Oxford Movement

views updated Jun 11 2018


An effort by Anglican clergymen of Oxford University between 1833 and 1845 to renew the Church of England by a revival of Catholic doctrine and practice. The following phases of the movement are discernible: (1) rise and progress (183339), (2) crisis (183941), (3) Tract 90 and its aftermath (184145), and (4) the period after Newman.

Background. The Church of England (see anglicanism) emerged from the Reformation as an amalgamation of Catholic and Protestant doctrine and practice. These two disparate elements were welded together in the interest of national unity, mainly during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Catholic tradition, or high church element, triumphed over the Protestant element during the period of such famous Anglo-Catholic divines as Lancelot andrewes and William laud. The revolution of 1688 enabled the Protestant party to gain the ascendancy. latitudinarianism, which minimized doctrine, represented a third party.

By 1800 the English Church greatly needed reform. With its deep internal divisions, worldly prelates, and ineffectual clergy, however, it was hardly prepared to undertake this task itself. Hence it was faced with the prospect of having unwelcome reforms imposed upon it by secularist and liberal members of Parliament. The first such reform occurred in 1833 when ten Anglican bishoprics were suppressed in Ireland. To many loyal churchmen this was an omen of more drastic changes, perhaps even of disestablishment.

Rise and Progress (183339). A fear of such drastic moves motivated John keble's sermon entitled "National Apostasy" (July 14, 1833), which John Henry newman considered the beginning of the Oxford Movement. The sermon was followed by a meeting held from July 25 to July 29 at Hadleigh, Suffolk, attended by a number of prominent clergymen, including Hugh Rose, William Palmer, and Richard Hurrell froude. They decided to organize a defense of the Church through the formation of committees and the issuance of joint manifestoes.

Newman, Keble, and Froude, however, believed that the only true remedy for the evil condition of the Church lay in a theological and spiritual renewal. They held that the Catholic heritage of the Book of common prayer and of the 17th-century divines had to be recovered. The English Church had to reaffirm her commitment to the almost forgotten Catholic truths, namely: she held divine authority as part of God's visible kingdom; her sacraments were indispensable channels of grace; and her bishops were successors of the Apostles. This message they decided to communicate to the clergy in brief pamphlets, subsequently named Tracts for the Times, an expedient originated by Newman, who wrote the first one (see tractarianism).

Keble, "the true and primary author" of the movement according to Newman, was a gentle poet and scholarly pastor who had imbibed the Catholic tradition in his father's rectory. Froude, an ardent disciple of Keble, burned with an impatient zeal to restore the Church of England to its medieval spiritual power. Newman, a bold, searching thinker, was a patristic scholar who had moved from an Evangelical to a Catholic position through his reading and personal contacts at Oxford, especially his friendship with Froude and Keble.

One of the first important conquests of the movement occurred at the end of 1833 when Edward B. pusey

signed his initials to Tract 18. Regius professor of Hebrew, canon of Christ Church, and an aristocrat with friends in high places, he already enjoyed a reputation for great learning and holiness. His adherence to the cause was of invaluable assistance in establishing the movement as a serious contender for influence in the Church.

Newman, with his natural gifts, his acute, sensitive mind, his great capacity for friendship, and his insight into the minds of others, was destined to be the movement's natural leader. It was a leadership he exercised in many ways. His sermons at St. Mary's, Oxford, where he was vicar, were a powerful means of attracting many to the movement's ideals. Published as Parochial and Plain Sermons (183442), they reveal the essence of the Oxford reformation, its unworldliness, uncompromising quest for holiness, and unflinching asceticism. The sermons' psychological penetration, scriptural wisdom, and matchless beauty of language have made them enduring masterpieces.

