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The Oxford Movement
Twelve Years 1833-1845

by R. W .Church, M.A., D.C.L.,
Sometime Dean of St Paul's, and Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford

London: Macmillan & Co. 1894

Transcribed by The Revd R D Hacking
AD 2003



THUS had been started--hurriedly perhaps, yet not without counting the cost--a great enterprise, which had for its object to rouse the Church from its lethargy, and to strengthen and purify religion, by making it deeper and more real; and they who had put their hands to the plough were not to look back any more. It was not a popular appeal; it addressed itself not to the many but to the few; it sought to inspire and to teach the teachers. There was no thought as yet of acting on the middle classes, or on the ignorance and wretchedness of the great towns, though Newman had laid down that the Church must rest on the people, and Froude looked forward to colleges of unmarried priests as the true way to evangelise the crowds. There was no display about this attempt, no eloquence, nothing attractive in the way of original speculation or sentimental interest. It was suspicious, perhaps too suspicious, of the excitement and want of soberness, almost inevitable in strong appeals to the masses of mankind. It brought no new doctrine, but professed to go back to what was obvious and old-fashioned and commonplace. It taught people to think less of preaching than of what in an age of excitement were invidiously called forms--of the sacraments and services of the Church. It discouraged, even to the verge of an intended dryness, all that was showy, all that in thought or expression or manner it condemned under the name of "flash." It laid stress on the exercise of an inner and unseen self-discipline, and the cultivation of the less interesting virtues of industry, humility, self-distrust, and obedience. If from its writers proceeded works which had impressed people -- a volume like the Christian Year, poems original in their force and their tenderness, like some of those in the Lyra Apostolica, sermons which arrested the hearers by their keenness and pathetic undertone--the force of all this was not the result of literary ambition and effort, but the reflexion, unconscious, unsought, of thought and feeling that could not otherwise express itself, and that was thrown into moulds shaped by habitual refinement and cultivated taste. It was from the first a movement from which, as much by instinct and temper as by deliberate intention, self-seeking in all its forms was excluded. Those whom it influenced looked not for great things for themselves, nor thought of making a mark in the world.

The first year after the Hadleigh meeting (1834) passed uneventfully. The various addresses in which Mr. Palmer was interested, the election and installation of the Duke of Wellington as Chancellor, the enthusiasm and hopes called forth by the occasion, were public and prominent matters. The Tracts were steadily swelling in number; the busy distribution of them had ceased, and they had begun to excite interest and give rise to questions. Mr. Palmer, who had never liked the Tracts, became more uneasy; yet he did not altogether refuse to contribute to them. Others gave their help, among them Mr. Perceval, Froude, the two Kebles, and Mr. Newman's friend, a layman, Mr. J. Bowden; some of the younger scholars furnished translations from the Fathers; but the bulk and most forcible of the Tracts were still the work of Mr. Newman. But the Tracts were not the most powerful instruments in drawing sympathy to the movement. None but those who remember them can adequately estimate the effect of Mr. Newman's four o'clock sermons at St. Mary's. The world knows them, has heard a great deal about them, has passed its various judgments on them. But it hardly realises that without those sermons the movement might never have gone on, certainly would never have been what it was. Even people who heard them continually, and felt them to be different from any other sermons, hardly estimated their real power, or knew at the time the influence which the sermons were having upon them. Plain, direct, unornamented, clothed in English that Was only pure and lucid, free from any faults of taste, strong in their flexibility and perfect command both of language and thought, they were the expression of a piercing and large insight into character and conscience and motives, of a sympathy at once most tender and most stern with the tempted and the wavering, of an absolute and burning faith in God and His counsels, in His love, in His judgments, in the awful glory of His generosity and His magnificence. They made men think of the things which the preacher spoke of, and not of the sermon or the preacher. Since 1828 this preaching had been going on at St. Mary's, growing in purpose and directness as the years went on, though it could hardly be more intense than in some of its earliest examples. While men were reading and talking about the Tracts, they were hearing the sermons; and in the sermons they heard the living meaning, and reason, and bearing of the Tracts, their ethical affinities, their moral standard. The sermons created a moral atmosphere, in which men judged the questions in debate. It was no dry theological correctness and completeness which were sought for. No love of privilege, no formal hierarchical claims, urged on the writers. What they thought in danger, what they aspired to revive and save, was the very life of religion, the truth and substance of all that makes it the hope of human society.

