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The Oxford Movement. A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their Times.

The Oxford Movement. A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their Times. By C. Brad Faught. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. xii + 184 pp. $29.95 cloth.

Mr. Brad Faught, a Toronto-based historian and journalist, having conceived that the amount of modern work on the Oxford Movement now calls for a synthesis in a brief compass, and having read much of that work, has combined his two professions to produce a smoothly written and generally reliable short history agreeably turned out for the public by the Penn State Press. He begins conventionally by accepting the dates, 1833-45, established for the movement in the famous little book by R. W. Church (1891), but escapes many of the constrictions which that decision imposed by presenting his material in five thematic essays on Politics, Religion and Theology, Friendship, Society, and Missions, which give adequate chronological orientation to readers new to the field while enabling him to range far and wide beyond Church's terminal date in suggesting what the more distant effects of his movement were. It is this part of the book that is likely to interest professional historians most, and to provoke most disagreement. For the Tractarian movement, narrowly considered, had already terminated in 1841; Newman's secession to Rome in 1845 brought an end to the band of brothers who had launched the movement and cost it its best mind; and the after-history of the seceders in the Roman Catholic communion was not considered by Church and the Anglican apologists in whose succession Mr. Faught places himself as part of the after-history of the movement. Indeed, it could hardly serve as a "myth" to underpin Anglo-Catholicism.

Thus Mr. Faught has to pay a considerable price for his apologetic stance before he has even begun. Newman indeed professed to keep the date of Keble's Assize Sermon as the beginning of the movement, but a convenient date in Newman's prayer calendar did not imply that was the date when the alliance that launched the movement actually began. A political combination that took shape in the struggle to eject Peel from the university seat in Parliament had already honed its fighting skills in the support of every bad cause and the defense of everything indefensible in resistance to university reform. Hurrell Froude's crass racism during his stay in the West Indies (which quite properly scandalizes Mr. Faught) was unfortunately characteristic of the mental blinkers that afflicted the Tractarians as dons. It was not for nothing that they alienated all reasonable men on this front, and it is quite extraordinary that Newman's prose and his invincible persecution complex have for so long perpetuated a legend that is the opposite of the truth, hoodwinking even Mr. Faught. The golden glow of the Anglo-Catholic myth also exacts its price from the author's discussion of the Tractarians' theology. To him they were the prophetic souls who penetrated to the true foundations of the English church in Christian antiquity; their critics were all enthusiasts, Erastians, or fools. By accepting this view of the matter, Mr. Faught is debarred from saying two important things. The first is that the notion that antiquity spoke with one voice in a sense that the Bible did not prove to be quite as untrue as the Biblicism of the most simplistic Protestants. The second, which the author might have inferred from his application to Peter Nockles, is that while no ginger group could be expected to take its gospel from the religion of the average Englishman, the Tractarians like the old High Church party before them were an important part of the process in which the Church of England turned its back on ordinary English religion, and this, whether the C of E is regarded as a church or as an establishment, was a serious business. Anathematizing all and sundry was no way to replace an old religious appeal by a new one.

It is much the same with Mr. Faught's account of the Tractarian veneration of bishops, the "priority of the church" in overseas mission, and all the rest. Quite apart from the fact that the Tractarian attitude to the bishops in possession was very different from their theoretical veneration of the episcopal office, a transatlantic writer must be aware that independence in America created an episcopal church without any bishops and with no regular means of obtaining any. Apostolic succession was not created to deal with emergencies of this kind.

These criticisms are intended not to rubbish a book that is pleasant to read and contains some good scholarship, but to "place" it. It is not so much a "thematic history of the Tractarians and their times" in the critical sense of the word "history." It is an agreeable revisitation of the Anglo-Catholic "myth" of their Tractarian origins.

W. R. Ward

Petersfield, England
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Author:Ward, W.R.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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