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Oxford Movement

The title given to the movement within the Church of England which opposed the growth of liberalism in the mid-nineteenth century. It had its roots in the High Church party of the seventeenth century. It was influenced by the Romantic Revival in its veneration of the medieval. Its leaders, such as J.H. Newman,* J. Keble,* and E.B. Pusey* (some of whom came from Evangelical families), were all members of Oriel College, Oxford, in the 1820s.

The movement began with an attack on the English government's bill to reduce the number of bishoprics of the Church of Ireland. Keble preached a sermon entitled “National Apostasy” in St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, in 1833. He saw the state's action as an attack on the church and a direct disavowal of the sovereignty of God. In their efforts to revive the church, the leaders of the movement published the first of the Tracts for the Times (1833). The name Tractarianism* soon attached to the movement. In its resistance to liberalism in the church, the appointment of R.D. Hampden as regius professor of divinity in the University of Oxford was opposed unsuccessfully in 1836. The movement created wider hostility as it became clear that its teaching ran counter to the spirit of the Reformation. Despite the publication of Tracts against Roman Catholic teaching, the anti-Reformation tendency seemed to be confirmed by the publication of R.H. Froude's* Remains in 1838-39. The revelation of Froude's spiritual and ascetic practices and his attacks on the Reformers incited a Protestant reaction. In Oxford this took the form of raising a subscription for a memorial to the Oxford martyrs of the Reformation.

From 1840 onward, part of the movement led by Newman moved in a Roman Catholic direction. In 1841 he published Tract 90 in which he argued for a Roman Catholic interpretation of the Thirty- Nine Articles. While the other leaders of the movement approved the Tract, they were startled by the instant storm of opposition. From 1843 Newman began to withdraw from the leadership of the movement. The condemnation of W.G. Ward's The Ideal of a Christian Church in 1845 by the University of Oxford led to the reception of some members of the movement into the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of 1845 Newman himself became a convert.

The defection of Newman marked the end of the dominance of Oxford in the movement. While Pusey, an Oxford professor, remained prominent, the titles “Anglo-Catholic” and “Ritualist” marked a new phase in the movement. The main interest of the Oxford Movement was in a revival of a high doctrine of the church and its ministry. The revival of ceremonial that later attached to the movement stemmed from the Cambridge Camden Society. In pursuing its goal the movement adopted such practices as frequent Communion, confession, and the renewal of the monastic life, which in time greatly affected the character of the Church of England.

J.H. Newman, Apologia pro vita sua (1864); R.W. Church, The Oxford Movement (1891); H.P. Liddon, Life of E.B. Pusey (4 vols., 1893-97); S.L. Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement (1915); E.A. Knox, The Tractarian Movement (1933); C. Dawson, The Spirit of the Oxford Movement (1933); G. Faber, Oxford Apostles (rev. 1936); W.O. Chadwick (ed.), The Mind of the Oxford Movement (1961); E.R. Fairweather (ed.), The Oxford Movement (1964).