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CHRISTIAN SPECTATO R.
THE ROMISH TENDENCIES OF THE AGE,
AS SHOWN IN THE
CATHOLIC REVIVAL OF THE ANGLICAN
A PAPER READ AT THE AUTUMNAL MEETING OF THE CONGREGA
TIONAL UNION, HELD AT MANCHESTER, 1867.
BY THE REV J. G. ROGERS, B.A.
It is not surprising that it is not an easy task to convince English Protestants that there is any danger of the triumph of Romanism in this country, for at first sight it would seem that no peril could be more remote, and no apprehension more groundless. If Protestantism was able to win its position in times of darkness and superstition, it seems incredible that it should be threatened in an age which is characterised by the impatience with which it chafes against all restraint and authority, and the boldness with which it asserts its right to press its inquiries in every department of thought. The indisposition, too, to listen to any such warnings has been strengthened by the way in which a bigoted and intolerant faction have continually sought to play upon the popular sentiment relative to Protestantism, and use it as an instrument for the advancement of their own ends. The cry of “Protestantism in danger," has been the favourite watchword of the reactionary party, who have strenuously resisted every concession to the more lightened spirit of the age, and have insisted on the maintenance of a policy of exclusiveness and injustice as essential to the conservation of Protestant interests. It is not wonderful that sensible and liberal men have got utterly weary of such tactics,
and are inclined to receive any fresh intimations of danger with incredulity, if not with contempt.
It is to be regretted that such sentiments should deter from a fair examination of the subject, for there are facts enough to convince thoughtful men that we are in the midst of a serious crisis, and that the Protestantism of England, so far at least as the Established Church is concerned, has not been in such grave peril since the Revolution. That danger, however, has not arisen from the recognition of the civil rights of Roman Catholics, not from any approach that has been made towards the establishment of religious equality, not even from the increased zeal and activity, great as it has been, of the clergy and members of the Romish Church, but, as we all know, from the rise of a party within that Establishment which some are still disposed to regard as the bulwark of Protestantism. Events have proved what, as Nonconformists have always maintained, that the real danger is within the Establishment and not outside. We have recently witnessed the rapid growth of a movement, which has unfortunately been designated by a name (Ritualism)-a name which brings out only one of its incidental features, and conceals its real character, which threatens to sweep away all that is Protestant either in dogma or practice in the Anglican Church. It has developed itself to an extent which two years ago would hardly have been believed possible. It is exultant in tone, and that tone is justified by the position it has taken and felt itself able to maintain. The bench of bishops has shrunk from any decided condemnation of its theories. Convocation has dallied and played with it, and if it has not ventured to give it an absolute sanction, has shown it a large amount of favour; Church Congresses have come to succumb to the influence of its leaders, and have afforded opportunities for the display of its power. Royal Commissioners have been compelled to temporise, and even the mild advice they give is laughed to scorn by a party which feels itself strong enough to defy even the highest ecclesiastical authority. It is active, energetic, wise in its generation, exhibiting wondrous skill in meeting the various weaknesses of the age; and consequently it is progressive, and is now hardly disguised Romanism.
Many are deriving encouragement from the history of the Tractarian movement, and are hoping that this new development of Anglo-Catholicism will end, as that did, in the secession of a few to the Church of Rome, and the quiet subsidence of the agitation which has arisen. The idea is utterly fallacious, and indicates only an utter misapprehension of the facts of the case. It assumes that Tractarianism died out, and does not recognise the fact that, though for a time quiet and secret in its working, ät has, during the thirty years that have elapsed since its first struggle, been steadily pursuing its course, and now reappears, taking a bolder tone, and making more extravagant pretensions than ever. Ritualism is Tractarianism more fully developed, even more arrogant and uncompromising in spirit, more pronounced in character and aim, but essentially the same movement.
There is, indeed, a difference between the two, and a difference which is extremely significant. The original idea of Tractarianism was to keep men from Rome, by bringing out the “ Catholic” element of Anglicanism; that of Ritualism is to bring about reconciliation on terms which would involve the surrender of all that is held vital by Anglican Protestants between the two Churches. The one, as the champion of Anglican Catholicity, which it sought to purge from Protestant accretions, did not shrink from charging Rome with the guilt of schism. The other is ready to take a more humble and even penitent tone, to confess the guilt of past wanderings and to seek reunion with Catholic Christendom. The difference is important. Before, we had a party, which if strongly anti-Protestant, was desirous to maintain Anglicanism, even while giving it a more Romanist character. Now we have a large and influential body expressly avowing their anxiety to be reconciled with the Church of Rome, their determination to remain in the Anglican Church to accomplish this end, and their confident hope that within twenty years this consummation so earnestly longed for may be reached.