But indeed, by this time, out of the little company of friends which a common danger and a common loyalty to the Church had brought together, one, Mr. Newman, had drawn ahead, and was now in the front. Unsought for, as the Apologia makes so clear--unsought for, as the contemporary letters of observing friends attest--unsought for, as the whole tenor of his life has proved--the position of leader in a great crisis came to him, because it must come. He was not unconscious that in Sicily, as he had felt in his sickness, he "had a work to do." But there was shyness and self-distrust in his nature as well as energy; and it was the force of genius, and a lofty character, and the statesman's eye, taking in and judging accurately the whole of a complicated scene, which conferred the gifts, and imposed inevitably and without dispute the obligations and responsibilities of leadership. Dr. Pusey of course was a friend of great account, but he was as yet in the background, a venerated and rather awful person, from his position not mixing in the easy intercourse of common-room life, but to be consulted on emergencies. Round Mr. Newman gathered, with a curious mixture of freedom, devotion, and awe--for, with unlimited power of sympathy,. he was exacting and even austere in his friendships--the best men of his college, either Fellows--R. Wilberforce, Thomas Mozley, Frederic Rogers, J. F. Christie; or old pupils--Henry Wilberforce, R. F. Wilson, William Froude, Robert Williams, S. F. Wood, James Bliss, James Mozley; and in addition some outsiders--Woodgate of St. John's, Isaac Williams and Copeland, of his old College, Trinity. These, members of his intimate circle, were bound to him not merely by enthusiastic admiration and confidence, but by a tenderness of affection, a mixture of the gratitude and reliance of discipleship with the warm love of friendship, of which one has to go back far for examples, and which has had nothing like it in our days at Oxford. And Newman was making his mark as a writer. The Arians, though an imperfect book, was one which, for originality and subtlety of thought, was something very unlike the usual theological writing of the day. There was no doubt of his power, and his mind was brimming over with ideas on the great. questions which were rising into view. It was clear to all who knew him that he could speak on them as. no one else could.

Towards the end of 1834, and in the course of 1835, an event happened which had a great and decisive influence on the character and fortunes of the movement. This was the accession to it of Dr. Pusey. He had looked favourably on it from the first, partly from his friendship with Mr. Newman, partly from the workings of his own mind. But he had nothing to do with the starting of it, except that he early contributed an elaborate paper on "Fasting." The Oxford branch of the movement, as distinguished from that which Mr. Palmer represented, consisted up to 1834 almost exclusively of junior men, personal friends of Mr. Newman, and most of them Oriel men. Mr. Newman's deep convictions, his fiery enthusiasm, had given the Tracts their first stamp and impress, and had sent them flying over the country among the clergy on his own responsibility. They answered their purpose. They led to widespread and sometimes deep searchings of heart; to some they seemed to speak forth what had been long dormant within them, what their minds had unconsciously and vaguely thought and longed for; to some they seemed a challenge pregnant with danger. But still they were but an outburst of individual feeling and zeal, which, if nothing more came of its fragmentary displays, might blaze and come to nothing. There was nothing yet which spoke outwardly of the consistency and weight of a serious attempt to influence opinion and to produce a practical and lasting effect on the generation which was passing. Cardinal Newman, in the Apologia, has attributed to Dr. Pusey's unreserved adhesion to the cause which the Tracts represented a great change in regard to the weight and completeness of what was written and done. "Dr. Pusey," he writes, "gave us at once a position and a name. Without him we should have had no chance, especially at the early date of 1834, of making any serious resistance to the liberal aggression. But Dr. Pusey was a Professor and Canon of Christ Church; he had a vast influence in consequence of his deep religious seriousness, the munificence of his charities, his Professorship, his family connexions, and his easy relations with the University authorities. He was to the movement all that Mr. Rose might have been, with that indispensable addition, which was wanting to Mr. Rose, the intimate friendship and the familiar daily society of the persons who had commenced it. And he had that special claim on their attachment which lies in the living presence of a faithful and loyal affectionateness. There was henceforth a man who could be the head and centre of the zealous people in every part of the country who were adopting the new opinions; and not only so, but there was one who furnished the movement with a front to the world, and gained for it a recognition from other parties in the University."

