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Title: Christ, faith and language in the religious thought of Matthew Arnold
Author: Speller, John Leslie
ISNI:       0000 0001 3473 8335
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1977
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Chapter One: Introduction: The introduction begins by explaining that the thesis sets out to examine three areas of Matthew Arnold's religious thought - his attitude towards materialism and his early attempts to overcome the difficulties which he believed were caused by it, his ideas on religious language, and his attitudes towards the figure of Christ. By examining these three areas and relating the ideas discussed in them to each other, the thesis examines what Arnold meant by "faith" and at the same time attempts to show how Arnold's religious thought forms a coherent system. The introduction also contains a survey of previous scholarly work which has been done on Matthew Arnold's religious thought, and also a brief discussion of the source material which was made use of in writing the thesis. PART ONE: IMAGINATIVE REASON: Chapter Two: Matthew Arnold and Materialism: Matthew Arnold belonged to a "common tradition" of antimaterialism which saw the cause of many of society's problems in terms of an "overbalance of the commercial spirit." The condemnation of materialism by John Sterling was typical of this tradition, while Coleridge was concerned at the subversion of Christian ethics to national expediency in matters of political economy. Coleridge believed that there was also a need for people to be concerned less with immediate, material ends, and more concerned with moral and spiritual ends. Matthew Arnold read some of Coleridge's works and was also indirectly influenced by Coleridge through Wordsworth. Wordsworth also convinced Arnold that materialism was a form of "idolatry" and that this "idolatrous world could not stand." Thomas Arnold shared many of Coleridge's and Wordsworth's views, although he took a more sympathetic view towards industrial development, and he was another influence upon Matthew Arnold's attitude towards materialism. A study of John Keble shows a surprising agreement between the Broad Church and High Church views on materialism, and Keble, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, objected to the subordination of Christian principles to utilitarian ends, and advocated "plain living and high thinking." Matthew Arnold was influenced at an early age by Keble's The Christian Year. Thomas Carlyle's book, Past and Present may also be viewed as belonging to this tradition, although Carlyle ceased to exercise an influence upon Matthew Arnold after 1849. John Henry Newman, who objected to the "triumph of Sight over Faith," was another important influence in Arnold's life. Matthew Arnold objected that many Puritans believed in a God of Free Trade, Free Church, Free Labour and Free Land, and felt that one of the main problems of his society was that it placed too much reliance upon machinery, viewing it idolatrously as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end. Furthermore, because Arnold believed that the individual must be freed from the world in order to be happy, he advocated modest living and a concern with spiritual ends. Like Newman, Arnold was opposed to muscular Christianity, which he believed placed too much emphasis upon medial ends. Materialism extended for Arnold even to Christian doctrines religious language had become hardened into mere "jargon." Chapter Three: The Holistic Principle: An over-concentration on the senses, Arnold asserted, rather than upon the imagination, creates disharmony in the individual. Arnold saw a need to embrace both past and present experience within a single sensibility in order to bring about an "intellectual deliverance." Arnold's view is compared with Newman's idea that reason requires one to make abstractions, and this means that an analytic society may become fragmented. Arnold therefore sought a "holistic principle" which would enable aspects of experience to be reunited. This led to Arnold's belief that a poem must make a single, organic, imaginative impact upon the individual. Thus, poetry may come to inspirit and rejoice the reader, and should help him to live a complete and satisfying life. His position that poetry "calms and satisfies" the individual was akin to the poetio theory of hie godfather, John Keble, the idea of poetry as catharsis. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how far Arnold's poetry succeeds in applying Arnold's poetio theories successfully. Poems such as "The Scholar Gipsy," "Lines Written in Butler's Sermons," "Empedocles on Etna" and "The Church of Brou" are considered, and the conclusion is reached that Arnold was not altogether successful, although he was perhaps more successful in "On the Rhine." PART TWO: RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE: Chapter Four; The Erosion of Belief: Man is finite and relative, while God is infinite and absolute, so that human concepts of personality cannot without grave philosophical difficulty be applied to God. Arnold concluded that too much of traditional religious language had been nothing more than an anthropomorphic projection of legal and economic concepts: man had made God in his own image. Arnold asked whether natural theology might be used as a support for traditional Christian language, but concluded that Butler's arguments from natural theology are open to philosophical objections. Arnold also objected to Paley's argument from design, although his grounds for doing so were philosophically incorrect. However, like Mill, Arnold failed to appreciate the implications of Darwin's theory of evolution for the argument from design. Arnold also discussed the application of the word "being rigorously to God. His argument, in spite of its shortcomings, sheds interesting light on the influence of philological ideas upon Victorian intellectuals, including Arnold and Max Müller. If there are no satisfactory grounds in philosophy or natural theology for accepting traditional religious analogues, Arnold argued, perhaps this language was given by direct revelation. This idea has much in common with Hansel and Newman. The problem then reduces to finding an authority upon which to say that a revelation has occurred. Arnold considered a number of evidences for revelation - miracles, prophecy, biblical inspiration and the infallibility of the church - but concluded that none of these can be used to provide satisfactory grounds for asserting that a revelation has taken place. Chapter Five: Morality Touched by Emotion: Arnold believed that God does not stand for a single clearly and distinctly ascertained idea, but is an emotive word, used in different ways by different people. Religious language is emotive and opaque, not scientific and exact, liven Arnold's "definitions" of God are not rigid, but vague and emotive phrases. In trying to describe God in new language, Arnold was attempting to clear away "dead sign-posts" and create new ones which were "growing, living trees." Arnold belonged to the old Latitudinarian tradition within the Church of England which stressed the moral aspects of religion, and his idea of religion as "morality touched by emotion" was inherited from his father. Arnold believed that good conduct motivated by a properly ordered emotional structure creates a feeling of wholeness in the individual, and in this way Arnold believed that religion could solve the problem of providing a "holistic principle." Since it was not possible for Arnold to speak of the being of God, he found it more satisfying to speak of a "power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness." Revelation was for Arnold an awareness of something coming forth in the individual's mind which he knew not to be of his own making, rather than something given down from heaven. Only by conforming to righteousness can men, Arnold believed, achieve happiness, although it is necessary to understand happiness in a special Arnoldian sense in this context.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Religion