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ON THE OPENING OF THE NEW BUILDING AT OXFORD,
OCTOBER 19, 1893.
“ The College adheres to its original principle of freely imparting
ITS ORIGIN AND PRINCIPLES.
What is the origin of the College for which this noble edifice has been reared ? Why is it planted here, amid the venerable associations of a great University ? What are the principles by which it is governed, and the aims to which it is consecrated ? In order to answer these questions we must go back through more than three centuries of our national history, till we find ourselves amid the conflicting parties which arose in connection with the Reformation. The College itself, indeed, cannot claim an antiquity of much more than a century, but it is the representative of an ancestry which had its source amid the controversies of a much earlier period. Though the tendencies out of which these controversies sprang are still with us, it is with
no desire to stir the smouldering ashes of ancient enmity that I refer to them, but that we may all alike profit by the lessons of history, and, as the dispute of Jew and Samaritan disappeared in the higher worship in spirit and in truth, so we, perchance, may find the 'more excellent way' which leads from un-Christian estrangement to a higher spiritual unity.
At the time of the Reformation a large proportion of the English Church would gladly have kept within the Roman Communion, and was drawn into its separate position by political rather than religious motives; and even when aversion to Papal supremacy had become a national sentiment, the party which finally obtained the ascendancy cluny to Catholic usage, and maintained principles which corresponded essentially with the theory and practice of Rome. They rejected what they regarded as usurpation, and abandoned some doctrines which seemed to be no part of the primitive faith; but they wished to confine the changes of thought and of ceremonial within the narrowest possible limits; they clung to the symbols which had become
entwined with their deepest religious affections; they would hear of no breach in that episcopal organisation which seemed to have come down in unbroken succession from the Apostles; and they maintained the right of ecclesiastical authority to legislate in things indifferent, and to control by its steadfast witness the unstable and delusive movements of private judgment.
On the other side was the Puritan party, whose movement rested on essentially religious grounds. However narrow and fanatical we may deem the Puritans in some respects to have been, there can be no doubt that they were impelled by a newly-kindled faith, and by the protest of an outraged righteousness. They revolted against the whole Papal system, which appeared to them to have set up a gaudy superstition in place of the spiritual worship inculcated by Christ, to have destroyed the sincerity of faith by substituting a number of frivolous forms, and even money payments, for the devotion and contrition of the heart, and to have interposed a corrupt and worldly priesthood between the worshipper and God. Their final court of appeal was the Bible; and as the Bible had long been withheld from the people, and its word was not yet smothered under an unspiritual dogma, it was read with all the delighted surprise of novelty, and, appealing to sentiments which had lain dormant under the numbing influence of a coercive system, it awakened a burning enthusiasm for righteousness and God.
It is interesting to remember here that Oxford had its share in this great work of spreading the Scriptures among the people. The movement of Wycliffe was indeed premature, and died away in social convulsion, and wild attempts to establish by violence the brotherhood of man; but he set the example of translating the Bible (1), and the precious volumes carried about the country by his 'poor priests' may have deposited seeds which never lost their vitality, but only awaited the proper season to germinate. Rather more than a century later Colet applied the new learning to the interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles; and the growing study of Greek enabled Tyndal to begin at Magdalen Hall his (*) The New Testament was his own work ; the Old was by Nicholas de Hereford.