This is not too much to say of the effect of Dr. Pusey's adhesion. It gave the movement a second head, in close sympathy with its original leader, but in many ways very different from him. Dr. Pusey became, as it were, its official chief in the eyes of the world. He became also, in a remarkable degree, a guarantee for its stability and steadiness: a guarantee that its chiefs knew what they were about, and meant nothing but what was for the benefit of the English Church. "He was," we read in the Apologia, "a man of large designs; he had a hopeful, sanguine mind; he had no fear of others; he was haunted by no intellectual perplexities. . . If confidence in his position is (as it is) a first essential in the leader of a party, Dr. Pusey had it." An inflexible patience, a serene composure, a meek, resolute self-possession, was the habit of his mind, and never deserted him in the most trying days. He never for an instant, as the paragraph witnesses, wavered or doubted about the position of the English Church.

He was eminently, as his friend justly observes, "a man of large designs." It is doubtless true, as the Apologia goes on to say, that it was due to the place which he now took in the movement that great changes were made in the form and character of the Tracts. To Dr. Pusey's mind, accustomed to large and exhaustive theological reading, they wanted fulness, completeness, the importance given by careful arrangement and abundant knowledge. It was not for nothing that he had passed an apprenticeship among the divines of Germany, and been the friend and correspondent of Tholuck, Schleiermacher, Ewald, and Sack. He knew the meaning of real learning. In controversy it was his sledge-hammer and battle-mace, and he had the strong and sinewy hand to use it with effect. He observed that when attention had been roused to the ancient doctrines of the Church by the startling and peremptory language of the earlier Tracts, fairness and justice demanded that these doctrines should be fully and carefully explained and defended against misrepresentation and mistake. Forgetfulness and ignorance had thrown these doctrines so completely into the shade that, identified as they were with the best English divinity, they now wore the air of amazing novelties; and it was only due to honest inquirers to satisfy them with solid and adequate proof. "Dr. Pusey's influence was felt at once. He saw that there ought to be more sobriety, more gravity, more careful pains, more sense of responsibility in the Tracts and in the whole movement." At the end of 1835 Dr. Pusey gave an example of what he meant. In place of the "short and incomplete papers," such as the earlier Tracts had been, Nos. 67, 68, and 69 formed the three parts of a closely-printed pamphlet of more than 300 pages. It was a treatise on Baptism, perhaps the most elaborate that has yet appeared in the English language. "It is to be regarded" says the advertisement to the second volume of the Tracts, "not as an inquiry into a single or isolated doctrine, but as a delineation and serious examination of a modern system of theology, of extensive popularity and great speciousness, in its elementary and characteristic principles." The Tract on Baptism was like the advance of a battery of heavy artillery on a field where the battle has been hitherto carried on by skirmishing and musketry. It altered the look of things and the condition of the fighting. After No. 67 the earlier form of the Tracts appeared no more. Except two or three reprints from writers like Bishop Wilson, the Tracts from No. 70 to No. 90 were either grave and carefully worked out essays on some question arising out of the discussions of the time, or else those ponderous catenae of patristic or Anglican divinity, by which the historical continuity and Church authority of various points of doctrine were established.

