Lecture 1. On the Relation of the National Church to the Nation

Reason for Speaking

The National Church—a Department of Government

Effect of Movement of 1833 on National Church

Position of Evangelical Party in National Church
Contrast with Position of Opposition Party
Baptism Decision Explained
Implications for Other Doctrines
Catholic Desire—Salvation of Souls


Contents | Works | Home

{1} THERE are those, my brethren, who may think it strange, and even shocking, that, at this moment, when the liberalism of the age, after many previous attempts, is apparently at length about to get possession of the Church and Universities of the nation, any one like myself, who is a zealous upholder of the dogmatic principle in all its bearings, should be doing what little in him lies to weaken, even indirectly, Institutions which, with whatever shortcomings or errors, are the only political bulwarks of that principle left to us by the changes of the sixteenth century. For to help forward members of the Established Church towards the Catholic Religion, as I propose to do in these Lectures, what is this but, so far, to co-operate with a levelling party, who are the enemies of God, and truth, {2} and virtue? The Institutions in question, it may be said, uphold what is right and what is holy as far as they go, and, moreover, the duty of upholding it; they do not in their genuine workings harm the Church; they do but oppose themselves to sectarianism, free-thinking, infidelity, and lawlessness. They are her natural, though they may be her covert, allies; they are the faithful nurses and conservators of her spirit; they are glad, and proud, as far as they are allowed to do so, to throw her mantle over themselves, and they do her homage by attempting a mimic Catholicism. They have preserved through bad times our old churches, our forms, our rites, our customs, in a measure, our Creed; they are taunted by our enemies for their Catholic or Papistical tendency; and many of those who are submitted to their teaching, look wistfully to us, in their forlorn struggle with those enemies of ours, for encouragement and sympathy. Certainly, reviewing the history of the last three centuries, we cannot deny that those Institutions have uniformly repressed the extravagance, and diluted the virulence, of Protestantism. To the divines, to whom they have given birth, our country is indebted for Apologies in behalf of various of the great doctrines of the faith: to Bull for a defence of the Creed of Nicæa, nay, in a measure, of the true doctrine of justification, which the most accomplished Catholic theologians of this day, as well as of his own, treat with great consideration; to {3} Pearson for a powerful argument in behalf of the Apostolical origin of Episcopacy; to Wall for a proof of the primitive use of Infant Baptism; to Hooker for a vindication of the great principle of religious order and worship; to Butler for a profound investigation into the connection of natural with revealed religion; to Paley and others for a series of elaborate evidences of the divinity of Christianity. It is cruel, it is impolitic, to cast off, if not altogether friends, yet at least those who are not our worst foes; nor can we afford to do so. If they usurp our name, yet they proclaim it in the ears of heretics all about; they have kept much error out of the country, if they have let much in; and if Neo-Platonism, though false, is more honourable than the philosophy of the academy or of the garden, by the same rule, surely, we ought, in comparison with other sects, to give our countenance to the Anglican Church to compassionate her in her hour of peril, "and spare the meek usurper's hoary head."

Well, and I do not know what natural inducement there is to urge me to be harsh with her in this her hour: I have only pleasant associations of those many years when I was within her pale; I have no theory to put forward, nor position to maintain; and I am come to a time of life, when men desire to be quiet and at peace;—moreover, I am in a communion which satisfies its members, and draws them into itself, and, by the objects which it presents to faith, and the influences {4} which it exerts over the heart, leads them to forget the external world, and look forward more steadily to the future. No, my dear brethren, there is but one thing that forces me to speak,—and it is my intimate sense that the Catholic Church is the one ark of salvation, and my love for your souls; it is my fear lest you ought to submit yourselves to her, and do not; my fear lest I may perchance be able to persuade you, and not use my talent. It will be a miserable thing for you and for me, if I had been instrumental in bringing you but half-way, if I have cooperated in removing your invincible ignorance, but am able to do no more. It is this keen feeling that my life is wearing away, which overcomes the lassitude which possesses me, and scatters the excuses which I might plausibly urge to myself for not meddling with what I have left for ever, which subdues the recollection of past times, and which makes me do my best, with whatever success, to bring you to land from off your wreck, who have thrown yourselves from it upon the waves, or are clinging to its rigging, or are sitting in heaviness and despair upon its side. For this is the truth: the Establishment, whatever it be in the eyes of men, whatever its temporal greatness and its secular prospects, in the eyes of faith is a mere wreck. We must not indulge our imagination, we must not dream: we must look at things as they are; we must not confound the past with the present, or what is substantive with what is {5} the accident of a period. Ridding our minds of these illusions, we shall see that the Established Church has no claims whatever on us, whether in memory or in hope; that they only have claims upon our commiseration and our charity whom she holds in bondage, separated from that faith and that Church in which alone is salvation. If I can do aught towards breaking their chains, and bringing them into the Truth, it will be an act of love towards their souls, and of piety towards God.


