The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XIII. The Growth of Liberal Theology

§ 7. Hampden

A similar service was rendered by Whately’s Oriel contemporary, Renn Dickson Hampden, when, in his Bampton lectures (1832), he contrasted the simplicity of the New Testament language with the elaborate superstructure of “logical theology.” There was a saying of John Foster, a writer whom Hampden sometimes quotes, “I deem it the wisest rule to use precisely the language of Scripture”; similarly, Hampden preferred Scripture to scholastic definition. The language of theology should be regarded as symbolical: therefore, to deduce further from its terms “is like making every circumstance in an emblem or metaphor the ground of scientific deduction.” Moreover, the advocate’s desire to defend these scholastic propositions makes the interpretation of Scripture oversolicitous and predetermined, rather than open and natural. The interpreter is intent on a process rather than “a mere follower of Revelation”; the “fact” will be accommodated to the theory. We must note, however, as still characteristic even of liberal divines at this time that, while Hampden will rigorously criticise any inferences from Scripture, he asserts without qualification that “whatever is recorded in those books is indisputably true.” The book has its inconsistencies and its limitations; but it shows its author, under the influence of the new scientific spirit, to be before his time in his interest in the evolution of doctrine. His depreciation of church traditions and formulas, and, still more, his advocacy, in 1834, of the admission of dissenters to the universities (“tests are no part of religious education”), drew upon him the open hostility of the tractarians, who were now strong enough to try conclusions with the liberal “apostasy.” Hampden, the unwilling protagonist in this scene, cut no very happy figure in extricating himself from charges of heterodoxy. He had himself to thank for some misunderstandings; but his enemies showed little scruple in making all the mischief they could, both in 1836, when he was appointed regius professor of divinity at Oxford, and, again, eleven years later, when he was nominated to the bishopric of Hereford. The judgment of principal Tulloch on Hampden deserves to be weighed in the scales against the steady depreciation of his “confused thinking” by the tractarians: “There are seeds of thought in Dr. Hampden’s writings far more fertile and enduring than any to be found in the writings of his chief opponents.”