Review: George Herring, The Oxford Movement in Practice: The Tractarian Parochial World from the 1830s to the 1870s (Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xii + 368. $120).

Review by Brandt Montgomery

George Herring argues that what many see as a clear connection between the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholicism is not real. Theologically, the two movements share high views of Apostolic Succession and the Church as a divine institution. And both movements caused controversy between their respective adherents and opponents. Despite these similarities, many differences emerged.

Herring rejects Nigel Yates’s assertion that the link between the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism was apparent in the 1830s and 1840s (see Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain 1830-1910 [OUP, 1999]). Herring states that “in the years before Newman’s conversion in 1845, and in the fifteen years or so after it, there is … evidence that the vast majority of Oxford Movement adherents … were deeply suspicious of, and sought actively to contain, those dangerous advances in ceremonial” (Oxford Movement in Practice, p. 91). He cites, for instance, an 1841 letter in which John Henry Newman cautions a young correspondent that he was bound to obey his bishop more than he was bound to wear a cope in service. Herring also cites Edward Bouverie Pusey’s correspondence with some young English clergymen whereby he makes clear his view that radical ceremonial advances would jeopardize the Oxford Movement’s progress.


The loose connection we do find comes from the difference between the Oxford Movement’s theoretically and practically inclined factions. Theoretically inclined clergy held to the principle of “Reserve and Economy.” Herring cites Pusey’s words to summarize this principle: “We must first win the hearts of the people, and then the fruits of reverence will show themselves. … If we win their hearts, all the rest will follow” (Ibid., p. 92). They believed reason was the best method for sparking renewal within the Church. Their emphasis on the sacraments as the primary means of God’s grace and the importance of the Apostolic Succession made their arguments for Anglicanism’s continued existence attractive to many.

Though Herring’s volume focuses on events in England, reading it challenged my perception of Anglo-Catholicism’s beginnings, leading me to realize that its evolution in America too was not as smooth or welcome as many may think. E. Clowes Chorley says that the Oxford Movement began in America through the publication of Newman’s “Tract 90” in 1841 (Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church [Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1946], p. 195). The previous Tracts for the Times did not cause as much stir among Episcopalians in that many of their ideals were already familiar to the High Church party, largely because of the work of Bishop John Henry Hobart in a prior generation. His theology is succinctly summarized as “Evangelical Truth, Apostolic Order.” Hobart described High Church adherents as

Those who insist on the ministrations and ordinances of the Church, as constituted by Christ and His apostles, because they are the means and pledges to the faithful of that salvation which is derived through the merits, and intercession, and sanctifying grace of a divine Redeemer; and who love and adhere to the Liturgy as embodying and powerfully exhibiting evangelical truth and duty in the purest and most fervent language of devotion. (The High Churchmen Vindicated: In a Fourth Charge to the Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York, At the Opening of the Convention of the Said Church, in Trinity Church, in the City of New York, on Thursday, October 17, 1826 [T. and J. Swords, 1826])

While early post-Revolution Christian clergy were encouraged to put pastoral duties far ahead of intellectual pursuits, Hobart successfully integrated a High Church theology, piety, and social perspective into antebellum America that inspired many to have deep Christian faith and provide sincere care for the poor (Joseph P. Duggan, “America’s Forgotten Newman?” The American Spectator [Sep. 27, 2010]).

Practically inclined clergy, on the other hand, asked What good would the Movement be? if their theology could not be implemented through action. American figures such as James DeKoven, Thomas McKee Brown, Ferdinand Ewer, and Arthur Ritchie believed they stood on the shoulders of John Keble, Edward Bouverie Pusey, John Henry Hobart, and Jackson Kemper and endeavored to take High Church theology to a new and practical level. These Anglo-Catholics tried to show through liturgy how the Church is united to Christ as his body in the sharing of his most precious body and blood.

