In the previous post, an initial foray into J. H. Blunt’s basic introduction to Scripture, I noted that his book had come out shortly after the Colenso affair—the travails surrounding the Bishop of Natal, his translation of the Scriptures into Zulu, and his presuppositions around the Bible and its inspired character that kicked off the Lambeth Conferences. I wondered if Blunt had said or written anything directly around the controversy in order to give me a clear fix on his take. Thanks to his prolific writing, I was able to find just such a thing!
In 1874, Blunt edited a fascinating—and lengthy—work entitled Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought. (No contributors are mentioned and the various dictionary entries are unsigned; as such, I’m going to assume that its articles present the positions of Blunt himself.) Colenso appears in the index under two entries, “Colenso, Bishop, writings of” and “Colenso, Bishop, excommunication of”, both of which point to the article entitled “Broad Churchmen.”
The initial paragraph of this entry serves as a very clear introduction to Blunt’s perspectives on the Broad Church movement as a whole and is worth quoting in its entirety:
A modern school of Latitudinarians, composed of those clergy and laity of the Church of England who dissent from the principles developed during the revival of exact theological learning. The designation “Broad” has been assumed as expressive of the comprehensiveness which the theology of this school offers to men of various opinions; but it is scarcely a fitting designation, as well defined opinions of a positive kind are not included. The most distinctive characteristic of the Broad Church School is, in reality, its rejection of traditional beliefs, and the substitution in their place of what has been aptly called a “Negative Theology,” in which much is doubted and rejected, and very little believed.Blunt, Dictionary of Sects, 85
Blunt identifies F. D. Maurice as a central star of the party and refers derisively to his Theological Essays of 1853 as a work expressive of the party’s principles. The key quote here is this classic line: “In these [essays] the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, Inspiration, and Eternal Punishment, among others, were dealt with in language remarkable for its beauty, and for its inconsistency with the opinions of orthodox Churchmen” (ibid.). Apart from this, Blunt identifies the “greatest literary success” of the the Broad Churchmen as “a composite work of third-rate merit”, the Essays and Reviews published in 1860. Blunt explores each of the seven essays in the volume, presenting a paragraph-length synopsis of each.
The pertinent essays are the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh. Broadly, these indicate the influence of the German academic tradition and the efforts of scholars like Baur and Strauss. I see Strauss coming through in the description of the fourth: ” [Williams] considers many of the ‘traits in the Scriptural Person of Jesus’ to belong to an ideal rather than an historical person; e.g., the Temptation did not really happen, but is an imaginary scene put into the Gospels to complete the picture. The Annuciation ‘may be of ideal origin’ also, the writer says, and much more to the same purpose” (Blunt, Dictionary of Sects, 86). The fifth raises his ire regarding Creation: “…[Goodwin] considers the Book of Genesis to have been written by some Hebrew man of science, who invented a theoretical account of creation, but living in a time when he had no geological discoveries to guide him, simply wrote down what proves to be full of mistakes” (ibid.). The last essay by Benjamin Jowett is seen as a collection and amplification of the rest of the volume’s themes: “…its chief object appears to be to lower the authority of the Holy Scripture by showing that very little of it was inspired in any ordinary sense of inspiration.” (ibid.). For a clarifying view of this essay, a modern assessment of it in the Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation states that it “urged that the Bible be read ‘like any other book'” (Pals, “Jowett, Benjamin, DBI, 1.632).
(For what it’s worth, this tack—that the Bible be read as and subject to the same canons of interpretation and investigation as any other work from antiquity—is one of the essential characteristics for the emergence of modern academic Biblical Studies. Within the Guild, Jowett is seen as a hero rather than a villain.)
Describing the aftermath of this publication, Blunt notes that High and Low Churchmen were in agreement on its total condemnation. Williams and Wilson were condemned by the (ecclesiastical) Court of Arches, but were acquitted on appeal by the Queen’s Judicial Committee. This reversal, then, leads Blunt to his account of Bishop Colenso.
