Oxford Motion and the Church

Article reprinted from Combination Way Issue Fall months 2008 No. 110 (C)opyright Church Society; material can be utilized for non-profit purposes so long as the source is recognized and the written text is not altered.


It is probable that we will see a growing fascination with the Oxford Activity in the wake of proposals by Roman Catholics to declare one of its founders a saint.

The early area of the 19th century was a period of great interpersonal change in Europe and the role of the Chapel was being weakened and threatened. However, some reform was necessary and parliament had taken the lead. In 1833 a Charge was handed down to abolish two archbishoprics and eight bishoprics in Ireland. Whilst your choice was realistic not least due to problems in Ireland it was for some the straw which broke the camels back.

There were those who assumed this was unwarranted disturbance by their state in the affairs of the Cathedral and showed the weakness of the Chapel. John Keble responded with a sermon in the University or college Church in Oxford entitled 'countrywide apostacy' and he found support from three other Oxford men specifically - John Henry Newman, Hurrell Froude and William Palmer. In Sept 1833 these men began to create Tracts that have been referred to as The Oxford Tracts offering go up to the later name "The Oxford Movement".

It is said that the principle concern of the Oxford men was the dignity of the Chapel plus they argued in the Tracts that it was sacrilege for non-Church body to lay practical the Church. They also had a strong aversion to the growing liberalism and a desire to have personal holiness. In these exact things they might have found sympathisers between Evangelicals but this was not absolutely all that surfaced in the Tracts.

At enough time 'High Church' described those who acquired a high regard for the Church and its own ways including establishment and its Protestantism. Thus High Churchmen were divide in their response to the new movement. Some warmed to what was said about the type and dignity of the Cathedral whilst others found that it could lead to disestablishment and indeed to some Roman procedures at least. The impact of the movements was such that the old distinction of 'high cathedral' was essentially lost and the word came to be from the Tractarians. The regulators in Oxford also distanced themselves from the Tracts and from any association of the name with the college or university.

Historians will sometimes say that Evangelicals were slow to act in response or even sick equipped to do so, but this is plainly false. The robustly evangelical paper The Record (later to become The Chapel of England Paper) commented on a letter directed by the Oxford men to the Archbishop of Canterbury and then later on the early Tracts in its December issues of 1833.

We must confess the wonder was extreme and the sorrow poignant with which we browse the tracts of the Apostolical Modern culture at Oxford, ingredients from which came out in our last number. Experienced we not read them with this own eyes, it would have been difficult to persuade us that such effusions may have escaped, anytime, from the pen of Protestant clergymen. . .

The Record attacks the Oxford men on apostolic succession not because Evangelicals rejected the idea but because the Oxford men were touting the Roman view of succession. Being a Protestant Chapel the Chapel of Great britain, cannot nor would it not wish to lay claim such succession and also to accomplish that was absolute folly. They also declare that the Tracts chat of clergymen "conveying the sacrifice", being "intrusted with the tips of heaven and hell" and being "intrusted with the awful and mysterious gift of making the bakery and wine Christ's body and blood".

The editorial describes each one of these as melancholy and wicked Popish delusions.

Thus right from the outset Evangelicals, or at least a few of them, noticed the errors and taken care of immediately them, a fact that's not always recognised.

Shortly soon after Hurrell Froude, one of the initial four passed on and his 'theological remains' were published in 1838. These proved unequivocally his opposition to the Protestant Reformation and his empathy for Medieval Catholicism. This seems to have woken others up to the real heart of the Tractarians who had been becoming more and more critical of the Chapel of Great britain and idealistic about the Church of Rome.

In 1841 Newman posted his famous Tract 90 attempting to claim that the Articles, if properly known, support Roman Catholic doctrine. Newman himself seems to have eventually recognized that his quarrels were wrong because he remaining for Rome but others persisted and still continue steadily to dispute the same tips. I recall one clergyman arguing that his perception in purgatory was suitable because the Articles denounce 'the Romish doctrine of purgatory' and this had not been his doctrine. Eventually this perverse type of reasoning had to be solved and evangelicals discovered that they had to resort to law to do so.

Evangelicals at the time, as today, were adamant that they were the reliable Anglicans, the real heirs of the Reformed Cathedral of England. The situation of George Gorham therefore shook the movement to its root base. Bishop Philpotts of Exeter despised Evangelicals and when a Patron attempted to present Gorham to a moving into the Diocese the Bishop argued and then set out to establish that Gorham did not maintain to the doctrine of the Church on baptismal regeneration. This is serious because no evangelical presumed in baptismal regeneration and nor does they believe it was the doctrine of the church. If Gorham was declined upon this basis then all evangelicals may find themselves influenced out. An appeal was therefore launched however the Bishop's decision was initially upheld. Evangelicals however contested the issue to the Privy Council where they received.

For Anglo-Catholics this showed the condition of establishment that a secular court, as they saw it, had the ultimate say. For Evangelicals it was a reminder that within the Church hierarchy these were weak and often opposed whilst that they had much more powerful support between the laity, and specifically in parliament. More importantly it shown that men like Philpotts cannot be trusted to read the Articles and Prayer Booklet in its ordinary historical meaning, revisionism had started.

From an early level Tractarianism was manifest in Ritualism plus they founded the Church Union to promote their cause. In 1865 Evangelicals responded by creating the Church Association which from the outset possessed amongst its goals the purpose of clarifying regulations on ritual and doctrine. Thus some test situations were fought which largely, though certainly not in every fine detail, upheld the Evangelical view.

This ought to have settled matters, but of course it did not. The Ritualists still refused to follow the law. The evident thing would have been for Bishops to eliminate such clergy from office however the Bishops generally declined to do this. This failing to willpower has plagued the Chapel of England right down to today's and has motivated all types of practices and values to flourish unchecked.

The problem therefore for Evangelicals was what to do next and this led to section amidst them. The Chapel Association thought it must combat on and so they took the issues to the courts. The fact was that the law forbade certain routines and the Ritualists were doing them. Therefore the courts instructed the Ritualists to stop and they did not. If the law was to be upheld then there needed to be your final recourse when people refused to follow it and so some clergy were imprisoned.

But many Evangelicals either didn't like this procedure either because they didn't like taking the matter to court in this manner or because they feared the outcome. Thus J. C. Ryle specifically inspired the creation of a new body, The Protestant Churchmen's Alliance, which soaked up the sooner Protestant Relationship. The Alliance also fought ritualism however, not to the measures the Association does. The Alliance merged eventually in to the National Church Little league and therefore was finally reunited with the Association in 1950 when both became Church Society.

With the advantage of hindsight it is possible to notice that the fears of several were realised because the imprisonments resulted in a swing in public opinion towards the Ritualists. At the same time the Association, as a mostly lay organisation, tried out to do what the Bishops didn't do, which was preserve willpower as a tag of the Cathedral.

Today lots of the practices that were compared by our evangelical forebears are common within the Chapel of England and are even found, sometimes unwittingly, in evangelical churches.

David Phillips is Basic Secretary of Chapel Society.

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