« AnteriorContinuar »
Art. VIII.-1. Dissent in its Relation to the Church of Eng
land. Bampton Lectures, 1871. By the Rev. G. H.
CURTEIS, Principal of the Lichfield Theological College. 2. Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in
the Seventeenth Century. 2 vols. By John TULLOCH, D.D., Principal of St. Mary's College in the University
of St. Andrews. 3. Religious Thought in England. 2 vols. By the Rev. John
HUNT. 1871. 4. The Present Position of the Church of England: Seven
Addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 1871. 5. Charge of the Bishop of St. David's. 1871. 6. Charge of the Bishop of Manchester. 1871. THE HE ecclesiastical historian Socrates, in a well-known pas
sage, compares the theological controversies of the fifth century to a battle in the night, where each party, from the ignorance of the exact meaning of the terms employed, numbered amongst its adherents foes and friends fighting on the same side. This characteristic of theological struggles, though never perhaps exemplified on the same scale, has prevailed, more or less, ever since; and it is one of the first duties of a philosophic theologian to disentangle these confusions, both as a means of arriving at the truth, and also as the best esposition of the futility of many of the party contests that have rent the peace of the Church. A large part of what is commonly called in popular English parlance - dogmatic theology' is merely the process of heaping together without definition or discrimination the ambiguous watchwords of those nocturnal struggles—watchwords, which if traced back to their original meaning, may convey some useful information, but which, apart from such historical investigation, are but the signs of unknown things in an unknown language.
There is, however, another evil, incident to ecclesiastical warfare, which may be illustrated by a familiar speech of the Duke of Wellington in regard to actual battles. • A battle, he used to say, 'is like a ball: nobody knows what is going on ' in any other part of the field, except that on which he is himself
engaged.' This has been especially the case in most of the works which have been written, and in many of the arguments maintained, on the relations of the Church of England towards the Nonconformists. Each of the contending parties, as a
general rule, has fixed its attention only on the particular point on which it was immediately at issue with the opponents of the moment; and has altogether neglected to observe or to take account of the point of view on which its opponents themselves would have laid stress, and of the general relation of both to the religious welfare of the whole nation.
It is with great pleasure that we hail, in the book we have named at the head of these pages, a signal instance to the contrary. Mr. Curteis's Bampton Lectures furnish a bright example of an English Churchman deliberately endeavouring to place himself in direct contact with all the different forms of belief that have divided the English ecclesiastical world. Something, no doubt, of the same kind was attempted by the late lamented Professor Maurice, in his · Letters on the * Kingdom of Christ,' in which he endeavoured to bring the various religious ideas of his time within the scope of his theological survey. But in that case the attempt was made with a view to a statement of what the author conceived to be the true aspects of theology far more than for any practical results to be derived from it, so that the field was still left open for a student like Mr. Curteis to address himself to the subject with a special bearing on its practical solution. There are, perhaps, some slight distortions running through the arrangement of his work, which will, we fear, prevent it from having as immediate an access to some of those whom it ought to influence as we should desire. There is at times a tendency to represent the Church at its ideal best, and the Nonconformists at their real worst. It strikes us as sometimes making too much of the actual framework of the Church, and too little of its pervading spirit. But in spite of these superficial shortcomings, we cannot doubt that the temper, the courtesy, the fairness, the evident carefulness in searching out even in minute detail the grounds of all its statements, will commend it, and has commended it, to the better spirits amongst the Nonconformists themselves. And the favourable reception with which, on the whole, the work has achieved in more purely ecclesiastical circles, combined with the fact that a theologian so candid and so liberal was selected by the clerical chiefs of the University of Oxford for such a delicate task, is a hopeful symptom of the sound and reasonable spirit of the Church herself.
It so happens that almost coincident with the publication of Mr. Curteis's Lectures have appeared two other works, which may serve both as corrections of and as supplements to his more important statements. One is the most complete con
spectus which has yet been given of English theological literature in all its branches,— The History of Religious Thought in England,' by the Rev. John Hunt. It is a book which, without any pretensions to grace of style or fervour of eloquence, yet by sheer determination to present the exact truth, and by genuine study of the works themselves, produces a picture of all the various streams of theological opinion from the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, which every English ecclesiastic, whether conforming or nonconforming, ought to read, if only as a counterpoise and check to the narrow and imperfect statements which he is in the habit of hearing within his own immediate circle. To include in one survey the whole of this vast literature-to show how Bacon, Hobbes, Selden, and Locke, no less than the more professed divines, contributed to the sum total of English religious belief —how even Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Tindal, and Toland had their effect in modifying and stimulating devout thought and inquiry on the momentous questions at stake, no less than their more orthodox or Christian opponents—was a task which no one had yet attempted, and which Mr. Hunt has shown himself well qualified to perform. To treat these various authors from the literary rather than from the polemical point of view, has of itself an elevating and widening tendency, for which every student of theology, every lover of peace and truth, ought to be grateful.
