Project Canterbury

The Catholic Revival and the Kingdom of God
Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Sixth Catholic Congress of the Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, October 22 to 26, 1933

Milwaukee: Morehouse; London: A.R. Mowbray, 1933.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Beginning of the Revival
Rector of Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore


A HUNDRED YEARS AGO a stimulus was given to the life of the Anglican Church which has resulted in an astonishing improvement in its health. It might be an interesting speculation as to whether such improvement might not have come anyway, without that particular stimulus; there was much in England and in this country to indicate that such might have been the case. But that must remain speculation in the face of the historic fact that because the stimulus was given, and because it was given at the University of Oxford, the sequence of events thus started has been known as the Oxford Movement.

We who are gathered here to celebrate the centenary of the Oxford Movement are its grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Because of it we have a legacy of spiritual riches and have inherited a spiritual home restored and refurnished beyond the dreams of our grandfathers. They inherited a home which had been in existence since Christianity came to Britain, but it was bare and dilapidated. Most outsiders thought it might as well be torn down; one outside group said that it was not really an old house, that it was only a fake antique, and that the only thing was to coax its inhabitants out of it. Some of those who lived in it did not care whether they lived there or not; others stayed in their corners, too modest to let people know they loved their home. Some of the family had emigrated to America, where they [3/4] were anything but popular; they often told of their claims to possess a respectable descent, but what family silver they had with them was not old enough to be very convincing. But wherever the family was, its members were loud in groans and lamentations over the condition of the house. Outsiders could see how bad things were and were prolific in destructive suggestions; but no one in the family had undertaken any concerted action to improve matters. Finally a very small group of young sons, members of the University of Oxford, decided to do something more than moan and lament. We know that, like other young men, they had done their share of talking over the state of the Church, and they had gone through stirring years when it was indirectly affected by legislation. When a direct danger threatened, they decided to act. Their first object was to prevent the old house from being torn down; to do that, they had to rouse the rest of the family to defend it; they had to establish its genuineness; they had to revive the old spirit and atmosphere of the house; they had to bring out of attic and cellar its discarded treasures, put them in order, put them to use. It was a huge job, and only enthusiastic youth, indifferent to personal consequences, was adequate for it.

The Situation

The familiar instinct for fixed anniversaries led to the adoption of July 14, 1833, as the date of the beginning of the Oxford Movement, because that was the day on which John Keble preached a now famous sermon to His Majesty's judges, assembled in Oxford to hold court. But we shall not have things straight in our minds if we think of that sermon, the meeting at Hadleigh in the same month, and the first tracts as something sudden with no preliminaries behind them. July 14th, the sermon—September 9th, the first tracts! The time is too short. Those young men had several years of serious thought behind them. There is ample evidence [4/5] in letters and biographies before 1833 that the problems of religion and the Church were felt and analyzed; our imagination will be within safe bounds if we think of conversation in the common room of Oriel College and on familiar Oxford walks as turning constantly on needs and remedies. And John Henry Newman had been vicar of St. Mary's since 1828. It was no new problem which confronted them when the bill dissolving Irish bishoprics was passed a few days after the famous sermon but the focusing of that problem by a definite act of aggression. Accustomed as we are to valuing things by dollars and cents, it is hard for us to feel excited over the merging of some dioceses and the application of their excess revenues to other ecclesiastical purposes. Further, we have no experience of the Congress of the United States passing a law to combine the dioceses of Newark and New Jersey; but if such a law could be passed and enforced and the Church subjected to economy measures by civil authority we might know a little of how John Keble and his friends felt in 1833. One blow had been struck. What would come next? The public was flooded with pamphlets on Church reform. There were propositions for revising the Creeds and the worship of Christ out of the Prayer Book. If Parliament dared reorganize the Irish Church with the same technique it would use in reorganizing the War Office, who could tell what it might not do to the Church in England! Danger to the house of the Church was no longer theoretical; it was actual. The time had come when the Church must be defended from possible destruction. We shall miss the point of the beginnings of the movement if we think that it was an effort to turn Low Church into High Church and to introduce ritualism. Its primary object was not to change the Church but to save it—a very different proposition and at that time a very difficult one. As things turned out, saving it did change it, but that was because of the principles invoked to meet the situation, not because of the original intention.

