Tuesday, 14 July 2009

John Keble, The Oxford Movement, And Woodworking

Today, the 14th of July, is, amongst other things, the Feast of John Keble...You were picturing this guy, weren't you? KebleSince Keble was the first modern editor of Richard Hooker, this mental image quickly wore off for me (though i kind of still want soft chocolate-chip cookies when i hear his name. Mmm...). In reviewing my chapter on Hooker's Hebraism, I came across a passage in which he was discussing Jewish catechisms. We have catechisms? Last week i was watching a film with my friend and her brother in which the word 'catechism' came up; both blankly looked at me and asked, 'what's that?' Keble identifies this Jewish catechism as Rabbi Abraham ben Hananiah Jaghel of Montfelice's Lekach Tob, and afterwards adding:
It is satisfactory to know that the writer became afterwards a Christian.
Momentarily morphing into my sister, i thought, Um...rude! And false...What's up with that comment? Hooker was writing before Jews were allowed back into England (the first country to have expelled the Jews in 1290), but Keble was writing well after the Jew Bill; I wonder if that is a factor in allowing himself to say something like that. In other words, i would have expected it from Hooker. That's really a minor aside, yet one that got me thinking. The real question is, what was going on in England during Keble's time that prompted him to edit Hooker and how did this effect his portrayal of Hooker's work? So for the past few days, I have been asking myself, who was this dude? And the answers have been pretty cool. Yes, it connects with woodworking, and no, i didn't have to force it (well, barely).

Some background: With the 
Reform Act--or the restructuring of English society between 1828-1832, the idea of the Church and Commonwealth being one society was basically chucked out the window.  The Oxford Movement  was a response to the separation of church and state and  an attempt to re-establish the Catholic character of the Church of England. Interestingly, everyone who wrote on this topic, from Coleridge to Peele had recourse to Richard Hooker. But it was probably the Congregationalist historian Benjamin Hanbury's 1830 edition of Hooker's works and his contention that Hooker was 'ably supported by Locke and Hoadly' that Keble was primarily reacting to. Keble specifically denounced Locke, Hoadly, and all their rationalist and liberal followers, from which he decided to liberate Hooker with his edition of Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity which he published in 1836. Three years before, Keble had gotten the ball rolling.

The Oxford Movement pretty much started 176 years ago today, when John Keble, a professor of poetry at Oxford, preached his Assize Sermon in 1833. For an article outlining the contributions of this movement in the vein of 'What have the Romans ever done for us?', click here. Or, here for a more scathing overview of the period. These guys were basically all nostalgic about the medieval period, and wanted the Church of England to get back in touch with its Catholic roots. Ever hear of the Gothic Revival? You know, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, and those buildings that make Princeton University look like Disneyland to Europeans (i was half expecting to find roller coasters)? That's those guys. 

Central to the Oxford Movement was Keble's edition of Hooker's Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, which he published in 1836. Though it was exemplary in its time of meticulous scholarship, as we have seen, it lacked the scholarly attempt at objectivity; Keble pretty much censored Hooker's Erastianism and other elements of his theology that didn't suit the needs of the Tractarians.

The Oxford Movement, with Hooker as a central component, had a GINORMOUS impact on art and literature, and yet, also took its cue from these sources. I'll clarify. Keble, as we have noted, was a poet, and a lecturer of poetry at Oxford. Following Hooker's lead, Keble tempered religious fervour with rationalism:
In linking creed and feeling, Keble witnessed to (and himself furthered) the change in sensibility we associate with Romanticism. By bringing the dangers of Romanticism under the discipline of religious self-control Keble contributed to what one historian has aptly described as 'the Victorian Churching of Romanticism'. It is not surprising, therefore, that Wordsworth, despite his radical past, was Keble's chief influence. Keble had been introduced as an undergraduate to his poetry by Coleridge's nephew, the future Lord Justice Coleridge, and its impact upon him was both lasting and profound. Nevertheless, his essentially sacramental approach to nature-which he saw as the repository of types and symbols of the unseen and the spiritual-owed even more to patristic theology; his sense of nature as a sacrament of a divine indwelling may well have derived, too, from Bishop Joseph Butler's influential Analogy of Religion (1736), which established a harmony between natural and revealed religion and natural phenomena. (ODNB)
And yet, for all the pastoral romance of Keble's theology, he was deeply grounded, engaged in the 'gritty realism' of rural life, which he set out to revivify through social welfare programmes. This emphases on morality, spiritual experience, and social concern informed Keble's theology via Hooker and the Romantics. Keble's theology--or the Oxford Movement--in turn gave rise to an artistic and social movement that combined the importance of realism, imitating nature, morality, symbolism, and religious experience (or sacramentalism): The Pre-Raphaelites. The conduit for these ideas was a young undergraduate who described the first meeting of the Oxford Society of Architecture in 1839 as a 'very slow affair', and whose name is familiar to any aspiring woodworker or enthusiast of the Arts and Crafts, Frank Lloyd Wright, Corbusier, and countless others. Hells, yeah: John Ruskin. He'll be the next post.

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