Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (December 13, 1815 - July 18, 1881), English divine, dean of Westminster, was born at Alderley in Cheshire, where his father, afterwards bishop of Norwich, was then rector.
He was educated at Rugby under Matthew Arnold, and in 1834 went up to Balliol College, Oxford. After obtaining the Ireland scholarship and Newdigate prize for an English poem (The Gypsies), he was in 1839 elected fellow of University College, and in the same year took clerical orders. In 1840 he travelled in Greece and Italy, and on his return settled at Oxford, where for ten years he was tutor of his college and an influential element in university life. His personal relations with his pupils were of a singularly close and affectionate nature, and the charm of his social gifts and genial character won him friends on all sides. His literary reputation was early established by his Life of Arnold, published in 1844. In 1845 he was appointed select preacher, and published in 1847 a volume of Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, which not only laid the foundation of his fame as a preacher, but also marked his future position as a theologian. In university politics, which at that time wore mainly the form of theological controversy, he was a strong advocate of comprehension and toleration.

As an undergraduate he had entirely sympathized with Arnold in resenting the agitation led by, but not confined to, the High Church Party in 1836 against the appointment of RD Hampden to the regius professorship of divinity. During the long agitation which followed the publication in 1841 of Tract No. XC. and which ended in the withdrawal of JH Newman from the Anglican Church, he used all his influence to protect from formal condemnation the leaders and tenets of the "Tractarian" party.

In 1847 he resisted the movement set on foot at Oxford against Hampden's appointment to the bishopric of Hereford. Finally, in 1850, in an article published in the Edinburgh Review in defence of the "Gorham judgment" he asserted two principles which he maintained to the end of his life—first, "that the so-called supremacy of the Crown in religious matters was in reality nothing else than the supremacy of law,? and, secondly, ?that the Church of England, by the very condition of its being, was not High or Low, but Broad, and had always included and been meant to include, opposite and contradictory opinions on points even more important than those at present under discussion."

It was not only in theoretical but in academic matters that his sympathies were on the liberal side. He was greatly interested in university reform and acted as secretary to the royal commission appointed in 1850. Of the important changes in administration and education which were ultimately carried out, Stanley, who took the principal share in drafting the report printed in 1852, was a strenuous advocate. These changes included the transference of the initiative in university legislation from the sole authority of the heads of houses to an elected and representative body, the opening of college fellowships and scholarships to competition by the removal of local and other restrictions, the non-enforcement at matriculation of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles, and various steps for increasing the usefulness and influence of the professorship. Before the report was issued, Stanley was appointed to a canonry in Canterbury Cathedral. During his residence there he published his Memoir of his father (1851), and completed his Commentary on the Epistles to the Corinthians (1855). In the winter and spring of 1852-1853 he made a tour in Egypt and the Holy Land, the result of which was his well-known volume on Sinai and Palestine (1856). In 1857 he travelled in Russia, and collected much of the materials for his Lectures on the Eastern Orthodox Church (1861). His Memorials of Canterbury (1855), displayed the full maturity of his power of dealing with the events and characters of past history. He was also examining chaplain to Bishop AC Tait, his former tutor.

At the close of 1856 Stanley was appointed regius professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford, a post which, with the attached canonry at Christ Church, he held till 1863. He began his treatment of the subject with "the first dawn of the history of the church," the call of Abraham; and published the first two volumes of his History of the Jewish Church in 1863 and 1865. From 1860 to 1864 academic and clerical circles were agitated by the storm which followed the publication of Essays and Reviews, a volume to which two of his most valued friends, Benjamin Jowett and Frederick Temple, had been contributors. Stanley's part in this controversy may be studied in the second and third of his Essays on Church and State (1870). The result of his action was to alienate the leaders of the High Church party, who had endeavoured to procure the formal condemnation of the views advanced in Essays and Reviews. In 1836 he published a Letter to the Bishop of London, advocating a relaxation of the terms of clerical subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. An act amending the Act of Uniformity, and carrying out in some degree Stanley's proposals, was passed in the year 1865. In 1862, Stanley, at Queen Victoria's wish, accompanied the Prince of Wales on a tour in Egypt and Palestine.

Towards the close of 1863 he was appointed by the Crown to the deanery of Westminster. In December he married Lady Augusta Bruce, sister of Lord Elgin, then governor-general of India. His tenure of the deanery of Westminster was memorable in many ways. He recognized from the first two important disqualifications—his indifference to music and his slight knowledge of architecture. On both these subjects he availed himself largely of the aid of others, and threw himself with characteristic energy and entire success into the task of rescuing from neglect and preserving from decay the treasure of historic monuments in which the abbey is so rich. In 1865 he published his Memorials of Westminster Abbey, a work which, despite occasional inaccuracies, is a mine of information. He was a constant preacher, and gave a great impulse to Trench's practice of inviting distinguished preachers to the abbey pulpit, especially to the evening services in the nave. His personal influence, already unique, was much increased by his removal to London. His circle of friends included men of every denomination, every class and almost of every nation.

