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Unlike the Evangelicals and the Tractarians who opposed them, the comparatively tiny Broad Church party never formed an organized, much less essentially homogeneous, group. This loosely associated group of intellectuals in the Church of England in many ways represent what has become liberal twentieth-century Protestantism. Working under the direct or indirect influence of German liberal thought, Broad Churchmen emphasized that the Bible, though in some sense divinely inspired, was not, as Evangelicals and Tractarians believed, literally true in every detail, and that therefore the scriptures should be read metaphorically or even mythologically.

According to Shea and Whitla,

To many Broad Churchmen, biblical truth, together with the evidences of the natural world (as in Paley's Evidences of Christianity, 1974, and Natural Theology, 1802), mediates the correspondences between the divine and human orders and is communicated through figures of speech and analogies. . . . To the literalist Evangelicals, the natural world is a snare and a delusion, anticipating in the deleterious effects of the Fall; to Broad Churchmen, the empirical facts of the natural world are read analogically as revelatory of God's nature and the divine plan for the world. . . . The Broad Church position locates the analogies not in not in the relation between the design of the world and the divine nature but in correspondences between human life and experience and aspects of the divine order, ultimately between the human heart and the divine spirit.

These beliefs appeared in the intensely controversial, even infamous, Essays and Reviews (1860) and Bishop Colenso's The Pentateuch Critically Examined (1862). Some Broad Churchman, like the headmaster of Rugby Thomas Arnold (father of the critic and poet) and the Christian Socialist F. D. Maurice also emphasized a social gospel -— that is, that one could worship Christ only by working for social justice.

The intensely personal, idiosyncratic beliefs embodied in In Memoriam suggest that Tennyson is best described as a Broad Church Anglican. (One feels uncomfortable describing anyone as a "member" of such a loosely organized group.)

Related Materials

Related readings

Essays and Reviews: The 1860 Text and Its Reading. Ed. Victor Shea and William Whitla. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.


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Last modified 29 October 2009