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crossref-it.info - AS/A2 English Literature Study Guides - texts in context.

 

Religion in Victorian England

The language of church

Whether deeply religious or not, most nineteenth Century writers were strongly influenced by the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Hearing readings and sermons week by week in church, they absorbed the language and rhythms of the Bible.  A characteristic of Victorian fiction is that there are many echoes and direct references to the Book of Common Prayer and to the Bible.

The centrality of Christian observance

Outward signs of religion were more obvious in Victorian Britain than today. Churches were built in the new industrial cities and about half the population attended regularly. In villages and older towns and cities, parishes continued to be centres of the life of the community, as they had been for centuries. Moreover, even those who were not Christians or did not hold traditional beliefs would have recognized the Christian origins of the moral and ethical standards of the day.

Both in terms of actual churchgoing and in religious talk and debate, the situation in Victorian Britain was more like that of the USA now-a-days:

  • Churches on most street corners
  • A good percentage of the population attends church on a Sunday morning
  • Preachers get a wide hearing, if not in halls and public meetings, then on television and radio.

Churchmanship in England

In Victorian England, the Church of England was the dominant church, mainly because it was the state church, although in terms of numbers, the combined membership of the chapels or nonconformist churches, (Baptist, Methodist, etc.), was approaching that of the Church of England.

Church and Chapel

During the eighteenth century, there had been great dissatisfaction with the Anglican Church which had been very formal and rather moribund in its religious practice. New religious movements grew up, including Methodism and the Baptist Church. The Congregationalist churches had developed from the Independent churches that seceded from the Church of England at the time of the English Civil War. Collectively, these became known as Dissenting or Nonconformist churches.

These secessions and new sects had arisen because people wanted a simpler, more direct religion and forms of worship without priests, sacraments or ritual. These new congregations, particularly the Methodists and the Baptists, were predominantly lower class and a social distinction was indicated by describing people as either ‘church' (i.e. Anglican) or ‘chapel' (i.e. Nonconformist).

Evangelicalism

Many members of the Anglican Church had considerable sympathy with the views of the Dissenting Churches. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, an Evangelical Movement began in the Anglican church, enthused by the recent Methodist movement. Sometimes, this is referred to as Low Church Anglicanism. Evangelicalism formed a powerful movement within the Church of England.

Among other things, this style of Christianity promoted:

Evangelicals believed that human beings are profoundly affected by sin and therefore unable to achieve a close relationship with God by their own efforts, however hard they might try. William Wilberforce (the great social reformer who was one of the leaders of the campaign to end slavery in Britain) and Lord Shaftesbury (who worked to end poverty and the exploitation of children) were both evangelicals.

However, Evangelicalism never really penetrated the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the two main centres of learning in England, where most of the nation's political and church leaders were educated. Until well into the nineteenth century, someone could not be a student at either university if they were not an Anglican. The two universities had become real bastions of die-hard Anglicanism, Oxford even more so than Cambridge.

A different way of worshipping

John KebleIn 1833, a series of tracts (leaflets arguing a point of view) entitled ‘Tracts for the Times' were circulated at Oxford, some by John Keble, an Anglican clergyman who wanted an even stricter observance of the rituals laid down in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The tracts, which continued to be published till 1841, wanted the Church of England to become more like the Roman Catholic church, though not to accept the authority of the Pope, who was the head of the Catholic Church.

The Oxford Movement

An influential group of people accepted the challenge of the tracts. They became known as Tractarians, or Puseyites after their leader, Edward Pusey, and the movement was sometimes called the Oxford Movement or the High Church revival. Today the term Anglo-Catholic is often used for Anglicans who like to align their practice to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

Typically, ‘High Church' Anglicans put a great stress on:

John Henry Newman

John Henry NewmanOne of the early Tractarians and the writer of the very first tract was John Henry Newman. In 1845, to the Tractarians' dismay, Newman decided to become a Roman Catholic. In addition to experiencing a distinct religious experience, he was intellectually convinced that the logic of becoming more closely aligned to Roman Catholic practice was to go ‘all the way'. He was not deterred by the question of the Pope's authority. A number of his friends went ‘over to Rome', as it was termed, with him.

The Catholic remnant

England had ceased to be a Roman Catholic country three centuries earlier in the Reformation under Henry VIII, and from then on saw itself as essentially Protestant. But certain parts of England had always had a few die-hard Catholics, especially in:

The re-establishment of a Catholic Church

There was no properly organized Church structure for Catholics (outside of Ireland). However, by the mid-nineteenth century, the number of Catholics in Britain was increasing:

  • Large numbers of Irish had come into England as it industrialized, partly to find work, partly to escape the famines at home.
  • Refugees and immigrants from Europe were often Catholic.

The result was that in 1850, the Catholic Church decided to organize itself and set up a hierarchy in England. Cardinal Wiseman became its leading Archbishop at Westminster.

