Yesterday and Today

Dennis George Wigmore-Beddoes' Yesterday's Radicals, from 1971 and reprinted in 2002.

A Personal Review and Extension of the Issues by Adrian Worsfold

A number of claims are explicit or implicit within Yesterday's Radicals. The first is an affinity between Unitarians and Broad Church Anglicans. The second is that there is not simply a parallel affinity, but some interaction, and in both directions. The third is that this relationship has something special about it, and amounts to more than between Anglicans and other non-conformists and more than between Unitarians and other non-conformists. Implied is that this parallelism and interaction were significant and more than marginal. After looking at historical background (Wigmore-Beddoes, 1971, 15-27), the affinity and interaction is discussed in terms of higher criticism (28-50), biblical inspiration (51-78), use of a (more) traditional language of worship (than the belief held) (79-86), in interaction itself (87-110), commitment to a broad Church (111-119) and the affinity itself (120-123).
Higher criticism and biblical interaction could have been merged (or should it be higher inspiration and biblical criticism - and there might have been discussion as to whether so called higher criticism was in fact always via more specific forms and techniques of criticism that undermined higher inspiration, realised to have been highly assumptive - as stated in Hanson and Hanson (1989, 44-50) - and neither chapter is well defined or exclusive to justify separation. The chapter on higher criticism refers to higher inspiration, the development of source criticism, historical criticism, form criticism, and a little tradition criticism; and the chapter on biblical inspiration deals with higher inspiration, much on every angle of tradition criticism, and historical criticism. At the very least these two chapters should have been in reverse order, establishing a general higher inspiration with the the undermining of it first and then specific techniques of biblical criticism that took it apart. The other issues of the book follow on more or less logically, though traditonal language veers into architecture (which raises an interesting connection, hardly tackled, of architecture as a ritual statement) and interaction includes crossing boundaries (for which some interaction takes place but can be seen only as a temporary part of finding out before crossing over).
This is a research (Master of Arts thesis) book (Wigmore-Beddoes, 1971, 10), and it is a history study, and carries out its evidence through repeating quotations that came to print or were archived one way or another. Written itself in an older style, it all makes for slower reading. There are many subclauses and some double negatives within both the quotations and Wigmore-Beddoes' own text to make the going, sometimes, difficult. On top of this, there are a mass of notes at the end of the book, an incovenience of position but can read separately and from them perhaps back to the text. (My last piece of advice received about academic writing was that if it is not worth putting in the main text then it is not worth having, and if it is worth having put it in the main text. The rest is bibliography.)
The issue that arises, regarding the quoted examples, is: these people, then, and who else? In other words, do they represent the Broad Church (with its Latitudinarian background) as a whole or do they represent radicals (as in the title)? In fact, in his Preface (9-10), Wigmore-Beddoes calls these nineteenth century people liberals and those closer to his time radicals (9). The issue here is the marginality or otherwise of the Anglican names quoted. There are some significant names of course, perhaps the biggest being F. D. Maurice, and although he clearly has a Unitarian background he also turned away from it. Coleridge belongs to an earlier Unitarianism, and crossed due to at least the denominationalism he rejected. Theophilus Lindsey and Samuel Clarke, who wrote the Arian version of the Book of Common prayer, belong to a somewhat earlier and separate development, and it so happened that the denominationalist tendency arose as Lindsey, Disney and Belsham began their Unitarian careers. Lindsey in fact became more clearly Unitarian later on in his new ministry. Really, it is the later Unitarianism and Broad Church that matters. Many of the personalities quoted from later Anglicanism are the authors of Essays and Reviews (1860), and their associates. They are important, but they were not particularly central.
Essays and Reviews was significant for tackling doubt (Marshall, 1977, 44) and asking questions, if not producing many findings (43-44), and being a landmark in a tradition in Anglicanism of producing essays that indicate contemporary issues for believing. The book stands in a tradition that found its way to Soundings edited by A. R. Vidler (Cambridge University Press, 1962), Honest to God by John Robinson (SCM Press, 1962), The Myth of God Incarnate edited by John Hick (SCM Press, 1977), and possibly Taking Leave of God (SCM Press, 1980) with Sea of Faith (BBC, 1984) by Don Cupitt. These essay writers have an indirect impact on Anglicanism, receiving much immediate rejection as well as some acceptance in the longer term. It has to be said, however, that these are all boundary books - markers at the edges of Anglican belief. A protest against Essays and Reviews was signed by 11,000 clergy (out of 18,000) and 137,000 laity.
An important self-corrective here is that the authors probably illustrate belief as more widespread than their boundary testing and marginal position. This was partly the point in the Honest to God Debate (1963) and a later study and classification of the letters Robinson received as a result of Honest to God (Towler, 1984). The protest against is also in part a responsive game-play of display and expectations by leaders and assured believers. So even a hefty reaction against can be whipped up and show a bandwagon effect. Whilst the authors gain authority by being from or close to the academic community, they are also display a response to a Church that has a national reach in a situation of intellectual work in universities and feed-down cultural change of pluralism and secularisation.
An important change was in 1865. Before then, regarding the Articles, Church ministers:
willingly and ex animo [had to] subscribe to...all things that are contained in them

