Three Introductory Lectures on the Study of Ecclesiastical History/Lecture 2

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Dryness of Ecclesiastical HistoryIt is sometimes said, that of all historical studies that of Ecclesiastical History is the most repulsive. We seem to be set down in the valley of the Prophet's vision,—strewn with bones, and behold they are "very many," and "very dry;" skeletons of creeds, of churches, of institutions; trodden and traversed by the feet of travellers again and again; the scapegoat of one age lying lifeless by the scapegoat of the next; rusty controversies, 'of which the locks have been turned so often that they can now neither be opened nor shut;' craters of extinct volcanoes, which once filled the world with their noise, and are now dead and cold; the salt shores of a barren sea, which throws up again dead and withered the branches which the river of life had cast into it full of beauty and verdure,—the very reverse of that green prospect which I set before you in my opening Lecture; the more dreary, it may be said, from the wide extent into which it spreads. "How are we to give interest to such a task; how shall the healing streams penetrate into those dead waters; how shall those dry bones live?"

Remedy to be found in an Historical view of the Church.There may be many answers to this question, but I shall contcnt myself with the most obvious. Remember, that of all these things there is a history. These relics, these institutions, these characters, (take them at their worst,) had each a part to play amongst mankind; they were men of flesh and blood like ourselves, or they dwelt with men of flesh and blood like ourselves; they were living human spirits, or they were the instruments of living human spirits; however decayed, however antiquated they may be, yet in their very age they have an interest which no novelty can give. We cannot, it is true, enter on Ecclesiastical History, whether in its wider or its narrower sense, with the feeling of fresh enthusiasm which inspires the discoverers of unexplored regions, whether of science or history, "the first who ever burst into the silent sea," or secluded ruins, which no eye of man has seen before. But we can enter upon it with the yet deeper delight which fills our minds, as we feel rising beneath our feet the ground of the Seven Hills; or as we gaze, knowing that hundreds of thousands have gazed before us, on the everlasting outline of the Pyramids. So view the history of the Church, even in its most lifeless and withered forms; so view it as part of a whole, as once having lived, as living still in ourselves, as destined to live on in future generations; so prophesy over its dry bones as they lie scattered and disjointed over the surface of the world,—and we shall soon hear "a noise and a shaking," and "the bones will come together," each to each, and "the breath will come into them, and they will live, and stand up upon their feet, an exceeding great army."

Let me point out how this remedy is involved in the very nature of the case. Take, for example, the I. History of Doctrineshistory of doctrines and opinions. Many ecclesiastical histories contain little else; half of theology is taken up in stating them. How immensely do they gain in liveliness, in power, in the capacity of being understood and appreciated, if we view them through the medium of the lives, characters, and circumstances of those who received and taught them. Trace the actual course of any opinion or dogma; see the influences by which it was coloured; compare the relative importance attached to it at one period or another; ask how far the words in which it has been expressed convey the same or a different meaning to us or to our fathers; discover, if possible, its fountain-head in the time, the country, or the person in which it first originated. Look at Augustinianism as it arose in the mind of Augustine; at Lutheranism as it was conceived by Luther; at Wesleyanism as it was set forth by Wesley. It will cease to be a phantom, it will speak to us as a man: if it is an enemy, we shall slay it more easily; if a friend, we shall embrace it more warmly.