The Difficulties

[6] There were terrifying difficulties before the eyes of those devout and brilliant young men whose long thinking made them ready to act. I venture to suggest that the greatest one was widespread, public hostility to the Church. In 1829 Newman wrote: "All parties seem to acknowledge that the stream of opinion is setting against the Church." In the cities were masses of ignorant or partly educated people, with little or no belief in God, who hated the Church out of blind prejudice. In intellectual circles, liberalism ruled; and this liberalism was something which denied the supernatural and claimed that reason and education could provide all that men needed for their lives. So why have a Church, especially one that was in a bad way? The government was hostile: not surprising, since it was a Whig government and most of the clergy were Tories. Now was its opportunity to punish the ecclesiastics for their politics, their inefficiency, and their wealth. The hostility was not merely intellectual; it moved the crowd. The Archbishop of Canterbury was insulted in his streets; the Bishop of London cancelled an engagement for fear of violence; in Oxford there were rumors that the mob which had burned the Bishop of Bristol's palace was to march on the city and burn the colleges. Whatever may have been the grievances which animated it, the hostility was widespread and vigorous.

That was the situation outside the Church. Inside were more difficulties. There were plenty of people in England in those days who belonged to the Church and practised some religion, but they had two characteristics which made difficulties. I should like to call them individualism and inactivity. The first marked the evangelicals and the second the high Churchmen. The devout evangelical—and mostly he was devout—was so much concerned with his own blessed experience of conversion and his consequent assurance of salvation that he cared very little whether he was in the Church [6/7] or out of it; he felt no special need for what the Church offered by way of sacrament and worship. What he wanted was a strong sermon on familiar lines to comfort him in his assurance without making demands upon him. Any practical sense of a corporate life was absent. One of the things which helped Newman out of his original evangelicalism was his discovery that it would not work when he tried to build up a parish. So it would not be instinctive for an evangelical to stir himself in the defense of the Church; if the State swept it away, he was still sure of his salvation. Then there was the inactivity of the high Churchman. He loved his Church and the Prayer Book, he esteemed worship and, in some measure, the Sacraments; but it was contrary to his instincts to say anything about it. He was rather secretive. Particularly was he averse to any public demonstration; as a propagandist he was a failure. He was afraid of being openly enthusiastic about any part of his religion; he regarded even hymn singing as a doubtful operation. He had high regard for the morality of life but was weak on its spiritual side. And, above all, nothing must be said or done which might offend anyone; bishops and archdeacons must not be disturbed. How could such a man be stirred up to face public hostility and official displeasure!

I venture to think that too much emphasis has been laid in describing this period on the disorder of church buildings, the infrequent services, the pluralities of bishops and vicars, the indifference of the people. There were these things and they were deplorable; and of course they make a vivid and useful background for the changes and improvements which in God's mercy have come to the Church. They certainly intensified the difficulties, but if they had actually occupied as much ground as is often credited to them there would have been no one left who would have bothered to read tracts or lose his temper over them. The final internal difficulty was the ignorance of the well-disposed as to Church principles [7/8] and Church doctrine. They knew that they belonged to something called the Church of England, but were utterly vague as to what that was or what its proper relations were to the rest of Christendom. Upon them had descended the blight of Erastianism, that is to say, the notion that the Church was only a department of the State and that the State was the final authority. This whole difficulty is best summed up in the words of Thomas Sikes, rector of Guildsborough, and recorded by W. J. Copeland: "Wherever I go, all about the country, I see among the clergy a number of very amiable and estimable men, many of them much in earnest and wishing to do good. But I have observed the universal want in their teaching, the uniform suppression of one great truth. There is no account given anywhere, so far as I can see, of the One Holy Catholic Church. . . . The doctrine is of the last importance and the principles it involves of immense power. . . . We now hear not a breath about the Church; by-and-by those who live to see it will hear of nothing else, and just in proportion, perhaps, to its present suppression will be its future development. Our present confusion is chiefly owing to the want of it, and there will be yet more confusion attending its revival. The effects of it I even dread to contemplate, especially if it comes suddenly, and woe betide those, whoever they are, who shall in the course of Providence have to bring it forward. . . . Those who have to explain it will hardly know where they are or which way to turn themselves. They will be endlessly misunderstood and misinterpreted. There will be one great outcry of Popery from one end of the country to another."

