It is difficult to approach this issue without becoming too vague and general for the material before the historian is vast and not isolated within the boundaries of 1829 and 1859. On first glance the key issue appears to be what is Anglican Supremacy? It is in the definition of this term that one can assess the problems facing it and the manner in which the Anglican Church met them. The Anglican Church was the established Church which meant it was a state religion. But much more than this it was wished for by its clergy and the political classes which were largely Anglican. They wished it to be the state religion. If one puts this ideal in context one sees a Church which co-exists with other forms of Christian worship and with a very small Jewish community. From 1740 to 1830 one can see the Anglican Church failed to expand in pace with the change in population. Further it faced the competition of Methodism which grew from having around 20,000 followers in 1770 (when it was still part of the Anglican Church) to around 288,000 followers in 1831. Some of the older Dissent movements were less successful such as the Quakers and the Presbyterians (the former's membership in 1800 was half its late 17th century figure). Yet some of the Newer Dissenters were more successful. Further with more Irish Catholic settling in England and with the1800-1 Act of Union with Ireland the Catholic faith seemed once more to be becoming a danger. This helps one see that the Anglican Church was facing problems before 1829. Indeed by this stage it was not supreme in the sense that it dominated the religious lives of the entire population. Rather it was the Church which had the crucial political power with the representation of its Archbishops and Bishops in the House of Lords. Further it was the biggest Church in the land. So one can see it had two problems. First, it needed to increase its power and dominance as the Church of the land by expanding its membership. The second is linked to this. It needed to defend against the erosion of its position by various other churches and political policies of government.
The controversy over the political position of the Anglican Church was already in existence in 1829. 1828 had seen the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts which meant that dissenters were now freely able to enter public office (although this was not revolutionary as in the 18th century as many as 30 dissenter MPs had been in parliament). What this did do however was raise the issue of control over the Anglican Church and the institutional recognition of a plurality of faiths within the nation. 1829 saw this controversy grow and this threat magnify. This was over the Catholic Emancipation Bill. The already mentioned Act of Union with Ireland saw 5.5 million Catholics become part of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1831 England and Wales had a population of 14 million. This helps one understand the scale of the significance of the Irish Catholic population. The established Church of Ireland had only 1/8 of the churchgoing public attending. This was the equivalent of the Church of England. The reaction of the Anglican Church to the prospect of Catholic Emancipation was not unanimously one of opposition. Bishop Bathurst of Norwich desired it and in 1829 Dr. Thomas Arnold published a booklet entitled: The Christian Duty of conceding the Roman Catholic claims in which he argued God cannot be served by injustice. But most of the Anglican clergy feared two results. The first was the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Not only would this be a terrible precedent for the Church of England's future but it would also admit defeat in the battle for souls and principle. The second fear was the legislative insecurity of Anglicanism in Parliament as a result of the inclusion of both Catholics and dissenters. This was reflected by 19 Anglican bishops voting against the bill on its 2nd reading in the House of Lords, including such senior figures as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Bishops of London and Durham. They saw the Bill as overturning the constitutional settlement of 1688. In this one sees a direct immediate attempt to meet a challenge to the legal position of Anglican supremacy. As the State religion it had until 1828 indeed been the Supreme Church in terms of its political power. But 1829 marked an erosion of this position: the Bill was passed and the potential threat became an established parliamentary one.
A key principle of protection for the Anglican Church was the monarch's coronation pledge to uphold the rights and privileges of the Established Church. But because of the power of the Prime Minister to resign and the problem of forming an alternative administration the Catholic Emancipation Act marks a serious deterioration in the power of the monarch to veto legislation. In particular this undermines a key piece of protection for the Church of England. In return for this concession securities were provided for the Church. These included various restrictions on Catholics such as that no Roman Catholic may be Prime Minister and importantly electoral reform to restrict the franchise. But ultimately the fear or rebellion in Ireland in reaction to the exclusion of Catholic MPs was too great for the conservative Wellington government which was reluctantly forced into some form of reform. Furthermore the oath that Catholics were required to swear before becoming MPs although intended to prevent Catholics from voting on Church matters caused O'Connell to remark:
"Surely religion is not a thing of pounds, shillings and pence? … Will the Protestant Church be less of an established church if deprived of its temporalities?"
