The Oxford Movement


Christ our Future 

In 1833 the Church of England was startled by the Oxford Movement.  The spark which ignited this powerful religious reawakening was the proposal of the Whig government to suppress half the Anglican bishoprics in and to re-dispose their incomes, without first consulting the Church.  A group of clerical dons at Oxford, of whom John Keble, John Henry Newman, Richard Hurrell Froude and Edward Bouverie Pusey are the most well-known, took grave exception to the Whigs’ proposals.  They believed that the Church is a divinely-founded society, with Jesus Christ at its head, and that its reform was nothing to do with a secular Parliament.  Their campaign of opposition was inaugurated with an assize sermon preached by Keble in the university church of St Mary in Oxford on 14 July 1833, in which he called Whig government’s planned legislation ‘National Apostasy.’  The Oxford dons next wrote a series of Tracts for the Times, examining aspects of the theological crisis created by the government’s action, which they had delivered to every parsonage.

The Church of England, they taught, has passed through the Reformation, but it is not simply of the Reformation.  It is not a Protestant Church (the word Protestant never appears in the Prayer Book, nor in any Anglican formularies), but it is a reformed catholic Church, a subtle but significant difference.  The Church of England is the historic catholic and apostolic Church of this land.  It is part of the wider Church of Christ – a claim made on the title page of the 1662 Prayer Book – cleansed of medieval abuses and unscriptural accretions in the sixteenth century, but in all other respects in continuity with what went before.  They pointed out that the Church of England has retained the historic three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon; her bishops are part of the Apostolic Succession; her priests by their episcopal ordination are identifiable with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox priests, and exercise the same priesthood; through them, her faithful are assured of a valid sacramental ministry.

The leaders of the Oxford Movement were highly intellectual and very serious men.  They believed the Church of England to be under threat, and they sought to raise the whole tone of her life and witness.  For them, what mattered above all else was personal and corporate holiness; and, because holiness may only grow upon a foundation of truth, they were especially concerned with doctrinal purity and theological orthodoxy.

The Oxford Movement teaches us that all truth ultimately comes from God: Jesus Christ himself said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Christian truth does not depend for its validity upon the opinions of individual Christians at any one time. Something is true simply because God makes it true and reveals it to us, and for no other reason.  If all Christians decided to reject some aspect of Christianity, this aspect would not thereby become untrue because of their rejection of it.  Nor, if all Christians decided to believe in something new or decided to amend some old aspect of Christianity, would it therefore suddenly become true because of their new belief.  God does not – indeed, He cannot – contradict Himself.  Christian doctrine and moral teaching that were true in 33 A.D. and 1833 A.D., remain true in 2008 A.D.  They cannot have become false by by reason of their contradicting current values and ideas, and because some people find them difficult.

The Oxford Movement did not go unchallenged, but it proved to be the most important religious reawakening in during the nineteenth century.  The renaissance of spirituality, theology, scholarship, liturgy, music, art, architecture, and the revival of religious orders and communities (monks and nuns), which the Oxford Movement began in the Church of England goes under the name of the Catholic Revival. To this day in the early twenty-first century, there is not a parish church in the Anglican Communion that has not been affected by it in some way or other.

All Saints’ part in the Oxford movement

The second incumbent to the Parish on Windmill Hill, the Rev. T. Jones, was the great formative influence in the life of the Wickham Terrace Church.  Staunch to his principles despite the appellations of "Puseyite" and."Romish” priest in disguise," he ever preached the Faith in its fulness and it is he whom we have to thank that our parish, and the whole diocese, has ever been true to Catholic principles.  On the formation of the diocese, he came to Brisbane with Bishop Tufnell, was the -first priest to be ordained here, and spent fifty-eight years labouring in the Diocese.  Fearlessly and firmly he upheld his views, making many opponents but no enemies, every where he was respected and loved, and the whole body of the clergy looked to him for guidance following his death The "Cathedral Notes" stated: " Queensland has largely escaped the disunion so hampering to the work and witness of the Church and for her escape she has mainly to thank the pioneer labours of Canon Jones.  He early fell under suspicion as a 'Puseyite' and was bitterly opposed through the early years of his ministry but he was one of those whom opposition stimulates rather than discourages and he contended manfully for the Faith, the whole Faith and nothing but the Faith.  He was in many ways a typical son of the Oxford movement, he was no ritualist, he appreciated the dignity of ceremonial and beauty in all the accessories of worship but these things were always secondary.  What was primary was his firm grip on all the great fundamental verities of the Faith, the Incarnation, the Atonement the real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.  For these things he fought and fought hard, making many opponents but no enemies.  He fought until the battle was won and the results of his labours are to be seen to-day in the Church of Queensland which is wide enough to contain every shade of opinion which can legitimately be held by members of the Church of England.  The Parish of Brisbane, All Saints’ Wichkam Terrace today stands for those same principles.

The University Church of Saint Mary-The-Virgin, OXFORD, dates from the 10th century.  There, in 1555, Bishops Latimer, Ridley and Archbishop Cranmer were tried for heresy and condemned to burning at the stake.\

Thereafter St Mary's also was used until the 17th Century for the University's rowdy graduation ceremonies.

That "The notion that 'sacrifice is made equally to God and Apollo', in the same place where homage was due to God and God alone" was repugnant to Archbishop Laud of Canterbury, who in the 1630's initiated the erecting of the Sheldonian for academic ceremonies.

During his time in Oxford, John Wesley both attended and later preached in St Mary's.

University Chaplain, John Keble preached the Assize Sermon of 14 July, 1833, (this sermon marks the opening of a term of the civil and criminal courts, and is officially addressed to the judges and officers of the court, exhorting them to deal justly ).  The sermon lifted "National Apostasy", denounced the Nation for turning away from God, and for regarding the Church as a mere institution of society, rather than as the phophetic and authoritative voice of God, commissioned to warn and instruct the people.
Thus the Oxford Movement was launched.