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The Oxford Movement was a movement of high church members of the Church of England which began in the 1830s and eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose original devotees were mostly associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of some older Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology. They thought of Anglicanism as one of three branches of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" Christian church. Many key participants subsequently converted to Roman Catholicism.

The movement's philosophy was known as Tractarianism after its series of publications, the Tracts for the Times, published from 1833 to 1841. Tractarians were also disparagingly referred to as "Newmanites" (before 1845) and "Puseyites" after two prominent Tractarians, John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. Other well-known Tractarians included John Keble, Charles Marriott, Richard Froude, Robert Wilberforce, Isaac Williams and William Palmer. All except Williams and Palmer were fellows of Oriel College, Oxford.

Origins and early period

In the early nineteenth century, many of the clergymen of the Church of England, particularly those in high office, saw themselves as latitudinarian (liberal). Conversely, many clergy in the parishes were Evangelicals, as a result of the revival led by John Wesley. Alongside this, the universities became the breeding ground for a movement to restore liturgical and devotional customs which borrowed heavily from traditions before the English Reformation as well as contemporary Roman Catholic traditions.[1]

The immediate impetus for the Tractarian movement was a perceived attack by the reforming Whig administration on the structure and revenues of the Church of Ireland (the established church in Ireland), with the Irish Church Temporalities Bill (1833). The Act provided for merging of dioceses and provinces of the Church of Ireland, and the elimination of Vestry Assessment (church rates or "parish cess"), a cause of grievance in the Tithe War. The bill also made changes to the leasing of church lands, which some (including a number of Whigs) feared that the Church of England might be disestablished and lose its endowments.[2] John Keble criticised these proposals as "National Apostasy" in his Assize Sermon in Oxford in 1833, in which he denied the authority of the British Parliament to abolish several dioceses in Ireland.[3]

The Gorham Case in which secular courts overruled an ecclesiastical court on the matter of a priest with somewhat unorthodox views on the efficacy of infant baptism, was also deeply unsettling. Keble, Edward Bouverie Pusey, Newman, and others began to publish a series known as Tracts for the Times, which called the Church of England to return to the ways of the ancient and undivided church in matters of doctrine, liturgy and devotion.[3] They felt that the Church of England needed to affirm that its authority did not come from the authority of the state, but from God. Even if the Anglican Church were completely separated from the state, it could still claim the loyalty of Englishmen because it rested on divine authority and the principle of apostolic succession.[4] With a wide distribution and a price in pennies, the Tracts succeeded in drawing attention to the views of the Oxford Movement on points of doctrine, but also to its overall approach, to the extent that Tractarian became a synonym for supporter of the movement.

The Tractarians postulated the Branch Theory, which states that Anglicanism along with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism form three "branches" of the historic pre-schism Catholic Church. Tractarians argued for the inclusion of traditional aspects of liturgy from medieval religious practice, as they believed the church had become too "plain". In the final tract, "Tract 90", 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 16th-century Church of England. Newman's eventual reception into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, followed by Henry Edward Manning in 1851, had a profound effect upon the movement.[5]


Apart from the Tracts for the Times, the group began a collection of translations of the Church Fathers, which they termed the Library of the Fathers. The collection eventually comprised 48 volumes, the last published three years after Pusey's death. They were issued through Rivington's company with 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. One of the main contributions that resulted from Tractarianism is the hymnbook entitled Hymns Ancient and Modern which was published in 1861.

Influence and criticism

Keble College, Oxford, founded in 1870, was named after John Keble, a Tractarian, by the influence of Edward Pusey, another Tractarian

The Oxford Movement was criticised as being a mere "Romanising" tendency, but it began to influence the theory and practice of Anglicanism more broadly, spreading to cities such as Bristol during the 1840s-50s.[6] The Oxford Movement was also criticised as both secretive and collusive.[7]

The Oxford Movement resulted in the establishment of Anglican religious orders, both of men and of women. It incorporated ideas and practices related to the practice of liturgy and ceremony to incorporate more powerful emotional symbolism in the church. 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 numerous Roman Catholic practices were re-introduced into worship. This led to controversies within churches that resulted in court cases, as in the dispute about ritualism.

Many of the Tractarian priests began working in slums. This was partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests, and partly due to an ethos of concern for the poor. From their new ministries, they developed a critique of British social policy, both local and national. One of the results was the establishment of the Christian Social Union, of which a number of bishops were members, where issues such as the just wage, the system of property renting, infant mortality and industrial conditions were debated. The more radical Catholic Crusade was a much smaller organisation than the Oxford Movement. Anglo-Catholicism – as this complex of ideas, styles and organisations became known – had a significant influence on global Anglicanism.

Gu Hongming, an early twentieth century Chinese author, used the concept of the Oxford Movement to argue for a return to traditional Confucianism in China.[8]

End of Newman's involvement and receptions into Roman Catholicism

One of the principal writers and proponents of Tractarianism was John Henry Newman, a popular Oxford priest who, after writing his final tract, "Tract 90", became convinced that the Branch Theory was inadequate. Concerns that Tractarianism was disguised Roman Catholicism were not unfounded; Newman believed that the Roman and Anglican churches were wholly compatible. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 and was ordained a Catholic priest two years later.[9] He later became a cardinal (but not a bishop). Writing on the end of Tractarianism as a movement, Newman stated:

I saw indeed clearly that my place in the Movement was lost; public confidence was at an end; my occupation was gone. It was simply an impossibility that I could say any thing henceforth to good effect, when I had been posted up by the marshal on the buttery-hatch of every College of my University, after the manner of discommoned pastry-cooks, and when in every part of the country and every class of society, through every organ and opportunity of opinion, in newspapers, in periodicals, at meetings, in pulpits, at dinner-tables, in coffee-rooms, in railway carriages, I was denounced as a traitor who had laid his train and was detected in the very act of firing it against the time-honoured Establishment.[10]

Newman was one of a number of Anglican clergy who were received into the Roman Catholic Church during the 1840s who were either members of, or were influenced by, Tractarianism.

Other people influenced by Tractarianism who became Roman Catholics included:

Others associated with Tractarianism

See also


  1. ^ "The Church of England (the Anglican Church)". Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  2. ^ Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Oxford movement". Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 Aug. 2020
  3. ^ a b "Oxford Movement, The", The Episcopal Church
  4. ^ Shelley, Bruce L. (2013). Church History in Plain Language. p. 387.
  5. ^ "A Short History of the Oxford Movement". Mocavo. Archived from the original on 26 December 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  6. ^ Cobb, Peter G. (1988). The Oxford Movement in Nineteenth-Century Bristol. Brisol: Bristol Historical Association.
  7. ^ Walsh, Walter (1899). The Secret History of the Oxford Movement (5th ed.). London Church Association.
  8. ^ The Story of a Chinese Oxford Movement.
  9. ^ Murray, Placid, ed. (2004). Newman the Oratorian. Gracewing. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0-85244-632-2.
  10. ^ "The Tractarian Movement". Retrieved 7 December 2015.

Further reading