As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, just as the Oxford Movement gained what many authorities consider its greatest triumph — neutralizing the “Broad Church” (“Latitudinarian”) clergyman and Oxford professor Renn Hampden — it also set in motion a reaction that would within a few years undermine the Movement and bring it to a screeching halt, at least as far as its original purpose of reviving the Church of England was concerned.
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And the reaction against the Movement was intense. To take a typical example, remembered today only because its author was Matthew Arnold, an article in the April 1836 Edinburgh Review was titled, “Dr. Hampden and the Oxford Malignants.” Other attacks were not quite as subtle.
At the heart of the reaction was something that early nineteenth century ordinary members of the Church of England feared even more than the “new things” that were flooding into the Anglican communion under various labels. These labels included Latitudinarianism, Broad Church, the New Christianity, Neo-Catholicism, Liberalism, etc., and later, Christian Socialism, Muscular Christianity, Democratic Socialism, Social Justice, etc.
Ironically, what the ordinary member of the Church of England feared more than anything else was the “Roman” Catholic Church with the pope at its head . . . which was the most organized and effective force against the “new things.” It comes as no real surprise, then, that the most effective effort in the Church of England to deal with the new things, the Oxford Movement, came under fire from those promoting the new things as “Romish” and an attack on the Anglican church!
Of course, the leaders of the Oxford Movement, i.e., John Henry Newman, John Keble, and Edward Pusey denied that they were Romanizing. They were (in their opinion) working to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots, but not link it in any way to corrupt Roman Catholicism. As the theory went, Roman Catholicism was very well in its own way in those countries where that tradition had grown up, but was an alien imposition in England, which adhered — in theory — to a pre-Tridentine Catholicism abandoned by the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Trent.
Unfortunately, what gave a great deal of leverage to the Broad Church opponents of the Oxford Movement and made matters much easier than otherwise for Hampden’s supporters was the fact that a number of people had joined the Movement, evidently under the impression that the intent was to return the Church of England to the fold shepherded by the Bishop of Rome. AsS.L. Ollard noted in his book,
A new school had arisen — men who had not the love and zeal for the English Church which had marked the first disciples. This party, to use Mr. Newman’s own description, “cut into the original Movement at an angle, fell across its line of thought, and then set about turning that line in its own direction.” These fresh recruits were able and brilliant to a man, but they certainly lacked the same temper of discipline, sobriety and self-distrust, which marked the earlier disciples. To come to names, they included Mr. W.G. Ward, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol, originally a follower of Dr. Arnold; Mr. F.W. Faber, Fellow of University, a poet and author of many well-known hymns; Mr. F. Oakeley, Fellow of Balliol, Prebendary of Lichfield and incumbent of the Margaret Street Chapel; Mr. J.B. Morris, Fellow of Exeter, an eccentric scholar, but profoundly learned in Oriental languages; and Mr. J.D. Dalgairns, also of Exeter College. They were mostly “keenly religious men,” Mr. Newman says, but the witness of Dean Church who knew them well is no less true: “The direction of these men was unquestionably Romewards, almost from the beginning of their connection with the Movement, . . . “Rome. . . . so far as they understood it, had attractions for them which nothing else had.” But Mr. Newman held them back. In the long run they were to help ruin the Movement in Oxford. This party stood in sharp contrast to the original men of the Movement. (S.L. Ollard, A Short History of the Oxford Movement, op. cit., 64.)
As might be expected in an established church, the leaders were alarmed at the direction matters were taking. As long as the Movement involved doctrine to which few ordinary Anglicans paid any attention, or ritual practices that could be safely confined to the few locations where they could be practiced, the Movement could safely be ignored, marginalized and ignored, or treated with indulgence and ignored.
The moment the Movement interfered with “real life” (as some people think of politics), however, its fate was sealed.