Project Canterbury

Lead, Kindly Light:
Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement

by Desmond Morse-Boycott

transcribed by Mr Robert Stevens
AD 2000


Edward Bouverie Pusey

TO the modern Catholic Dr. Pusey looms through the mist of time as an austere giant, who did great works, and was a scholar of monstrous learning, and revived conventual life in the Church of England, and gave a name to the Movement other than "Tractarian" (for Anglo-Catholics, as they designated themselves, were often called "Puseyites"). But he seems so lofty, lonely, austere, self-disciplined, so aloof from enthusiasms, so sober as a judge, to the young so elderly and to the aged so heroic, that he is, as it were, taken for read. Such is the writer’s own confession, who has now begun to worship the heroic doctor of the Church, and to discern the humble, tender heart torn by the changes and chances of the great revival.

Edward Bouverie Pusey was born of noble parents on August 22, 1800, and imbibed Catholic principles at his mother's knee. There were nine children. From his paternal ancestors, the Bouveries of the sixteenth century, he inherited a tendency to originate enterprise, capacity to organize, and an indomitable and hopeful perseverance. A weakly, delicate boy, quiet and retiring, he was fonder of books than of games, and always wished to become a clergyman. In 1823, Eton and Christ Church days all over, the march of life begun, he was elected a Fellow of Oriel, and then, with remarkable prescience of troublous days in store, which few foresaw, began with indefatigable industry to fit himself to stand, and help others to stand, against the breakers of scepticism which, gathering force in Germany, were to roll over Christianity. He learnt German. He learnt Arabic, Syriac and Chaldee, often working sixteen hours a day with frail health. In 1827 he had become the most learned scholar in England, with a European reputation. He was rewarded by being appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, a post which he held for fifty-four years, and received Holy Orders.

He had been awakened to a sense of danger by a long and barren correspondence with a young atheist. "I suppose," he wrote in later days, "I have read more infidel books than anyone living. I have read them until I flung them to the ground, sick with horror and loathing." But his fruitless effort to convert his tedious friend was a blessing in disguise. It gave him his first real experience of the deadly breath of infidel thought upon the soul. "It decided me," he said, "to devote my life to the Old Testament; as I saw that was the point of attack in our defences which would be most easily breached."

The Anglican Communion, the most learned of the Churches as touching the Scriptures, to whom has been given the glory of vindicating the inspiration and essential truthfulness of the Bible, against the corrosive criticism of continental scholars, owes her victory, under God, to Edward Bouverie Pusey. He foresaw and he prepared. He wrote in 1878 to Dr. Liddon: "I can remember the room in Gùttingen in which I was sitting when the real condition of religious thought in Germany flashed upon me." The enemy was Rationalism.

A very human Pusey was hidden beneath the sober scholar. He who, as he rose from his desk in young manhood, with aching eyes and cramped limbs, after hours of toil upon Arabic, could envy the bricklayers whom he saw through his window, endured, for over ten years, a heart hunger which few knew of. As a boy he had spent a few weeks at home in the summer of 1818. He was nearly eighteen. He met there the youngest daughter of an old Shropshire family, the Barkers. They were neighbours and friends of the Pusey family. Maria Raymond Barker was seventeen, and he fell head over heels in love with her at first sight. The parents intervened, as parents ever do, Mr. Barker from a desire to have his daughter accept a brilliant marriage which had been offered her, and Mr. Pusey from anxiety not to embarrass his friend. Unlike romances of this sort there was no opposition to the heavy fathers. The boy and girl separated sadly. For years young Pusey suffered a permanent and deep depression, and his health was seriously impaired. He became a martyr to headaches. His sorrow grew more painful as the days went by. All joy was fled from home, though he remained a dutiful son. Maria Raymond Barker did not marry. She, too, had given her heart, and would not, could not, withdraw. Ten years passed by, and they met again and married. That was in 1828. Their married life was very beautiful. A quiverful of children made home happy. They entertained, and read together, and prayed together. Pusey’s letters to his wife read like sermons, in which, with irritating reiteration, he laments his unworthiness to have so much happiness. Then she died, and he faced a future of lonely service. Newman, who cared so deeply for Pusey that he dared not tell him plainly that he was on his death-bed as an Anglican, went to see him on the morning of her death. Newman was the only friend Pusey saw. For many months he was inconsolable, and friends hardly dared to intrude.

