Friday, 22 March 2013

Church History (full-time) 11.3: Preparing for the third millennium

Some faces of the Church in the 20th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 22 March 2013:

11.30 a.m., The Hartin Room

Preparing for the third millennium.


It is said more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. It is impossible to disentangle Church history from secular, social, political and artistic history. For Christians, the major themes running through the 20th century include:

● Two World Wars that pitted nominally Christian nations against each other.
● The Holocaust, and Christian responses to anti-Semitism.
● The emergence of the charismatic movement within the churches and in separate denominations.
● The unfolding of the ecumenical movement.
● The revision of the liturgy, particularly in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches
. ● The expansion of mission work throughout the world and the spread of Christianity in non-Western regions.
● New Bible translations: in English this included the NRSV, the NEB and the NIV, in French the Jerusalem Bible; in other languages, the Bible was translated into the languages of 95% of humanity.
● The accelerating secularisation of Western society, which began in the 19th century.
● The rise of Communism, Fascism and Nazism in Europe.
● The role of the Church in challenging racism in North America and South Africa.
● The development of Liberation Theology, especially in Latin America.
● Hearing the voice of women in the Church, through the ordination of women and the development of feminist theology and women’s reading of the Bible.

World War I and its consequences:

Karl Barth … post-World War I response to defeated optimism

World War I (1914-1918) began as a war between what were seen as Christian monarchies.

The war shattered the belief that humanity was evolving towards a socially better society. As the war came to a close, the challenges it posed to faith and our theological thinking were taken up by many theologians, most noticeably the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), who published his Commentary on Romans in 1918.

Neo-orthodoxy is often used as a label to describe the theology of crisis or dialectical theology that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in reaction to 19th century liberal theology and as a re-evaluation of the teachings of the Reformation. Although Barth was uneasy with the term, it is primarily associated with Barth, Emil Brunner (1899–1966), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and others who drew on the approaches of earlier theologians such as Søren Kierkegaard.

Pentecostalism, ‘Fundamentalism’ and Evangelicalism:

Billy Graham, rose to prominence is the 1940s … what do we mean by ‘fundamentalism’?

The Pentecostal revival movement at the beginning of the 20th century began out of a passion for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In 1902, two American evangelists, Reuben Archer Torrey and Charles M. Alexander, conducted meetings in Australia, resulting in more than 8,000 conversions. Torrey and Alexander were involved in the beginnings of the great Welsh revival (1904).

News of this revival travelled fast, and in 1906, the modern Pentecostal Movement was born at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. From there, Pentecostalism spread around the world.

The publication in 1909 of Scofield’s Bible, annotated by Cyprus Scofield (1843-1921), was a stimulus to millenarianism, dispensationalism and what has become known, perhaps dismissively, as “fundamentalism.”

The movement takes its name from The Fundamentals, a collection of five books first published in 1910. These depend on believing in:

● The divine inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture;
● The Virgin birth of Christ;
● Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin;
● The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
● The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

How we use the term ‘fundamentalism’ in later generations often reflected where we stood ourselves. What is the difference between conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism? Where do you place Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell? What about evangelicals on the social left, such as Jim Wallis and Sojourners?

The rise of Communism:

The demolition of the Church of the Annunciation in Leningrad in 1929

Initially, the Russian Revolution appeared to bring hope to the Russian Orthodox Church. From the 18th century, the Russian Church had been run by the Most Holy Synod, which was made up of bishops and lay bureaucrats appointed by the tsar.

With the Russian Civil War, an independent Patriarchate of Moscow was re-established briefly in 1917. But after the October Revolution, there was no place for the Church in Lenin’s classless society. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed. Among the martyrs revered in the Russian Church is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna who was a nun.

In the decades that followed, many of the bishops and priests were jailed or killed, churches were confiscated or demolished, leading Church thinkers went into exile, and atheism was promoted by the state, although most forms of organised religions were never outlawed. As a consequence, the Church was transformed into a persecuted and martyred Church.

During the Mexican Revolution between 1926 and 1934, over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Roman Catholic Church came close to being identified with Franco’s anti-democratic putsch, and in 1937, in Divini Redemptoris Pius XI identified Communism as the main adversary of the Roman Catholic Church, blaming Western powers and media for a conspiracy of silence on the persecutions carried out by Communist, Socialist and Fascist forces.

The rise of the Nazis:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer … a leading light in the resistance to the Nazis

The relationship between Nazism and Protestantism, especially the German Lutheran Church, was complex. Though the majority of Protestant Church leaders in Germany supported the Nazis and their anti-Jewish activities, some such were strongly opposed to the Nazis.

As early as 1934, the Barmen Declaration issued by the Confessing Church opposed the Nazi-supported “German Christians” and their anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism. More specifically, the Barmen Declaration rejects the subordination of the Church to the state and the subordination of the Word and Spirit to the Church.

Karl Barth, who was the principal author the Barmen Declaration, later returned to Switzerland as an exile. Perhaps the best-known opponent of Nazism to continue living in German was the Lutheran pastor and theologian as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), author of The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison.

In the encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI warned Roman Catholics that anti-semitism is incompatible with Christianity. The encyclical, which was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on Passion Sunday, 14 March 1937, included a veiled attack on Hitler, criticised the elevation of one race above others, condemned pantheistic confusion, neo-paganism, “the so-called myth of race and blood,” and statolatry.

During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazi persecution of Jews and of the Church extended through the Netherlands and Poland across many parts of Europe. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests, and many more were sent to concentration camps. In Dachau alone, the Priester-Block or priests’ barracks held 2,600 Roman Catholic priests.

Bonhoeffer was later found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and was executed in 1945.

The Post-War Church:

Archbishop William Temple … advocated the Welfare State

Many Roman Catholic lay people and clergy helped to shelter Jews during the Holocaust. But after World War II, many historians accused the Church of encouraging centuries of anti-Semitism, and accused Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities, although others contested these criticisms and spoke highly of Pope Pius’s efforts to protect Jews.

