majority of the populace quietly submitted. Serious revolt did not begin until the marriage to Philip of Spain.

In those years the Council of Trent was in session (1545-1563) and those doctrines that we think of as specifically Roman were then far more rigorously defined. The council did not attempt to ameliorate any of the differences with the reformers, but attacked them head on. Practices and doctrines that were peculiar to the contemporary Western Church were made binding for all times and places. Behind its counterattack in the field, the Church became a fortress church. What this meant in actual fact was that what had hitherto been considered the Universal Church, the body of all Christian men, synonymous with society as a whole, in Western Europe at least, accepted a position as a subculture or a sect. As on the continent, many of the persecutions and burnings of the later days of Mary’s reign were for doctrines and practices which had been matters of dispute amongst the fathers and doctors of the Church until the sixteenth century. Many of the abuses, for example, the sale of indulgences, had been attacked by the entire consensus of medieval Europe, from the great scholastics to Chaucer and Langland.

The intransigent policies of Cardinal Pole, Mary’s archbishop and cousin, bear comparison with the Papal suppression of the Jesuit Mission in China two centuries later. There was a brief chance to make the Catholic Church truly catholic without sacrificing doctrine to the more intransigent Lutherans and Calvinists. Under the driving intolerance of Mary, Philip, and Cardinal Pole, and with occasional gentle, ineffectual demurrers from Rome, the universal church in England was turned into a sect and so remained. It is necessary to understand this to appreciate more the psychology than the doctrines of the Anglo-Catholic divines under Elizabeth, James and the two Charleses, who built up a philosophy of the English Church as a via media, a “bridge church” between Rome, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, a branch of the Church Universal — which, ironically sheltered under the royal supremacy, they hoped, would someday restore true universality to Christendom.

Throughout the sixteenth century all Western European churches were becoming national churches, whether Protestant or Papal in their allegiance. The Spanish Church was and remained until Vatican II essentially a national church, less markedly so than the English but more than the Gallican French church, for the simple reason that over vast periods of time the Spanish throne alone or in combination with that of the Holy Roman Empire controlled the Papacy, not the other way around. Ironically only Calvin in Geneva kept alive the idea of a theocratically ruled divine society which had been at least the putative vision of Hildebrand.

Similar processes of course had gone on in the Eastern churches. Northern Orthodoxy was nationalist — Serbian, Russian, Bulgarian, etc. — while nationalist and ethnic tendencies in the South had produced schismatic churches — Monophysite, Monothelite, Nestorian — in Syria, Egypt and the Orient, all denying, incidentally, the Orthodox charges of heresy against themselves — denials that were later to be accepted by the Roman See in some instances, by Canterbury in others in admitting various Uniat Churches to communion.

Hooker, Laud, Hall, Andrewes, Cosin, Bramhall, Bull, Stillingfleet, Shillingworth, Pearson, Morton were amongst the most learned theologians of their day. Parallel with their theology was reborn in the English Church its characteristic piety — John Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Herbert, Nicholas Ferrar, Jeremy Taylor, Thomas Traherne, Henry Vaughan, as well as Andrewes and Laud, were all devotional writers of a type more meaningful to us today than most of the contemporary Counter-Reformation mystics on the continent. They are only the more articulate few out of many. It is the capacity of the English Church to produce so rich and deep and manifold a life of prayer which nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-Catholics considered the principal sign of her catholicity, because it reflected the continuity of her sacramental life.

The theologians constructed an apologetic for a reformed Catholicism, protestant only against what they considered specific Roman abuses and claims. Baptismal regeneration, confirmation, the Real Presence as distinguished from trans-substantiation, the Eucharistic sacrifice, the reservation of the Eucharist, auricular confession, unction, invocation of the saints and the Blessed Virgin — all can be found in the Caroline divines.

This entire theological edifice was constructed not by appeal to recent Roman Catholic theology or the medieval doctors but was based solidly on Scripture, the apostolic Fathers, the patristic period, to and including St. Augustine, and the Councils of the undivided church. In every instance the emphasis is on the apostolic life. Christianity is envisaged as the pattern of life shown forth by those persons who had been in intimate contact with the incarnate Lord, who had walked and talked and eaten and drunk with the living Jesus. The Church is thought of as itself a sacrament, social, but embodied like the Eucharist, of the Christ-life.

The brief interlude of James II only consolidated the Anglo-Catholic tendency amongst bishops, priests and laity. Archbishop Sancroft and six bishops remonstrated against the liberties granted Dissenters and Roman Catholics, were brought to trial and acquitted. This crisis was used by essentially irreligious forces to overthrow James and deliver the crown to William of Orange, husband of James’s sister. He was one of the wealthiest men in Europe, the leader of an essentially economic revolution. Once again, Sancroft and eight bishops refused the oaths to William and Mary. They considered that even though he was a Roman Catholic, their oaths to James were personal and so still binding. The archbishop, five bishops, and four hundred clergy were deprived and were followed by a large but unknown number of laymen. From then on the throne was no longer in fact head of an Anglican church, but a Protestant, continental power over against it. Certain of the bishops consecrated others and the most irreconcilable of the Catholic party went into schism — the so-called Nonjurors — which lasted as an effective body all through the eighteenth century. Towards the end of the century there were some 50 congregations in London!

Most of the Episcopal Church of Scotland refused the oaths. That Church as such became and has remained disestablished. (William established the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.) The Scottish Prayer Book and the English Nonjuring liturgy returned to the first Prayer Book of Edward the Sixth, with considerable improvements in the Catholic sense taken mostly from eastern liturgies. These included the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine, lacking which the Roman rite is considered defective by the Orthodox. Incidentally, the Book of Common Prayer of the American Episcopal Church and American Orders are derived from the Scottish Church and the Nonjurors, not from the English Church.

The Nonjuror schism is extremely important in the background of the Oxford Movement. Bishop Ken and the great eighteenth-century mystic, William Law, profoundly influenced Pusey, Keble and Newman. The later generation of Young Turks around Newman — Ward, Oakley, Pattison, the Romanizers — were specifically in revolt against the old Anglo-Catholic tradition, quite as much as against the Evangelical and Broad parties.

As the years went by, and its distance from the Church widened, the little schism of the Nonjurors came, in the polemical writings of its apologists, to be more and more sacramentally oriented. The Apostolic Succession was looked on as a succession of the sacraments, the episcopacy an enduring channel of the divine life blood. It was the sacraments with their all-pervading gift of grace which bound the Church together with an authority far surpassing Pope or king. Isolated as they were from their parent body and totally unknown to the Church as a whole, the Nonjurors emphasized the purely transcendental and mystical universality or catholicity of the Church. It was for this reason that the Alexandrine and Cappadocian Fathers, but especially the Syrians, appealed so greatly to them. There had been plenty of exterior authority of all sorts in the Roman Empire in the East. The Church was still loosely knit, with long and easily broken lines of communication. The appeal against imperium to charisma was to limited supernatural communities, the congregations of faithful whose power preceded others’ because it operated on a higher plane.

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of William Law. The household of William Law was a direct descendant of Little Gidding, the household of Nicholas Ferrar, as both were of the household of St. Thomas More. The principal difference is the increasing strictness forced by the effort to distinguish a devotional community from a world in which prayer, meditation, contemplation and asceticism were at ever increasing discount.

William Law is only the most famous of the Nonjuring divines, due probably to the cogency of his literary style and the conscious attempt to avoid sectarianism in his writings. He was a late-arrived Nonjuror who refused the oaths to George I. In spite of the strictness of his own life, his controversial writings against deism, against the egoistic morality of Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, against Protestantism, against Roman Catholicism are for their time singularly liberal in tone and echo the judiciousness of Richard Hooker. It was on Law’s controversial writings and some of the more orthodox ruminations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge that in the next century F.D. Maurice was able for his own purposes to erect a bridge back to the main Anglo-Catholic tradition of the seventeenth century.

It is Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by which he is known in the history of English literature and by which he profoundly affected the course of religious development in England. It was a seminal book for the Evangelical Movement, a turning point in the spiritual life of the Wesleys, but it also deeply influenced, in their notions of a dedicated life, people as unlike as Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon. It is a devotional manual of the type popular in Catholic circles on the continent in the eighteenth century and amongst the Quakers and other Pietists in England and the Germanic countries. Today its asceticism seems impossibly strict for anyone living in the world unsupported by a monastic regimen. Yet it is a direct descendant of the works of the medieval English mystics who were anchorites, hermits or even housewives but almost never conventuals.