Newman also did the most to establish a theoretical basis for the movement This was the object of a series of lectures delivered between 1834 and 1836 and published as The Prophetical Office of the Church (1837). Drawing on the 17thcentury Anglican divines, he argued that the Church of England held an intermediate position, a via media between the extremes of Roman infallibility and Protestant private judgment. Her rule of faith was simple fidelity to the teaching of the Fathers. He confessed, however, that Anglo-Catholicism was still merely a religion on paper. There was a great need of theological investigation of the Anglican tradition to make it one, intelligible, and consistent. To this end Newman, Keble, and Pusey began to edit the 45-volume Library of the Fathers (183888), a series of English translations of patristic writings, and the 83-volume Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology (184163).

In his Apologia Newman revealed that the via media was based on three fundamental principlesdogma, the sacramental system, and anti-Romanism. The chief opponents of dogma, he said, were the Liberals, who viewed religion as a mere matter of opinion. His anti-Romanism at the time was evident in his reference to the pope as anti-Christ and in his accusations against Rome of corrupting the Gospel truths.

Valuable recruits were soon gained, especially among the younger fellows of Oriel and Trinity. Such talented scholars as Charles Marriott, Robert Wilberforce, Frederick Rogers, Richard W. Church, and Isaac Williams rallied to the reform banner. As Newman remarked (Apologia, 76) "the Anglo-Catholic party suddenly became a power in the National Church and an object of alarm to her rulers and friends."

Latent hostility erupted with the publication in 1838 of the private papers of Froude, who died in 1836. These Remains offended great numbers by their strong anti-Protestant character and confirmed a growing suspicion that the movement was pro-Roman.

Crisis (183941). Newman considered the year 1839 as the zenith of the movement. The revival of Catholicism seemed to answer definite spiritual needs of many members of the Church of England. Several developments, however, marked this year as the beginning of a crisis. There was, first, the formation of a new party of eager, acute, resolute minds with definite sympathies for Rome. Such men as William G. ward, Frederick Oakeley, F. W. faber, and J. D. dalgairns "cut into the original movement at an angle, fell across its line of thought, and then set about turning that line in its own direction" (Apologia, 164).

A more fateful development occurred when doubts suddenly arose in Newman's mind about his via media. He found in his study of early history that monophysitism had upheld a via media similar to the Anglican one. At the same time he saw in St. Augustine's phrase "securus judicat orbis terrarum" a rule of faith that seemed to invalidate the Anglo-Catholic's rule of fidelity to the Fathers. As he put it, "the deliberate judgment, in which the whole Church at length rests and acquiesces, is an infallible prescription against such portions of it as protest and secede." Catholicity, or communion with the whole Church, was the essential mark of the true Church, not fidelity to antiquity.

While the history of St. Leo showed me that the deliberate and eventual consent of the great body of the Church ratified a doctrinal decision as a part of revealed truth, it also showed that the rule of Antiquity was not infringed, though a doctrine had not been publicly recognized as so revealed till centuries after the time of the Apostles. Thus, whereas the Creeds tell us that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, I could not prove that the Anglican communion was an integral part of the One Church, on the ground of its teaching being Apostolic or Catholic, without reasoning in favour of what are commonly called the Roman corruptions; and I could not defend our separation from Rome and her faith without using arguments prejudicial to these great doctrines concerning our Lord, which are the very foundation of the Christian religion. The Via Media was an impossible idea! [Apologia, 149]

Still Newman tried to meet his own difficulty in an article in the British Critic (January 1840), in which he argued that jurisdictional or other forms of visible inter-communion were not necessary between the parts of the one visible Church. The English Church, although separated from Rome, was still the Catholic Church in England since it was still in possession of "the Succession, the Episcopal form, the Apostolic faith, and the use of the Sacraments" (Essays Critical and Historical, 20).