The Nobel prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel raised major questions for both Jews and Christians that challenged post-Holocaust thinking. In many ways, this challenge was taken up by theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann.

The conscience of Christians responded to post-war sufferings in Europe in ways such as the formation of aid agencies like Oxfam, founded by Oxford academics and Quakers, and Christian Aid. Later in the 1960s, similar responses to famine and poverty in Africa would give birth to agencies such as Concern in Ireland and Cafod in England.

Decolonisation in Africa and Asia saw the emergence of Autonomous churches in the former colonies.

The post-war Church also saw new approaches to Biblical studies, stimulated in part by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and the unfolding of the modern ecumenical movement.

In many European countries, the welfare state is a response to the war-time and post-war demands of the Churches, articulated in Britain particularly by Archbishop William Temple and in Continental Europe to the demands of the Churches and of both Christian Democrat and Social Democrat politicians.

The Ecumenical Movement:

Bishop George Bell … a foundational figure for the World Council of Churches

The modern ecumenical movement traces its foundations to the International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, which set the goal of “the evangelisation of the world in this generation.”

The Edinburgh conference gave rise to a number of movements that came together when the second conference of the Life and Work Movement in Oxford, and the second World Conference on Faith and Order in Edinburgh, both in 1937, approved the proposal for a World Council of Churches.

This ecumenical ideal faded with World War II, but the hopes for a World Council of Churches were kept alive by theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany and Bishop George Bell in England.

The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948. At the same time, united and uniting churches were being formed in Canada (1925), South India (1947), and later in North India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (1970), and Australia (1977).

Ecumenism also found expression in the monastic movements, with the formation of the Taizé Community by a Swiss Reformed pastor, Brother Roger Schütz, in 1944, and later with increased co-operation between monastic traditions such as the Benedictines and Franciscans.

The post-war Roman Catholic Church and Vatican II:

Pope John XXIII … called Vatican II in 1962

The Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was proclaimed in 1950, and half way through the 20th century it may have appeared that the Roman Catholic Church was going to continue in a conservative mode, remaining isolated from the other Christian traditions and the developments in the ecumenical movement.

However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) accelerated the pace of the ecumenical movement. Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII with the task of making the historical teachings of the Church clear to a modern world. Its debates and documents discussed the nature of the Church, the mission of the laity, religious freedom and liturgical revisions most noticeable in the introduction of local languages.

Vatican II reaffirmed papal primacy and infallibility, but it also developed a conciliar view of the Church. This collegiality holds that bishops are not to be seen as “vicars of the Roman Pontiff,” but in their local churches they are “vicars and legates of Christ,” and together they form a body, a “college,” whose head is the Pope.

Vatican II also made Christian unity a priority for Roman Catholics. In addition to finding common ground with Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church became open to reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a joint expression of regret for the events that had led to the Great Schism and lifted the mutual excommunications dating from the 11th century.

Pope Paul VI also met Archbishop Michael Ramsey in the Vatican, and since then there have been meetings between every Pope and every Archbishop of Canterbury.

Vatican II also gave a new stimulus to the Liturgical Movement, which had been developing among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants. But for some Roman Catholics, Vatican II went either too far or not far enough. Hans Küng and Charles Curran had their authorisation to teach theology on behalf of the Church withdrawn, while others clung tenaciously to the old Tridentine Mass and rites, taking hope in 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the old Mass as an option.

Latin America and Liberation Theology:

Archbishop Óscar Romero … murdered in San Salvador while he was saying Mass in 1980

This week’s installation of Pope Francis I, who was born in Argentina, has reminded us all that Latin America historically was predominantly Roman Catholic.

In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez became its primary proponent,[ and in 1979 the bishops’ conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” Archbishop Óscar Romero became Latin America’s most famous contemporary martyr when he was murdered in San Salvador by government troops on 24 March 1980 while saying Mass.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) denounced Liberation Theology. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. While Pope John Paul II was criticised for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics.

The movement is still alive in Latin America, although the Roman Catholic Church there now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region. In recent decades, Latin America has also experienced a large Pentecostal revival and growth. For example, Brazil, which is Latin America’s largest country, is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world but is also largest Evangelical country in the world.

Social and sexuality issues:

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King … murdered in 1968

Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, 40 years after Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Leo XIII addressed the conditions of the working class in industrial society, while Pius XI concentrated on the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He called for the reconstruction of the social order, but warned against both unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism.

The social teachings of Pope Pius XII repeated these teachings and applied them in greater detail not only to workers and owners of capital. Going beyond Pius XI, he also defined social teachings in the areas of medicine, psychology, sport, television, science, law and education.

The Church faced new challenging issues with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) reaffirmed traditional Roman Catholic teachings on marriage, marital relations and contraception, affirming the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and condemning abortion and euthanasia.

That same year, the Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (1968), just as the civil rights movement was coming to a climax in the US, where the churches, and especially the black churches, helped to empower the movement for black voting rights and black civil rights.

It took more than another two decades to end apartheid in South Africa, where the leading figures in the struggle against racism included church leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, John de Gruchy and Beyers Naudé. Drawing on the principles first expressed in the Barmen Declaration, many South African theologians proclaimed apartheid a “confessing” issue for the Church and declared apartheid is a heresy.

The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe:

Pope John Paul II meets Lech Walesa

By 1957, about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches were active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated a campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, forcing about 12,000 churches to close. By 1985, there were fewer than 7,000 active churches.

However, in Poland the election of Pope John Paul II helped to stimulate a movement that grew with the Gdansk shipyard strike and the rise of Solidarity. The Churches in East Germany were active in weekly protests, especially in Leipzig and through the ‘Swords into Ploughshares’ movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Russian Church was assured of a new freedom when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Later, many parts of China became more tolerant of religious expressions, so that today it is said there are more Church members in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Feminist theology and the ordination of women:

The ordination of women priests in Philadelphia in 1974

The ordination of women predates the emergence of feminist theology in the 20th century.

