The Broad Church: A Biography of a Movement (review)
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The Broad Church: A Biography of a Movement, by Tod E. Jones; pp. xi + 347. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2003, $89.00.

The intellectual and spiritual conflicts of the nineteenth-century Church of England are fascinating, not least in that they involve so many of the central figures of the time. The great debate over the nature of Anglicanism drew not merely on professional clergy (Thomas Arnold, J. W. Colenso, Julius Hare, John Keble, Charles Kingsley, F. D. Maurice, John Henry Newman, Arthur Stanley) but also on writers, poets, critics, and politicians (Matthew and Thomas Arnold [the younger], Samuel Taylor Coleridge, W. E. Gladstone, A. H. Clough, and Alfred Tennyson—not to mention involved bystanders, such as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot). Moreover, the boundaries between "professional" and "amateur" blurred in unprecedented ways. Thus Coleridge, a layman, by turns poet, critic, philosopher, and theologian, became the inspiration for a whole [End Page 522] generation of subsequent clergy, while so many of the clergy involved are today read as much as poets, novelists, and critics as they are as theologians. Keble, Kingsley, and Newman are more likely to appear in courses on English literature than those on theology, and even Maurice published a novel.

If one adds to this already substantial body of fiction and poetry voluminous letters, biographies, autobiographies, pamphlets, and published sermons, the result is one of the most extensive and best-documented debates in any historical period. This was, in effect, the central debate of the Victorian age, affecting in turn literature, education, science, politics, and even the administration of the Empire. What was the Church of England? Was it, as many Evangelicals believed, simply a historically privileged vehicle (one of many) for the bringing of Christ into the hearts of the people and thus effecting the salvation of individual souls; or, as many Tractarians came to believe, was it a severed limb of the universal Catholic Church and the inheritor of the true Apostolic tradition? Or was it something else entirely, acting through a national culture (the Coleridgean Clerisy) that allowed it to subsume the possibility of both, while making it distinctively different from either?

Tod Jones's "biography" of the Broad Church follows what is already a well-trodden path, in the footsteps of A. O. J. Cockshut, Geoffrey Faber, Elisabeth Jay, David Newsome, Bernard Reardon, and myself; but unlike the work of these scholars, there is a personal and very American twist in Jones's study. He comes, he tells us, as a convert to the Episcopalian Church from a fundamentalist background in Arkansas, and he approaches his material with an urgency and a need to understand how his new Church faced and dealt with problems and controversies in the English nineteenth century in some ways remarkably similar to those faced by many (at least in the "red" states) in the US today. This is, perhaps, the first book-length account of Victorian Church controversies written by an American specifically for an American audience, and it is precisely that outsider's view that is valuable.

As one might expect in trying to describe the sometimes arcane controversies of such an apparently remote (and, in this account, entirely male) circle, there are sometimes errors and questionable judgments. Christ's Hospital is referred to several times as "Christ Hospital"; the idea of the Oriel SCR gathering "around the teapot" (55) is, to say the least, improbable: "the sherry decanter" is more likely. And some intellectual historians might wish that Ludwig Feuerbach figured in the list of unsettling German thinkers. But given the astonishing sweep of what Jones has achieved, his encyclopaedic reading of original sources, and the clarity of the connections he makes, these are very minor faults indeed. In terms of its range and thoughtfulness, this is a very fine book. I would not hesitate to recommend it to graduate students trying to master the field.

Where I do part company with Jones is in his ending, where, it seems to me, he fails to recognize where his own argument has been leading. For him the "movement" that began with J. C. Hare in 1828 ends, equally arbitrarily...


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