I have said, we must not indulge our imagination in the view we take of the National Establishment. If, indeed, we dress it up in an ideal form, as if it were something real, with an independent and a continuous existence, and a proper history, as if it were in deed and not only in name a Church, then indeed we may feel interest in it, and reverence towards it, and affection for it, as men have fallen in love with pictures, or knights in romance do battle for high dames whom they have never seen. Thus it is that students of the Fathers, antiquaries, and poets, begin by assuming that the body to which they belong is that of which they read in times past, and then proceed to decorate it with that majesty and beauty of which history tells, or which their genius creates. Nor is it by an easy process or a light effort that their minds are disabused of this error. It is an error for many reasons too dear to {6} them to be readily relinquished. But at length, either the force of circumstances or some unexpected accident dissipates it; and, as in fairy tales, the magic castle vanishes when the spell is broken, and nothing is seen but the wild heath, the barren rock, and the forlorn sheep-walk, so is it with us as regards the Church of England, when we look in amazement on that we thought so unearthly, and find so commonplace or worthless. Then we perceive, that aforetime we have not been guided by reason, but biassed by education and swayed by affection. We see in the English Church, I will not merely say no descent from the first ages, and no relationship to the Church in other lands, but we see no body politic of any kind; we see nothing more or less than an Establishment, a department of Government, or a function or operation of the State,—without a substance,—a mere collection of officials, depending on and living in the supreme civil power. Its unity and personality are gone, and with them its power of exciting feelings of any kind. It is easier to love or hate an abstraction, than so commonplace a framework or mechanism. We regard it neither with anger, nor with aversion, nor with contempt, any more than with respect or interest. It is but one aspect of the State, or mode of civil governance; it is responsible for nothing; it can appropriate neither praise nor blame; but, whatever feeling it raises is to be referred on, by the nature of the case, to the Supreme Power {7} whom it represents, and whose will is its breath. And hence it has no real identity of existence in distinct periods, unless the present Legislature or the present Court can affect to be the offspring and disciple of its predecessor. Nor can it in consequence be said to have any antecedents, or any future; or to live, except in the passing moment. As a thing without a soul, it does not contemplate itself, define its intrinsic constitution, or ascertain its position. It has no traditions; it cannot be said to think; it does not know what it holds, and what it does not [Note 1]; it is not even conscious of its own existence. It has no love for its members, or what are sometimes called its children, nor any instinct whatever, unless attachment to its master, or love of its place, may be so called. Its fruits, as far as they are good, are to be made much of, as long as they last, for they are transient, and without succession; its former champions of orthodoxy are no earnest of orthodoxy now; they died, and there was no reason why they should be reproduced. Bishop is not like bishop, {8} more than king is like king, or ministry like ministry; its Prayer-Book is an Act of Parliament of two centuries ago, and its cathedrals and its chapter-houses are the spoils of Catholicism.

I have said all this, my brethren, not in declamation, but to bring out clearly to you, why I cannot feel interest of any kind in the National Church, nor put any trust in it at all from its past history, as if it were, in however narrow a sense, a guardian of orthodoxy. It is as little bound by what it said or did formerly, as this morning's newspaper by its former numbers, except as it is bound by the Law; and while it is upheld by the Law, it will not be weakened by the subtraction of individuals, nor fortified by their continuance. Its life is an Act of Parliament. It will not be able to resist the Arian, Sabellian, or Unitarian heresies now, because Bull or Waterland resisted them a century or two before; nor on the other hand would it be unable to resist them, though its more orthodox theologians were presently to leave it. It will be able to resist them while the State gives the word; it would be unable, when the State forbids it. Elizabeth boasted that she "tuned her pulpits;" Charles forbade discussions on predestination; George on the Holy Trinity; Victoria allows differences on Holy Baptism. While the nation wishes an Establishment, it will remain, whatever individuals are for it or against it; and that which determines its existence will determine its voice. Of course {9} the presence or departure of individuals will be one out of various disturbing causes, which may delay or accelerate by a certain number of years a change in its teaching: but, after all, the change itself depends on events broader and deeper than these; it depends on changes in the nation. As the nation changes its political, so may it change its religious views; the causes which carried the Reform Bill and Free Trade may make short work with orthodoxy.


