It is plain, then, that at the end of 1835 or beginning of 1836, I had the whole state of the question before me, on which, to my mind, the decision between the Churches depended. It is observable that the question of the position of the Pope, whether as the centre of unity, or as the source of jurisdiction, did not come into my thoughts at all; nor did it, I think I may say, to the end. I doubt whether I ever distinctly held any of his powers to be de jure divino, while I was in the Anglican Church;—not that I saw any difficulty in the doctrine; not that in connexion with the history of St. Leo, of which I shall speak by and by, the idea of his infallibility did not cross my mind, for it did,—but after all, in my view the controversy did not turn upon it; it turned upon the Faith and the Church. This was my issue of the controversy from the beginning to the end. There was a contrariety of claims between the Roman and Anglican religions, and the history of my conversion is simply the process of working it out to a solution. In 1838 I illustrated it by the contrast presented to us between the Madonna and Child, and a Calvary. The peculiarity of the Anglican theology was this,—that it "supposed the Truth to be entirely objective and detached, not" (as in the theology of Rome) "lying hid in the bosom of the Church as if one with her, clinging to and (as it were) lost her embrace, but as being sole and unapproachable, as on the Cross or at the Resurrection, with the Church close by, but in the background."
As I viewed the controversy in 1836 and 1838, I viewed it in 1840 and 1841. In the British Critic of January 1840, after gradually investigating how the matter lies between the Churches by means of a dialogue, I end thus: "It would seem, that, in the above discussion, each disputant has a strong point: our strong point is the argument from Primitiveness, that of Romanists from Universality. It is a fact, however it is to be accounted for, that Rome has added to the Creed; and it is a fact, however we justify ourselves, that we are estranged from the great body of Christians over the world. And each of these two facts is at first sight a grave difficulty in the respective systems to which they belong." Again, "While Rome, though not deferring to the Fathers, recognizes them, and England, not deferring to the large body of the Church, recognizes it, both Rome and England have a point to clear up."
And still more strongly, in July, 1841:
"If the Note of schism, on the one hand, lies against England, an antagonist disgrace lies upon Rome, the Note of idolatry. Let us not be mistaken here; we are neither accusing Rome of idolatry nor ourselves of schism; we think neither charge tenable; but still the Roman Church practises what is so like idolatry, and the English Church makes much of what is so very like schism, that without deciding what is the duty of a Roman Catholic towards the Church of England in her present state, we do seriously think that members of the English Church have a providential direction given them, how to comport themselves towards the Church of Rome, while she is what she is."
One remark more about Antiquity and the Via Media. As time went on, without doubting the strength of the Anglican argument from Antiquity, I felt also that it was not merely our special plea, but our only one. Also I felt that the Via Media, which was to represent it, was to be a sort of remodelled and adapted Antiquity. This I advanced both in Home Thoughts Abroad, and in the Article of the British Critic which I have analyzed above. But this circumstance, that after all we must use private judgment upon Antiquity, created a sort of distrust of my theory altogether, which in the conclusion of my Volume on the Prophetical Office (1836-7) I express thus: "Now that our discussions draw to a close, the thought, with which we entered on the subject, is apt to recur, when the excitement of the inquiry has subsided, and weariness has succeeded, that what has been said is but a dream, the wanton exercise, rather than the practical conclusions of the intellect." And I conclude the paragraph by anticipating a line of thought into which I was, in the event, almost obliged to take refuge: "After all," I say, "the Church is ever invisible in its day, and faith only apprehends it." What was this, but to give up the Notes of a visible Church altogether, whether the Catholic Note or the Apostolic?