Lux Mundi (1889)

“… Many plausible attacks upon the Christian creed are due to the inadequate methods of its professed interpreters. Fragments of doctrine, torn from their context and deprived of their due proportions, are brandished in the eyes of men by well-meaning but ignorant apologists as containing the sum total of the Christian faith, with the lamentable consequence that even earnest seekers after truth, and much more its unearnest and merely factious adversaries, mislead themselves and others into thinking Christianity discredited, when in reality they have all along been only criticizing its caricature. The general tendency of thought since the Reformation has been in the direction of these partial presentations of Christianity.” 

“The Incarnation in Relation to Development,” by the Rev. J. R. Illingworth,  in Lux Mundi:  A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, Charles Gore, ed.; London, 1889

I couldn’t say it better myself, but this was written over 120 years ago!

Lux Mundi is an early document of what might be called “Liberal Orthodoxy,” a cross-denominational movement within Christianity which combined a strong defense of the doctrine of  the Incarnation with a very learned criticism of the unbending doctrines of evangelicals and establishment conservatives, whose views these writers judged were contributing most to the rejection of Christianity by the modern world.

“The Reformers, from various causes, were so occupied with what is now called Soteriology, or the scheme of salvation, that they paid but scant attention to the other aspects of the Gospel. And the consequence was that a whole side of the great Christian tradition, and one on which many of its greatest thinkers had lavished the labors of a lifetime, was allowed almost unconsciously to lapse into comparative oblivion; and the religion of the Incarnation was narrowed into the religion of the Atonement.  Men’s views of the faith dwindled and became subjective and self-regarding, while the gulf was daily widened between things sacred and things secular.  Such men need reminding that Christianity is greater than its isolated interpreters or misinterpreters in any age …”

Even though published under the editorship of the Bishop of Worcester, Lux Mundi was roundly attacked by evangelicals and high church conservatives.  Yet it was revised and reprinted 16 times in less than six years, and continued to be reprinted into the twentieth century.


9 thoughts on “Lux Mundi (1889)

    • My sympathies if you must depend on a public library – usually a terrible source for really important books. If your recent list of political studies came from a state college or university library, I’m sorry they’re short on theology.

      Try and discover the location of the theological seminary nearest you. If it is not too far, they may grant you a non-student borrowing privilege. I pay $35 per quarter for access to one of the greatest theological libraries imaginable. All less than an hour’s drive away. But I would drive 2 hours if I had to (only much less often).

      Don’t hesitate to affiliate with a Protestant establishment if need be – they carry Catholic writers (von Balthasar, the thinker in my previous post, for example) and it’s all good anyway. I’ve got a privilege at my nearest state college also (better for philosophy, etc.).

  1. This quotation from Gore also sums up the way heresies (to use a dangerous word) happen– fragments of doctrine that spin out of control.

    Interesting thing about the Oxford Movement of course is the way it looks ‘liberal’ from one vantage and very conservative from another. Which of course suggests to me that it’s probably just about right.

    “The religion of the Incarnation was narrowed into the religion of the Atonement”. I doubt if a more succinct account of the problem exists.

    • Welcome, skholiast

      Yes, I liked the idea that the Atonement doctrine is here called ‘narrow’ in comparison with that of the Incarnation. I am obsessed with the idea of understanding the full ramifications of the incarnation in such a way as to utterly transform the concept of atonement.

      I think Peter and Paul, for example, had a large vocabulary of ‘atonement’ and a small vocabulary of ‘incarnation’ – while the Son of Man would have preferred it were the other way around. I think the New Testament shows that the Son’s revelation of our capacity for sonship lost a ‘first battle’ with the apostles’ traditional religious concepts of forgiveness/atonement – but there is every reason I think to hope that one battle does not make a ‘campaign’

      Minor points: (1) the quote was from Illingworth’s essay, not Gore’s; (2) in my view the intellectual anscestry of Lux Mundi points as much to T.H. Green’s Oxford as to that of Newman.

  2. I see I read your citation too hastily–yes, the essay is Illingworth’s in the volume edited by Gore. I think I agree with the general drift of your estimation of the Oxford Movement, though– the philosophical Idealism as well as the high church liturgy and social gospel. I might put the emphases differently than you (not sure), but there has to be room for all of it.

    Your read on the NT’s emphasis on atonement vs. incarnation is interesting. I think the focus gradually got wider, down through the patristics. I do think the church never lost sight of the soteriology, but the issue was always, Who is Christ? The atonement has a role in this, but not the largest role.

    On a different topic, I look forward to your further posts on the dispensibility of Q.

  3. I have edited the post a little to end the confusion over authorship.

    Good point about the power of the ‘Who-am-I?’ question to (at the very least) keep the problem of the incarnation up in everyone’s eyes.

    I am aware there are students who will say that the Incarnation is more a Greek concept than a Jewish one and that much of the doctrine of Incarnation was ‘heaped on’ by the Fathers. But I think a lot of that talk fails to align the Son properly with the Spirit of Pentecost and therefore fails to consider the possibility of religious ‘truth-in-development’ as a good thing.

    Oh, about Q, yes – promises, promises 🙂 . But I have renewed the Goodacre book and still want to do that.

  4. Excellent thoughts. I’m new ’round here so it might be rude to split hairs but as I learned my Anglican history, Gore and the ‘movement’ begun by Lux Mundi is generally considered the beginning of the ‘Liberal Catholic’ ‘wing’ of Anglicanism.

    So while it has deep affinities to the Oxford Movement it is not generally considered part of it even if it is in continuity with it.

    I look forward to reading more.

    • Hello adhunt, and thanks for joining us. I am already an occasional reader (and appreciator) of your group’s blog.

      Glad to defer to your better knowledge here. As long as it is clear to all that Gore used the word ‘Catholic’ not in reference to the Pope’s organization but as a means of distinguishing his liberalizing group from other liberals in the church whom he judged to be losing sight of the revelation intrusted to the church (a revelation inherent only in a high view of the Incarnation).

      I know Anglicans emphasize both a ‘Catholicity’ and a ‘Protestantism’ independently of either Rome or the Reformers, pointing out a tradition which goes back to Christ through their own apostolic foundation (Augustine of Canterbury) and not through Luther or Calvin.

      My mention of T.H. Green’s Oxford stems from something I read in a study of Illingworth, I believe. I should check that.

      • I never cease to be amazed and truly humbled at the intelligent people that read the blog.

        To make my point more clear, it may only be heuristic that Gore et. al. are called the “Liberal Catholics;” I’ve not read quite enough yet of that period to remember whether or not they thought of themselves as such; but they were open to engaging ‘insights’ (I use that word loosely) of the biblical criticism of the day in a way that the Oxford Movement folk weren’t. In that way they were ‘liberal.’

        And I agree completely that “Gore used the word ‘Catholic’ not in reference to the Pope’s organization but as a means of distinguishing his liberalizing group from other liberals in the church whom he judged to be losing sight of the revelation intrusted to the church”

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