In transcribing the following chapter from the Internet Archive online versio, I have s=corrected scanning errors, added images and inks, and divided paragraphs for easier reading — George P. Landow .

Decorated initial T

The great Neo-Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century is so intimately identified with Oxford that it Character Came to be widely known as the 'Oxford Movement.' It was less important than Methodism in its purely moral aspect, since it was far less popular and practical, leaving no such profound impression upon the religious life of the nation. On the other hand, it exercised a more powerful influence on Anglican theology, since it wore a more scholarlike garb, was more attractive to cultivated and imaginative minds, allied itself with the speculative and historical spirit of the age, and purported to be essentially constructive or reconstructive. It had from the first a centre, and solid base of operations, in the University, with branches stretching far and wide, wherever zealous Churchmen were found. The assaults of Methodism upon religious apathy in high places had been more in the nature of guerilla warfare; those of “Tractarianism,” as it came to be called, assumed the character of a well-organised campaign.

The Political Origins of the Oxford Movement

Whatever may have been the aims of its leaders, the Oxford Movement was in truth a reaction, and its real Origin must be sought in political rather rising than in ecclesiastical causes. The question of Catholic Emancipation, which had been stifled at the Union, was revived in 1812 and fiercely debated for the next seventeen years. The measure was equally opposed by the High and Low Church parties in the Church, but carried in 1829 by a Tory Government in deference to political exigencies. It was followed by the Reform Act, and in 1832 the reformed Parliament assembled, with a large majority, not merely Ernstian but hostile to the National Church. The vote of the bishops on the Reform Bill had exposed them to popular obloquy; Lord Grey himself had openly threatened them, and the press was fall of attacks on Episcopacy and the Establishment. Lord Grey's Act for suppressing ten Irish bishoprics was regarded as the first outburst of the gathering storm; timid Churchmen trembled for the very existence of their Church, and the Oxford Movement was set on foot with the deliberate purpose of defending the Cburch and the Christianity of England against the anti-Catholic aggressions of the dominant Liberalism.

The University of Oxford was the natural centre for such a reaction. The constitution of the University and colleges was semi-ecclesiastical; the Heads were clerical dignitaries: nearly all the fellows the Movement were bound to be in Holy Orders. Among the colleges, Oriel then held the first rank, both as a place of education, and as the home of a speculative and learned society among the fellows. Copleston, its last Provost, had been a man of remarkable capacity, and he was ably seconded by such colleagues as Davison and Whately. The system of tuition at Oriel was the best in Oxford, and as it was the first college to throw open its fellowships, it was able to attract the ablest of the young graduates. It was known that Oriel fellows were collected not merely on the evidence of the class-list, or by the results of competitive examination, but also by a discriminating, though arbitrary, estimate of their social qualities and probable intellectual development. They were, therefore, a select body, somewhat inclined to mutual admiration, producing little, but freely criticising everything.

The result was an Oriel school of thought, commonly known as the Noetics, who applied an unsparing logic to received opinions, especially those concerning religious faith, but whose strength lay rather in drawing inferences and refuting fallacies than in examining and settling the premisses from which their syllogisms were deduced. Still, Oriel fostered a bright and independent intellectual life of its own; the Oriel school was a standing protest against the prevailing orthodoxy of mere conformity, and it became the congenial head-quarters of the Oxford Movement.

Pusey and Keble were among the fellows of Oriel, when John Henry Newman was elected to a fellowship in 1823, and later, in 1826, became tutor in succcssion to Jelf. Newman's early life at Oxford was a solitary one. He did not seek friends, and in the Oriel common-room his shy and retiring nature sometimes concealed his real power. As Wesley's sympathies were originally with High Church doctrines, so Newman's were originally with Evangelical doctrines; he was connected with the Evangelical set at St. Edmund Hall; he was for a time secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and he actually helped to start the 'Record' newspaper. In the early development of his ideas he owed much to the robust intellect of Whately and the accurate criticism of Hawkins, who succeeded Copleston as Provost in 1827. But his reverence was reserved for Keble, whose 'Christian Year' appeared in the same year and gave the first secret impulse to the Movement, of which Newman became the head. In the following year, Pusey, then little known to Newman, returned to Oxford as Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christchurch, unconsciously destined to give his own name to Newman's followers.