After 1865 all clergy needed was to:
assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer and of the ordering of bishops, priests, and deacons

and they stated:
I believe the doctrine of the Church of England as therein set forth

(from quotation in Goddard, 2007)
Significant change only really happened as late as 1974-75 regarding a breaking of liturgical unity and conservatism. It allowed a future of the Alternative Service Book (1980) and later Common Worship (2000). Also no longer do the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England feature in the reply from lay people and clergy entering Church office except that they are regarded in the question as historic formularies. Yet this change is little compared with the march of theology into ever more diverse expressions, some more radical than a nineteenth century Unitarian would want.
The articles were a problem for both the Broad Church and the Oxford Movement. Two parties were in some sense in a critical relationship with the Articles: because they restricted interpretation of belief and because of a Reformed bias respectively.
This raises a question about what the Broad Church was anyway. Did it arise a little later than and with contact from Unitarians and their ideas? Arguably one reason it was arose because of the impact of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement itself developed because of the impact of the Broad Church.
The Oxford Movement was a reaction against the secular and state affecting the national Church, to instead give the Anglican Church definition and a ritual source of definition. It was an invented tradition that linked back to some Mediaeval mystery time or "Merrie England" (McGuffie, 1981, 8) for very Victorian purposes. The people of the Oxford Movement were dismayed that Williams and Wilson, contributing to Essays and Reviews, got off so lightly (in 1864) (Pareiro in McClelland, 1996, 224).
Pusey, seeing it as a victory for Satan against the Church's resistance to infidelity, stirred Manning into action, and Manning having converted to Rome saw this judgment as legitimating rationalism inside the Anglican Church (224-225); but rather than blame the State and its judicial system, that could pronounce doctrines legal if not pronounce them true, Manning blamed this Church itself for generating its spiritual and intellectual disease in its blood and into its bone, though after some years he did favour disestablishment (222-223). The Articles Manning saw as vague enough to allow latitude and inspiration as option all regarding parts of the Bible.
Here the review is doing what Yesterday's Radicals does. It quotes individuals, and this review has done this to raise a question: how representative are these individuals against a backdrop of social and religious change? Individuals are themselves. One defended the Church of England and one abandoned it for Rome. The difference is seen in outlook. This is why a Blanco White, who left Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism for Unitarianism, is an important figure but - like all crossovers - is a difficult one to use as representative of two movements.
I am, myself, a crossover individual. I was in a Methodist fellowship where I was an agnostic, and was an also agnostic visiting a university Anglican chaplaincy; I discovered its more liberal theology in another Anglican chaplaincy where I was confirmed in 1984. However, a year later I was between Anglicanism and Unitarianism, and Unitarianism gained the upper hand until it became nearly exclusive, and I spent a year training for Unitarian ministry. I realised after I left just how far out of place I was in a more narrow than expected and especially traditional-Unitarian area. I was wanting to be more symbolic and had no relationship with the defensive conservatism that is Unitarian Christianity today. Anglicanism had the spirituality I had missed and where liberal Christianity exists (in places) that is not defensive in outlook. Nevertheless, in Anglicanism I practice an open, exploratory Christianity without self-imposed limits, like a Unitarian might do. So, whilst Anglican-happy (not about the Anglican Communion) the crossover element is part of my biography. I don't have the built in assumptions of Unitarians or Anglicans, or their ingrown tribalisms.
Arguably denomination-hoppers are more frequent today. There is not the chapel-church division as in the Victorian past, and denominations in those days represented divisions within Christianity (they hardly do now) and they had generations of family habit that restricted movement whereas, these days, families do not regenerate churches and religious observance is voluntary and chosen. So denomination-hoppers carry their own qualities and do not represent typical or good examples of interaction by agreement and parallel courses - especially then.
The Broad Church against the Oxford Movement was to maintain contact with the intellectual world beyond and social change that a revived holy sect might lose. The important sociological point here is that whereas in a traditional religious culture the Oxford and Broad Church would have been one, now they were different because religious culture was changing. One was resisting and the other accommodating wider culture. They also had a positive relationship. What the Broad Church did for the Oxford Movement was support the reduction in dependence on the necessity to maintain scriptural detail, allowing the Church to interpret scripture with more freedom, whereas the Oxford Movement gave the Broad Church some symbolic form for its more limited or focused affirmations.