The most simple proof of the truth of this assertion will be found in considering what and how much has been hitherto done by the ecclesiastical movement of 1833, towards heightening the tone of the Established Church—by a movement extending over seventeen years and more, and carried on with great energy, and (as far as concerns its influence over individuals) with surprising success. Opinions which, twenty years ago, were not held by any but Catholics, or at most only in fragmentary portions by isolated persons, are now the profession of thousands. Such success ought to have acted on the Establishment itself; has it done so? or rather, is not that success simply and only in expectation and in hope, like the conversion of heathen nations by the various Evangelical societies? The Fathers have catholicised the Protestant Church at home, pretty much as the Bible has evangelised the Mahometan {10} or Hindoo religions abroad. There have been recurring vaticinations and promises of good; but little or no actual fulfilment. Look back year after year, count up the exploits of the movement party, and consider whether it has had any effect at all on the religious judgment of the nation, as represented by the Establishment. The more certain and formidable is the growth of its adherents and well-wishers, so much the more pregnant a fact is it, that the Establishment has steadily gone on its own way, eating, drinking, sleeping, and working, fulfilling its nature and its destiny, as if that movement had not been; or at least with no greater consciousness of its presence, than any internal disarrangement or disorder creates in a man who has a work to do, and is busy at it.

The movement, I say, has formed but a party after all, and the Church of the nation has pursued the nation's objects, and executed the nation's will, in spite of it. The movement could not prevent the Ecclesiastical Commission, nor the Episcopal mismanagement of it. Its zeal, principle, and clearness of view, backed by a union of parties, did not prevent the royal appointment of a theological Professor, whose sentiments were the expression of the national idea of religion. Nor did its protest even succeed in preventing his subsequent elevation to the Episcopal bench. Nor did it succeed in preventing the establishment of a sort of Anglo-Prussian, half-Episcopal, half-Lutheran See at {11} Jerusalem; nor the selection of two individuals of heretical opinions to fill it in succession. Nor did it prevent the intrusion of the Establishment on the Maltese territory; nor has it prevented the systematic promotion at home of men heterodox, or fiercely latitudinarian, in their religious views, or professedly ignorant of theology, and glorying in their ignorance. Nor did the movement prevent the promotion of Bishops and others who deny or explain away the grace of Baptism. Nor has it hindered the two Archbishops of England from concurring in the royal decision, that within the national communion baptismal regeneration is an open question. It has not heightened the theology of the Universities or of the Christian Knowledge Society, nor afforded any defence in its hour of need to the National Society for Education. What has it done for the cause it undertook? It has preserved the Universities to the Established Church for fifteen years; perhaps it prevented certain alterations in the Prayer-Book; it has secured at Oxford the continuance of the Oath of Supremacy against Catholics for a like period; it has hindered the promotion of high-minded liberals, like the late Dr. Arnold, at the price of the advancement of second-rate men who have shared his opinions. It has built Churches and Colleges, and endowed Sees, of which its enemies in the Establishment have gladly taken or are taking possession; it has founded sisterhoods or enforced {12} confessions, the fruits of which are yet to be seen. On the other hand, it has given a hundred educated men to the Catholic Church; yet the huge creature, from which they went forth, showed no consciousness of its loss, but shook itself, and went about its work as of old time—as all parties, even the associates they had left, united, and even glorified, in testifying. And lastly, the present momentous event, to which I have already alluded, bearing upon the doctrine of Baptism, which is creating such disturbance in the country, has happened altogether independent of the movement, and is unaffected by it. Those persons who went forward to Catholicism have not caused it; those who have stayed neither could prevent it, nor can remedy it. It relates to a question previous to any of those doctrines which it has been the main object of the movement to maintain. It is caused, rather it is willed, by the national mind; and, till the grace of God touches and converts that mind, it will remain a fact done and over, a precedent and a principle in the Establishment.


This is the true explanation of what is going on before our eyes, as seen whether in the decision of the Privy Council, or in the respective conduct of the two parties in the Establishment with relation to it. It may seem strange, at first sight, that the Evangelical section should presume so boldly to contravene the {13} distinct and categorical teaching of the national formularies on the subject of Baptism; strange, till it is understood that the interpreter of their sense is the Nation itself, and that that section in the Establishment speaks with the confidence of men who know that they have the Nation on their side. Let me here refer to the just and manly admissions on this subject, of a high-principled writer, which have lately been given to the public:—

