The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Outspoken Dean Inge: A Short Note on W.R. Inge, Charles Gore, and John Henry Newman

I have long been an admirer of the scholar, priest and controversialist W.R. Inge. (An introduction to his life and thought is here.) But reading his Outspoken Essays is a very mixed bag. The worst parts are dated opinion pieces, often surprising in the extent to which Inge got caught up in the passing passions of his day, often to the detriment of his charity (and this from the man who said that "[h]e who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower").

But Inge at his caustic, polemic best can be irresistible. So, for example, on the theological commitments of Cardinal John Henry Newman to faith wholly independent of reason, which Inge describes as "avowed obscurantism", Inge writes that "[w]e can imagine nothing more calculated to drive a young and ingenuous mind into flippant scepticism than a course of Newman's sermons. The reductio ad absurdum of his arguments is not left to the reader to make; it is innocently provided by the preacher." Inge, who described Newman (in explaining his attack on Charles Kingsley, condemned by some in theological circles as "horribly unchristian" despite provocation) as a "master of fence", shows himself no mean hand with the blade himself. But there is much more to Inge's essay on Newman than sport with a notable (albeit now silenced) adversary; Inge is interested in why an able, devout, and (a fact edited out of the record by some Newman aficionados)intellectually quite aggressive man would accept an obedience that effectively silenced him for decades that could have been the most productive of his life. He doesn't reach an answer, of course. As shown by no fewer than three of the essays here, Inge finds Anglo-Catholicism bewildering; as he describes it in the essay on Newman:
Anglo-Catholicism has its theoretical basis in a definition of Catholicity which is repudiated by all other Catholics; its traditions are largely legendary. But it is an eclectic system well suited to the English character, and the distorted view of history which Newman bequeathed to the party has enabled it to borrow much that is good from different sides, without any sense of inconsistency. The idea of a Divine society has been and is the inspiration of thousands of ardent workers in the Anglican Church. It lifted the religion of many Englishmen from the somewhat gross and bourgeois condition in which the movement found it, to a pure and unworldly idealism. And, unlike most other religious revivals, especially in this country, it has remained remarkably free from unhealthy emotionalism and hysterics. The social atmosphere of Oxford, always alien to mawkish sentiment, penetrated the whole movement, and maintained in it for many years a certain sanity and dignity which, while they doubtless prevented it from spreading widely in the middle class, made the Tractarians respected by men of taste and education. these influences could not be permanent. The goodwill of the Tractarian firm (if we may so express it) has now been acquired by men with very different aims and methods. The ablest members of the party are plunging violently into social politics, while the rank and file in increasing numbers are fluttering round the Roman candle, into which many of them must ultimately fall.
What a mix of everything that is invigorating and vexing in Inge! The casual wit (quite like the reference to "the Roman candle"), equally casual elitism, but the willingness to ascribe virtues to a movement fundamentally alien to him, and one which, ultimately, repelled him.
On the subject of Charles Gore (another figure for whom I have great affection), Inge is by turns scathing and admiring. I had realized from passing references in Gore's writings that he and Inge were not, shall we say, compadres, but had not realized the gulf between them was so wide until I read Inge's essay on Gore, in which he attacks Gore's ecclesiology, his belief in the New Testament as history, and his work as a church reformer. As to the latter, Inge concludes that,
the Bishop's policy of reconstructing the Church of England as a self-governing body, professing definitely Catholic principles and enjoining Catholic practices, seems to us an impossible one. The chief gainer by it would be the Church of Rome, which would gather in the most consistent and energetic of the Anglo-Catholics, who would be dissatisfied at the contrast between the pretensions of their own Church and its isolated position. The non-episcopal bodies would also gain numerous recruits from among the ruins of the Evangelical and Liberal parties in the Church
.After some kind words for Gore's "earnest sympathy with the aspirations of the working class to improve their material condition" and Gore's keen awareness of "the apparent discrepancy between the teachings of Christ about wealth and the principles which His professed disciples wholly follow and in part avow." But then, after all this, he changes tone most surprisingly:
When he handles what may be called applied Christianity, he does so in a manner which makes us rejoice at the popularity of his books. The little commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount, and on the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, are admirable. They are simple, practical, and profound.
Rather than encapsulate the books, he finds a stirring, lengthy passage explaining the Sermon on the Mount, and prints it verbatim. In the end, Inge's hostility to Gore's effort to create a vibrant Anglo-Catholicism for the then-new century could not smother his admiration for the pastoral efforts of the bishop working overtime to teach that Christianity was not merely a creed, or a set of historical propositions, but was--and is--ultimately a way of life designed to bring life in abundance to those who follow the Way.


rick allen said...

