Gerard Tracey (ed.), The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Vol. 8: Tract 90 and the Jerusalem Bishopric: January 1841 to April 1842

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pg 579From: [C. T. Longley], A Charge delivered to Clergy of the Diocese of Ripon, at his Triennial Visitation, in July and August, 1841, by the Right Rev. Charles Thomas, Lord Bishop of Ripon.

'There is one more subject, my Rev. Brethren, on which so much discussion has recently arisen, that you may, I think, fairly expect some expression of opinion upon it before I close this address. I allude to the legitimate mode of interpreting our Articles. Now it will be most freely granted, that our Articles do leave some questions open, where the Word of God itself leaves them undecided; and I think that he does no good service to Religion or the Church, who labours to give a more stringent interpretation to their language, than the expressions will fairly warrant. Nay, farther, I would say that those who strive thus unnecessarily to limit the terms of communion, are the real schismatics, not those who may find themselves forced beyond the pale of the Church by restrictions unduly imposed. It is clear however, that there must be limits beyond which this forbearance cannot be carried; and I confess, that when I find it asserted, that "the Articles are to be received, not in the sense of the framers, but (as far as the wording will admit, or any ambiguity requires it) in the one Catholic sense1," the integrity of subscription appears to be endangered. In the case either of oath or subscription, the animus imponentis, by which I mean the sense of the framer, should surely be the index of the sense in which it is to be made or taken. There can be but one true and legitimate meaning to an Article, and that must be the meaning intended by the farmer. Nor should I myself feel justified in taking advantage of any ambiguity in the wording, and affixing what, according to my own notion, might be the Catholic sense to it, until I had found it impossible to ascertain what was the special sense originally designed by the authors: for, knowing the respect in which our Reformers held Catholic antiquity, I should believe that they were more likely to have correctly embodied that sense in it, than I as an individual should be, to discover that sense for myself.

To apply this principle to the interpretation of the twenty-second Article. The question is, whether in pronouncing against the Romish Doctrine of Purgatory, Invocation of Saints, &c., it was ever intended to condemn every doctrine on those subjects. The point first to be settled, is, what is meant by the term "Romish." Now it has been contended, that as the Article was penned before the decrees of the Council of Trent on these specific subjects were published, it could not have been directed against these decrees, and that in consequence, the Tridentine doctrine thereupon could not have been contemplated by its authors. This may be literally true; but it nevertheless does not appear to leave a correct impression as to the real bearing of the case. For if we proceed to enquire how we are to account for the substitution of the term "Romish Doctrine," for "the Doctrine of the School-authors," as it stood in the former copy2, we shall find, as Bishop Burrel tells us3, that when the Articles were first published, the body of the Roman Church had not avowedly espoused the errors which that Article was intended to condemn; so that in the first instance, some writers, anxious to soften matters, had thrown the blame of them on the School authors; but before the publication of our present Articles, the Decree and Canons concerning the Mass had passed at Trent, in which most of the heads of this Article are either affirmed or supposed; though the formal Decree concerning them was not passed till some months after these Articles were published. In looking therefore at the animus with which the Article was framed, it would seem that its authors, conceiving they had now sufficient evidence that the Church of Rome had authoritatively identified itself with errors, which, through Christian forbearance, had before been laid at the door of others, proceeded to condemn the doctrine of Purgatory &c. as thus far sanctioned by that Church. Wherefore we must, as I conclude, in subscription to the twenty-second Article, condemn the doctrine, that the sins committed after Baptism, even of those whose eternal punishment is remitted for the sake of Christ's merits, must be expiated, either by acts of penance in this life, or in a state of suffering and torment beyond the grave: this being, as far I can collect, what is meant by the Romish doctrine of Purgatory; but I can scarcely suppose that any one ever imagined himself precluded by this subscription, from holding any opinion respecting an intermediate state, in which, possibly, the spirits of just men may repose from their labours without suffering4, or indeed from pg 580entertaining any sentiment not included within the above definition of the Romish Purgatory. And so in like manner with the rest of the heads of the Article. Having ascertained what was the doctrine respecting the Invocation of Saints, to which the Church of Rome was held to be committed at the time the Article was penned, I should feel myself bound to subscribe in that sense, which I believe to be the legitimate and true one; and while I should never imagine that a mere figurative and poetical apostrophe to the departed, without any approach to prayer, was prohibited by it, (seeing that in Holy Scripture we meet with such apostrophes to angels and spirits, to the souls of the righteous, and even to inanimate objects1,) yet it surely can never do good service to the cause of that pure religion which has been committed to our keeping, to speak in such a way either of this or any kindred practice, as shall encourage its adoption. There may be refinements, and subtle distinctions discernible to highly cultivated minds, that are imperceptible to the less exercised intellect of the simple and unlearned: and practices which may have been occasionally and incidentally adopted by holy men of old, without apprehension of injury, because their great liability to corruption had never yet been witnessed, will surely be avoided by those, whom history and experience have since taught this important lesson.