"There is" a "consideration," he says, "which, for some time, has pressed heavily and painfully upon me. As a fact, the Evangelical party plainly, openly, and fully declare their opinions upon the doctrines which they contend the Church of England holds; they tell their people continually, what they ought, as a matter of duty towards God and towards themselves, both to believe and practise. Can it be pretended that we, as a party, anxious to teach the truth, are equally open, plain, and unreserved? ... And it is not to be alleged, that only the less important duties and doctrines are so reserved: as if it would be an easy thing to distinguish and draw a line of division between them ... We do reserve vital and essential truths; we often hesitate and fear to teach our people many duties, not all necessary, perhaps, in every case or to every person, but eminently practical, and sure to increase the growth of the inner, spiritual life; we differ, in short, as widely from the Evangelical party in the manner and openness, as in the {14} matter and details of our doctrine ... All this seems to me to be, day by day and hour by hour, more and more hard to be reconciled with the real spirit, mind, and purpose of the English Reformation, and of the modern English Church, shown by the experience of three hundred years ... People often say it is wrong to use such terms as 'the spirit of the Reformed English Church;' or 'its intention,' 'purpose,' and the like. And is it really so? was the Reformation nothing? did it effect nothing, change nothing, remove nothing? … No doubt the Reformed Church of England claims to be a portion of the Holy Catholic Church; and it has been common for many of our own opinions, to add also the assertion, that she rejects and condemns, as being out of the Church Catholic, the Reformed Churches abroad, Lutheran, Genevan, and others, together with the Kirk of Scotland, or the Dissenters at home. Upon our principles, nay, on any consistent Church principle at all, such a corollary must follow. But there is a strangeness in it; it commends itself perhaps to our intellect, but not to the eye or ear; nor, it may be, to the heart or conscience." [Note 2]

These remarks are as true as they are candid; and it is, I hope, no disrespect to the Author, if, taking them from their context, I use them for my own argument, which is not indeed divergent, though distinct from his own. Whether, then, they prove that the Evangelical {15} party is as much at home in the National Prayer-Book as the Anglican, I will not pronounce; but at least they prove that that party is far more at home in the National Establishment; that it is in cordial and intimate sympathy with the sovereign Lord and Master of the Prayer-Book, its composer and interpreter, the Nation itself,—on the best terms with Queen and statesmen, and practical men, and country gentlemen, and respectable tradesmen, fathers and mothers, school-masters, churchwardens, vestries, public societies, newspapers, and their readers in the lower classes. The Evangelical ministers of the Establishment have, in comparison with their Anglican rivals, the spirit of the age with them; they are congenial with the age; they glide forward rapidly and proudly down the stream; and it is this fact, and their consciousness of it, which carries them over all difficulties. Jewell was triumphant over Harding, and Wake over Atterbury or Leslie, with the terrors or the bribes of a sovereign to back them; and their successors in this day have, in like manner, the strength of public opinion on their side. The letter of enactments, pristine customs, ancient rights, is no match for the momentum with which they rush along upon the flood of public opinion, which rules that every conclusion is absurd, and every argument sophistical, and every maxim untrue, except such as it recognises itself. {16}


How different has it been with the opposite party? Confident, indeed, and with reason, of the truth of its great principles, having a perception and certainty of its main tenets, which is like the evidence of sense compared with the feeble, flitting, and unreal views of doctrine held by the Evangelical body, still, as to their application, their adaptation, their combination, their development, it has been miserably conscious that it has had nothing to guide it but its own private and unaided judgment. Dreading its own interpretation of Scripture and the Fathers, feeling its need of an infallible guide, yet having none; looking up to its own Mother, as it called her, and finding her silent, ambiguous, unsympathetic, sullen, and even hostile to it; with ritual mutilated, sacraments defective, precedents inconsistent, articles equivocal, canons obsolete, courts Protestant, and synods suspended; scouted by the laity, scorned by men of the world, hated and blackened by its opponents; and moreover at variance with itself, hardly two of its members taking up the same position, nay, all of them, one by one, shifting their own ground as time went on, and obliged to confess that they were in progress; is it wonderful, in the words of the Pamphlet already referred to, that these men have exhibited "a conduct and a rule of a religious life," "full of shifts, and compromises, and evasions, a rule of life, based upon the acceptance of half one doctrine, all the {17} next, and none of the third, upon the belief entirely of another, but not daring to say so?" After all, they have not been nearly so guilty "of shifts, and compromises, and evasions," as the national formularies themselves; but they have had none to support them, or, if I may use a familiar word, to act the bully for them, under the imputation. There was no one, with confident air and loud voice, to retort upon their opponents the charges urged against them, and no public to applaud though there had been. Whether they looked above or below, behind or before, they found nothing, indeed, to shake or blunt their faith in Christ, in His establishment of a Church, in its visibility, continuance, catholicity, and gifts, and in the necessity of belonging to it: they despised the hollowness of their opponents, the inconsequence of their arguments, the shallowness of their views, their disrelish of principle, and their carelessness about truth, but their heart sunk within them, under the impossibility, on the one hand, of their carrying out their faith into practice, there, where they found themselves, and of realising their ideas in fact,—and the duty on the other, as they were taught it, of making the best of the circumstances in which they were placed. Such were they; I trust they are so still: I will not allow myself to fancy that secret doubts on the one hand, that self-will, disregard of authority, an unmanly, disingenuous bearing, and the spirit of party on the other, have deformed a body of persons whom I have loved, {18} revered, and sympathised with. I speak of those many persons whom I admired; who, like the hero in the epic, did not want courage, but encouragement; who looked out in vain for the approbation of authority; who felt their own power, but shrank from the omen of evil, the hateful raven, which flapped its wings over them; who seemed to say with the poet—

—Non me tua fervida terrent
Dicta, ferox; Dii me terrent, et Jupiter hostis.