It was probably under the encouragement of this supposed victory that Dr. Colenso, Bishop of Natal in South-eastern Africa, published his speculations on the Pentateuch, by means of which he endeavoured to make the high-road of Biblical interpretation so very broad that the most arrogant sceptic would find no difficulty in walking along it. The purpose of this work was to minimize to the utmost the authority of the Pentateuch, and with it of all Holy Scripture; the first principle of the author being indicated by the words, ‘There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the first writer of the story in the Pentateuch ever professed to be recording infallible truth, or even actual historical truth. He wrote certainly a narrative. But what indications are there that he published it at large, even to the people of his own time, as a record of matter of fact, veracious history?'”Blunt, Dictionary of Sects, 87.
Blunt then cites the work of Ernst Hengstenberg, a German Lutheran much opposed to the emerging Biblical Studies faculties, criticizing Essays and Reviews including the key passages, “‘The authors of the Essays have been trained in a German school. It is only the echo of German infidelity which we hear from the midst of the English Church. . . . All of these Essays ten toward atheism. Their subordinate value is seen in the inability of their authors to recognise their goal clearly, and in their want of courage to declare this knowledge.” (ibid.).
In conclusion, Blunt is of the same mind as Hengstenberg and concludes the article with a final salvo against the Broad Churcmen:
This school is of a distinctly rationalist type, carrying Broad Church views about inspiration to the length of practical disbelief in Scripture; Broad Church views about our Lord to the length of Unitarianism; Broad Church views about everlasting punishment to Universalism; and Broad Church views about the priesthood and Sacraments to an utter denial of their reality. Such is the natural terminus of the original school, and such must be the logical outcome of its opinions when they are taken up by men who are not satisfied to rest in negations and generalities.Blunt, Dictionary of Sects, 87-88.
So—it’s pretty safe to say that Blunt was not a fan… He is relentless in his attacks on the Broad Church theological agenda and upon their perspective on the Bible. If I had to summarize the Broad Church take present in the Essays and Colenso, it would be a focus on historical context—that the Bible has to be read with attention to each author’s historical and cultural context, not from the post-facto perspective of Holy Scripture that Blunt and others take. And, as a modern biblical scholar, I’d agree with them rather than Blunt…
Ok. Having said all of this, what is it that Blunt does believe, then? The simplest and clearest presentation of Blunt’s view appears in two lists that preface his larger books on the Old and New Testament:
The first principle establishes continuity: our Isaiah was their Isaiah. I have no substantial issues with this idea generally. My specific issue is that it elides away differences between the Hebrew Texts and those transmitted in the Septuagint—the variation here varies by book. However, this principle also artificially fixes a canon, implying that what is in our Old Testament/New Testament also constituted what the NT authors thought of as “canon.” This is a much more dubious principle. There were many writings of the Second Temple period that influenced New Testament thought than are contained in our OT, and a number of contemporaneous writings—thinking of texts like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache—that influenced the Early Church but do not appear in the NT.
The second principle introduces a host of terms that are left undefined and thus not terribly clear. The italicized emphasis on “authentic”, though, seems to be of first place. If I’m reading it as intended, this principle is foregrounding the idea that the books we have were truly written by the men identified as their authors who are also inspired. This is precisely the view I’m interested in defining more carefully and will engae at length.
The third principle states that the original writings contained true statements, histories, and doctrines. Furthermore, that the books even as we have received them have not been substantially altered by any additions or alterations. Additionally, I believe that this article is implying that any additions and alterations (unless otherwise specified—I’m thinking of a couple of carve-out exceptions) are inherently uninspired.
The fourth principle states that, essentially, Scripture itself serves as the standard of truth. Any historical, scientific, or doctrinal statements to the apparent contrary must either be reconciled or discarded.
On the whole, then, when it comes to the emerging field of Biblical Studies, Blunt sides with those who reject it. He, alongside other critics, saw atheism as its inevitable end and responded by retrenching assertions as to the genuine, authentic, and trustworthy witness of the Scriptures in all respects. This—ultimately—is what is at stake for him: Can Scripture be trusted? To affirm this in the positive, for Blunt, all of Scripture must be seen and shown to be trustworthy.
Now—back to the primary text…