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THE GREAT THEOLOGIANS OF THE CHURCH OF
Ar no period of her history, at least since the days of the schoolmen, has the Church of this country produced any great number of formal and exact writers in Theology. In our number for January we pointed out that in the interpretation of Scripture, where we should have expected to find her specially to abound, the deficiency was most marked. In other branches of Theology a copious list of authors might indeed be enumerated, but of those who may sulted with implicit confidence the number is but few. We think therefore that we shall confer a benefit on our readers if we help them to discriminate between those who have attained a certain amount of popularity, and whose works are therefore often quoted and referred to, and those who have made theology a real study, and have written upon it with exactitude. And in order to show how ill-informed even educated Churchmen are as to the names of those to whom the Church is indebted for her theology, it may be stated that a series of Sermons was recently preached, under distinguished auspices, on “Masters in English Theology,” which really only contains the names of two individuals who have left any mark on our Theology. These are Hooker and Pearson; whereas of the other five three were mere theorists, and not altogether sound in the faith, (viz., Chillingworth, Whichcote, and Smith,) of Bishop Andrewes who is ever to be named with reverence, we have spoken in another place, and Jeremy Taylor should certainly be called the Preacher rather than the Theologian,—though his practical treatises of “Holy Living” and “Dying" form a treasure which will never lose its value. It is obvious to remark that Theological Treatises, like other literary productions, are generally prepared to meet a demand; there is generally something in the history of the times which calls them forth; they are in their origin creatures of the occasion ; each one has a certain date, (as was the case with the Creeds and Councils,) before which it could not well have appeared.
About the end of the fourteenth century the Church throughout the world had settled down upon her lees, and when what is called the Revival of learning took place, together with the discovery of printing in the middle of the next century, it was at first the introduction of an element distinctly adverse to religion, because the literature then brought to light consisted of the ancient Pagan writers of Greece and Rome. A general spirit of inquiry however speedily ensued, which ended in the outburst of the Reformation in the first half of the sixteenth century. This was of necessity a period of unsettlement, of throwing down rather than of building up; and the most that could be effected in this land was the translation of Holy Scripture into the vernacular, a somewhat hasty remodelling of the Public Offices of the Church in English, and the adoption of certain Articles, not of faith, but of religion, “ for the avoidance of diversities of opinions" among those who were commissioned to teach.
The publication of the XXXIX. Articles in the year 1562 may be regarded as a temporary expedient, and they can hardly be said to form an adequate basis of theological dogma. So much during the previous fifty years had been brought into question, that men required to know not only what they should believe, but also on what grounds of reason the whole Church system could be maintained and justified.
Now it will give the reader some idea of the magnitude of what is included under the term of Theology, when we say that it just took one hundred
years to elaborate and set forth this system in its completeness for the English Church, even when the Creeds and the four first Councils and the teaching of the great Catholic Fatbers who lived at those periods had been formally accepted. When we say this, of course, it is only another way of stating what has been already expressed, viz., that each one of those treatises was dependent for its publication (1) on a certain demand which the times seemed to make for it, and (2) on the favouring of certain external political circumstances without which the demand perhaps could not have been expressed, or the work produced.
The hundred years just spoken of was a period of complete unrest throughout England. The din of theological (not to say political) controversy was heard everywhere and all along the line. But on three several occasions it came as it were to a distinct head, and thus challenged the acumen of the Church's principal champions to set forth truth in such a way that it should never admit of being called in question again, by any who were able and willing to apprehend theological distinctions. And such a champion, under God's good providence, was on each occasion provided.
I. The primary matter of dispute which was raised up by the Reformation touched upon the constitution of the Church and the means by which her continuance was to be secured. This was a point on which there never had been any difference of opinion in Christendom till about the year 1548, when Calvin propounded his novel theories from Geneva, and succeeded, by correspondence and the employment of a great number of agents, in securing for them a very wide acceptance throughout Europe. These views went far to destroy all the established principles of Church Government, and in the place of Bishops and Priests, holding authority by direct derivation from Christ and His Apostles, set up a form of Government by Presbyters, chosen by the Civil Magistrates or by the congregation, and in conjunction with them they ministered a system of discipline of very great severity. The views of course were variously modified by different individuals and in different countries. Here in England the succession of Bishops had been mercifully preserved, and no departure attempted from the lines on which the Church had been constructed from the first. But at the same time not a few of the Bishops and Dignitaries, as well as of the leading Statesmen, had imbibed more or less of these new views, and there was considerable danger that they might prevail, so as ultimately to change the whole Constitution of the Church. The occasion was indeed worthy of an intellect of the very highest and most sanctified kind, and it was by the pen, not of a Prelate, but of a simple Presbyter, who received his education from the University of Oxford, that the truth was eventually vindicated. It was Richard Hooker who in the year 1594 put forth the first books of his world-famed “ Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” Dr. Bancroft preaching at S. Paul's a few years before, is commonly supposed to have been the first person who sounded the note of recall to sounder principles than what had recently prevailed. Saravia and others, and especially Bishop Bilson, about the same time enunciated what was the true theory of the Church's constitution and descent, but it was reserved for Hooker to go into the whole question with a depth and dispassionateness that has given to his work as much probably of immortality as is permitted for any production of the human intellect, when chastened by the Spirit of God. The foundation of his great work is laid in law, the law of God as existing in nature and in grace; and it is a foundation from which no power can possibly dislodge it. . On a few points which lie rather beyond the range of this primary idea Hooker speaks perhaps with somewhat of uncertainty, but on the great question which he was raised up to solve, he has written as persuasively and with as true philosophy and as exalted eloquence as probably were ever rouchsafed to an uninspired author.
