Edward Pusey and the Oxford Movement


by Jonathan Warren

Reading Edward Pusey


Edward Pusey
Edward Pusey

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was simultaneously one of the most erudite and most polarizing figures in the Church of England in the nineteenth century. Along with John Henry Newman, Pusey was one of the most important leaders of the Oxford Movement, [1] a catholicizing reform movement in the Church of England committed to baptismal regeneration, Christ’s real “objective” (though not corporeal) presence in the Eucharist, auricular confession, robust ascetical theology, Gothic ecclesiastical architecture, and the reform of liturgy and ceremonial according to medieval and ancient precedents. The movement would go on to have immense international influence, and not only in the Anglican communion (See Brown and Nockles). After Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, Pusey was the leader of the Oxford Movement, later termed “Anglo-Catholicism,” until his death in 1882, to the extent that the English press often referred to the movement as “Puseyism.”

Early Pusey disciples like Henry Liddon and Maria Trench thought Pusey could do no wrong. Liddon wrote a four volume hagiographic biography of Pusey, taking the trouble to trace Pusey’s genealogy back a thousand years (subsequent editors pared the genealogical chapter back just a bit!) (MacNab, 33). In his biography, George Prestige summed up the Anglo-Catholic feeling that “in one word, [Pusey] was a saint” (McCormack, 15). On the other hand, Pusey was dismissed as a curmudgeon, joykill, and ideologue by those who disagreed with him. Frederick York Powell, a former Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford, wrote, “I dare say that he has done some good, I feel to him as I do toward those poor Jesuit fathers that suffered in Elizabeth’s reign. They are to be respected, pitied, and condemned as fighters against the light….It is a pity to see Liddon and such fine fellows warped by this miserable little man’s teachings. He was not even a good scholar, and has never written a line worth reading” (McCormack, 13).

It has to be said that the latter conviction has unjustly carried the day against Pusey. After the initial rush of veneration to him immediately following his death in the Anglo-Catholic movement, the caricature that “intellectually and theologically he led Anglo-Catholicism…into a dead end” (McCormack, 14) has been the dominant assessment of Pusey’s legacy. John Henry Newman became a cause célèbre in the nineteenth century, and his genius was recognized by the Second Vatican Council in 1960 (Lash, 452-3). On the contrary, Pusey was more or less a footnote to nineteenth century British theology until recently, when a number of scholars began to recognize not only his centrality to the Anglo-Catholic movement but also the rigor and richness of his thought and the huge number of innovations in the life of the church for which he was responsible.


Pusey was born 22 August 1800 into a minor aristocratic household to the Honourable Philip Bouverie (who took the surname Pusey as the condition of inheriting the Pusey estate) and the former Lady Lucy Sherard. His parents were known as pious but severe, a disposition which Pusey inherited. Pusey studied at Eton and then matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1819. In 1822 Pusey received a first class degree from Christ Church and met John Henry Newman, and in 1825, he was elected fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, the college most central in generating the Oxford Movement. In June 1825, Pusey left for Berlin to study the new liberal theology under Augustus Tholuck and Friederich Schleiermacher. He returned to England after five months but came back to Berlin in 1826 in order to study Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic, perceiving that the Old Testament was particularly vulnerable to German higher criticism. After his return to England in 1827, Pusey was appointed both Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford in 1828. The latter position required ordination, and Pusey was ordained to the Church of England in the same year. He held both positions until his death in 1882. Also in 1828, Pusey married Maria Barker, whom he met in 1818 and had corresponded with over the course of his education.

Though initially coming from a Reformed Protestant perspective, Pusey came to see the Church of England as possessing a Catholic identity under the influence of Newman and John Keble in the 1820s. [2] Pusey contributed Tracts 18 and 66 on fasting, the influential Tracts 67-9, published as Scriptural Views of Holy Baptism (followed by Tract 70, an appendix to these tracts), Tract 77 in defense of prayers for the dead, and Tract 81, a “catena” or running list of patristic and English authorities on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. Under Pusey’s influence, the Tracts ceased being punchy, impressionistic pamphlets and became serious theological treatises.

The late 1830s and 1840s were a rough time for Pusey. His wife Maria died in 1839 (three out of four of their children together would also die during Pusey’s lifetime) and outrage at the claims of the Oxford Movement continued to convulse the church in the 1840s. Newman largely withdrew from public life after the firestorm that emerged in the wake of the publication of Tract 90 (the final Tract published), in which Newman argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles were “patient, though not ambitious, of a Catholic interpretation,” i.e. the teachings of the Council of Trent. Pusey created his own wellspring of controversy by preaching a sermon entitled The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent in 1843, arguing that the English Church taught a real “objective” presence, for which he was suspended for two years from preaching at the University of Oxford. In 1845, when Newman converted to Roman Catholicism, Newman resigned from Oriel College and the two men did not see one another again (though they corresponded) until 1865. Also in 1845, Pusey began to encourage the revival of monastic orders in the Church of England, beginning with the Sisterhood of the Holy Cross at Park Village, Regent’s Park. Many, perhaps most, Victorian clergy saw Pusey as the “gateway drug” to Roman Catholicism, but Pusey imagined himself to be doing the exact opposite – reasserting the Catholic identity of the Church of England in order to prevent conversion to Rome.