I have thus briefly touched, my Rev. Brethren, upon a few topics, on which frankness and candour seemed to call for some expression of opinion; and in conclusion, I would merely add one word of affectionate caution, which I would wish to take home to my own bosom also. It may indeed be difficult to be earnest, and yet temperate, and to combine fervent zeal with Christian moderation; but if there ever was a period which required a strict control over the ebullitions of private feeling, a calm and dispassionate exercise of the soundest judgment, it is the present. If we had more of charity, my Brethren, we should have more of knowledge, and gain a readier and a deeper insight into divine truth: it is the want of this Christian grace which too often shuts the door against conviction, while prejudice and anger close the eyes, and stop the ears against the light of reason and the voice of truth. Be it our fixed purpose then, my Rev. Brethren, through God's assistance, while we earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the Saints, to speak what we believe to be the truth, in love, being gentle unto all men, and patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves. That the Almighty Disposer of all events will overrule the conflict of opinions for the ultimate benefit of his Church, it were impious to doubt or to deny; and we may already discern many ways in which it seems to be thus working for good: but it is for us to take heed that we do not allow an unsanctified zeal to hurry us into the turmoil of strife and contention, and cause us to make shipwreck of our charity, while we fancy we are but vindicating our faith. Let us in all we do, aim to conciliate, without the compromise of truth; let us be followers of peace, rather than of party, remembering that we have one common banner in the cross, one Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ, one common enemy in sin and Satan; let us, (as has been recently said2 in the spirit of a truly Christian moderation, by one of the most eminent among the writers, to whom I have before alluded) let us, whatever may be our differences of sentiment, "still seek one another as brethren, not lightly throwing aside our private opinions, which we seem to feel we have received above, from an ill-regulated, untrue desire of unity, but returning to each other in heart, and coming together to God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves." May it be our settled resolve to cultivate this heavenly temper in the spirit of watchfulness and prayer; and may the God of peace take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from Godly union and concord, that so we may henceforth be all of one heart and one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, through Jesus Christ our Lord.'


1 'See the Rev. Mr. Newman's Letter to Dr. Jelf, in explanation of No. 90 of the Tracts for the Times, p. 24, second edition.'

2 'See the twenty-third Article of K. Edward VI., in 1552.'

3 'See the first paragraph of his Exposition of the twenty-second Article.'

4 'That Bishop Jeremy Taylor did not conceive such an opinion to be inconsistent with subscription to this Article, or at variance with a condemnation of the Romish Purgatory, is manifest from the following passage from his "Dissuasive from Popery," vol. x.', . . . 'He evidently considered it an open question. I have merely adduced it as an illustration of such, without any way intending to give my own adhesion to it.'

1 'See the Song of the Three Children, and the 148th Psalm.'

2 'See Introduction to No. 90 of the Tracts for the Times.'

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