Dr. Pusey was indeed a man of "large designs." The vision rose before him of a revived and instructed Church, earnest in purpose and strict in life, and of a great Christian University roused and quickened to a sense of its powers and responsibilities. He thought of the enormous advantages offered by its magnificent foundations for serious study and the production of works for which time and deep learning and continuous labour were essential. Such works, in the hands of single-minded students, living lives of simplicity and hard toil, had in the case of the Portroyalists, the Oratorians, and above all, the Benedictines of St. Maur, splendidly redeemed the Church of France, in otherwise evil days, from the reproach of idleness and self-indulgence. He found under his hand men who had in them something of the making of students; and he hoped to see college fellowships filled more and more by such men, and the life of a college fellow more and more recognised as that of a man to whom learning, and especially sacred learning, was his call and sufficient object, as pastoral or educational work might be the call of others. Where fellowships were not to be had, he encouraged such men to stay up in Oxford; he took them into his own house; later, he tried a kind of hall to receive them. And by way of beginning at once, and giving them something to do, he planned on a large scale a series of translations and also editions of the Fathers. It was announced, with an elaborate prospectus, in 1836, under the title, in conformity with the usage of the time, which had Libraries of Useful Knowledge, etc., of a Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church anterior to The Division of the East and West, under the editorship of Dr. Pusey, Mr. Keble, and Mr. Newman. It was dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and had a considerable number of Bishops among its subscribers. Down to a very late date, the Library of the Fathers, in which Charles Marriott came to take a leading part, was a matter of much concern to Dr. Pusey. And to bring men together, and to interest them in theological subjects, he had evening meetings at his own house, where papers were read and discussed. "Some persons," writes a gossiping chronicler of the time, "thought that these meetings were liable to the statute, De conventiculis illicitis reprimendis." Some important papers were the result of these meetings; but the meetings themselves were irresistibly sleepy, and in time they were discontinued. But indefatigable and powerful in all these beginnings Dr. Pusey stirred men to activity and saw great ground of hope. He was prepared for opposition, but he had boundless reliance on his friends and his cause. His forecast of the future, of great days in store for the Church of England, was, not unreasonably, one of great promise. Ten years might work wonders. The last fear that occurred to him was that within ten years a hopeless rift, not of affection but of conviction, would have run through that company of friends, and parted irrevocably their course and work in life.


The subjoined extracts record the impression made by Mr. Newman's preaching on contemporaries well qualified to judge, and standing respectively in very different relations to the movement. This is the judgment of a very close observer, and very independent critic, James Mozley. In an article in the Christian Remembrancer, January 1846 (p.169), after speaking of the obvious reasons of Mr. Newman's influence, he proceeds:--