One child of his marriage deserves remembrance. There is something as lovely as awful in Pusey’s account of her death, in maidenhood. She had longed to devote her life to God, without reserve, and had seemed peculiarly gifted to that end, so much so that her father really expected her to leave her mark upon the Church, as many maiden saints have done. But she died after a lingering illness, in which, towards the end, she had reached out to acute suffering, if by bearing it with fortitude she might come nearer God. Her wish was granted, for a sheer agony came upon her. Picture the lonely, anguished priest, alone in the death-chamber. We know from his words what happened.

Her dear eyes [he wrote] had turned up under her eyelids, as they do often in dying persons . . . and the sobs had become fainter and I had been expecting the last gasp, when the cough returned and brought her to life . . . my heart sank within me . . . at last, all at once, her dear eyes, which had been half closed for hours, opened quite wide, and gazed with an earnest, longing look at something we did not see . . . they expanded and became full, larger and fuller than they ever were in health . . . and then she turned them full to me and there was in them an unearthly lustre, and then there came over the mouth, which had been only sobbing such a smile of joy and Divine love and triumph, that I never saw anything approaching to it on the earth. It was all wholly Heavenly. It spread gradually over her lips . . . masking the expression of pain and absorbing it in Divine love; it would have been a laugh of joy almost, only there was no sound. . . . I almost laughed for joy in return. . .

He then goes on:

It is a very solemn thing which I am going to say, but it is so wholly unlike anything of this earth, or in herself, and something so Divine, that I cannot describe it in words, though I have no doubt that she saw into the unseen world—perhaps our Blessed Lord Himself, Whose coming we had so often prayed for, and that her countenance caught the light to which she was approaching. Of this I feel quite certain, that it was something Divine, and a special vouchsafement to her.

Dare one hope that when (and in the fullness of time it must come about) the Anglican Communion regains a capacity to canonize saints, this story may be remembered, and his authority accepted who was the instrument chosen by Divine Providence for the restoration of the Religious life?

I have digressed in order to show the humanity of the great Doctor, and perhaps may be excused for recording another incident, to show his self-control. He and his wife had somewhat impoverished themselves by giving £5,000 to the Bishop of London's fund for the building of churches, an act of self-denial which necessitated rigid economy, and the giving up of horses and carriage. As if that were not enough he inaugurated a scheme, after Mrs. Pusey's death, for the building of St. Saviour's church, Leeds. He provided the money anonymously, and gave, also, a beautiful chalice and paten in memory of his daughter. It was to be used for the first time at the consecration of the church. Bishop Longley, full of tedious tiresomeness, at length consented to consecrate the church, and came expecting riots, nervously suspicious of the appointments of the church and the order of service. The Rev. J. B. Mozley wrote of this event:

The Bishop . . . was dreadfully nervous and, in fact, one would suppose Pusey was a lion, or some beast of prey, people seem to have been so afraid of him. The Bishop was afraid of being entrapped into anything, and objected to this and that. Among the rest, he saw on one of the doors the sentence—"Pray for the sinner who built this church," and required evidence that the sinner was alive before he consecrated.

He refused to use the plate, because it contained a prayer for the repose of the soul of Lucy Pusey. An eye-witness said that he should never forget the look of suffering on Dr. Pusey's face—"the more striking from its still and almost stern composure."

