VI. Anglican Catholic Revival


The Rev. John Purchas (1823-1872)


Between 1860 and 1880, there was incredible acrimony between the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics. This period between saw fierce Evangelical counter-attacks to Ritualist advances. The issue of vestments led to a large amount of discord at the Convocation of Canterbury in 1866. In 1869, John Purchas, curate of St. James, Brighton, faced legal action on the question of his vestments.


Once again, the Privy Council, who had pronounced that even though Copes in Cathedrals were legal, declared that the Chasuble in a parish church was an illegal vestment. It also disallowed the eastward position, the use of wafers and the mixed chalice.

The whole issue had become confusing and expensive due to litigation and thus, in 1867, a Ritual Commission was appointed to deal with the issue. As a result of their work, a Public Worship Regulation Act was passed in 1874. Unfortunately, this act was deliberately designed to restrain the activities of the Ritualists; by putting pressure on clergy who refused to submit to its authority.


Ultimately though, the act would be ineffective because it only succeeded in making hero’s out of prosecuted clergy. After 1874, defiance was treated as contempt of court and punishable with imprisonment. This harsh treatment of Ritualist clergy brought sympathy and support and thereby defeated the aim of the Act.


Many more people joined the English Church Union and the Church Association in the continued defence of Catholic doctrine and ritual well into the twentieth century. The main objective of the English Church Union in 1860 was simple. They were to be defenders of doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, as well as to provide legal aid to all people who were deemed to be “under unjust aggression or hindrance in spiritual matters.”1 In general, the aim of the English Church Union was to promote the interest of religion and be Christian witnesses to an increasingly pluralistic world; done all for the glory of God and the good of the church.


Another indication of revival was the interest in the two great London Churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. They were transformed from archaic museum pieces into National Shrines; from symbols representing the union between Church and State into the Spiritual home of all that is good in the life of the British nation. Perhaps the most notable achievement of the Catholic revival in the Anglican Church was the restoration of Religious Orders. In many ways it was “the fullest expression of this spirit of adoration”2 for the Catholic faith.

The traditional patristic based High-Church began to grow in confidence as it continued to prod the Church of England appreciate its catholic heritage. The foundation of Anglican sisterhoods, religious communities with vows, more frequent use of the confessional, and the introduction of more Roman Catholic ritual became part of church life. They justified the change on the grounds that the lives of the working class were drab and that this cried out for more colour, richness, dignity and reverence in worship.


As early as 1839, Pusey had pleaded for an institution like the Sisters of Charity to work amongst the poor throughout England. So, in 1845 a community was started in London “For the relief of distress wherever it may be found”3, and in 1848, Miss Priscilla Lydia Sellon (1821- 1876) founded a house for the Sisters of Mercy at Plymouth.


Other Women began work in the prisons and take up the cause of prison reform. In 1849, Mrs. Marquita Tennant, the Spanish widow of an English clergyman, began the work which eventually grew into the Community of St. John the Baptist. On that day Mrs. Tennant took into her home a girl who wished to lead a new way of life. It was a place where prostitutes could stay and be brought into Christian influence.

That same year, the Community of St. Mary was formed at Wantage, and in 1854, the Community of St. Margaret at East Grindstead was established. Communities for men soon followed. Joseph Leycester Lyne (1837-1908), under the name of Father Ignatius, started a Benedictine House in Suffolk in 1863.


In 1866, Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915), Vicar of Cowley, founded the Society of St. John the Evangelist. In the last part of the nineteenth century numerous orders were founded, such as the Order of St. Paul in 1886; the Society of the Sacred Mission in 1891, the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in 1892 and the Society of the Divine Compassion in 1894.


The communities shared an inter-communion with each other, thereby offering a unique way for priests and laity to experience various forms of spiritual discipline at retreats and quiet days. The whole church, in essence, was able to benefit by this flowering of Catholic Spirituality and “the devotional life of every Anglican has been enriched in some way by this fruit of the Oxford Movement.”4 From an Anglo-Catholic perspective, progress was being made. What this meant, was that the Church and all who adhere to it were “walking towards the New Jerusalem”5 and that ideas from the present age were being altered to guide the world toward the divine.


Sources for this Article

1. A History of the Church of England - The Mid–Victorians-1854-1882 - Changes in Church life - I. - Chapter XX - page 362

2. Worship - The Anglican Tradition Restoration of Religious Orders - Chapter XV; Part III; Page 333

3. A History of the Church in England - The Mid –Victorians-1854-1882 - Changes in Church life - I. - Chapter XX - Page 366

4. Marginal Catholics - Further into the Margins - Chapter V - Pages 65-66

5. Orthodoxy-The Romance of Faith - The Eternal Revolution - Chapter VII - Page 106


Next Article: A Divergence of Ideas


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

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