The first three women priests ordained in the Anglican Communion were in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao: Li Tim-Oi in 1944 and Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett in 1971. In 1974, three Episcopal Church bishops in the US ordained 11 women as priests in an “irregular” ceremony and their ordinations were approved eventually in 1976. The first Anglican woman to be ordained a bishop was Barbara Harris (1989).

Pope John Paul II issue two documents reaffirming Roman Catholic teaching on women’s ordination: Mulieris Dignitatem (1988) and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994).

Post-Vatican II ecumenism:

Patriarch Bartholomew I with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in 1995

Although there has been progress in seeking to reconcile the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches., concerns over papal primacy and the independence of the smaller Orthodox churches has blocked any hopes of a resolution. Some of the most difficult questions that remain in areas including: doctrine, (for example the Filioque clause), understandings of Scholasticism, asceticism and Hesychasm, the legacy of the Crusades and the Latin Empire, and the Uniate churches.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was elected as the 273rd Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in October 1991, visited the Vatican for the first time in June 1995, and took part in the inter-religious day of prayer for peace at Assisi. Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I explicitly stated their mutual “desire to relegate the excommunications of the past to oblivion and to set out on the way to re-establishing full communion.”

The future

Pope Francis I welcomes Patriarch Bartholomew I at his installation this week

We have seen the installation of a new Pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury this week.

In May 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Romania, becoming the first pope since the Great Schism to visit an Eastern Orthodox country. Greeting Pope John Paul II, the Romanian Patriarch Teoctist said: “The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity.”

But what does the new millennium promise the Church and the churches?

In Europe, there has been a general move away from religious observance and belief in Christianity and towards secularism. The secularisation of society, attributed to the Enlightenment and the thinking that followed, is largely responsible for the spread of secularism. For example, the Gallup International Millennium Survey showed that only about one sixth of Europeans attend regular religious services, less than half gave God “high importance,” and only about 40% believe in a “personal God.”

Nevertheless the large majority considered that they “belong” to a religious denomination.

It may be too early to tell, but statistics appear, at the moment, to show that the “de-Christianisation” of Europe has slowly begun to swing in the opposite direction. There is renewal in some quarters of the Anglican churches, and among the Protestant churches in Continental Europe. But is this enough to signal an initial step towards the reversal of the secularisation of Europe?

In North America, South America and Australia, the other three continents where Christianity is the dominant professed religion, religious observance is much higher than in Europe.

Throughout this module, we have been asking ourselves whether history shapes us or we shape history. History helps us to understand how we became who we are today as we face the future.

And so, at the end of this module it is appropriate to ask: What is the future for the Church?


Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 22 March 2013 was the final lecture in the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History (full-time) 11.2: Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries

Looking down the Liffey towards Liberty Hall … would the key players in the events 100 years ago recognise the Ireland of today? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 22 March 2013:

10.30 a.m., The Hartin Room

11.2, Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries.


Last year, we began a decade of anniversaries, and we are now into a roll-over series of commemorations of events a centenary ago, recalling the tumultuous events between 1912 and 1922 that shaped not only Irish identity but also shaped the map of Europe.

It is the decade that was marked by the demise of Chinese imperial dynasties, World War I, the Armenian Genocide, the Gallipoli landings, the Battle of the Somme, the Russian Revolution, the Balfour Declaration, the defeat of Germany, the fall of the Hapsburgs, the creation of the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union, the first non-stop transatlantic flight, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the winning of women’s voting rights, and the rise of Communism and Fascism.

But it was the decade too that brought us the modern zipper, stainless steel, and the pop-up toaster. It was a decade that saw the publication of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the first US feature film, the debut of Charlie Chaplin, the publication of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Women in Love and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

For Irish people, this was the decade that saw the death of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, who was born into a Dublin Church of Ireland family. It was a decade that saw the publication of James Joyce’s Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, and of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. And it was a decade too that was marked by the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

‘The centre cannot hold’

The Rotunda in Dublin … a venue for many of the political meetings and heated debates on all sides in the decade between 1912 and 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The world was so changed and transformed WB Yeats could open his poem The Second Coming with these lines about Europe in the aftermath of World War I:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Dublin Castle … the seat of Government until 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Towards the end of that decade, the Church of Ireland was living with the consequences of a half century of disestablishment. But the Church was more concerned with social political upheaval on this island, and the way we were tearing ourselves apart as a people. Irish identity was changed violently over that ten-year period, so that the lines by Yeats about the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 could be applied to the whole island and the whole population:

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Charles Stewart Parnell, founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party, influenced a later generation of nationalists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It was a decade that saw the reconstruction of Irish identity through the creation of myths that by-passed the facts, even as the main actors in those myths were still alive.

Language and identity

The Abbey Theatre contributed to the cultural expressions of Irish nationalism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is forgotten that modern Irish nationalism had its incubation and gestation in the revival of the Irish language – a revival in which the main players included Dr Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, and Dr Eleanor Hull in hymns such as Be thou my vision (643).

Sean O’Casey, the playwright of the left, was born into the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The artistic expressions of the new nationalism were found in the Abbey Theatre, founded by Lady Gregory, WB Yeats and George Russell (AE), the poetry of Yeats and the plays of Sean O’Casey – all members of the Church of Ireland.

Since 1916, the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin have been transformed into either working class heroes or the personifications of what it is to be Green, Gaelic, Catholic and Irish. But the myths that have been created by those who have a blinkered vision of what it is to be Irish betray the truths of history.

The Garden of Remembrance treats the 1916 leaders as martyrs … but their backgrounds were diverse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Who remembers today that Pádraig Pearse was born Patrick Henry Pearse, the son of a Birmingham Unitarian who had come to Dublin from England as part of the Victorian arts-and-crafts movement?

There are other myths surrounding Pádraig Pearse, including one that he was “President of the Provisional Government,” a post that may have been held instead by Thomas Clarke. There is no manuscript version of the 1916 Proclamation, but on all printed versions, the leaders’ names are not printed in alphabetical order, so that Pádraig Pearse’s name is listed fourth, after Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada and Thomas MacDonagh.