We inquire further, and we find that this influence has been of a peculiarly ethical and inward kind; that it has touched the deepest part of our minds, and that the great work on which it has been founded is a practical, religious one--his Sermons. We speak not from our own fixed impression, however deeply felt, but from what we have heard and observed everywhere, from the natural, incidental, unconscious remarks dropped from persons' mouths, and evidently showing what they thought and felt. For ourselves, we must say, one of Mr. Newman's sermons is to us a marvellous production. It has perfect power, and perfect nature; but the latter it is which makes it so great. A sermon of Mr. Newman's enters into all our feelings, ideas, modes of viewing things. He wonderfully realises a state of mind, enters into a difficulty, a temptation, a disappointment, a grief; he goes into the different turns and incidental, unconscious symptoms of a case, with notions which come into the head and go out again, and are forgotten, till some chance recalls them. . . . To take the first instance that happens to occur to us . . . we have often been struck by the keen way in which he enters into a regular tradesman's vice--avarice, fortune-getting, amassing capital, and so on. This is not a temper to which we can imagine Mr. Newman ever having felt in his own mind even the temptation; but he understands it, and the temptation to it, as perfectly as any merchant could. No man of business could express it more naturally, more pungently, more ex animo. . . . So with the view that worldly men take of religion, in a certain sense, he quite enters into it, and the world's point of view: he sees, with a regular worldly man's eye, religion vanishing into nothing, and becoming an unreality, while the visible system of life and facts, politics and society, gets more and more solid and grows upon him. The whole influence of the world on the imagination; the weight of example; the force of repetition; the way in which maxims, rules, sentiments, by being simply sounded in the ear from day to day, seem to prove themselves, and make themselves believed by being often heard,--every part of the easy, natural, passive process by which a man becomes a man of the world is entered into, as if the preacher were going to justify or excuse him, rather than condemn him. Nay, he enters deeply into what even scepticism has to say for itself; he puts himself into the infidel's state of mind, in which the world, as a great fact, seems to give the lie to all religions, converting them into phenomena which counterbalance and negative each other, and he goes down into that lowest abyss and bottom of things, at which the intellect undercuts spiritual truth altogether. He enters into the ordinary common states of mind just in the same way. He is most consoling, most sympathetic. He sets before persons their own feelings with such truth of detail, such natural expressive touches, that they seem not to be ordinary states of mind which everybody has, but very peculiar ones; for he and the reader seem to be the only two persons in the world that have them in common. Here is the point. Persons look into Mr. Newman's sermons and see their own thoughts in them. This is, after all, what as much as anything gives a book hold upon minds. . . . Wonderful pathetic power, that can so intimately, so subtilely and kindly, deal with the soul !--and wonderful soul that can be so dealt with.

Compare with this the judgment pronounced by one of quite a different school, the late Principal Sharp:--

Both Dr. Pusey and Mr. Keble at that time were quite second in importance to Mr. Newman. The centre from which his power went forth was the pulpit of St. Mary's, with those wonderful afternoon sermons. Sunday after Sunday, year by year, they went on, each continuing and deepening the impression produced by the last. As the hour interfered with the dinner-hour of the Colleges, most men preferred a warm dinner without Newman's sermon to a cold one with it; so the audience was not crowded--the large church little more than half filled. The service was very simple, no pomp, no ritualism; for it was characteristic of the leading men of the movement that they left these things to the weaker brethren. their thoughts, at all events, were set on great questions which touched the heart of unseen things. About the service, the most remarkable thing was the beauty, the silver intonation of Mr. Newman's voice as he read the lessons. . . . When he began to preach, a stranger was not likely to be much struck. Here was no vehemence, no declamation, no show of elaborated argument, so that one who came prepared to hear "a great intellectual effort" was almost sure to go away disappointed. Indeed, we believe that if he had preached one of his St. Mary's sermons before a Scotch town congregation, they would have thought the preacher a "silly body." . . . Those who never heard him might fancy that his sermons would generally be about apostolical succession, or rights of the Church, or against Dissenters. Nothing of the kind. You might hear him preach for weeks without an allusion to these things.

What there was of High Church teaching was implied rather than enforced. The local, the temporary, and the modern were ennobled by the presence of the Catholic truth belonging to all ages that pervaded the whole. His power showed itself chiefly in the new and unlooked-for way in which he touched into life old truths, moral or spiritual, which all Christians acknowledge, but most have ceased to feel--when he spoke of "unreal words," of the "individuality of the soul," of the "invisible world," of a "particular Providence," or again, of the "ventures of faith," "warfare the condition of victory," "the Cross of Christ the measure of the world," "the Church a Home for the lonely." As he spoke, how the old truth became new; how it came home with a meaning never felt before! He laid his finger how gently, yet how powerfully, on some inner place in the hearer's heart, and told him things about himself he had never known till then. Subtlest truths, which it would have taken philosophers pages of circumlocution and big words to state, were dropt out by the way in a sentence or two of the most transparent Saxon. What delicacy of style, yet what strength! how simple, yet how suggestive! how homely, yet how refined! how penetrating, yet how tender-hearted! If now and then there was a forlorn undertone which at the time seemed inexplicable, you might be perplexed at the drift of what he said, but you felt all the more drawn to the speaker. . . . After hearing these sermons you might come away still not believing the tenets peculiar to the High Church system; but you would be harder than most me~ if you did not feel more than ever ashamed of coarseness, selfishness, worldliness, if you did not feel the things of faith brought closer to the soul--John Keble, by J. C. Shairp, Professor of Humanity, St. Andrews (1866), pp. 12-17.