Reaction to Newman

Many English people looked on the resurgence of the Catholic Church as very threatening and as an attempt to take back lost ground. So when people of such calibre and ability as Newman converted, there was even more cause for alarm.

To show his approval of Newman's conversion, the Pope conferred a doctorate on him. There was no obstacle to Newman becoming a Catholic clergyman as he had never married (Catholic priests are required to be unmarried and celibate). Later, in 1879, he became a Cardinal in, and leader of, the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Challenges to the Bible

Another religious battle was going on at a more academic or theological level.

Darwin and geology

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his book, The Origin of Species, in which he laid out the theory of evolution. Many saw this as being contrary to the teachings of the Bible, though there were others who saw no necessary contradiction at all.

There had been earlier challenges to biblical truth, especially when its interpretation was taken very literally. New findings in geology seemed to challenge the traditional, biblically-derived age of the earth, for example.

Philosophy and science

Philosophically, some German theologians were suggesting the Bible was no more than a collection of writings of what men thought about God. It could, therefore, be criticized or, as we would say these days, relativized:

This debate about the possibility of absolute truth is still going on in many areas of thought and belief.

Liberalism and Benjamin Jowett

When various academics and clergymen in the Church of England started to concur with some of the challenges to biblical authority, many ordinary believers found it very disturbing.

Benjamin Jowett had become a tutor at Balliol College, Oxford in 1842. He had a hand in publishing a book of essays in 1860, simply called Essays and Reviews, in which many arguments challenging the orthodox and traditional view of the Bible, Christ and Christianity were put forward.

The Tractarians, especially, challenged Jowett, even in court. They could not stop him becoming Professor of Greek, but they could make sure he didn't get his salary for it. Eventually, Jowett won through.

The Tractarians' last effort was the 1864 Oxford declaration, suggesting Jowett and his friends were in error guilty of heresy in fact and ought to be expelled from the Church of England. However, the Anglican Church tried to encompass these varying views.

In their day, terms such as Latitudinarians or Broad Church were used of people like Jowett. Today, we use the simpler terms liberals and ‘liberal theology'.

