The Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism And The Birth Of Anglican Catholic Identity



Anglican Catholicism


In this series of articles, I purpose to demonstrate a direct link between the Oxford Movement and the birth of Anglican Catholic identity. By Demonstration I mean that we will return to the nineteenth century, where a new sense of Catholic Identity began to re-emerge after hundreds of years of decline. By direct link I mean the continuing process of theological understanding inspired by earlier theologians but re-introduced by the Oxford Movement and perpetuated through the efforts of the Tractarians, The Ritualists, the Anglo-Catholics and finally the Anglican Catholics of the Traditional Anglican Communion.


By Anglican I mean the traditions and rites of the English Church or Ecclesia Anglicana. By Catholic I mean belief in the Holy Scriptures, the Catholic Creeds, the Lord's Sacraments, and the Apostolic Succession, the essential nature of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. By identity I mean the characteristic that makes up the community of believers.


We will study events at the eve of the Oxford Movement. We will learn about the High-Church party within the Church of England, which was a minority group that was Catholic in its faith and represented the counterpoint to the more Protestant elements within the church. Anglo-Catholics were simply traditional Anglicans who wanted the Church of England to return to its catholic beliefs and doctrines.


The last straw for many reformed minded Anglicans, who connected the sad state of the Church of England to its Secular oversight, was “The Irish Church Bill” of 1832. For them and the members of the Oxford Movement, the Church of England chose the security of the state over the needs of the church.

It would be the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians who would be the first to call for church reform. The Oxford Movement produced leaders who would transform the Church of England. In 1834, John Henry Newman wrote that the Church of England should be regarded as a third branch of the Catholic Church, side by side, with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. The Church of England could now be looked at as the Catholic Church in England or the Ecclesia Anglicana.


Newman in Doctrinal Developments and Tract Ninety proved that within the core of the reformation age Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, Catholic principles are present in order to preserve the old Faith. He introduced to his age the idea that new doctrines were authentic developments rather than additions to the primitive church.


Because of the views of the Oxford Movement, there remained the problem within the Church of England of the dichotomy between the Catholic and Protestant parties. Other parties within the Church of England looked down upon them; with the Evangelicals suspecting them of possessing Roman Catholic tendencies.

The British Government established the ‘Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ as a permanent body with substantial control over the Church of England. Parliament also took on the issue of church tithes and rates, which caused a negative reaction by the population in general and amongst Catholics in particular. The government, as part of overall educational reform, allowed the churches to make financial enquiries, but the Church would maintain administrative control of the institutes.

We learn that the Early-Victorian Era (1840-1860) experienced a great revival in Church life. Under Tractarian influence, the Ritualists re-introduced to the Church of England ascetic improvements to both the external and internal elements of the church. Church music began to receive more attention as the liturgy flowered into a perceptible form of worship. There was an Anglican Catholic Revival with many people joining the English Church Union and The Church Association in the defense of Catholic doctrine and ritual, all the result of Ritualist influence.

The mid to late nineteenth saw a divergence of ideas. The High-Church party took the Anglo-Catholic approach of adherence to Apostolic Authority, Church Teaching and Reverential Ceremonial; while the Low-Church party took the Evangelical approach faithful adherence to the Bible, Christian Social Service and aggressive evangelization. The Broad Church party took a different approach by greeting “Darwinism” with open arms.

These articles will offer a theological assessment of the nineteenth Anglo-Catholic Movements. The Oxford Movement declared that the Church possesses God-given authority and inherent power. Influenced by the traditional High-Church appeal to history, they considered the gospel to be the story of God’s direct intervention in human history and the church as the tangible connection between the incarnation and believers throughout history.

Central to Anglican Catholic Identity, is a ‘sense of faith’, which especially preserves the faith in times when the church’s official leaders are neglectful of their vocations. Anglican Catholics are joyful and celebrate through worship the beauty of God’s Creation and they do not reject the world; but embrace it. Anglican Catholics as Traditional Anglicans uphold Catholic tradition.

The intent of these articles is to ask the questions. Can a direct link be demonstrated between the Oxford Movement and Anglican Catholicism? What roles did the Oxford Movement, the Tractarians, the Ritualists and the Anglo-Catholics play in continuing catholic identity within both the Anglican Communion and the Traditional Anglican Communion? Does Anglican Catholic Identity uphold Catholicism and Catholic principles?


The Articles

  1. Eve of the Oxford Movement: A brief description of events prior to 1833.

  2. The Oxford Movement and the Tractarians: The first to call for church reform.

  3. Doctrinal Developments and Tract Ninety: Theological positions asserted by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians.

  4. Government Reforms on the Church of England: The British Government’s attempts to reform the Church of England.

  5. The Ritualists: Re-introduction of traditional ceremonial, including the addition of an ascetic beauty to Churches. Church music and liturgy receive more attention.

  6. Anglican Catholic Revival: An activism that takes the shape of the English Church Union and The Church Association begin to assert themselves in the defence of Catholic doctrine and ritual.

  7. A Divergence of Ideas: The three main Church parties within the Church of England take very different stands in an age of change.

  8. Assessment of the Nineteenth Century Anglo-Catholic Movements: The theological influence of the Oxford Movement lingers well into the twentieth century.

  9. Anglican Catholic Identity: Anglican Catholics are joyful and celebrate their faith through their own form of worship. They hold in high esteem the beauty of God’s Creation. In this way, Traditional Anglicans also uphold Catholic tradition.

  10. The Connection Between The Oxford Movement And The Birth of Anglican Catholic identity: A direct theological, pastoral and liturgical link between the Oxford Movement and Anglican Catholic Identity.

Final Thought

Nourished by the faith of the Caroline Divines and the Nonjurors, taught by the theology of John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement, inspired by the Tractarians who brought a catholic form of Anglicanism to the clergy, led by Ritualists who worked in parishes re-introducing long lost ceremonial, and defended by Anglo-Catholics, the pre-reformation English Catholic faith has been able to stand the test of changing times. By the end of the 19th century, a new call for reform had cropped up and much like the Oxford Movement, Anglican Catholicism accepted the challenge of defending the faith, from the ‘unbelief’ and ‘liberalism’ that exists within the Anglican Continuum.


Next Article: Eve of the Oxford Movement


© 2005 Article taken from Master's thesis The Oxford Movement: Anglo-Catholicism and the Birth of Anglican Catholic Identity.

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