This then was the first and most successful effort at providing, when it was so sorely needed, a vernacular Theology for England-a theology based, of course, on those great principles which had ever been held in the Church.
II. Pass we on now over fifty unquiet years, and we find ourselves in the midst of the Rebellion-an event to which ecclesiastical as well as political circumstances contributed materially. And now the controversy was widened so as to take in Roman? as well as Puritan opponents, and the question was not any longer as to the constitution of the Church by CHRIST as a perpetual ordinance, or the proper method of its government, but as to its province in determining what should be believed and accepted by the Christian. In other words, the controversy turned on what is now called “the Rule of Faith.”
And here it pleased God to raise up a great master-mind, occupying the highest place in the Church of England, who was able to take in the whole bearings of the case, who could comprehend the just limits of Church Authority, and who was fit therefore to judge of the validity or invalidity of the different doctrines and practices which were in dispute. This was William Laud, made Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1633. His controversy with the Jesuit Fisher is a mine from whence the student of English Theology may dig the most valuable ore, and find the whole difference between England and Rome carefully stated. But Laud did more than write and preach, (his own time was demanded to a great extent by the King in managing the affairs of the State, which perhaps he had better have left alone.) He made it his business to encourage sound learning in the universities and elsewhere to the utmost, and so he raised up a number of Divines, who carried on the torch of truth after his blood was shed upon the scaffold, and at the Restoration of the Church and Monarchy in 1660, were ready to fill the vacant Sees and Dignities, and to perpetuate his spirit.
Unfortunately, however, no one writer followed the example of Hooker in composing a distinct Theological Treatise concerning the subjects in dispute, and so the student has to wade through pages
1 In the year 1570 the Pope addressed a letter to all in this country who would obey him, calling on them to renounce communion with the English Church, and sent a body of schismatical clergy to carry on a rival system of worship.
polemical discussions in order to extract the principles for which he is in search. At the same time, when we look at the history of the period, one sees plainly that it could not be otherwise. An aggressive warfare was being carried on everywhere against Churchmen, and the first necessity therefore was that of self-defence. Repose was unknown: all were waiting "until this tyranny"-the tyranny of Puritanism and rebellion-"was overpast,” ere they could devote themselves to more systematic work; but to many that period unhappily never arrived. The evils grew from bad to worse till at length there came a reaction, which swept away the fanaticism and hypocrisy that had so long prevailed, but brought an age of unbridled licence, which was as difficult to deal with as the state of things which had existed before.
Amongst those, however, who were fighting the Church's battle against misbelief in these troublous times, three names may be singled out as having more thoroughly mastered the theological problems of the day than any others. These were Herbert Thorndike, who was made Prebendary of Westminster at the Restoration, and John Bramhall, who at the same time was appointed Archbishop of Armagh. Thorndike especially was a man of great learning and industry, but like all the writings of the times, his works were tinged with too much of what was personal and political. Moreover his style is anything but lucid, so he can hardly be recommended to the general reader. The third is Henry Hammond, a man of great piety and sweetness of disposition, who died just before the Restoration. He was the author of the “ Practical Catechism,” and other works, besides " Annotations on and a Paraphrase of the New Testament."
III. So this great crisis in the history of the English Church passed away without leaving any one work, in an accessible form, which has proved to be of permanent value. Nevertheless, seed was being sown that was destined in a short time to spring up into mature life, for now we have to commemorate the names of two of our greatest theologians who had been for some time maturing their strength, Bishop Pearson and Bishop Bull. The former is chiefly known as the author of an Exposition of the Creed, which is still recognised as the best authority on the subject. But he also did good service by his vindication of the Epistles of S. Ignatius, to the genuineness of which up to that time some suspicion had attached. S. Ignatius is the most important of the Apostolical Fathers (as they are called), and it so