Law was more learned in the mystical tradition than most English pietists, and so his book describes a more systematic cultivation of the interior life than any other English work of his time. Then, too, his influence was much greater because more public, and not so closely confined to the audience of a sect, due to the great literary merit of A Serious Call. It is still read by thousands of people of different religions, or none. In his fifties, after a life of occasional curacies and many years in the home of Edward Gibbon’s father, where he lived first as a tutor, and then as a kind of chaplain and spiritual counselor to uncounted people of all parties in the Church, or none, who came to consult him, he retired to a cottage in the country at Kings Cliffe, his birthplace, and established a kind of little convent with two ladies, Mrs. Hutcheson and Hester Gibbon, the aunt of the historian. Until his death twenty-one years later, the three devoted themselves to a strict religious life of prayer, contemplation, teaching in two schools for poor boys and girls, and charity, the latter so undemanding as to seriously disturb the neighboring rector.

It is in this later period that Law wrote the bulk of his mystical works and published his beautiful edition of the works of Jakob Boehme. With his hierarchic cosmogony and his dynamic vision of the supernatural world and the soul’s place in it, Boehme verges on Gnosticism. Although he takes over much of Boehme’s mythology, Law is in fact less gnostic than the pseudo-Dionysus or Scotus Erigena. The total impression given by his visionary writings is his close kinship with St. Bonaventura and the long tradition of “By Light, Light” — going back to Philo, Christian Neo-Platonism, and the Merkabah mysticism of Judaism and its later descendants in the Kabbalah and Hasidism. What Law does is to adjust the ancient Gnostic emanationist melodrama to the interior life as a set of symbols of the progress of the soul, what in our day Martin Buber or even Carl Jung have done. This is not the highest level of mystical experience, but it is a most effective propaedeutic, and when it is adjusted to Catholic Christianity and to life modeled on the historic Jesus, a most captivating one.

Law’s influence on Evangelicalism and on the revival of Anglo-Catholicism would be hard to overemphasize. It is more than a taste in reading matter in the Fathers of the Church. It is even more than a witness to the special lay monasticism so specially English. It is above all else an apocalyptic vision of the Church as the body of Christ, the manifestation of the Creative Word, and itself a great Sacrament whose body and blood is concentrated and communicated at the altar. Law spoke from Patmos. To him the Trinitarian process, the Incarnation and Atonement were of the substance of which the great cosmogonies of the pagan Orient had been but dim rememberings. Although no one would know of them for two hundred years, Law’s direct visionary experience, rising from his meditation on Boehme and on the Fathers, was a kind of redemption of the Memphite Theology, the earliest tractate of Egyptian religion, and of the cosmological dramas of Mesopotamia and Syria. Viewed from the vantage point of William Law the endless polemic of Fraser’s The Golden Bough falls quietly into place as prophecy not only of the Christian myth but of the Christian life.

It is relatively easy for us, sophisticated with all the writings of comparative religion of two centuries, to absorb Law’s transmuted Boehmenism. What it gave to Pusey, Keble and Newman could have been little else than the mood, the tone arising from a kind of physiological conviction that they lived in the tissue of the Living Body.

Law’s contribution to the more systematic apologetic of later Anglo-Catholicism was of more considerable importance, although the influence was seminal rather than at large. He established the appeal to experience, what today we would call existentialism, as the effective answer to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and from him stems all the anti-rationalistic polemic of Coleridge, Newman, Butler, down to the Modernists. As, in a sense, a corollary of this appeal to experience, his doctrine of the Atonement follows naturally. He demolishes the forensic theory, that the sacrifice at the cross was a debt to be paid to the bookkeeping of heaven, with a direct appeal to the experience of at-one-ment, the divinization of human nature by its lifting up into the Incarnation. This appeal is as ancient as the early Fathers and is reiterated again and again in the semi-Platonic mysticism of English Franciscan philosophy and poetry —

Honde by honde then schulle us take
Ant joye & bliss schulle us make
For the devil of Hell man hagt forsake
And Christe our lauerd is makit our make.

This is a theological tradition which would come to flower in the combination of Bishop Charles Gore’s theory of kenosis and the generally prevailing Anglican doctrine of the incarnation and atonement which begins to gather force with G. Mauberly, then L.S. Thornton, Coleridge, F.D. Maurice, Frank Weston, the Bishop of Zanzibar. In later years the mystical, semi-gnostic notion of the equivalence of macrocosm and microcosm would be forgotten, but in Law it is the essential explanation of the experienced fact — “The divine drama is in you.” And last of all, Law reestablished a specific kind of devotion still characteristic of Anglican piety. A Serious Call has often been compared to St. Francis de Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life. It is most interesting to read them together, supplemented with Law’s final devotional works — The Spirit of Prayer, The Way to Divine Knowledge and The Spirit of Love. They led one of his editors, the Quaker S. Hobhouse, to claim him as a Quaker. It would be just as easy for someone saturated in St. Thomas More and the late medieval English mystics to claim him as a Roman Catholic, more traditional by far than the rococo devotional manuals of his time.

Much could be written about the saintly Nonjuring Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Ken. His devotional writings would best be read in the idyllic setting of the cathedral he occupied for so short a time, along “Ken’s Walk,” by grassy battlements and greenish moats and swanny pools, with the splendid cathedral in the background. His hymns are the most deeply devotional of their kind, poetry of great simplicity and power, although the enormous bulk of verse, not hymns, which he left behind him in manuscript is seldom poetry at all. It is tragic that so gifted a bone pastor should only have held his see for three years, and significant that he is still the legend of the place. But the most significant thing about him is that he is the only man in the history of theology ever to write an explication of the catechism, titled, and most deservedly, The Practice of Divine Love. Ken is a divine far better quoted than discussed.

When the love of God is produced in my heart, and is set on work, my last concern is to preserve and ensure and quicken it; It is preserved by Prayer, the pattern of which is the Lord’s Prayer; It is ensured to us by the Sacraments, which are the Pledges of love; and more particularly it is quickened by the Holy Eucharist, which is the feast of Love; So that the plain order of the Cathechism teaches me the rise, the progress, and the perfection of Divine Love, which God of his great mercy give me grace to follow.

* * *

*O thou whom my Soul loveth, I would not desire heaven but because thou art there, for thou makest heaven wherever thou art.

I would not, O Jesu, desire life everlasting, but that I may there everlasting love thee.

O inexhaustible love, do thou eternally breathe love into me, that my love to thee may be eternally increasing and tending towards infinity, since a love less than infinite is not worthy of thee.

* * *

Lord, what I need I labour in vain, to search out the manner of thy mysterious presence in the Sacrament, when my Love assures me thou art there? All the faithful who approach thee with prepared hearts, they will know thou art there, they feel the Virtue of Divine Love going out of thee, to heal their infirmities and to inflame their affections, for which all Love, all Glory be to thee.

O merciful Jesus, let that immortal food which in the Holy Eucharist thou vouchsafest me, instil into my weak and languishing Soul, new supplies of Grace, new life, new Love, new Vigour, and new Resolution, that I may never more faint, or droop or tire in my duty.

To God the Father, who first loved us, and made us accepted in the Beloved; to God the Son who loved us, and washed us from our Sins in his own Blood; to God the Holy Ghost, who sheds the Love of God abroad in our hearts, be all Love and all Glory for time, and for eternity. Amen.

—from The Practice of Divine Love

* * *

Forty-five years old, just before the swift decline of his powers, Coleridge was to write in Biographia Literaria:

The feeling of gratitude, which I cherish towards these men [George Fox, Jacob Behmen, and William Law] has caused me to digress further than I had forseen or proposed; but to have passed them over in an historical sketch of my literary life and opinions, would have seemed to me like the denial of a debt, the concealment of a boon. For the writings of these mystics acted in no slight degree to prevent my mind from being imprisoned within the outline of any single dogmatic system. They contributed to keep alive the heart in the head; gave me an indistinct, yet stirring and working presentment, that all the products of the mere reflective faculty partook of DEATH, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, into which a sap was yet to be propelled from some root to which I had not penetrated, if they were to afford my soul either food or shelter.

Coleridge was certainly the most influential — what shall we call him — certainly not theologian, but rather, theological speculator — of the early years of the nineteenth century, but it is difficult to isolate any stable and consistent ideas, much less a system from his work. His literary remains are an immense mass of notes. Like “Kubla Khan,” they begin in dream, emerge into reality, and are interrupted by the unwelcome appearance of persons from Porlock before they have become completely realized.

