The Puritans, asserting their liberty to restrain tyrants, found the Hebrew history closely symbolical of their feelings and purpose; and it can hardly be correct to cast the blame of their less laudable doings on the writings they invoked, since their opponents made use of the same writings for different ends, finding there a strong warrant for the divine right of kings and denunaation of those who, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, took on themselves the office of priesthood, which belonged of right solely to Aaron and his sons, or, in other words, to men ordained by the English bishops. — George Eliot, "The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!"
olitical applications of religious typology exemplify an area of Victorian thought in which authors commonly extend or secularize this form of symbolism. We may properly speak of a "secularized" or "extended" typology when any of the defining elements of the orthodox form of this kind of biblical symbolism have been modified. Perhaps the most common change observed in political typology involves the christological reference, which authors frequently redefine in terms of something they wish to aggrandize, such as Tudor England, contemporary Italy, or the Victorian working classes. Such secularizations of typology do not depend upon the religious belief of the author who employs them, and they occur both in the works of Swinburne, who was an atheist, and Mrs Browning, who was a believing Christian. Furthermore, although, as we shall observe, such secularized figuralism generally characterizes Victorian use of types for political purposes, certain applications do take strictly orthodox forms. After examining a few instances of orthodox political types, we shall be better able to discern what occurs when authors transform them into secularized or extended versions.
Since the Church of England is an established or state church, in a certain sense it serves as an arm of government: the reigning monarch is the of ficial head of the Church, some of its prelates sit in the House of Lords, and it is subject to Parliamentary legislation. Certain past and present affairs of state inevitably had effects upon the Church, and since Victorian commentators accepted that many things referring to Christ also referred to His Church, such matters of state which influenced the Church could be understood by orthodox observers as serving as part of a typological scheme ordained by God.
Several of the poems which close John Keble's The Christian Year employ types to comment upon political matters. "King Charles the Martyr," a poem written to commemorate Charles I's death, which was celebrated in the Church calendar, presents him as an antitype of Christ, one who, like Christ Himself, fulfills earlier types and one who also fulfills a type created by Christ. Keble can make such an interpretation, because Charles 1, as head of the established church, was commonly taken by Tories and High Churchmen to have died a religious martyr to Puritan political and religious oppression. The poet begins his aggrandizement of Charles I by admitting that although the skies no longer "thunder" with prophecy, and although the Apostles no longer defeat the powers of darkness "in our sight," England still possesses the "Martyrs" noble army," which is composed not only of the humble and obscure but also of a king. Part of the glory of England and its Church is that "a monarch from his throne/ Springs to his Cross and finds his glory there." In conventional terms Charles I stands as both a martyr and an antitype: he is a martyr because he died as a witness to Christ, and he is an antitype because his sufferings as a member of His Church make him a part of Christ Mystical -- and the types can be fulfilled in both the person (Christ Personal) and Church (Christ Mystical) of Christ.
Keble's note to this poem suggests that he accepted fully the notion that Charles acted as part of a divinely instituted typological scheme or structure, for he quotes a section of Herbert's Memoirs which relates that Bishop Juxon, who was with the king immediately before his death, read "the 27th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which relateth the passion of our Blessed Saviour. The King, after the service was done, asked the Bishop, if he had made choice of that chapter, being so applicable to his present condition? The Bishop replied, "May it please your Gracious Majesty, it is the proper lesson for the day, as appears by the Kalendar." "In other words, Keble's note makes clear that precisely the kind of signifying or meaningful event which characterizes a type has taken place when the Church calendar and Charles l's execution coincided.
'Gunpowder Treason," another poem celebrating a political event mentioned in the Church calendar, avoids relating any details of the Roman Catholic inspired plot to destroy the English government, and instead contrasts the Churches of England and Rome. According to Keble, at the Crucifixion the "widow'd Church" stood by weeping while others scorned; and even today the same pattern pertains, for still
We know the lonely Spouse
By the dear mark her Saviour bore
Trac'd on her patient brows.
