Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

THE promotion of Dr Hook from a laborious town parish to the comparative leisure of a deanery will not have been without its public fruits, if it does nothing more than furnish us with a good readable History of the English Church. It was much wanted; for drier food than was usually presented to the reader under that title can hardly be imagined. Much painstaking research, a very conscientious balancing of authorities, and a large amount of out-of-the-way learning, has been employed upon several of our modern Church Histories. But, however these may meet the wants of the student, they are for the most part sadly unattractive to the general reader. The old monkish writers, with all their marvellous stories unpruned, were much more entertaining; for when the super natural items, which are the anecdotes of medieval history, come to be explained away, the residuum may be very innocent and unobjectionable, but it is often terribly insipid.

The Dean of Chichester is not to be placed above his predecessors in

VOL. XC.

this department of history, so far as extensive learning or research is concerned; probably he would himself be the last to claim any such superiority: the praise which he deserves-and it is really praise

is that of being eminently readable. If the student will not have learned much which could not have been gained elsewhere, he will find the facts put together in a clear and pleasant narrative. With the miraculous element, that sore stumblingblock to all who have to deal with the old ecclesiastical authorities, Dr Hook deals manfully and summarily; he rejects it altogether. "It is inconsistent," he says, "with the principles of our holy religion to expect the performance of miracles under the Christian dispensation." (We presume that we are meant to understand, since the days of the Apostles). Such miracles would not have been permitted to take place if not absolutely necessary, and miracles cannot be necessary in a church which professes a completed Bible." Such a canon is at least a very simple one, and facilitates the study of early ecclesias

66

Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. By W. F. HOOK, D.D., Dean of Chichester. Vol. i.-Anglo-Saxon Period. London: Bentley, 1860.

VOL. XC.-NO DXLIX.

A

tical history considerably; and it is convenient for the reader to have it laid down thus dogmatically at the outset. Whether it has not its weak side, we shall not here stop to inquire. It was not always part of the author's own creed, as he honestly reminds us; he has adopted it only after mature consideration; we do not mean to say it is the less to be respected on that account. But when it comes to be applied practically to each particular case, it is beset with the difficulties which accompany all scepticism, theological or historical. To deny the miraculous is a very easy process; but when you come to philosophise the fact into the prose of ordinary life, the explanation commonly demands as much faith as the miracle. It is so with the juggler's sleight-of-hand: when he gives you back your watch safe and sound, you feel satisfied it is not the same which you saw hammered to pieces a minute ago; and you are right in your conclusion; but if you are not content without proceeding to explain to a friend your own notion of the real process, it is most likely that you will be unintelligible, and pretty certain that you will be wrong. Surely the simpler way of dealing with these old chronicles is to tell the tale as the monkish historian told it; but to separate the fact from the fiction will continue to be the temptation of the historian.

these days, the ordinary Christian, taught to use the world without abusing it-to blend the duties of a contemplative with those of an active life; to distinguish between self-discipline and asceticism; to aim at practical usefulness instead of a theoretical, unattainable perfection-is superior to the greatest saints of the middle age, to whom at the same time we tender the homage of a charitable respect."(P. 38.) We hope we shall not incur the charge of undue reverence for medieval Christianity, if we venture to think that some of its "greatest saints" were really not inferior to

""

ordinary Christians even of this century. We think we shall be able to show, from Dr Hook's own pages, that there were occasions on which, though they asserted no miraculous powers, their life and death were notes of sanctity better than a miracle.

When Dr Hook goes so far as to say that "it is only in modern times that we have learnt to distinguish between credulity and faith," we think many readers besides ourselves, having a vivid recollection of what men profess to believe and to disbelieve, in the year of grace 1861, will be somewhat slow to follow him. But it is a strong feature in the historian of the Archbishops that he claims for himself, bravely and honestly, to be a man of the

age.