His opinions evolve steadily from deism or Unitarianism to an acceptance of what he claimed was Anglican orthodoxy, but all along the way and in the final summation he is never worried if he contradicts himself — like Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.” But, like Whitman, there certainly can be no question but that Coleridge was a man with a system, but a physiological system, a temperament, a tone, a way of coping with life and its problems. And there is no question but that he is often very muddled reading. His opponents have called him “muddied,” and have put down the confusion of his thought to the effects of a lifelong opium habit. The major Broad Church theologians of the nineteenth century looked back to him as an ancestor, practically a founder, and his influence on the greatest of them, F.D. Maurice, was very strong.

However, it is only an accident of history, of politics, the extreme Fundamentalism, in the modern sense of the word, of the Oxford Movement, that prevents him from being acknowledged equally as an ancestor of latter-day Anglo-Catholicism. After the defection of Newman and “the Romanizers” — Ward, Oakley, Manning, and the rest — from the Oxford Movement, it was F.D. Maurice, the Coleridgean, and the Cambridge group under his influence, along with Pusey and Keble, who provided the synthesis, such as it was, that guided the intransigent so-called ritualists in their slum parishes in the last half of the century.

The point-to-point visibility in Coleridge’s speculations may be low, but it is possible to triangulate the whole field of his thought from the few clear, outstanding summits achieved in his maturity.

What Coleridge accomplished was a qualitative change. His inchoate speculations are incomparably more profound than the rationalistic, scholastic, or sentimental theology of the eighteenth century. He was also infinitely better read in the philosophy and theology and literatures of several languages. He was a voice of the revolution in sensibility paralleled abroad by persons as widely separated as Baudelaire and Hegel — both of whom he resembles. Like Blake, Baudelaire, Hölderlin, Stendhal, Coleridge is talking about what we talk about, or at least did until it became apparent in the middle years of the twentieth century that Western civilization was not sick, but had ceased to be alive.

He brought Anglican theology up to date and out into a wider world. Few clergy indeed in his time were familiar with the German language, much less German philosophy and theology, and probably none with the significant literature of the continent. Few, strange as it may seem, read the Cambridge Platonists, Cudworth, Henry More, Whichcote, John Smith, and the rest, the most significant counter-movement to English empiricism and rationalism. This possibly was due to the sheer badness of writing of both German and English idealists. The combination of their two turgidities goes far to account for the opacity and disorder of Coleridge’s own prose. Biographia Literaria, Aids to Reflection, The Friend, Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, and On the Constitution of the Church and State must be read in a context that includes Baudelaire’s notebooks and even the decadent diary writers, Amiel, Bashkirtsiev and Barbellion.

Coleridge was penetrating the world of romantic alienation finally defined by Rimbaud and Proust. The argot of technical divinity conceals this from himself. Unfortunately he could no longer transmute the quest for illumination into poetry. The poems of his latter years only say badly what is already formless enough in his prose, but they lead straight to Baudelaire’s “La Cloche Fêlée,” the first major poem of spiritual alienation.

Coleridge tirelessly and passionately attacked the eighteenth-century inventors of evidences and proofs for God or Scripture, always with the appeal to the unalloyed experience of faith, the confrontation of the contingent I Am with the absolute It Is. He was quite right to characterize this as purified Lutheranism.

He took over from the Cambridge Platonists and Kant the distinction between two kinds of knowing, which he called reason and understanding. Today we would probably reverse the meanings of these two words as Coleridge uses them. This is an unfortunate habit of Coleridge’s; his distinction of act and potency suffers from the same fault. However his “reason” is not emotional intuition. He carefully distinguishes the whole man, acting in comprehension, from the anti-intellectualism of the bigot, the emotionalism of the enthusiast, or the rationalistic, religious apologetic of the orthodox — especially as the latter was represented in the external, mechanical rationalism of Paley, famous for his watch and watchmaker “proof,” the argument from design. God, Coleridge pointed out, is not a watchmaker deduced from a watch found in the road, but an experience far more veridical than the watch itself, an experience which blasted away the sensate prudence of the British man in the street to whom Paley appealed. Until the banality of Paley had been banished from the theological universe of discourse, there could be no room for the supernaturalism of the Oxford Movement, not even for the conventional piety of Keble, much less for the sophisticated skepticism of Newman.

Coleridge dismissed the epistemological dilemma which still bedevils British empiricism by simply denying the initial assumption of Locke — “Nihil est in intellectu sed quod fuerit in sensu” — with the quip of Leibniz’s “Praeter ipsum intellectum.” The orthodox had been accepting the terms of the deists; Coleridge denied them altogether and moved the dispute to another court. This is his primary importance. English philosophy had continued to attack Hume’s skepticism from positions Hume had demolished. Kant and Coleridge after him (and more confusedly the Cambridge Platonists) accepted Hume’s attack on rationalism and empiricism, and began over again with Hume’s skepticism as the foundation for a new definition of a different kind of “reason.”

Justification, whether by faith or the sacraments, had not been a pressing issue for generations. After violent controversy, the Establishment had come to rest content in the contradictory XI and XXVII Articles of Religion, “Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine and very full of comfort.” “Baptism is . . . a sign of Regeneration or New Birth. And the Baptism of young children is retained.” The Protestants took one article, the High Church the other, and rested content.

In Aids to Reflection Coleridge put justification by faith in the center of his subjectively validated religion. God is known as the beginning of thought, by an integral response, not by ratiocination or the association of experiences. This response is a moral assent, the assumption of responsibility of the absolute by the contingent — Faith, which justifies and saves prior to any good works, or any works at all. The epistemological process is moral, and begins directly with God. This is philosophical Methodism, without the emotional crisis of Wesleyan “conversion,” without the “enthusiasm” of the Methodist and Evangelical revivals, and of course without “merit.” So it is not surprising that Coleridge can find no place for the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist except in sentiment, as symbols of Church Order and tradition, and very little place for the Incarnation of the actual historic Jesus.

This judgment may be unfair to Coleridge. His great magnum opus was to include a large section on Baptism, the Eucharist and the historic Jesus, the notes for which were either never written or have not survived. All of his notes are now being published by the Bollingen Foundation, and Coleridge, already complicated enough, turns out to be even more complex and difficult. But his theological influence can only be discussed in terms of what was available then in his published writings. Still he says, “I hope to be saved, not by my faith in Christ, but by the faith of Christ in me.”

Kant’s “pure speculative reason” becomes Coleridge’s “the Higher Reason,” operative in the noumenal realm, its object the self. The subject becomes its own object. As Coleridge says in The Friend, “Thus God, the soul, eternal truth, etc., are the objects of reason: but they are themselves reason.” The Theoretic Reason mediates noumenal (Higher Reason) and phenomenal knowledge (understanding) and validates the latter with the former. With this modified dualism Coleridge escapes from the rigorous monism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, at least to his own satisfaction. Since the Higher Reason operates in the world of self, God, freedom, immortality, the realm of morals, it is the true instrument of the Will and the Will is cut off from the phenomenal world. So the Higher Reason becomes faith.

Initially this would establish a system of double truth, but powerful conceptual entities like these — Will and Higher Reason — tend to devour all around them. Coleridge drifts towards the will mysticism of the late nineteenth century. “As If” creates “Is.” This is the metaphysic of radical pragmatism, and lies behind most theological speculation, except Neo-Thomism, from then on. The enemy will say, “The head has surrendered unconditionally to the heart.” Coleridge shies away from the ultimate consequences embraced by some of his successors, in favor of the existential confrontation of total experience, but the practical consequence endures. The Higher Reason is an eye opening on the immediate vision of God of the mystics and that eye is opened by the will.

A hundred years would pass before it became common again to say, “Since the statements about the noumenal order have no phenomenological basis, they are pseudo-statements.” Coleridge’s descendants can only retort, “The same to you and many of them.” In Coleridge are foreshadowed most of the post-Kantian disputes.

If faith is not objectively negotiable but dependent on each man alone, the direct communion of the faithful on earth is dissolved in transcendent individual communication coming only through God. The Incarnation, and still more, the sacraments become unreal, and there is only the conversation of omnipotence and contingency. This is the road out of Coleridge or Kant taken by Kierkegaard and the neo-Lutherans, Barth and his followers. Newman, action Catholicism, the neo-Catholics and the Catholic Modernists took another.

In practice Coleridge simply emotionalized the reason and gave it over to the rule of the will confronted with the life of faith. “TRY IT,” says Coleridge. This is precisely the “grammar of assent.” The will after all is stimulated by the phenomenological world. Does Coleridge choose one of these alternatives consistently? No. But no philosophical system can be closed in perfect consistency. Gödel’s Proof applies to metaphysics as well as mathematics. Coleridge clings to the Church.

