Idealism Popularised: Mrs Humphry Ward
Our discussion of Green’s idealism prompts the question as to whether his philosophical transformation of the faith had fatally weakened its message. ‘Green had shown, or appeared to show, that Christianity was not only compatible with reason: it was rational through and through. For he sought, in Thomas Arnold’s Broad Church Tradition, to shift the focal point of Christian doctrine away from the fundamentalist attachment to literal biblical truth … away even from the figure of Christ himself, to the more general conception of the necessary spirituality of the world which he derived from idealism. … Religion could not be proved false by empirical means: its truth was vindicated a priori.’1 From the perspective of the twenty-first century, it might seem incredible that such abstract matters of theology could be popularised in a fictional work which would not only result in a best-seller but give rise to a great quantity of literary and historical analysis. Nevertheless, this was what happened with Mrs Humphry Ward’s Robert Elsmere, published in 1888, six years after Green’s death. Green’s climactic funeral was both a commemoration of his life and work in the city of Oxford, and evidence of the still-potent force in public life of matters concerning religious belief.
KeywordsNineteenth Century Religious Commitment Christian Belief Christian Doctrine Emotional Turmoil
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