Still more is this the case with the kindred subject of confessions and articles of faith. If we regard them merely in their cut and dried results, they may indeed serve many useful ends; they supply stakes to make hedges against intruders, planks to cross our enemy's trenches, faggots II. History of Creeds and burn heretics. But go to the soil from which they sprang. Watch them in their wild, native, luxuriant growth. Observe the moss which has grown over their stems, the bough rent away there and grafted in here, the branches inextricably intertwined with adjacent thickets. So regarded, they will not be less, but more of a shelter; we shall not value them the less, for understanding them better. Figure to yourselves, as you read any creeds or confessions, the lips by which they were first uttered, the hands by which they were first written. Hear the Apostles' Creed, as it summed up in its few simple sentences the belief of the Roman martyrs. Watch the Nicene bishops meeting each other, and their opponents, and the great Emperor Constantine, for the first time, on the shores of the Bithynian lake. Listen to the triumphant war-songs of Clovis over the vanquished Arians of France and Spain, and you will catch with a clearer understanding the true significance of their echo in the old Latin hymn, Quicunque vult, then first welcomed into Europe. Read the Articles of the English Church in their successive mutilations, excrescences, variations. Go to that most precious of collegiate libraries in the sister University where the venerable autograph which contains them may still be seen; look at the signatures of those whose names are affixed; conceive the persons whom those names represent; imagine them, as any one who has ever taken part in any council, or commission, or committee, or conclave of any kind whatever, can and must imagine them; one sacrificing, another insisting on, a favourite expression; a new turn given to one sentence, a charitable colour thrown over another; the edge of a sharp exclusion blunted by one party; the sting of a bitter sarcasm drawn by another. Start from this view, as certain as it can be made by the facts of human nature and by the facts of history, both universal and particular. Regard confessions of faith in this, their only true, historical light, and in that light many a new glimpse will be obtained of their practical justice and moderation; many a harsh expression will be explained; many a superfluous scruple of honest minds will vanish away; many a foolish controversy will be extinguished for ever.

III. History of events and personsBut the proper material for Ecclesiastical History is, after all, not institutions or opinions, but events and persons. Leviticus and the Proverbs have their own special value, but they are not reckoned amongst the "historical books" of the Jewish Church. Bingham's learned work, however useful as an auxiliary, contains "the antiquities" only, not the history, of the Christian Church. It is on its special incidents and characters that the life-blood of that history depends. How can we best make ourselves acquainted with these?

General study.In this, as in so many other branches of knowledge, the question can only be fully answered in each particular case. Whatever way will best enable each man in his own peculiar situation, character, and opportunities, to remember, and understand, and profit, that is to him the best, and can be taught only by consulting his own experience.

For general readers, the best general counsel which can be given is that which I have already indicated. Study the history of the Church in connexion with the collateral subjects with which it is bound up; let us keep our eyes and ears open to the religious aspects of history, and they will flow in upon us, we know not whence, or how.

Let us read also, whatever we do read, as elsewhere, so here, in the works of eminent historians rather than in those of writers without a name and without a character; and yet more, read, if possible, works which describe what they describe at length and in detail, and which therefore leave a lasting impression on the memory and imagination, rather than in the crowded pages of meagre abstracts, which are forgotten as soon as read. Great works and full works, not small works and short works, are in the end the best economy of time as well as of everything else.

But this leads me to what is, on the whole, the most instructive, if not the only course, which can be followed in a Chair like this, for any who wish, in the true sense of the word, to be "students" of Ecclesiastical History. We cannot attempt to describe or to study every event in detail, for time and labour would fail; we need not do it compendiously, for this has been done to our hands again and again, and of late years with such candour and research as to render any further work of the kind superfluous. Detailed study of great events.One method remains to us, at once the most obvious and the most interesting. Lay aside the lesser events, or read them only so far as to preserve a continuous knowledge of the general thread of the history: it is for this purpose that the briefer narratives, when clearly and ably written, are of substantial use. But study the greater events, scenes, places, and revolutions, in all the detail in which they can be represented to us.

The Councils.Take, for example, the General Councils of the Church. They are the pitched battles of Ecclesiastical History. Ask yourselves the same questions as you would about the battles of military history. Ask when, and where, and why they were fought. Put before your minds all the influences of the age which there were confronted and concentrated from different quarters as in one common focus. See why they were summoned to Nicæa, to Constance, to Trent: the locality often contains here, as in actual battles, the key of their position, and easily connects the Ecclesiastical History of the age with its general history and geography. Look at the long procession as it enters the scene of assembly; see who was present and who was absent. Let us make ourselves acquainted with the several characters there brought together, so that we may recognise them as old friends if we meet them again elsewhere. Study their decrees, as expositions of the prevailing sentiments of the time; study them, as a recent historian has advised us to study the statutes of our own ancient Parliaments; see what evils are most condemned, and what evils are left uncondemned; observe how far their injunctions are still obeyed, or how far set at nought, and ask in each case the reason why. Read them, as I have just now noticed, with the knowledge given to us by our own experience of all synods of all kinds; read them with the knowledge which each gives of every other. Do this for any one Council, and you will have made a deep hole into Ecclesiastical History.