The point here then was that whilst there was friendship with some Unitarians from some Broad Church people at the radical end of their accommodation with culture, and the parish church mentality was agreeable to both, it was the case that nevertheless the Broad Church movement was its own entity, and made sense on its own terms. Wigmore-Beddoes indicates this in the conclusion (as with Thomas Arnold and A. P. Stanley, 122). In fact it made more sense not as a radical group but as a bureaucratic and moderate group, being a mediator between traditionalist Evangelical and traditionalist Anglo-Catholic. This is why the Broad Church provided moderate and inoffensive to either side Church leaders. They could hold the enterprise together, as well as also negotiate with some remaining definition the secularising and pluralising culture outside.
It is this role that is collapsing, along with the divorce between Church and culture now. As Michael Hampson put it, the Broad Church liberals' "greatest triumph" (Hampson, 2006, 102) in ordaining women in 1994 split the Anglo-Catholics into liberal Catholics in favour and traditionalist Catholics against. The traditionalists became sidelined into their own structure, and this led to the tug of war between the increasingly fundamentalist charismatic-evangelical wing and increasingly liberal wing, that could possibly destroy the English Anglican Church, as assisted by the division within the Anglican Communion. There is no effective, reachable, managerial middle. Those on the boundary between Evangelicalism and the Broad Church, sometimes called Open Evanglicals, are torn in both directions, having seen themselves become distinct from liberals and yet exploring evangelical theology unlike their increasingly fundamentalist associates. They have yet to split. The problem is that liberal theology has become more radical in a postmodern direction, and this has become more possible as the managerial role has faded. The Open Evangelicals cannot take up the managerial role themselves, as other far-out evangelicals do not want to compromise with more distant liberals.
Yesterday's Radicals pretty much ignores the Oxford Movement except when it comes to architecture. Had the book used some sociological analysis it might have seen this and the connection with Victorian gothic, as well as support among Broad Church people (86). This style did come to Unitarianism in parallel with the Oxford Movement emerging, in 1839, but with a pulpit at the front to retain the emphasis on preaching (Upper Brook Street, Manchester, see 85). However, the pulpit was moved to the side in later churches from 1848 (85) as gothic found its place. Also gothic indicated social change: it may have been a feudal Merrie England for reactionary new Anglo-Catholics but elsewhere it also signified the new role of the middle class. Gothic was a statement of glory and power (and wealth), and up to adopting it the middle class in its chapels was pushing for subversive political reform strongly. The 1832 Act was the achievement where the House of Commons would no longer be regarded as the elected members of the Church of England (see Nockles, 1996, 93) (again, significant for both Oxford and Broad Church movements), and this was the point where the political feudalism already weakened in local government (with a few gothic town halls too) was giving way in national government. From then on a clock was counting down for the House of Lords. The conclusion to Yesterday's Radicals also equates middle class and reasonableness, but this was not the case, arguably, for the Puritan mercantilists or the ideological middle class capitalists seeking reform and power before they won. Reasonableness is a later modern view.
The early Unitarians, liberal and capitalistic, fierce and denominational, who competed on the Bible, were of the new middle class agitators. They followed on from the mercantilist Presbyterians, reviving the Puritan spirit but for a time losing the parish mentality. After political reform, and the rise of the Unitarians - who took back the parish mentality but lost the Puritan divisiveness, gothic was more a statement of importance and of having arrived. Then they became reasonable and adopted the symbolism of the past for themselves.
Again, Yeterday's Radicals is descriptive, not analytical, about why both Unitarians and Broad Church people were conservative in liturgy. For the Broad Church, combining conservative liturgy and an increasingly symbolic (not just "refined and unnatural", 80) explanation of liturgy was a comment on religion as being more artistic than pseudo-scientific - not to be an alternative science or history in the Bible, but a broader insight into religious mystery. For the Unitarians, its was a way, again, of reconciling the divorce of doing science and history out of religion. Martineau's solution was also theological: that the Bible was but an example of something greater and more mysterious (Martineau, 1891, 279), However, taking a symbolic route requires leaving in rather than taking out what you are being symbolic about. Thus Martineau could leave in references to Christ as Saviour (81) long after he had abandoned even the specificity of the New Testament as the core witness of revelation.