The Crown of Thorns thus prefigures those many wounds suffered by Christ's spouse, the Church. The poet then mentions the specific sorrows occasioned by the Roman Catholic error of turning from Christ to worship the lesser parts of His dispensation: Mary and the saints. Hence the "lonely Spouse'
mourns that tender hearts should bend
Before a meaner shrine,
And upon Saint or Angel spend
The love that should be thine.
Then, in a surprisingly gentle close, Keble requests that we "speak gently of our sister's fall" in hopes that patient love might win the Roman church back to God's ways. Except for the title's allusion to a specific political fact, the poem concerns itself entirely with doctrinal contrasts and so its citation of a type hardly seems particularly political.1
In contrast, "The Accession," which employs Old Testament history to prefigure the way a new monarch comes to the English throne, more obviously places contemporary political events within a religious context. Keble claims that:
The voice that from the glory came
To tell how Moses died unseen,
And wakenJoshua's spear of flame
To victory on the mountains green,
Its trumpet tones are sounding still,
When Kings or Parents pass away,
They greet us with a cheering thrill
Of power and comfort in decay.
Although Keble makes the divinely prompted transition of power from Moses to Joshua both a type and archetype of all such transitions, he characteristically turns away from the political import such a typological relation might possess to find consolation for all mourners. In fact, despite its title, the poem focuses upon the death of parents and monarchs and not upon the accession to their role in society of those who must take up their functions.
In contrast to these three poems of Keble which seem to avoid making specific reference to contemporary politics, Newman's "Uzzah and Obed-Edom" (1833) employs types to comment upon specific political issues involving the Church of England. Newman, who steadfastly opposed any attempts by secular authorities to reform the Church of Ireland or make the income of bishops more equitable, employs the story of the ill-fated Uzzah to warn those who would meddle in sacred affairs. The poem begins with the warning that God's ark, which is a type of the Church, has hidden power which earthly eyes cannot judge:
The ark of God has hidden strength;
Who reverence or profane,
They, or their seed, shall find at length The penalty or gain.
Having thus set forth his chief principle, that we mere humans cannot judge the true condition of either ark or Church, Newman then draws a lesson from the fate of Uzzah, who sought with his hand to support the falling ark:
There was one, outstripping all
The holy-vestured band,
Who laid on it, to save its fall,
A rude corrective hand.
Read, who the Church would cleanse, and mark How stern the warning runs;
There are two ways to aid her ark
As patrons, and as sons.
The second Book of Samuel 6:7 tells that when those transporting the ark "came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God." Scriptural commentators such as Thomas Scott see Uzzah's action as an example of irreverence and presumption and his punishment as a divinely intended warning to David, the priests, and the entire nation of Israel. Newman, who takes the history of Uzzah and the ark as a type of the way in which contemporary liberalism misguidedly attempts to help the Church of England, tries to warn all believers how blasphemous must be such attempts to act as her "patrons" and not "sons."
Newman inscribed his poem "At Sea. June 24th, 1833," and so it anticipates by three weeks John Keble's famous Assize Sermon on "National Apostasy," which he preached in the University pulpit and which Newman and others took as the beginning of the Oxford Movement. Newman had returned from his travels to hear Keble urge that, since England was a Christian nation bound by the laws of the Church, it was committing national Apostasy when its Parliament suppressed Anglican sees in Ireland in a sacrilegious attempt to assist and "cleanse" the Church. Uzzah, it appears, was both type and symbol of liberalism, which Newman defines in his Apologia as "false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place." According to him, such matters include all sorts of'first principles" and all "truths of Revelation." Liberalism then "is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on rational grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine Word" ("Note A. Liberalism" Apologia Pro Vita Sua, ed. A. Dwight Culler, Boston, 1956, 271).
