Oxford movement

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).

The Oxford Movement or Tractarianism was an affiliation of High Church Anglicans, most of whom were members of the University of Oxford, who sought to demonstrate that the Church of England was a direct descendant of the Church established by the Apostles. It was also known as the Tractarian Movement after its series of publications Tracts for the Times (18331841); the Tractarians were also called Puseyites (usually disparagingly) after one of their leaders, Edward Bouverie Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford. Other prominent Tractarians included John Henry Newman, a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin; John Keble; Archdeacon Henry Edward Manning; Richard Hurrell Froude; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Robert Wilberforce; Isaac Williams; Charles Marriott; and Sir William Palmer.

Early movement

The immediate impetus for the Movement was the secularisation of the Church, focused particularly on the decision by the Government to reduce by ten the number of Irish bishops in the Church of Ireland following the 1832 Reform Act. Keble attacked these proposals as 'National Apostasy' in his Assize Sermon in Oxford in 1833. The Movement's leaders attacked liberalism in theology, and more positively took an interest in Christian origins, which led them to reconsider the relationship of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church. The Movement postulated the Branch Theory, which states that Anglicanism along with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism form three "branches" of the one "Catholic Church." In the ninetieth and final Tract, Newman argued that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Council of Trent, were compatible with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the sixteenth-century Church of England. Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845 as a result of his being taken further than he had expected by his own arguments, followed by Manning in 1851, had a profound effect upon the movement.


As well as the Tracts for the Times, the group produced other publications.

They began a collection of translations of the Fathers, which they called the Library of the Fathers and which ran in the end to 48 volumes, the last published three years after Pusey's death. These were issued through Rivington's, under the imprint of the Holyrood Press. The main editor for many of these was Charles Marriott. A number of volumes of original Greek and Latin texts were also published.


The Oxford Movement was attacked for being a mere Romanising tendency, but it began to have an influence on the theory and practice of Anglicanism. It resulted in the establishment of Anglican religious orders, both of men and women, and an emphasis on liturgy and ceremony. In particular it brought the insights of the Liturgical Movement into the life of the Church. Its effects were so widespread that the Eucharist gradually became more central to worship, vestments became common, and a considerable number of Catholic practices were introduced into worship. Inevitably this led to controversy which often ended up in court.

Partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests many of them ended up working in the slums, giving rise to a critique of social policy, local and national. The establishment of the Christian Social Union which debated issues such as the just wage, the system of property renting, infant mortality and industrial conditions, and to which a number of bishops were members, was one of the results. The more radical Catholic Crusade was much smaller. Anglo-Catholicism, as this complex of ideas, styles and organisations became known, has had a massive influence on global Anglicanism which continues to this day.

The Oxford Movement was also attacked for being both secretive and broadly collusive. This position is well documented in Walsh's style="font-style : italic;">The Secret History of the Oxford Movement

Converts to Roman Catholicism

The principal writer and proponent of the Tractarian Movement was John Henry Newman, who, after writing his final tract, Tract 90, became convinced that the Branch Theory was inadequate and so converted to the Roman Catholic Church. A series of similar conversions followed, which to a lesser extent continues to the present. To opponents of the Oxford Movement, this was proof that the movement was a romanizing tendency.

Other major figures who became Roman Catholic as a result of the movement were:

See also


  • Canon H. Liddon, Life of E.B.Pusey, 4 vols. London (1893). The standard history of the Oxford Movement, which quotes extensively from their correspondence, and the source for much written subsequently. The Library of the Fathers is discussed in vol. 1 pp. 420-440. Available on archive.org.
  • Dean Burgon, Lives of Twelve Good Men. Includes biography of Charles Marriott.
  • Richard W. Pfaff, "The library of the fathers: the tractarians as patristic translators", Studies in Philology 70 (1973), p.333ff.
  • Leech, Kenneth and Williams, Rowan (eds) (1983) Essays Catholic and Radical: a jubilee group symposium for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Oxford Movement 1833-1983, London : Bowerdean, ISBN 0-906097-10-X
  • Norman, Edward R. (1976) Church and Society in England 1770–1970: a historical study, Oxford : Clarendon Press, ISBN 0-19-826435-6.

External links

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