The Oxford Handbook of the Oxford Movement

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Stewart J. Brown, Peter Nockles, James Pereiro
Oxford Handbooks
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , June
     608 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Oxford Handbook of the Oxford Movement is a remarkable and timely edited volume: remarkable for the breadth and depth of this survey of such an important nineteenth-century ecclesial movement; timely due to the ongoing soul-searching that continues in the present Anglican communion. With respect to the latter, it is no secret that global Anglicans have recently found it increasingly difficult to “walk together.” While issues pertaining to human sexuality are often the headline-making challenges to walking together, the real challenges contemporary Anglicans face are more fundamental ones regarding the nature and structures of authority within the communion, the interpretation of scripture, the role tradition plays in scriptural interpretation, and the relation of Anglicanism to other swathes of the Christian tradition (evangelical, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and so on). But these are some of the very same challenges the Tractarians faced and addressed in the ninettenth century. Hence, there is a trove of resources, conversation partners, and precedents to be accessed from this fertile period in the life of the Anglican experiment. The long term viability of Anglicanism depends on learning lessons from its fraught history and this volume is required reading for any wishing to appropriate Tractarian ideas for contemporary application.

This volume touches on major aspects of the Oxford Movement from its precursors in early High Church factions, its inception at Oxford, and its global impact. There is no separating the Oxford Movement from the personal narrative of John Henry Newman and he figures in nearly every essay in the volume. This is a helpful reminder that the Oxford Movement was first a personal association of like-minded friends and Oxford colleagues before it was ever a national (and later international) initiative for church reform. Sheridan Gilley’s essay, “Keble, Froude, Newman, and Pusey,” is especially helpful in this regard.

While I generally praise the anthology, in one essay of the volume, Simon Skinner writes that chroniclers of the Oxford Movement have “typically rendered Tractarianism in purely religious and theological terms...with little interest in its social or political commentary” (301). Perhaps in an effort to correct an excess of focus on religious and theological issues, this volume does much to convey the social, personal, and cultural confluences that brought about the Movement. However, it cannot be forgotten that the major impetus for the major figures’ contributions to the Movement was indeed theological. Although a section of the volume is dedicated to “The Theology of the Oxford Movement,” this section does not satisfy the desire for a specific discussion of the particular theological positions (and the liturgical expressions of them) that proved so fertile and controversial in this era.

One of the essays I found most engaging is one that adeptly navigates the conversation between doctrinal discussion and historical reporting: Michael J.G. Pahls and Kenneth L. Parker’s “Tract 90: Newman’s Last Stand or a Bold New Venture?” This essay helpfully notes the dependence of Newman’s controversial interpretation of certain of the Thirty-Nine Articles on a seventeenth-century attempt to show the possibility of a harmonious interpretation of the Articles with Tridentine Roman Catholicism by the Jesuit Francisco à Santa Clara. In addition to situating Tract 90 in its context in both Newman’s own thinking and the Movement as a whole, Pahls and Parker outline the specific doctrinal issues that purportedly placed the Articles outside the bounds of Romanism. Despite Santa Clara and Newman’s efforts to the contrary, this demarcation was solidified by the ecclesial powers of both their days.

One aspect of the Oxford Movement that I confess to forgetting about is the role that scriptural interpretation played in the Tracterians polemical and professional writing. Timothy Larsen’s “Scripture and Biblical Interpretation” reminds us that the genre of scriptural commentary was one that many of the Tracterians engaged. This is especially true of Pusey, who seemed to make it his life’s work to comment on the whole of the Old Testament in a manner that avoided (Pusey’s perceived) excesses of German higher criticism on one side and Low Church tendencies to interpret scripture without recourse to traditional exegetical strategies on the other. This essay also encouragingly notes the contribution made to the Movement by female voices such as Charlotte Yonge and Christina Rossetti.

Finally, I understand that in an edited volume pertaining to a specialized area of research, procuring a diversity of contributors can be a serious challenge. This volume unfortunately may serve to reinforce a stereotype of the typical scholar of the Oxford Movement. That out of forty-two chapters only three female voices could be found is rather lamentable. Further, whereas the scholarly conventions on a practice of this nature may be a bit murky, it seems to push a tad against academic propriety that nearly 20% of the volume was composed by the editors themselves. Despite these structural shortcomings, the essays in this remarkable and timely volume will make an important impact that ought to be felt by scholars and Anglicans worldwide.

About the Reviewer(s): 

James M. Arcadi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Adjunct Faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
January 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stewart J. Brown is professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Edinburgh. He has lectured widely in Europe, China, Australia, India, and the USA, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He served as co-editor of the Scottish Historical Review from 1993 to 1999. His publications include The Oxford Movement: Europe and the Wider World 1830-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and The National Churches of England, Ireland, and Scotland 1801-46 (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Peter B. Nockles was formerly a librarian and curator, rare books & maps, Special Collections, the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, and a one-time Visiting Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford. He is an Honorary Research Fellow, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, University of Manchester. He is the author of The Oxford Movement in Context (1994) and co-edited with Stewart J. Brown, The Oxford Movement: Europe and the Wider World 1830-1930 (2012). He was a contributor to a History of Canterbury Cathedral(1995), to volume 6 of the History of the University of Oxford (1997), to Oriel College: A History (2013), and to Receptions of Newman (ed. Frederick D. Aquino and Benjamin J. King, 2015).


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