Thursday 13 February 2014

19° century Londoners, religion and heretical opinions

J. Ewing Ritchie, author ofbritish senators,” “the night side of london,” etc., wrote in his book the Religious Life Of London in 1870 that man is undoubtedly a religious animal.  It seemed that at the time he was living in England at any rate the remark hold good.
St. Alban's, Golders Green Parish Church in Ba...
St. Alban's, Golders Green Parish Church in Barnet, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one who ignores the religious element in our history can rightly understand what England was, or how she came to be what she is.  The fuller is our knowledge, the wider our field of investigation, the more minute our inquiry, the stronger must be the conviction in all minds that religion has been for good or bad the great moving power, and, in spite of the teachings of Secularism or of Positivism, it is clear that as much as ever the questions which are daily and hourly coming to the front have in them more or less of a religious element.
The author knew it were not often foreigners who perceived this. Several foreigners mastered the English habits and ways, all that the English called their inner life; yet, to Louis Blanc for example, the English pulpit was a piece of wood — nothing more.
According to him, the oracles are dumb, the sacred fire has ceased to burn, the veil of the temple is rent in twain; church attendance, he tells us, in England, besides custom, has little to recommend it.  There is beauty in desolation — in life changing into death —
“Before Decay’s effacing fingers
Have swept the lines where beauty lingers;”

English: Logo of the Church of England
Logo of the Church of England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Not even of this beauty could the Church of England boast.  Dr. Döllinger — a more thoughtful, a more learned, a more laborious writer — was not more flattering, according to Ritchie.

The Church of England, he tells us, is “the Church only of a fragment of the nation,” of “the rich, cultivated, and fashionable classes.”  It teaches “the religion of deportment, of gentility, of clerical reserve.”  “In its stiff and narrow organization, and all want of pastoral elasticity, it feels itself powerless against the masses.”
In the 19° century London the patronage was mostly in the hands of the nobility and gentry, who regarded it as a means of provision for their younger sons, sons-in-law, and cousins.
Our latest critic, M. Esquiros, writes in a more favourable strain, yet even he confesses how the city operative shuns what he deems the Church of Mammon, and draws a picture of the English clergyman, by no means suggestive of zeal in the Master’s service or readiness to bear His yoke.  Dissent foreigners generally ignore, yet Dissent is as active, as energetic as the State Church, and may claim that it has practically realized the question of our time—the Free Church in the Free State.
Life to most of the people living in the 19°century Britain was hard, and it would have been harder still
 if after a day’s toil Paterfamilias had to discuss the three births of Christ, or His twofold nature, the Æons of the Gnostics, the Judaism of the Ebionites, the ancient Persian dualism which formed the fundamental idea of the system of Manes, or the windy frenzy of Montanus, with an illogical wife, a friend gifted with a fatal flow of words, or a pert and shallow child.  We like those with whom we constantly associate.  They are wise men and sound Christians.  They are those who fast and pay tithes, and are eminently proper and respectable.  As to the heretics—the publicans and sinners, away with them.  Let their portion be shame in this life, perdition in the next.  Thus it is heretics have got a bad name.  Church history has been written by their enemies, by men who have honestly believed that a man of a different heresy to their own would rob an orphan, and break all the commandments.
The Rev. Mr. Thwackem “doubted not but all the infidels and heretics in the world would, if they could, confine honour to their own absurd errors and damnable deceptions.”

When looking at English literature of the 19° century I may think we mostly are confronted with classical Christian families, mostly belonging to the mainstream protestant churches England still has to day. The Church of England being the most common denomination.

At that time it was no different probably than today that people would easily say of others they where heretics.
Free Church of England
Free Church of England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the Articles of the English Establishment,
 “the Church of Christ is a company of faithful people among whom the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered according to Christ’s institution.”
But on this very matter we also did find the Church divided.
Low Churchmen tell us that the ritualists do not rightly administer the Sacraments, and the latter say the same of their opponents.  The Record suggests that Bishop Colenso is little better than one of the wicked, and charitably insinuates that the late Dean Milman is amongst the lost.  Dr. Pusey places the Evangelicals in the same category with Jews, or Infidels, or Dissenters, and has strong apprehensions as to their everlasting salvation.  Dr. Temple was made Bishop of Exeter, and Archdeacon Denison set apart the day of his installation as one of humiliation and prayer.  Yet all these are of the Establishment.
I am not quite sure if there were more non-trinitarians or unitarians in the 19° century, but we can read about the attitudes taken to such beleivers.
Dr. Parr gladly associated with Unitarians, and went to Unitarian chapels to hear Unitarian ministers preach.  Would Dean Close do so?  Yet Dr. Parr, as much as Dean Close, was of the Church as regards solemn profession, and deliberate assent and consent.  Mr. Melville believes Dissent to be schism, and one of the deadly sins, while the Deans of Westminster and Canterbury hold out to Dissenters friendly hands.
When Ritchie wrote his books there were Ebionites  who regarded Christ as a mere man and Gnostics whom considered Jesus as superhuman; but in that capacity as one of a very numerous class.
The author considered the Monachians, who were divided respectively into Dynamistic and Modalistic as possible heretic.  As the latter held that the whole fulness of the Deity dwelt in Christ and only found in him a peculiar mode of manifestation, it was assumed that the natural inference was that the Father himself had died on the Cross.
Hence to these heretics the name of Patripassians was applied by the orthodox.  Sabellius, who maintained a Trinity, not of divine Persons but of successive manifestations under the names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was one of the chief Patripassians.  The Arian controversy, as Dean Stanley shows, turned on the relations of the divine persons before the first beginning of time.
 There was also a lot of division in the many denominations.
If we take the Articles, the Church Establishment is as orthodox as the firmest Christian or the narrowest-minded bigot can desire; if we turn to its ministers, we find them as divided as it is possible for people professing to take their teaching from the Bible can be.  If there be any grace in creeds and articles, any virtue in signing them, if their imposition be not a solemn farce, it is impossible that heresy should exist within the Established Church.  It is in the wide and varied fields of Dissent that we are to look for heresy.
Though he considered the Church of England to be tolerant, to a certain extent, of heresy.  The judicious Hooker writes,
 “We must acknowledge even heretics themselves to be a maimed part, yet a part, of the visible Church.  If an infidel should pursue to death an heretic professing Christianity only for Christian profession’s sake, could we deny unto him the honour of martyrdom?  Yet this honour all men know to be proper unto the Church.  Heretics, therefore, are not utterly cast out from the visible Church of Christ.  If the Fathers do, therefore, anywhere, as often they do, make the true visible Church of Christ and heretical companies opposite, they are to be construed as separating heretics not altogether from the company of believers, but from the fellowship of sound believers.  For where professed unbelief is, there can be no visible Church of Christ; there may be where sound belief wanteth.  Infidels being clean without the Church, deny directly and utterly reject the very principles of Christianity which heretics embrace, and err only by misconstruction, whereupon their opinions, although repugnant indeed to the principles of Christian faith, are notwithstanding by them held otherwise and maintained as most consistent therewith.”
The Privy Council by its Judgment of “Essays and Reviews” has decided that a Churchman may hold heretical opinions.
In popular language, the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians are orthodox; the Quakers, the Methodists, Wesleyans and otherwise, are orthodox; for our purpose popular language is sufficient.
Ritchie wrote.


Continues with:  19° century London and Unitarians


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