The Advantages

Such being the difficulties, what were the advantages possessed by John Keble, John Henry Newman, Richard Hurrell Froude, Edward Bouverie Pusey, Robert Isaac Wilberforce, Charles Marriott, Frederic Rogers, [8/9] Richard William Church, Isaac Williams, and William John Copeland—to name some of the chief of the sons of defense? First of all, they were men of brains. They had studied and knew how to use their minds. They knew how to think and how to express their thoughts. They could write and they could preach. While there were differences of degree, they were all distinguished by intellectual brilliancy. In the second place, they possessed the great crown of intellectual ability, sanctity of life. They loved God and sacrificed themselves and their possessions in His service. What they said and wrote was backed by inner reality; they were not "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." They were devoid of any self-seeking; all that they undertook was entirely for the good of the Church, not for what they might get out of it. Yet they were distinguished men in their own circles and this gave them their third advantage. Their Oxford connection provided a mighty sounding-board for their teaching. We find it difficult in the different circumstances of our day to realize what an asset this was; but Oxford and Oxford men had a power then if they chose to exert it and these sons did so choose. Again, they had the advantage that many, many people were in the mood to be affected. If there were time, we might pile up quotations to show this, but let us remember that Keble's book of religious verse, The Christian Year, had been out for six years and had had a phenomenal sale; those who read and loved that little book were open to the direct doctrinal teaching which was to come. Let us remember the 7,000 clergy and the 230,000 heads of families who signed addresses to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The addresses were feeble, carefully watered to avoid offense, but even so such a number of signers has real significance. In our own country let us remember Samuel Seabury and John Henry Hobart and their followers; we could make a long and honorable list of those here who held the principles taught by the movement. There was prepared ground, in England and here; [9/10] if the movement is to make sense to us at all, we must try to visualize all those who had an initial sympathy with its purposes and progress.

The Method

In defending the Church, the first approach was to lay down a fundamental principle by proclaiming its real character. The lack of teaching about the Holy Catholic Church must be supplied. The divine origin of the Church and the method by which it was perpetuated through the centuries must be asserted and explained. It must be fearlessly taught that the Church of England, not forgetting the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was not a Protestant sect; that, in spite of defects, it was a part of the Holy Catholic Church. It must be taught that the true doctrines of the Church are the same as those of the first centuries when the Church was not divided. If enough people could be convinced of these facts, the destructive schemes of reformers in and out of Parliament could be successfully opposed. So the emphasis laid on the early centuries and the apostolic succession was not mere antiquarianism, but an appeal to the unbroken life of the Church, in order that people might realize the true quality of their inheritance.

