Arthur Middleton offers extracts from Newman’s letters regarding the Oxford Movement
From a letter to John Bowden, a close friend of Newman from undergraduate days, and a lay supporter of the Oxford Movement, 31 August 1833
As to the state of the Church, I suppose it was in a far worse condition in Arian times, except in the one point you mention – that there was the possibility of true-minded men becoming bishops, which is now almost out of the question. If we had one Athanasius or Basil, we could bear with twenty Eusebius’s, though Eusebius was not at all the worst of the bad. The scandals of Arian times are far worse than any now. I wish the Archbishop had somewhat of the boldness of the old Catholic prelates; no one can doubt he is a man of the highest principle, and would willingly die a martyr, but if he had but the little finger of Athanasius, he would do us all the good in the world. Things have come to a pretty pass when one must not speak as a Christian minister, for fear of pulling down the house over our heads. At the same time, I daresay, were I in high station, I should suddenly get very cautious from the feeling of responsi bility. Well, it is a lucky thing to be able to talk; and we who can should make the most of it.
Under this feeling, we are just setting up here Societies for the Defence of the Church. We do not
like our names known, but we hope the plan will succeed. We have already got assistants in five or six counties. Our objects are ‘to rouse the clergy, to inculcate the Apostolical Succession, and to defend the Liturgy.’ We hope to publish tracts, etc.
But one gains nothing by sitting still. I am sure the Apostles did not sit still: and agitation is the order of the day.
From a letter to William Palmer, a member of the Oxford Movement, 24 October 1833
I would advocate a less formal scheme: not that I am not eventually for an Association, but not till the Bishop puts himself at our head in this or that diocese. I would merely exert myself in my own place, and with my own immediate friends, in declaring and teaching the half-forgotten truths of Church union and order to all within my influence. I address friends in other dioceses in turn, and urge them to do the same – in Keble’s words, wishing them and ourselves to say to each other, ‘We pledge ourselves to each other, reserving our canonical obedience’. We merely encourage and instruct each other: and, being able to say that others are doing elsewhere the same as we are, we have an excuse for being more bold: the circumstance that we have pledged ourselves allows us to introduce ourselves to strangers, etc. etc. We print and circulate tracts; our friends in other dioceses read them, approve, and partly disapprove. We say, ‘Make what use you will of them, and alter them in your own way: reprint them and circulate them in turn, and send us yours to do the same with’. We try to get a footing in our county newspapers; and recommend our friends elsewhere to do the same. Thus gradually certain centres, in correspondence with each other and of a proselytising nature in their respective neighbour hoods, are formed.
You will see I am for no committee, secretaries, etc., but merely for certain individuals in every part of the country in correspondence with each other, instructing and encouraging each other, and acting with all their might in their respective circles.
From a letter to Newman’s former pupil, Robert Wilson, who became Keble’s curate, 31 March 1834
The Church is certainly in a wretched state, but not a gloomy one to those who regard every symptom of dissolution as a ground of hope. Not that I would do any thing towards the undoing, or will fail both tooth and nail (so be it) to resist every change and degradation to which it is subjected. But, after all, I see a system behind the existing one, a system indeed which will take time and suffering to bring us to adopt, but still a firm foundation. Those who live by the breath of state patronage, who think the clergy must be gentlemen, and the Church must rest on the great, not the multitude, of course, are desponding. Woe to the profane hands who rob us of privilege or possession, but they can do us no harm. In the meantime, should (by any strange accident) the course of events fall back into its old channel, I will not be a disturber of the Church, though it is difficult to see how this return can be.
From I Step, I Mount: The Vision of John Henry Newman
(Little Gidding Books), edited by Arthur Middleton