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Edward Bouverie Pusey

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.

EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY was born on August 22, 1800, being the son of a Berkshire squire, and the grandson of the first Viscount Folkestone. His mother, Lady Lucy Pusey, had been brought up in the old High Church tradition, and from her he learnt as a child to believe in the Real Presence. In 1879 Dr. Pusey wrote: 'The doctrine of the Real Presence I learnt from my mother's explanation of the Catechism which she had learnt to understand from older clergy.'

Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Pusey took a First Class in 1822, and in the following year was elected to a Fellowship at Oriel, then the chief centre of intellectual life at Oxford. Keble and Newman were already Fellows of Oriel, and thus arose the close association between the three which was destined to affect so profoundly the religious history of England in the nineteenth century. At first, however, there seemed to be little in common between them. Keble was an older man who had already left Oxford to devote himself to pastoral work in the country, and Newman was at that time a strong Evangelical, who, though he admired Pusey's devotional life, was suspicious of his doctrinal views.

When Pusey was elected to his Fellowship, he made it a condition that he should not be required to act as a College Tutor. His health was precarious, and he wanted time to pursue his own studies. In particular he wished to study the criticism of the Old Testament, and for this purpose to improve his knowledge of Hebrew and to learn Arabic and the other cognate languages. With this end in view, in 1825, and again in the following year, he visited the universities of Gottingen and Berlin, attending the lectures of the great German professors, and working at Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee, from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. He returned in 1827 as the most learned Orientalist in England, and almost the only English scholar whose name was known in the Universities of Europe; and in September of the following year he reaped the reward of his labours by being appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, a post which carried with it a Canonry of Christ Church. This position he held for fifty-four years.

Pusey had been ordained deacon on the previous Trinity Sunday, but his canonry made it necessary for him to seek Priest's Orders without waiting for the expiration of his year's Diaconate. Accordingly, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Oxford in the parish church of Cuddesdon on November 23, 1828.

On December 9 he was installed as Canon in the Cathedral; and on Christmas Day he offered the Holy Sacrifice for the first time in the parish church of Pusey, where he was staying for the vacation with his brother.


The story of the beginning of the Oxford Movement, and of the issue of the Tracts for the Times is told in the booklets in this series dealing with Keble, Newman, and Froude, and need not be repeated here. It was not until 1834 that Pusey formally and publicly identified himself with the Movement by publishing a Tract, No. 18, on Fasting, with his initials attached to it. Newman in the Apologia has described the immense gain to the Movement of Pusey's adhesion: 'Dr. Pusey gave to us a position and a name. . . . He was a Professor and a Canon of Christ Church; he had a vast influence in consequence of his deep religious seriousness, the munificence of his charities, his family connexions, and his easy relations with the University authorities. . . . Dr. Pusey was a host in himself; he was able to give a name, a form, and a personality to what was without him a sort of mob.' And, again, 'He was 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.'

Pusey's influence was felt at once in a change in the character of the Tracts. As Newman says of him: 'He knew the meaning of real learning. . . . 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.' As an example of what he meant, he published in 1835 three successive Tracts on Baptism, Nos. 67, 68, and 69, which together ran to more than 300 pages, and which Dean Church has described as 'perhaps the most elaborate treatise on Baptism which has yet appeared in the English language.' These Tracts, he goes on to say, 'were like the advance of a battery of heavy artillery on a field where the battle has hitherto been carried on by skirmishing and musketry. They altered the look of things and the condition of the fighting. After No. 67, the earlier form of the Tracts appeared no more.'


The story of Dr. Pusey's life is the story of the Oxford Movement during the greater part of the nineteenth century, and to tell it even in outline is impossible within the scope of this little booklet. From the time of his accession to the Movement it became popularly associated with his name, and the Tractarians were henceforth contemptuously called 'Puseyites.' After the tragedy of Newman's secession in 1845, he became the acknowledged representative and trusted leader of the Tractarians. His was the generalship which, with the support of Keble, Mozley, and Charles Marriott, rallied the broken forces of the Movement and stemmed the flight to Rome. He it was upon whom, more than any other of the leaders, fell the burden and heat of the long and bitter controversy which continued almost without cessation till his death. All that can be attempted here is to recount briefly some of the most important events in the history of the Movement, with which he was associated.

