As we move into a series of posts dealing with Pusey's 'Eirenicon' (details in the next post) it might be of use to outline its origin, which lay in a response to the volume of Essays and Reviews published in 1860. The seven essays, which included one by the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, caused a furore. It was a sign of the insular nature of Anglican thought that this should have been so, for there was nothing in it which would have been unfamiliar to Pusey, who, unlike so many of his contemporaries, read German, and was familiar with the kinds of Biblical criticism which had been coming out of Germany for some time. Dismissing, as it did, the possibility of miracles, and disclaiming predictive qualities for the Old Testament, its contents amounted to little more than warmed-up German theological liberalism, with a call to a non-dogmatic Christianity and a plea for further liberal study of theology. To modern readers, it is not only pretty tame stuff, but to contemporary Englishmen it was a huge shock, and, combined with the impact of Darwin's Origin of Species, published the previous year, provoked something of a Victorian 'crisis of faith'.
There were some Anglicans who blamed the whole tendency towards rationalism on the 'Romanising tendencies' of the 'Puseyites', the Rev William Smith Burnside, for example, blamed the Tractarian undermining of the 'sole authority of Scripture' for the growth of infidelity. But Pusey, who recognised the real source of the Essays, was more interested in making common cause with orthodox Christians. Pusey worried that some of the responses to the Essays were literally 'soul destroying' (letter to Shaftesbury, 28 February 1864) in so far as they tended to elevate reason over faith. He saw an opportunity here to make common cause with other orthodox Christians, including the Roman Catholics. But in so doing, his quest for greater unity actually revealed how deep the fissures within orthodoxy ran - something which not only undermined the attempt to make common cause, but also vitiated the attempt to combat heterodoxy. It was, perhaps, the moment at which Christianity in England lost the plot.