At this period Newman had no intention of heading the Oxford Movement, still less of founding a new Origin of party in the Church. His Evangelical principles werc gradually frilling away from him, and he was girding himself up for a great struggle with Secularism as represented by a Liberal Government, but the first steps in the Tractarian agitation were not taken by him. In 1832 he travelled in Italy with his friend and pupil, Richard Hurrell Fronde; and it was from him that Newman imbibed his veneration for the Virgin and the Saints, his antipathy to the Reformation, and his respectful toleration of the Roman Catholic Church. They went so far as to inquire upon what conditions they would be allowed to communicate in that Church, but were repelled on hearing that a subscription to the decisions of the Council of Trent would be required. It was during Newman's absence abroad, in July 1833, that Keble preached his Assize Sermon on ' National Apostasy (text),' which may be said to have struck the first note of tlie Movement, and in the same year Peter Maurice sounded the alarm against 'Popery in Oxford.'

Tracts for the Times

A series of 'Tracts for the Times' was projected at a conference, also held during Newman's absence, by a small body of his friends, but the plan was matured at subsequent conferences in Oriel, where Nevsinan was present, and Keble warmly supported it in letters of advice to which tbe utmost deference was paid. The proposed aim of these Tracts was expository rather than controversial; they purported to enlighten the prevailing ignorance on Church principles and Church history. They were to appear anonymously, and each writer was to be responsible only for bis own production. The difficulty of maintaining this principle of limited liability was foreseen from the first, and prudent friends of the Movement were in favour of a judicious censorship, but Newman was inflexible, and his will prevailed. The immediate outcome of these Oriel conferences was the formation of an association designed to rally all friends of tbe Churcb against the common reformed enomy. This was the signal for which zealous Churchmen had been waiting, and it met with an enthusiastic response in all parts of the country. An address to the Archbishop of Canterbury was drawn up and signed by eight thousand of the clergy, insisting upon the necessity of restoring Church discipline, maintaining Church principles, and resisting the growth of latitudinarianism. A large section of the laity ranged themselves on the side of the revival. Meetings were held throughout England, and the King himself volunteered a declaration of his strong affection for the National Cburch, now roused from its apathy, and pre- pared to defend itself vigorously, not merely as a true branch of the Catholic Church, but as a co-ordinate power with the State.

Newman had returned from Italy deeply imbued with the conviction that he had a definite mission to fulfil. He was no less firmly assured of the issues^ £qj, individual action at this juncture than impelled to it by his own self-reliant nature. While others, therefore, were urging combinations and committees as the best methods of working,

Newman's strong individuality revolted from joint control, especially in the form of a 'Committee of Revision,' and pressed him forward to strike the first blow for himself. He took counsel with Froude alone, when, in the autumn of 1833, he suddenly brought out the first of that series of Tracts from which his party derived its familiar name of Tractarians. In so doing he took his own colleagues by surprise, and precipitated the crisis destined to result from the publication of the Tracts. From that day forth he was the recognised leader of the Tractarians. No one among them was equally fitted for that position. Keble was too modest and studious by disposition, Pusey was not an original pioneer of the movement, Froude was disqualified by delicate health. Newman stepped naturally into the place. The influence which he gained in his own college as a tutor, and in the University as a preacher from the pulpit of St. Mary's, had drawn round him a band of followers; his sympathetic character won the confidence ot young minds; his confessions of speculative doubt added weight to his acceptance of dogmatic authority. Yet the secret of his personal ascendency was never fully revealed to himself, nor did he ever fully realise the impression pro- duced bv his sermons. To him the Tractarian Move- ment was 'no movement, but the spirit of the times.' He felt himself, not the leader of a new party, but a loyal son of the old Church, now awakened from her lethargy. He claimed no allegiance and issued no commands. It was through friends and disciples, as we aearn from, himself, that his principles were spread, and, as in the case of Socrates, their reports of his conversations were perhaps the main source of the spell which he exercised over the University and the Church.

Pusey Joins the Tractarians

The adhesion of Pusey in 1835 was a great accession of strength to the Tractarians. He had contributed a Tract to the series in December 1833, but he the movement formally join the Movement until later. His learning, social connections, and official position gave it a certain dignity and solidity in which it had been lacking. Recruits now offered themselves in abundance, and gifted young men spent their days and nights in poring over materials for the Library of the Fathers originated by Pusey, or in journeying from place to place, in the spirit of the Methodist Revivalists, though in the pursuit of a very different ideal. But the influence of Tractarianism over Oxford thought must not be exaggerated. While it fascinated manv subtle and imaginative minds of a high order, and gathered into itself much of the spiritual and even of the intellectual life of the University, there were many robust intellects and earnest hearts which it not only failed to reach but stirred into hostility. If it would be easy to draw up an imposing list of eminent Oxford men who became Tractarians, it would not be less easy to enumerate an equal number of equally eminent men who consistently opposed Tractarianism, and predicted that it mnst lead to Romanism.