But their very desire of realities, and their fear of deceiving themselves with dreams, was their insurmountable difficulty here. They could not make the Establishment what it was not, and this was forced on them day after day. It is a principle, in some sense acknowledged by Catholic theologians, that the spirit of an age modifies its inherited professions. Moralists lay down, that a law loses its authority which the lawgiver knowingly allows to be infringed and put aside; whatever, then, be the abstract claims of the Anglican cause, the fact is that the living community to which they belong has for centuries ignored and annulled them. It was a principle parallel to this which furnished one of the reasons on which the judges of the Queen's Bench the other day acted, when they refused to prohibit the execution of the Royal decision, in the appeal made from the Bishop of Exeter. His counsel urged certain provisions in statutes of the reign {19} of Henry VIII., which had not been discussed in the pleadings. "Were the language of 25 Henry VIII. c. 9, obscure instead of clear," observed the Chief Justice, "we should not be justified in differing from the construction put upon it by contemporaneous and long-continued usage. There would be no safety for property or liberty if it could be successfully contended, that all lawyers and statesmen have been mistaken for centuries as to the true meaning of the Act of Parliament." Whatever becomes of the general question, this was at least the language of reason and common sense; as physical life assimilates to itself, or casts off, whatever it encounters, allowing no interference with the supremacy of its own proper principles, so is it with life social and civil. When a body politic grows, takes definite shape, and matures, it slights, though it may endure, the vestiges and tokens of its rude beginnings. It may cherish them as curiosities, but it abjures them as precedents. They may hang about it, as the shrivelled blossom about the formed fruit; but they are dead, and will be sure to disappear as soon as they are felt to be troublesome. Common sense tells us these appendages do not apply to things as they are; and, if individuals attempt to insist on them, they will but bring on themselves the just imputation of vexatiousness and extravagance. So it is with the Anglican formularies; they are but the expression of the national sentiment, and therefore are necessarily modified by it. {20} Did the nation grow into Catholicity, they might easily be made to assume a Catholic demeanour; but as it has matured in its Protestantism, they must take, day by day, a more Evangelical and liberal aspect. Of course I am not saying this by way of justifying individuals in professing and using doctrinal and devotional forms from which they dissent; nor am I denying that words have, or at least ought to have, a definite meaning which must not be explained away; I am merely stating what takes place in matter of fact, allowably in some cases, wrongly in others, according to the strength, on the one hand, of the wording of the formulary, and of the diverging opinion on the other.

I say, that a nation's laws are a nation's property, and have their life in the nation's life, and their interpretation in the nation's sentiment: and where that living intelligence does not shine through them, they become worthless and are put aside, whether formally or on an understanding. Now Protestantism is, as it has been for centuries, the Religion of England; and since the semi-patristical Church, which was set up for the nation at the Reformation, is the organ of that religion, it must live for the nation; it must hide its Catholic aspirations in folios, or in college cloisters; it must call itself Protestant, when it gets into the pulpit; it must abjure Antiquity; for woe to it, if it attempt to thrust the wording of its own documents in its master's path, {21} if it rely on a passage in its Visitation for the Sick, or on an Article of the Creed, or on the tone of its Collects, or on a catena of its divines, when the age has determined on a theology more in keeping with the progress of knowledge! The antiquary, the reader of history, the theologian, the philosopher, the Biblical student may make his protest; he may quote St. Austin, or appeal to the canons, or argue from the nature of the case; but la Reine le veut; the English people is sufficient for itself; it wills to be Protestant and progressive; and Fathers, Councils, Schoolmen, Scriptures, Saints, Angels, and what is above them, must give way. What are they to it? It thinks, argues, and acts according to its own practical, intelligible, shallow religion; and of that religion its Bishops and divines, will they or will they not, must be exponents [Note 3].