This reflected the reality that Irish Catholic MPs were willing to be flexible on their interpretation of the oath. Basically this meant that an attempt to maintain the freedom of Anglicanism from Catholicism was undermined and that the threat from within Parliament could not be simply legislated for. In this one can see a new threat to Anglican power but perhaps it is best reflected on not as a failure for Anglicanism in a specific sense. Rather it represents what was already a reality for many Christians. The reform act which quickly followed this also highlighted another serious problem for the Anglican church. In mainly opposing the bill as further undermining the constitutional settlement of 1688 the Bishops engendered great popular venom against their position. A crowd meeting at Regent's Port that was chaired by Joseph Hume received a placard stating:
"Englishmen- remember it was the bishops and the bishops only, whose votes decided the fate of the reform bill (shortly after the House of Lords rejected the bill by 41 votes and 21 bishops voted against the bill)".
The bishop's Palace at Bristol
was burnt and Bishop Philpotts of Exeter
was given the protection of the 7th Yeoman
. Here one can see the problems encountered by the Church as some of its members sought to halt change which they saw as damaging to the church. The result was that they faced unpopularity amongst the people who were supposed to make up their flock. On the third reading of the Bill not a single Bishop voted against it. One can see the power of public dissatisfaction and the influence it had on the leaders of the Anglican Church. This reveals an important dynamic. In that as a state religion Anglicanism needed to make important political decisions in a very charged public atmosphere. This was very unfortunate for the reputation of the church as it would be the moments that the church went contrary to popular opinion that would be remembered rather than when both agreed. Yet it like the example above shows the inexorable trend to a decrease in the relative power of Anglican influence.
From the passing of the reform bill to 1859 much controversy faced the Anglican Church: the passing of the Maynooth Bill (1845) by Peel, the schism in 1843 in Scotland which quickly saw setting up of the Free Church of Scotland (which at evening service had double the number of attendants than did the Established Church of Scotland), the rise in Roman Catholic population to 750,000 by 1851 (although they did not by any means all regularly attend mass) and the Gorham dispute over baptism. These events each in their way formed part of an unceasing set of threats and problems that faced the Anglican Church. This Church as already mentioned faced problems before the period this essay is assessing and in a sense the specific problems and issues that become controversial during this period are already developing and coming to the fore before hand. But most importantly one must consider the limitations on Anglican Supremacy before 1829 especially in terms of numerical followers as a proportion of the population as this fundamentally undermines the supremacy we are considering. The church was quite naturally forced into using its political power and influence in a defensive capacity as has been discussed above in relation to the early years of the period. The problem facing the Church was the gradual erosion of this power. I would argue that a specific case by case assessment although useful in terms of this essay does not show a fundamentally different form of threat from the ones outlined already. This mode of assessment misses is the importance of religious philosophy and doctrine in exemplifying the problems for Anglicanism. It is hoped that the following assessments of Newman and Thomas Arnold can highlight and reflect on the profound difficulties faced by Anglicans (and high-churchmen in particular in Newman's case) and the attempts to address them.
In a sense one is left to see the Anglican Church as undermined by its origins. Its 39 Articles and Prayer book had the 16th century origins and at this time the Church was designed as a compromise between what one might now call evangelical and High-Church ideas. This did leave much scope for interpretation on the issue of what Anglicanism should stand for and what ideals should be strived for. The Oxford Movement was a reaction to the problems facing the Anglican Church. With the Reform Act and the already mentioned freedoms provided for Catholics and Protestant Dissidents the Anglican Church faced a serious question as to where the origins of its religious outlook came from. One can see the Oxford Movement as being part of the attempt to separate the Church from the State in the sense that it sought to express and establish the fact that the Anglican Church had divine authority irrespective of state action. In others words that the authority of its clergy came not from society but from God alone. One can see here an attempt from some within the Anglican Church therefore to increase the authority of the Church by placing it on an unassailable pedestal. This outlook involved a historical view of Christian worship. Perhaps the most famous figure in the Oxford Movement who dealt with this was John Henry Newman (1801-1890). His attitudes and problems reveal much of the debate that was going on within the Anglican faith itself. He is particularly well known as well for his conversion in 1845 to Roman Catholicism. This helps show not only the divisions within Anglicanism but also how an attempt to revitalise it can also have adverse consequences for the faith so that it becomes a threat to the Anglican Church as well as an attempt to meet the threats facing the Church.
