Cambridge Camden Society - Piety and Theology

Piety and Theology

Members of the society also published books such as the Hierugia Anglicana, which sought to prove that medieval Catholic ritual had lived on in the Anglican Church past the Reformation and was therefore a proper way to offer worship. Another important work was The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments, also known by the name of the medieval author who inspired it, Durandus. In this book, Neale and Webb sought to prove that absolutely every architectural element of the medieval church building was religiously symbolic and represented Christian piety and thought well above that of the 19th century. The work also proclaimed that church architects must "take a religious view of their profession" and that "we do protest against the merely business-like spirit of the modern profession, and demand from them a more elevated and directly religious habit of mind". Although nominally scholarly, these persuasive works were quite obviously intended to further the society's own philosophical and theological viewpoints.

The theological doctrines espoused by the Cambridge Camden Society were never gentle and the society had many critics, both religious and architectural. Members of the Anglican Church detested the "popish" and "romanising" tendencies they saw in the Ecclesiologist's judgments while Catholics such as Pugin resented the idea that the Roman Church had lost its piety and vigour. Because the Society's doctrines were so closely related to the Oxford Movement, it also drew heavy criticism from the anti-Tractarianists. The Cambridge Camden Society had a clever smokescreen to avoid addressing such attacks, however. Its bylaws forbad theological debate, insisting that the Society was solely architectural in its mission. Thus although its leaders put forth a definite theological position, they could never be charged with direct meddling in Church matters. This defence worked most of the time, but it did not lessen the hatred many had for the Society's disguised theological agenda. Likewise, many architects despised the Society for its intolerance of creative freedom. Self-righteous outbursts like the Ecclesiologist's assertion that "it is no sign of weakness to be content to copy acknowledged perfection: it is rather a sign of presumption to expect to rival it in any other way" did little to win over its architectural enemies. Despite this, the Cambridge Camden Society and its Ecclesiologists never really lost a battle with its critics, aside from its forced removal from Cambridge to London in 1845 after an attack by anti-tractarianists. The society had so successfully won over the architectural community that when it disbanded in 1868, most felt that it had done everything it had set out to accomplish.

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