Laura Mooneyham White, “On Pusey’s Oxford Sermon on the Eucharist, 24 May 1843″

Abstract

E. B. Pusey, one of the Oxford Movement’s most important figures, delivered a sermon on the Holy Eucharist to an Oxford audience of dons and students on 24 May 1843. Though not particularly controversial in its statements, the sermon was charged with heterodoxy—that is, heresy—and its author barred from preaching in the University for two years. The ensuing controversy constituted one of the more important battles of the late stages of the Oxford Movement (generally understood to have been underway between 1833 and 1845). Moreover, the controversy set the stage for the climax of the Movement in 1845, the defection to the Roman Catholic Church by the leader of the movement, Pusey’s fellow don and clergyman, John Henry Newman. This article contextualizes the scandal of Pusey’s sermon and punishment by providing a brief history of the Oxford Movement, especially its origins in response to the quiescence of the early nineteenth-century Anglican Church; it also explains the debates within the Church about the nature and proper practice of the sacrament of communion (Holy Eucharist). Last, the article argues that the official denunciation of Pusey’s sermon demonstrated both to members of the Movement and to the Anglican Establishment who opposed them that compromise between the two parties would be almost impossible to achieve.

Edward Pusey

Figure 1: Engraving of Edward Bouverie Pusey

On 24 May 1843, the Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, Edward Bouverie Pusey, one of the most prominent members of the Oxford Movement and the man who inadvertently gave it one of its nicknames (“Puseyism”), delivered a sermon at Christ Church, Oxford. His subject was the Christian sacrament of communion, or Holy Eucharist (the sermon’s title was “The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent”). To the lay audience present that day, Pusey’s main argument seemed uncontroversial—that communion brings comfort to the penitent sinner because Christ is present as a Redeemer in the sacrament—and to that audience the fact that Pusey’s points were buttressed by the testimony on the Eucharist to be found in the writings of early Church fathers such as Cyril of Alexandria probably added to the authority of his claims. He urged a revitalization of the sacrament within Anglican Church practice. In particular, he suggested that Christ Church offer the sacrament more often than its then-current practice of monthly observance. Despite Pusey’s being at this time “without question the most venerated person in Oxford” on account of his extraordinary learning and piety (Church 327), within a week the Vice-Chancellor of the University wrote to request a copy of the sermon that it might be examined to see if it was “in strict conformity to the doctrines of the reformed Church of England” (Liddon 2. 311). The Vice-Chancellor’s request, occasioned by a charge of heresy from the Margaret Professor of Divinity, Godfrey Fausset, soon led to the convening of a six-man committee, five of whom were enemies of Pusey and the Oxford Movement; one of the six was Fausset, Pusey’s original accuser. Upheld by the Vice-Chancellor, the committee’s verdict barred Pusey from preaching in the University for two years. Pusey was never allowed to mount a defense, nor was he ever told the specific charges against his sermon; the secrecy of the proceedings and the rigged nature of the committee membership have led most scholars to view the proceedings as a “travesty of justice” (Ollard 93).

The controversy about Pusey’s sermon and his punishment stands as one of the most important moments in the history of the Oxford Movement, showing the extreme means the closely linked Established Church and University administration were prepared to employ to repress what they saw as a dangerous conspiracy tending towards heresy and schism. The incident demonstrated that compromise between the Establishment and the Oxford Movement was ultimately impossible, and that the Heads of Oxford were willing to suppress the speech of one of the University’s most influential and learned dons in the service of diminishing the Movement’s prestige.[1] The climax of the Oxford Movement came two years later, in 1845, when John Henry Newman, the Movement’s most important leader, resigned both from Oxford and the Anglican priesthood to join the Roman Catholic Church. Newman’s reasons for his conversion were at heart theological (as he explained years later in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua [1864]), but the treatment Pusey had received played a considerable role in forming Newman’s sense of the insurmountable limitations he and his colleagues in the Movement faced as they argued for reform. And Newman’s defection in turn had monumental consequences for the Anglican Church. Several Anglican priests defected to Rome in his wake, and the Established Church was badly shaken—if Newman could go, he who had written two tracts “against Romanism” (Tracts 71 and 72), who else might not follow?[2] Lord Beaconsfield in 1870 described Newman’s conversion as “a blow under with the English Church still reels,” while Gladstone compared it to a storm “which left wrecks on every shore” (Ollard 103).

