An article about the Oxford Movement’s legacy

I personally think Anglicanorum coetibus and the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans in the Catholic Church is a legacy of the Oxford Movement.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by Duane W.H. Arnold over at Virtueonline that I find most interesting:

After many, including most notably, John Henry Newman, made their way to the “safe harbor” of the Roman Catholic Church, it seemed that the movement was dead.

Three factors, however, ensured its continuing vitality. These three factors, I believe, are still worthy of imitation in our own time and circumstances.

Firstly, the intellectual foundation established by the early leaders in their scholarly and literary activities, notably the Library of the Fathers, made a major contribution to the study of Church History and spirituality. Many of the Church Fathers had never even been available in translation. The study of the Fathers, once a key element in Reformation theology, had largely been abandoned by Protestants. Among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the Fathers were the domain of the few, not the many. Now, the situation changed. Critical texts, once nowhere to be found, were prepared. The new movement honored learning and scholarship and provided opportunities for the same all the way from the smallest local parish to the oldest universities in the land.

Secondly, their emphasis upon a renewal of the Church’s liturgical life made worship central and re-established the Holy Eucharist as normative Christian worship – a consequence of their reading of the early Fathers – something that has influenced the renewal of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life to this day. Liturgical texts were revised, hymns were written, ancient prayers were translated, and people were instructed as to the meaning of what was said and done in church. Moreover, liturgy – literally “the work of the people” – allowed for the active participation of the laity in worship.

Thirdly, the Oxford Movement went beyond the academic and upper class environment in which it had been born. In practical terms, this was a result of sympathetic clergy being given the worst possible parish assignments by their church superiors, usually in the slums of city centers, which it was thought would kill the movement. It had the opposite effect as clergy made the Incarnation, the love of worship, and social concern central to their lives, and filled their churches with those who lived on the fringes of society. The beauty of Jesus in worship was a light in the darkest industrial centers of America and England as almost abandoned churches were painted, restored, renewed and filled with those who had never before entered a place of worship.

Hmmm, I wonder how much the Oxford Movement might have played in the Ressourcement Movement of many Second Vatican Council theologians—to go back to the Church Fathers, the sources, and so on.


6 thoughts on “An article about the Oxford Movement’s legacy

  1. The fact that the Ressourcement movement is known by a French name reminds us that its leadership was not anglophone. It is hard to believe that French and German scholars of the mid-twentieth century had much knowledge of or interest in nineteenth century Anglicanism.


    • Whether there was a significant awareness, in mid-20th-century France and Germany, of the Oxford Movement and its influence in England (and perhaps in America) is indeed an interesting question. A couple of snippets of information (for which, alas, I cannot provide documentation) suggest there was an awareness in Germany. The first bit of information is that it has been claimed that the young Joseph Ratzinger (1930s-1940s?) read and deeply appreciated J. H. Newman. Since even a casual reader of Newman has to be aware of Newman’s Oxford-Movement background, and since the young Ratzinger was apparently much more than a casual reader, this suggests he was at least one German scholar who was knowledgeable about 19th-c Anglicanism. The other bit of information suggests knowledge about Newman (and thus the Oxford Movement) was even more widespread in Germany than among brilliant young theologians. It is claimed that Sophie Scholl & other members of the White Rose read Newman. I’ve also read that she and her brother wanted to convert to Catholicism while in prison, in part because of Newman’s writings, but were dissuaded from doing so since their parents already had the impending executions of their children to deal with.


      • I am not sure about the conversion part; the Scholls were tried four days after their arrent and executed a few hours after the trial, but perhaps someone has more information. I do know that the Newman work read by Sophie Scholl was two volumes of his sermons, written during his time as an Anglican, and pastoral rather than scholarly.


    • One of the “war stories” of the Second Vatican Council was that the German periti (theological advisors) in particular had access to a series of bound volumes containing translations of the church fathers into German, which they had been studying profusely, whereas the officials of the Roman Curia knew only the short quotations that previous generations had included in their theological manuals. When a curial official would quote one or another of the church fathers, the peritus would respond with a much more extensive quotation that shaded the meaning considerably. Here’s an example.

      >> Curial official: “Augustine said that Christ is present in the host because he is present in the priest.”

      >> Peritus: “Well, actually, he really said that Christ is present in the host because he is present in the priest, but that he is present in the priest because he is present in the people.”



  2. Here is someone who would seem to agree with you, Deborah:

    I don’t think the Oxford Movement is mentioned as such but Newman certainly is, and best of all Benedict XVI was still Pope when this short video was made.


  3. Pingback: On being well-informed – When I Consider How My Light is Spent

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