Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Foundations of the Anglican Church CXXIX

George Cornelius Gorham
Well, back to the Anglicans for a posting or two.  I had mentioned that the Oxford Movement did not begin about liturgical practices but about a return to patristic theology and doctrinal orthodoxy as opposed to the influences of 19th century skepticism and liberalism which were threatening the Church.  Gregory XVI and Pius IX were able to control these threats by decree (and vindictive punishment) in the Catholic Church, but the Church of England had only the Sovereign (and, for practical purposes, that meant Parliament, a religiously heterogeneous assortment of miscreants at best) to preserve its doctrinal integrity.  The voices of Oxford were an internal “from the grass-roots up” reform of the Church and it was, overall, quite successful when you consider the odds it was facing.  As a result of the Oxford push for a High Church polity that went far beyond where Laud would have ever dared, the Church of England polarized a bit between the High Church patristic theologians and the Low Church Evangelical theologians, but liberalism (the nasty sort represented by the Earl of Shaftsbury and the rationalists) was effectively purged from the Church for almost a century and a half. 
An interesting occurrence in the Church of England at this time gives us a glimpse of the theological liberalism from which the Oxford Movement was able to preserve the Church of England. 
George Cornelius Gorham was a priest of the Church of England.  He had graduated from Queen’s College, Cambridge, with honors in Mathematics in 1805 and was ordained priest for the Church of England in 1811 despite the Bishop’s (Thomas Dampier of Ely) concern for his orthodoxy.  In particular Gorham denied the doctrine of Baptismal regeneration—that the newly baptized, by virtue of the Sacrament, was “reborn” and incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church.  Gorham’s objections were based on a curious mixture of Calvinism and rationalism.  The theological implication of his view is that sacraments are only what we make of them and are not God’s promise and deliverance of grace.  This is the problem with the ambiguities of the Anglican tradition—the pacific avoidance of clear doctrinal stands leaves open the possibilities of un-orthodox interpretations.  Gorham didn’t have a particularly successful career in the Church, he was almost 60 years old when he was finally given a parish of his own, St. Just in Penwith and that was in Cornwall.  Bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts (of whom we heard in the surplice riots) seemed to have no reason to refuse him a pulpit despite his liberal theology.  However, only a year later when Gorham was presented for the living of Saint Peter’s Church, Bramford Speke, Phillpotts refused to institute him parish on account of Gorham’s theological stance.  Gorham appealed to an ecclesiastical court which upheld Bishop Phillpott’s decision. Gorham then appealed over the Church to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.  This was a dramatic move because it took a matter of doctrine from the jurisdiction of the Church and appealed to a governmental body for a decision.  Gorham was vindicated by the Privy Council but almost a score of prominent Anglicans left the Church of England—mostly for the Catholic Church—as a result, rejecting the idea that the temporal power had authority in matters spiritual.  Bishop Phillpott was so incensed that he threated to excommunicate any bishop—including the Archbishop of Canterbury—who might come to institute Gorham in his new living.  Instituted or not Gorham took up the living and remained there the remaining nine years or so of his life.  He carried out considerable restoration work in the Church, a project for which “no hard feelings” Phillpott contributed. 
The Gorham case gives us insight into various issues that troubled—and some which continue to trouble—the Church of England.  As a State Church the Government has immense influence over the Church—appointing bishops and, at least in the past, needing to approve changes in the Liturgy.  Given that all members of the Cabinet, much less Parliament, are not required to be Anglicans this becomes rather bizarre.  


  1. Fantastic and wonderful. More ! - Anonymous in NY

  2. You touch a sore point, but Anglicans are forced to learn young that the Lord God works his purposes out in many ways! We comfort ourselves with texts like this Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah."

  3. Thank you for kindly heeding my request. Your Anglican articles are still a delight.