Coleridge shifts his ground completely to say that proofs in the noumenal realm of the Higher Reason are only reflections of processes which hold for the understanding in the phenomenal realm and cannot be logically final — only convincing — by a leap — of the will. The rationality of the universe, the order of nature, the law of contradiction, the unity of thought and being, are only plausible revelations, like the ontological proof of the existence of God, or the specific revelations of Scriptures and Church. This way lies a Humean, if not a simply skeptical, Catholicism. It is permissible to believe anything that works, can be plausibly proved, cannot be disproved, and satisfies the will via the emotions. All that is necessary is to purge Christianity of errors of fact and disprovable notions, and move religion bodily into the realm of its own transcendental consistency. Faith sees all being with the anagogic eye.

This is etherialization, the climax of the movement from tribal cult to world religion. It had already happened on a minor scale at the critical point when Christianity moved out into the wide world of Classical civilization. Origen and St. Clement, although always saving the literal meanings, did the same thing by treating Scripture as an inexhaustible system of metaphors. After Coleridge, the main task of theology becomes, in one guise or another, etherialization, or, as Marx and Engels would call it, the transformation of quantity into quality.

Since an etherialized system cannot violate the mundane understanding, it becomes easier to believe mysteries and impossibilities — that the infant Jesus came through the maidenhead of his mother like light through glass — than to believe in the troubled factual narrative of the latest Gospel synthesis. So Lord Acton could say, “I have never been troubled by an intellectual doubt,” to the confusion of simple minds ever since. The only rule is “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatum” — a matter of taste — not certainly of the logic of the understanding, because nature too obviously multiplies entities beyond necessity.

Coleridge introduces into the indeterminacy he had created a determinant which is in fact esthetic and socially conditioned — “the law of conscience which peremptorily commands belief.” Following on this, the voice of God calling in the garden, and the Will responding, come all the religious emotions, the loneliness of the soul in the abyss of contingency and the welcome comfort of the accepted Fatherhood of God. “TRY IT,” says Coleridge, “Christianity is not a theory or a speculation — not a philosophy of life, but a life, and a living process — TRY IT.” “The facts of Christianity are not invented by imagination, but they are transmuted by it from a lower to a higher form.”

Coleridge’s speculations about the Trinitarian process follow naturally from his will philosophy, and lead to a triadic dynamism much like that attributed to the Hegelian dialectic. Like most theogonies, Coleridge’s is really a disguised psychology, a projection of the processes of the self. This may be interesting reading, but its influence was minimal and much of it has not been published until today.

Many critics have made a great deal of Coleridge’s theories of the relations of Church and State. They are unreal because they are posited on the assumption of a Christian society which had ceased to exist in his day, and has vanished in ours. He thought of the Church as two churches, an Establishment of the clerisy, the responsables, the liberal professions and arts, and the administrators of policy, and this body intertwined between, and nourishing and being nourished by, the purely secular power and the Church of the spirit. This is Plato’s Republic as worked out by Thomas Arnold and the nineteenth-century British Public School mystique. No doubt many members of the British Establishment still exist who think of society in these terms, but alas, it is, and probably always was, a hoax, the institutional form of the Social Lie. It assumes what does not exist, a Christian society. Via F.D. Maurice, William Morris, Ruskin, and the like, Coleridge might be called the originator of Christian Socialism, Guild Socialism, and other more benign theories of a sanctified, corporative state. This is a beautiful dream and something like it doubtless would have come to be, if the Catholic Church had won the world. Today, as the Church faces apocalypse and an underground life, it is an irrelevant pattern for the Christian community, although medievalists of the older generation may well think it by far the most Catholic of all Coleridge’s ideas.

Coleridge taught apologetics how to talk to the alienated clerisy — the clerkly class dispossessed and prostituted by a predatory society. Newman summed up Coleridge’s qualitative change of venue for all English theology after him:

And while history in prose and verse was thus made the instrument of Church feelings and opinions [by Scott], a philosophical basis for the same was under formation in England by a very original thinker [Coleridge], who, while he indulged a liberty of speculation which no Christian can tolerate, and advanced conclusions which were often heathen rather than Christian, yet after all instilled a higher philosophy into inquiring minds, than they had hitherto been accustomed to accept.  (The Prospects of the Anglican Church)


History seems to occur according to the theories of the philosophers of history who are contemporary with its facts. Certainly the early years of the nineteenth century were very Hegelian times. Again and again social forces and organized movements were pushed to critical points where they turned into their opposites, or where “quantity turned into quality.” This was especially true of the Little Counter-Reformation that accompanied the Holy Alliance’s restoration after the fall of Napoleon. In the case of Lamennais the whole process was embodied in the life of one man, developed consistently and in a straight line. In England things moved slower. Development depended on the resolution of conflicting forces and the influence of antagonistic individuals. Furthermore, England, with Austria and Russia, was the source of reaction, not as France, or the Rhineland, or North Italy, the victim. But it was socially and economically a peculiar kind of reaction. England was the most industrially advanced state in Europe, and the ideologue, or at least rhetorician, of British reaction was completely a man of the Enlightenment — Edmund Burke. Whatever his political maneuvers, he was the voice of a secular society ruled by an oligarchy of aristocratic capitalists, who were great entrepreneurs of the oncoming industrial civilization because, as great landowners, they possessed almost unlimited resources for capital investment. The economics of the Manchester School, the belief that the sum total of private evils would result in the public good, was not only secular and immoral; in practice it shattered the structure inherited from the old feudal society and created one of hopelessly antagonistic classes tending towards final, total atomization.

It is this irreparable schism in society that produced, by immediate reflex, the schism in the soul of what might be called the Romantic Left — Sade, Blake, Hölderlin, Stendhal, Baudelaire, and not least, Lamennais. In England the secular society was larger than on the Continent, more democratized; its material benefits seeped lower down the hierarchy of castes and classes. Reflecting this consent of the majority was the almost complete secularization of religion. By far the most conspicuous things on the British landscape, urban or rural, were the steeples of churches, and dotted amongst them were almost as many chapels of the Dissenters. The architectural symbols of a homogeneous society have misled many even to this day. England had ceased to be a Christian state.

Coleridge had envisaged a reorganized England, once again socially dense, hierarchically structured, and governed by a supernaturally sanctioned clerisy, a system which curiously enough greatly resembled the Enlightenment’s notion of the Confucian polity of the Chinese Empire with the addition of the mystery and ritual of a revamped medievalism. This idea, a kind of metaphysical Radical Toryism, was never to die out in England. Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, Belloc, Chesterton, Eric Gill, Herbert Read — it survives to this day and remains at the heart of the vision of most Anglo-Catholicism.

That is not the way the Oxford Movement, the mother of the Catholic revival, started out. It started as reaction pure and simple, but reaction committed to an unassimilable principle — the idea of a Christian society. The hysteria of the response of the Oxford Reformers to the first moves of the secular state strikes us today as comic, a tempest in a vicarage teapot, until we understand that behind bigotry and old-fogeyism, these men were the survivors of a cohesive society which they thought still existed around them. They were oblivious to the fact that society was in the process of atomizing itself and that the process was irreversible and would continue for a century. In such a context any theory of, any movement towards a coherent, cohesive social order was bound to be revolutionary if pushed to conclusion. They did not know this. They thought they were conservatives, counterrevolutionaries, reactionaries.

In 1832 the Established Church in England, long incompatible with the secularizing society, had become in detail intolerable. In 1833 there appeared anonymously the extraordinary Black Book, an exposé of abuses of the state church almost incredible to us today. Many bishoprics, cathedral chapters and certain great churches were immensely wealthy and disposed of thousands of livings and benefices with income sufficient to move their recipients immediately into the lower echelon of the upper classes. The aristocracy, even the landed gentry and many old feudal corporations disposed of other livings — perhaps the majority — which ranged in income from a modest competence to modest wealth. Evelyn Waugh once pointed out that the standard of living of a successful Hollywood movie star or director did not differ greatly from that of an early nineteenth-century country rector with a well-endowed living — the differences were alcohol, sexual promiscuity and a swimming pool. These livings were awarded, except in rare instances, with little or no regard to learning or religion, commonly to the younger sons of the aristocracy.

In most of the wealthiest benefices and in almost half of all the others the vicar or the rector was not resident. The duties of his pastoral care were discharged by curates, seldom more learned or religious than their employers, who were paid a poverty wage, a hundred pounds a year or less. Such a minister was dependent upon his house, the produce of a few acres, “stole fees,” and the gifts of his congregation to keep his usually large family above the level of destitution. The Russian Church in 1830 might seem to us to be very exotic and very barbarous. Economically the situation of the pastors was much the same, just a different flavor of ignorance, superstition, semi-literacy, Erastianism, and lack of sanitation. Perhaps the Russian clergy preserved more vestiges of piety.