Pusey and “Biblical Catholicism”

The tendency among Anglicans who see our tradition as basically Protestant (but with bishops and vestments!) is to suspect Anglo-Catholics of preferring Rome to their own church, and it has to be said that this has often been the case from the nineteenth century onward (beginning with the “aesthetic” Catholicism of Ronald Knox and the Society of SS. Peter and Paul [see Chapman, ch. 5]). At its best, however, Anglo-Catholicism is what Fr. Jonathan at the Conciliar Anglican has described as “Biblical Catholicism”: “Rather than looking wistfully towards Rome, these were men who were eager to see Anglicanism recover her own first principles and lay claim to the true catholicity that the Elizabethan Settlement sought to recover. Far from trying to emulate Rome, Anglo-Catholics sought to recover patristic Catholicism….Truth, beauty, worship, holiness – these are the things that truly matter and that can truly invigorate us. These are the things that a truly biblical, truly Anglican Catholicism can give us.”

Pusey in many ways embodies this focus on what Henri de Lubac, S.J.  has called “Scripture in the tradition.” Rather than seeing Scripture and tradition in opposition, Pusey believed with the German Reformed church historian Philip Schaff that church history just was the history of the interpretation of Scripture. [3] Pusey would have approved of Yves Congar’s comment that “there is not a single point of belief that the Church holds by tradition alone, without any reference to Scripture; just as there is not a single dogma that is derived from Scripture alone, without being explained by tradition” (Congar, 39-40). Pusey’s Scripture Views of Baptism, composing Tracts 67-69 of the Tracts for the Times, are a model of this approach. They offer an extended meditation on John 3:5, Rom. 6:3, 1 Cor. 10:21, Col. 2:12, 1 Pet 3:21, Titus 3:5, and other passages Pusey thinks point to baptismal regeneration, [4] in the context of patristic exegesis and Stuart Anglicans [5] like Lancelot Andrewes, John Cosin, and John Bramhall.

Likewise Pusey’s exposition of the Eucharist, which caused such a tremendous uproar in the church, derived from Pusey’s exegesis of Luke 22/Mt. 26, John 6, and 1 Cor. 11, which to Pusey indicate that Christ’s body and blood are present in the Eucharist and that Christ’s benefits are communicated in its reception. While Pusey followed the Anglican formularies in arguing that Christ was received “spiritually” and “ineffably,” hence that Christ was not corporeally present in the bread and wine and that the elements retained their substances, yet he held that the presence was real and objective (Herringer, 99, 101) and equally received by believer and unbeliever alike: “It augments life – or death; gives immortality to the living; to the dead it gives not life, but death; it is a savour of life or death, is received to salvation or damnation” (Pusey, Holy Eucharist). The insistence that all received the body of Christ, which was the primary source of controversy, emerged from Pusey’s reading of Paul’s warning in 1 Cor. 11:29 that “those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” The language of Article XXVIII of the Articles of Religion asserted that “insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, received the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ,” and most before Pusey took it mean that Christ was present only to those who received the elements by faith.

It likely goes without saying, in light of the foregoing, that although Pusey believed that Roman Catholics were deeply in error in a number of respects, notably on images, purgatory, and Mariology, Pusey diverged from the Evangelicals in the Church of England in his assessment that Rome was a legitimate heir of ancient Catholicism along with the Church of England. Not only did Pusey not think the Roman church was the Babylon of Revelation and the Pope the Antichrist, he was in many ways far more concerned about the Evangelicals in the church than about the errors in the Roman church. [6]

Pusey’s writings in many ways bear the marks of his time. They can be irritatingly partisan, as he resolutely refuses to see the Protestant and Evangelical character of the Church of England as well as its Catholic character. His intensive focus on the fathers as authoritative and his willingness to go against the consensus reading of the 39 Articles in order to harmonize them with patristic precedent ironically evidences a worrying singularity for one putatively committed to catholicity. There is also a disturbing tendency toward joylessness and severity in Pusey’s life. His personal asceticism and sobriety were in many ways the source of the caricature of the man as a prudish Victorian moralist.

But his embrace of the broader Catholic tradition introduced many elements into Anglicanism that are still bearing fruit. Anglican worship was undoubtedly enhanced by Pusey’s liturgical innovations and sacramentalism, and his relative warmth toward Roman Catholicism has given permission to later Anglicans to benefit from that tradition of theology and spirituality and even paved the way for the clarifying ecumenical statements of the ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission).


Brown, Stewart, and Nockles, Peter, The Oxford Movement: Europe and the Wider World 1830-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Chapman, Mark, Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), Kindle file.

Congar, Yves, The Meaning of Tradition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004)

Herringer, Carol Engelhardt, “Pusey’s Eucharistic Doctrine,” in Edward Bouverie Pusey and the Oxford Movement, eds. Rowan Strong and Carol Engelhardt Herringer (London: Anthem Press, 2012), 91-114.