Nothing was further from the original intentions and expectations of Newman himself. His object was to revive the usages and doctrines of the primitive Church; to co-operate, indeed, with the Church of Rome, so far as possible, but to keep aloof from its pernicious corruptions; to establish the catholicity of the Anglican Church, but, above all, to hold the via media laid down by its founders. His faith in Anglicanism was first disturbed in the Long Vacation of 1839 by his supposed discovery of a decisive analogy between the position of the Monophysite heretics and that of the Anglican com- munion. Still, though he was gradually assimilating the doctrines, he rebelled against the abuses and ex- cesses, of the Roman Cnurch. Anglicanism as a distinctive creed had become untenable to him, but he clung to a hope that its title might be lineally deduced from the primitive Church, instead of being founded on a secession from the Church of Rome. It was in this frame of mind that he published Tract XC. in the year 1841, for the purpose of showing that the Articles of the English Church were directed, not against the doctrines of the Church of Rome as interpreted by the Council of Trent, but against earlier heresies disavowed by that Council.

This Tract brought the Movement to a climax. It was received with a storm of indignation throughout the country. The bishops delivered charges against it, the great mass of Churchmen regarded it as an attack on the Protestant Establishment, and a direct invitation to Romanism. The Bishop of Oxford intervened, and the farther issue of Tracts was stopped. Henceforth the real tendency of Tractarianism was disclosed, and and its promoters were hopelessly discredited.

Newman found, to his own great surprise, that his power was shattered. He retired, during Lent 181O, to his parish at Littlemore, entrusting St. Mary's to a curate, in view of his possible resignation. His loyalty to the English Church wavered more and more as he renewed his study of the Arian controversy, and his misgivings were intensified by the hostile attitude of the bishops, as well as by an incident which to a secular mind would have appeared trivial — the institution of the Jerusalem bishopric on a semi-Anglican and semi-Lutheran basis. His resignation of St. Mary's in the autumn of 1843, two years after the publication of Tract XC, was due to an impulse of despondency on failing to dissuade a young friend from conversion to Romanism. After preaching his last sermon there he retired into lay-communion, giving up all idea of acting upon others, and turning all his thoughts inwards.

Two years later, on October 8, 1845, his remaining difficulties being removed, he was himself received into the Church of Rome, and finally left Oxford early in the following year. Though his defection had long been foreseen, it caused a profound shock throughout the English Church. The first panic was succeeded by a reaction; some devoted adherents followed him to Rome; others relapsed into lifeless conformity; and the University soon resumed its wonted tranquillity.

The Hampden Controversy

The 'Hampden Controversy,' in 1836, may be regarded as an episode of the Tractarian revival, already in full course of development. This controversy arose out of Dr. Hampden's Bampton Lectures on Scholastic Philosophy, delivered in 1832, which, however, attracted little attention until he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity four years later. No sooner was this appointment known, than an anti-Hampden Committee was formed, of which Pusey and Newman were members. The Crown was actually petitioned to recall its nomination, but this petition was coldly rejected by Lord Melbourne, and a vote of censure on Dr. Hampden, proposed by the Hebdomadal Board, was defeated in Convocation by the Proctors' joint-veto — a very unusual, but perfectly constitutional, exercise of the Proctorial authority. A war of pamphlets ensued, and the vote of censure being reintroduced, after a change of Proctors, was carried by an overwhelming majority. According to the opinion of eminent counsel, the proceeding was illegal, as transgressing the jurisdiction of the University under the Charter of 1636, but the sentence was never reversed, and Dr. Hampden remained under the ban of the University, excluded from various privileges of his office, until his elevation to the See of Hereford in 1847. The opposition to him then broke out afresh, and the Dean of Hereford, in a letter to Lord John Russell, held out a threat of resistance to the Royal congé d’élire. The answer of Lord John Russell was such as might be expected, but thirteen bishops supported the Dean's protest by a remonstrance, which Lord John Russell met by a peremptory refusal to make the prerogative of the Crown dependent on the caprice of a chance majority at one University, largely composed of persons who had since joined the Church of Rome. Nevertheless, a final attempt was made to negative the 'confirmation of Dr. Hampden's appointment at Bow Church. An argument on this point in the Court of Queen's Bench ended in a dismissal of the case, owing to differences of opinion among the judges, and on March 25, 1848, Dr. Hampden was duly consecrated Bishop.