Ironically, Thomas Clarke was not born in Ireland but in an army barracks on the Isle of Wight in England, where his father was a soldier in the British army.

Thomas MacDonagh had a middle class education in Rockwell College, Co Tipperary, and was a lecturer in English in UCD. In 1912, he married Muriel Gifford, a member of a well-known Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Éamonn Ceannt, an accountant, was born Edward Thomas Kent, the son of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

James Connolly was born in Scotland and married a member of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, and spoke with a Scottish accent all his life. After joining the British Army at the age of 14, he spent seven years with the army in Ireland. In 1890, he married Lillie Reynolds, a member of the Church of Ireland, who was born in Co Wicklow.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was the son of Count George Noble Plunkett, and his distant cousin, Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, was a prominent lay member of the Church of Ireland and a Home Rule MP. The poet was born into a privileged family in Fitzwilliam Street, then an affluent suburb of Dublin, and was educated by the Jesuits at Belvedere and Stonyhurst, a Jesuit-run public school in Lancashire. Hours before his execution, he married Grace Gifford, who, like her sister Muriel MacDonagh, had been born into a prosperous Dublin Church of Ireland family.

In other words, two of the seven signatories were not born in Ireland, one was the son of an Englishman, one had served in the British army, one was the son of an RIC officer, one was born in a British army barracks, one was a titled aristocrat who went to an English public school, and at least three married women who were born into the Church of Ireland.

The General Post Office in Dublin … but the Easter Rising is not the only important anniversary to remember (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These backgrounds were similar to those of many prominent figures on the Republican side in 1916. For example, Liam Mellows, later executed in 1922 at the height of the Civil War, was born William Joseph Mellows in an army barracks in Manchester, and his father was born in a British army barracks in India.

It should be remembered too in the coming years that while the 1916 Rising was being planned, Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin still favoured establishing a form of dual monarchy linking Ireland and Britain, similar to the dual monarchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that Sinn Féin did not take part in the 1916 Rising.

Voices for the oppressed

Dr Kathleen Lynn took command of the rebel position in City Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Many of the women who took prominent roles in the Rising were members of the Church of Ireland: Countess Markievicz, the suffragette and a leader of the Irish Citizens’ Army, was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in Buckingham Gate, London, the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, Co Sligo. She and her younger sister, Eva Gore-Booth, were childhood friends of Yeats, who frequently visited their home and described them in one poem as “two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”

Dr Kathleen Lynn, a founding member of the Irish Citizen’s Army too, took command of the rebel garrison in City Hall in Easter Week 1916. She remained a pious member of the Church of Ireland until her death in 1955.

Jim Larkin … “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Alongside James Connolly, Jim Larkin Countess Markievicz and Kathleen Lynn, the founding members of the Irish Citizens’ Army in 1913, included Captain Jack White, a Presbyterian from Broughshane, Co Antrim, and the son of Sir George Stuart White.

Much of O’Connell Street, Dublin, was destroyed during the 1916 Rising (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Indeed, the first informal meeting to form the Irish Citizens’ Army was held in Trinity College Dublin in the rooms of the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn. He was a communicant at Saint Bartholomew’s until his death in 1962, and is buried in Whitechurch Churchyard in Co Dublin. One of his brothers, Brian Gwynn, was the father-in-law of the late Archbishop George Simms. Through their mother, the Gwynns were grandsons of William Smith O’Brien, the exiled 1848 revolutionary whose statue in O’Connell Street is close to the GPO and the statue of Jim Larkin.

The house in Rathgar where George Russell (AE) was living in 1913 during the Dublin lockout (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In a letter of protest during the Dublin lockout, George Russell (AE) accused the employers of “refusing to consider any solution except that fixed by their pride” and he accused them of seeking “in cold anger to starve one-third of this city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the suffering of their wives and the hunger of their children.”

Howth Harbour ... the Howth gunrunning must have appeared almost like a Church of Ireland parish vestry meeting! (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

A year after the Dublin lockout, members of the Church of Ireland were among the most prominent organisers of the Howth gun-running. Erskine Childers, a cousin of the Bartons of Glendalough House, sailed into Howth on the Asgard and landed 2,500 guns.

The organisers included his wife Molly Childers, Sir Roger Casement, Alice Stopford Green and Mary Spring Rice – all Church of Ireland parishioners, as were many of those waiting for them on the pier, including Countess Markievicz, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis.

Edward Conor Marshal O’Brien (1880-1952), skipper of the Kelpie, one of the yachts involved in the gunrunnings , was a member of the Church of Ireland from Limerick and his first cousin, Brian Gwynn, was the father of the late Mercy Simms, wife of Archbishop George Otto Simms.

Kilcoole, Co Wicklow ... the gunrunning organised by Sir Thomas Myles is often forgotten in the shadows of the Howth gunrunning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The accounts of the Howth gunrunning seem to overshadow the equally dramatic Kilcoole gunrunning in Co Wicklow, which was organised by the skipper of the Chotah and the King’s Surgeon in Ireland, Sir Thomas Myles (1857-1937), who was baptised in Saint Michael’s Church of Ireland parish church in Limerick City.

Sir Thomas Myles ... knighted by Edward VII

Nor can we dismiss Myles as a marginal member of the Church of Ireland: his father-in-law, the Revd George Ayres (1825-1881), was a Church of England clergyman; and his youngest brother was the Very Revd Edward Albert Myles (1865-1951), Dean of Dromore. Sir Thomas Myles was knighted at King Edward VII’s coronation while he was President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

After the Kilcoole gunrunning, when World War I began, he became an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was later appointed one of the honorary surgeons to the King in Ireland.

Written in or written out?

The War Memorial Park in Islandbridge, Dublin, recalls the Irish dead of two world wars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The myths that have accumulated over the past century have written members of the Church of Ireland, their consciences and their role out of the shared history of this island.

