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NEWMAN STUDIES JOURNAL BOOK REVIEW WHAT WAS THE OXFORD MOVEMENT? BY GEORGE HERRING 113 What was the Oxford Movement? By George Herring. London-New York: Continuum, 2002. Pp: xi + 146. Paper, $19.95/£14.99, ISBN 0-8264-5185-1. The author’s stated intention in writing this short monograph was to provide an “up-to-date starting point for investigating the Oxford Movement” (ix). The “Introduction”claims that:“Since the Reformation there have been only a handful of movements of what might be termed revitalization that could be said to have left a permanent mark on the face of Christianity in the English-speaking world” (1). While qualifying for this distinction, the Oxford Movement has been variously interpreted by historians and theologians. On the one hand are those who have “tended to portray the originators of the Movement in heroic terms, a small but courageous band of reformers battling against the forces of a hostile Establishment, an enraged Protestantism, and a growing liberal tendency in theology” (2). On the other hand are those who have depicted theTractarians as“villains secretly believing the doctrines of Rome and attempting to subvert the true Protestant faith of Englishmen ” (2). Given these polarities, it is hardly surprising that in recent years, historians have advanced a number of revisionist interpretations.For example,instead of envisioning the Oxford Movement as being in continuity with a catholic tradition flowing from the Henrician Reformation through the Caroline Divines to 19th-century High Churchmanship, Herring maintains:“The Tractarians only related themselves to the past history of their Church in ways which suited their contemporary controversial purposes” (10). Accordingly, the Oxford Movement “represents one of the most fundamental discontinuities in the history of Anglicanism. It is as much a new beginning as it is an inheritance from the past” (10). After characterizing the“contexts”ofTractarianism as growing out of the vacuum left when both “traditional High Churchmanship and Anglican Evangelicalism had ‘run out of steam’ (23),” Herring examines the Movement’s “ideas.”Acknowledging that“aTractarian‘creed’did not emerge,fully formed,in 1833,or any other date”(24), Herring describes the varied means—tracts, sermons, pamphlets, books, even novels (and one might add: poems and hymns)—which Tractarians used to propagate their ideas,especially about the visible Church,theVia Media,and Sacraments andAscetics. Tractarianism“changed and evolved over time, and different individual leaders came to personify different aspects of it” (43).Yet if the personalities of the Movement’s leaders were distinctively different, weren’t there also many commonalities? Herring, for example, in commenting on the Tractarian treatment of the visible Church, concedes: “The Caroline Divines of the seventeenth century had also appealed to antiquity in justification of their theological arguments, as had the NEWMAN STUDIES JOURNAL 114 Nonjurors, and the continuing High Church tradition up to the 1830s” (31); is there then more catholic continuity in the Oxford Movement than Herring apparently allows? And even if Newman “used the historical record of the early Church in a blatantly rhetorical way” (31), could not a similar charge be levied against Herring’s own treatment of Newman? Only after considering the Oxford Movement’s “contexts” and “ideas,” does this book consider its “events”—a curious topical arrangement insofar as it results in duplication of material previously mentioned. In any case, Herring first discusses in detail Newman’s dating of the inception of the Oxford Movement as Keble’s Assize Sermon on July 14,1833 and concludes that“the Oxford Movement had its origins in the crisis years of 1828-33 and that the Assize Sermon represents more a stage in the process of genesis than it does the precise moment of birth” (47).While historically cogent, such a judgment seemingly ignores the need of every movement for a symbolic beginning whose antecedents necessarily back-drop the designated date. More important: by attributing the beginning of the Oxford Movement to Keble, Newman was apparently building a bridge to his former Oriel colleague. Finally, insofar as July 14 is Bastille Day, one wonders whether this date is also symbolic of Newman’s aversion to liberalism and revolution? Such quaestiones disputandae aside, this book provides useful information about the“events”following Newman’s...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-6945
Print ISSN
1547-9080
Pages
pp. 113-115
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-22
Open Access
No
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