Detailed study of great men.And still more let this same rule be followed with regard to persons. Take any one character. It may be, we shall be attracted towards him by some accidental connexion; it may, and should rather be, on account of his preeminent greatness. Do not let him leave you till you have, at any rate, retained some one distinctive feature by which you will know him again in the multitudes amongst which he will else be lost; some feature of mind or person which he has, and which others have not.

Many of us must have read, in part at least, Neander's "History of the Christian Church," and will Neander and his History of the Church.have admired, as every one must admire, the depth, the tenderness, the delicacy of Christian sentiment which pervades the whole of his vast work, and fulfils his own beautiful motto, "It is the heart which makes the theologian,"—Pectus theologum facit. Yet, without disparaging the value of such a mirror of Christian history in such a character, we cannot help feeling that it is often rather the theologian than the historian whose words we read; that it is often rather the thoughts, than the actual persons and deeds of men, that he is describing to us. They are the ghosts of Ossian, rather than the heroes of Homer; they are refined, they are spiritualized to that degree, that their personality almost vanishes; the stars of heaven shine through them; but we have no hold on their earthly frames; we can trace no human lineaments in their features as they pass before us. Let us endeavour to fill up this outline; however much of deeper interest it may have for the more philosophical mind, it will hardly lay hold on the memory or the affections of the more ordinary student, unless it is brought closer to our grasp. How differently we learn to estimate even Neander himself, according as we merely regard him as a thinker of holy thoughts, the writer of a good book, or as we see the venerable historian in his own proper person,—his black, shaggy, overhanging eyebrows and his strong Jewish physiognomy revealing the nation and religion to which he first belonged; working at his history night and day with insatiable ardour to shew to his unconverted countrymen what Christianity really was; abstracted from all thought of worldly cares, of food, and dress, and money, and time; living, dying, buried in the affections, in the arms of his devoted pupils. What by proximity of time we are enabled to do for the historian, true research usually enables us to do for those whom he describes. Watch their first appearance, their education, their conflicts, their death-beds. Observe their relative position to each other; see what one did which another would not have done, what one thought or said which to another would have been heretical or superstitious; or, lastly, what all did, and said, and thought in common.

Representation of the distinction of charactersIf I were to name one especial excellence amongst the many which render Mr. Grote's great achievement so important an addition, not merely to Grecian history, but to all historical study, of whatever kind, it would be the keen discrimination with which he presents, not merely distinct characters, but distinct types of character in the lineage of the Grecian mind, whom before we had been accustomed to regard much as we usually regard the fixed stars—their distance from each other being lost in comparison with the distance from ourselves. This marked contrast and combination of characters is exactly what is most needed in the history of the Church. Here, even more than in common history, we are apt to blend together the different persons of the story under one common class. Yet here, even more than in common history, we ought to keep each separate from each, if we would learn the lessons they have to teach to the world. Of ordinary readers, how few there are to whom the Fathers, the Schoolmen, nay, even the Reformers, although divided as classes, are not confounded as individuals! How few there are who can trace the descent, step by step, as the genealogy (so to speak) of the Church is unrolled before us. From Ignatius to Cyprian, from Origen to Athanasius, from Athanasius to Augustine, from Augustine to Bernard, from Bernard to Aquinas, to Tauler, to Luther, how wide are the gaps, how necessary the connexion, how startling the difference! Or, again, in the more outward history, how various are the trains of association awakened by the successive representatives of the Empire and of the Papacy, in Constantine, in Clovis, in Charlemagne, in Barbarossa, in Charles V.; or, on the other hand, in Gregory I., in Gregory VII., in Innocent III., in Leo X., in Sixtus V.! Each has his own message to deliver; each has his own work to perform; each is a link in that manifold chain which conveys the electric spark from the first to the nineteenth century. It was a happy thought of Eusebius, that he would trace the history of the various ancient Churches through the succession of Bishops, who in those early times were literally the personifications of their flocks. It is a yet happier arrangement, whenever the interest of the history of the whole Church can be concentrated in the still grander succession of those who have stood forth as the overseers and guides of Christendom, whether by good or bad eminence,—not only from generation to generation, but from century to century, and from age to age.