Concerns were expressed by American High Church leaders regarding what Anglo-Catholicism was perceived as communicating. Greenough White wrote in about High Church missionary bishop Jackson Kemper’s concerns that Anglo-Catholicism’s liturgical innovations might excite “apprehension and a reactionary sentiment akin to indignation among conservative bishops of the catholic school.” White also wrote of how Kemper “adjured his diocese to adhere to the ritual of the fathers of the American Church: White, Seabury, Hobart, Ravenscroft, Brownell, and Otey, not to depart from what delighted them, not to add to, alter, or omit any of the prescribed order of worship” (Greenough White, An Apostle of the Western Church: Memoir of the Right Reverend Jackson Kemper, Doctor of Divinity, First Missionary Bishop of the American Church, With Notices of Some of His Contemporaries [Thomas Whittaker, 1900], p. 221).

Replying to a group of concerned Episcopalians regarding Anglo-Catholicism in 1866, Presiding Bishop John Henry Hopkins said that just as there were two classes of thought in the Church’s very beginning — the Jews who kept the ceremonial law, and the Gentiles who were free, but borrowed from the law the parts deemed best adaptable to edification — there appeared to be different classes of thought within their branch of Christ’s Church, separated by their distinctive feelings. Although the Episcopal Church found itself divided into factions of High Church and Low Church, the Church had room for both factions and embraced all its members (John Henry Hopkins, The Law of Ritualism: Examined in Its Relation to the Word of God to the Primitive Church, the Church of England, and to The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States [Hurd and Houghton, 1866], pp. 86, 90).

As The Living Church noted in an editorial on the Oxford Movement’s sesquicentennial anniversary, no longer do Anglo-Catholic celebrations cause the scandals they once did. Anglo-Catholics today have a clearer sense of identity as Anglican Christians — greater courage, confidence, self-respect regarding their theological heritage, and, most important, the support of the larger Church. We live in completely different times compared to the opposition and difficulty of those experienced by the early Oxford Movement followers (“The New York Celebration,” The Living Church [Nov. 20, 1983], p. 11).

The Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism’s common goal was for Anglicanism to return to the ways of the ancient and undivided Church in matters of Christian doctrine and devotion. They claimed Anglicanism’s possession of a valid Apostolic Succession of bishops, taught that baptism and the Eucharist were the primary means of God’s grace, and held up Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Despite what they had in common, those of the old High Church party and in the early Oxford Movement resisted Anglo-Catholic liturgical innovations, insisting that the prayer book rubrics be followed.

Herring’s Oxford Movement in Practice is an important contribution to the field of Anglican Church history, for he proves how Anglo-Catholicism was a diversion from the Oxford Movement’s original intentions and course. Aside from the price (which, in my opinion, borders on highway robbery), it is a book well worth reading. Herring’s work provides an important historical corrective to the long-held view of the connection of Anglo-Catholicism with the Oxford Movement.

Though its connection was unintentional, Anglo-Catholics still can claim themselves to be the Oxford Movement’s heirs, because the first did provide the theological foundation for the second. From this foundation the Anglo-Catholic tradition emerged, taking what had been passed down and put it into ceremonial practice. It was a grassroots movement, seeking to make change from the ground up. Though Herring proves Anglo-Catholicism’s connection to the Oxford Movement was not intentional, the fact remains of a connection, it being loose at best.

And from this connection Anglo-Catholics take up the mission of their Oxford Movement forebears.

Preach Jesus, the true sacrifice for sin, offered by Himself, not any miserable substitute offered by men. … Preach Jesus the true Priest forever, the high Priest in Heaven, not the Clergy or Bishops, weak worms of the earth. “We preach not ourselves,” saith the Apostle, “but Christ Jesus the Lord.” Preach Jesus, “the Minister of the Sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man.” (John Gregg, “Preach Jesus,” Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness [OUP, 2001], pp. 393-94).


About The Author

The Rev. Brandt Montgomery is the Chaplain of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, having previously served at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana as Chaplain of Ascension Episcopal School from 2014-2017, then as Associate Rector and All-School Chaplain from 2017-2019.

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Marc Meinzer
4 years ago

High church Protestantism is not Catholic. Early Anglicans were even more iconoclastic than Lutherans. Also, Anglican monks seem to always get it wrong, hence the derision and abuse heaped upon them by both RC and Eastern Orthodox monks who view them as effete and suffering from preciousness virtually without exception. Rather than applying themselves to apostolic enterprises such as educational institutions they wallow in narcissistic self regard and near indolence. Episcopalian convents and monasteries that cannot gain traction in their current milieu should consider realigning with the Orthodox Church in America.