Theology, German Historicism, and Religious Education at Cambridge: The Controversies of Connop Thirlwall and Julius Hare, 1822-1834

By Valone, David A. | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Theology, German Historicism, and Religious Education at Cambridge: The Controversies of Connop Thirlwall and Julius Hare, 1822-1834


Valone, David A., Anglican and Episcopal History


Julius Charles Hare (1795-1855) and Connop Thirlwall (1797-875) are rather enigmatic men. Lifelong friends and prominent figures within the Anglican church, both have faded into relative obscurity despite having made significant marks on Victorian intellectual and ecclesiastic life. Thirlwall, the subject of a single rather hagiographie biography written a half century after his death, has attracted almost no modern scholarly attention; this is remarkable given his major work on the history of ancient Greece and his more than three decades as the bishop of Saint David's. Hare has attracted only slightly more interest. He too has been the subject of one modern biography, in his case a more objective and analytical study. While perhaps not as great a figure within the establishment as Thirlwall - he rose to the position of archdeacon of Lewes - Hare and his brother Augustus were renowned as the main contributors to Guesses at Truth, a best-selling mix of romantic philosophy, clever quips, and short mediations. Hare also was widely regarded during his lifetime for his extensive collection of German literature, said to be the best in England during the nineteenth century.1 That these two prominent Victorians have been largely forgotten is even more surprising given the continuing scholarly and public interest in many of their Victorian contemporaries such as Charles Darwin, John Henry Newman, Matthew Arnold, and even lesser figures like Baden Powell.2

Despite their relative anonymity today, Hare and Thirlwall nonetheless were part of a group of Cambridge intellectuals instrumental in a series of important controversies that shaped the religious and intellectual trajectory of the Victorian era. The members of this group, including Hare and Thirlwall along with Hugh James Rose (1795-1838) and William Whewell (17941866), stirred up or participated significantly in critical debates concerning the historical and philosophical foundations of Christianity, the status and future prospects of the Anglican establishment, and the economic and educational principles underlying British society.3 This group came of age during a particularly fraught time in the history of the Anglican Church. The evangelical impulse that had originated in the eighteenth century still retained considerable energy. By the first decades of the nineteenth century, evangelicalism had begun to penetrate into the upper echelons of the establishment and expand beyond its roots as a movement grounded in personal piety toward a broader concern with the theological and institutional practices of Anglicanism. In addition, the schism with the Methodist movement after the death of John Wesley was still a fresh wound. A growing premillenial tendency also lurked, along with an increasing number of charismatic ministries. At the same time, a strong body of high churchmen began to consolidate in opposition to the forces of political and religious reform. These religious and intellectual crosscurrents helped define the contours of Anglicanism throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.4

In this complex and difficult religious climate, Hare and Thirlwall made important contributions to controversies of the era along with their Cambridge compatriots. Similar to the tractarians, their more well-known and extensively studied contemporaries at Oxford, this group of Cambridge scholars sensed the threat to traditional Anglican orthodoxy coming on one side from freethinkers and utilitarians, and on the other from the growing evangelical influence both within the Church of England and among dissenters. The political and religious outlooks of this group of Cambridge intellectuals, however, were much more diverse than the tractarians. Rose was a dedicated high churchman in many ways quite sympathetic, at least initially, to the circle forming around John Henry Newman at Oxford; indeed Rose hosted the 1833 meeting from which the Oxford Movement is often claimed to have emerged at his rectory in Hadleigh. …

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