See biographies by H. P. Liddon (4 vol., 1893-97), M. Trench (1900), and G. L. Prestige (1933); C. C. Grafton, Pusey and the Church Revival (1914); G. Faber, Oxford Apostles (1933).
Between 1825 and 1827, he studied Oriental languages and German theology at the University of Göttingen. His first work, published in 1828, as an answer to Hugh James Rose's Cambridge lectures on rationalist tendencies in German theology, showed a good deal of sympathy with the German "pietists", who had striven to deliver Protestantism from its decadence; this sympathy was misunderstood, and Pusey was himself accused of holding rationalist views.
In the same year (1828) the Prime Minister (the Duke of Wellington) appointed him to the Regius professorship of Hebrew with the attached canonry of Christ Church. The misunderstanding of his position led to the publication in 1830 of a second part of Pusey's Historical Enquiry, in which he denied the charge of rationalism. In the years which immediately followed, his thoughts turned in another direction. The revolt against individualism had begun, and he was attracted to its standard. By the end of 1833 he showed a disposition to make common cause with those who had already begun to issue the Tracts for the Times. "He was not, however, fully associated in the movement till 1835 and 1836, when he published his tract on baptism and started the Library of the Fathers" (Newman's Apologia, p. 136).
He became a close student of the fathers and of that school of Anglican divines who had continued, or revived, in the seventeenth century the main traditions of pre-Reformation teaching. A sermon which he preached before the university in May 1841, The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent, so startled the authorities by the re-statement of doctrines which, though well known to ecclesiastical antiquaries, had faded from the common view, that by the exercise of an authority which, however legitimate, was almost obsolete, he was suspended for two years from preaching. The immediate effect of his suspension was the sale of 18,000 copies of the condemned sermon; its permanent effect was to make Pusey for the next quarter of a century the most influential person in the Anglican Church, for it was one of the causes which led Newman to sever himself from that communion.
The occasions on which, in his turn, he preached before his university were all memorable; and some of the sermons were manifestoes which mark distinct stages in the history of the High Church party of which he was the leader. The practice of confession in the Church of England practically dates from his two sermons on The Entire Absolution of the Penitent, in 1846, in which the revival of high sacramental doctrine is complemented by the advocacy of a revival of the penitential system which medieval theologians had appended to it. The sermon on The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, in 1853, first formulated the doctrine round which almost all the subsequent theology of his followers revolved, and which revolutionized the practices of Anglican worship. Of his larger works the most important are his two books on the Eucharist—The Doctrine of the Real Presence (1855) and The Real Presence the Doctrine of the English Church (1857); Daniel the Prophet in which he endeavours to maintain the traditional date of that book; The Minor Prophets, with Commentary, his chief contribution to the study of which he was the professor; and the Eirenicon, in which he endeavoured to find a basis of union between the Church of England and the Church of Rome.
Pusey is chiefly remembered as the eponymous representative of the earlier phase of a movement which carried with it no small part of the religious life of England in the latter half of the nineteenth century. His own chief characteristic was an almost unbounded capacity for taking pains. His chief influence was that of a preacher and a spiritual adviser. As a preacher he lacked all the graces of oratory, but compelled attention by his searching and practical earnestness. His correspondence as a spiritual adviser was enormous; his deserved reputation for piety and for solidity of character made him the chosen confessor to whom large numbers of men and women unburdened their doubts and their sins.
He was more a theological antiquary, than a theologian. Pusey was in fact left behind by his followers, even in his lifetime. His revival of the doctrine of the Real Presence, coinciding as it did with the revival of a taste for medieval art, naturally led to a revival of the pre-Reformation ceremonial of worship. With this, Pusey had little sympathy. He protested against it (in a university sermon in 1859); and, though he came to defend those who were accused of breaking the law in their practice of it, he said that their practice was alien to his own. But this revival of ceremonial became the characteristic of the new movement; and "Ritualist" thrust "Puseyite" aside. Pivotal in his own teaching was the appeal to primitive antiquity, which proved influential.
Pusey edited a series of translations of the work of the Church fathers. Among the translators was his contemporary at Christ Church, Charles Dodgson. He also befriended and assisted Dodgson's son Lewis Carroll when he came to Christ Church.