As for a special relationship between Broad Church Anglicans and Unitarians, this has to be set against something else. The case of other denominations gets little mention for contrasting with Anglicanism within Yesterday's Radicals. Contrast is surely necessary. What, for example, of the notion that Unitarians were leaders of nonconformity, a status that became increasingly difficult to sustain due to the opposition of other nonconformity? What, for example, of the different phases of General Baptists becoming Unitarian Baptists, either as a group identity, congregations changing or individuals moving? What about the background of the Cookite Methodists that equally boosted the denominationalism of Unitarianism? Were later Unitarians able to reach out to Anglicanism because the Church approach to denomination predominated over the Sect approach to being a denomination, when other denominations were "chapel" against "church"? What about, then, Wesleyan Methodists, and the impact of higher views of ecclesiology?
An alternative conclusion, then, even from the evidence of a few handfuls of parallel thinking people and interaction is this: that the affinity was between the edges of Broad Church Anglicans and Unitarians; that the level of interaction was very small; that the relationship with nonconformity is important from both Churches; that the Broad Church Anglican position was self-sufficient in its theological development; and that it made some but not major changes in assent and liturgical practice in part because, as a response to the Oxford Movement, it was an in-between Anglicans party and became an emergent managerial group between the Anglo-Catholics and the Evangelicals. Yesterday's Broad Church radicals were those who were part of its the Broad Church inclusivity but not its centre.
Nevertheless, a number of points do emerge from the book. One is that some Unitarians were indeed quick off the mark in accepting German biblical criticism. Whilst it remains the fact that whilst Anglican theology has been busier that that of other English and Welsh denominations, the Church of England (in its suspicion of the continent and American independence - neither suspicion mentioned by Wigmore-Beddoes) has been a bywater for theological endeavour compared with the continent and the United States. Equally the liberal controversies into the twentieth century were sideshows for continental and American theologians. Nevertheless some theological apologetic details were being dropped by many Anglicans in the later nineteenth century, such as bloody sacrificial views of the atonement. The divinity of Christ has been upheld in other ways.
Also James Martineau, although almost wholly forgotten now outside Unitarianism, was a large figure in his time and did have insight into many subjects - he was there before Troeltsch and Weber regarding Church and Sect, he understood why liturgy becomes symbolic and conserved (unlike many a Unitarian today who preaches freedom of belief, thinks that truth is objective and remains as it minimalises, and then uses religious language that many individuals find disagreeable - so a more symbolic and conserved view of the liturgical process would help Unitarians too). Martineau understood the rise of subjectivity in religion; he predated postmodernism but he certainly introduced the reasoning for the liberal variant of postmodernism and its basis in language. He saw, and yet resisted, the implications of his generalist incarnation view regarding the place of other faiths and philosophies. Martineau's insights could be reintroduced to liberal Anglicans today, especially as Martineau participated in the liturgical change that has now partly come upon Anglicanism and undermined a core basis of its once held-together unity. Channing is better remembered, perhaps, but as a figure of history, but Channing is more precise than Martineau.
Yesterday's Radicals stopped at an artificial date - the end of the nineteenth century. The author could have at least continued to the activity of the Free Catholics in the 1920s, because this was a testing of the limits of the open Presbyterian ethos inside Unitarianism. It would also have showed co-operation across nonconformity: that they were all picking up the currents of the Oxford Movement, theological change in the Broad Church, and Victorian gothic. Free Catholicism offered conserved and even more elaborate Catholic liturgy (even Roman) with a rejection of all dogma. It was a demonstration of the importance of the wrapping paper, being an early form of postmodern signfier when the objectivity of the signified present had become hugely compromised theologically. And yet this movement dispersed and leaked some of its people to Roman Catholicism.