The ideas of Newman help reveal more intricately the complexities facing Anglicanism. He sought to build and defend the faith. Religion was not a science of evidence in his eyes; faith existed independently of reason. It was based on "antecedent considerations". He stated that:
"Clearness in argument certainly is not indispensable to reasoning well. Accuracy in stating doctrine or principles is not essential to feeling and acting on them".
This is a fascinating attempt to defend High Church Anglicanism. Newman here is arguing against two things. First other Christian
s who are more evangelical and use the bible as incontrovertible evidence for their beliefs. Secondly against agnostics or atheists who are unable to understand why one should follow a particular form of Christianity. One can see Newman attempting to explain what form of Christianity one should follow and why one should follow it. He is putting forward a crucially important rebuttal of charges laid against parts of the Anglican Church. When speaking of the attitude required for one to follow Christ
"An active, ready, candid, and docile mind, which can throw itself into what is said, neglect verbal difficulties, and pursue and carry out principles".
When considering this one would not be surprised to think back to his Calvinist
childhood when he believed in the doctrine of the elect. One can see this as his way of addressing the issue of how to believe. It requires one to strive to form a particular frame of mind. Now this is revealing about how Newman felt Anglicans should worship. His way of addressing political and numerical problems was to revitalise the spirit of the Anglican Church with a new understanding of its history and of ritualism. But the above it does not quite show the crucial aspect of his philosophy of dealing with the problems of the Anglican Church. Newman argued that:
"The religious mind sees much which is invisible to the irreligious. They have not the same evidence before them."
This is a very devious way of attempting to rebut critic
s. Basically his answer to the threats is that the people who hold contrary views to Tractarian
s and to a wider community did so because they were unable to see the truth. But this led to the key problem of considering why doctrines had changed over time. Newman went right to the central problem of conflicting messages and believed he had found the answer. This is revealed in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine in 1843. He devised three central ideas. In his own words these were first that:
"The increase and exposition of the Christian creed and ritual… are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the heart."
Secondly that because of "the nature of the human, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas. Finally that:
"The highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once and for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but as received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation".
These were very controversial ideas because of some of their possible consequences. What Newman effectively was doing was explaining that doctrine could change and that High Churchmen therefore were not as evangelicals might claim misrepresenting the gospel. This was a major rebuttal of criticism of not only the Anglican Church but in particular the Oxford Movement which placed much more emphasis on communion and adornment. Newman was providing the Anglican faith with a solid base, or so some thought. More significantly than this his views raise the vital question that vexed Anglicans and evangelicals alike. The issue of whom could have the authority to sanction a change in doctrine. Newman was impressed by the presence of Rome. He may have disliked aspects of it but he felt himself faced by a logical conclusion of his own arguments, something many other Anglicans had feared and suspected. If a doctrine was supposed to develop then it seemed reasonable to assume that God
had left an institution to put a seal on this. For Newman this meant Rome. Thus in 1845 he converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
This conversion was hugely controversial but this consequence had been predicted by many for from start of the Oxford Movement which had been seen as encouraging Roman Catholic practices. Newman and other reformers dislike of reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley led to them refusing to donate to an aisle which was to be added to St. Mary Magdalen church to commemorate their martyrdom (1838-9). Further Newman's Tract XC in which he argued that 14 of the 39 Articles could be legally seen not to be uncatholic and that Catholics could subscribe to them. The controversy that surrounded this was great. It caused horror and left Newman to simply state: "I am clean dished". Newman ceased writing his Tracts after this. What one can see from the controversy itself is that the Anglican Church, although divided over how to worship, would not simply edge closer to Catholicism because of the influence of certain leaders of the Oxford Movement. The result was great division within the ranks of the Tractarians (Oxford Movement) and to an important extent the loss of a key figure who was fighting for a revitalised church. Yet for all the controversy there had been basic changes which had been made possible by the Tractarians. There was a new generation of ritual controversies with no authority able to decide and implement a decision. The result depended on the Bishop's decision and his willingness to enforce it. So Bishop Blomfield of London (from 1842) was left to decide that clergymen must obey the rubrics of the Prayer Book explicitly whilst also making specific decisions such as allowing candles to be placed on the Holy Table. There was a new sense of the history of Anglicanism and of worship. But although the Oxford Movement may well have developed a new sense of spirituality within parts of the Church it did help divide and undermine it at the same. This dynamic is very compelling and leaves one wondering what the overall influence of this movement was on the Anglican Church. In attempting to meet the difficulties facing the church many of those who had genuinely sought to defend it did to an extent confirm the difficulty of the broad Anglican Church Another reaction to the state of faith and the Anglican faith can be seen in the attempts at reform in many of the public schools. The most famous of these reformers was Thomas Arnold (1795-1842). In December 1841 at his inaugural lecture at Oxford delivered by him as Regious Professor of Modern History he put forward the relationship he felt should exist between faith and the state. He said:
"There are certain principles, which the state wishes to inculcate on all its members… as far as this instruction is applied to the young, it goes under the name of education; as far as it regards the persons of all ages it generally takes the form of religion."