He wastes nothing in regrets for the past or dreams of the future. The religion of this nineteenth century he considers (apparently) the model of Christianity. "In

66

We are not by any means going to assert that every Archbishop of Canterbury in the volume before us was a saint, in any sense of the word. Such an assertion could hardly be made, without some limitation, even of St Palmerston's modern episcopate. Nothing is more patent, in most cases of bishops and archbishops, than their humanity. There were as many varieties of the episcopal type in the Church's early days as in our own. The material which the royal prerogative worked up into a bishop-for royal prerogative it always was in the Anglo-Saxon Church-was various in its texture, then as now. There was the schoolmaster bishop, Theodorus, and armed with an actual power of flogging his refractory canons, which one hopes was exercised with moderation, but which would be very terrible in the hands of some schoolmaster bishops of modern date; the dilettante primate, Nothelm, busy with his illuminations, in which he was no mean proficient, and which were to him all that Archæological Institutes and Arundel Societies are to modern ecclesiastics; pious and learned divines,

like Bregwin the German, loth to quit his studies, and protesting an honest nolo episcopari against his elevation; Latin verse-makers, like Tatwine, before whom a false quantity would hardly have reckoned as a venial sin, who wrote classical enigmas in rather enigmatical Latin, and, in other respects, "passed his life in the quiet routine of episcopal duty." There were men who seemed to have mistaken their vocation: Odo, the Dane, who was three times on the field of battle after his consecration, and saved King Athelstane's life from the Northmen in the great fight of Brunanburgh, whose combative spirit, Dr Hook thinks, would in these days have found its natural vent in the House of Lords, in some trenchant onslaught upon the opponents of orthodoxy (possibly the Liberation Society, or the Essays and Reviews); and statesmen like Dunstan, who would have found in any vocation the road to power. We are seldom able to trace with much certainty the motives which led to their election in each particular case, but probably these were as various as the men. Their appointment rested, as we have said, entirely with the king; their confirmation by the clergy of the chapter seems to have followed as a matter of course. The pallium conferred by the Pope was as yet rather a token of honour than an investiture of office; and though the Roman See assumed the right of arbitration in appeals, its pretensions were set at nought whenever they were inconvenient.

It was a happy thought to comprise a History of the English Church in a series of biographies of its primates. Dr Hook very fairly observes, that it is quite as natural an arrangement as that to which we are all so well accustomed in secular histories of our own and other countries-the making the king the central figure, grouping the contemporary facts round him, and dividing the history into those arbitrary but convenient periods which begin and close with each suc

ceeding reign. It is true that the Archbishop of Canterbury could never be said to represent the Church as the king did the realm of England; but he serves as a centre-point none the less, and helps to localise in the reader's memory facts which, in themselves, are not so readily remembered as the more stirring events in the life of camps and courts. The one point in which the succession of archbishops fails to answer this purpose as conveniently as that of the kings has been found to do, is this, that as the latter usually succeed either by hereditary descent or by conquest, most of the needful particulars of the early life of each before his accession will have been naturally comprised in the reign of his predecessor; whilst an archbishop, succeeding to the primacy at a much later period of life than the king to the throne, and having a previous personal history to be told, quite distinct, in many cases, from that of his predecessor, obliges both author and reader continually to retrace their steps in point of time, in a manner which to the latter is sometimes rather bewildering, and which is the only inconvenient feature in Dr Hook's present arrangement.

The Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, then, is nothing more or less than a History of the AngloSaxon Church from the mission of Augustine into Kent. The annals of the early British, or rather Celtic, Church, are merely glanced at in an Introduction. The form which the author has chosen for his work necessarily precluded any fuller notice; for there were no British archbishops of Canterbury. And the difficulties which beset the ecclesiastical historian, in any attempt to sift truth out of the pious fabulists who have enlarged upon the first planting of Christianity in Britain, are certainly so formidable, that even Dean Hook's courageous spirit may be excused for declining to grapple with them. The Welsh writersalways strong in genealogies, temporal or spiritual-make out amongst

them that a majority of the apostles were in one way or another concerned in the evangelisation of their island. One almost wonders that they do not insist upon some at least of that body having been Welshmen by birth or descent. But probably Dean Hook's natural sympathies have had something to do, even though unconsciously, with this limitation of his ground. If there is one thing upon which he honestly prides himself, it is that he is an Anglo-Saxon. He evidently thinks much more of it than of being Dean of Chichester. "That indomitable spirit of independence which, inherited from our Saxon ancestors, is the glory and the characteristic of the English race." Such are the concluding words of this volume, and their spirit may be traced throughout. We confess that our Celtic feelings are slightly ruffled by the constant reiteration, by modern writers, of these Anglo-Saxon pretensions. The old national self-glorification (always pretty strong in the little island) used to content itself with the term Britons, which has grown quite oldfashioned and obsolete. It is the Anglo-Saxons who are to go everywhere, and do everything, in these days. There is no particular objection to a man calling himself an Anglo-Saxon, if he is so disposed; but the precise ground of this form of family pride is rather difficult to understand. At the best, AngloSaxon blood is but a successful cross. The modern Englishman who insists upon the title is quite as likely to be a combination of Celt and Dane. The Dean of Chichester's surname, no doubt, is of anything but Celtic derivation; but if we had his family tree drawn out from Woden downwards, we have little doubt but that his excellent moral and intellectual qualities would be found to be the result of a continued "natural selection" from the various national stocks which have peopled the island in succession, from Albion the sea giant and Brut the Trojan down to the latest Flemish inimigration. How can any man tell, in these days,

