Victorian Christianity at the Fin De Siecle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age/The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings/The Eucharistic Theology of Edward Bouverie Pusey: Sources, Context and Doctrine within the Oxford Movement and Beyond

By Faught, C. Brad | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Victorian Christianity at the Fin De Siecle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age/The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings/The Eucharistic Theology of Edward Bouverie Pusey: Sources, Context and Doctrine within the Oxford Movement and Beyond


Faught, C. Brad, Anglican and Episcopal History


Victorian Christianity at the Fin de Siecle: The Culture of English Religion in a Decadent Age. By Frances Knight. (London and New York, I. B. Tauris, 2016, Pp. ix, 294. $80.00); The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings. By Thomas O'Loughlin. (London, Bloomsbury, 2015, Pp. xvii, 229. $34.95); The Eucharistic Theology of Edward Bouverie Pusey: Sources, Context and Doctrine within the Oxford Movement and Beyond. By Brian Douglas. (Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2015, Pp. ix, 257. $71.00.)

The late Colin Matthew, Gladstone's best biographer, once remarked that the Victorian age might seem close to our own in spirit because of its proximate chronology, but really it is not. I think he's right. In many ways-even most?-the Victorians and their concerns are as remote from ours as if a thousand years separated us rather than not much more than a hundred. Perhaps chief among the public concerns of the Victorians that shows their age not to be ours is religion. Missionary expansion, parochial education, various renewal movements, crises over the authority of scripture, the impact of Darwinian science, vast church-building schemes; the list of what engaged the Victorians' religious sensibility is a long one. And then, in the twilight of the Victorian era, after about 1885, the urgency and distinctive call that contemporary Christianity had on British society began to wane. At the fin de siede, the close of the nineteenth century, much changed for Victorian religion, and in the sure hands of Frances Knight, the story of that change is told well.

To do so Knight probes closely the meaning and reach of aestheticism, the valorization of beauty as the highest good and an end which, as a legacy in part of earlier nineteenth-century Romanticism, became the key feature of late-Victorian cultural aspiration. As aestheticism became societally and artistically paramount it gradually came to dislodge the privileged place held by (Protestant) Christianity and with it came the retrospective "Crisis of Faith." For Knight, however, she is less interested in mapping the well-travelled contours of this protracted crisis; that is, for example, the ways in which Matthew Arnold's elegiac poem "Dover Beach" (1867) came to express the widespread loss of faith by the Victorian (Anglican) clerisy, and much more engaged by the ways in which Victorian Christianity adapted to what in her view were the challenges and opportunities of a new and "decadent age. …

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