The technique adopted was simple, rather commonplace, but dignified and in the end amazingly efficacious. Tracts, preaching, lectures, magazine articles, books—books of sermons, books of theology, books of poetry, translations of ancient writers. The one thing they would not have was committees and societies. One plan was to organize in different parts of England associations of the Friends of the Church; this started well at first and gave another indication of the number who were ready to respond, but it soon came to an end through sheer unwieldiness and the greater influence of the Tracts. Then there were those who, being timid because the Tracts were outspoken, wanted a committee to censor [10/11] them. Newman would have none of that. It was not a time for safe phrases, but for an explosive quality which only unhampered freedom could give. So at first the few worked alone but they were soon joined by an increasing number who were never members of any organization but volunteer workers inflamed by the genius of Newman, sobered by the sanctity of Keble, stimulated by the learning of Pusey. They worked together, not always in full agreement, but with a clear vision of their common purpose. Their literary output was prodigious. I quote from a pamphlet published in New York in 1840: "They have brought out a vast number of works in almost every department of theological and ecclesiastical literature; and scarcely a week passes without some new accession to the number. Nor are these slight, trivial, and ill-considered productions; on the contrary the majority of them are extended, learned, and profound discussions of the most important subjects in theology and in doctrinal and ecclesiastical history. Indeed, one is struck with admiration, not more at the amount of these works and the laborious diligence of their authors than at the variety and superior style of learning, talent, and accomplishment combined in this comparatively small body of writers. . . . Nor has the influence of these writings been less remarkable. They have occupied the attention of all journals, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly; the excitement has penetrated the remotest corners of the island and agitated all circles." This may sound rather like an obituary on an 1840 monument, but even so it gives a clue to the extraordinary influence of the movement. But while they lasted, the Tracts were the most exciting things. Whether they were Newman's machine-gun fire or Pusey's cannon they were the most handy and available expressions of the teaching—pamphlets easily obtained, easily passed around—show-window samples of the substantial goods within. They became a symbol of the movement—a tangible thing by which it was approved or condemned.

[12] This story is told: "The clergy in a whole district in the west of England met and resolved unhesitatingly to enter a protest against the Oxford Tracts. The protest was on the point of being made, when someone suggested that it might be better to read them first; and as it was found that this preliminary step had been universally omitted, the society resolved itself into sections to read what they had determined to condemn, and the protest was postponed until the following meeting. . . . What the result of the following meeting was, we are not informed."

And I dare say that there were those who approved the Tracts who also had not read them. They stood as a whole for something which was either loved or hated. So it is small wonder that Newman's last Tract, number 90 on the Thirty-nine Articles, created the greatest sensation of all. To those in sympathy it was the natural conclusion to the whole argument; to those in opposition it was the final proof of treachery. The authorities at Oxford asked Newman to stop the Tracts and he acquiesced. It seemed a pity then and Newman's over-sensitive spirit was sorely hurt; but as we look back, it seems rather that it would have been a pity to go on because the last word by the Tract method had been said.

The Results

The results of the first years of the movement are plain to see. First, the attacks on the Church ceased; the old house was not to be torn down. "Petitions in support of the Church began rapidly to pour into the House of Commons." Hostile legislation stopped, and when some reforms were taken up later it was done largely in a friendly and cooperative spirit. Secondly, a very considerable number of people in England and America decided that they really were Catholics and began to live and worship accordingly, insofar as circumstances allowed. Principles and doctrines flowered into practice. The thought of Oriel College issued in action in English slums [12/13] and American towns. But that story belongs to a later period. The third obvious result was the stirring up of controversy—controversy of a bitterness and venom almost inconceivable to us today. It raged everywhere, within the Church chiefly, but also with Dissenters of every variety. As Sikes had prophesied, there was a great outcry of Popery, not only from one end of the country to another, but across the Atlantic where in 1841 Bishop Doane of New Jersey wrote a lengthy pamphlet to refute a charge made by a Presbyterian minister that "a large and learned body of the Church of England have returned to some of the worst errors of Popery." Into this turmoil, the Roman Catholics injected themselves; they had been quiescent while the Church of England slumbered, but when the fact of its inherent Catholicity woke it up they began exerting themselves to deny the fact. The Oxford men were beset on all sides, and in such a warfare how could some casualties be escaped! We have already suggested that they were not always in full agreement among themselves, and as the Roman question enlarged the differences became greater. Newer men in the movement lacked the learning and balance of the older men and showed themselves as plainly Roman in their tendencies. Newman was caught between the new and the old, he was pulled both ways, he was upset by a too subjective application of Roman arguments. After painful years of indecision, he gave up in 1845 and was admitted into the Roman Church, to be followed by a number of others whose names are largely forgotten. We remember the names of those who did not go. Keble, Pusey, and Marriott will never be forgotten. That year marked a turning point; the beginnings of the movement were over and it went on through toil and tribulation to new and greater accomplishments. Great as was the loss in those who left the Church, greater was the glory in those whose stability resisted temptation and kept them faithful.

Project Canterbury