In these coming years, we must remember that more Irish soldiers – Catholic and Protestant – died at the Gallipoli landings in 1915 or at the Somme in 1916 than died in the Easter Rising.

Five Irish Home Rule MPs fought in the British Army in World War I: Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde, Stephen Gwynn, Willie Redmond, William Redmond and DD Sheehan.

Nor should we forget that more than 400,000 people on this island, including five bishops of the Church of Ireland, signed the Ulster Covenant, and in doing so were led by Sir Edward Carson, who was born in Harcourt Street, Dublin.

A divided family

A family divided ... Colonel Thomas Comerford on his wedding day; and his sister Marie Comerford

Many families in this part of the island – both Protestant and Roman Catholic – were totally divided when it came to loyalties at this time. Colonel Thomas James Comerford (1894-1959), who was raised in Co Wexford and Co Waterford, came from an interesting background. His grandfather, Colonel Thomas Esmonde (1831-1872), was decorated with the VC for his part in the Battle of Sebastopol in the Crimean War, his mother was three times tennis champion of Ireland, and his cousin, Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde, was one of those five Irish MPs who fought in the British Army in World War I. Thomas Comerford served in World War I, initially with the Royal Irish Regiment and later with the Royal Irish Rifles. He fought at Gallipoli in 1915, where he was wounded, and was at home in Dublin on sick leave in 1916 when the Easter Rising broke out.

The family story says he was taken out of Dublin immediately so he would not be compromised by the curious activities of his sister. He was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, and went on to spend 25 years in India, where he was married in Bombay in 1921 and where he was active in World War II, organising supplies for the Chindits.

His sister, the journalist and writer Mary (‘Máire’) Eva Comerford (1893-1982), was also raised in Co Wexford and in Co Waterford. She became involved in politics initially as a Redmondite Home Ruler activist in Wexford Town, but later became a life-long Republican activist, and took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin. Little wonder that her brother had to be moved out of the city.

The Four Courts … burned in the clashes of the Civil War in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Archbishop JAF Gregg of Dublin said in a sermon in December 1921, the month the Treaty was signed:

It concerns us all to offer the Irish Free State our loyalty. I believe there is a genuine desire on the part of those who have long differed from us politically to welcome our co-operation. We should be wrong politically and religiously to reject such advances.

Archbishop Gregg and Eamon de Valera together in the 1930s.

In 1922, after many Protestants were forced to leave their homes because of threats and some had been murdered in Co Cork, a delegation of southern members of the General Synod met Michael Collins and WT Cosgrave, and asked whether the government of the new Free State was “desirous of retaining” the Protestant community. The new government readily gave the assurances sought.

WB Yeats ... We are no petty people

A few years later, when the Irish Free State was poised to outlaw divorce, the poet WB Yeats delivered a famous speech in the new Senate of the Irish Free State on 11 June:

I think it is tragic that within three years of this country gaining its independence we should be discussing a measure which a minority of this nation considers to be grossly oppressive. I am proud to consider myself a typical man of that minority. We against whom you have done this thing, are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence. Yet I do not altogether regret what has happened. I shall be able to find out, if not I, my children will be able to find out whether we have lost our stamina or not. You have defined our position and have given us a popular following. If we have not lost our stamina then your victory will be brief, and your defeat final, and when it comes this nation may be transformed.

The Mansion House in Dublin, where the First Dáil held most of its meetings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘No petty people’

Over these ten years, it is important that one single event should not dominate all the other centenaries and the memory of what has made the Ireland we know today. We should remember the Ulster Covenant, the lockouts, Gallipoli, the Somme, the men who rallied to Redmond’s call, and the poetry of Tom Kettle. Nor should we forget the diversity of contributions made by members of the Church of Ireland in those ten years.

For in the words of Yeats, we “are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence.”

The Luas in Abbey Street … have we moved on in shaping a modern Irish identity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 22 March 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

Church History (full-time) 11.1: From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism, rethinking and reshaping Christianity

A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids, William Holman Hunt, 1850 … our understandings of the Bible, the Church, mission, church architecture and church history were reshaped in the 19th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 22 March 2013:

9.30 a.m., The Hartin Room

This morning:

11.1, From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism: rethinking and reshaping Christianity.

11.2, Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries.

11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

11.1, From Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism: rethinking and reshaping Christianity.


The 19th century is sometimes called the “Protestant Century.” It was a century that saw new missions being established across the world; the formation of new societies, including mission societies (CMS, 1799; CMS Ireland, 1814), the Bible Society (1804), the Mothers’ Union (1876), Sunday Schools and so on; the meeting of the first Lambeth Conference (1867), which served to identify the Anglican Communion as a cohesive and visible communion.

It was the century of a new thinking and challenges for Roman Catholics too, from Catholic Emancipation in Britain Ireland, to the collapse of the Papal States, the calling of the first Vatican Council, and the declaration of Papal Infallibility (1870).

But it was also the century that saw the beginning of new post-Protestant, post-Christian groups in the US, such as the Mormons (1820s-1840s), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1870s), and Christian Science (1879).

And it was a century when Christianity was challenged by new thinking, new philosophies and new politics, including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, the development of psychoanalysis and Freud’s psychology.

It was the century of steam travel for both trains and shipping, the century European powers engaged in the scramble for Africa, opening new colonies and finding new resources, and it was the century of Alfred Nobel’s invention of modern dynamite.

It was the century of exploration, colonial expansion and the consolidation of the modern European nation state, from the United Kingdom in 1801, to the declaration of Greek independence, the unification of Italy (1861) and the unification of modern Germany (1871).

We were seeing the world in a different way, we were moving around it in a different way, we were exploiting it in a different way, and we were thinking about it and talking about it and shaping in a different way. And we were thinking and talking about Christianity and shaping it in a different way.

The reshaping of Christianity was expressed in art, architecture, hymn-writing, Biblical criticism, and poetry.

There were new attitudes to the role of religion in society, and a new openness to questioning long-accepted understandings of Christianity. There were new attitudes to the authority of Scripture, ushered in both by new philosophical thinking that led to changes in approaches to theology and to the development of Biblical criticism. There was new thinking too on slavery, racism, women and war.