Let us take first the Eucharistic controversy. On May 14, 1843, it fell to Dr. Pusey's turn to preach before the University. He had been criticized, not without some justice, for the severity of his Tract on Baptism, and he desired to balance its sternness with a course of sermons on 'Comforts to the Penitent.' He originally thought of taking Absolution as the first of these; but having regard to popular ignorance and prejudice, he chose the Holy Eucharist as 'a subject at which they would be less likely to take offence.'

There was nothing controversial about the sermon; it was not intended in any way to startle the hearers or create disputations. According to Dean Church 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.' Dr. Hook, who was intensely anti-Roman, called it 'a truly Evangelical sermon.' But the Oxford Movement was nearing its crisis, and the very subject of the sermon was enough to rouse suspicion. One of Pusey's brother professors accused the sermon of heresy before the Vice-Chancellor, who appointed six doctors of divinity to judge it. They examined the sermon in secret without allowing Pusey to speak in his own defence. As a result, without a hearing or even the formality of a trial, he was, by the authority of the Vice-Chancellor, suspended from preaching in the University for two years, for teaching doctrine contrary to the Church of England.

Dr. Pusey was at this time 'without question the most venerated person in Oxford.' His deep learning, the holiness of his life, the crushing sorrow of the death of his dearly-loved wife four years earlier, and of his eldest daughter only three weeks before the sermon was preached--all had combined to surround him with a pathetic and solemn interest. This unexpected blow was most heavy and cruel, but he bore it as few men could. Acting on the advice of Keble and Gladstone, he published the sermon with a formidable appendix of theological authorities; and two years later, when his term of suspension had expired and he preached again before the University, he began by summarizing the condemned sermon in a few well-chosen words which reasserted to the very full its doctrinal position.

Throughout the remainder of his life, the defence of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist was one of Pusey's main preoccupations. He wrote two books on the subject: The Real Presence in the Fathers, which appeared in 1855, and a Treatise on the Real Presence, a shorter book which was published two years later. This latter book was written in consequence of the attack on Archdeacon Denison, who had been condemned by the Diocesan Court of Bath and Wells for teaching the doctrine of the Real Presence in two sermons preached in Wells Cathedral; it proved conclusively 'by an appeal to our authoritative formularies' that this doctrine was the teaching of the Church of England. Keble's beautiful treatise On Eucharistical Adoration appeared in the same year and in the same connexion. A few years later the question was again raised in the Courts, and in 1872 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decided (in the case of Sheppard versus Bennett), on a strictly legal interpretation of the Formularies, that the whole position for which the Tractarians had contended through the anxious years of misunderstanding and reproach was permissible within the limits of the teaching of the Church of England. Since that date no further attacks have been made in the Law Courts against the doctrine of the Real Presence.


The University sermon preached by Dr. Pusey after the suspension, to which we have already referred, dealt with the subject of Absolution. In it he showed by an appeal to her Formularies that the Church of England teaches the reality of priestly absolution as explicitly as it has ever been taught in any part of the Catholic Church. The sermon was preached on February 1, 1846, and on December 1 of the same year he made his own first confession to Keble at Hursley. For a considerable time the use of confession had been presenting itself to his mind with increasing urgency as a matter of personal duty. He already heard many confessions, and it was inevitable that he should ask himself whether he ought not himself to submit to the discipline which he exercised. There were great difficulties in his way. Like all very holy men, he was overwhelmed with the consciousness of his own sinfulness, and he shrunk from making a confessor of one of those friends with whom he was associated in common work, while outside this circle there was no one whom he could choose as a spiritual guide. It must be remembered, too, that he did not treat the practice of sacramental confession as a matter of absolute obligation. But his sermon on Absolution, followed as it was by a severe and prolonged illness which he suffered during the summer of 1846, led him finally to make up his mind. 'I cannot doubt,' he wrote to Keble a week after making his confession, 'but that, through your ministry and the Power of the Keys, I have received the grace of God, as I know not that I ever did before.'

