Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Maurice and the Crisis of Christian Authority

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Maurice and the Crisis of Christian Authority

Article excerpt

JEREMY MORRIS. ED. Maurice and the Crisis of Christian Authority. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. ix + 238, introduction, bibliography, index. $95.00.

These days, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide struggle with the hydra-headed issue of homosexuality: gay priests, gay marriage, and at least so far, one openly gay bishop. Of course, it was not always so and the volume under consideration here harks back to issues characteristic of nineteenth-century Anglicanism, namely Christian Socialism and the veracity of Christian revelation. One of the most important figures in these Victorian-era debates was Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872), and in Jeremy Morris' capable hands his ecclesiology and, to a lesser extent, his life and times, receive close treatment.

The author's approach is to probe Maurice's ecclesiology with a view to making clear his subject's longstanding contribution to the history of the Church of England. To this end, Morris credits him (rightly) with being one of the foremost theologians of modern Anglicanism, although considerably more might have been said (only three minor references) about his near contemporary Charles Gore, who, it now seems clear, is Maurice's equal in long-term impact. But, that said, Maurice was at the center of most of the main church controversy of his era, from the 1830s' high water mark of the Newman-led Tractarians to the later impact of Darwinism. Given Maurice's prominent position in church affairs, the author perceptively makes the point that he might have made a good candidate for inclusion in Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians (1918) with his "combination of moral earnestness, immense diligence, philanthropic and educational activity, and religious fervour."

That fervor began during Maurice's Unitarian upbringing, which saw him, like other Dissenters, occupying a marginal role in English politics and in response configuring a religious stance that was by definition oppositional to the established church of England. His decision, therefore, to be baptized into the state church while an undergraduate at Cambridge was one fraught with religious, family, and political implications. …

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