Newman, ever a superb polemicist, has chosen a wonderfully appropriate episode from Old Testament history to use as a type. Certainly, the eye of common sense — the eye of liberalism, that is, which is not informed by faith — finds it difficult to perceive how Uzzah could have sinned sufficiently to deserve such punishment. Although divinely revealed law instructed man that anyone who touched the ark of God must die for such sacrilege, common sense argues that perhaps God did not literally mean the ark could not be touched, and that, anyway, Uzzah meant well. Similarly, the sin and error of liberalism, according to Newman, is that it attempts to apply human standards to matters already decided by the "external authority of the Divine Word." In essence, the sin of liberalism, like the sin of Uzzah, is that irreverent presumption which arises in a lack of faith: Political liberals, like this ill-fated figure from ancient times, do not believe that God really meant what He said in the scriptures.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Casa Guidi Windows (1851), which also attacks irreverence and presumption, offers the example of a Low Church application of types and typological argument to the contemporary political scene. Like Ruskin's Notes Towards the Construction of Sheepfolds (1851), Mrs Browning makes the usual Evangelical point that Christ's incamation removed the need for all human priesthoods. Citing the typologically significant garments of the Levitical priesthood, she argues that since Christ has fulfilled all these types in Himself, earthly "priests" no longer exist:
Through heaven's lifted gate
The priestly ephod in sole glory swept
When Christ ascended, entered in, and sate . . .
At Deity's right hand, to mediate
He alone, He for ever. On His breast
The Urim and the Thummim, fed with fire
From the full Godhead, flicker with the unrest
Of human pitiful heartbeats . Come up higher,
All Christians! Levi's tribe is dispossest.
She therefore claims that all Christians should admire, "but not cast lots for," the solitary alb of Christ's priesthood. In fact, she holds that the last time consecrated oil ever anointed anyone authentically was when it was used at Christ's burial:
The last chrism, poured right,
Was on that Head, and poured for burial
And not for domination in men's sight.
Therefore, she looks critically at both High Church Anglican and Roman Catholic "juggling with the sleight/ Of surplice, candlestick and altar-pall," and suggests that both parties abandon their sinful, irreverent presumption.
And make concordats "twixt their soul and mouth,
Succeed St. Paul by working at the tent,
Become infallible guides by speaking truth, And excommunicate their pride that bent
And cramped the souls of men.
All believers accepted that Christ's incarnation abrogated the Old Testament priesthood, which had prefigured Him. Whereas the Low Church then proceeded to argue that Christ, who was our only priest, removed need for any other, the High Church claimed in contrast that these Old Testament figures prefigured both Christ and a new priesthood of His Church. Ruskin had urged that Christ was the only true priest as a means of promoting tolerance and cooperation among the English clergy, but his friend Elizabeth Barrett Browning does so largely as a means of attacking the Papacy. Although both Ruskin and Mrs Browning write with an eye upon the recent reinstitution of Roman Catholic dioceses in England, Ruskin concerns himself primarily with internal English religious politics while she concems herself with the secular politics of Italy during the Risorgimento.
Mrs Browning introduces her views of Christian priesthood into Casa Guidi Windows as a means of attacking Pius IX, the Pope whose repressive policies had so harmed both Italian reunification and Italian liberty. Pio Nono, as he was commonly known, had begun his rule with liberal intentions, but the stirrings of revolution had so troubled him that he quickly exchanged his early liberal politics for reactionary ones which made him infamous to an entire generation of political poets. Referring to his earlier attitudes, Mrs Browning, who believes that "Priestcraft burns out," claims that his later actions have unintentionally aided Italy, which will never again believe a
Why, almost, through this Pius, we believed
The priesthood could be an honest thing, he smiled
So saintly while our corn was being sheaved
For his own granaries! Showing now defiled
His hireling hands, a better help's achieved
Than if they blessed us shepherd-like and mild.
False doctrine, strangled by its own amen,
Dies in the throat of all this nation. Who
Will speak a pope's name as they rise again?
What woman or what child will count him true?
Although this passage attacking Pio Nono, which owes much to Milton's "Lycidas" and an entire tradition of satires against false pastors, does not itself employ types, it follows from Mrs Browning's typological argument against the existence of any Christian priesthood.
Last modified 4 April 2015