Probably no priest in the English Church has ever heard so many confessions, or directed so many consciences as Pusey. Writing in 1866, he says: 'The use of confession among us all, priest and people, is very large. It pervades every rank, from the peer to the artisan or the peasant. In the course of this quarter of a century (to instance my own experience, which I must know) I have been applied to, to receive confession from persons in every rank of life, of every age, old as well as young, in every profession, even those which you would think least accessible to it--army, navy, medicine, law.' Fifteen years earlier, after a visit to St. Saviour's, Leeds, which he himself had built as the offering of a penitent, he writes to his son: 'I am well again, and amid much sorrow have had much comfort. It has been a new scene to me. Boys, mechanics, and mill-girls, using confession; kneeling thankfully for the blessing, and bound to the Church by a stronger bond than that which bound them to their late pastors.'

No spiritual result of the Oxford Movement is so remarkable as the revival of community life in the English Church. This great achievement was due under God to Pusey more than to anyone else. The great sisterhoods which have spread far beyond England to America, South Africa, Australia, and India really began with the community founded by Pusey on March 26, 1845, at Park Village, Regent's Park. The first woman to dedicate herself was Marian Rebecca Hughes, who made her vows at St. Mary's, Oxford, on June 5, 1841, though she did not enter a community until her father's death eight years later. She survived until 1912 as the venerable Mother Superior of the Convent of the Holy Trinity at Oxford, founded in 1849. A year earlier Priscilla Lydia Sellon had founded the Society of the Holy Trinity at Devonport, with the express approval of the Bishop of Exeter, Dr. Phillpotts, and in 1854 the little sisterhood at Regent's Park was merged in this. The story of Miss Sellon and her work will be told in a later booklet in this series. Here it is only necessary to say that throughout her devoted labours Pusey was her constant counsellor, gave her his keenest sympathy, and helped materially to shape her course.


In his later years Pusey's thoughts turned hopefully to the subject of Reunion. In 1865, in answer to an Open Letter from Cardinal Manning, who was at great pains to show that the Church of England was not a true Church, and that no Roman Catholic would think her so, he published an 'Eirenicon' in the form of an Open Letter to Keble, in which he asserted that the quarrel of the English Church is not with the authoritative faith of Rome as defined by the Council of Trent, but with a working and popular system of unauthorized beliefs and practices. The Eirenicon concludes as follows: 'To all who, in East or West, desire to see intercommunion restored among those who hold the faith of the undivided Church, we say, "This is not our longing only; this is impressed on our Liturgy by those who were before us; for this, whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we are bound to pray that God would inspire continually the Universal Church with the Spirit of truth, unity, and concord." For this I pray daily. For this I would gladly die. O Lord, tarry not.'

Newman published a piquant and critical reply to this Eirenicon which caused Pusey profound disappointment. But there were other Roman Catholics--notably some of the French bishops--who took the Eirenicon in a more friendly spirit, and encouraged Pusey to persevere in his efforts. For the next four years he pursued this ideal with unremitting fervour. He corresponded with Newman and others; he paid visits to sympathizers on the Continent; he published two other Eirenicons designed to remove misunderstandings which the first had created; and he looked forward, with the most touching faith and hope, to the Vatican Council which was summoned to assemble at the close of 1869. Ever sanguine as he was, he felt a kind of moral assurance that so great an assemblage of Catholic bishops, meeting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, must be led to regard with goodwill all sincere efforts for reunion. A tragic disappointment awaited him, and just before his death he wrote to a friend: 'The Vatican Council was the greatest sorrow I ever had in a long life.' After the Vatican Council he took no active part in efforts for reunion, beyond taking considerable interest in the abortive conferences held at Bonn in 1874 and 1875, with a view to the union of old Catholics, Anglicans, and Easterns.


Dr. Pusey died at the age of eighty-two at Ascot, where he had a small house adjacent to the Priory of the Devonport Sisters. The cause which he loved so well, and for which he had fought so gallantly for nearly fifty years, occupied his thoughts and energies to the end. Almost his last public act, less than a month before his death, was to write to The Times an appeal on behalf of Mr. Green, who was suffering imprisonment under the Public Worship Regulation Act. Dr. Liddon, in his Life of Pusey, records his conviction that this brave effort of chivalrous sympathy precipitated the end. He was buried in the nave of Christ Church on St. Matthew's Day, September 21, 1882, among those assembling to do him honour being William Ewart Gladstone, then Prime Minister.

Of all the original leaders of the Movement Pusey had to bear the cruellest abuse and the longest and most persistent attacks. The charge of disloyalty to the English Church, which has been brought against the Catholic Revival ever since Newman's secession, was directed with concentrated force against its acknowledged leader. In 1850 Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford had forbidden him to officiate in the diocese, except at Pusey, 'where his ministry would be innocent' on the ground of the alleged Romanizing tendency of his writings and influence. Great pressure was brought on the Bishop from very influential quarters to reconsider his decision, and in 1852 the prohibition was withdrawn. His loyalty was not again publicly challenged by ecclesiastical authority, but to the end he had to face prejudice, suspicion, and distrust. He bore the misrepresentations and popular odium with unbroken humility and patience, and though they proved a heavy cross to him, he never allowed them to sour him or make him bitter. His personal life was ascetic and saintly to a high degree. He laid stripes on himself; he wore hair-cloth next his skin; he ate by preference unpleasant food. He never 'looked at nature without inward confession of unworthiness.' He made 'mental acts of being inferior to everyone he saw, especially the poor and the neglected, or the very degraded, or children.' He made acts of internal humiliation when undergraduates or college servants touched their hats to him. It was part of his 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.' For many years he said Mass every day, generally at four o'clock in the morning.

As a preacher he had no pretensions to oratorical skill. He read every word in a low, deep, rather monotonous voice, which in his later years was husky and thick, and seldom lifted his eyes from his manuscript. His sermons were immensely long, packed with patristic learning, and he had a habit, probably acquired during his studies in Germany, of inventing new words, so that his style was often strange and difficult to follow. But the words, whether strange or familiar, were of little account compared with the spiritual fire behind them. 'Men old and young,' says Liddon, 'listened to him for an hour and a half in breathless attention: because his moral power was such as to enable him to dispense with the lower elements of oratorical attraction; or it would have rendered their presence an intrusion on higher and holier ground. . . . Each sentence was instinct with his whole intense purpose of love, as he struggled to bring others into communion with the truth and Person of him who purified his own soul; and this attribute of profound reality which characterized his discourse from first to last, as it fell on the superficial and somewhat cynical thought of ordinary academical society, at once fascinated and awed the minds of men, and--whether they yielded their convictions to the preacher or not--at least exacted from them the homage of a sustained and hushed attention.'

Pusey took but little part in the Ceremonial Revival. He had by nature no inclination to pomp or ceremony; but he realized the value of beauty as an expression of the Divine Nature, and he foresaw from very early days that the revival of Eucharistic doctrine must issue in a revival of ceremonial. As years went on, and the development which he foresaw took place, he gradually adapted his own practice to changed conditions. But he dreaded the introduction of ceremonial which a congregation was unwilling to accept. In a letter to Father Prynne of Plymouth, written in 1849, he says: 'Certainly one should be glad that greater reverence could be restored: but I have long felt that we must first win the hearts of the people, and then the fruits of reverence will show themselves. To begin with outward things seems like gathering flowers, and putting them in the earth to grow. If we win their hearts, all the rest would follow. I have never had the responsibility of a parish, but while I could not but feel sympathy with those who held themselves bound by every rubric, I could not but think myself that since the Church of England had virtually let them go into disuse, we were bound to use wisdom in restoring them, so as not, in restoring them, to risk losing what is of far more moment, the hearts of the people.'

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. To him more than to any other man, we owe the position which Anglo-Catholicism holds today. His life, to quote Mr. G. W. E. Russell, 'combined all the elements of moral grandeur--an absolute and calculated devotion to a sacred cause; a child-like 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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