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100 years ago: Bishops debate Modernism

by
06 May 2022

May 5th, 1922.

THEIR lordships of the Upper House of Canterbury Convocation, confronted on Tuesday with the difficulty of the Modernist controversy, looked it bravely in the face and passed on, reaffirming once more their belief in the Nicene Creed which they so often recite. That is perhaps as much as we could expect, and it must be set to the credit of the bishops that their speeches were very much more satisfactory than their resolution. The Bishop of Oxford [Hubert Burge] presented a counter-petition from the Modernists, disclaiming any sponsorship for it, and the counter-petitioners certainly made a strong point when they submitted that, if charges of heresy were brought, the writers should be named and the passages excepted against should be specified. The Bishop of Gloucester [Edgar Gibson], mover of the resolution, expressed his sympathy with the E.C.U. petition and his agreement with its summary of the questions involved, agreeing also with the Modernists that its weakness lay in the absence of precise citations. The Bishop of Norwich [Bertram Pollock] said that the Faith must not be held in suspense while scholars debated. But the honours of the session lay with the Bishop of Ely [Frederic Chase], who in a speech of cogent force and exact scholarship surveyed the work of Biblical criticism. No summary could do justice to his speech, and we hope that the full text, or its substance in a pamphlet or an article, may at once be made accessible to readers. The Archbishop of Canterbury [Randall Davidson] spoke gravely; he foresaw the possibility of the position of the Modernists becoming intolerable to them and to us. But that is precisely our difficulty. We have learned by experience that the position of the Modernists does not become intolerable to them. They have carried the processes of subtle explanation and accommodation so far that it seems in the highest degree unlikely that any Modernist will find membership in the Church a difficulty to conscience. And when the Dean of Carlisle [Hastings Rashdall], whose grave illness we note, with sympathy and regret, asserts, in effect, that he is really more Athanasian than Dr Gore, we are conscious that Mr Chesterton has at long last met his equal in the play of paradox.


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