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The Oxford Movement or Tractarianism was an affiliation of High Church Anglicans, most of whom were members of the University of Oxfordmarker, who sought to demonstrate that the Church of England was a direct descendant of the Church established by the Apostles. It was also known as the Tractarian Movement after its series of publications Tracts for the Times (1833–1841); the Tractarians were also called Newmanites' and after 1845, Puseyites (both usually disparagingly) after the two prominent Tractarians, Edward Bouverie Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxfordmarker and John Henry Newman, a fellow of Oriel College, Oxfordmarker and vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Other prominent Tractarians included: John Keble; Richard Hurrell Froude; Robert Wilberforce; Isaac Williams; Charles Marriott; Sir William Palmer; and the lawyers James Hope-Scott, Edward Bellasis; and Edward Lowth Badeley.

Early movement

The immediate impetus for the movement was the secularization of the church, focused particularly on the decision by the government to reduce by ten the number of Irish bishops in the Church of Ireland following the 1832 Reform Act. Keble attacked these proposals as 'national apostasy' in his Assize Sermon in Oxford in 1833. The movement's leaders attacked liberalism in theology. Their interest in Christian origins led them to reconsider the relationship of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church.

The movement postulated the Branch Theory, which states that Anglicanism along with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism form three "branches" of the one "Catholic Church". Men in the movement argued for the inclusion of traditional aspects of liturgy from medieval religious practice, as they believed the church had become too plain. In the ninetieth and final Tract, Newman argued that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Council of Trent, were compatible with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the sixteenth-century Church of England. Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, followed by Manning in 1851, had a profound effect upon the movement.


As well as the Tracts for the Times, the group produced other publications.

They began a collection of translations of the Fathers, which they called the Library of the Fathers and which ran in the end to 48 volumes, the last published three years after Pusey's death. These were issued through Rivington's, under the imprint of the Holyrood Press. The main editor for many of these was Charles Marriott. A number of volumes of original Greek and Latin texts were also published.


The Oxford Movement was attacked for being a mere Romanising tendency, but it began to have an influence on the theory and practice of Anglicanism. It resulted in the establishment of Anglican religious orders, both of men and women. It incorporated ideas and practices related to the practice of liturgy and ceremony in a move to bring more powerful emotional symbolism and energy to the church. In particular it brought the insights of the Liturgical Movement into the life of the Church.
Its effects were so widespread that the Eucharist gradually became more central to worship, vestments became common, and numerous Catholic practices were re-introduced into worship. This led to controversies within churches that ended up in court.

Partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests, many of them ended up working in the slums. From their new ministries, they developed a critique of British social policy, both local and national. The establishment of the Christian Social Union, which debated issues such as the just wage, the system of property renting, infant mortality and industrial conditions, and to which a number of bishops were members, was one of the results. The more radical Catholic Crusade was much smaller. Anglo-Catholicism, as this complex of ideas, styles and organizations became known, had a massive influence on global Anglicanism. Its influence has continued.

Paradoxically, the Oxford Movement was attacked both for being secretive and broadly collusive. This position is well documented in Walsh's The Secret History of the Oxford Movement.

Converts to Roman Catholicism

The principal writer and proponent of the Tractarian Movement was John Henry Newman, who, after writing his final tract, Tract 90, became convinced that the Branch Theory was inadequate. John Henry Newman converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He was one of a number of converts to Roman Catholicism during the 1840s who were either members of or were influenced by the Tractarian Movement. Opponents of the Oxford Movement took the conversions as proof that the movement had sought to "romanize" the church.

Other major figures influenced by the movement who became Roman Catholics included:

Individuals Associated With Tractarianism

See also


  • Canon H. Liddon, Life of E.B.Pusey, 4 vols. London (1893). The standard history of the Oxford Movement, which quotes extensively from their correspondence, and the source for much written subsequently. The Library of the Fathers is discussed in vol. 1 pp. 420–440. Available on
  • Dean Burgon, Lives of Twelve Good Men. Includes biography of Charles Marriott.
  • Faught, C. Brad (2003). The Oxford Movement: A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their Times, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, ISBN 978-02-71022-499
  • Richard W. Pfaff, "The library of the fathers: the tractarians as patristic translators", Studies in Philology 70 (1973), p.333ff.
  • Leech, Kenneth and Williams, Rowan (eds) (1983) Essays Catholic and Radical: a jubilee group symposium for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Oxford Movement 1833-1983, London : Bowerdean, ISBN 0-906097-10-X
  • Norman, Edward R. (1976) Church and Society in England 1770–1970: a historical study, Oxford : Clarendon Press, ISBN 0-19-826435-6.

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