In this way, I say, we are to explain, but in this way most naturally and satisfactorily, what otherwise would {22} be startling, the late Royal decision to which I have several times referred. The great legal authorities, on whose report it was made, have not only pronounced, that, as a matter of fact, persons who have denied the grace of Baptism had held the highest preferments in the National Church, but they felt themselves authorised actually to interpret its ritual and its doctrine, and to report to her Majesty that the dogma of baptismal regeneration is not part and parcel of the national religion. They felt themselves strong enough, in their position, to pronounce "that the doctrine held by" the Protestant clergyman, who brought the matter before them, "was not contrary or repugnant to the declared doctrine of the Church of England, as by law established." The question was not whether it was true or not,—as they most justly remarked,—whether from heaven or from hell; they were too sober to meddle with what they had no means of determining; they "abstained from expressing any opinion of their own upon the theological correctness or error of the doctrine" propounded: the question was, not what God had said, but what the English nation had willed and allowed; and, though it must be granted that they aimed at a critical examination of the letter of the documents, yet it must be granted on the other hand too, that their criticism was of a very national cast, and that the national sentiment was of great use to them in helping them to their conclusions. What was it to the nation {23} or its lawyers whether Hooker used the word "charity" or "piety" in the extract which they adduced from his works, and that "piety" gave one sense to the passage, and "charity" another? Hooker must speak as the existing nation speaks, if he is to be a national authority. What though the ritual categorically deposes to the regeneration of the infant baptized? The Evangelical party, who, in former years, had had the nerve to fix the charge of dishonesty on the explanations of the Thirty-nine Articles, put forth by their opponents, could all the while be cherishing in their own breasts an interpretation of the Baptismal Service, simply contradictory to its most luminous declarations. Inexplicable proceeding, if they were professing to handle the document in its letter; but not dishonourable, not dishonest, not hypocritical, but natural and obvious, on the condition or understanding that the Nation, which imposes the document, imposes its sense,—that by the breath of its mouth it had, as a god, made Establishment, Articles, Prayer-Book, and all that is therein, and could by the breath of its mouth as easily and absolutely unmake them again, whenever it was disposed.

Counsel, then, and pamphleteers may put forth unanswerable arguments in behalf of the Catholic interpretation of the Baptismal service; a long succession of Bishops, an unbroken tradition of writers, may have faithfully and anxiously guarded it. In vain has the Caroline school honoured it by ritual observance; in {24} vain has the Restoration illustrated it by varied learning; in vain did the Revolution retain it as the price for other concessions; in vain did the eighteenth century use it as a sort of watchword against Wesley; in vain has it been persuasively developed and fearlessly proclaimed by the movement of 1833; all this is foreign to the matter before us. We have not to enquire what is the dogma of a collegiate, antiquarian religion, but what, in the words of the Prime Minister, will give "general satisfaction;" what is the religion of Britons. May not the free-born, self-dependent, animal mind of the Englishman, choose his religion for himself? and have lawyers any more to do than to state, as a matter of fact and history, what that religion is, and for three centuries has been? are we to obtrude the mysteries of an objective, of a dogmatic, of a revealed system, upon a nation which intimately feels and has established, that each individual is to be his own judge in truth and falsehood in matters of the unseen world? How is it possible that the National Church, forsooth, should be allowed to dogmatize on a point which so immediately affects the Nation itself? Why, half the country is unbaptized; it is difficult to say for certain who are baptized; shall the country unchristianize itself? it has not yet advanced to indifference on such a matter. Shall it, by a suicidal act, use its own Church against itself, as its instrument whereby to cut itself off from the hope of another life? Shall it {25} confine the Christian promise within limits, and put restrictions upon grace, when it has thrown open trade, removed disabilities, abolished monopolies, taken off agricultural protection, and enlarged the franchise?—Such is the thought, such the language of the England of today. What a day for the defenders of the dogma in bygone times, if those times had anything to do with the present! What a day for Bishop Lavington, who, gazing on Wesley preaching the new birth at Exeter, pronounced Methodism as bad as "Popery"! What a portentous day for Bampton Lecturers and divinity Professors! What a day for Bishop Mant and Archbishop Lawrence, and Bishop Van Mildert, and Archbishop Sutton, and, as we may trust, what a day had it been for Archbishop Howley, taken away on its very dawning! The giant ocean has suddenly swelled and heaved, and majestically yet masterfully snaps the cables of the smaller craft which lie upon its bosom, and strands them upon the beach. Hooker, Taylor, Bull, Pearson, Barrow, Tillotson, Warburton, and Horne, names mighty in their generation, are broken and wrecked before the power of a nation's will. One vessel alone can ride those waves; it is the boat of Peter, the ark of God.


