15 May 2015

Church History (2014-2015, part-time)
7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and
reshaping Christianity, from Kant and
Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism

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 15 May 2015, 7 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.

Making connections (1): Renaissance, Revolution and Enlightenment

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.

7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

7.2: Making connections (2): Rethinking and reshaping Christianity, from Kant and Schleiermacher to Pugin and Biblical Criticism.


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; and 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 recognised 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.

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: http://mises.org/daily/3769

The development of Biblical Criticism

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, at a 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 have opportunities 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.


7.3: Challenging myths and memories (3): The Decade of Commemorations and centenaries: how history shapes the Church agenda today.

Tomorrow (16 May 2015). Field Trip:

8.1: The National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.

8.2: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological. This lecture on 15 March 2015 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course (part-time).

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