The following is a second draft to a the opening part of a longer work. This is still very much a work in progress, and I'm unsure of where it is headed. Here it is though. I'll update with a bit about the terminology I'm using in a bit.
The story of the Oxford Movement is, in many ways, the story of friendship and loss. It has, at its center, four remarkable, but flawed men and their one grate devotion. They were, in order of age: John Keble, Edward Bouverie Pusey, John H. Newman, and Hurrel Froude. It is within the matrix of these four men that the other players moved and it is the focus of their love of and devotion to God’s One, Holy and Apostolic Church that will provide the reason and aims of the Movement. It is in their losses that all of these men will experience that will not only give it its character but will bring it to an end. It is the endurance of their remaining friendships and those of others that the Movement will give birth to a new and different life outside the bounds of the University.
The term, “Oxford Movement” is, actually, a bit slippery. Historians tend to be quite precise in their meaning, but others tend to use “Oxford Movement”, “Tracterian” and “Anglo-Catholic” as synonyms. To be precise the Oxford Movement was a renewal movement in the Church of England centered on the great University of Oxford. Its life span runs form July 14th 1833 with the preaching of John Keble’s National Apostasy sermon before His Majesties Assize Court in St Mary’s Church, to October 9th 1845 when the Passionist father Dominic received John H Newman into the Roman Church under the “sere and yellow leaves” of Littlemore. While the Tracts for the Times were a major and most public part of the Movement, not all members of the latter were directly involved with the former. As for the term “Anglo-Catholic” that is a term that has far too much baggage in its current usages to be of much use to us in this study. I’ll return to it later, but it is sufficed to say that much of what would come to be called “Anglo-Catholicism” has as much to do with the Cambridge Gothic Revival movement and the eccentricities of the Ecclesiastical Society as it dose the more staid, Oxfordian scholars.
Another issue is, as Georgette Basscomb puts it in her biography of Keble, that there was a Party before there was a movement. The roots of the party are to be found at a “reading party” John Keble hosted at the parsonage in Coln St Anwin in Gloucester during the Long vacation of 1823. In attendance were Hurrel Froude, Isaac Williams, and Robert Wilberforce (the son of the British emancipator of the slaves). During the several weeks of the party all three young men were moved from the somnambulant High Church, like Williams, or the rationalist and fashionable upper-class Evangelicalism of Wilberforce to the more lively High Church of Keble through his genial and unpretentious piety. Additionally, this would cement the friendship of Froude and Keble and mark the beginning of the intellectual spade work of the Party which would bring forth fruit in the publications of the Movement ten years later. One of the outcomes of this party was the introduction of Keble to Newman by Froude. This, Froude would claim at the end of his life, was the “one good thing” he could claim before the Judgment seat. Also, it would start to form the nucleolus of disaffected scholars and clergy that would later become the Movement in its full flower. It is because the Party existed before the Movement proper began; it has been labeled a “conspiracy.” Froude himself would describe it as such, with more than a little bit of humor and because there was a certain lack of terms to actually explain what it was. It should also be noted that the term “Oxford Movement” never seems to have been used by the participants during the Movement itself. Newman, for example, would call it the “Movement of 1833.”
For the purposes of this work I’ll refer to the “Oxford Party” to differentiate it from either the Tracterians or the later Anglo-Catholics. This party was quite hazy at this point, it could barley be differentiated from the more standard High Church position. It was mostly defined as a “we’re not that.” The other factions or schools of thought in the Church of England were as follows: The High Church, the Erastians, and the Evangelicals.
The term “Evangelical” is, like “Protestant”, “orthodox” or “Catholic,” a tricky one. The exact meaning shifts over time and its connotations tend to reflect the prejudices of the writer or speaker than they do the subject. Strictly speaking, the term comes from the very early days of the Reformation. It was a label applied by Johann von Staupitz to the embryonic Lutheran movement to define their vision of the Church and their school of thought. It derives from the Greek word that we translate “Gospel.” They used to emphasis their belief in the need for the Bible to be the true and proper measure of both belief and practice in the Church. They also made use of the Biblical Greek to provide a contrast to the perceived corruptions of the Latin Church. It would also serve as a watch word to point to the pre-Schism Church of the Councils.