Uses of this method.It is not without reason that I have thus recommended for your study the selection of the detailed representation of some one event, person, or institution of commanding interest. Not only will it furnish us with the best mode of giving life to what is often a barren labour, but it will also be the best safeguard against many of the evils with which the student of Ecclesiastical History is beset.

I. Gradation of importance in ecclesiatical subjects.First, it is always useful to be reminded of the various degrees of importance in the different events and institutions of the Church. There is no more common error of theological students than to regard everything connected with religion as of equal significance. They will allow of no light or shade, no difference between things essential and things unessential, no proportion between means and ends, between things moral and things ceremonial, between things doubtful and things certain. Against this levelling tendency of ecclesiastical study, History lifts up a warning which may be heeded when all else fails. Believe that Athanasius and Augustine are worthier objects of interest than Flavian or Optatus, and you will have made one step towards believing that there is a gradation of importance in the several controversies in which the Church has been engaged. Believe that the invasion and conversion of the barbarians was the great crisis and work of mediæval religion, and you will have made a step towards believing that the Church of Christ has higher aims than the disputes respecting the observance of Easter, or the shape of the clerical tonsure.

II. Combination of Civil and Ecclesiastical History.Secondly, this combination of study round one main object solves, in part, the difficulty which I noticed in my first Lecture, respecting the relations of Civil and Ecclesiastical History. The subordinate persons and events of each may be easily divided from one another. But the greater characters of necessity combine both elements; they are the meeting-points of the two spheres of human life; they rise above the point of divergence; they shew that in the most important moments of social and individual action, all the influences of life, physical, intellectual, political, moral, come together: in these cases, whatever we may do elsewhere, we cannot disentangle the web without breaking it. Those divisions of history which we sometimes see under the heads of "civil and military," "political" and "religious," though convenient for common wars or common controversies, yet utterly fail when they touch an age like the Reformation,—though possible in the case of Melancthon or Jeremy Taylor, break down entirely when applied to Luther or Oliver Cromwell. The unity of purpose which is the main characteristic of any great mind, the close connexion of leading ideas which is the main interest of any great age, is grievously marred when we have to seek the disjointed fragments from different quarters, and take up over and over again the thread of the same interrupted story.

III. Caution against partiality.Thirdly, this same method will be a protection against the prevailing sin of ecclesiastical historians—exclusiveness and partiality.

It is well-known that Eusebius openly avows his intention of relating only those incidents in the lives of the martyrs of Palestine which would reflect credit on the Church, and that Milner constructs his whole history on the principle that he will omit all mention of ecclesiastical wickedness, and record only the specimens of ecclesiastical virtue. Such a process, however edifying and useful for certain purposes, yet is never wholly safe, and happily is rendered almost impossible as soon as we wish to consider the full character and bearings of any person or institution on which we are engaged. If once we are inspired with a genuine desire of seeing the man as he really was, if he was worth being seen at all, we shall not be satisfied unless we see him altogether. Here, as in so many other respects, the sacred history of the Jewish Church is our best example. We there see not the half, but the whole of David. We are told not only of his goodness, but of his sins; and we can there judge how wonderfully the history of the Church has gained by such a frank disclosure: how thin, how pale in comparison, would that biography have been, had the darker side been suppressed and the bright side only exhibited. Such a completeness of view we are almost driven to take when we explore, not one, but all the sources whence our knowledge can be drawn. We may still lament that the story of the lion is so often told only by the man; that the lives and opinions of heretics can be traced only in the writings of the orthodox; that the clergy have been so often the sole historians of the crimes of the laity. But we shall have learned at least to know that there is another side, even when that side has been torn away or lost. We shall acquiesce in the judgment of Fleury when he sums up the character of Constantine, by telling us that we may safely believe all that Zosimus the pagan says in his praise, and all that Eusebius the bishop says to his blame. We shall often find some ancient fragment or forgotten parchment, like that which vindicates Edwy and Elgiva from the almost unanimous calumny of their monastic enemies. We shall see that in the original biographies of Becket, partial though they be, enough escapes to reveal that he is not the faultless hero represented to us in modern martyrology.