From the Enlightenment to Biblical Criticism

The influences of the Enlightenment and the implications of the cultural and scientific revolution began to be felt in the churches in the 19th century. German theologians brought new critical approaches to their study of the Bible with Biblical criticism.

This morning I want us to look at the influences on the development and reshaping of Christianity in the 19th century through the works of six key thinkers: René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Georg Hegel, Charles Darwin and Karl Mark; to look at the development and shaping of new approaches to theology through critical thinking, and briefly at how the new thinking and shaping were seen and heard in new church architecture and new church music.

Six influential thinkers:

1, René Descartes (1596-1650)

René Descartes (1596-1650) … Cogito ergo sum

The French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) is best known for his saying “Cogito ergo sum, Je pense, donc je sui, I think, therefore I am.”

His proof for the existence of God starts with the idea of God which he finds within himself: whatever caused the idea must have all the perfections that are represented in it.

William Marshall, in Scripture, Tradition and Reason (Dublin: Columba, 2010), draws attention to the considerable influence the thinking of Descartes had on Archbishop William Wake of Canterbury, and through him on the development of 18th century Anglican ways of doing theology.

Later, however, William Temple would reject Descartes’s methods, and was strongly tempted to consider the most disastrous moment in European philosophical thinking was the day Descartes decided to lock himself away in his room and to ponder his thoughts until he could say: “Cogito ergo sum.”

2, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) … aimed to unite reason with experience

In the following century, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the leading German philosopher of his day. He spent his whole life in Prussia and was Professor of Logic in Königsberg, the Prussian capital, from 1770.

Kant is known for his ‘Critical Philosophy’ first expounded in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). He sought to discover a definitive rationale for the admitted validity of mathematics and natural science. He argued that every event has a cause; knowledge is the result of a synthesis between an intellectual act and what is presented to the mind from without; and that all knowledge requires an ingredient derived from nature.

Kant cut at the root of traditional metaphysics, with its claim to provide knowledge of subjects that transcend nature. In doing this, he invalidated the traditional proofs of the existence of God.

But, while he insists that natural theology is an illusion, Kant believes that the voice of conscience in an individual assures us of truths that reason is unable to establish.

Kant defines religion as the recognition of our duties as Divine commands. He holds that there is no place for mystical experience, no place for a personal redeemer, and no place for the historical as such.

3, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) … often called the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology”

The German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who was deeply indebted to the thinking of Immanuel Kant, reacted against both contemporary German rationalism and the dominant formal expressions of Christianity. He tried to win educated and thinking people back to religion. He argues that religion is based on intuition and feeling and is independent of all dogma, and he sees its highest experience in a sensation of union with the infinite.

He defines religion as the feeling of absolute dependence that finds its purest expression in monotheism, with Christianity as its highest form of expression.

He became influential in the evolution of Higher Criticism, and his work is foundational for the modern hermeneutics, and he is often called the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology.”

4, Georg Hegel (1770-1831)

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) … wrestled with ‘the history of the appearance of God’

Schleiermacher ‘s contemporary, the German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831), studied theology at the University of Tübingen and was deeply influenced by the 17th century German mystic Jakob Boehme. Hegel seeks to present all philosophical problems and concepts in an evolutionary perspective. He argues that no idea has an unchanging and eternal validity.

For Hegel, the highest religion is Christianity, for in Christianity the truth that the Absolute manifests itself in the finite is symbolically reflected in the incarnation. Philosophy, however, is conceptually supreme, because it grasps the Absolute rationally. Once this has been achieved, the Absolute has arrived at full self-consciousness, and the cosmic drama reaches its end and goal. Only at this point did Hegel identify the Absolute with God. “God is God,” Hegel argued, “only in so far as he knows himself.”

Scholars are still divided on whether Hegel was a Christian or an atheist. But he remained a Lutheran all his life, and he believed Lutheranism was superior to other expressions of Christianity. By the time he died in 1831, Hegel had become the most prominent philosopher in Germany. His views were widely taught, and his followers ranged across the spectrum of theological, social and political thinking, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx.

Hegel describes one of the deepest fundamental structures of Christian belief – namely, that the death of Jesus is an event in God, and that this event can be understood only if God is the triune God:

The history of the resurrection and ascension of Christ to the right hand of God begins at the point where this history [of Christ’s death] receives a spiritual interpretation. That is when it came about that the little community achieved the certainty that God has appeared as a human being.

But this humanity in God ... is natural death. ‘God himself is dead,’ it says in a Lutheran hymn, expressing an awareness that the human, the finite, the fragile, the weak, the negative are themselves ... within God himself, that finitude, negativity, otherness are not outside of God and do not ... hinder unity with God.... [D]eath itself is this negative, the furthest extreme to which humanity as natural existence is exposed; God himself is involved in this.

... For the community, this is the history of the appearance of God. This history is a divine history, whereby the community has come to the certainty of truth. From it develops the consciousness ... that God is triune. The reconciliation in Christ ... makes no sense if God is not known as the triune God, if it is not recognized that God is, but also is as the other, as self-distinguishing, so that this other is God himself..., and that the sublation of this difference, this otherness, and the return of love, are the Spirit.
– GWF Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: The Lectures of 1827, (ed. PC Hodgson, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp 468-469.

5, Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) … ‘Nor can I remember that I have ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy’

Charles Darwin’s work was pivotal in the development of modern biology and the theory of evolution and played a prominent part in debates about religion and science.

Darwin was baptised in the Church of England, and studied at Christ’s College, Cambridge, with the original intention of preparing for ordination as an Anglican priest. There he became interested in the theology of William Paley who presented the argument from divine design in nature to explain adaptation as God acting through laws of nature.

On the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin remained orthodox in his Christianity and looked for “centres of creation.”