what proportion of Saxon blood he has in his veins? No people seem to have cared less about pedigree. When the present David Jones traces his descent in a long series of aps up to King Arthur, although the historic truth is not conclusive, the principle is intelligible; or when a man tells us that his ancestor came over with the Conqueror, and points to his name on the roll of Battle Abbey, there is a certain amount of probability in the claim, whatever it may be worth, and there is room for a charitable hope that the Norman rider, when the fighting was over, brought his wife across seas, and lived a decent and respectable life afterwards; but a true-born AngloSaxon is a genealogical absurdity. It is very well for a poet like Mr Kingsley, when he sings his song of the North-East Wind-we hope, by the way, that he has had the "Viking's blood within" him stirred sufficiently during this last spring it is very well for him to tell us that his forefathers came

[blocks in formation]

stated by the historian." There were excuses for this: the Welsh traditions, and in a less degree the Irish, are palpably untrustworthy; and whatever more authentic records may have existed have probably perished, as Gildas of Bangor says they did, in the troublous days of foreign invasion. The author of the Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, though he takes Augustine's mission as his starting-point, is careful to give due honour to the teachers who had preceded him. It has been too often assumed that to Gregory, and his missionary Augustine, England was entirely indebted for the introduction of Christianity -that before that time its light had never reached beyond the remote fastnesses of Wales and Scotland. During the long rule of the Roman Church in England, this assumption was naturally encouraged for the greater honour of the Papal See. Popular belief, never very curious as to ecclesiastical antiquities, was quite content to adopt it; and popular belief maintains its ground long after historical investigation has disproved it. But it is curious to find even so learned and accurate a writer as Dr Stanley contributing unconsciously to strengthen the common misapprehension. Throughout the whole of his picturesque and interesting account of the "Landing of Augustine," there is nothing more than a passing allusion to the remnants of the old British churches." He speaks of the Italian mission as "the means, under God, by which our fathers received the light of the Gospel," and points to Canterbury emphatically as "the first English Christian city." Even granting that such an expression as the first might be correctly used in a lecture delivered to the people of Kent, it is very misleading when published to be read by the general public of England. Of course Dr Stanley himself understood perfectly well what he meant to imply, and those who have any very moderate acquaintance with Church history will not misunderstand his words; but an ignorant

66

reader would scarcely imagine, from such a mode of statement, that there had been for centuries British metropolitans of London, and probably of York; that the last of the archbishops of London, Theonus, had been obliged to take refuge in Wales only eleven years before Augustine's arrival; and that, to use Dr Hook's own admission, "the northern half of Anglo-Saxon Britain was indebted for its conversion to Christianity, not to Augustine and the Italian mission, but to the Celtic missionaries who passed through Bernicia and Deira into East Anglia, Mercia, and even Wessex."

Historians have reproached the Celtic Church with a lack of zeal to attempt the conversion of the conquering Saxons. The remark is originally Bede's, who was himself, it must be remembered, a pupil of the Italian missionaries. Reserve and jealousy towards all foreigners is undoubtedly a characteristic of the Celtic nation, as it was of the Jews. But there is no need to seek in this national prejudice excuses for the apathy charged against them. A century of hard fighting for existence leaves little leisure or temper for evangelisation. A people who have been driven back, step by step, before a pagan invasion, disputing every river and every ridge as they retired, and who have been worsted in a war of extermination, may be excused if they bury their religion for a while with their defeat in their mountain fastnesses, and leave the successful invader to the protection of his own gods. It is no reproach to the disinherited. British Church, if the Gospel, which the Saxons trode out before them as they advanced, came back into Kent from a different quarter.

The mission of St Augustine, then, was, even in Kent, but the rekindling of the old altar-fires. Nay, the light was found still burning there. Though the King of Kent was a heathen, his Queen, Bertha, had brought with her from her father's court at Paris her Christian chaplain, Luidhard. An ancient church

« VorigeDoorgaan »