The Oxford Movement, also known as ‘The Tractarian Movement’, began at Oxford University in 1833. It intended and effected spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical renewal in the Church of England by returning to the church fathers and seventeenth century Anglican theologians. In pamphlets and treatises, such as ninety ‘Tracts for the Times’, in sermons, poetry, lectures, translations, hymns, biographies and novels, it relentlessly attacked the university’s, church’s and country’s secularism (religious indifference), liberalism (the view that reason alone cures evil) and Erastianism (final authority in religion belongs to the state). Affirming doctrine and devotion, the Movement promoted the Holy Catholic Church as supernatural and divinely authorized, a visible unity on earth sustained by the grace of the sacraments and the unbroken apostolic succession of bishops.
Its founders, ordained fellows of Oxford’s Oriel College, were noted for their intellectual, moral, and spiritual stature: John Keble (1792-1866), poet of Anglican devotion; Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-1836), zealous apologist for Catholic truths; and Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), saintly, erudite aristocrat. John Henry Newman (1801-1890) became the acknowledged leader and genius of the Movement. Reaching its zenith in 1838, the Movement, though anti-papal, was increasingly attacked by church and university for resembling Romanism. Nonetheless, it survived Newman’s 1845 conversion to Rome and continued to influence the shape and direction of the Church of England.
Mary Katherine Tillman
Professor Emerita, Program of Liberal Studies
University of Notre Dame, Indiana