And now, my brethren, it is plain that this doctrine does not stand by itself:—if the grace of Baptism is not to be taught dogmatically in the National Church, {26} if it be not a heresy to deny it, if to hold it and not to hold it be but matters of opinion, what other doctrine which that Church professes stands on a firmer or more secure foundation? The same popular voice which has explained away the wording of the Office for Baptism, may of course in a moment dispense with the Athanasian Creed altogether. Who can doubt, that if that symbol be not similarly dealt with in course of law in years to come, it is because the present judgment will practically destroy its force as efficaciously, and with less trouble to the lawyers? No individual will dare to act on views which he knows to a certainty would be overruled as soon as they are brought before a legal tribunal. As to the document itself, it will be obvious to allege that the details of the Athanasian Creed were never intended for reception by national believers; that all that was intended (as has before now been avowed) was to uphold a doctrine of a Trinity, and that, provided we hold this "scriptural fact," it matters not whether we be Athanasians, Sabellians, Tritheists, or Socinians, or rather we shall be neither one nor the other of them. Precedents on the other hand are easily adducible of Arian, Sabellian, and Unitarian Bishops and dignitaries, and of divines who professed that Trinitarianism was a mere matter of opinion, both in former times and now. Indeed it might with much reason be maintained, were the question before a court, that, looking at the matter historically, Locke gave the death-blow {27} to the Catholic phraseology on that fundamental doctrine among the Anglican clergy; and it is surely undeniable, that such points as the Eternal Generation of the Son, the Homoüsion, and the Hypostatic Union, have been silently discarded by the many, and but anxiously and apologetically put forward by the few. With this existing disposition in the minds of English Churchmen towards a denial of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, I surely am not rash in saying, that the recent judgment has virtually removed it from their authoritative teaching altogether.

Nor can eternal punishment be received as an Anglican dogma, against the strong feeling of the age, with so little in its favour in the national formularies; nor original sin, considering that the national suspicion of it is countenanced and defended by no less an authority of past times than Bishop Jeremy Taylor. And much less the inspiration of Scripture, and the existence of the evil spirit, doctrines which are not mentioned in the Thirty-nine Articles at all. Yet, plain though this be, at this moment the Evangelical members of the Establishment are extolling the recent judgment, and are transported at the triumph it gives them, as if it might not, or would not, in time to come, be turned against themselves; as if, while it directly affected the doctrine of baptismal grace, it had no bearing upon those of predestination, election, satisfaction, justification, and others, of which they consider themselves {28} so especially the champions. Poor victims! do you dream that the spirit of the age is working for you, or are you indeed secretly prepared to go further than you avow? At least some of you are honest enough to be praising the recent judgment on its own account, and blind enough not to see what it involves; and so you contentedly and trustfully throw yourselves into the arms of the age. But it is "today for me, tomorrow for thee!" Do you really think the age is stripping Laud or Bull of his authority, in order to set up Whittaker or Baxter? or with what expedient are you to elude a power, whose aid you have already invoked against your enemies [Note 4]?


For us, Catholics, my brethren, while we clearly recognise how things are going with our countrymen {29} and while we would not accelerate the march of infidelity if we could help it, yet we are more desirous that you should leave a false church for the true, than that a false church should hold its ground. For if we are blessed in converting any of you, we are effecting a direct, unequivocal, and substantial benefit, which out-weighs all points of expedience—the salvation of your souls. I do not undervalue at all the advantage of institutions which, though not Catholic, keep out evils worse than themselves. Some restraint is better than none; systems which do not simply inculcate divine truth, yet serve to keep men from being utterly hardened against it, when at length it addresses them; they preserve a certain number of revealed doctrines in the popular mind; they familiarize it to Christian ideas; they create religious associations; and thus, remotely and negatively, they may even be said to prepare and dispose the soul in a certain sense for those inspirations of grace, which, through the merits of Christ, are freely given to all men for their salvation, all over the earth. It is a plain duty, then, not to be forward in destroying religious institutions, even though not Catholic, if we cannot replace them with what is better; but, from fear of injuring them, to shrink from saving the souls of the individuals who live under them, would be worldly wisdom, treachery to Christ, and uncharitableness to His redeemed.