Tract 90 and Aftermath. However, Ward and others in the party leaning toward Rome cited the thirty-nine articles to disprove Newman's contention that the Anglican Church held its common faith with Rome. The Articles were drawn up to exclude Roman doctrines from the English Church, they said. In reply Newman undertook a commentary on the Articles in Tract 90, which he published in February 1841. It was a crucial experiment, he recognized. He tried to prove that the Articles implied a distinction between Catholic teaching and Roman dogma; that they definitely did not condemn the former and did not even condemn the latter entirely. Rather the historical circumstances of their composition show that they were deliberately made general and vague in order to pacify those in the national Church with Catholic tendencies, as well as those with Protestant ones. Thus, although Article 21 simply states that "General Councils forasmuch as they be an Assembly of men may err ," Newman claimed that this did not rule out their inerrancy "when they are a thing of heaven." Despite the extreme subtlety of some of his distinctions, subsequent study has verified Newman's main contention.

The tract was not answered with argument, however. Panic and wrath ensued at this denial of the Protestant character of the Articles. All the resentment stored up against the "Oxford Malignants" now burst out in full fury. The heads of houses at Oxford, notorious for their ignorance of theology, publicly censured Tract 90 as an evasion. Newman's bishop demanded the cessation of the tracts.

Newman retreated to a mission church he had built at Littlemore, his position in the established Church seriously compromised. Then three more blows fell, all but destroying his belief in the Anglican Church. A further study of arianism showed him again the existence of another heretical via media in early Church history, i.e., Semi-Arianism. Second, the bishops one by one disowned Newman's interpretation of the Articles. Finally, the establishment of an Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem embracing Lutherans and other Protestants indicated a formal recognition of Protestant doctrines. This was the ultimate condemnation of the via media for Newman.

Meanwhile Pusey was suspended from preaching for two years after delivering a moderate Tractarian sermon on the Holy Eucharist. Then Ward entered the conflict. With remorseless logic he defended the thesis that since Rome alone fulfilled "the ideal of a Christian Church" (the title of his book), the Anglican Church must humbly sue for readmission to her communion. Official Oxford was outraged. His book was censured, and he was deprived of his master's degree in the Oxford convocation (Feb. 13, 1845).

Newman despaired of the Anglican Church and withdrew into lay communion after preaching his last sermon, "The Parting of Friends" (Sept. 25, 1843). He was kept back from Rome for two years by difficulties over Tridentine doctrines, transubstantiation, and Catholic devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints. Further study led him to favor the view that a principle of development was at work in the Church from earlier times. After writing his Essay on Development (1845) to prove this point to his own satisfaction, he made his profession of Catholic faith to Father Dominic barberi (Oct. 9, 1845).

After Newman. Ward, Faber, Oakeley, Dalgairns, and many others left Anglicanism with Newman. Pusey and Keble assumed leadership of the faltering party. Oxford ceased to be its headquarters. Pastoral and liturgical matters overshadowed doctrinal ones.

Another wave of secessions to Rome occurred in 1851 over the case of Rev. George C. Gorham. The bishop of Exeter had refused a parish to Gorham because of his questionable views on Baptismal regeneration. The bishop's decision, however, was reversed by the Privy Council in an unprecedented intervention in doctrinal matters. The impotence of the teaching authority of the Church appeared manifest to a number of clergymen, including Henry manning (later cardinal), who thereupon made their submission to Rome.

A long struggle was waged within the Church of England by Pusey, Keble, and their associates to revive the Catholic Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Penance. Puseyites were condemned by the archbishop of Canterbury and were brought to court for advocating the Catholic doctrinal interpretation of these Sacraments, but their patience and perseverance gradually won partial acceptance of this doctrine in the Church of England.

The revival of Catholic ceremonial, the use of altar lights, Eucharistic vestments, etc., was another result of work by Pusey and his friends. Although these practices were sanctioned by the Prayer Book, their advocates had to contend with furious mobs that wrecked churches where the reforms were introduced and with hostile bishops who condemned them as popish innovations. The revival of religious orders in the Church of England was another outcome of the Oxford Movement. Pusey's foundation of a sisterhood in 1845 was followed by the foundation of other communities of men or women. see religious orders, anglican-episcopalian.

