Oxford movement

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Oxford movement

Oxford movement, religious movement begun in 1833 by Anglican clergymen at the Univ. of Oxford to renew the Church of England (see England, Church of) by reviving certain Roman Catholic doctrines and rituals. This attempt to stir the Established Church into new life arose among a group of spiritual leaders in Oriel College, Oxford. Prominent among them were John Henry Newman, John Keble, Richard Hurrell Froude, Charles Marriott, and later Edward Bouverie Pusey and Richard William Church. The Oxford movement has exerted a great influence, doctrinally, spiritually, and liturgically not only on the Church of England but also throughout the Anglican Communion.

Early Years: The Tracts

In July of 1833, Keble preached a sermon, On the National Apostasy, which Newman held to be the actual opening of the movement. A few days later a meeting was held at Hadleigh, Suffolk, in the rectory house of Hugh James Rose, “the Cambridge originator of the Oxford movement,” and a resolution was made to uphold “the apostolic succession and the integrity of the Prayer-Book.” Newman, who felt that extensive popularizing was more effective than organization, immediately launched a series of pamphlets, Tracts for the Times. Later, Keble and Pusey joined him, and their group became known as the Tractarians. To the tracts was added The Library of the Father of the Holy Catholic Church (translations from patristic writings) to encourage a return to the beliefs and customs of the first centuries of the church.

The Tractarians preached Anglicanism as a via media between Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. Newman became the acknowledged leader in answering critics and advocating the restoration of practices abandoned in the Church of England since the Reformation. When the Tractarians attacked Renn Dickson Hampden, a follower of Richard Whately, the liberals, led by Dr. Thomas Arnold, opposed them openly. After 1834, Pusey was influential in the movement, adding force and dignity to the controversial manner and emphasizing the observance of ritual. Opponents dubbed the movement “Puseyism.”

Within the movement itself, a Romanizing party developed under William George Ward, Frederick William Faber and others, and it was partly to counter them that Newman wrote his celebrated Tract 90 on the Thirty-nine Articles, which aroused a storm of opposition and brought the series to an end (1841). The movement lost valuable supporters to Roman Catholicism, including Newman, and Henry Edward Manning. The movement to Roman Catholicism was opposed by Pusey, under whose leadership the majority remained loyal to the Church of England. Under Pusey the movement advanced beyond its academic beginning and became an effective vehicle for ecclesiastical and, later, social reform.

Later Years: Changes in Religious Practices

Among the means for renewing deep and personal devotion to the teachings of the Bible, Keble, Newman, and especially Pusey, sought to develop religious community life. Sisterhoods were founded, the first in 1845. They became centers of charitable and social work of importance. Communities for men were fewer and expanded less rapidly.

The Oxford movement also stressed higher standards of worship, and particularly in the later period many changes were made in the church services, e.g., beautification of churches, intonation of services, the wearing of vestments, and emphasis on hymn singing. Every effort to revive ceremonial customs aroused a storm of excitement and opposition leading at times to rioting. This violence culminated in 1860 at St. George's-in-the East, London. Because attention was centered upon the forms of expression in the churches, especially between 1857 and 1871, the followers of the Oxford movement became known as ritualists. Anglo-Catholicism was another name for the movement as its supporters tried to secure in the Established Church recognition of ancient Catholic liturgy and doctrine.

The changes desired by the ritualists caused much public agitation and litigation between 1850 and 1890. In 1874 the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed by Parliament, avowedly to “put down Ritualism.” On the part of churchmen the struggle was fought in resistance to secular authority in spiritual affairs. No Anglo-Catholic could recognize the mandates of a purely parliamentary court, such as the judicial committee of the privy council, which, although it lacked spiritual authority, was the supreme court of ecclesiastical appeal. The last imprisonment for refusal to admit its authority was made in 1887, after which such resistance was respected as reasonable.

In later years the followers of the movement placed increasing emphasis on the responsibility of Christians in the life of society and have given much attention to social problems. This social concern led to the foundation of the Christian Social Union in 1889 under Brooke Foss Westcott and Henry Scott Holland.


See R. W. Church, The Oxford Movement (1891; rev. ed. 1970, ed. by G. Best and J. Clive); E. R. Fairweather, The Oxford Movement (1964); M. R. O'Connell, The Oxford Conspirators (1969); R. Chapman, Faith and Revolt (1970).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Tractarianism's promotion of visible devotion, flower missions and music, for example, was designed specifically to enthral those from poorer backgrounds who could not read the Bible or Prayer Book.
(9) While the Oxford movement was a sustained presence in Rossetti's life, Tractarianism cannot be said to have been the only source for her interest in the relationship between secrecy and communality: she knew of her father's carbonari associations and lifelong scholarly interest in secret societies; witnessed her brother Dante's founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which in its earliest years functioned as a secret collectivity known only by the mysterious initials appended to member paintings; and was herself a lay helper from 1859 to 1870 at Saint Mary Magdalene's Penitentiary, Highgate.
Yonge's views on this issue come through most clearly in relation to the vexed question of charitable sisterhoods, one of Tractarianism's most notorious contributions to mid-Victorian English culture.
In the light of these findings, one may reasonably argue that Tractarianism should be seen as one section of a more general high church revival in the early nineteenth century, rather than as an entirely new movement which single-handedly renewed the church.
What sanctions Keble's doing so here, of course, is precisely what saves the world for Tractarianism in every larger sense: the Eucharist, which transforms a table to an altar' and means that eating and drinking are, without ceasing to be domestic behaviors, much more than that.
90, Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-nine Articles, in February 1841, reaction against Tractarianism, which had been burning on a slow fuse, ignited.
The controversy came to a head when Church Society dues were made mandatory, for the change was seen as a means to fund the Tractarianism of Bishop Feild.
This examines, under the classic trope of form and meaning, the canonical poets, Arnold, Clough, Tennyson, the Brownings and the Rossettis among others born into the age of Tractarianism and Victorian Catholicism: "when Victorian poetry speaks of faith it tends to do so in steady and regular rhythms; when it speaks of doubt, it is correspondingly more likely to deploy irregular, unsteady, unbalanced rhythms" (1).
Coleridge's keen sense of etymology and his familiarity with the early Reformation divines who, as Wright himself points out, appropriated the term for reformed religion, provide adequate rationale for Coleridge's use of the term and make the connection to Tractarianism unlikely.
James Pereiro, Ethos and the Oxford Movement: At the Heart of Tractarianism (Oxford UP, 2008), 271 pp., $150 cloth.
Finally, the book has a chapter on how ethos, as a primary concept of Tractarianism, came to drive a wedge between the High Church and the Tractarians as the early church came to be paramount over the Reformation for the latter.