The mere perusal of the indiscriminate praise and abuse lavished on the same person by two opposite historians is instructive even for our guidance in the present. The mere collection of the cross-fire of vituperation from modern partisans is useful as teaching us distrust in any one-sided view of the past. Selden, who knew well the danger and falsehood of extremes, confines his advice on "ecclesiastical story" to this single point,—to study the exaggerated statements of Baronius on the one side, and of the Magdeburg Centuriators on the other … "and be our own judges." Nor let any one suppose that this conflict of evidence renders the attainment of certainty impossible. Doubtless there are many points both in sacred and in common history, both in civil and ecclesiastical records, where we must be content to remain in suspense. History will have left half its work undone, if it does not teach us humility and caution. But essential truth can almost always be found—truth of all kinds can with due research be usually found: she lies, no doubt, in a well; but we may be sure that she is there, if we dig deep enough. In this labour teachers and students must all work together. What one cannot discover, many at work on the same point can often prove beyond doubt. Like Napoleon and his comrades, when lost in the quicksands of the Red Sea, let each ride out a different way, and the first that comes to firm ground, bid the others halt and follow him.

IV. Reference to original authoritiesFourthly, this method of study will enable us all from time to time to set our feet on that firmest of all ground—which every student of history ought to touch once in his life—original authorities. We cannot do it always, but by the mere necessity of exploring any one subject to the bottom, we must do it at times. It will be a constant charm of the history of the Chosen People, that there we shall rarely be absent from, at any rate, the nearest approaches which can now be made to the events described. But it will be a charm also in the minute investigation of any point in the later history, that, however well told by modern compilers, there is almost sure to be something in the original records which we should else have overlooked. How inestimable are the fragments of Hegesippus, and the Epistle of the Church of Lyons, embedded in the rhetoric of Eusebius! How life-like, in the dead partisanship of Strype, are the letters, injunctions, and narratives of the actors whose words and deeds he so feebly undertakes to represent.

And original records are not confined merely to contemporaneous histories, nor even to contemporaneous literature, sermons, poems, laws, decrees. Study the actual statues and portraits of the men, the sculptures and pictures of the events: if they do not give us the precise image of the persons and things themselves, they give us at least the image left on those who came nearest to them. Study their monuments, their gravestones, their epitaphs, on the spots where they lie. Study, if possible, the scenes of the events, their aspect, their architecture, their geography; the tradition which has survived the history, the legend which has survived the tradition; the mountain, the stream, the shapeless stone, which has survived even history, and tradition, and legend.

Take two examples instead of a hundred. There are few more interesting episodes in modern Ecclesiastical History than that of the Scottish Covenanters. Graves of the Covenanters.But the school in which that episode must be studied is Scotland itself. The caves, and moors, and moss-hags of the Western Lowlands; the tales which linger still, of the black charger of Claverhouse, of the strange encounters with the Evil one, of the cry of the plover and peewit round the encampments on the hill-side, are more instructive than many books. The rude gravestones which mark the spots where those were laid who bore testimony to "the covenanted work of reformation, and Christ's kingly government of His house," bring before us in the most lively, because in the most condensed, authentic, original form, the excited feeling of the time and the most peculiar traits of the religion of the Scottish people; the independence, the fervour, the fierceness of the age, national alike in its patience of suffering, in its thirst for vengeance, in its investment of the narrowest questions of discipline and ceremony with the sacredness of universal principles. We almost fancy that we see the survivors of the dead spelling and scooping out their savage rhymes on the simple monuments; each catching from each the epithets, the texts, the names, almost Homeric in the simplicity and the sameness with which they are repeated on those lonely tombstones from shore to shore of the Scottish kingdom.

