AnglicanChristian Traditions

Keeping the “Anglican” in “Anglo-Catholic”

From its beginning, Anglicanism has struggled to establish a stable identity. Over the history of the Church of England, there have been many attempts to articulate a consistent expression of Anglicanism around a variety of movements, whether Reformed, Evangelical, or catholic in flavor. In the mid-1800s, a group at Oriel College, Oxford established a movement to restore a more catholic understanding of the faith based on the primitive and undivided Church. Members of this Oxford Movement became known as Tractarians on account of the variety of tracts they published—90 in all—encouraging Anglicans to embrace an Anglo-Catholic approach to the faith. Historians mark the beginning of the Oxford Movement to John Keble’s (1792-1866) sermon “National Apostasy,” preached in 1833, where he argued against government overreach into Church affairs.

While Keble is credited with kicking off the movement, the real leader was John Henry Newman (1801-1896). His most striking contribution was Tract XC (1841) in which he attempted to interpret the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion in a way that reflected compatibility with the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The tract did not fare well in the public square; Newman received serious backlash to the point that it ended the momentum of the Oxford Movement. Simultaneously, Newman began questioning the truth-claims of his fellow Anglo-Catholics, drawing parallels in his own mind between Protestants and the heretics who rejected the ecumenical council of Chalcedon. His doubts eventually manifested themselves in his essay “The Development of Christian Doctrine” (1878) where he argued that the doctrines of the primitive Church were seeds that, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, grew into the mighty tree that is the Roman Catholic Church. Four years after the Tract XC debacle, Newman called Fr. Dominic Barbari, a Roman Catholic priest, to his home in order to request admittance into the “one fold of Christ,” where he later became a Cardinal. The leadership of the Tractarians shifted to E.B. Pusey, who lacked Newman’s charisma, and the movement lost prominence.

To many Anglicans, particularly those of Reformed and Evangelical persuasions, Tract XC and Newman’s subsequent conversion to Rome mark a fatal failure of Anglo-Catholicism. This view lacks nuance but does contain some valid observations. To this day, many modern Anglo-Catholics are haunted by the memory of Newman, facing temptations to convert to Roman Catholicism that have been strengthened with the birth of the Anglican Ordinariate. So how can we avoid the mistakes of Newman while maintaining a distinctive Anglo-Catholic identity? The best way is to learn some important lessons from the quiet and unassuming figure of E.B. Pusey. There are three important takeaways from Pusey’s life which can help us: his evangelical preaching, his unwillingness to eschew a Protestant identity, and his reliance on Scripture.

Evangelical Preaching

Too often, modern Anglo-Catholicism lacks solid preaching. Oftentimes, it is poor because it becomes overly-intellectualized, or inherently obsessed with what we as Anglo-Catholics are not rather than a positive affirmation of what we are. While the sacrament, not the sermon, is the center of our worship, this is no excuse for poor preaching. Instead, we ought to properly contextualize of the sermon in the liturgy as a means of proclaiming the Gospel to the Church to convict its members of sin and provide them assurance of God’s love in the sacraments.

Pusey did this eloquently. One example can be found in a series of addresses he gave at a retreat in The Love of God and of Jesus for Souls and the Blessedness of Intercession for Them. Take this excerpt on God’s love as demonstrated in the Incarnation:

He loved us transcendently, infinitely, when He brought into act that mysterious order of our Redemption. Then, in all eternity, that Infinite transcendent love, which when, or long after He had created time, He willed to shew, was part of His Being. One might boldly say, in reverence, sine He has so loved the soul of man, that God would not have been the same God, if He had not loved it. His love is no accident of His being, so to speak; it is not a function of His Being, which might have been shewn to other beings, far worthier than we, and not to us…His love to the soul of man exhibits to us a distinct side or aspect of His love; so that His love for us, free though it is, is an essential part of His Being. It is free, because perfect freedom is inseparable from the Being of God; but freely to love us, before we were, and notwithstanding what we became, was part of the Eternal Being of God…To me more overwhelming, though not so touching, not so wounding, is the thought of the condescension, that God should will to have our Human Nature, however Deified, for ever united with His Godhead, than even those dread Sufferings of the Cross. They were indeed an unutterable extension of His condescension, that God not only took our nature, but that God was–not blasphemed only face to face (that alas! He is everywhere as God,) but that God was—spat upon, God was mocked, God was buffeted, God was crucified, God died!1

What a beautiful proclamation of the love of God! Pusey is a model for what good preaching should look like. While it is important not to dumb down the sermon, it is vital to unapologetically trumpet the love of God and his actions in salvation history (which is, truly, a sacramental way of preaching).

Protestant Identity

Anglicanism can be many different things to many different people. To some, that’s indecisive (but we prefer to think of it as flexibility). However, one thing that unifies Anglicanism is that it is a Protestant (or Reformed catholic) denomination. Since its inception under Elizabeth I (1553-1603), Anglicanism has protested the instances where the Roman Catholic Church has diverged from Scripture and tradition as seen in John Jewell’s masterful Apology of the Church of England:

Wherefore, if we be heretics, and they (as they would fain be called) be catholics, why do they not, as they see the fathers, which were catholic men, have always done? Why do they not convince and master us by the divine scriptures? Why do they not call us again to be tried by them? Why do they not lay before us, how we have gone away from Christ, from the prophets, from the apostles, and from the holy fathers?”2

Despite this common identity, one of the problems which has become prevalent among Anglo-Catholics has been antagonism towards Protestantism as a whole. Newman and many of the Tractarians eschewed their Protestant identity to the point that they opposed the establishment of a joint episcopate in Palestine with the German Lutherans; prior to the Oxford Movement, however,  Anglican missionary groups like the the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) would have had no problem with such a collaboration.3 Unfortunately, in an attempt to be more accepted by Catholics (which, as Newman’s conversion demonstrates, was unsuccessful), the Tractarians did too much to isolate themselves from other Protestant groups.