His interest in Paley was life-long, and his own theological views are reflected in On the Origin of Species (1859), continuing to believe in God as First Cause. In 1879, he explained that he had never been an atheist. A year earlier, he said: “Nor can I remember that I have ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy.”

Darwin continued to support his local parish in Downe, Kent, and its Sunday school and to contribute to the South American Missionary Society (SAMS). He said: “Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities.”

His funeral took place in Westminster Abbey, with the full rites of the Church of England.

Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) is remembered not so much as the founder of Cuddesdon Theological College but for his strident opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. At a famous debate in Oxford 1860, he asked Thomas Henry Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey, and got as answer that “he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.”

6, Karl Marx (1818-1883):

Karl Marx (1818-1883) … wrote on ‘the union of believers with Christ’ when he was 16

Karl Marx was born to a Jewish Lutheran family in Trier in 1818. Both his father and his mother were descended from long lines of rabbis, and his father, Heinrich Marx, converted to Lutheranism in 1816 or 1817. Karl was born in 1818 and baptised in 1824, but his mother Henriette did not convert until 1825, when Karl was seven.

At about the time of his confirmation in the Evangelical Church of Prussia at the age of 16, when he was graduating from the gymnasium or high school, Marx wrote an extended essay entitled: “The union of believers with Christ according to John 15: 1-14, showing its basis and essence, its absolute necessity, and its effects.”

The essay is available in full at this link:*02yVp8*4b5XpyvKAzHgpu3l*EqJZWkLUX/marxgymnasium.pdf 

The young Marx writes:

When we consider also the history of individuals, when we consider the nature of man, it is true that we always see a spark of divinity in his breast, a passion for what is good, a striving for knowledge, a yearning for truth. But the sparks of the eternal are extinguished by the flames of desire; enthusiasm for virtue is drowned by the tempting voice of sin, it is scorned as soon as life has made us feel its full power; the striving for knowledge is supplanted by a base striving for worldly goods, the longing for truth is extinguished by the sweetly flattering power of lies; and so there stands man, the only being in nature which does not fulfil its purpose, the only member of the totality of creation which is not worthy of the God who created it. But that benign Creator could not hate his work; he wanted to raise it up to him and he sent his Son, through whom he proclaimed to us: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15: 3)

A few paragraphs later he explains his understanding of what it means to be united with Christ:

In union with Christ, therefore, we turn above all our loving eyes to God, feel the most ardent thankfulness towards him, and sink joyfully to our knees before him. Then, when by union with Christ a more beautiful sun has risen for us, when we feel all our iniquity but at the same time rejoice over our redemption, we can for the first time love God, who previously appeared to us as an offended ruler but now appears as a forgiving father, as a kindly teacher.

Thus, union with Christ consists in the most intimate, most vital communion with him, in having him before our eyes and in our hearts, and being so imbued with the highest love for Him, it also causes us to keep his commandments by sacrificing ourselves for one another, by being virtuous, but virtuous solely out of love for him (John 15: 9, 10, 12, 13, 14).

For an interesting discussion of Marx’s adaptation of Christian ideas, including the Kingdom of God as found in European millenarianism, read:

The development of Biblical Criticism

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, at recent exhibition in Lambeth Palace

Biblical criticism grew out of this rationalism the developed from the 17th to the 19th century.

In the 19th century it was divided between the higher criticism, the study of the composition and history of Biblical texts, and lower criticism, the close examination of the text to establish their original or “correct” readings. These terms are largely no longer used, and contemporary criticism has seen the rise of new perspectives that draw on literary and multidisciplinary sociological approaches.

Historical and literary criticism:

Historical criticism seeks to locate the text in history: it asks such questions as when the text was written, who the author(s) might have been, and what history might be reconstructed from the answers.

Literary criticism asks what audience the authors wrote for, their presumptive purpose, and the development of the text over time.

Historical criticism was the dominant form of criticism until the late 20th century, when Biblical critics became interested in questions aimed more at the meaning of the text than its origins and developed methods drawn from mainstream literary criticism. The distinction is frequently referred to as one between diachronic and synchronic forms of criticism, the former concerned the development of texts through time, the latter treating texts as they exist at a particular moment, frequently the so-called "final form", meaning the Bible text as we have it today.

Both Old Testament and New Testament criticism originated in the rationalism of the 17th and 18th centuries and developed within the context of the scientific approach to the humanities, especially history, which grew during the 19th century. Studies of the Old Testament and New Testament were often independent of each other, largely due to the difficulty of any single scholar having a sufficient grasp of the many languages required or of the cultural background for the different periods of the texts.

Modern biblical criticism begins with the 17th century philosophers and theologians – Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, Richard Simon and others – who began to ask questions about the origin of the Biblical text, especially the Pentateuch. They questioned the tradition that these books were written by Moses and asked who had written them.

Jean Astruc (1684-1766), borrowing from methods of textual criticism used in examining Greek and Roman texts, he discovered what he believed were two distinct documents within Genesis.

His methods were adopted by German scholars such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) and Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849) in a movement that became known as the higher criticism. This school reached its apogee with the influential synthesis of Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) in the 1870s.

The implications of “higher criticism” were not welcomed by many religious scholars. Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) condemned secular biblical scholarship in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus, and it was not until 1943 that Pope Pius XII gave the new scholarship his approval in his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

The seminal figure in New Testament criticism was Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), who applied to it the methodology of Greek and Latin textual studies and became convinced that very little of what it said could be accepted as incontrovertibly true. His conclusions appealed to the rationalism of 18th century intellectuals, but were deeply troubling to contemporary believers.

In 1769, Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789) wrote Ecce Homo – The History of Jesus of Nazareth, a Critical Inquiry, the first Life of Jesus in which he is described as a mere historical man. It was published anonymously in Amsterdam. It was translated into English by George Houston, and published in Edinburgh (1799) and London (1813). For this “blasphemy,” Houston was sentenced to two years in prison. It was later published in New York in 1827.