The Catacombs.Or turn to a similar instance, of kindred but wider interest. What insight into the familiar feelings and thoughts of the primitive ages of the Church can be compared to that afforded by the Roman catacombs! Unnoticed by Gibbon, unknown to Mosheim, they yet give us a likeness of the life of those early times beyond any that we receive from any of the written authorities on which Gibbon and Mosheim rest. Their very structure is significant; their vast extent, their labyrinthine darkness, their stifling atmosphere, are a standing proof both of the rapid spread of the Christian conversions, and of the active fury of the heathen persecutions. The subjects of the sculptures and paintings place before us the exact ideas with which the first Christians were familiar; they remind us, by what they do not contain, of the ideas with which the first Christians were not familiar. We see with our own eyes the parables and the miracles, and the stories from the Old Testament, which sustained the courage of the early martyrs, and the innocent festivities of the early feasts of Christian love. The barbarous style of the sculptures, the bad spelling, the coarse engraving of the epitaphs, impresses upon us more clearly than any sermon the truth that God chose the weak, and base, and despised things of the world to bring to nought the things which are mighty. He who is thoroughly steeped in the imagery of the catacombs, will be nearer to the thoughts of the early Church than he who has learned by heart the most elaborate treatise even of Tertullian or of Origen.

Opportunities for this study.And now, having set before you the method of the study which, for all who enter upon it seriously, and in its general features even for all who enter upon it superficially, is the most desirable, let me briefly remind you of some of the special opportunities which we ourselves possess for following up the study at all.

I. In the Church of England.First, if there ever was a Church in which Ecclesiastical History might be expected to flourish, it is the English. Unlike almost all the other Churches of Europe, alone in its constitution, in its origin, in its formularies, it touches all the religious elements which have divided Christendom. He may be a true son of the Church of England who is able to throw himself into the study of the first Four Councils to which the statutes of our constitution refer, or of the mediæval times in which our cathedrals and parishes were born and nurtured. He also may be a true son of the same, who is able to hail as fellow-workers the great Reformers of Wittenberg, of Geneva, and of Zurich, whence flowed so strong an influence over at least half of our present formularies. But he is the truest son of all who, in the spirit of this union, feels himself free to sympathize with the several elements and principles of good which the Church of England has thus combined—who knows that the strength of a national Church, especially of the Church of a nation like ours, lies in the fact that it has never been surrendered exclusively to any one theological influence, and that the Christian faith which it has inherited from all is greater than the differences which it has inherited from each.

The Prayer-book, as it stands, is a long gallery of Ecclesiastical History, which, to be understood and enjoyed thoroughly, absolutely compels a knowledge of the greatest events and names of all periods of the Christian Church. To Ambrose we owe our Te Deum; Charlemagne breaks the silence of our ordination-prayers by the Veni Creator Spiritus. The Persecutions have given us one creed, and the Empire another. The name of the first great patriarch of the Byzantine Church closes our daily service; the Litany is the bequest of the first great patriarch of the Latin Church, amidst the terrors of the Roman pestilence. The Fathers and Popes wrote our collects for Sundays; the Reformers wrote our collects for saints' days. Our highest act of worship is stamped by the footsteps of every age, from the first Apostolical liturgy to the rapid fluctuations of the counsellors of Edward, and the conciliating policy of Elizabeth, and the reactionary zeal of the Restoration. The more comprehensive, the more free, the more impartial is our study of any or every branch of Ecclesiastical History, the more will it be in accordance with the spirit and with the letter of the Church of England.

II. In the University of Oxford.Secondly, I cannot forbear to notice the special advantages vouchsafed to all of us in this place as members of this great University. Its libraries enable us to pursue our cross-examination of ancient witnesses, our reproduction of ancient scenes and events through all the appliances of antiquarian and artistic knowledge. Its peculiar mixture of various characters and callings, students and studies, invites us to that fusion of lay and clerical, of modern and ancient, of common and sacred, which is so vital to a full understanding of our subject, yet which would be so easily lost in institutions more purely theological, more strictly professional. But, besides all this, the very place itself is teeming with history, if not of the more universal Church, yet of the Church of our own country, to which, sooner or later, our studies must be turned.

In those studies, I trust that we shall find that "Alfred the Great, our first Founder," did well to plant his seat of learning beside the venerable shrine of St. Frideswide. We shall be the better able to comprehend Duns Scotus and the schoolmen, as we stand in the ancient quadrangle of Merton, or listen to the dim traditions of Brasenose. Mediæval theology and practice will stand out clearly in the quaint customs of Queen's and the romantic origin of All Souls. The founders of Exeter and of New College will give us a true likeness of mediæval prelates,—architects, warriors, statesmen, and bishops all in one. Wycliffe will assume a more distinct shape and form, to those who trace his local habitation as Master of Balliol. Erasmus will not soon die out of our recollection, when we remember the little college of Corpus, which he hoped would be to Great Britain what the Mausoleum was to Caria, and what the Pyramids were to Egypt. The unfinished splendour of Christ Church is the enduring monument of the magnificence and of the fall of Wolsey. The Reformation will not be unaptly represented to us in the day when the quadrangles were knee-deep in the torn leaves of the scholastic divines, or when Ridley and Latimer suffered for their faith beside the gateway of Bocardo. Its successive reactions and advances have left their traces in the foundation of Wadham, Trinity, and Jesus. From St. John's began the counter-reformation of Laud. Magdalen and University are the two memorials of resistance and subservience to James II. From Lincoln and Pembroke sprang the great religious movement of Wesley and Whitfield; and Oriel will not allow us to forget that we, too, have witnessed a like movement in our own day, of various forms and various results, already become historical, which will at least help us to appreciate such events in former times, and to remember that we, too, are parts of the Ecclesiastical History of our country.

III. In active clerical life.Finally, this leads us to the reflection that there will be probably many amongst my hearers who are looking forward to an active life in the various ministrations, near and distant, of the English Church. They, too, will have in their different localities, in those from which they came hither, in those to which they will go hence, the same atmosphere of ancient times surrounding them, wherever their lot be cast. Our Ecclesiastical History is not confined to Oxford, or to any one sacred city. Everywhere we shall find the wellsprings and the streams of the Christian history of England running beneath our feet; everywhere something to keep alive in our recollections the growth and spread of the Christianity of this great country. Almost every church and churchyard has its own antiquities. Almost every parish and every sect has its own strange spiritual experiences, past or present. In almost every county and province we may study those august trophies of Ecclesiastical History—instructive beyond those of almost any other country—our cathedrals. I need name but one,—the most striking and the most obvious instance,—the cradle of English Christianity, the seat of the English Primacy,…my own proud cathedral, the Metropolitical Church of Canterbury.

But, beyond any mere antiquarian interest, there must also be many occasions in the work of every English clergyman, when the History of the Church may yield lessons of a practical and substantial value in his manifold duties and labours. What those lessons are I shall trust, in some measure, to represent in my next Lecture. Meanwhile, let me express the hope and the stimulus which ought to be given by the thought that I shall have to address myself not merely to students, but to those who will have to turn their study into practice; not merely to the confined atmosphere of a lecture-room, but to a spirit blowing in upon us, and out from us, to the four winds of heaven. There has been doubtless a tendency in past times, (perhaps there will be in all times,) which recent measures have wisely endeavoured to counteract—a tendency to absorb the general functions of the University into the special departments of ecclesiastical thought and education. But we must not forget that there is also an academical narrowness, and dryness, and stiffness; and that there is, on the other hand, an ecclesiastical breadth, and freedom, and warmth, which is for that evil, if not the highest, at least to many of us the nearest, remedy. To think that any words here spoken, any books here studied, may enliven discourses and ministrations far away in the dark corners of London alleys, in the free air of heaths and downs in north or south, on western mountains or in eastern fens; that records of noble deeds achieved, and of wise sayings uttered long ago, may lend a point to practical precepts, or soften needless differences, or raise dull souls heavenward, or give a firmer grasp on truth;—this will of itself cheer many an hour of labour here. In that labour and with that hope it is for all of us to join. By constant communication of mutual knowledge, by contribution of the results of the several researches and gifts of all, students and learners will really be to their Professor not only (according to the well-known and now almost worn-out saying of Niebuhr) his wings, but also his feet, and his hands, and his eyes. By bearing in mind the large practical field in which our work may be afterwards used, we shall all bring to the very driest bones of our study sinews, and flesh, and blood, and breath, and spirit, and life.