In a letter of 24 March 1847 to his friend the Reverend John Tucker, Thomas Arnold defends his liberal approach to the Bible and his belief in the liberty of intellectual liberty and conscience by pointing out that he believes "Keble wrong in half an hundred" ideas "yet without being grieved that he should hold them, that is, grieved as at a fault." To Tucker's argument that "a great many erroneous opinions imply no moral fault at all" but failing to submit to the scriptures does, Arnold asks, "who shall say where the understanding ought to submit itself, unless where it is inclined to advocate any thing immoral?" and he points out how attitudes toward scripture, particularly toward its relation to science, have evolved:

We know that what in one age has been called the spirit of rebellious reason, has in another been allowed by all good men to have been nothing but a sound judgment exempt from superstition. We know that the Catholics look with as great horror on the consequences of denying the infallibility of the Church as you can do on those of denying the entire inspiration of the Scriptures; and that, to come nearer to the point, the inspiration of the Scriptures in points of physical science was once insisted on as stoutly as it is now maintained with regard to matter of history. Now it may be correct to deny their inspiration in one and not in the other; but I think it is hard to ascribe the one opinion to any thing morally faulty more than the other. I am far from thinking myself so good a man by many degrees as you are. I am not so advanced a Christian. But I am sure that my love for the Gospel is as sincere, and my desire to bring every thought into the obedience of Christ is one which I think I do not deceive myself in believing that I honestly feel. It is very painful, therefore, to be suspected of paying them only a divided homage, or to be deficient in reverence to Him whom every year that I live my whole soul and spirit own with a more entire certainty and love. Let me again say, that I am neither defending the truth of the particular opinions which I expressed to you, nor yet disavowing them. I only think that it is a pity that they should shock you. [84]

References

Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn. The life and correspondence of Thomas Arnold, D.D., late head-master of Rugby school, and regius professor of modern history in the University of Oxford. 4th ed. 2 vols. London: B. Fellowes, 1845.


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Last modified 16 July 2006