So the Puritan shadow continued over Unitarianism, and its attachment to the objective truth of simple Christianity meant it was wedded to minimalism and a restricted spirituality. It looked for a diminished present and ignored the wrapping paper. Only now is Unitarianism asking about new forms of spirituality, assisted by the New Age, and yet still it is in a defensive game, as with the General Assembly Object adopted in 2001 to "uphold liberal Christianity" (whatever that is) (GA, 2006). Unitarianism does this whilst liberal Anglicans, still dealing with inherited beliefs in liturgies, continue with symbolic interpretations of large parts of the belief.
The conclusion to Yesterday's Radicals, as indicated, introduces new points. It is also left to the conclusion to state that, as Essays and Reviews showed, the Broad Churchmen were stretching their Church to dangerous limits (123). Why this unsuported statement? Had the author acknowledged before that these Broad Churchmen were marginal, then there would not have been this innovatory conclusion that 18000 clergy would not have made adaptations for two to three hundred Unitarian ministers, and these ministers would not, except for belief in God, have given up their freedom to be absorbed back (123). It is a pity that this discussion was not tackled earlier, because these Church people did stretch Anglican limits - and how? They did it, as ever since, through argument and intellectual method in shifting the basis of making doctrinal statements. The result was a slow development towards using any argument one likes so long as, liturgically, the doctrinal position is upheld in some way or other.
The key to this, then, is indeed that liturgical conservatism is the essential bargain with intellectual freedom. Preaching is, of course, part of that liturgical conservatism, and yet even here the various arguments can be employed and exercised so long as the general doctrinal position is somehow upheld. This general position is defined by the assent given on taking office, but also by the thrust of the whole service and pastoral sensitivities. It is not entirely an Anglican phenomenon. The interesting point here is that Unitarians were also liturgically conserving, leading to some charges of inconsistency. So it needs more analysis of why liturgical conservatism happens. It is not simply due to formal rules (as the Unitarian case might show: rules can be informal and uphold chapel committee preference and restriction). Why is because, by its very nature, ritual is regular and repetitive and works as something-other to put the self through, and should stand as a religious challenge at some distance from the individual. Religious ritual has to be related to taste, but in order to bind has to have a life of its own as well. This means that it must be resistant, compared with the changability of arguments. Ritual has to maintain the quality of offering a gift over and above the human material offering.
Connected to this is the truth that theology would not exist in a fully connected sense without worship, and for a Church worship is a driver of much theology. Worship is rather like a roundabout around which theology - as a set of questions - is the traffic. This, incidentally, is a way of understanding the practice of creeds: they have become another liturgical roundabout, and the traffic is the theology that relates to them even if the findings are contrary in part or whole. Creeds define the tradition as once cohered and come down, and then theology does a good job of unravelling and relativising them, to expose them for some people as a particular viewpoint at a particular time under a particular Greek style philosophy. Then they keep being said anyway as still the collective tradition handed down. It is an odd rotating business.
Some of the Broad Church liberals after the 1970s could see that revision of liturgical language to more contemporary forms might expose the doctrine in liturgy to more clarity and therefore threaten unity, mystery and theological endeavour. The outcome of increasingly variable liturgies still facilitates a highly symbolic presentation for those so inclined, but liberal protestants face lack of symbolic support (the Parish Communion movement has helped them) and much liturgical law-breaking has happened at the evangelical end to Anglican informality. Theology has, in many places, become still more liberal and radical regardless of legal, symbolic presentation.
As regards Yesterday's Radicals, so much continued that there could indeed be a sequel, and one that covers the twentieth century, and how changes in the sociology of knowledge affects the sociology of religion and then theological change could be examined along with historical methods as to where the Churches are today.
I bought this book because it describes aspects of a formative period of present day developments. It well predates both liberal and conservative postmodern theologies. Martineau would have understood them both. It does cover, though, the times of change that have impacted for a long time. The problem is that it is a very narrow view of history, and is all about personalities. Because it looks at the documents and quotes from them in effectiveoly an empirical approach to historiography, it does not analyse the sociological and theological movements of change, and it cannot produce the necessary wider view.