The picture drawn in the Black Book has established itself in history, but it is overdrawn. Things were like that, but they weren’t all like that. The Established Church had preserved the idea and the form of a supernaturally sanctioned clerkly class, a caste of responsables, devoted to learning, prayer, and the cure of souls. Scattered all through the body of the English Church, like white blood cells in the bloodstream of a very sick man, were dedicated men who spent their lives living up to their priestly vocation, piously unaware that their colleagues looked on them as fools, or at the best, fossils.

It was not the theology of the Established Church or its pastoral relations, however defective or nonexistent in many instances these were, but its structure, which was intolerable to a society entering the era of free competition and capital accumulation. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Irish Anglican Church, where the old bishoprics were supported by the full power of the state and the enforced tribute of the entire population, Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. In the early summer of 1833 Parliament moved to suppress ten of the most redundant of the Irish Anglican bishoprics. And on July 14 John Keble of Oriel College preached a sermon on the national apostasy — the church in mortal danger. For the rest of his life John Henry Newman was to say that this sermon marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement. Reading it today it seems to us hysterical and hypocritical rant, yet John Keble was a gentle soul and far from being a hysteric or a ranter. The secular state had moved to remedy a terrible injustice — at considerable profit to itself. The parliamentary agitation for reform of the Established Church was motivated by sentiments of profitable equity and respect for the religious liberties of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews and nonreligious people, whose numbers already were approaching a majority even in England — if we include the bulk of the population who were really indifferent and who conformed to the Church only rarely for convenience. Parliament was beginning, in practice and with maximum pious hypocrisy, to recognize that Great Britain was not really a Christian nation, much less an episcopal one, and that the Church as the spiritual executive arm of the society had lost its monopoly of power. Keble ignored all this. He attacked Parliament, and the organs of the state, and behind them the consenting population, on moral grounds. There was no hint that the Establishment itself was, by its very nature, profoundly immoral. For Keble it was the other way around. The indifferentism and infidelity and even mockery with which the unsanctified viewed the Established Church was due to their own evil; in fact to their allegiance to a personal devil.

The Church is a supernatural institution whose officers are the direct descendants of the Apostles; their authority is guaranteed and made holy by sacrament, by the direct physical action of the Holy Spirit descending, by physical imposition of hands, from the flame of Pentecost. England is a Christian nation, absolutely bound in all matters spiritual, and in many temporal, to love, honor and obey the voice of the Third Person of the Trinity speaking through the Living Apostles — amongst whom of course are the Irish Bishops.

Hildebrand could not have been more forthright — as a matter of fact, he was less so, and he spoke from more substantial grounds. It is easy to see why Newman felt the national apostasy sermon launched the Oxford Movement. Behind the pious rhetoric it is all there. Society cannot escape its Christian nature, except into conscious sin. Spiritual authority is supernatural, hierarchic, and in its own realm, absolute. The Church is the guardian and purveyor of embodied grace, of the sacraments which place the Christian in direct communication with God. Outside this sanctified body there can be no salvation.

The function of the state in all its organs — the British state in 1833 — is to enforce the communion of the citizens in this supernatural body. Anything outside it is simply sin. Authority is finally vested in the living representatives of the Apostles and that authority in any final confrontation overrides any other authority whatever.

Here are all the claims and contradictions of the Oxford Movement. Its primary fallacious assumption that nations in the nineteenth century were still Christian; its oblivious blindness to the world of ordinary affairs around it — Keble spoke with the unworldly isolation of a medieval anchorite — its glorification of what after all is only an administrative structure — episcopacy — to the point where not Baptism or the Lord’s Supper but Holy Orders, the apostolic succession, becomes the principal sacrament, and last, but not least, what seems to us its unfortunate tone of hysterical self-righteousness.

It is easy for us to think of the Oxford Reformers as bad men. They were not. They were simply innocent, sealed away from the social and religious realities of the world around them by the peculiar monastic life of the Oxford colleges of their day. They were no more priggish or bigoted than the other Christians of their time. As their movement grew, they certainly demonstrated that truly religious values were still matters of life and death importance to vast numbers of Englishmen. The unreality of the world which they constructed for themselves was eventually to prove their salvation. Confronted with the facts of life, the Oxford Counter-Reformation would turn into its opposite. Beginning as the most intense reaction, it would eventually become the most active and comprehensive and enduring movement of Catholic liberalism.

The story of the Movement has been told innumerable times. It is a historical romance played out on a limited stage and full of the most intense drama. To judge from the immense number of successful books still being published, it fascinates thousands of people who have no interest whatever in religious questions. I have no desire to retell the story but it would be to the point to summarize the characters and careers of the leaders of the Oxford Movement and define the relation of each to the growth of a New Catholicism.

Even in the heyday of Newman’s leadership, and certainly after he left, adherents of the Movement were known not as Newmanites but as Puseyites. Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew, was the only professional theologian of the group and one of the few who came to the movement from a High Church, rather than Evangelical, background. He was also the only one familiar with contemporary European theology. In fact he had deliberately gone to Germany to study “infidelity” at its sources for the purpose of combating it. He was also the only leader of the Movement whose family were wealthy aristocrats.

Pusey spent only four and twelve months studying in Germany altogether, but that was sufficient to make him far more of a scholar in Biblical criticism and patristics than anybody else in England. He gave bottom to the movement, for his contributions were nothing if not weighty. His first contribution to the famous “Tracts for the Times” was the thirty-fifth, on Baptism, a tract of over three hundred pages, inexpressibly dreary reading today. Pusey has been shut out from posterity by his prose style. Even his most controversial sermons are unbearably dull and his own translations of the Fathers of the Church make those passionate men so boring that today we can read them only by the most powerful exertion of the will, no mean accomplishment in the translation of Augustine, Clement, or Origen, masters of classical rhetoric. Nevertheless it was Pusey’s concentration on Scripture, on the Fathers and on the Apostles that gave the Movement a content that could be passed on to the next generation of Anglican Catholic reformers.

He inaugurated comprehensive projects of translation of the Fathers and republication of the great English divines which would take final form in the many volumes of the Library of the Fathers, the Ante-Nicene Christian Library, the Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, and the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. Although schoolboys in England were caned if they could not write bad Greek and Latin verses, there is little evidence that the English clergy read extensively in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church in the original tongues, but the huge sets inspired by Dr. Pusey can be found in most large secondhand bookshops in the English-speaking world to this day, and give evidence of once having been thoroughly read.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this availability of the past. Pusey’s sermons may be uninspiring, even Newman’s may sometimes depend on a bygone religious sensibility, and a bygone taste in style, but it is impossible to read the powerful minds that put together a Church, a communion, a polity and a philosophy that would survive both the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the establishment of the Church by Constantine without being deeply moved. The Oxford Reformers themselves never spoke of themselves as Puseyites, or Newmanites, or Anglo-Catholics (least of all High Churchmen, which they most certainly were not) but as Apostolics, and their appeal was to the Apostolic life, and the life of the Church of the Fathers, when the Church was very far from being an establishment, but was a saving remnant in a dissolute and dissolving society — a position in fact almost exactly like that, did they but know it, of the Church of the faithful in the days of George IV and William IV and of the horrors of what Marx called the period of the primitive accumulation of capital.

Each of the Oxford Reformers was an ancestor of a type of clergyman that would endure in the Anglican Church until well into the twentieth century. Pusey was the only one from an aristocratic family or one that remained wealthy — Newman’s father went bankrupt. This harsh, uningratiating man made the movement fashionable. Before his wife’s death he was in the process of becoming a society clergyman of the common type. After her death he became convinced that God had punished him for loving her more than Himself. Pusey turned into a disheveled fanatic, wore a hair shirt and subjected himself to penances that embarrassed the conventional and domestic Keble, who he insisted on making his confessor. This of course only made him more fashionable.

About the time of Newman’s defection, the members of the movement reestablished auricular confession as a general practice of their lay followers, and soon as a matter of obligation. They had almost from the beginning gone to confession to one another. Pusey became a fashionable confessor, although penitents had to seek him out in his isolated parish.

It is usually said that the obsession of the Oxford Reformers with the depravity of man was an inheritance of their evangelical youth, but only Newman was raised as a typical twice-born evangelical. Furthermore a glance at Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or High Church manuals of devotion of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century reveals that conviction of utter sinfulness was no monopoly of the followers of the Wesleys and Whitefield. For that matter, it is the constant reference to the sinfulness of the congregation that distinguishes, over and above the comparative triviality of liturgies, the language of the Book of Common Prayer from that of the Roman or Orthodox Mass and breviary.

