Sunday, January 12, 2014


Interior of St. Margaret’s Church, Roath Parish, Cardiff, Wales, built 1870 (John Prichard, architect), early church associated with Oxford Movement

"The Tract produced an immense sensation, for it seemed to be a deadly and treacherous blow aimed at the very heart of the Church of England. Deadly it certainly was, but it was not so treacherous as it appeared at first sight. The members of the English Church had ingenuously imagined up to that moment that it was possible to contain, in a frame of words, the subtle essence of their complicated doctrinal system, involving the mysteries of the Eternal and the Infinite on the one hand, and the elaborate adjustments of temporal government on the other. They did not understand that verbal definitions in such a case will only perform their functions so long as there is no dispute about the matters which they are intended to define: that is to say, so long as there is no need for them.  

Interior of St. Stephen’s Mission Church, Tunbridge Wells, ca. 1870, showing “Romish” 18 candles on altar.

For generations this had been the case with the Thirty-nine Articles. Their drift was clear enough; and nobody bothered over their exact meaning. But directly someone found it important to give them a new and untraditional interpretation, it appeared that they were a mass of ambiguity, and might be twisted into meaning very nearly anything that anybody liked. Steady-going churchmen were appalled and outraged when they saw Newman, in Tract No. 90, performing this operation. But, after all, he was only taking the Church of England at its word. And indeed, since Newman showed the way, the operation has become so exceedingly common that the most steady-going churchman hardly raises an eyebrow at it now."

John Henry Newman

Note:  I'm posting this excerpt from the “Cardinal Manning” chapter of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians because I think it gives an excellent picture of Strachey’s writing style, powers of description and his subtle humor, all on display while he tackles an important, if now somewhat obscure, subject for most contemporary readers, i.e., the nature of faith, its superstructure and infrastructure.  I am sorry to cut Strachey off here (the immediately succeeding paragraphs develop the story, taking it in dramatic, surprising directions), and also to divide his single long paragraph into two sections.  But this is a blog and consequently requires the incorporation of relevant visual material to hold the reader’s interest.  I thought this was a good Sunday subject and hope some of you will agree and perhaps be motivated to read Strachey’s “Cardinal Manning.”

Notecard written by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., concerning the Oxford Movement 

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