Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Liberal Anglicanism Emerges: Religion, Politics, and the Academy (Trollope's View in "Barchester Towers")
Here's an interesting description by the great novelist, Anthony Trollope, of the changing profile of the Anglican churchman (by name, in this case, Dr. Proudie) in chapter III of his wonderful novel, "Barchester Towers," the second of The Barsetshire Novels--and in specific the causes and effects of Anglican liberalization in early nineteenth-century England (when parallel, though not of course identical, liberalizations were occurring to Anglicanism in the United States--see, e.g., Virginia). I found especially interesting the admixture of religion, politics, and academics in the creation of this liberal Anglicanism:
Some few years since, even within the memory of many who are not yet willing to call themselves old, a liberal clergyman was a person not frequently to be met. Sydney Smith was such, and was looked on as little better than an infidel; a few others also might be named, but they were 'rarae aves,' and were regarded with doubt and distrust by their brethren. No man was so surely a tory as a country rector--nowhere were the powers that be so cherished as at Oxford.
When, however, Dr. Watley [MOD: the Irish social reformer] was made an archbishop, and Dr. Hampden some years after regius professor [MOD: Renn Hampden, who famously squabbled with John Henry Newman, and eventually became the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford], many wise divines saw that a change was taking place in men's minds, and that more liberal ideas would henceforward be suitable to the priests as well as to the laity. Clergymen would be heard of who ceased to anathematise papists on the one hand, or vilify dissenters on the other. It appeared clear that high church principles, as they were called, were no longer to be surest claims to promotion with at any rate one section of statesmen, and Dr. Proudie was one among those who early in life adapted himself to the views held by the whigs on most theological and religious subjects. He bore with the idolatry of Rome, tolerated even the infidelity of Socinianism, and was hand and glove with the Presbyterian synods of Scotland and Ulster.
Such a man at such time was found to be useful, and Dr. Proudie's name began to appear in the newspapers. He was made one of a commission who went over to Ireland to arrange matters preparative to the working of the national board; he became honorary secretary to another commission nominated to inquire into the revenues of cathedral chapters; and had something to do with both the regium donum and the Maynooth grant.
It must not on this account be taken as proved that Dr. Proudie was a man of great mental powers, or even of much capacity for business, for such qualities had not been required in him. In the arrangement of those church reforms with which he was connected, the ideas and original conception of the work to be done were generally furnished by the liberal statesmen of the day, and the labor of the details was borne by officials of lower rank. It was, however, thought expedient that the name of some clergyman should appear in such matters, and as Dr. Proudie had become known as a tolerating divine, great use of this sort was made of his name. If he did not do much active good, he never did any harm; he was amenable to those who were really in authority, and at the sittings of the various boards to which he belonged maintained a kind of dignity which had its value.