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General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, aka GA (2006), 'About the GA', Unitarian National Organisation (UK), General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Friday February 02 2007, 04:55].

Goddard, A. (2007), Letter to Giles Goddard, Goddard2Goddard; 13 January 2007; Fulcrum, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Friday February 02 2007, 02:08].

Hampson, M. (2006), Last Rites: The End of the Church of England, London: Granta Books.

Hanson, R. P. C., Hanson, A. T. (1989), The Bible without Illusions, London: SCM Press.

McGuffie, D. (1981), The Hymn Sandwich: A Brief History of Unitarian Worship, originally a lecture at the Worship Workshop of the General Assembly, Newcastle, 1981, London: Worship Subcommittee of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

McClelland, V. A. (1996), By Whose Authority? Newman, Manning and the Magisterium, Bath: Downside Abbey.

Martineau, J. (1859), Church-Life? or Sect-Life? A Second Letter to S. F. Macdonald, in Reply to the Critics of the First, London.

Martineau, J. (1891), Essays, Reviews and Addresses, Vol. 3, London: Longman.

Nockles, P. (1996), 'Newman and Early Tractarian Politics', in McClelland, V. A. (1996), 79-111.

Pereiro, J. (1996), 'Crossed Visions - The Anglican Manning's Opinions of Rome and the Catholic Manning's Thoughts on Canterbury', in McClelland, V. A. (1996), 204-243.

Towler, R. (1984), The Need For Certainty: A Sociological Study of Conventional Religion, International Library of Sociology, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Wigmore-Beddoes, Dennis George. (1971, reprinted 2002), Yesterday's Radicals:A Study of the Affinity between Unitarianism and Broad Church Anglicanism in the Nineteenth Century, Library of Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge: James Clarke and Company.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful