Oxford Movement

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Not to be confused with the twentieth-century Oxford Group or the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship.

The Oxford Movement was a philosophy of High Church members of the Church of England which eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism. The philosophy, 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 Church.

The philosophy was also 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 1845) after two prominent Tractarians, John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. Other well-known Tractarians included John Keble, Charles Marriott, Richard Hurrell Froude, Robert Wilberforce, Isaac Williams and William Palmer.

Origins and early period[edit]

The immediate impetus for the movement was a perceived attack by the reforming Whig administration on the structure and revenues of the Church of Ireland (established church in Ireland), with the Irish Church Temporalities Bill (1833). This bill not only legislated administrative changes of the hierarchy of the church (for example, with a reduction of both bishoprics and archbishoprics) but also made changes to the leasing of church lands, which some (including a number of Whigs) feared would result in a secular appropriation of ecclesiastical property. Keble criticised these proposals as "National Apostasy" in his Assize Sermon in Oxford during 1833. The philosophy's promoters criticised theological liberalism. Their interest in Christian origins caused some of them to reconsider the relationship of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Tractarians postulated the Branch Theory, which states that Anglicanism along with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism form three "branches" of the historic 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 XC, 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 during 1845, followed by Henry Edward Manning during 1851, affected Tractarianism greatly.[1]


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 was also published. One of the main contributions that resulted from Tractarianism is the hymnbook entitled Hymns Ancient and Modern which was published first during 1861.

Influence and criticism[edit]

Tractarianism was criticised for being a mere "Romanising" tendency, but it began to influence the theory and practice of Anglicanism. Paradoxically, the Tractarianism was also criticised for being both secretive and collusive.[2]

Keble College, Oxford, initiated during 1870, was named after John Keble, a Tractarian, by the influence of Edward Pusey, another Tractarian.

Tractarianism 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 important to worship, vestments became common, and numerous Roman Catholic practices were re-introduced into worship. This resulted in controversies within churches that resulted in court cases, as in the dispute about ritualism.

Partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests, many of them began working in slums. 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.

Tractarians who became Roman Catholics[edit]

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. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church during 1845 and was ordained a priest of that religion the same year. He later became a cardinal (but not a bishop). He 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[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Bexell, Oloph, "The Oxford Movement as received in Sweden." Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift. Publications of the Swedish Society of Church History 1:106 (2006).
  • Brown, Stewart J. & Nockles, Peter B. ed. The Oxford Movement: Europe and the Wider World 1830–1930, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Burgon, John, Lives of Twelve Good Men. Includes biography of Charles Marriott.
  • Chadwick, Owen. Mind of the Oxford Movement, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960.
  • Church, R. W., The Oxford Movement: Twelve Years, 1835–1845, ed. and with an introd. by Geoffrey Best, in series, Classics of British Historical Literature, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. xxxii, [2], 280 p. ISBN 0-226-10619-5 (pbk.)
  • Church, R. W. The Oxford Movement: Twelve Years, 1833–1845, London: Macmillan & Co., 1891.
  • Crumb, Lawrence N. The Oxford Movement and Its Leaders: a bibliography of secondary and lesser primary sources. (ATLA Bibliography Series, 56). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.
  • Dilworth-Harrison, T. Every Man's Story of the Oxford Movement. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1932.
  • Faught, C. Brad. The Oxford Movement: a thematic history of the Tractarians and their times, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0-271-02249-9
  • Halifax, Charles Lindley Wood, Viscount, The Agitation Against the Oxford Movement, Office of the English Church Union, 1899.
  • Hall, Samuel. A Short History of the Oxford Movement, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906.
  • Hutchison, William G. The Oxford Movement, being a Selection from Tracts for the Times, London: Walter Scott Pub. Co., 1906.
  • Kelway, Clifton (1915) The Story of the Catholic Revival. London: Cope & Fenwick
  • Kendall, James. "A New Oxford Movement in England," The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. XXII, 1897.
  • Leech, Kenneth & Williams, Rowan (eds) Essays Catholic and Radical: a jubilee group symposium for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Oxford Movement 1833–1983, London : Bowerdean, 1983ISBN 0-906097-10-X
  • Liddon, Henry Parry, 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.
  • Norman, Edward R. Church and Society in England 1770–1970: a historical study. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976, ISBN 0-19-826435-6.
  • Nockles, Peter B. The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760–1857. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Nockles, Peter B., "The Oxford Movement and its historiographers. Brilioth's 'Anglican Revival' and 'Three Lectures on Evangelicalism and The Oxford Movement' revisited." Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift. Publications of the Swedish Society of Church History 1:106 (2006).
  • Nye, George Henry Frederick. The Story of the Oxford Movement: A Book for the Times, Bemrose, 1899.
  • Ollard, S. L. A Short History of the Oxford Movement, A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1915.
  • Pereiro, J. 'Ethos' and the Oxford Movement: At the Heart of Tractarianism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Pfaff, Richard W. "The Library of the Fathers: the Tractarians as Patristic translators," Studies in Philology; 70 (1973), p. 333ff.
  • Skinner, S. A. Tractarians and the Condition of England: the social and political thought of the Oxford Movement. (Oxford Historical Monographs.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.
  • Wakeling, G. The Oxford Church Movement: Sketches and Recollections, Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1895.
  • Walworth, Clarence A. The Oxford Movement in America. New York: United States Catholic Historical Society, 1974 (Reprint of the 1895 ed. published by the Catholic Book Exchange, New York).
  • Ward, Wilfrid. The Oxford Movement, T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1912.
  • Webb, Clement Charles Julian. Religious Thought in the Oxford Movement, London: Macmillan, 1928.

External links[edit]