We must retrace our steps. Pusey had not been associated with the Movement at the outset, but came in with an important Tract on Fasting, to which he appended his initials. That gave to a suspected "mob" prestige and power. He was soon an object of persecution. On May 14, 1843, ten years after the Movement had begun, he preached a sermon on the Holy Eucharist before the University. He had written a Tract on Baptism (really a treatise) whose verity he was anxious to soften by a course of sermons on "Comforts to the Penitent." He considered that the first sermon, if upon the Holy Eucharist, would be unexceptionable. He never made a greater mistake. It was a quiet, uncontroversial sermon, entirely in accord with the teaching of the Anglican Church, as expressed in the Prayer Book and the writings of her great Divines. Dean Church has recorded that it was "a high Anglican sermon, full, after the example of the Homilies, Jeremy Taylor, and the devotional writers like George Herbert and Bishop Ken, of the fervid language of the Fathers; and that was all. Beyond this it did not go: its phraseology was strictly within Anglican limits." One of Pusey’s colleagues accused the sermon of heresy before the Vice-Chancellor, who chose six doctors of divinity to judge it (one being the accuser!) No opportunity was given to Pusey to speak in his own defence. The sermon was denounced, and he was suspended from preaching in the University for two years.

The crooked methods which his accusers used to justify themselves in the eyes of a shocked University were not known for many years, until Liddon found them out from papers, because they had tricked Pusey into a promise of silence, and then taken advantage of him. He sealed his lips, though he could have pulverized his persecutors by a word. The chapters upon this score in the standard volumes are an interesting revelation of clerical knavery, and of Pusey’s much-abused trust in his fellow-men. To make matters worse, he had kept no copies of his own letters, and when he begged for their return for a few days was curtly refused the favour. An address of protest was sent to Dr. Wynter, the Vice-Chancellor, by 230 non-resident members of Convocation, the third and fourth names appended to it being those of Gladstone and Judge Coleridge. It deprecated "that construction of the Statute under which Dr. Pusey has been condemned; which, contrary to the general principles of justice, subjects a person to penalties without affording him the means of explanation or defence." The Vice-Chancellor sent a furious reply to London by the University Bedel, with the address, which he refused to receive.

Two years later Pusey patiently took up his parable where he had laid it down, and reiterated, more in the language of the Prayer Book than of the Fathers, the principles enunciated in his condemned sermon.

Newman’s secession was Pusey’s veriest, sharpest purgatory. When the threefold cord, of Newman, Keble and Pusey, was broken, Pusey’s heart was broken. If, many years on, Newman was discovered in tears at Littlemore, Pusey wept dry-eyed the long years through. He had made Newman his confidant, had referred all matters of moment to him, and trusted him to come out of the dark night of doubtfulness into the clear shining of the day he himself walked in. Newman felt this poignantly, and his letters are a study in reserve. He threw out hints, but they were not understood. He corresponded less frequently in order to give less pain. It was probably Pusey’s influence which kept him in the Anglican Communion until ’45. Pusey rose magnificently, with wistful patience, to the task that Newman’s secession thrust upon him. His view of that is of great interest after ninety years of wounding and weakening secessions. He wrote, a little before the event, to Keble, who had been wondering with the Anglican Archdeacon Manning (afterwards Cardinal) whether Newman’s secession, should it come about, might not be less damaging if he went to Rome to make it:

I have myself looked upon this of dear N. as a mysterious dispensation, as though (if it indeed be so) Almighty God was drawing him, as a chosen instrument for some office in the Roman Church (although he himself goes, of course, not as a reformer, but as a simple act of faith) at least I have come into this way of thinking since I have realized to myself that it was likely to be thus. But others who look at a distance think it is only the beginning for us all.

And so it might have proved had not he written a pastoral to the sheep when the shepherd was smitten, which allayed many fears, and saved the Movement from collapse. I have space only for a noble passage:

The first pang came to me years ago, when I had no other fear, but heard that he was prayed for by name in so many churches and religious houses on the Continent. The fear was suggested to me, "If they pray so earnestly for this object, that he may soon be an instrument of God’s glory among them, while among us there is so much indifference, and in part dislike, may it not be that their prayers may be heard, that God will give them whom they pray for—we forfeit whom we desire not to return?"