This posits the idea that state and religion should be synonymous. One might think this is a rather cynical view of the purpose of faith. This would be to misunderstand Thomas Arnold. His stated aim was "to form Christian men" (letter to John Tucker in 1827). He was a deeply and sincerely religious man. So when considering the issue in the public schools one must approach it with this in mind. The first thing to realise is that although public schools were not as successful as they might have the potential to have been they were not failing in a simple sense prior to the reformers. Arnold himself was happy at Winchester
and when he arrived as headmaster
in 1828 he was not faced by any great disciplinary problem. Rather he set out to change the fundamental basis of the schools by emphasising the Christian faith. He put forward his beliefs: "What we must look for… is, first, religious and moral principles; secondly, gentleman
ly conduct; thirdly, intellectual
ability". For him the key was faith
. His approach was not one forced by public appeal. It was a result of his faith. There was fortune involved, for example, that Rugby was a public school that had a chapel of which he was able to become chaplain in 1831. His policies did find success and as the public schools grew in size it was those which were influenced by him such as Harrow
under C.J. Vaughan that had the greatest growth. Harrow had 69 pupils in 1844 whilst by 1859 it had 466. There was a new public and in particular middle class confidence in public schools and in particular in their morality.
Arnold sought to meet the challenge to the Anglican Church by bringing up good Christian men. This may seem simplistic but it reveals an aspect of the souls of those in this period. An extremely intelligent man like Arnold was willing and indeed felt it imperative to use his skills to the advancement of the morality and faith of the nation. Arnold was not specifically aiming to meet the challenges to Anglicanism. Rather he was attempting to create a religious state whose members were morally good. The reformers of the public schools did not agree on specific issues of faith but they did aspire to a new degree of religiosity. Yet Thomas Arnold knew the battle he fought would be lost in a general sense. He emphasised "the wickedness of young boys" and understood the scale of his task. He may have had many successes. But by 1857 with the publishing of Tom Brown's Schooldays (by Thomas Hughes) a new emphasis came to begin to dominate which though influenced by him, he would not have approved. The idea of Godliness and Good Learning being all-important became more subordinated to an honest, manly ideal. This helps show the limitation of the attempt by Arnold (and those he influenced) to change the essence of the nation through education. He did indeed wish to make Anglicanism the faith of the state, supported by the state and worshipped by those who made up the state. The success and popularity that the public schools enjoyed in part as a result of this and many of its consequent reforms shows the variety of action possible that attempted to defend the Anglican faith.
The religious census of 1851 revealed the strength and success of Protestant dissent and was used by some such as those in the Liberation Society to indicate the failure of Anglicanism: "The Church of England as a state church, has totally failed… the success of the voluntary principle in religion has been as unequivocal as has been the failure of its opposite". What the figures reveal as discussed before reflects the failure of the Anglican Church to win a significant majority of the populations adherence. Yet they do not represent failure. They show a revitalised Christian faith succeed in growing in size. Rather than undermine the Church competition often only increased those who were Christian. The Anglican Church faced serious threats to its coherence as a Church as a result of the Oxford Movement. It also faced the threat from Parliament which had reduced Anglican power already. But the most important aspect to appreciate was the shift that was ongoing in politics. This was how to deal with an established church yet possess a form of democratic representation however limited in its format. This left the Anglican Church without the full support of the churchgoing public and the political power of Westminster. But it was still an Established Church. Thus Anglican supremacy was fundamentally limited in this period. But the challenges that the powerful Anglican Church faced were serious. Its attempts to deal with them could not prevent an overall decline in its position as it lost political power and failed to regain its truly dominant position with the churchgoing nation. Yet the attempts to meet them did result and help maintain a fascinating deeply spiritual faith that was moral and practical. If one were a High-Church Anglican one might well see success coming from the development of Tractarianism. But in a sense one is limited in this by favouring one specific area of development which might well be condemned depending on one's own religious views!