Our present far more secular age is not well-equipped to understand the turmoil caused by the war between the Oxford Movement and the Anglican Establishment. But in an era in which most educated people took Christianity very seriously, the claims and counter-claims about what one should believe and how one should worship seemed matters of more than life or death; the combatants on both sides firmly believed that the eternal fate of souls was in the balance. Both sides were also, of course, jockeying for institutional and political authority. The Movement’s controversies revealed that the English Reformation, then three hundred years old, was itself still not fully understood and accepted in all its theological and ecclesiastical implications by the very Church the Reformation had founded. Most of the ninety Tracts published by members of the Movement between 1833 and 1845 concerned doctrine and the practice of worship, urging an ardent attention to such matters as the sacraments (the Tracts were so fully identified with the Movement that members were interchangeably termed Tractarians). These calls for reform were based on the foundational authority of Scripture, the writings of early Church fathers (patristic writing), and the writings of Anglican divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Paradoxically, the Tractarians’ attention to the early church and to Anglican history commonly led to the charge that the Tractarians were secret Romanists, despite their explicit protestations to the contrary—and given the final consequence of Newman’s defection, and that of others, such a charge seems in retrospect not entirely baseless. The Anglican Establishment certainly sensed that a stringent attention to patristic writing, such as urged by both Newman and Pusey, might well unsettle its comfortable compromises and claims to interpretive authority.

It is hard to understand the Movement and its counter-effects without seeing how intensely academic the disputes were—all the key players were Oxford dons, who by definition were also in holy orders in the Anglican Church and were required formally to affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles as a condition of their professorships. And yet this largely academic dispute was played out on a national (and to some extent transnational) stage.[3] First, the Anglican Church was (and still is) the Established Church of the United Kingdom, and so its concerns were national by definition. Another reason the Movement was not a merely parochial concern was that graduates of the University had the right to vote in University Convocations and at key moments during this period were bestirred to travel to Oxford to vote for or against specific measures aimed at the Movement (as happened famously in 1845 when a measure to denounce Newman’s Tract 90 was voted down). (See also Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, “14 July 1833: John Keble’s Assize Sermon, National Apostasy.”) Yet another was that politicians and clergymen throughout Great Britain could follow the progress of the various controversies occasioned by the Movement and its resistance through nationally distributed pamphlets, through the published Tracts themselves, and through essays and letters in the London Times and other major newspapers and journals such as The Dublin Review and The Edinburgh Review.  Once Newman left Anglicanism and Oxford in 1845, however, the Oxford Movement was no longer primarily Oxford’s—as the early chronicler of the movement, R. W. Church, argued, it “ceased to be strongly and prominently Academical. . . . and passed more gradually into the hands of new leaders more widely acquainted with English society” (406-7).

The Oxford Movement was at first a heady time of anticipated reform; by its end, matters were left at a messy and painful draw, with many prominent churchmen and academicians on both sides wounded by the innumerable charges and counter-charges. All the noise of the Oxford Movement, however, had its origin in the relative dispassion and latitudinarianism of the eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Church; the Church was asleep, Pusey and his fellows argued, and badly needed rousing. For, despite the vigor of the Evangelical movement, begun in the 1790s both within the Anglican Established Church and without (that is, in “dissenting” Protestant churches such as the Methodist Church), the mainstream Anglican Church of the first decades of the nineteenth century seemed spiritually aslumber. The pre-eminent historian of the Church of the late nineteenth-century, Mark Pattison, went so far as to declare the state of the Church before the Oxford Movement as not worth discussion: “Since the High Church movement commenced [in the 1830s]. . . the theology of the 18th century has become a byword. The genuine Anglican omits that period from the history of the Church altogether” (254). “Pastoral neglect and worldiness” were the order of the day (Butler, “History of Anglicanism” 30); church doctrine was marked by “comfortable and prudential morality” (Roston 98). Priests and bishops often had multiple “livings” (life appointments at a given parish), and it was common practice to pay curates to take over the duties at these extra parishes, a state of affairs which sometimes led to a holder of a living not visiting his own charge of souls more than once a year (this practice was condemned as “absenteeism,” “pluralism,” and “non-residence”) (White 13-15). Many clergymen were “gentlemen, fulfilling the demands made upon gentlemen” (Virgin 94), a state of affairs which in practice meant that clergymen often retained multiple servants, owned significant property, and kept horses and carriages. As Jane Austen’s novels testify, most Anglican priests of the early century did their clerical duties, but displayed little religious zeal—though even Austen depicts exceptions, such as Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park (1815).