The Oxford Movement failed to revive Catholic orthodoxy or to check the rising Liberalism in the Church of England. Its successful revival of Anglo-Catholic sacramental and liturgical practice, however, has greatly influenced the spirit and form of contemporary Anglican worship (see anglo-catholics).

Bibliography: j. h. newman, Apologia pro vita sua (1st ed. London 1864). j. r. griffin, John Keble, Saint of Anglicanism (Macon, GA 1987). m. r. o'connell, The Oxford Conspirators: A History of the Oxford Movement, 18331845 (Lanham, MD 1991). o. chadwick, The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays (Cambridge, England 1990). p. b. nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 17601857 (Cambridge, England 1994).

[t. s. bokenkotter/eds.]

Oxford Movement

views updated May 18 2018

Oxford Movement. A movement in the Church of England, beginning in the 19th cent., which had a profound impact on the theology, piety, and liturgy of Anglicanism. Its acknowledged leaders, John Keble, J. H. Newman, and E. B. Pusey, were all Oxford dons, and it is Keble's 1833 sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ (attacking the government's plan to suppress, without proper reference to the Church, ten Irish bishoprics) which is conventionally seen as the moment when the movement came to birth.

The movement reacted against decline in church life, the threat posed by liberal theology and rationalism, and the fear that the government was, in the words of Keble, intent on making the Church of England ‘as one sect among many’.

The organ of the movement was the series of Tracts for the Times (1–90; 1833–41) from which its supporters derived the name Tractarians. Although aimed against both ‘Popery and Dissent’, they were viewed with increasing alarm by those outside the movement who saw in them evidence of creeping Romanism. Newman's Tract Ninety, which attempted to square the Thirty-Nine Articles with Roman Catholicism, was condemned by many bishops, and a crisis was reached in 1845 when Newman and some of his supporters converted to Rome.

The heart of the movement's renewal of Anglicanism lay not so much in the ritual of worship, as in the impetus it gave to more godly living worked out through the revival of religious communities and a deep commitment to parish and mission work, especially among the poor and deprived.

Oxford Movement

views updated May 18 2018


OXFORD MOVEMENT. The Oxford Movement was a religious revival in the Church of England (1833) that emphasized the church's Catholic heritage in doctrine, polity, and worship. In America the movement found congenial soil among Episcopalians already influenced by the high churchmanship of Bishop John H. Hobart of New York (1775–1830). Opposition by those who believed the movement endangered the protestantism of the church reached an apex during the 1840s. Several high-profile conversions to Roman Catholicism increased party tension. Although the matter was settled by the 1874 canon, which prevented liturgical practices inconsistent with the church's doctrines, the movement exercised a permanent influence on the liturgy of the Episcopal church.


Chadwick, Owen. The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Mullin, Robert Bruce. Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

Massey H.ShepherdJr./a. r.

See alsoEpiscopalianism ; Religious Thought and Writings .

Oxford movement

views updated May 23 2018

Oxford movement. Founded by a group of clerical Oxford dons in the 1830s and 1840s, who sought to renew the Church of England through rediscovering its catholic inheritance. It was a response to the perceived decline of the Church of England into dangerous liberalism and excessive control by Parliament, which produced a desire to emphasize the spiritual and divine institution of the Church of England. Its starting-point is usually taken as Keble's Assize Sermon of 1833. The end of the first phase came with the reception of Newman into the Roman catholic church in 1845. Between 1833 and 1841 its leaders produced the Tracts for the Times, hence the alternative name of ‘tractarianism’.

Judith Champ

Oxford Movement

views updated Jun 11 2018

Oxford Movement Attempt by some members of the Church of England to restore the ideals of the pre-Reformation Church. It lasted from c.1833 to the first decades of the 20th century. Among the main proponents was John Newman.