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X. Recognizing Anglican Catholic Identity: From Conception to Birth.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023


{Keble College, University of Oxford}



This Series of articles has presented a detailed connection between the Oxford Movement and the birth of Anglican Catholic identity. We were able to do this by visiting the nineteenth century.


In The Eve of the Oxford Movement, we looked at the early leaders of the Anglo-Catholic thought and practice. We studied the High-Church party within the Church of England; which was a minority group that was Catholic in its faith and represented the counterpoint to the more Protestant elements within the church. Anglo-Catholics were simply traditional Anglicans who wanted the Church of England to return to its catholic beliefs and doctrines.


We also showed the incredible decay that had befallen the Church of England, whether it was through the physical decay of the buildings and property, or lack of training for the clergy. Additional pressure was added when church tithes were levied on the entire English population, even Non-Anglicans. The last straw was “The Irish Church Bill” of 1832. Protests were rampant amongst the mainly Irish Catholic population, in both Ireland and England.


Because of this there was a call for church reform. The whole question of the relationship between ‘Church and State’ now entered the national consciousness. John Keble, a leader of the Oxford Movement described the church as a ‘mere parliament church’ and church leadership as being disloyal and under the influence of public opinion. The Church of England chose the security of the state over the needs of the faithful.

Keble called on the church, in his Assize Sermon on National Apostasy in July of 1833, to act as a separate entity from the State, especially if it wanted to be true to its traditions and part of the Catholic Church. This battle cry was acknowledged by a group of Oxford dons who decided to arouse their church.

In The Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, we were introduced to the leaders, both Anglican and Catholic, who would influence reform within the Church of England. As a centre of theological study, it was no surprise that the University of Oxford would be the birthplace of Reform, especially the Anglican Catholic Revival. There were leaders like Edward Copleston, Blanco White and Richard Whately; but the one who stood out the most was John Henry Newman.


During the period between 1833 and 1845, the Oxford Movement wrote ninety essay’s on the condition of the church and their solution to the problems. They were known as The Tracts for the Times and they took the church of the Caroline Divines as its model for reform. Tract number two was entitled, The Catholic Church and the third was, Thoughts on the Alterations in Liturgy.

Newman wrote the most influential essays. In 1834, he wrote that the Church of England should be regarded as a third branch of the Catholic Church, side by side, with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. This branch theory became known as the ‘Via Media’, or ‘The Middle Way’. The Tracts for the Times made a great stir in England and it energized the High-Church party, who though closer to their reformed roots, were sympathetic to the Anglo-Catholic message of the Oxford Movement; or Tractarians as they were now called.

The High-Church party, energized by events, quietly promoted Tractarian information, but it was tentative at best. To some, even in the High Church, the Tractarians were too extreme and support was at arms length. There was a real fear that the Tractarian position would cause a fissure within the Church of England. The thought of the Church of England as the Catholic Church in England or the Ecclesia Anglicana left an interesting question; that of the role and influence of the Roman Church in England, especially after the passing of the ‘Emancipation Act of 1829’.


In the 1830’s, Newman believed that the Roman Church was corrupt and that it had introduced doctrines and practices that had not been part of the primitive church. However, his thoughts on the matter were shifting and were being influenced by beliefs of N.P. Wiseman and a small group of radical thinkers among the Tractarians, including W.G. Ward and F.W. Faber, who were drawn to a different view of the Church, not like Froude with his medieval Rome, the Church out of which the Anglican Church had emerged, but more to the Rome of the Counter-Reformation and Post-Tridentine theology and practice.

In Doctrinal Development and Tract Ninety, Newman believed that Christ had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the church into all the truth. However, the primitive church did not possess absolute truth. New doctrines developed over time, such as the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, and the Roman Church claimed that these new doctrines were authentic developments rather than additions to the primitive church. The church, over time, displaying the signs of holiness, and of the true body of Christ would be that model.

The Evangelicals thought that they possessed a safeguard against Catholic influence with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, one of the pillars of the reformation church and Protestant England. However, Newman, in Tract Ninety, wrote about the articles and found catholic thinking within the document. Thus, it could be argued that even the beloved Thirty Nine Articles of Faith was catholic in its own unique way.


After Tract Ninety was written John Henry Newman departed for the Roman Catholic Church. Many Tractarians, and certainly those within the Oxford Movement then acknowledged Edward Bouverie Pusey as the new leader. Unfortunately, even though the Tractarians proclaimed loyalty to the Church of England, they had great difficulty convincing the critics of their fidelity to the church.


There remained the problem within the Church of England of the dichotomy between the Catholic and Protestant parties. Other parties within the Church of England looked down upon them; with the Evangelicals suspecting them of possessing Roman Catholic tendencies. Nonetheless, over the next century, Tractarian thought and Anglo-Catholic faith would inspire the theology, worship and life of the Anglican Communion.


In Government Reforms on the Church of England, the British Government established the ‘Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ as a permanent body with substantial control over the Church of England and as mentioned in Chapter One, Parliament also took on the issue of church tithes and rates, which caused a negative reaction by the population in general and amongst Catholics in particular.


One of the responsibilities that the Church wanted to maintain was the matter of education. The protestant churches, due to their inability to raise sufficient funds, were in favour of state sponsored education. The government, as part of an overall educational reform plan, allowed the churches to make financial enquiries, but the Church would maintain administrative control.


In The Ritualists, we learned that the Early-Victorian Era (1840-1860) saw a great revival in Church life. Under Tractarian influence, Ritual was re-introduced to the Church of England. Improvements were made to church properties, both inside and outside. Church music began to receive more attention as the liturgy flowered into a perceptible form of worship.

