The Oxford Movement

Lord Chatham (1708-1778) quipped that the Church of England of his day had: "A Popish liturgy, Calvinistic Articles and an Arminian Clergy".

The first two points confirm the Church as

The Henrican and Elizabethan settlements were designed to retain within the Church Established the maximum number of Christians, who were obliged by law to attend church on specified occasions and, being based on a Prayer book rather than a doctrinal confession (the Thirty-Nine Articles were widely regarded, not least by Clerics, as a political device rather than a theological confession), commanded wide and growing loyalty except from Calvinist dissenters (Puritans) and Roman Catholics.

The openness of the Church meant that it contained a wide variety of religious perspectives,  including a "High Anglican" party represented by such figures as Bishop Andrewes (1555-1626) of Chichester (1605-09) and Archbishop Laud (1573-1645) under whom it prospered before the Civil War but then declined, notably with the accession of William and Mary and the "Glorious Revolution" in 1688 and the identification of anything "catholic" with the Jacobite cause. 

There are two ways of looking at the Oxford (or "Tractarian", named after the tracts which launched it) Movement:

In spite of the high motives which the Movement took on, its origins were local and practical: in 1828 the Test Act, requiring all state office holders, including Members of Parliament, to be Anglicans, was repealed; in 1829 Catholic Emancipation was enacted; in 1832 the Reform Act was passed, widening the franchise and leaving open the greater possibility of dissenter MPs. What would the Royal supremacy mean if Parliament was not exclusively Church of England? Lord Charles Grey (1764-1845; Whig Prime Minister 1830-34) told the Bishops to get their house in order and abolished ten Irish bishoprics, emphasising secular power. The Evangelicals were growing stronger, the "High and dry", non theological clergy sat on their hands and the "High Church" party feared disaster.

The situation was "saved" by Oxford, the "Home of lost causes" and particularly by Oriel College among whose Fellows were Keble, Pusey, Hurrell Froude and Newman (not to mention Copleston, Whately, Hawkins, Davison and Arnold). They were styled "Noetics" because they refused to accept conventional wisdom.

Controversy over the lectures of Hampden who was deemed "unsound" was soon forgotten when Froude's letters and diaries were posthumously published declaring, inter alia, the English Reformation as "a limb badly set". His Remains caused a great uproar, not least amongst Tractarians, but it marked out the ground of dispute and delivered a mortal blow to reformation meta-theology , i.e. not Luther and Calvin but the secondary authors who tried to fuse English Erastianism with these great writers. Amid the storm Newman was supreme and by 1838 the Times was sympathetic and the Evangelicals in disarray but the charge of popery was beginning to stick. The controversies came to a head with Tract 90 by Newman which distinguished between Roman "corruption" and its sound doctrine; it maintained that Anglicanism was not incompatible with Catholicism which was, in the terms of the Henrican and Elizabethan settlements, literally true but opponents were not disposed to be scrupulous and what was intended as a peace offering was a grave miscalculation. Oxford's governing body condemned Newman. After more heated controversy Newman retired from the Movement. Shortly afterwards an Anglican bishop was jointly appointed by The Government and Prussia to Jerusalem which led Newman to question whether his Church was a church at all. Skirmishes continued in Oxford and Pusey was summarily suspended in 1843 for a modest  sermon on the Eucharist; and W.G. Ward (1812-1882, a fiery Tractarian, was ejected from his Lectureship at Baliol on his publication in 1844 of The Ideal of a Christian Church.

Ward identified what was Roman with what was catholic and applied this test to the Church of England which emerged disastrously. Whereas Newman had tried to reconcile, ward tackled solefidianism head-on, sweeping away the studied calm of Tract 90. In December 1844 Oxford's Convocation was due to debate three measures; to:

The first two were of little account but the third aroused opposition from liberals, was deemed illegal and withdrawn to be replaced by a condemnation of Tract 90. Convocation met on 13 February 1845 and passed the first two measures but rejected the third. This was the last day of the Movement, many of whose adherents followed Newman to Rome, but also the last day of Oxford theological, oligarchical solidarity.

Newman's idea of a Church was an ideal not a practical proposition and to that extent the Movement failed. With respect to its initial aim, it failed to overturn Erastianism; in spite of the inception of the General Synod in 1970, the Church of England is still subject to the Crown in Parliament. Without it, however, the catholic wing of the Church of England would almost certainly have died instead of which it enjoyed a sustained revival, culminating in the Parish Eucharist movement of the 1920s. Ironically, too, Newman, the target of popery accusations while in the Church of England became the means as a Roman Catholic of defusing anti Catholic paranoia and both his Churches vie with each other in loving him.

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