Yet, here is another place we can learn from Pusey’s example. While Pusey was Anglo-Catholic, he was not anti-Protestant in the way the other members of the Oxford movement were. Hurrell Froude, one of the other Tractarians, compared the Reformers to the Anti-Christ. For his part, Pusey refused to take such a condemnatory tone, stating “I do not share the wish to pass over the Reformation; for certainly whatever faults were there, we should never have been ‘Apostolical’ without them.”4 Unlike the other members of the movement, Pusey was supportive of the Martyrs’ Memorial, a monument which celebrated Reformation heroes like Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer. Perhaps studying in Germany left him feeling more sympathetic to other Protestant groups, but he was much more ecclesiastically ecumenical. Modern Anglicans would do well to follow Pusey’s example rather than being reactionary and hostile like Newman and the other Tractarians.

Reliance on Scripture

While the members of the Oxford Movement certainly respected Scripture, they were not biblical scholars. For instance, John Henry Newman spent much more time in areas like philosophy, theology, and Church history than Scripture itself. This is another area where E.B. Pusey diverged from the rest of the group. From 1825-1827, he studied Oriental languages in Germany at the University of Göttingen. At Oxford, he was appointed to be the Regius Professor of Hebrew.

In many ways, Pusey was a theologian who grounded his work in Scripture before he was anything else. He staunchly believed that the Scriptures were the foundation of the faith. However, he rejected the concept that the locus of interpretive authority belongs to the private individual, instead situating such authority in the wide stream of tradition flowing from the writings of the Church Fathers and medieval Christians. While these sources might contain some disagreements on particular subjects, he generally found safety in the patristic corpus of biblical interpretation.5

It is clear from his commentary on the Minor Prophets that Pusey loved the Scriptures:

The object of all, who have been engaged in this work [of biblical interpretation], is one and the same, to develop, as God shall enable us, the meaning of Holy Scripture out of Holy Scripture itself; to search in that deep mine and—not bring meanings into it, but—(Christ being our helper, for ‘the well is deep,’) to bring such portions as they may, of its meaning out of it; to exhibit to our people, truth side by side with the fountain, from which it is drawn; to enable them to see something more of its riches, than a passer-by or a careless reader sees upon its purpose…In the words of God, we learn the Heart of God.6

It is interesting too that Pusey identified the Old Testament as the place to do that. While certainly both the Old and New Testaments are vital, Pusey, along with Augustine, understood that what was revealed in the New is reflected in the Old. Drawing from the richness of the Old Testament, Pusey utilized the message of the prophets to address cultural concerns within his Victorian context. In this way, he shows us how to be “relevant.” Only when we start from the message of the prophets and sages of Scripture can we effectively address the culture in which we find ourselves.

Conclusion

The Oxford Movement made a significant impact on the theological landscape of its day. As the case of John Henry Newman illustrates, it is important for Anglo-Catholics to establish a grounded and robustly Anglican identity that prevents them from feeling the need to convert to Rome for the sake of stability. Instead, as E.B. Pusey’s example makes clear, that identity can be well developed within the confines of Anglicanism. By emphasizing evangelical preaching centered on God’s love for humanity, recognizing (and even celebrating) our Protestant heritage, and growing in our love and utilization of Scripture, we can remain staunchly Anglo-Catholic while also doing more than focusing on the negatives (what we aren’t) at the expense of the positives (what we are).  


[1] E.B. Pusey, The Love of God and of Jesus for Souls and the Blessedness of Intercession for Them: Addresses during a Retreat of the Companions of the Love of Jesus, Engaged in Perpetual Intercession for the Conversion of Sinners (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 26-7.

[2] John Jewell, The Apology of the Church of England, ed. Richard W. Jelf, trans. Anne Lady Bacon (London: SPCK, 1849), 16.

[3] Michael Nazir-Ali, “How the Anglican Communion Began and Where it is Going,” in Reformation Anglicanism: A Vision for Today’s Global Communion, eds. Ashley Null and John W. Yates III (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 29-30.

[4] John. R. Griffin, “Dr. Pusey and the Oxford Movement,” in Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church vol. 42, no. 2 (June 1973): 143.

[5] Timothy Larsen, “E.B. Pusey and Holy Scripture,” in The Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 60, No. 2 (October 2009): 494.

[6] E.B. Pusey, Minor Prophets, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), viii.

Wesley Walker

Wesley Walker

Wesley is from Raleigh, North Carolina. He went to Liberty University for his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biblical Studies where he was also on the debate team. He currently resides in Annapolis, Maryland and is a priest at St. Paul's Anglican Church (APA). He lives with his wife Caroline, their son Jude, and their two dogs. He co-hosts the podcast, The Sacramentalists.

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