All at the same time, Tractarian influence on the Ritualists emphasized the need to recover a faith deeply rooted in both the scriptures and the early Church Fathers. They taught the Ritualists that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is the visible divine society founded by Christ to continue his mission on earth, and again, part of the three branches of the Catholic Church.

The Tractarians related faith to conduct and action; and one of the first Ritualist to act was W.J.E Bennett, Rector of parish church of St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge. He introduced a more Anglo-Catholic liturgy that challenged the evangelicals in his parish and diocese. Under church law, such offences were a breach of the rubrics and opposition to the Ritualists was growing stronger. Other priests joined Bennett in his modifications and by 1860 the English Church Union was formed to protect the process of reform.

In Anglican Catholic Revival, Many more people joined the English Church Union and The Church Association in the continued defense of Catholic doctrine and ritual. The traditional patristic based High-Church began to grow in confidence as it continued to prod the Church of England to 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 a part of church life. Communities for men soon followed.


Anglo-Catholics found both their voice and true identity within the Church of England. This self-awareness helped re-affirm the direction that they thought the Church must go in order to be a living witness of Christ in the world. However, they would have others who would have a very different world and religious view.

In A Divergence of Ideas, the nineteenth century showed the Christian Churches as being dramatically affected by this era of individual and collective transformation within society, especially the Church of England. By mid-century, candles, crosses, altars, music and flowers were no longer the weapons of battle for Anglo-Catholics. As a matter of fact, the three major parties within the Church of England, as well as other denominations, rose to the challenge of battling ‘unbelief’.

Each denomination took a different approach to confronting ‘unbelief’. The High-Church party took the Anglo-Catholic approach of adherence to Apostolic Authority, Church Teaching and Reverential Ceremonial; while the Low-Church party took the Evangelical approach faithful adherence to the Bible, Christian Social Service and aggressive evangelization. The Broad Church party took a different approach by greeting 'Darwinism' with open arms.


Some Anglo-Catholic churches were willing to offer a more diverse style of worship in order to fight religious indifference, by demonstrating a willingness to borrow some aspects of Evangelical worship and by combining reverential ceremonial with spirited hymn singing and ad lib intercessions.

A remarkable shift in the Anglican theological thought took place during the nineteenth century. In the 1830s pessimism prevailed within all three church parties. As noted previously, things also improved between the Anglo-Catholics and Evangelical Protestants within the Church of England, as tensions were eased while each camp did their own thing for the greater glory of the God.

In Assessment of the Nineteenth Century Anglo-Catholic Movements, The Oxford Movement declared that the Church possesses God-given authority and inherent power. For them, authority of the church meant witness to the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ. Influenced by the traditional High-Church appeal to history, they considered the gospel to be the story of God’s direct intervention in human history and the church as the tangible connection between the incarnation and believers throughout history.

The Tractarians regarded the Church of England as a willing slave to an increasingly secular state and the liberal culture represented by the state. On the other hand, the Church is created by God and possesses a divinely authorized order. This idea of Anglicanism, as a form of ‘Western Orthodoxy’ is realized today through a number of Continuing Anglican churches and Western Rite Faith Communities. They hold to Orthodox Catholicism as its core ethos and proclaim their Catholic faith within the Anglican tradition. The original precepts of the Oxford Movement is held most profoundly by these Faith communities.

It is this ‘sense of faith’, which is central to Anglican Catholic belief, as it attempts to preserve the faith in times when the church’s official leaders are sometimes neglectful of their vocations. Newman described ‘sense of faith’ as a kind of instinct that lies deep within the mystical body. It is the whole Body of Christ, through its faith in action, and by the grace of God, which perpetuates the continuation of the Church; a Church which is meant to be active in the world, in spite of the opposition it might endure. The Church does not reject the world; it embraces it.


A Final Thought


Influenced by the Caroline Divines and Non-jurors, conceived by the Founders of the Oxford Movement, expressed in Tractarian thought and presented to us with Ritualist ceremonial splendour, Anglican Catholic Identity was born. It is through the development of Anglican Catholic thought and practice we become better able to understand the spirit of the ‘Ecclesia Anglicana’.

Anglican Catholics joyfully celebrate their faith through Worship. It is in this setting that they acknowledge the beauty of God’s Creation. They rejoice in the Humanity of Christ and His Sacrifice. The Church is both the ‘Body of Christ’ alive in our present the world, as well as with the Communion of Saints who exist in heaven. Anglican Catholics are inspired by The Scriptures, and they seek the knowledge and wisdom that comes from both the Bible and the Lectionary in daily worship. It is in The Sacraments of the Church that The Holy Spirit is given to all who are ready, willing and able to receive and experience Christ fully


So how do we recognize Anglican Catholicism? Anglican Catholicism is based upon the affirmation that Anglicanism is indeed a true part of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, and that Anglican Catholic identity is built on the principle of following the faith and practice of the early undivided Church. Indeed, Anglican Catholics through their faith and practice authentically become the Anglican expression of the Catholic Faith.


End of Series


This article was taken from the Master's thesis The Oxford Movement: Anglo-Catholicism and the Birth of Anglican Catholic Identity. The link for the complete thesis can be found at Library and Archives Canada: extension://elhekieabhbkpmcefcoobjddigjcaadp/https://centr al.bac-lac.gc.ca/.itemid=MR18084&op=pdf&fbclid=IwAR3jKKD9lsrWaTQXCq X6UzP3r74_R AQh3MhGkYbLi7crXkUyMK4FAUYBpKs


© Dr. Charles Warner 2005


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