I venture to add the judgment of another contemporary, on the effect of this preaching, from the Reminiscences of Sir F. Doyle, p. 145:--

That great man's extraordinary genius drew all those within his sphere, like a magnet, to attach themselves to him and his doctrines. Nay, before he became a Romanist, what we may call his mesmeric influence acted not only on his Tractarian adherents, but even in some degree on outsiders like myself. Whenever I was at Oxford, I used to go regularly on Sunday afternoons to listen to his sermon at St. Mary's, and I have never heard such preaching since. I do not know whether it is a mere fancy of mine, or whether those who know him better will accept and endorse my belief, that one element of his wonderful power showed itself after this fashion. He always began as if he had determined to set forth his idea of the truth in the plainest and simplest language--language, as men say, "intelligible to the meanest understanding." But his ardent zeal and fine poetical imagination were not thus to be controlled. As I hung upon his words, it seemed to me as if I could trace behind his will, and pressing, so to speak, against it, a rush of thoughts, of feelings which he kept struggling to hold back, but in the end they were generally too strong for him, and poured themselves out in a torrent of eloquence all the more impetuous from having been so long repressed. The effect of these outbursts was irresistible, and candied his hearers beyond themselves at once. Even when his efforts of self-restraint were more successful, those very efforts gave a. life and colour to his style which riveted the attention of all within the reach of his voice. Mr. Justin McCarthy, in his History of Our Own Times, says of him: "In all the arts that make a great preacher or orator, Cardinal Newman was deficient. His manner was constrained and ungraceful, and even awkward; his voice was thin and weak, his bearing was not at first impressive in any way--a gaunt emaciated figure, a sharp eagle face, and a cold meditative eye, rather repelled than attracted those who saw him for the first time." I do not think Mr. McCarthy's phrases very happily chosen to convey his meaning. Surely a gaunt emaciated frame and a sharp eagle face are the very characteristics which we should picture to ourselves as belonging to Peter the Hermit, or Scott's Ephraim Macbriar in Old Mortality. However unimpressive the look of an eagle may be in Mr. McCarthy's opinion, I do not agree with him about Dr. Newman. When I knew him at Oxford, these somewhat disparaging remarks would not have been applicable. His manner, it is true, may have been self-repressed, constrained it was not. His bearing was neither awkward nor ungraceful; it was simply quiet and calm, because under strict control; but beneath that calmness, intense feeling, I think, was obvious to those who had any instinct of sympathy with him. But if Mr. McCarthy's acquaintance with him only began when he took office in an Irish Catholic university, I can quite understand that (flexibility not being one of his special gifts) he may have failed now and again to bring himself into perfect harmony with an Irish audience. He was probably too much of a typical Englishman for his place; nevertheless Mr. McCarthy, though he does not seem to have admired him in the pulpit, is fully sensible of his intellectual powers and general eminence.

Dr. Pusey, who used every now and then to take Newman's duties at St. Mary's, was to me a much less interesting person. [A learned man, no doubt, but dull and tedious as a preacher.] Certainly, in spite of the name Puseyism having been given to the Oxford attempt at a new Catholic departure, he was not the Columbus of that voyage of discovery undertaken to find a safer haven for the Church of England. I may, however, be more or less unjust to him, as I owe him a sort of grudge. His discourses were not only less attractive than those of Dr. Newman, but always much longer, and the result of this was that the learned Canon of Christ Church generally made me late for dinner at my College, a calamity never inflicted on his All Souls' hearers by the terser and swifter fellow of Oriel whom he was replacing.

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