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
  • 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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