He was untiring in literary work, and, though this consisted very largely of occasional papers, lectures, articles in reviews, addresses, and sermons, it included a third volume of his History of the Jewish Church, a volume on the Church of Scotland, another of Addresses and Sermons preached in America, and another on Christian Institutions (1881). He was continually engaged in theological controversy, and, by his advocacy of all efforts to promote the social, moral, and religious amelioration of the poorer classes and his chivalrous courage in defending those whom he held to be unjustly denounced, undoubtedly incurred much and growing odium in influential circles. Among the causes of offence might be enumerated not only his vigorous defence of one from whom he greatly differed, Bishop Colenso, but his invitation to the Holy Communion of all the revisers of the translation of the Bible, including a Unitarian among other Nonconformists. Still stronger was the feeling caused by his efforts to make the recital of the Athanasian Creed optional instead of imperative in the Anglican Church. In 1874 he spent part of the winter in Russia, where he went to take part in the marriage of the duke of Edinburgh and the grand duchess Marie.

He lost his wife in the spring of 1876, a blow from which he never entirely recovered. But in 1878 he was deeply interested by a tour in America, and in the following autumn visited for the last time northern Italy and Venice. In the spring of 1881 he preached funeral sermons in the abbey on Thomas Carlyle and Benjamin Disraeli, concluding with the latter a series of sermons preached on public occasions. In the summer he was preparing a paper on the Westminster Confession, and preaching in the abbey a course of Saturday Lectures on the Beatitudes. He died on the 18th of July, and was buried in Henry VII's chapel, in the same grave as his wife. His pallbearers comprised representatives of literature, of science, of both Houses of Parliament, of theology, Anglican and Nonconformist, and of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The recumbent monument placed upon the spot, and the windows in the chapter-house of the abbey, one of them a gift from Queen Victoria, were a tribute to his memory from friends of every class in England and America.

Stanley was undoubtedly the leading liberal theologian of his time in England. Throughout his writings we see the impress, not only of his distinctive genius and of his extraordinary gifts, but also of his special views, aims and aspirations. He looked on the age in which he lived as a period of transition, to be followed either by an "eclipse of faith" or by a "revival of Christianity in a wider aspect," a "catholic, comprehensive, all-embracing Christianity" that "might yet overcome the world.? He was never tired of asserting his belief ?that the Christian Church had not yet presented its final or its most perfect aspect to the world"; that "the belief of each successive age of Christendom had as a matter of fact varied enormously from the belief of its predecessor"; that "all confessions and similar documents are, if taken as final expressions of absolute truth, misleading"; and that "there still remained, behind all the controversies of the past, a higher Christianity which neither assailants nor defenders had fully exhausted." "The first duty of a modern theologian" he held to be "to study the Bible, not for the sake of making or defending systems out of it, but for the sake of discovering what it actually contains." To this study he looked for the best hope of such a progressive development of Christian theology as should avert the danger arising from "the apparently increasing divergence between the intelligence and the faith of our time." He enforced the duty "of placing in the background whatever was accidental, temporary or secondary, and of bringing into due prominence what was primary and essential." In the former group Stanley would, without doubt or hesitation, have placed all questions connected with Episcopal or Presbyterian orders, or that deal only with the outward forms or ceremonies of religion, or with the authorship or age of the books of the Old Testament. Even to the question of miraculous and external evidence he would have been inclined to assign a secondary place.

The foremost and highest place, that of the "essential and supernatural" elements of religion, he would have reserved for its moral and spiritual truths, "its chief evidence and chief essence," the truths to be drawn from the teaching and from the life of Christ, "in whose character he did not hesitate to recognize ?the greatest of all miracles."

With such views it was not to be wondered at that, from first to last, as has already been indicated, he never lost an opportunity of supporting a policy of width, toleration and comprehension in the Church of England. So again he was always eager to insist on the essential points of union between various denominations of Christians. He was throughout his life an unflinching advocate of the connexion between Church and State. By this he understood: (1) "the recognition and support on the part of the state of the religious expression of the faith of the community," and (2) "that this religious expression of the faith of the community on the most sacred and most vital of all its interests should be controlled and guided by the whole community through the supremacy of law." At the same time he was in favour of making the creed of the Church as wide as possible—"not narrower than that which is even now the test of its membership, the Apostles' Creed"—and of throwing down all barriers which could be wisely dispensed with to admission to its ministry. As an immediate step he even advocated the admission under due restrictions of English Nonconformists and Scottish Presbyterians, to preach in Anglican pulpits.

Apart from the great impulse which he gave to the study alike of the Bible and Church history, his influence may be said in a very true sense to colour the writings of many of those who most differ from him. The subjects to which he looked as, the most essential of all—the universality of the divine love, the supreme importance of the moral and spiritual elements of religion, the supremacy of conscience, the sense of the central citadel of Christianity as being contained in the character, the history, the spirit of its divine Founder—have impressed themselves more and more on the teaching and the preaching of every class of clergy in the Church.

See GG Bradley, Recollections of A. P. Stanley (1883); RE Prothero and GG Bradley, Life and Correspondence of Dean Stanley (2 vols, 1893).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.