Sunday, 25 September 2011

How was the Church reformed from within?

The  High  Church ‘party’ had been in the  vanguard  of  the Church’s  reaction to change since the 1790s and may well  have inhibited  reformist  tendencies before  1830. They distrusted their more evangelical colleagues, whose pastoral concerns seemed to threaten the unreformed Establishment, and were horrified by the structural and administrative reforms of Blomfield and Peel. But it was the problem of the Church of Ireland that led to the emergence of the Tractarian or Oxford movement. [1] The 1833 Church Temporalities Act imposed drastic reforms on the Church of Ireland, reducing its archbishops from four to two and its bishops by ten and creating a body of ecclesiastical commissioners to control a substantial part of the Church’s revenue. These reforms certainly did not spell disaster for Irish Anglicanism and it remained the religion of a socially advantaged but numerically weak minority. [2]  However, in the 1830s, many Anglicans were outraged by these reforms and it was the imminent passage of the Irish Temporalities Bill that prompted John Keble to preach his sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ on Sunday 14 July 1833.  It marked the formal beginnings of the Oxford movement.

The  Hadleigh  conference  in late July led to agreement over the principles of the new movement:  to  proclaim the doctrine of the apostolic succession;  the belief that it was sinful to  give the laity a say in church affairs;  the need  to make  the Church  more popular;  and,  to  protest against  any attempts to disestablish the Anglican  Church. [3] The Oxford movement was a reaction against prevailing religious attitudes. It was part of the general and widespread revival of the ‘corporate’ against the ‘individual’ evangelical spirit of the day.   It was a reaction against the Church as a department of state: as Keble said ‘let us give up a national Church and have a real one’. [4]  It was essentially a spiritual movement, concerned with the invisible world and was thus not only anti-liberal but also paradoxically intensely political. Newman opposed liberalism and erastianism as both struck at the spiritual dimension, the former by enslaving its spiritual guardian, the latter by destroying its dogmatic foundations.   The Tractarians diagnosed an age blighted by worldliness and that contemporary Protestantism was incapable of rescuing it from spiritual decay.

The principal objective of the Oxford movement was the defence of the Church of England as a divinely-founded institution, of the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession and of the Book of Common Prayer as a ‘rule of faith’. The movement postulated the Branch Theory, which states that Anglicanism along with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism form three ‘branches’ of the one ‘Catholic Church’. Many in the movement argued for the inclusion of traditional aspects of liturgy from medieval religious practice, as they believed the church had become too ‘plain’. The method of the Tractarians was to concentrate on a single article of the Christian creed: ‘I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church’, by which they meant the maintenance of apostolic order in the Church through the episcopacy.  They used Tracts for the Times to disseminate their views. The first was published in September 1833. By the end of 1833, 20 tracts had been published; 50 by the end of 1834 and 66 by July 1835. Tracts were nothing new: John Wesley had used tracts and the Evangelicals had their Religious Tract Society. What was novel about the Tracts of the Oxford movement was that they were products of the High Church, written and circulated by dons and addressed not to the poor but to educated minds.

The reaction of many to the Oxford movement was to raise the spectre of Popery. [5] The papist and bigoted perceptions of the movement was partially confirmed by the Hampden case of 1835-1836 when leading Tractarians unsuccessfully opposed the appointment of Renn Dickson Hampden as Regius Professor of Divinity in 1836. [6]  Hampden symbolised both the liberal and erastian face of the Church of England. His liberal views had already attracted the attention of the leaders of the Oxford movement after his return to Oxford in 1829. In his Observations on Religious Dissent published in August 1834, he defended the right of non-Anglicans to attend Oxford and this led to a response from Newman in the Elucidations and an acrimonious debate persisted between the two scholars for two years. Newman’s attack had two strands: he opposed the appointment of a clergyman with what he saw as suspect rationalist views especially one who threatened the Anglican hegemony at Oxford, something Newman saw as a threat to Christianity itself and also opposed his appointment by the patronage of a Whig prime minister.  His nomination by Lord John Russell to the vacant see of Hereford in December 1847 was again the signal for organised opposition and his consecration in March 1848 took place despite a remonstrance by many of the bishops.

By the end of 1837, Newman in effect led a ‘party’ within the establishment and this gave anti-Catholic groups further evidence of the increasing Catholicity of the Tractarians. [7] In 1841, Newman published Tract 90, Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles concluding that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Council of Trent, were compatible with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the sixteenth century Church of England. Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, followed by that of Henry Edward Manning in 1851, had a profound effect upon the movement, strengthening the argument of opponents that the movement sought to ‘Romanise’ the Church but also pointing to its limitations. First, originating within Oxford University, its approach was academic, clerical and conservative. [8] Its appeal was restricted to the educated classes, not so much from deliberate intention as from the interests and sympathies of its protagonists.  It was not until after 1845 that the Anglo-Catholic revival reached out to the poor and got a footing in the slums. [9] Partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests, many of them ended up working in the slums. From their new ministries they developed a critique of British social policy, both local and national. Secondly, it was predominantly clerical and, though it did acquire some support from eminent laymen, the Tracts were addressed to clergymen. [10] The movement had to be clerical because if the clergy did not accept its message it is certain no one else would.  Its success in interesting the country’s clergy in theological questions and church principles was one of its major achievements. Finally, it was inevitable that the standpoint of the movement was backward-looking. The problem for Newman started with the Reformation: ‘a limb badly set, it must be broken again in order to be righted’. [11] This retrospection could, and was, seen as conservatism if not reaction by many.

