Oxford Movement in English Literature

The Oxford Movement was officially launched on July 14, 1833, with John Keble’s Oxford Assize Sermon, which addressed spiritual indifference as well as the Church’s dwindling influence. Students at Keble, Robert Wilberforce and Issac Williams, would form the initial foundation of the Oxford Movement. John Henry Newman, the most famous member of the Oxford Movement, and Edward Bouverie Pusey, who only later joined the movement and would supersede Newman as head after Newman’s 1845 conversion to Catholicism, both lectured at Oriel College in Oxford.

All of these men recognized the Anglican Church as being in a state of crisis and vowed to use sermons and religious pamphlets to restore its power. Tracts for the Times (1833-41), a series of printed tracts, drew attention both inside and beyond Oxford, and its authors became known as Tractarians. The Oxford Movement’s leaders acquired greater influence at the University as a result of their publications, which sparked much debate within the Church.

Background of Oxford Movement:

The Oxford Movement has been seen as a response against Victorian Britain’s traditional view of religion, government participation in religious life, the growing secularism that followed the rise of economic systems, and Enlightenment-era rationalist ideas. The Oxford Movement stressed religious theory, the primacy of religion, and its application in daily life, calling for a return to early Christian ideas.


The Tractarians, as the Movement’s main figures were known, started to look more deeply at the Church of England’s role as a state church from a theological viewpoint. To a certain end, they considered the Church of England as a legitimate inheritor of the Apostolic heritage, a direct descendant of the early Christian Church, rather than a governmental department that might be meddled with and tampered with by politicians. The Tractarians didn’t only want to protect the Church against Whig changes; they sought to reform it from the inside out, changing the Church’s rituals, management, and, most crucially, spiritual life.


Their Papist leanings, shown by their commitment to Christian theology and claim to apostolic tradition, were a typical charge hurled against the Tractarians. This became a debilitating charge in a firmly anti-Catholic England. The movement’s proponents were required to reassert their devotion to Anglicanism throughout its history, an insistence that grew more vehement after Newman’s conversion to Catholicism and the younger leaders’ harsh critiques of the Anglican Church.


The Oxford Movement’s growth as an intellectual debate was documented in literature as well as religious and political publications of the time. Not only were the movement’s early members articulate and impassioned writers – Newman in particular – but the beliefs created by the movement influenced novelists and poets such as Matthew Arnold, Anthony Trollope, and Chrarles Kingley.

The Oxford Movement was criticized for being just “Romanizing,” yet it began to affect Anglicanism’s theology and practice in general. Surprisingly, the Oxford Movement was chastised for being both secretive and conspiratorial.

Men’s and women’s Anglican religious orders were founded as a result of the Oxford Movement. It introduced concepts and practices relating to liturgy and ceremonial into the church in order to create more potent emotional symbolism. It introduced the Liturgical Movement’s views into the life of the church in particular. The Eucharist eventually grew more central to worship, vestments became more popular, and many Roman Catholic customs were reintroduced into liturgy as a result of its broad impact. As a result, disagreements within churches erupted, leading to court cases, such as the debate over ritualism.

Many Tractarian priests began laboring in slums as a result of bishops’ refusal to offer them livings. They created a criticism of British social policy, both local and national, from their new ministries. One of the outcomes was the formation of the Christian Social Union, which included a number of bishops and discussed topics such as the just wage, the property rental system, child mortality, and working conditions. The Catholic Crusade, which was more extreme than the Oxford Movement, was a considerably smaller organization. Anglo-Catholicism, as this collection of ideas, methods, and organizations came to be known, influenced worldwide Anglicanism significantly.


Newman’s religious beliefs and purity of language inspired not just his many sermons, letters, and articles, but also his two novels, Loss and Gain (1848) and Callista (1848). Both works recounted religious crises that were inspired by Newman’s personal experiences, and provided fiercely Catholic and sometimes austere remedies. In the end, Tractarianism was effective in combating the collapse of Church authority and the uncritical development of secularism in the United Kingdom.

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