Updated July 3, 2022
The Oxford movement in English literature started during the Victorian Era. It was the movement of High Church members who wanted to reinstate some older Christian traditions. Indeed, it was fundamentally religious in nature.
As the movement resorted to extensive use of literature, the works reflect religious dimensions. And, probably because of this interconnectedness the movement assumes nomenclature of ‘Oxford movement in English literature’
Objectives of The Oxford Movement
Broad objectives of the Oxford Movement was to establish the church and faith beyond questioning. And, protagonist often resorted to use of literature in achieving the end. Objective components of the movement were as below:
Against the Liberalism
They wanted to re-establish the dignity of Church and to free it from the grip of secular authority. Other issue involved with the Oxford movement was the growing strength of Liberalism and rationalism in religion and politics.
The members of the movement came forward to fight tooth and nail against all such Liberalism as appeared in the Church as latitudinarianism. Though this movement had nothing to do with politics, it favoured conservatism or Toryish in religious matters.
Against the Rationalism
The movement opposed the sense of rationalism in matters related to Church. The members of this movement focused on faith as something super rational. Further, the sense of anti-rationalism of the Oxford Movement reflected itself in the affirmation of the miracles associated with the history of ancient church.
The Victorian Era was though, an age of progress in science and scientific attitude. Hence, the people hardly believed in the numerous scriptural miracles. The Oxford men countered this tendency by adding new but forgotten miracles which had never been seriously believed except by the Orthodox Roman Catholics.
Again, this feeling of anti-Rationalism was closely associated with cultivating the Romantic ideals. In fact, the romantics and the Oxford men were interested in the middle ages for their mystery and splendour.
Opposition to the Control of the Church by State
Another important feature of the Oxford Movement was their opposition to the control of the Church by state. This was called anti- Erastianism. Their objective was to convince the people that the Church was more than a merely human institution. They affirmed that it had Privileges, sacraments, Ministry ordained by Christ. Thus, the protagonists of the Movement were anti-Erastianism too.
The members of the Oxford movement worked with the aims and objectives stated here. But they were not a united lot. It is said that the soul of the movement was Cardinal Newman but the credit of starting the movement goes to John Keble.
Keble’s speech at Oxford on national apostasy, and against the Erastian and Latitudinarian tendencies of the day formally inaugurated the movement. His books of sacred poems titled “The Christian Year” is an important contribution.
At later stage, some other publications of the tracts came from Newman, Froude, Pusey and many more. And, main aim of these tracts was to create favourable opinion about the privilege of the Church and against Popery and dissent.
Major Protagonists of the Oxford Movement
A close examination of the protagonists of the Oxford Movement is bound to show its immense contribution to religion as well as the literature on the time.
John Kebble (1792-1866): Tone Setter of Oxford Movement
He was a professor of Poetry at Oxford and an Anglican teacher has the credit of starting the Oxford Movement with his famous sermon of 1833. Although, he was not a highly intellectual figure, but it was he who gave the movement a true emotional atmosphere. From the literary point of view, he showed no merits but some of his poems are enjoyed for their sincerity and emotion.
John Henry Newman (1801-1890): Major Face of Oxford Movement
John Henry Newman was a significant contributor to the Oxford Movement. He is distinguished both as a man and as a writer. Newman’s best work “Apologia pro Vita Sua” (1864) was writer in self-defence. Here he is replying to Charles Kingsley’s charge of dishonesty against himself as well as the new Church.
Apologia pro Vita Sua is very significant in the sense that Newman has poured his heart and soul in it. His other works of significance are “Essay of the Development of Christian Doctrine” and the “The Idea of a University Defined”. He also wrote two religious novels “Loss and Gain” and ‘Callista”. His famous prayer poem “Lead Kindly Light” is also very popular poem.
Hurrel Froude is another important named of the Oxford Movement. He is chiefly known for his posthumous “Remains”. He, however, was a hot- headed person who offended many during his time.
Edward Bouverie Pusey: Name Lender to Oxfordian
Pusey was a learned man. In fact, it was after his name that the Protagonists of the Oxford Movement were “Puseyites”. Some experts however, suggest he was inferior to Newman. And that, he was a hopeless literary figure of the time.
William George Ward
William George Ward is known for his best work “The Idea of the Christian Church”. His essay on “The Philosophy for Theism” is also famous. Richard William Church is another important name of the Movement. He is famous for his clear and Vigorous prose style. He wrote a quite objective history of the Movement.
To sum up, the Oxford Movement made the Church of England aware of the attacks of Liberalism and Eratianism. This movement was more than a passing phase in the literary and the religious fields of the Victorian Era.
Beyond Oxford Movement of English Under Literature Reads
- Victorian Prose aka The Prose of the Queen Victoria Reign
- The Victorian Poetry or Tennyson Age Poetry & Characteristics
- Literature of Victorian Era Reflecting Societal Conditions of Age
- A Primer on Victorian Novelists & Novels of the 19th/20th Century
- The Truly Prolific Poet of The Victorian Era: Lord Alfred Tennyson
- Summary & Analysis of the Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold