Protestant Reformation

Who Apologized for the Reformation in the 19th Century?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
19th century apologizers for the Reformation included Frederick William Faber, author of the hymn 'Faith of Our Fathers'.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

19th century apologizers for the Reformation included Frederick William Faber, author of the hymn Faith of Our Fathers.

In our first article in this series we quoted an address on the Reformation given by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1960, in which he said that the view that "the Reformation was a tragedy"

is gaining currency very rapidly at present. We are told that what we should be considering today is unity, and that if we spend our time considering the disruption and division in the church which took place four hundred years ago, we are doing something sinful. There is, alas, an increasing body of opinion in Protestant circles which is saying, openly and unashamedly, that the Protestant Reformation was a tragedy and that it is our business to forget it as soon as we can and to do everything possible to heal the breach, so that we shall be one again with the Church of Rome, and there shall be one great world church.

This false view of the Reformation was not new even in Dr. Lloyd-Jones' time. Men who were nominally Protestant began making apologies to Rome for the Reformation in a very public way in the 19th century.

The Oxford Movement

The principal influence for reunion with Rome in the 19th century became known as the Oxford Movement. Beginning in the 1830s, men of this movement in the Church of England promoted a "branch theory" of the church which stated that the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion are three principal branches of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," and that the three should be reunited.

Men of the Oxford movement such as John Henry Newman (1801-1890) promoted the doctrine of apostolic succession, one of the major doctrines of Rome against which the 16th-century Reformers had revolted on Scriptural grounds. Apostolic succession is the false teaching that popes, cardinals, bishops, and other church officials form a succession of exclusive authority emanating in an unbroken line from the twelve apostles, and that their authority includes the sole power to interpret the Scriptures, to ordain men to the ministry, and to administer church sacraments. The men of the Oxford Movement claimed the legitimacy of apostolic continuity with the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic church, and therefore viewed the Reformation as a great mistake.

Apostolic succession was a key point of division between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformers. The question at issue was this: Should church doctrine be the product of the mind of fallible man, or of the infallible Word of God? The Reformers rightly held that Scripture is its own infallible interpreter, while Rome and others held that the church is the interpreter of Scripture. Belief in apostolic succession is one of the main reasons that the Vatican recognizes the Anglican and Orthodox churches as legitimate but separated branches of the one true (in its view, Roman) church, but the papacy will not recognize Protestant churches as legitimate.

Another leader of the Oxford Movement was Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), who after the departure of Newman became the most influential cleric in the Anglican church. His influence was so widespread that the Oxford Movement came to be known as Puseyism in some circles. Through his writings and preaching Pusey had considerable success in reviving pre-Reformation teachings among the Anglicans, including the attribution of a saving role to water baptism, and the doctrine of the eucharist (mass) as the means by which a penitent's sins are forgiven. In his book An Eirenicon (1865) Pusey openly sought to promote the restoration of unity between the Church of England and the Church of Rome. He said that the Church of England could best reform itself by un-doing the Reformation and returning to the Roman fold.

Converts to Catholicism

Tellingly, many men associated with or influenced by the Oxford Movement subsequently left the Anglican Church to become Roman Catholics, beginning in the 1840s and extending into the early 20th century. These included Newman himself, who converted to Romanism in 1845 and was made a cardinal by the Pope in 1879. Since his death there has been a movement within the Roman church to confer "sainthood" on Newman, and Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly taken a personal interest in bringing it about.

Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), author of the hymn Faith of Our Fathers, was another convert to Romanism out of the Oxford Movement. Faber became a Roman Catholic priest. Faith of Our Fathers first appeared in Faber's hymnal Jesus and Mary: Catholic Hymns for Singing and Reading, and was the expression of Faber's hopes for the return of England to the Roman fold and the un-doing of the Reformation. The hymn originally included the following verse as the third stanza, and it still appears in some Roman Catholic hymnals:

Faith of our fathers! Mary's prayers
Shall win our country back to thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We would be true to Thee till death.

There is renewed interest in the back-to-Rome claims of the Oxford Movement within present-day Anglicanism, as we shall see in a future article.

In our next article in this series, we'll look at some of the leading voices of "the Reformation was a mistake" thinking in the 20th century.


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