Lash, Nicholas, “Tides and Twilight: Newman Since Vatican II,” Ian Ker and A.G. Hill (eds.), Newman after a Hundred Years (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 447-64.

Lewis, R. Barry, “Defining the Church: Pusey’s Ecclesiology and its Eighteenth-Century Antecedents,” in Edward Bouverie Pusey and the Oxford Movement, eds. Rowan Strong and Carol Engelhardt Herringer (London: Anthem Press, 2012), 67-90.

Macnab, K.E., “Editing Liddon: From Biography to Hagiography?” in Edward Bouverie Pusey and the Oxford Movement, eds. Rowan Strong and Carol Engelhardt Herringer (London: Anthem Press, 2012), 31-48.

McCormack, Ian, “The History of the History of Pusey,” in Edward Bouverie Pusey and the Oxford Movement, eds. Rowan Strong and Carol Engelhardt Herringer (London: Anthem Press, 2012), 13-30.

Nockles, Peter, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760-1857 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Pusey, Edward.”

Pusey, Edward, The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent, a Sermon Preached before the University in the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford (1843), available at anglicanhistory.org/pusey/pusey4.html (accessed 9 June 2014).

Pusey, Edward, Tracts for the Times, Vol II-Part II for 1834-5 (1840).

Schaff, Philip, The Principle of Protestantism, trans. J.W. Nevin (1845).


[1] Also called “Tractarianism” after the signal publication of the movement, Tracts for the Times (1833-1845).

[2] Peter Nockles points out that the Catholic identity of the Church of England was already accepted by the older “high church” party in the church, as evidenced by their acceptance of patristic authority, but that the Tractarians pushed harder on this than did the older party: “Pre-Tractarian High Churchmen valued the Fathers primarily because their witness followed immediately after the period of Revelation….For the Tractarians, however, this was merely the starting-point. In their hands, antiquity became an absolute standard and final court of appeal, rather than with most old High Churchmen, merely a corroborative testimony to the truth of the Chruch of England’s formularies and the teaching of her standard divines” (Nockles, 113-114).

[3] Schaff actually met Pusey on his way from Germany to the United States to take a teaching position at Mercersberg Seminary and was cautiously optimistic about the Oxford Movement. In The Principle of Protestantism, Schaff described the movement as “an entirely legitimate and necessary reaction against rationalistic and sectaristic pseudo-Protestanism, as well as the religious subjectivism of the so-called Low Church Party,” but he cautioned that its weakness as an “utter misapprehension of the divine significance of the Reformation, with its consequent development, that is, of the entire Protestant period of the church” (Schaff, 158, 160).

[4] It is important to be clear about what Pusey means by regeneration in this context. Pusey does not mean that baptism alone would be sufficient to save a person. Rather, there is a scriptural economy of the application of salvation, and the witness of Scripture is that baptism is the part of it in which the person first puts off sin and receives new life in Christ. So, although baptism is insufficient without repentance, faith, and a life of obedience in sanctification in the economy of salvation, these other elements are themselves incomplete without the new life in the Messiah by the Holy Spirit that comes from baptism. Pusey writes that “we might…speak of the whole Gospel as an elixir of immortality, whereof some ingredients may be more powerful than the rest, but the efficacy of the whole depends upon the attemperament of the several portions; and we, who formed neither in our own souls, nor this cure for them, dare not speak slightingly of the necessity of any portion” and that “Our life in Christ is, throughout, represented as commencing when we are by Baptism made members of Christ and children of God. That life may through our negligence afterwards decay, or be choked, or smothered, or well-nigh extinguished, and by God’s mercy again be renewed and refreshed; but a commencement of life in Christ after Baptism, a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness, at any other period than at that one first introduction into God’s covenant, is as little consonant with the general representations of Holy Scripture, as a commencement of physical life long after our natural birth is with the order of His Providence” (Pusey, Tracts, 5, 28, see also 172). Fr. Jonathan has a good post on the meaning of baptismal regeneration in the Anglican context here.

[5] That is, Anglican theologians writing during the reigns of James I, Charles I, Charles II, and James II.

[6] The conviction that Rome was Babylon and the Pope was the Antichrist was, of course, a commonplace among the Reformers, both continental and British, and it was a common enough assessment among Evangelical Anglicans in the 19th century. Bishop Edward Henry Bickersteth, for instance, wrote that “A very large number of us believe the Church of Rome to be the Babylon of the Apocalypse…We are Protestants, and not afraid of the name” (Chapman, ch. 4). Pusey, by contrast, wrote to Walter Farquhar Hook: “I am frightened of your calling Rome Antichrist, or a forerunner of it….I believe Antichrist will be infidel and arise out of what calls itself Protestantism, and that Rome and England will be united in one then to oppose it. Protestantism is infidel, or verging towards it” (Lewis, 72).

Published on

June 17, 2014


Jonathan Warren Pagán

Jonathan Warren Pagán is a priest currently living and serving in Austin, Texas. He is married to Tish, also a writer and priest in the ACNA, and they have three children.

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