Hardly less significant than the change in the position of the party is the change in their relations to the Church and outside world. Rev. W. J. E. Bennett points triumphantly, and with reason, to the contrast between the reception given to the comparatively slight divergences from the Protestant notions of 1839, and that with which the much more pronounced teachings and practices of 1867 have met. We do not ascribe undue importance to the numbers attracted to their services, or even to the large sums of money raised for their purposes; but it certainly is a fact of grave aspect that Mr. Mackonochie and his coadjutors have by mere lapse of time established a position for themselves and their special style of service within the Establishment. The spectator who looks on amazed at the extraordinary performances at St. Alban's or St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, may be told that these are mere individual extravagances unsanctioned by law, and contrary to the spirit and practice of the Anglican Church, which is thoroughly Protestant; but the fact remains that these things are so, that they have been continued for a considerable length of time, that no attempt to remove them
has ever been ventured, and that they are thus quietly but surely acquiring that prescriptive right which custom always gives. Indeed, even those who are most offended and most desirous of change do not profess to have power to touch more than one or two of the obnoxious practices, and are constrained to let the others go by default.
All this is grave enough, and its seriousness is certainly not diminished by a fuller knowledge of the teachings and purposes of the party thus acquiring power. It would be hard to specify the dogma or practice of Romanism to which they have not given a more or less distinct assent. They breathe just the same exclusiveness of spirit, insisting that where there is no bishop and no apostolical succession, there is no Church. They regard Presbyterianism, and by a parity of reasoning of course Congregationalism, as “an abandonment of the Church, although it chose to adopt the same name.” They represent the Christian life as dependent for vitality and strength on the same elaborate system of sacraments as Rome adopts, endeavouring by a very ingenious process of reasoning, we might more truly say quibbling, to escape the clear declaration of the Articles that there are only two sacraments, and insisting that only by the incorporation into the sacred and sinless manhood of Christ through these “extensions of the incarnation" can the soul find power to overcome the mighty force of evil. They repudiate the doctrine of Transubstantiation because the Articles expressly condemn it, but they are very anxious to maintain that the dogma rejected by the Articles was never held even by the Church of Rome, and would certainly convict our Reformers of great stupidity in taking such elaborate pains to mark their denial of an error which, in fact, none but a few zealots ever held. If we were to accept their teachings, our estimate of the morality of the compilers of the Articles would be extremely low, for they would have us believe that these great Anglican divines took care to give them as much as possible of an antiRomanist appearance, and yet so to shape their language as to admit of the retention of the very dogmas which to the uninitiated they seemed to reject. These modern divines appear to think they do their fathers honour by the new and unexpected lights in which they place their declarations, and, if they prove nothing else, assuredly show how worthless are the most elaborate and carefully prepared creeds as barriers against the intrusion even of the very errors against which they are intended to protesthow, indeed, by engendering false security, they become a source of weakness rather than of strength. The language of the Articles prevents the adoption of a particular term, and compels the advocates of the dogma of the Real Presence to resort to explana
tions of what it is which are misty and unintelligible to others, whatever they may be to themselves. The presence is neither corporeal nor spiritual, yet it is real. There is no union of the substances of bread and wine with the flesh and blood; still less is there any change of substances; yet the communicant really receives the body and blood of the Lord, and that not in any figurative or spiritual sense, but in deed and truth. The terms of the article are met, for Transubstantiation is rejected. But what advantage does Protestantism gain from this so long as the dogma of the Real Presence is retained? Let Archbishop Manning, a competent authority on such a point, instruct us here. He says, with a frankness and decision natural to one holding a consistent and intelligible position, and who has no need to fence his utterances at every point :-" The doctrine of the Real Presence, less Transubstantiation, is like the doctrine of God in three persons, less the doctrine of the Trinity.” It is less clear and distinct, but it is to all intents and purposes the same, and brings with it all those superstitions which Protestants have always strenuously resisted. With this distinctive dogma received, it is not wonderful that other parts of the Romish faith are following; that the confessional is so largely employed-to such an extent, indeed, that one of the Ritualist organs has recently recommended the clergy, taking advantage of the silence of the Ritualist Commission on this point, to introduce confessionals in all the churches; that it is suggested that in a certain modified doctrine of purgatory is to be found the only escape from the difficulties connected with the eternity of future punishment, and that the language employed in relation to the Virgin Mary and the saints, is hardly less extravagant than that of Romanist formularies. Of course all the churches of the party do not exhibit all these features; there is a process of development, so that, as one of their ablest journals calculates, it takes about ten years for the complete transformation of a Protestant into a really Catholic Church, and possibly we may find individual men and churches in all the different stages of the process. But this is the distinctive character of the movement which is rapidly accepting all Romish doctrines as essential parts of the catholic faith. Perhaps, however, the most significant feature is the eagerness with which a large and increasing number are seeking corporate union with Rome, distinctly avowing that they will retain their present positions in order that they may aid in the accomplishment of this desired consummation, pledging themselves to each other to offer the Holy Sacrifice at certain intervals with this intention, and indulging the hope that within twenty years the great schism of the Western Church may be healed, and England again form a part of Catholic Christendom.