Pusey, Keble and Newman all wrote devotional works. They all, but Pusey’s most of all, are top heavy with guilt. Prayer, meditation, and contemplation show little progression. Anyone who took them literally would find it almost impossible to get beyond the logjam of his own sin and into the unruffled waters of contemplation. Yet none of the leaders who, as far as the Ten Commandments were concerned, led practically blameless lives, seem to have been aware of their own besetting faults, spiritual pride, social irresponsibility, and willful ignorance. This was precisely the kind of piety members of the English upper and middle classes found most congenial in the days of the dark, satanic mills.

Pusey more than anyone else was also responsible for a relentless emphasis on fundamentals of Catholic doctrine and practice. He was anything but a Ritualist. For most of his life he was content to celebrate the Eucharist in surplice and scarf, long after chasubles, candles and incense had become common in the city parishes of the Movement. Similarly he avoided the hundred flowers of post-Tridentine doctrine and devotion which became popular after the middle of the century. He was uninterested in the Sacred Heart or the Immaculate Conception. As Newman became hypnotically fixed on the authority of the Papacy, it is obvious that Pusey ceased to be able to understand him. Pusey was content with the Church of the Fathers and the early Councils that he had constructed around himself and surrounded by an impenetrable wall. Again this might be called pride and ignorance, but it was also rigorous insistence on fundamentals. The basic flaw in Pusey’s system was the terrific tension set up in its narrow prayer life, at once intense and impoverished.

What did John Keble contribute, not to the movement but to the future of the Catholic revival? Really very little, except again, an enduring clerical type. He was unbelievably bigoted, but his bigotry had a certain comic charm. He would cut dead or overtly insult lifelong friends for petty differences of theology or even for churchly political divagations. He was unable to recognize the validity of any intellectual differences with himself. Those who did not agree with him were both sinful and stupid. Since his intellectual capacities were of the slightest, this confined his social contacts to a narrow world. Keble did not think of the materialists and utilitarians and positivists of his day as stupid and sinful. If he thought of them at all it was very rarely and with a shudder for the hopelessly damned. His condemnations were reserved for members of the Church who showed tendencies toward monothelitism and Oxonians who voted for Broad Churchmen for professorships.

Within his extremely limited world Keble was a sweet and good-humored man, who loved everybody who agreed with him and minded him. Can we say he established the type of simple-minded Anglo-Catholic country clergyman? Perhaps the qualifications are unnecessary. Keble was just a typical clergyman of any socially acceptable denomination. Without this type the Church would not have endured past the first century. Ironically he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, a position at least as respected as the laureateship. He seems to have had no feeling for poetry whatsoever, and his religious verses show no feeling for religion in the deepest sense either. Geoffrey Faber, whose Oxford Apostles is corrupted by too much amateur psychoanalysis, places his finger on a serious defect in all the leaders of the movement. They wrote terrible doggerel. Newman and Keble had reputations as poets, Newman even to this day in some circles. The others wrote occasional verse. Only John Mason Neale, of the more or less independent Cambridge Catholic revival, who translated an immense number of Greek and Latin hymns, had any real feeling for poetry whatever. The poetry of Anglo-Catholicism would not come until Christina Rossetti. It’s not just that they wrote doggerel; if they appreciated poetry they did so for the wrong reasons, wrong even for early Victorian times.

Richard Hurrell Froude was the older brother of the historian, J.A. Froude, who early left the movement for skepticism. Froude again established a type, the young Anglo-Catholic, interested above all else in outraging the Establishment, who, if a layman, rattles his rosary against the pew during Holy Communion in a Low Church, and who, if a clergyman, uses immense quantities of incense and preaches sermons on the miracle of Fatima and venerates both Pacelli and Charles Stuart, King and Martyr. When he came up to Oxford from Dartington in Devon, a passionate sportsman and rider to hounds, his beauty and vitality struck everyone with awe. Already he was well advanced with tuberculosis. It was probably Koch’s bacillus rather than principle which accounted for the febrile, impassioned, deliberate defiance of his behavior and his writings. When after his death Newman published his manuscripts, the Remains of Richard Hurrell Froude, in two volumes, he caused a major crisis in the Church.

Froude was the only member of the group who from the beginning was Romeward set, in both theology and practice, and he was the only one who commonly went to Roman Catholic services, not only on the Continent but in England. Most of not just the Oxford Reformers, but members of the Catholic Revival until recent years, never attended Roman Catholic services. Many of them had, and have, never entered a Roman Catholic church. Froude was to have many descendants, most of whom would eventually leave the Anglican Church, from the group of young Turks around Newman to Father Ronald Knox. A characteristic common to all has been a compulsive obsession with inconsequentials, as can be discovered by reading Knox’s A Spiritual Aeneid. Ronald Knox was not the first person of whom it was said around Oxford that he was two weeks ahead in the Breviary and two months behind in the Prayer Book, both of which he felt bound in supernatural obedience to read simultaneously.

Yet had it not been for the “Romanizing” tendencies set in train by Hurrell Froude, the Anglican Church today might still be a rather stark but holy spiritual environment. Froude was a High Tory of a purely mythological sort, as unlike Disraeli or the Chamberlains as it would be possible to imagine. He knew that England was bourgeois through and through, and he was out to épater the bourgeois with all the ritual and romance and colorful superstition he could muster.

Froude was an actor on a far wider stage than the narrow parochial and academic one of Keble and Pusey, the stage of romantic revolt, alienation and rejection of all the values of the acquisitive society. In some ways he could be called the most influential of the first leaders of the movement — except that in fact his actual influence pretty much died with him, to revive as Ritualism after 1850. Its grave danger was its tendency, especially in controversy, to confuse the instruments of Catholic life with its meaning, to confuse ends and means. Far more than any of his colleagues, Froude was aware of the terrible social evils of his time. His answer was that of a romantic reactionary, but at least it was an answer. In the next generation it would turn into its opposite. By the middle of the next century priests would be saying Mass in the streets at sit-ins and demonstrations.

Newman has been called not only the greatest, but the only Catholic theologian of the nineteenth century. He has been called not a theologian at all. He has also been called one of the founders of anti-rationalism and anti-humanism, along with the Marquis de Sade, of a line that leads straight to Nechaev, Nietzsche and Lenin. Carlyle said he had the mind of a rabbit. Many who shared none of his beliefs read him for “the most beautiful English prose in two hundred years,” others considered his style syrupy and evasive. What this all means is not that Newman was a neurotic bundle of contradictions, but that his was a most complex character; a personality more sensitive and sophisticated, and a mind broader and deeper, than his colleagues’.

Although he was the public spokesman — today we could call him the public relations man — of the movement and its political organizer, his development only paralleled the movement and eventually diverged sharply from it. Newman was engaged in creating a new orthodoxy. Keble and Pusey were quite confident they were in possession of one which only had to be uncovered. Newman was seeking a religion. The others never lost it. Although he wrote the majority of the “Tracts for the Times,” preached and published his tremendously moving sermons, and wrote at least three theological works that are still of great importance during the years that he was considered the leader of the movement, his real and enduring influence was to come later. At the time he was simply over the heads of almost all his audience. Not least was this true of the little group of young men, children of Hurrell Froude, or for that matter, de Maistre, defiant, dramatic, jeunesse dorée of political reaction and romantic Catholicism, obviously Romeward bound. They entered the Roman Church with him and almost immediately became his enemies, for their Catholicism was essentially political and esthetic — not in combination but in compound, esthetic-politics or political esthetics. It is significant that once they cut loose from the middle-class life of the Establishment, most of them moved far to the left of Newman.

Bourgeois-baiting was the last thing in the world Newman was interested in. Although he was the only middle-class member of the original leadership he scarcely knew the middle class existed. The very special aristocratic mercantile family-centered life of the Newmans provides a strong support for the very shakily substantiated notion that his father was Jewish. Also that his father failed in business after Newman had enjoyed a childhood in surroundings of quite considerable and very gracious wealth is significant. The number of great aliénés of whom this is true is astonishing. An established and thoroughly cultivated capitalist family which loses its wealth seems to explode and blow its children completely out of the social pyramid, where they become members of a new aristocracy of the intellect, a clerkly caste of responsables, suspended outside the class structure.

In the harbor of Marseille, on his trip to Italy with Froude, Newman may have refused to even look at the detested tricolor flag on a nearby vessel of the French navy, but he was not a real Tory, even an archaizing Tory like Froude. He was an anomaly. It was only after the Established Church, thoroughly Catholicized by the inheritors of the Oxford Movement, became a refuge for anomalies, that Newman, so to speak invisibly, returned to it.