There had certainly been calls for reform as early as the 1790s (William Wilberforce’s “Reform or Ruin” was the cry in 1789), led by Anglican Evangelicals (to be distinguished from Dissenting Evangelicals). Anglican Evangelicals were not promoting different doctrine; rather, they urged renewed religious zeal. They re-emphasized the ideas of conversion, the supremacy of Scripture, and the centrality of preaching the Gospel (Butler, “History” 33). The Oxford Movement also sought zeal—but unlike the Evangelicals, the Tractarians urged zeal for right doctrine as it had developed in the history of the Church rather than zeal for the conversion experience alone, and this perspective made them enemies not only among the Church Establishment but also among Evangelicals, both Anglican and Dissenting: “Although the leaders of the movement were at this stage largely re-emphasizing traditional ‘high church’ opinions, held throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were doing so in a way calculated to infuriate those who regarded doctrinal matters as being of secondary importance, either to the conversion experience or the corporate solidarity of church and state” (Yates 24). The very first tract (Thoughts on the Ministerial Commission, written by Newman but published anonymously in 1833) was addressed directly to members of the Anglican clergy and made a forthright call for a renewed spirit of ministerial authority about doctrine: “Look at the Dissenters on all sides of you, and you will see at once that their Ministers, depending simply upon the people, become the creatures of the people. . . . Alas! Can a great evil befall Christians than for their teachers to be guided by them, instead of guiding? . . . Is it not our very office to oppose the world? Can we then allow ourselves to court it?” He closes with the call to “act up to your professions” and “Choose your side!”; the Movement from the first conceived of itself as one party in a prolonged conflict. There would be ninety Tracts in all, published between 1833 and 1841; the last, Tract 90, Newman’s Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty Nine Articles, published on 25 January 1841, caused such an uproar that the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Bagot, used his authority to close the series down (Nockles 228).

In practice, the highly fractious debates during this period concerned particular issues of policy and law, the practice of worship, and theology. For instance, in 1834 the Tractarians organized in force to defeat a proposed parliamentary measure that would have undone the requirement that Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates subscribe upon admission, and in the case of Oxford, upon matriculation, to the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563; the measure’s practical effect would have been to admit Dissenters, but the Tractarians’ committees, counter-petitions, pamphlets, letters, and vote-whipping led to the bill’s rejection by the House of Lords (it would be thirty-seven years before Dissenters would be admitted to Cambridge or Oxford [1871]). Almost equal furor arose over worship, including such questions as whether or not a priest should turn his back on the congregation when consecrating the bread and wine, whether the altar should be called an altar or not, and whether a priest should give a final blessing or not (these debates about ritual would long outlive the period of the Oxford Movement itself, being played out on the parish and diocesan level throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth).[4] Tractarians were constantly attacked for what critics, both the Established Church and Evangelical Dissenters, saw as insidious changes to worship that led in the direction of Romanism.[5]

But, while worship practice and questions regarding the relationship between the church and the state were important to the debates of the day, the most basic disagreements concerned theology. Certainly, almost every political or tactical act during this period was carried out in the name of theological rectitude. Such rectitude of course relied on assumptions about theological authority, which the Tractarians found not just in Scripture but in the writings of the Church Fathers.[6] In fact, the Tracts were only part of the strategy by which the Oxford Movement sought to reclaim the apostolic heritage of the Church of England. One of Pusey’s most ardent pursuits was the oversight of the ambitious Library of the Fathers, a project jointly begun with Newman, a multi-volume set of translations of early church writings which appeared between 1838 and 1885 (Pfaff, 329-330). As John Garrigues argues, this publication was “meant to argue that the Church of England in principle ought to conform to the views of the ancient, undivided English Church” (7). As Pusey himself contended, the Movement relied on the authority of these writings, since the Movement preached “reverence for and deference to the ancient Church, . . . by whose views and doctrines we interpret our own Church when her meaning is questioned or doubtful” (“What is Puseyism?”; qtd. in Garrigues 4).[7]

