Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Blast from the Past: The Oxford Movement

[This post was the first written for this blog, although in a different form and title back then, November 2010.  This post was written while I had recently departed from an Anglo-Catholic understanding of Anglicanism, obviously my opinions have changed since then.]

One of the main problems that I see with modern Anglicanism is the loss of Protestant identity. A century ago (maybe a little more) nearly every Anglican would have known he was a Protestant and would have regarded himself as a faithful one, albeit one with bishops and prayer books and a bit of ritual, but nonetheless a good Protestant. Nowadays, you ask any "evangelical" Anglican in America if he is a Protestant and he will become uncomfortable and say he's a "reformed catholic" not that there is anything wrong with that description, nor that it isn't a good description of the Anglican Reformation either, however, Anglicans have ignored our confession, the 39 Articles of Religion, and in doing so, have lost our core Protestant identity. The definitive beginning of this loss of Protestant identity was the Oxford Movement. Now, I am not a conservative Evangelical from England, so I'm not going to condemn the Oxford Movement, because I think it was a good thing because it recovered some of the Catholic aspects of Anglicanism that had been forgotten in t he 18th century, but it must be evaluated now to see what the benefits of it were and what we should reconsider.

In 1832, the British Parliament voted to reduce the number of bishoprics in the Church of Ireland by ten. This infuriated the Rev. John Keble, a priest, who preached a sermon entitled "A National Apostasy," which sparked the Oxford Movement. The early Oxford Movement was concerned with the growing Erastianism (i.e. state control of the church) by Parliament in the Church of England. Therefore, Keble, and others began to look at the relationship of the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church. Keble, and others, advanced the "Branch Theory," which stated that Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, formed three "branches" of the one Catholic Church. Other prominent Oxford theologians included: John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. These priests began to look at the early Church all the way to the Reformation and the Book of Common Prayer, to investigate the relation of Anglicanism to the apostolic church. John Henry Newman published the infamous Tracts for the Times, which culminated in Tract 90, which argued that the 39 Articles were compatible with Roman doctrine defined at the Council of Trent. The Oxford Movement merited the named "Tractarianism" from the Tracts for the Times.

Around this time, the Oxford Movement began to fracture because Newman converted to Catholicism and Edward Pusey remained the Church of England. Another movement began to develop at Cambridge, commonly called Ritualism, which sought to incorporate medieval rituals into the liturgy of the Church of England. Pusey and the Tractarians were not generally supportive of the Ritualists, but the Ritualists were the most famous from these two movements. They reintroduced many things forgotten at the Reformation such as oil, candles, eucharistic vestments, Holy Week liturgies, etc... many Evangelicals opposed these elements of the liturgy. However, the main reason they opposed the Oxford and Cambridge Movements was the abandonment of Protestant identity, which the Tractarians and Ritualists believed was antithetical to Catholic (catholic meaning universal not Roman) identity.

Now to evaluate some of the pros and cons of the movement itself. First, the movements were good because they took the Prayer Book seriously. The Prayer Book is nothing like any of the other liturgies of the Reformation. Archbishop Cranmer intentionally retained many elements and aspects of traditional liturgy that were abandoned in other Reformed liturgies. Specifically, the Puritans objected to certain aspects of ceremonial such as: the ring in the marriage service, the surplice and cope, the sign of the cross at baptism, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. These were the bare minimum agreed upon in the Elizabethan Settlement. However, the Ornament Rubric in the Prayer Book implies much more (i.e. Eucharistic vestments, traditional altars, ornaments, etc...). So English Protestants originally had no problem with maintaining those things from the traditional liturgy which were not opposed to the Gospel. Many aspects of Prayer Book worship had been neglected by Low Churchmen in the century preceding the Movement. The Tractarians helped to start the Parish Communion movement, which made a reality out of the ideal of the Reformers, which was weekly communion.

Lastly, the Oxford Movement restored many things to our worship which we hold dear such as the Holy Week liturgies. These were removed by Cranmer because he viewed them as superstitious. However, we have restored them and we are not hurt by them. So the Oxford Movement has made us reconnect with the Early Church and to reevaluate to presupposed infallibility of the Reformers.

In the next post, I will explore the cons of the Oxford Movement...

1 comment:

CB in Ca said...

Good overview of the movement. Some of my "low-Church" friends would take issue with certain things approved by earlier Anglicans. I am thinking of chasubles. The Articles of Religion are, of course, in line with the Reformation. Sad also, is the use of the Prayer Book without getting its theology.