At this point we need to clarify the term “Protestant” because of the subtly of meaning. After the rather disastrous second Diet of Speyer in 1529, a group of Lutheran Princes and Bishops appealed to the Emperor to continue the promised settlement of the First Diet. In particular they wished for the continued toleration of both Lutheran and Roman Churches in the Empire, and to keep the Calvinists and Anabaptists out of any form of recognition. Their “protest” lent it’s self to the Magisterial Reformation of the Lutherans who followed the leadership of Phillip Melanchthon. The two words are used almost interchangeably, with the so called “Old Lutherans” preferring the term Evangelical and the High Church Lutherans the term “Protestant.” Eventually the term came to be applied to those Lutherans who would object to the recognition of the Reformed Church’s legitimacy within the Empire and the toleration of Anabaptists. These “Protestants” would insist upon the use of the Tradition of the Church, most particularly the Patristic writers before Gregory I, in the interpretation of the Scriptures. They would also cling more or less tightly to the Apostolic succession and the liturgies of the Church. These Catholic and Evangelical Christians would establish themselves in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Russia and Poland. The Evangelicals would take shape in Southern Germany and Switzerland.
In England, it is this idea of Evangelical and Catholic would take root, with a significant shift. Due to the Platonic focus of the University of Cambridge, there are those who took a slightly more Calvinist approach to the Reformation and so could be said to be more Reformed and Catholic. That is a very fine academic distinction, and one that is outside the exact lines of the work, but it will work it’s self out in the long run. Broadly speaking, by the rein of Elizabeth I there were four competing camps: The Protestant High Church, the Puritan Zwinglian/Reformed, the Lutheran Evangelicals, and the recalcitrant Roman Catholics.
This state of affairs would be fairly much the status quoe until the English Civil War of 1642-1651. When both the hard line Puritans and the Episcopalians leave the Westminster conference, the remaining Presbyterians continue their work and eventually absorb the few remaining Lutherans into their ranks. This would lead to the general idea in the English speaking world of an equivalency between the Lutheran and Reformed theological positions. It would also lead to the weird usage that allows us to speak of a Calvinist Evangelical. These Evangelical hybrids would be the Party in the 19th century. They would set the default “Low Church” position for centuries and would be known less for their doctrinal purity as on it’s firm attestation of the Lutheran maxim of “per venia unus per fides unus propter Sarcalogos unus” (“by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone”) as well as an adaptation of some basic Lutheran piety. While it has been argued that the Evangelicals where, and are, distinctly anti-intellectual, that was not the case. While there was a bias towards an experiential and affective life of faith, the 18th and 19th century evangelicals derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction and use via an embrace of Aristotelian models of logic and rhetoric, while scorning the attending metaphysics and out right abhorring the scholastic theology of the middle ages derived from them.
The Evangelicals were also notable for being the only part of the church that had any real energy. William Wilberforce, the British emancipator of the slaves, was an evangelical. It should be noted that the Wesley brothers came from the evangelical tradition of the Church of England and, merged with a more fully Lutheran appreciation of the Sacraments as means of grace, would attempt to renew Anglicanism from the inside.
The label Protestant was still fiercely clung to by the “High Church” party. It had been the label with which Arch Bishop Lawd would defend himself against the Puritans in his trial before the Rump Parliament. Indeed, the High Churchmen were convinced that this Protestant identity was part of the English life and liberty and it was essential to not only those ideals, but to the propagation of God’s Kingdom as well. They felt that they were the continuance of the Catholic and Apostolic faith, while the Bishop of Rome with his detestable enormities was the leader of what was, at best, an erring sister. The High Church looked to Hooker and Lawd for their theological positions as well as to writers such as Jeremy Taylor or the community Nicholas Ferrar and his family formed at Little Gidding. The poetry of George Herbert and the prayers of Lancelot Andrews were sprinkled in their sermons and devotions. This was a tradition that looked askance at strong emotions and held the affective and passionate suspect.
Additionally, the High Church was the Tory party at Prayer. Where as the ideas of reform were always Evangelical, and thus Whig, the High Church was firmly in the camp that supported the status quoe. Indeed, the early devotion to the Stuart line expressed by the Tories would find ultimate expression in the exodus of the non-jurors after the glorious Revolution. Early on, the High Churchmen would find themselves wandering in the wilderness as the House of Orange and the later Hanover monarchs would always hold them suspect. That the cult of King Charles the Martyr was always very popular with the High Church would never make them very popular with the Dynasty that replaced his grandson on the thrown.
Starting with the rein of William II and Mary II, and the subsequent emptying of much of the Episcopal Bench, the desire of the Crown was for a more or less docile Church that would operate as a department of State. Tot hat end Bishops were chosen less for their spiritual attributes as for their proven political loyalties and academic abilities. More oft than not, favorite tutors or professors of Prime Ministers and Kings would make their way to the House of Lords as Bishop if for no other reason than he threw a good end of term supper. This gave rise and shape to the Erastians. Named for an obscure Swiss theologian named Thomas Erastus, the principal idea was that the Church was subordinate to the State. Indeed, sin, dissension, and even heresy were to be defined by the State and punished under civil laws.
