Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Pusey as Consistent and Wise: Some Comparisons with Newman*

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Pusey as Consistent and Wise: Some Comparisons with Newman*

Article excerpt

To describe Edward Bouverie Pusey in the words of my title is a verdict that many would have prepared to endorse during Pusey's own lifetime and perhaps still more so after his death once they had read Liddon's four volumed biography. Two centuries on from his birth, though, and a quite different estimate is now commonplace. His apparently unyielding conservatism on so many issues is used to suggest an unthinking reactionary, the very opposite of a wise or creative mind. Not only that, even his consistency has been contested, as more recent scholarship has challenged Liddon's estimate of his move away from his earlier liberalism as natural and inevitable into one where it is made a response of fear or at best a puzzle. The result is that of all the various figures in the Oxford Movement and its immediate aftermath it is Pusey's reputation that has suffered the greatest decline. That this is in part justified I would not deny. Nonetheless, what I hope to show in the pages that follow is that, once a more suitable, alternative grid for interpretation is found, Pusey can indeed emerge as in general consistent and in key respects also wise. That is to say, he will be found not only to have had consistent concerns throughout his life that span both its early liberal phrase and thereafter but also in response to those concerns to have made some wise moves that in the light of more recent theological trends can bear healthy comparison with some of Newman's leading ideas. That last contention may seem on first reflection quite absurd, but it is important that when Pusey's style is so turgid and disorganised and Newman's so marvellously lucid and seductive we do not confuse presentation with content. To establish my claim, I shall offer first a general sketch of the problem as I see it, and thereafter three detailed points of comparison with Newman.

FINDING A FRAMEWORK

H.P. Liddon thought that he had just such a framework, and it is into this that he fits Pusey's two trips to Germany (in 1825 and 1826) and subsequent defense of German theology in the face of H.J. Rose's criticisms in his Theology of Germany.1 Neither the trips nor the work were indicative, he suggests, of any real engagement with liberal theology and its concerns but rather all part of the equipping of the future scholar with the necessary tools that would make him become the bastion of a conservative and catholic vision for the Church of England. German theologians, Liddon writes, "could not give that which they did not themselves possess; it was their business, in the order of Divine Providence, to till and fertilize the soil for its reception."2 So, although some wrong influences are conceded, these are held to be essentially superficial, and so quickly later retracted. Indeed, Theology of Germany is viewed as fundamentally not about Germany nor liberal theology at all but rather about the current state of the Church in England. "Pusey was thinking less of Germany than of England"; it was the modest methods employed by a young man of twenty-eight to say that "the attitude of the English high and dry churchmen towards spiritual religion, and the attitude of the English evangelicals towards theological knowledge, were not without peril to the faith, and that the experience of Protestant Germany, in circumstances different yet analogous, might not improbably be repeated at home."3 That is to say, Pusey was never interested in liberal theology as such but only as a challenge to dry and clinical orthodoxy that placed accuracy of belief above real spiritual life in the church.

Since the second World War, though, that assessment has become increasingly subject to challenge. There are too many indicators, it is suggested, of deep and underlying support for liberal ideas and their advocates in their own right for this to be a plausible reading. On the contrary, the work of the Cambridge trio, Lightfoot, Hort and Westcott, might well have been anticipated a quarter of a century or more earlier by the assiduous endeavours of Pusey at Oxford, had only he stuck to his guns. …

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