Newman left the Anglican Church for Rome because he concluded that secular interference had tarnished the Church of England’s apostolic character. The Gorham case in the late 1840s seemed to reinforce the claims being made by the movement. There were two distinct strands in the controversy. There was considerable anxiety in the Established Church over the breadth of views that members might hold and still remain members of the Church; how far was the Church of England a ‘broad’ church? The case also raised questions about the relationship between Church and State and particularly the extent to which the State could legitimately wield influence over doctrine and ritual that the Church maintained were its exclusive domain. To what extent could the Church maintain its independence from the political arm of the State? [12]

Despite concerns that some of his views were at odds with Anglican doctrine, George Gorham had been ordained in 1811and held curacies in several parishes and had been made vicar of St, Just in the Exeter diocese in 1846. The following year, Gorham was recommended for Brampford Speke. Upon examining him, Bishop Henry Phillpotts, who had the previous year instituted him at St. Just, took exception to Gorham’s attacks on Tractanianism and particularly his evangelical view that baptismal regeneration was conditional on a conscious experience to confirm the sacrament’s validity. Phillpotts decided that Gorham was unsuitable for the post. Gorham appealed to the ecclesiastical Court of Arches to compel the bishop to institute him but the court confirmed the bishop’s decision and awarded costs against Gorham. This reassured Tractarian fears that Anglican apostolicity was being corrupted by secular authority. But, Gorham then appealed to the Privy Council, which caused great controversy about whether a secular court should decide on the doctrine of the Church of England. Ecclesiastical lawyer Edward Badeley, a member of the Oxford movement, appeared before the Council to argue the Bishop’s cause but eventually on 9 March 1850, the Council in a split decision reversed the Bishop’s and the Arches’ decision declaring that, granting Gorham his institution. Bishop Phillpotts, a committed Tory, repudiated the judgment and threatened to excommunicate the Archbishop of Canterbury and anyone who dared to institute Gorham. Fourteen prominent Anglicans, including Badeley and Henry Edward Manning called upon the Church of England to repudiate the views that the Privy Council had expressed on baptism. Since there was no response from the Church, apart from Phillpotts’ protest, they left the Church of England and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Most Tractarians remained within the Church giving rise to the Anglo-Catholic party that stressed the role of ritual in fostering a sense of the Church as a distinctive, religious community.

The   impact   of the Oxford movement on the Anglican Church was essentially ecclesiastical. [13] It led to the establishment of Anglican religious orders, both of men and women. It incorporated ideas and practices related to the practice of liturgy and ceremony in a move to bring more powerful emotional symbolism and energy to the church. Its effects were so widespread that the Eucharist gradually became more central to worship, vestments became common and numerous Catholic practices were re-introduced into worship. This led to controversies within churches that ended up in court, as in the dispute about ritualism. The Tractarians also played an important role in the provision of theological training for the clergy. Chichester (1839), Wells (1840), Cuddesdon (1854) and Salisbury (1860) were all founded on definite high church principles. [14] Before 1830, the role of clergymen within society can perhaps best be described as ‘social’ rather than ’spiritual’. The Oxford movement provided clergy with a new concept of their social role that was not quasi-political but profoundly spiritual. This new concept of priestly vocation goes a long way to explain clerical support for Tractarianism. Evangelical assertions that the laity was becoming priest-ridden were not without foundation. [15]


[1] Nockles, Peter B., The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760-1857, (Cambridge University Press), 1997, sets the context. On the Oxford movement, see Yates, N., The Oxford Movement and Anglican Ritualism, (The Historical Association), 1983, for a brief summary. Faber, G., Oxford Apostles, (Faber), 1933, and Church, R.W., The Oxford Movement: Twelve Years 1833-1845, 1891, a classic, loyalist account in a modern edition edited by G. F. A. Best in 1970, are both valuable. Skinner, Simon A., Tractarians and the ‘condition of England’: the social and political thought of the Oxford movement, (Oxford University Press), 2004, is an invaluable modern study but see also, Carter, Grayson, Anglican Evangelicals: Protestant secessions from the via media, c.1800-1850, (Oxford University Press), 2001, pp. 249-311. Chadwick, O., Newman, (Oxford University Press), 1983, is a brief biography focussing on his ideas and his The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, (Cambridge University Press), 1990, contains a collection of important essays. Ker, I., John Henry Newman, (Oxford University Press), 1990, is the definitive biography of a seminal figure in the development of the Oxford movement and Roman Catholicism.