In the later nineteenth century there were probably more philosophical Newmanites in the French Church than in the English, either Roman or Anglican. The opening of early nineteenth-century Anglicanism to a large new spiritual world is Newman’s primary contribution to the early years of the Catholic revival. Had it not been for him the Establishment could have assimilated the religion of Pusey and Keble. They never realized it, but when Newman left the Oxford Movement he made it unassimilable. At first it did not leave Toryism. Toryism left it. As the movement had begun in reaction to a maneuver of the state, so it came to an end, not with Newman’s defection, but with a change in phase in the state. Toryism became Victorian Toryism. That was something that bore little resemblance to the high Toryism of the eighteenth century and the Regency, and none whatever to the idealized Stuart and Laudian Toryism of the old guard of the Oxford Movement.

As a young man the most dynamic leader of the next generation, Stewart Headlam, listened to but one sermon of Pusey’s and found him a crashing bore. Already things had changed so much that Headlam was unaware that he would never have existed as what he was, had it not been for Pusey. On this dichotomy and generation gap Newman, safe across the Tiber, was to have an indirect, underground influence. So it is most profitable, I think, to treat of Newman by himself, in the much wider, and at the same time much more intensely personal, context which he created for himself, and which is his real contribution to “the development of doctrine.”

Where had all the flowers gone? After Newman crossed the Tiber, religion, all the rage for fifteen years, suddenly became unfashionable at Oxford. All the bright young men who had become Roman Catholics were gone. They could not then be members of the Oxford Colleges, even had they wished, without provoking the wrath of the “magisterium.” As any movement does when suffering a severe tactical defeat, the Catholic Revival consolidated its position, and operated on interior lines. It also shifted its base. The stark domestic monasticism which was Catholic practice as understood by Keble and Pusey survives even to this day, but it does not provide a way of life negotiable at large in the vast, secularized modern world.

What had the Oxford Movement gained? Whatever Parliament or Cabinet or throne might think, it had freed the Church from its Babylonian captivity as a department of State. It had returned to the Church its own authority, a collective rather than an absolute authority, deriving from the traditions of a collective authority — “the Councils of the undivided Church” and the Apostolic Succession, the latter a supernatural community in which Peter and his descendants were only primus inter pares. It had restored the liturgy to not just “decency and order” but to dignity, beauty, and wonder. It had made the sacrament of Holy Communion central to the life of the Church and of the individual Christian. It had restored the rites of passage, birth, death, puberty, vocation, eating and drinking, conversion, sexual intercourse as moments when transcendence, through the community, suffused and glorified human life.

The sacramental life is the essence of Catholicism, and holds people to the Church long after they have ceased to believe in its more indigestible dogmas. After 1845 the sacramental life was available to any member of the Anglican Church who wished to seek it. Most specially, the Tractarians, but above all the now so boring Pusey, brought together their leading principles and merged them in one vision — the life of faith as lived in, as in air, a transformed world. The Incarnation, the Atonement, the communion of the saints, the sacramental system, they were all one being — the living Body of Christ. They presented the Church as itself a Eucharist. To put it mildly, this was not a common notion elsewhere, least of all at Rome, in those days, as Newman would find out. Time would come when with Teilhard and others its full implications would be drawn out — being is prayer. “If I be lifted up, I will draw all things to Me.”

The movement made prayer central to the daily life of the devout Anglican in a different way than the evangelical movement had done. Prayer was not founded on conversion and did not culminate in pentecostal possession. It began in penance and moved from petition to contemplation, and with daily practice left the orant in a habitude of abiding meditation. This was the state of soul that the doing of Catholic religion had produced in Nicholas Ferrar's community at Little Gidding, in the household of St. Thomas More, and in the lives of the medieval secular mystics. In other words it had restored to the treasury of the English Church its own special talent, distinguished by its lineaments, and marked with its values.

Incidentally it had purged Catholic belief and practice of nonessentials — whether “Romish” or “corrupt following of the Apostles” or not. It demonstrated that Catholic life was possible with collective authority, with a married clergy, alongside of voluntary celibacy and monasticism, with communion in both kinds, with a national vernacular liturgy, and without grossly superstitious practices. Considering the state of affairs in the Church in 1830, this was a tremendous accomplishment — considering the state of society in 1845 on the brink of famine, economic crisis, social breakdown, revolution, in the heyday of Liberal economics and moral hypocrisy. Yet however deep the prayer life of the Catholic revival, it was still narrow and isolated.

As with so many other institutions and movements it was 1848, the year of revolution everywhere, that was to break the shell of Tractarian Anglo-Catholicism. The new force was to come from the most unexpected quarter, the leaders to be men whom Newman had looked upon as hopelessly benighted or willfully malevolent. The first edition of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua started off with an attack on Charles Kingsley, the Broad Churchman and Christian Socialist, so uncharitable that Newman, little given in his Anglican days to mercy to his theological opponents, later suppressed it. Kingsley was a young associate of Frederick D. Maurice and the Quaker John M. Ludlow, founders of Christian Socialism and English disciples of Lamennais. Maurice was also the greatest of the descendants of Coleridge and may have been the leading Anglican theologian of the nineteenth century after Newman’s departure. Even more than Newman he spent his life at the turmoil center of the most violent controversy, with the significant difference that his controversies, unlike Newman’s, were always foci of ever widening issues, whose ramifications extended out into, and permeated, the secular society. It is from Maurice that twentieth-century English Catholic modernism stems, quite as much as from the Oxford Movement.

John Frederick Denison Maurice, the son of a Unitarian minister, was raised in a religious environment of radical Dissent. His early years were spent with Quakers and Unitarians and he had friends amongst the founders of the Irvingite “Catholic Apostolic Church,” all three properly called anti-Protestant Dissent. Ordained in 1834, by 1837 he had become a sacramentalist, but of his own special kind, and was looked upon as one of the leaders of the Tractarian movement at Cambridge. As the Oxford men embodied their university’s authoritarianism, so did Maurice the empiricism of Cambridge. He was possibly the first Englishman to believe that Catholicism might justify itself empirically as a way of life without the support of absolute conviction in the existence of God or the future life or a revealed Scripture. He himself of course believed, but at least he openly and consciously admitted religious pragmatism as a reasonable argument. Newman was of the same opinion, but he so disguised and confused it in his own mind that it emerges only in the writings of his more radical followers. From Pascal to the present, those who admit the argument of a purely pragmatic, “agnostic Catholicism” seem always to have been those whose own direct mystical awareness of God was most intense.

To Maurice, Catholicism was a way of life, lived in the world but over against it, as witness and catalyst. He took Catholicism as he found it, largely in a purged Roman practice. He was little interested in an historical continuity with the liturgics and dogmatic theology imagined for the Apostles. John Mason Neale had made the study of the great Cappadocian theologian poets popular in Cambridge religious circles. It is remarkable how much Maurice’s fundamental conception of the sacramental life resembles that of the Russian Orthodoxy which descends from the Cappadocians. For him the sacrifice of the Mass was a temporal appearance of the eternal sacrifice of Calvary. The cross is central, not in an actuarial way, but in a metaphysical one not unlike that of the crux and flagrat of Jakob Boehme and his descendants, Saint-Martin and von Baader. For Maurice the actual rite, as he said it in a church in a poor slum, was more immediately symbolized, as it was in Russian Orthodoxy, by the phyloxeny of Abraham. We offer to God his creatures, and through them ourselves, and He enters the offering and makes it Himself the embodiment of the absolute act of love. The three Persons of the Trinity partake of the nourishment offered by a herdsman, “just a wandering Aramaean,” under a shade tree at the edge of the desert, before a tent that smells of camels and sheep and garlic, and of hard-worked men and women, and the herdsmen partake of Them.

“The world is charged with the glory of God,” “Turn but a stone and start a wing / ’Tis you ’tis your estranged faces that miss the many splendored thing.” Maurice saw the glory of the supernatural all about him, not least, hovering like the Shekinah over the tabernacle in the desert, over the slum parishes into which he led the third generation of young Anglo-Catholic priests, and for which he fought so passionately. Pusey inspired respect; Keble, affection; Newman, in his Anglican years, the love of disciples for a master; Maurice inspired simply love, which, when it is so simple, is supernatural love. We can feel it glowing through the Victorian prose of his sermons and theological works to this day. His followers could say with the Psalmist, “Lo my cup runneth over,” for he opened them up with his own love, to be filled with the honey and oil and wine of charity, hope, and faith.