In my deepest sorrow at the distant anticipation of our loss, I was told of the saying of one of their most eminent historians, who owned that they were entirely unequal to meet the evils with which they were beset, that nothing could meet them but some movement which should infuse new life into their Church, and that for this he looked to one man, and that N. I cannot say what a ray of comfort darted into my mind. It made me at once realize more both that what I dreaded might be, and its end. With us he was laid aside. . . . Our Church has not known how to employ him. And, since this was so, it seemed as if a sharp sword were lying in its scabbard, or hung up in the sanctuary, because there was no one to wield it. . . . He seems then to me not so much gone from us as transplanted into another part of the vineyard, where the full energies of his powerful mind can be employed, which here they were not. . . . It is perhaps the greatest event which has happened since the Communion of the Churches has been interrupted. . . .

And to Newman he wrote:

You will pray the more for us, who are left to struggle on in a stormy sea with the winds contrary—altho’, I trust, with His secret Presence—for us, both individually and as a body, that we may be visibly, too, one fold under one Shepherd. . . . Ah, past and future is one intense mystery. God be with you always, and remember me a sinner.

We know what Rome did with the sharp, shining sword—how it put purple jewels upon it, but used it not where the battle was fiercest, where men and women were losing faith in God Himself, and cared not for ecclesiastical controversy! We know, alas! that the secession of many sons and daughters of Ecclesia Anglicana to the Rock whence admittedly she was hewn has not softened it towards us.

Dr. Pusey’s attitude to Rome was always sane and sanguine, although he was ever deeply conscious of the barriers that divided the two Communions. He wrote a famous "Eirenicon," an olive branch discharged from a catapult, unfortunately, in 1865, in reply to an attack by Cardinal Manning, and Newman replied to it, to his disappointment. He looked forward, with touching hope, to the Vatican Council of 1869, being persuaded that such a gathering of Bishops could not fail to be guided towards peace by the Holy Spirit. Its decrees, however, crushed him, and thereafter he took no active part in efforts for Reunion. "The Vatican Council," he wrote, "was the greatest sorrow I ever had in a long life."

No priest heard more confessions than Dr. Pusey; nor was one exposed to such universal disapprobation; or so humble and self-disciplined. Dr. Pusey’s austerities are worthy to be remembered in modern days by priests who have, perhaps, become so overwhelmed by activities that activity of soul has been diminished. If modern Anglo-Catholics have a gay lilt in their lives, they certainly lack that austerity which commended the Tractarians to the earnest folk of the times.

He ate distasteful food; wore a hair shirt next his skin; used the discipline on his body; accepted humiliations with the eagerness of a saint; said Mass every day at four; ignored malaise and headaches; made acts of humiliation when servants touched their caps to him; and had a rule of life "always to lie down in bed, confessing that I am unworthy to lie down except in Hell, but, so praying, to lie down in the Everlasting Arms." To look into his face was to see the light of Heaven. Thus his sermons were listened to by breathless congregations, in spite of their inordinate length and his monotonous delivery.

He died on September 16, 1882, at the age of eighty-two. To quote a recent writer:

Pusey’s influence on the Catholic Revival was profound, unique, and lasting. He did not possess the intellectual brilliance of Newman, or the winning charm of Keble, but he had a rock-like stability and power of self-forgetfulness which Newman lacked, and a capacity for leadership to which Keble could make no claim. . . .

His life, said Mr. G. W. E. Russell,

combined all the elements of moral grandeur—an absolute and calculated devotion to a sacred cause; a childlike simplicity; and a courage which grew more buoyant as the battle thickened. Its results are written in the Book of Record which lies before the Throne of God.

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