[2] Kriegel, Abraham D., ‘The Irish Policy of Lord Grey’s Government’, English Historical Review, Vol. 86, (1971), pp. 22-45, Condon, Mary D., ‘The Irish Church and the Reform Ministries’, Journal of British Studies, Vol. 3, (1964), pp. 140-162, and Davis, R. W., ‘The Whigs and religious issues, 1830-35’, in Davis, R. W., and Helmstadter, R.J., (eds.), Religion and Irreligion in Victorian Society: Essays in honour of R. K. Webb, (Routledge), 1992, pp. 29-50.

[3] Nockles, Peter B., ‘The Oxford Movement as Religious Revival and Resurgence’, Studies in Church History, Vol. 44, (2008), pp. 214-224.

[4] On attitudes to the state, see Nockles, P. B., ‘Pusey and the Question of Church and States’, in Butler, P., (ed.), Pusey Rediscovered, (SPCK), 1982, pp. 255-297, Rowlands, J. H. L., Church, State and Society: Ther Attitudes of John Keble, R. H. Froude and J. H. Newman, 1827-45, (Churchman Publishing), 1989.

[5] See, Freeman, Peter, ‘The response of Welsh nonconformity to the Oxford movement’, Welsh History Review, Vol. 20, (2001), pp. 435-465, and ‘The effect of the Oxford Movement on some election campaigns in Wales in the mid-nineteenth century’, National Library of Wales Journal, Vol. 31, (2000), pp. 369-380.

[6] Jebb, Richard, A report of the case of the Right Rev. R. D. Hampden, D.D., Lord Bishop elect of Hereford: in Hereford Cathedral, the ecclesiastical courts, and the Queen’s Bench, (William Benning and Co.), 1849, Cratchley, W. J., ‘The trials of R. D. Hampden’, Theology, Vol. 35, (1937), pp. 211-226, and Thomas, Stephen, Newman and Heresy: The Anglican Years, (Cambridge University Press), 1991, pp. 71-79.

[7] On Newman’s journey to Catholicism, see, Cameron, J. M., ‘John Henry Newman and the Tractarian movement’, in Smart, N., et al., (eds.), Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West, (Cambridge University Press), 1985, pp. 69-111, Ramsey, A. M., ‘John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement’, Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 59, (1990), pp. 330-344, Blehl, Vincent Ferrer, Pilgrim journey: John Henry Newman, 1801-1845, (Burns & Oates), 2001, and Short, Edward, Newman and his Contemporaries, (Continuum), 2011.

[8] Nockles, Peter B., ‘“Lost causes and...impossible loyalties”: the Oxford Movement and the university’, in ibid, Brock, M. G., and Curthoys, Mark C., (eds.), The history of the University of Oxford, Vol. 6: nineteenth-century Oxford, part I, pp. 195-267.

[9] Simpson, W. J. S., The history of the Anglo-Catholic revival from 1845, (Allen & Unwin), 1932, and Reed, J. S., ‘“Ritualism rampant in East London”: Anglo-Catholicism and the urban poor’, Victorian Studies, Vol. 31, (1988), pp. 375-403.

[10] Hutchison, W. G., (ed.), The Oxford Movement, Being a selection from Tracts for the Times, (The Scott Library), 1906, and Fulweiler, H. W., ‘Tractarians and Philistines: the Tracts for the Times versus Victorian middle-class values’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Vol. 31, (1962), pp. 36-53.

[11] Froude, Richard H., Remains of the late Reverend Richard Hurrell Froude, 2 Vols., (J. G. & F. Rivington), 1838, Vol. 1, p. 433.

[12] Jordan, Andrew, ‘George Cornelius Gorham, Clerk v Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter: A Case of Anglican Anxieties’, Ecclesiastical Law Journal, Vol. 5, (1998), pp. 104-111. See also, Search, John, [Thomas Binney], The Great Gorham Case: A History in Five Books including Expositions of the Rival Baptismal Theories by a Looker-On, (Partridge and Oakey), 1850, and Nias, J. C. S., Gorham and the Bishop of Exeter, (SPCK), 1951.

[13] Knight, Frances, ‘The influence of the Oxford Movement in the parishes, c.1833-1860: a reassessment’, in Vaïss, Paul, (ed.), From Oxford to the people: reconsidering Newman & the Oxford Movement, (Gracewing), 1996, pp. 127-140. Ibid, Chadwick, O., The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, pp. 289-306, and Yates, Nigel, The Oxford Movement and parish life: St Saviour’s, Leeds, 1839-1929, (St Anthony’s Hall Publications), 1975.

[14] See, Chapman, Mark D., (ed.), Ambassadors of Christ: commemorating 150 years of theological education in Cuddesdon, 1854-2004, (Ashgate), 2004.

[15] Toon, P., Evangelical Theology, 1833-1856: A Response to Tractarianism, (Marshall, Morgan & Scott), 1979, considers this issue.

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