A second work which fills up the outline of this survey in one particular branch, and that branch the most important of all, is the elaborate treatise of Principal Tulloch on the · History of Rational Theology in England. This is the first systematic account of the long series of divines who, whether under the name of Rational, Platonist, Latitudinarian, or Liberal, have never ceased out of the Church of England from the days of Colet to the days of Milman. The reproduction of these men in bold relief against the background of the ordinary representatives of the Church of England is, as we shall proeeed to show, of an importance far transcending any mere historical interest, and has a direct bearing on the questions which Mr. Curteis proposes for solution. That this work should have been written, not by an Englishman, but by a distinguished divine of the sister Church of Scotland, adds to its interest. The pleasure with which Principal Tulloch explores this comparatively unknown field communicates itself to his readers, and the academic groves of Oxford and Cambridge are invested with the freshness of a new glory, reflected upon them from the far off rocky shore of St. Andrews.
Together with these more permanent expressions of the better mind of the Church of England, we would refer, in passing, to the more fugitive, though for the moment more important, utterances which have fallen from the lips of the Primate, happily restored to his former vigour and activity; from the venerable Bishop of St. David's, whose last charge (alas ! if it is indeed to be the last) is a proof that the natural
force' of that wise old man is not abated, nor the keenness of his intellectual vision dimmed ;' and from the Bishop of Manchester, whose development of latent powers, by his entrance on his new office, has been in these our latter days, one of the most convincing examples of the true use of the Episcopate, in stirring up' the gifts which might have else lain dormant or unknown.
Taking, then, these works as our basis, we will proceed to show what are the true relations in which the Church and Dissent stand towards each other, and what are the bases of adjustment for which every liberal statesman and liberal Churchman worthy of the name ought to strive. It is well known that, according to the original theory of the Church of England, as laid down by the Statutes of the Reformation, and as expounded in the most splendid language by its most majestic divine, in his . Ecclesiastical Polity,' all Englishmen are supposed to belong to it, to have a claim upon its ministrations, a share in its government, an interest in its welfare. In outward form the constitution thus laid down has, no doubt, been greatly modified; but the works to which we have just referred are some amongst a thousand proofs that the substantial facts which that theory represented remain the same. It is impossible not to see that in their origin the different Nonconforming sects were but so many parties within the National Church. The idea of separation, of dissidence, of dissent for its own sake, was either altogether unknown in their first beginning, or else was secondary to more fundamental doctrines. It was an accident, so to speak—a series of accidents -often disastrous, untoward, deplorable--that in each case prevented the natural development of those sects or parties within the Church itself. Sometimes, as Mr. Curteis points out, the separation was occasioned by mere misunderstanding; more often either by the headstrong vehemence of the seceders, or by the still more headstrong obstinacy of those in the Church itself. And what still more strongly illustrates this characteristic of the Nonconforming portions of the Church is the fact, on which hardly sufficient stress has been laid, that the dominant sections within the Church have been at times as little disposed to conformity, and have had their course marked by an exclusiveness of thought exactly analogous to that of those who have actually separated. There is no doubt that the powerful party which has represented the most directly antagonistic element to the various Nonconforming sections, has from first to last borne upon its face the marks of a struggling, aggressive school, which, beginning with a standing-place exceedingly insecure--at times altogether lost - was always in danger of being forced into a hostile and separatist condition, had the rulers of the Church showed as much intolerant energy as the school itself displayed. Nay, on one occasion this separation did actually occur. During the whole of the last century there was a Nonconformist body in England, of which Mr. Curteis has taken no account, but which contained within itself exactly the corresponding elements to those which he depicts amongst the sects more commonly so called. Lord Macaulay has in a few* powerful pages delineated their beginning, middle, and end. We refer to the Episcopal Non-jurors who, leaving the Church at the time of the Revolution, equalling in acrimony against it the most violent Puritan or Anabaptist, lingered even until our own time, and were last seen by living persons in the town of Shrewsbury, in the beginning of this century. Unfortunately, it had hardly died away on the outskirts of the Church when it revived again within its pale, and from 1834 has, with different degrees of success, established itself with an imperious tenacity which has frequently tended to distract the Church from its proper mission of practical usefulness or intellectual inquiry ; and though, with some individual examples of lofty character, and many of devoted zeal, has always shown the true character of its schismatic origin in the desire to claim for itself the whole field of Christian thought and Christian life.
The common ground of antagonism held by all these various sections, with the possible exceptions of the Quakers and the Unitarians, lay in two fixed persuasions : first, that they could discover in the New Testament, or at any rate in the Apostolical traditions, a coinplete, rigid, exact system of doctrine, ritual, and constitution; and, secondly, that it was their paramount duty to impose this system upon the Church of their own country, if not on all the Churches of Christendom. Unless we grasp this fundamental fallacy through all its different branches, we shall have failed to perceive the true aspect
* History of England,' vol. iii. pp. 454-467.