On the other hand, while Newman was in retirement at Littlemore, Pusey was suspended from preach in a University pulpit for two years, on •••••• report from a board appointed to examine a *******aud War sermon delivered by him at Christ Church, in which he was alleged to have affirmed the Real Presence in a sense inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church. Soon afterwards, Dr. Hampden, as Regius Professor of Divinity, inhibited from his B.D. degree a candidate who had declined to be examined by him on Tradition and Transubstantiation. The right of examination was challenged by the candidate, but upheld by the Delegates of Appeals, to whom the question was referred. On November 20, 1844, Mr. Ward, a fellow of Balliol, was summoned before the Vice-Chancellor, and questioned respecting the authorship of a book entitled 'The Ideal of a Christian Church.' A war of pamphlets ensued, but in the end, on February 18, 1845, a proposition was submitted to Convocation, densely crowded with non-residents, condemning Ward's doctrines as inconsistent with the Articles, with his subscription thereto, and with his own good faith in subscribing. This resolution was carried by a large majority, and a further resolution, for the degradation of Ward, was carried by a smaller majority. A third resolution, condemning Tract XC, had been appended, but was negatived by the joint veto of the Proctors. It had actually been intended to subjoin to the first resolution a declaration annexing a new sense to subscription, and thus creating a new test, but this addition was ultimately withdrawn in deference to a legal opinion, which also denied the validity of Ward's deprivation.

With these proceedings the academical history of the Tractarian Movement may properly be closed, Effect of the though many distinguished members of the movement at the University joined the Church of Rome at a later period, especially afrer the celebrated judgment in the 'Gorham Case,' establishing liberty of opinion on Baptismal Regeneration. For several years after Newman's conversion, the progress of the Neo-Catholic Revival was arrested, and when it took a new departure under the name of Ritualism, it ceased to draw its inspiration from the University of Oxford. Nevertheless, the work of Newman and his fellows left its mark on the University as well as on the English Church. The effect of his speculative teaching was infinitely weakened by his own conversion to Rome, but the effect of his practical teaching could not be dissi- pated. In the widespread restoration of churches, in the improvement of church-services, and in the greater energy of religious life within the Anglican communion, we may still recognise the influence for good which emanated from the Oriel common-room.

Thirty years after his own suspension. Dr. Pusey, now regarded as a champion of orthodoxy, came forward with certain other Doctors of Divinity, to bring a charge of heresy against Dr. Jowctt, of Balliol, the Reglns Professor of Greek, who had contributed to the volume Called 'Essays and Reviews; A suit was instituted in the Chancellor's Court, and on Greek February 6, 1863, a iudgment was delivered by Professor Mountague Bernard, as assessor. Inis judgment disallowed the defendant's protest 1865 against the jurisdiction of the Court in spiritual matters, or over a Regius Professor; but, in effect, arrested the proceedings without deciding the case on its merits. A somewhat undignified controversy followed, and greatly disturbed the peace of the University, on the question of increasing the very meagre endowment of the Greek Professorship — a measure which Dr. Pusey opposed on the sole ground that it would strengthen the position of the existing Professor. The partisanship engendered by the long struggle on this question divided the senior members of the University into hostile camps, and often determined their votes on matters which had no connection with the subject. At last, on February 18, 1865, a compromise was effected, by accepting the offer of Christchurch to endow the Professorship.

The University, in truth, was heartily sick of the controversy, and even the High Church residents were unwilling to please the non-resident clergy by perpetuating an apparent injustice which damaged their own credit with the abler students. In the following summer, Mr. Gladstone, who had been elected Member of Parliament for the University in 1817, and whose seat had been contested at every subsequent election, was defeated by Mr. Gathorne Hardy. This event established the supremacy of the Conservative party in the constituency, and, though a contest took place in 1878, the result was never doubtful, and the fierce passions incident to constant trials of political strength have sensibly died away. Thus, two fruitful sources of academical discord were removed within a few months of each other. The last twenty-one years have witnessed many warm discussions and close divisions in the University legislature, but they have been mainly on academical issues, and have seldom been embittered by the odium theologiciim. Since 18G5, a tacit concordat has prevailed between the two great schools of thought in Oxford, and a philosophical toleration of opinion has superseded the intolerant dogmatism, not confined to one party in the Church, which had its origin in the Neo-Catholic Revival.


Brodrick, George C. A History of the University of Oxford. New York, A. D. F. Randolph & company, 1887. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 December 2022.

Last modified 11 December 2022