Faith — faith for Maurice was the Catholic life of supernatural love. He was very little troubled by the dilemmas of credal belief. For him the mysteries of Scripture or the Church were images embodying its wonder. Everything was miraculous to his eyes, most of all the orders of nature and supernature which converge and cross in the soul of man. So he welcomed the discoveries of science, whether geology, paleontology, or biology, or the application of the methods of science to the criticism of the Bible, and was fond in sermons of holding up Darwin as a model of patience and humility in the devotion to truth. Early in his career he was deprived of his professorships at Cambridge for advocating a modified universalism, for expressing the hope that the souls in hell would eventually cease to be punished and would come to enjoy, not the glory of heaven, but happiness according to their own lights. Far more than the evolution controversy and the literal inspiration of scripture, this was the touchstone of nineteenth-century orthodoxy. Disbelief in a deity, less moral than most men, who would condemn weak and fallible souls to eternal fire, made one a Broad Churchman. From then on, his life was a series of controversies and the root of his trouble was always the same — the catholicity of his life and concern, the all-inclusiveness of his ideal of Christlike responsibility. For this reason the main body of the Catholic movement fought shy of him. His popularity was largely amongst Broad Churchmen until the last years of the century saw the growth of a conscious Catholic Modernism. He parted with his early Christian Socialist associates because they were making their movement an exclusive, intolerant sect.

Stewart Duckworth Headlam and the group of extreme Ritualist slum priests around him on one hand, and on the other Charles Gore, head of Pusey House, and then Bishop of Oxford, with the other contributors to the theological symposium Lux Mundi, represent the two wings of development of a modern Catholic faith and practice out of the teaching and example of Maurice. Headlam was certainly an enfant terrible. In the days when priests were being sent to jail for putting candles and crucifixes on the altar and wearing chasubles, Headlam, in a series of churches, St. John’s Drury Lane, St. Matthew’s Bethnal Green, St. Michael’s Shoreditch, introduced immediately a full assortment of contemporary Roman Catholic devotions — rosaries, stations of the cross, eventually benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Even far more outrageous to the Establishment, he founded the Church and Stage Guild, welcomed actors and actresses at communion, and got himself temporarily refused a license by the archbishop for his pains. He not only introduced public devotions to the Blessed Virgin and high Masses on her feasts, including the Assumption and Immaculate Conception, he founded and sheltered in his parish halls the Guild of St. Matthew, the first organized socialist group in England. Fully as much as Teilhard de Chardin in a later day, Headlam and the group of priests associated with him welcomed not only the discoveries of physical and biological science, the immense age of the earth and the evolution of man, but the destruction by the Higher Criticism of the literal truth of an infallible Bible. Headlam saw nineteenth-century science as freeing man for a pure religion suffused by the divine power of Jesus Christ — the Word of God inspiriting all scientific study, the wisdom in Lyell or in Darwin, the same wisdom which danced in the Solomonic hymns — the Truth. This was bourgeois-baiting with a vengeance and helps to explain the irrational malignancy of Parliament’s persecution of the parochial Anglo-Catholic clergy. God was good to Stewart Headlam and rewarded him with the opportunity to strike a Christian blow of charity at the Establishment. In old age he went bail for Oscar Wilde.

It’s a wonderfully moving experience to contemplate the activities of these passionate priests, incense pot in one hand and red flag in the other, awakening the souls of men in the smoky, filthy slums of late Victorian London and subverting the Establishment. Their type of course still exists, and has spread across the world, but they are the first, and are undeservedly too little known today.

Lux Mundi was the testament of another world altogether, although it is significant that most of these Oxford theologians and scholars were Socialists. The old High Toryism of the Tractarians had withered away. Under the influence of German Higher Criticism, Broad Church theologians in England had evolved a liberal theology of the sort that was to find its final statement in Harnack, best represented for us by Matthew Arnold’s Literature and Dogma. The miraculous and the eschatological passages were shorn from the New Testament. Jesus was called the “greatest ethical teacher who ever lived.” This of course was not the historic Jesus but the Jesus of the liberal historians. Nor was the Church at any time an association for making men good. An attentive and unprejudiced reading of the Gospels would convince any outsider that the preaching of the historic Jesus was saturated with eschatology and that he was emphatically not, in the Liberal sense, a great ethical teacher. His ethics, based on the imminence of the Kingdom, would destroy not only Victorian society, but even the noblest Victorian utopias, altogether. But an eschatological Christ raises the question immediately of the limitations of his human knowledge. He said he did not know the hour of the coming of the Kingdom. He quotes from the Pentateuch and the Psalms and the Book of Daniel with the assumption that they are by their traditional authors. He apparently believes that the Queen of Sheba really visited Solomon, and that Jonah and the whale really happened. Reacting to the blows of the Higher Criticism, the orthodox position, especially the Roman Catholic, became more and more docetic. The humanity of Jesus became more and more phantasmal. The suspension of the omniscience and omnipotence of God in the God-Man became a kind of pretense or even hoax — a position morally intolerable. We forget that devotion to the Sacred Heart was introduced to restore the humanity of Jesus to a central place. The devotion increased in popularity directly in proportion to the mythologizing of its object, until the Sacred Heart became a Gnostic statue representing a mysterious and inhuman minor deity.

The essays in Lux Mundi group themselves naturally around Charles Gore’s “The Holy Spirit and Inspiration.” Gore accepts the Higher Criticism of the mid-century Cambridge theologians Wescott, Lightfoot and Hort, who had turned the rationalistic criticism of the Germans against them and had demonstrated conclusively that the Old and New Testaments were inspired, not literally, but by the guidance of the Holy Spirit of the fallible and slowly evolving religious capacities of men, to culminate in the messianic evangel not only of the Gospels and the Epistles but of Acts — of the life and faith of the infant Church. The message of Scripture was supernatural, or it was nothing. As presented by Gore, this was not new, although more radically stated. The novel and still controversial element enters when he applies the same concepts of evolutionary revelation to the career of the historic Jesus as the Incarnate Lord. Gore takes over from the Danish Lutheran Martenson’s Christian Dogmatics, and from A.J. Mason, the disciple of Wescott and Lightfoot, the notion that God in the Incarnation emptied himself of omnipotence and omniscience to become man, in all things like unto us. The term kenosis, emptying, is derived from Second Philippians where the kenotic doctrine of the Incarnation is stated most clearly. What Gore did was to substitute for an irrelevant logical puzzle a new and believable mystery, the self-limitation of the divine love in incarnation for the redemption of mankind. No doubt St. Paul believed something very like this, but the tradition of the Church gives it little support. It is the doctrine of Origen, but Origen was a semi-heretic.

Bishop Martenson was relatively unknown in England and the kenotic implications of the Cambridge theologians had not been noticed. Lux Mundi struck the Church as a revolutionary document. Its mythological treatment of the Fall and of Original Sin, its communitarian theory of baptism, and Gore’s kenosis created disturbances which are still resounding. At the same time they implied an entirely new cosmogony and theophany, fundamentally both mystical, and collective in inspiration. In the kenotic theology God empties Himself out of omniscience, omnipotence, eternity and infinity into Time, into His humanity, which is our humanity. In response the Christian soul empties itself into Him, empties itself into timelessness and so is emptied of contingency. The spiritual maturity of such a conception moves Christian theology up alongside the discoveries of the great Christian mystics with whom hitherto orthodoxy had always been unable to cope. After Charles Gore, who was to develop his ideas in a succession of books and his mystical vision in sermons and devotion, Anglo-Catholic theology grows largely around its doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement, defining one in the terms of the other, so that Atonement is read at-one-ment. Eventually and independently this would become the background presupposition of the most influential modern theology, whether Frank or Berdyaev, Schweitzer or Teilhard de Chardin, or for that matter the syncretists who came into prominence during the Second War and who first popularized in non-occultist and scholarly terms, the mystical theologies of the Orient. (Alan Watts is still an Anglo-Catholic priest. “Holy Orders is a sacrament conferring indelible grace.”)

The contributors to Lux Mundi overlapped the turn of the century and the emergence of Catholic modernism, and the next influential Anglican symposium, Essays Catholic and Critical, is really a comprehensive statement of the Modernist position, better organized and more at home in the Anglican than the Roman Church. The rise of Catholic Modernism, its condemnation and its underground existence and its eventual emergence, greatly transformed, is another story. By 1890 the foundations had been laid in Anglo-Catholicism.


This two-part essay originally appeared in Continuum (dates unknown) and was reprinted in The Elastic Retort (Continuum, 1973). Copyright 1973. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

Other Rexroth Essays