1. Devout, involved in religious practice 2. Member of a religious order, a monk or nun.
The translation of the Bible in English which was produced in 1611 by a group of scholars appointed by King James I. It is the origin of many common phrases and sayings in the English language.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
The book of prayers and church services first put together by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Edward VI (1547-53) for common (ie. general) use in English churches.
A talk which provides religious instruction and encouragement.
1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians. 2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship. 3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.
Area with its own church, served by a priest who has the spiritual care of all those living within it.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
A person within a church appointed to give a sermon at the worship services of that church. He may be the leader of that church, or someone within that church recognised as having a special ability to preach.
The 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
A place of Christian worship other than a parish church eg. 1. Belonging to a great house, hospital, school, prison etc. 2. An area containing an altar within a larger church or cathedral. 3. A non-conformist place of worship.
In the U.K., any Protestant group or church that does not adhere to the teachings of the State Church, the Church of England or, in Scotland, the Church of Scotland.
One of the largest Protestant churches. Stresses the importance of only baptising (usually by immersion) people who are old enough to make a personal profession of faith based on accepting the forgiveness offered by God through Jesus Christ.
A Protestant church which emerged in Britain in the eighteenth century under the leadership of John Wesley and has members worldwide.
The Anglican church is the 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
1. Devout, involved in religious practice 2. Member of a religious order, a monk or nun.
A Protestant church which emerged in Britain in the eighteenth century under the leadership of John Wesley and has members worldwide.
One of the largest Protestant churches. Stresses the importance of only baptising (usually by immersion) people who are old enough to make a personal profession of faith based on accepting the forgiveness offered by God through Jesus Christ.
Describing a system of Church governance, whereby the individual local church is largely self-governing, in contrast to the Church of England
(1642-51). Series of military conflicts which rose out of religious, political and financial tensions between King Charles I and Parliament, which was increasingly influenced by Puritan sympathies.
Differing in opinion; often used with reference to religious belief or practice.
In the U.K., any Protestant group or church that does not adhere to the teachings of the State Church, the Church of England or, in Scotland, the Church of Scotland.
1. Doing homage and giving honour and respect, especially to God. Acts of devotion. Human response to the perceived presence of the divine. 2. The part of the Christian liturgy usually consisting of sung material and prayers of thanksgiving.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
Religious ceremony which symbolises receiving an inward spiritual grace.
A prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional acts.
A group of Christians who congregate / meet together for worship.
1. Term used of all Protestant churches since the Reformation. 2. Movement in England and elsewhere from the eighteenth century onwards which stresses the importance of the Bible in understanding the truth about God and the need for individuals to e
The part of the Church of England which emphasises its Protestant roots and simplicity in worship. Term sometimes applied to Evangelicals within the Anglican Church.
The Anglican church is the 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
1. Term used of all Protestant churches since the Reformation. 2. Movement in England and elsewhere from the eighteenth century onwards which stresses the importance of the Bible in understanding the truth about God and the need for individuals to e
The beliefs, doctrines and practices of Christians.
1. A group of people sent out to share religious faith. 2. The task of sharing faith.
Absolute ownership of one person by another. Common in biblical times and widespread until the nineteenth century.
Disobedience to the known will of God. According to Christian theology human beings have displayed a pre-disposition to sin since the Fall of Humankind.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
A politician most famous for his role in the abolition of the slave trade in Britain.
A Victorian aristocrat who campaigned for factory reforms and better education for those children who were often made to work long hours within them.
1. Term used of all Protestant churches since the Reformation. 2. Movement in England and elsewhere from the eighteenth century onwards which stresses the importance of the Bible in understanding the truth about God and the need for individuals to e
A prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional acts.
The book of prayers and church services first put together by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Edward VI (1547-53) for common (ie. general) use in English churches.
The 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
Member of a worldwide Christian church which traces its origins from St. Peter, one of Jesus' original disciples. It has a continuous history from earliest Christianity.
The supreme governor of the Roman Catholic Church who has his headquarters in Rome, in Vatican City. In certain circumstances, his doctrinal utterances are deemed infallible.
Term given to the movements of church reform which in the sixteenth century resulted in new Protestant churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
Communication, either aloud or in the heart, with God.
The name is taken from a series of tracts issued in Oxford in the mid-nineteenth century advocating Anglo-Catholicism.
The followers of Pusey, the leader of the Oxford Movement which sought to revive Catholic practices in the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century.
A Christian movement in the mid-nineteenth century on the part of some Anglicans to revive Catholic practices in the Church of England. It was centred on Oxford University.
Members of the Anglican Church who emphasise continuity with Catholic tradition without accepting all the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.
Members of the Anglican Church who emphasise continuity with Catholic tradition without accepting all the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.
In the New Testament the term is used of all Christians but gradually came to describe an especially holy person.
The collective term for priests and ministers of the church (as opposed to the non-ordained laity).
In some church services, incense is used to symbolise worship and the presence of the holy. It is swung in a censer at certain points in the Mass.
The supreme governor of the Roman Catholic Church who has his headquarters in Rome, in Vatican City. In certain circumstances, his doctrinal utterances are deemed infallible.
Member of a worldwide Christian church which traces its origins from St. Peter, one of Jesus' original disciples. It has a continuous history from earliest Christianity.
Term given to the movements of church reform which in the sixteenth century resulted in new Protestant churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
Christians whose faith and practice stems from the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century which resulted in new churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians. 2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship. 3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.
A body of persons or things ranked in grades, orders, or classes. Used specifically of the 'Nine orders of angels'.
In the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic church, Cardinals represent the layer between Archbishops and the Pope. They are responsible for electing a new Pope, and they meet regularly with him in council.
The title given to the bishop who oversees the other bishops within his province.
1.To change from one faith or belief system to another; or from no faith to a faith. 2. Used in Christianity to describe the process of change in an individual who repents (turns from sin) and has faith in (turns towards) Jesus Christ.
The supreme governor of the Roman Catholic Church who has his headquarters in Rome, in Vatican City. In certain circumstances, his doctrinal utterances are deemed infallible.
Someone ordained as a priest, deacon or bishop to teach, conduct religious services, administer the sacraments and provide pastoral care within the Christian Church. Until recently, only men could be so ordained.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
A commitment to remaining unmarried and abstaining from sexual intercourse. Required of monks and nuns, and of priests in the Roman Catholic church.
In the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic church, Cardinals represent the layer between Archbishops and the Pope. They are responsible for electing a new Pope, and they meet regularly with him in council.
1. Devout, involved in religious practice 2. Member of a religious order, a monk or nun.
Related to theology, the study of God.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
Relating to, or contained in, the Bible. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament.
Those engaged in the study of God.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
The collective term for priests and ministers of the church (as opposed to the non-ordained laity).
The 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
1. In accordance with the established teaching of a particular religion. 2. Conventional. 3. (Usually with capital) Relating to the form of Judaism which lays especial emphasis on observing ancient tradition. 4. Orthodox Church
Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.
The beliefs, doctrines and practices of Christians.
Deviation from the teachings of a particular religious group.
The Anglican church is the 'Established' or state church of England, the result of a break with the Catholic church under Henry VIII and further developments in the reign of Elizabeth I.
The older name for that branch of the Church of England that adopted liberal or modernist views.
In the nineteenth century, the term given to that section of the Church of England that did not insist on a rigid adherence to belief and practice as laid down in the Book of Common Prayer.
In religion, this means someone who is prepared to revise their theological views in line with modern thinking, as opposed to conservatives, who are prepared to defend traditional beliefs against modern or secular ones.