Theologically, they saw the authority of the Church as resting not upon scriptures, as the Evangelicals said, nor upon authority inherited by the Bishops from the Apostles, but upon the Crowns granting it. In other words, the authority in England to preach the Gospel and to celebrate the sacraments came from the king and Parliament. The questions of the proper order of the Church or upon theology were to be set by those authorities chiefly in accordance with the standards they saw fit. Some of the authority for this rested upon the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. Since God Himself had placed the monarch on the thrown the monarch had authority over God’s Church.
It was this Church and Nation that Keble addressed on that humid July afternoon in St Mary’s Church. She was rent by deep divisions and in some ways her members were more interested in refighting the theological and political battles of not so much the previous generation, but of the previous two centuries. She was also unable to face the world that was changing faster than anyone could have imagined. In its fundamental structure English life was pointed towards the agrarian population in the countryside. In theory, every village had a Parish Church and there would be an educated, married Priest in charge of each. In reality, many villages had to share a vicar and many more seldom, if ever, actually saw their clergy. An underpaid, over worked curate would tend to be the actual worker in the Parish, sending reports and the like to the holder of the living once month or so.
That term, “living,” may require some explanation. The term dates from the middle ages and refers to the moneys that existed to pay for the upkeep of the clergy in an area. Often these were very old endowments, dating back to the foundation of the parish church. More often than not, control of the appointment of the clergy to the local cure resided with the family or organization that had founded the parish Church, or some sort of heir. This meant that out of the roughly twelve thousand Church positions in the Kingdom, only about one thousand five hundred were under the direct purview of the local Bishops. In more than one place, in Wiltshire for example, there was a living, but neither church nor village. In cases such as this, a tent would be set up and the lucky clergyman would be inducted and say the office here, once as required by law, and would leave, never to visit that particular sheep pasture again. Families also had given livings to schools and colleges in order to fund their son’s ability to attend those institutions into posterity. Thee parishes would then be served by graduates of the school in question. The single largest holder of livings in the Kingdom was, much to people’s surprise, Eton. Old Etonian clergy could be found in every diocese and in many Cathedrals at least one cannon’s stall was owned by the school. There was neither rhyme nor reason to how anyone was paid as it depended upon the endowment, and the tithing, or taxation, of the locals. While non residency and the complications were bad enough in the country side, this paled in what they, and other issues, did in the growing cities.
The cities held, and in some ways still hold, a lesser place in the English mindset. The stereotype of the urban dweller was of a dirty, hurried person dishonest in his dealings and lazy. This was contrasted with the image of the honest, hard working Yeoman and peasant. Cities were alien and different. If one takes a careful look at the literature of the day, one discovers that cities are the settings for scenes of suffocating hypocrisy, vice and or deception. Additionally, there were very few parish Churches in any of the cities, in the industrial slums in particular. The parish churches of London, for example, were concentrated in and around the older and more established parts of the city. The newer tenements that grew up around these areas had no church unless they were in an area that already had a church when the neighborhood grew up. These Parishes were often unable to deal with the now overcrowded districts and were inadequate to deal with the influx of people. The rural bias of the Upper and middle classes, as well as the disproportionate power held by those in rural areas would ensure that there would be little attention paid to the conditions in the cities for several generations. While there was a small movement to provide livings for clergy in new parishes, the Bishops and local priests were resistant to dividing up the already scarce resources in the cities.
The entire Parish system was in need of repair, as was the entire vision of the Anglican Church as its self. The assumption was that if you were English you were a part of the Church of England. There was little to no reason for any sort of mission work since people would do their duty and go to the nearest Parish church just as their ancestors had done. This theory continued even in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary. To many the Church of England had stopped having any meaning, in particular in areas where there was little to no pastoral care. Methodists, Quakers, Baptists and to a lesser extant Presbyterians and Roman Catholics were all seeing a surge of membership because they offered more than duty and were actually reaching out to the people.
And so we find the Church of England in the mid nineteenth century: divided within, hidebound, intellectually inadequate, and spiritually bereft of meaning. The time was ripe for a renewal, or even a full on reformation of the Anglican way of doing things. Most people would admit that much, but no one was sure what to do. As we shall see the Whigs in Parliament would initiate several reforms and actions with an eye towards repairing the Church, but there was no real theological or philosophical direction. No one within the Church knew what to do, or could draw upon a principal to change things. The ship was becalmed as it where and you cannot steer a ship that isn’t moving. The first breeze of change would be found on July 14th 1833 when John Keble steps into the pulpit of St Mary’s Church and lobs a boulder into the still, almost stagnant, pond of the Anglican Establishment.