Important scholars in the 19th century included David Strauss, Ernest Renan, Johannes Weiss, Albert Schweitzer and others, who investigated the “historical Jesus” within the Gospel narratives. For his part, HJ Holtzmann established a chronology for the composition of books in the New Testament, and established the two-source hypothesis – the hypothesis that the Gospels according to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke drew on the Gospel according to Saint Mark and a hypothetical document, known as “Q”.

In other modules, you will have an opportunity to explore these and other approaches to Biblical criticism, including textual criticism or “lower criticism,” source criticism, and so on.

But how did these approaches have an impact on Anglican theology in the 19th century?

Benjamin Jowett (centre) outside the Master’s Lodgings in Baliol College, Oxford, 1890 …

These 19th century challenges posed by science, reason and Biblical criticism and by the complete shift in thinking and understanding, at first polarised Anglican theological thinking in England, with many arguing that there was a clear-cut choice between the Bible and atheism.

But Anglicanism woke in a very dramatic way to Biblical criticism in March 1860 with the publication of a collection of seven essays, Essays and Reviews, edited by John William Parker. The topics covered the biblical research of the German critics, the evidence for Christianity, religious thought in England, and the cosmology of Genesis.

Each essay was written independently and there was no overall editorial policy, each contributor choosing his own theme. The seven essayists were: Frederick Temple, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury; Rowland Williams, then tutor at Cambridge and later Professor and Vice-Principal of Saint David’s University College, Lampeter; Baden Powell, Anglican priest and Professor of Geometry at Oxford; Henry Bristow Wilson, fellow of Saint John’s College, Oxford, and the sole layman among the authors; Charles Wycliffe Goodwin; Mark Pattison, tutor at Lincoln College, Oxford; and Benjamin Jowett, Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford (later Master) and Regius Professor of Greek, Oxford University.

The book was published just four months after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and it summed up a three-quarter-century-long challenge to biblical history by the higher critics and to biblical prehistory by scientists working in the new fields of geology and biology. Essays and Reviews sold 22,000 copies in two years, more than Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sold in its first 20 years.

Today, the essay topics and conclusions may seem innocuous or innocent, but the collection sparked five years of increasingly polarised debate.

Baden Powell wrote of “Mr Darwin’s masterly volume” that the Origin of Species “must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature.”

The essay ‘On the interpretation of scripture’ was written by Benjamin Jowett, who insisted that the Bible ought to be treated as scholars treated classical texts.

Jowett contended that revelation was ongoing and that the scriptures were always subject to reinterpretation as each generation encountered them. In 1863, he was brought before the vice-chancellor's court for teaching contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England, but the case was eventually dropped.

In a letter to The Times, the Archbishop of Canterbury and 25 other bishops threatened the theologians with the ecclesiastical courts. In response, Charles Darwin quoted a proverb: “A bench of bishops is the devil’s flower garden,” and joined others in signing a counter-letter supporting Essays and Reviews for trying to “establish religious teachings on a firmer and broader foundation.”

Two of the authors, Williams and Wilson, were indicted before the Court of Arches for heresy and lost their jobs by 1862. They appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and in 1864 it overturned the judgment, “dismissing hell with costs,” to the fury of Bishop Wilberforce. In all, 137,000 members of the laity signed a letter of thanks to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for voting against the committee, and a declaration in favour of biblical inspiration and eternal torments, was drawn up in Oxford and signed by 11,000 of the clergy. Wilberforce went to the Convocation of Canterbury and in June obtained synodical condemnation of Essays and Reviews.

The ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ (from left) … Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort

However, three key Cambridge theologians would develop these approaches and ideas: Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), and the Dublin-born FJA Hort (1828-1892). They argued that scientific discoveries, historical-critical arguments and sceptical conclusions deserved rational discussion.

Together, they produced a new, definitive version of the Greek New Testament and were instrumental in producing the Revised Standard Version. Their thinking also influenced Charles Gore (1853-1932) and the other scholars who contributed to the collection of essays Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation (1889). Ten editions were published within a year. Over the span of a generation, Anglican theology had moved from seeing Darwin as an enemy to recognising him as a friend.

Reshaping the Church

The interior of Saint Giles’ Church, Cheadle, designed by AWN Pugin … the Gothic revival reshaped the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

At the same time as theology and biblical studies were being reimaged, reshaped and reimaged, the Church was being reimaged, reshaped and reimaged by architects, poets, hymn-writers and artists.

In England, the liturgical revival introduced by the Oxford Movement created a demand for new and large churches to cater for the growing population. The movement inspired an interest in Gothic architecture, which was seen as the most appropriate style for parish churches.

The Cambridge Camden Society, through its journal The Ecclesiologist, encouraged Gothic architecture which soon became the standard for new cathedral and parish churches in England and Wales.

Saint Luke’s Church, Chelsea (1820-1824) was the first Gothic Revival church in London.

The Gothic style was developed by AWN Pugin, who also made it fashionable in Ireland, George Edmund Street, Charles Barry, and William Burges, and it replaced the previous preference for classical design.

John Ruskin supplemented Pugin’s ideas in two influential works, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853).

Ruskin also influenced the Pre-Raphaelites who gave us a new way of looking at Biblical scenes and images, including John Everett Millais (1829-1896), William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). Consider these works:

John Everett Millais, Christ in the house of his parents (1850)

William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World (1854)

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat (1856)

William Holman Hunt, The Shadow of Death (1871)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850)

Rossetti’s sister, the poet Christina Rossetti (11830-1894), has given much-loved carols and hymns as ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter.’

Yes this was a century of great hymn-writers and composers: in Ireland, we had Cecil Frances Alexander, in America there was Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby; for composers think of the Irish-born Charles Villiers Stanford, or think of Hubert Parry.

By the end of the Victorian era, we had come to read the Bible in a new way, but we had also come to look at churches in a new way, to look at Biblical art in a new way, to sing new hymns, to read new poems. The ways we thought in the Church, and the ways we thought about the Church had been reshaped.


11.2, Challenging myths and memories (3): the decade of centenaries.

11.3, Preparing for the third millennium.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 22 March 2013 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.