As to the Catholic Church herself, no vicissitude of {30} circumstances can hurt her which allows her fair play. If, indeed, from the ultimate resolution of all heresies and errors into some one form of infidelity or scepticism, the nation was strong enough to turn upon her in persecution, then indeed she might be expelled from our land, as she has been expelled before now. Then persecution would do its work, as it did three centuries ago. But this is an extreme case, which is not to be anticipated. Till the nation becomes thus unanimous in unbelief, Catholics are secured by the collision and balance of religious parties, and are sheltered under that claim of toleration which each sect prefers for itself. But give us as much as this, an open field, and we ask no favour; every form of Protestantism turns to our advantage. Its establishments of religion remind the world of that archetypal Church of which it is a copyist; its Creeds contain portions of our teaching; its quarrels and divisions serve to break up its traditions, and rid its professors of their prejudices; its scepticism makes them turn in admiration and in hope to her, who alone is clear in her teaching and consistent in its transmission; its very abuse of her makes them inquire about her. She fears nothing from political parties; she shrinks from none of them; she can coalesce with any. She is not jealous of progress nor impatient with conservatism, if either be the national will. Nor is there anything for us to fear (except for the moment and for the sake of individuals) in that movement towards {31} Pantheism, in the Protestant world [Note 5], which excites the special anxiety of many; for, in truth, there is something so repugnant to the feelings of man, in systems which deprive God of His perfections, and reduce Him to a name, which remove the Creator to an indefinite distance from His creatures, under the pretence of bringing them near to Him, and refuse Him the liberty of sending mediators and ordaining instruments to connect them with Him, which deny the existence of sin, the need of pardon, and the fact of punishment, which maintain that man is happy here and sufficient for himself, when he feels so keenly his own ignorance and desolateness,—and on the other hand, the sects and parties round about us are so utterly helpless to remedy his evils, and to supply his need,—that the preachers of these new ideas from Germany and America are really, however much against their will, like Caiphas, prophesying for us. Surely they will find no resting-place anywhere for their feet, and the feet of their disciples, but will be tumbled down from one depth of blasphemy to another, till they arrive at sheer and naked atheism, the reductio ad absurdum of their initial principles. Logic is a stern master; they feel it, they protest against it; they profess to hate it, and would fain dispense with it; but it is the law of their intellectual {32} nature. Struggling and shrieking, but in vain, will they make the inevitable descent into that pit from which there is no return, except through the almost miraculous grace of God, the grant of which in this life is never hopeless. And Israel, without a fight, will see their enemies dead upon the seashore.

I will but observe in conclusion, that, in thus explaining the feeling under which I address myself to members of the Anglican communion in these Lectures, I have advanced one step towards fulfilling the object with which I have undertaken them. For it is a very common difficulty which troubles men, when they contemplate submission to the Catholic Church, that perhaps they shall thus be weakening the communion they leave, which, with whatever defects, they see in matter of fact to be a defence of Christianity against its enemies. No, my brethren, you will not be harming it; if the National Church falls, it falls because it is national; because it left the centre of unity in the sixteenth century, not because you leave it in the nineteenth. Cranmer, Parker, Jewell, will complete their own work; they who made it, will be its destruction.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. This fact is strikingly brought out in Archbishop Sumner's correspondence with Mr. Maskell. "You ask me," he says, "whether you are to conclude that you ought not to teach, and have not authority of the Church to teach any of the doctrines spoken of in your five former questions, in the dogmatical terms there stated? To which I reply, Are they contained in the word of God? St. Paul says, 'Preach the word.' … Now, whether the doctrines concerning which you inquire are contained in the Word of God, and can be proved thereby, you have the same means of discovering as myself, and I have no special authority to declare." The Archbishop at least would quite allow what I have said in the text, even though he might express himself differently.
Return to text

2. Maskell's Second Letter, pp. 57-69.
Return to text

3. "It is not the practice for Judges to take up points of their own, and, without argument, to decide a case upon them. Lord Eldon used to say, that oftentimes hearing an argument in support of an opinion he had so taken up, convinced him he had been wrong—a great authority in favour of the good sense of the practice, which the Queen's Bench has disregarded in this case. In the Hampden case, the whole practice of the Court for two hundred and fifty years was set at naught by Lord Denman. In this case a course has been taken which has never hitherto been followed in questions of a mandamus to a railway, or a criminal information against a newspaper. And both are Church cases."—Guardian, May 1, 1850.
Return to text

4. The Oxford tutors are more sharp-sighted; understanding the mental state of the junior portion of the University, they see that a decision like that of the Privy Council is fitted to destroy at once what little hold the old Anglican system has on them, and to give entrance among them to a scepticism on all points of religion. In a strong and spirited protest, they quote against the Archbishop the very words he used on another occasion, eight or nine years since. Yet his evasive interpretation of the Baptismal service is not the fault of the Archbishop, but of the Reformers. No member of the Establishment can believe in a system of theology of any kind, without doing violence to the formularies. Those only go easily along Articles and Prayer-book, who do not think. It is remarkable, the Archbishop's book on apostolical Preaching first brought the present writer to a belief in baptismal regeneration in 1824. He has the copy still, with his objections marked on the side, given him for the purpose of convincing him by a dignitary whom he has ever loved amid the gravest differences, Dr. Hawkins.
Return to text

5. I am aware that the name of Pantheism is repudiated by several writers of the school I allude to, but I think it will be found to be the ultimate resolution of its principles.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.