decorated initial 'I'n the The Victorian Church Owen Chadwick explains the differences between the Tractarians and the members of the Cambridge Camden Society, who became known as Ecclesiologists. Both wanted to improve experience of worship in the established church, for “everyone wanted to reform the worldliness of the Church of England and held the axiom that a more otherworldly reverence ought to inspire the services and fill the churches. Not only the Tractarians wanted the churches to be less like halls of preaching and more like temples where the mystic incense of the heart rises before a throne” (212).

Both groups looked to survivals from the past as a means to improving the Church of England. “The Tractarians taught that the treasures of antiquity should be appropriated and that the contemporary Church of Rome preserved some of these treasures more lovingly than the Church of England. Their disciples saw old and harmless customs still in use, like the sign of the cross upon the breast, or the use of a cross on the altar.” The Book of Common Prayer included neglected directions for “daily service, private confession, weekly celebration of the sacrament, and splendid ornaments”. Newman therefore claimed he wanted not changes to Anglicanism but simply a return to its purer form. The young men claimed that they wanted to much the same thing in regards to the physical fabric of the church — its buildings and furnishings. Interestingly, the leaders of the Tractarian movement did not align themselves with the Ecclesiologists, though they did bot do so largely on grounds of political expediency rather than belief: “Newman and Pusey were not sympathetic to changes of trivial detail which might offend, to coloured stoles or rich hangings or unaccustomed postures. Pusey thought that the reassertion of Cathohc truth must not be hindered by unnecessary provocation in ceremony, and that the simplicity of English practice was appropriate to the penitential state of divided Christendom” (212).

Chadwick describes the founder and founding of the Camden Society:

In 1837 a few Cambridge undergraduates formed a group to study church architecture. Their leader was John Mason Neale, son of an evangelical clergyman. During his undergraduate years he neglected his studies to pursue the antiquarian hobby, taking brass rubbings, examining fonts, drawing pointed arches. His quest for the knowledge of ecclesiastical architecture and decoration was always a religious quest. His mind was imbued with the feelings of mystery in worship and of the power of symbohsm. One evening in the Easter term of 1839 he and two others waited upon the senior tutor of Trinity College, Thomas Thorp, prominent among the residents as a high churchman. Thorp became patron and president of their society, and in May 1839 the Cambridge Camden Society was founded. Few undergraduate societies have achieved a comparable success. After four years its patrons or members included two archbishops, sixteen bishops, thirty-one peers or M.P.s, twenty-one archdeacons and rural deans, sixteen architects, and more than 700 ordinary members. [212-13]

As Chawick points out, “a society with this membership was not Tractarian. Most of its members regarded it as antiquarian and architectural. In the age of church restoration, amid the flowering of Victorian Gothic, a society was needed to guide taste, afford a centre for information, disseminate comparative ideas. The Camden Society admirably met the need” (213). The founders of the society began at a very different place than did the authors of the Tracts: “Newman and Pusey began with the doctrine of authority and asked how best to execute its ordinances. Neale asked a different question. How shall men be led to worship? The Tractarians were concerned first for truth and then for the issue in worship. The Camdenians were concerned for decoration, ritual, the structure and seating of churches, because these affect the way in which men worship” (213). Given the hostility of the Tractarians and other members of the High Church to Evangelicals within and without the Church of England, it is more than a bit ironic that these apparently diametrically opposed groups received much the same criticism. Just as John Ruskin in The Seven Lamps of Architecture criticized the Evangelicals for building bare, ugly houses of worship, so “Neale criticised the tract-writers as ‘unworthy’ in blinding themselves to the principle of aesthetics” (213). The Camdenians agreed with the Roman Catholic Augustus Welby Pugin that “Gothic was the only Christian style of architecture, and loved screens, priest’s doors, sedilia, piscinas, gargoyles, concealed frescoes, fragments of brasses, poppy-heads, hammer-beams. . . . The churches most conservative of a solemn ceremonial were cathedrals and college chapels. Therefore the new fight for reverence meant that parish churches should be made like cathedrals. Their chancels, hitherto used as storehouses or even as schools except on the rare occasion of the sacrament, must be cleansed and filled with a choir in surplices” (213-14).

Related Material


Chadwick, Owen. The Victorian Church. London: Adam & Charles Black. 1966.

Last modified 19 June 2018