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  • The Oxford Movement: A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their Times
  • William Whitla (bio)
C. Brad Faught . The Oxford Movement: A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their TimesPennsylvania State University Press2003. xii, 184. US $22.50

So lively was the Oxford Movement in the public mind that a scant twelve years after John Henry Newman's secession to Rome, Trollope made it an ideological and comical pivot of Barchester Towers. The Reverend Obediah Slope 'trembles in agony at the iniquities of the Puseyites. ... His gall rises at a new church with a high pitched roof,' while Newman's disciple, the Reverend Francis Arabin, 'engaged [Slope] in a tremendous controversy respecting apostolic succession' that was 'extremely bitter in print.'

For most nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians, Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) established the received history of the Oxford Movement, a narrative canonized by R.W. Church's Oxford Movement: Twelve Years (1891). This orthodox narrative, however, increasingly has been challenged by archival, cultural, and sociological studies. It was a church-and-university revolution, from John Keble's 'Assize Sermon' of 1833 to Newman's conversion to Rome in 1845. Four names were applied to its phases: Tractarianism (alluding to the ninety Tracts for the Times), Puseyism (after Newman's successor, Edward Bouverie Pusey), Anglo Catholicism (for its catholicizing theology), and Ritualism (reviving Catholic liturgical practices).

C. Brad Faught accepts this conventional narrative uncritically, interweaving a brief and readable synthesis using five themes: politics (church/state relations), religion and theology (Tory High Churchmanship and the patristic theology of the Movement's leaders, Newman, Keble, Hurrell, Froude, and Pusey), friendship (largely hagiographic biography), society (romantic Gothicism, new women's religious orders, sketches of Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Yonge, and Gothic revival architecture), and missions (chiefly the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel set against Evangelical missionary societies).

This thematic method makes historical chronology synchronous, and so necessitates retreading biographical and historical ground. It also draws [End Page 291] attention to omitted concerns and effects. First, Faught asserts that the Movement provoked 'firestorms' and 'floods' of controversy, but none is described or analysed: he neglects the widespread debate in periodicals, letters to the editors, published sermons and lectures, and pamphlet wars. Second, by restricting the Tractarians' political critique to attacks on Whiggish Erastianism, and by conflating political and religious liberalism, Faught gives too little weight to the Tractarians' theological and historical challenge to the Evangelicals, so amply demonstrated recently by Frank Turner on Newman, and by Grayson Carter, Martin Wellings, and James Wisenant. Third, although reformist, the Tractarians disregarded church abuses like absenteeism, nepotism, pluralism, and clerical poverty (none discussed here) in favour of historical theology and spirituality. Ironically, they opposed four major reform movements that Faught should have contextualized better: Parliament (after 1832 Dissenters helped control the Established Church), the universities (after the Test Acts' repeal), the abolition of slavery (bishops in the Lords supported slavery), and biblical Higher Criticism.

Synchronic treatments elicit examples, often open to questioning or elaboration. The chapter on society helpfully stresses women, but why not complement the women's religious orders with the men's, such as the revival of Benedictinism and the establishment of the Cowley Fathers? Why not mention that Christina Rossetti's sister Maria entered the All Saints Sisterhood in 1874? The account of John Strachan begs for his complement - the only Canadian Tractarian Bishop, John Medley, who contributed to Newman's Lives of the Fathers, carried the Ecclesiological Society to Canada, and built a Gothic revival cathedral in Fredericton that would make Slope's gall rise.

Faught rightly diagnoses the need for a thematic account of the Oxford Movement, as have others like Michael Chandler (2003) and George Herring (2002). Other recent work could qualify some of Faught's assertions, like Clive Dewey on the Hackney Phalanx (1991), Gary Graber on ritualism, and various recent studies on inner holiness, asceticism, and sexuality. Faught's research is based substantially on the last two decades of the twentieth century; more recent work doubtless appeared after his study was completed.

Slips and typos include: John the Baptist, not St Paul, ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness; Newman...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 291-292
Launched on MUSE
2006-02-10
Open Access
No
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