Since the oxford movement, this term has been commonly used to designate the Catholic wing of the high church Movement within the Anglican Communion. Somewhat ambiguously, the term's use covers two movements within modern anglicanism that, although evidently related, do not always coincide: the revival of Catholic dogmatic, sacramental and liturgical tenets, and the Ritualist movement. The outstanding figures in the Oxford Movement were not liturgical innovators but faithful adherents of the prescriptions of the book of common prayer interpreted according to what was perceived as the Catholicism of pre-Reformation England. In this regard, the 19th century Anglo-Catholics were in the forefront to revive the pre-Reformation sarum use as a genuine liturgical rite of pre-Reformation Catholic England.
In its origins, the Ritualist movement was the natural outgrowth of tractarianism. It was inevitable that the revival within the Church of England of Catholic doctrines concerning the Sacraments and public worship should result in a desire to express these beliefs outwardly through appropriate religious symbolism. This natural consequence was reinforced in the years immediately following the Oxford Movement by a growing appreciation of aesthetic values in England, a movement that, although not religious in its origins, led to a reaction against the Puritanism that characterized contemporary liturgical practice.
Doctrinal Positions and Ritualist Practices. The basic doctrinal commitment of the Oxford Movement to the principle of apostolic succession, besides constituting a protest against the protestantizing of the Church of England and the inroads of religious liberalism, was also, at least implicitly, an assertion of the Church's freedom from unwarranted interference by the state. As such, it encountered many challenges during the years immediately after the Oxford Movement. In 1850, in the Gorham case, the Privy Council decided in favor of a clergyman, whose views on Baptism had been found unorthodox by his bishop, and permitted him to teach that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration was an open question. In 1853 the Privy Council passed judgment on the Eucharist, sustaining the acquittal by the Court of Arches of Archdeacon George Denison of Taunton, who had denied the doctrine of the Real Presence.
In addition to such opposition to the doctrinal positions of Anglo-Catholicism, its Ritualist practices also came under fire. The ornaments rubric of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer was sufficiently ambiguous to permit the Anglo-Catholic clergy to introduce the use of Eucharistic vestments. After unsuccessful efforts to get the rubric changed, Abp. Archibald Tait obtained the passage of the Public Worship Regulation Act (1874), which was subsequently made more drastic by the amendments of Lord Anthony Shaftesbury. Four clergymen were imprisoned for contumacious violation of this act. The practice of confession by the Anglo-Catholic clergy also aroused bitter opposition. In this case, however, the practice had the explicit sanction of the Prayer Book, so that its opponents were forced to press for revision of the formula of absolution in the Visitation of the Sick.
By the mid-20th century, most of the practices for which the Anglo-Catholics suffered in the 19th century were taken as a matter of course, and the major concern of their spiritual descendants arose from the desire of Protestant elements within the Church of England to unite with Nonconformist bodies. The 1955 Convocations of Canterbury and York, concerned with relations between the Church of South India and the Church of England, produced a crisis of conscience for some Anglo-Catholics who believed that the Anglican episcopate, in declaring the orders of the new church to be equivalent to its own, had defined the intention of the Anglican ordination rite in a clearly heretical sense. Further crisis of conscience arose in the latter part of the 20th century, when the U.S. Episcopal Church, followed by most of the members of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, began to ordain women. Many Anglo-Catholics, while not rejecting in principle the possibility of women ordination, felt that it was not a decision that could be taken by the Anglo-Catholic unilaterally. Rather, if there were to be any change, it had to be made at the level of an ecumenical council promulgating a common position for all churches professing to be part of the ancient catholic, apostolic faith. As a result of this, as well as other disappointments with what was being perceived as doctrinal and theological liberalism within Anglicanism, many Anglo-Catholics left Anglicanism to embrace Roman Catholicism, Old Catholicism and Byzantine Orthodoxy. Others have chosen to remain to work for change within the Anglican Communion. In the Church of England, a system of episcopal visitors (affectionately known as "flying bishops") was put in place in the 1990s for those Anglo-Catholics who could not, in good conscience, accept the decision of their local bishops to participate in women ordination.
On a different issue, the Ritualist movement within the Church of England has recently been affected by currents of liturgical change brought about by the Second Vatican Council. The effort to be more Roman than the Romans, which has sometimes led Anglo-Catholics to adopt liturgical practices deplored by Catholic liturgists, has become rather pointless in the light of the constitution on the liturgy enacted by vatican council ii. While some Anglo-Catholics chose to ally themselves with Catholic traditionalists fighting against the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, other Anglo-Catholics have adopted the principles of liturgical reform of Vatican II.
Bibliography: g. e. demille, The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church (Philadelphia 1941). w. l. knox, The Catholic Movement in the Church of England (New York 1924). w. j. s. simpson, The History of the Anglo-Catholic Revival from 1845 (London 1932). g. rowell, The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism (Oxford 1983). c.g. buchanan, Anglo-Catholic Worship: An Evangelical Appreciation after 150 Years (Bramcote, Eng 1983). v. strudwick, Is the Anglican Church Catholic?: The Catholicity of Anglicanism (London 1994). f. penhale, The Anglican Church Today: Catholics in Crisis (London 1986). g. rowell, ed., Tradition Renewed: the Oxford Movement Conference Papers (Allison Park, Pa. 1986). w. s. f. pickering, Anglo-Catholicism: A Study in Religious Ambiguity (London 1989). j. jeffrey, Living Tradition: Affirming Catholicism in the Anglican Church (Cambridge, Mass. 1992). j. jeffrey, Living the Mystery: Affirming Catholicism and the Future of Anglicanism (London 1992). p. b. nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760–1857 (Cambridge, England 1994). j. s. reed, Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism (Nashville, Tenn. 1996).
Revd Dr William M. Marshall