I have to admit I am not familiar with Dean Inge. But there is one statement you make that seriously puzzles me:

"Inge is interested in why an able, devout, and...intellectually quite aggressive man would accept an obedience that effectively silenced him for decades."

There is a nice selection of Newman's works here:

I don't find in it any any major periods of silence.

I know that, to a certain cast of mind, embacing Catholicism means intellectual suicide (I don't agree, of course). But I don't see how anyone with such a post-conversion body of work can in any sense be characterized as "silenced."

Anglocat said...

A better word choice on my part woul probably have been marginalized. Inge is referencing several works about JHN which demonstrate the lack of trust the Vatican had for him in the reign of Pius IX, the opposition to several of his projects by Cardinal Manning, and the thwarting of his hopes as Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland.

Of course, you probably have realized that I do not agree with Inge's evaluation of catholicism in either its Roman or English forms.

Hope all is well, with you, Rick, and glad to hear from you.

Unknown said...

I am a huge fan of Dean Inge, I have at least 20 books of his writings and sermons. My favorite is: Personal Idealism and Mysticism (Paddock Lectures) 1906.
I did find his interest in eugenics a little troubling however. My favorite clergyman from that era, however, is R.J. Campbell who has had a major influence on my religious life.

Anglocat said...

Thanks for the comment, Unknown. I don't know Inge's Paddock Lectures, so I appreciate the reference, and will hunt them up. ("Christian Mysticism" the 1899 Bamptons, is to date my favorite of the Gloomy Dean's books).

I agree that Inge's support of eugenics, especially in Outspoken Essays, Second Useries, is extremely troubling. It was of course very much in the air, then--even Oliver Wendell Holmes, who should have known better, fell for it--but it is the nadir of his thought. In fairness, Ing recoiled from Hitler's coercive eugenics policies, but still, very much a failure on Inge's part.


Elliot said...

Hi! My name is Elliot..I guess I didn't 'register' correctly. I have a huge collection of books from the late 19th and early 20th century. Most are sermons and lectures..leaning heavily toward Anglican clergymen. The best place to find old books of this kind is at: The old (not reprinted) books are usually in the $10-$20 range and are, for the most part, in very good-excellent condition. Others who make up a large part of my collection are Phillips Brooks, Alexander Maclaren ( a great 19th century English preacher), and Rufus M. Jones. I am also a huge fan of N.T. Wright.

Anglocat said...

Hi, Elliot, it seems like we overlap a fair amount--the late 19th and early 20th century is one of my favorite eras for theology; I've heard great things about Brooks, and will look him up (thanks of the source; I use, but will try bookfinder). Wright can be quite good; I was particularly impressed by his dialogue with Marcus Borg, and how irenic and yet frank they both managed to remain.

You may be the only person I've run across with more Inge works than I have, so we'll have to compare notes!


Elliot said...

Hi again. Thanks, you are the only other person that I have run across who has ever even heard of Dean Inge--lol. As for Phillips Brooks..all the available books are sermons of his except for 'The Influence of Jesus' which were lectures given at The Bolen Lectures..1879, in Philadelphia and is excellent. As a primer on Brooks I would recommend a recent book (2003) entitled 'The Consolations of God' Great Sermons of Phillips Brooks. Getting back to the 'Gloomy Dean' here are a few that I really liked: 'Studies of English Mystics..St. Margaret's Lectures 1905' (London 1906). 'Goodness and Truth' (London 1938). 'Christian Faith in Modern Light' (New York 1932). 'Faith and its Psychology' (London..5 editions 1909-1930). I still have nine of his books that I haven't read yet. My favorites are books of sermons written in that era. Back in those days good preachers were like rock stars, and I'm still amazed that their sermons were published in book form.