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was a man for whom theological authority and rectitude were all-consuming concerns.  He had been in many ways formed by circumstance and temperament to be a major figure in this era of church upheaval and attempted reform.[8] He came from an aristocratic and distinguished family, a second son who embraced the second son’s usual role of becoming a clergyman; he was an ardent Christian from his youth on. At Oriel, the Oxford college most associated with conspicuous piety, Pusey’s skills as a classicist were clear. But the turn of his scholarship to the Old Testament and to Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic had its origin in his fears for Christianity, for he felt that the Old Testament was (from an apologist’s point of view) the faith’s weak flank. A long correspondence in the 1820s with a French atheist, known to us only as “Z,” left Pusey convinced (correctly) that German higher criticism was the wellspring of contemporary unbelief. Several visits to Germany, starting in 1825, confirmed his fears about the dangers posed by German hermeneutics. Studying with Johann Eichhorn and David Julius Pott at Göttingen and with Friedrich Schleiermacher at Berlin, Pusey found that these most important of German theologians disbelieved in such matters as miracles and Christ’s divinity. Pusey expostulated in his journal that “this will all come upon us in England; and how utterly unprepared for it we are!” (Faber 138). For his part, Pusey took the Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the writings of the early Anglican Church as his intellectual mainstays.[9] The English Church had been thus far largely unaware of the intellectual challenges posed by German scholarship—in 1830, Pusey was one of only two German scholars in all of Oxford. But as “the most learned scholar in England, with a European reputation,” Pusey had the intellectual pre-eminence that made his interventions in the cause of reform highly consequential (Morse-Boycott 76).

Pusey’s entrance into the lists was not straightforward.[10] He had been ill through much of 1833, and had “held back at first from open association with the Tracts” (O’Connell 158), partly because of his dislike of anonymous communications to the public or to the Church (the Tracts up to that point had been published anonymously). But once Pusey became involved, he was vaulted into a position of leadership. Newman explains in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua why Pusey commanded such authority:

He at once gave us a position and a name. Without him we should have had no chance, especially at the early date of 1834, of making any serious resistance to the liberal aggression. But Dr. Pusey was a Professor and Canon of Christ Church; he had a vast influence in consequence of his deep religious seriousness, the munificence of his charities, his Professorship, his family connections, and his easy relations with the University authorities. . . . Dr. Pusey was, to use the common expression, a host in himself; he was able to give a name, a form, a personality to what was without him a sort of mob. (71)

Thus, while Pusey did not write more than a few of the Tracts, those he did write were highly consequential—not merely because his subjects were controversial, but because his opinions were accorded a special regard.

Pusey’s first publication in the Tracts was a letter on fasting; Newman, who by 1834 was acting much as a party manager (O’Connell 159), asked for it to be published with Pusey’s initials attached, to accommodate Pusey’s reluctance to be published without attribution. The furor caused by Tract 18, as it came to be, was considerable. Titled Thoughts on the Benefits of the System of Fasting Enjoined by our Church, it stressed that the revelations of Scripture and the teachings of the early Church affirmed that fasting is an important part of corporate, not just individual, worship, and that the teachings in the Prayer Book on fasting should no longer be ignored; instead, Pusey argued, regular self-denial was required. This position was not popular with the Establishment and was received as being a statement of hyper-asceticism that was too much in accord with Roman Catholic practice (though Pusey explicitly noted that the Anglican Church gives no rules about how to fast, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, with its insistence on doing without meat on Fridays, for instance). From that time forward, though Newman was the guiding force of the movement and the author of more tracts than any other Tractarian, the Movement gained the nickname of “Puseyism.” One strongly suspects that the comic and perhaps vulgar associations of the name gave it a relish which explains its widespread use among those who opposed the Tractarians.

Pusey’s next important contribution to the Tracts concerned the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and served as a precursor to his to-be-censored sermon of 1843. Published in 1841, Tract 81, Testimony of Writers in the later English Church to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, With an Historical Account of the Changes Made in the Liturgy as to the Expression of that Doctrine, laid out in extensive detail the writings of the Church Fathers and of the early Anglican Church divines on the subject (in fact, over three-fourths of the document is a compendium of quotations). He based his reliance on the testimony of the early Church as “characteristic of our Anglican Church” and argued that “the authority of the ‘old primitive and apostolick Church’” had checked the introduction of errors into Anglican doctrine (Testimony of Writers 17). His main goal was to rouse his fellow clergymen to a renewed sense of communion’s sacrificial aspect, as a representation both of Christ’s sacrificial redemption of sinners and of the communicant’s sacrifice of worship and praise in partaking of the bread and wine.

Church laxity in earlier decades led Pusey, along with his fellow Tractarians, to care intensely about revitalizing church practice concerning communion. It had been common for communion to be celebrated only four times a year, at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost (fifty days after Easter), and at the ingathering of the harvest in the fall (Sykes 250). Altars were sometimes rough tables without a cloth. As Morse-Boycott observed, “The altar was a mean table, as often as not, which the parson would have been ashamed to have in his kitchen; and the verger would place his bucket and dustpan on it when he came to do the cleaning” (9). Worse, and contrary to the strictures of the Church, the consecrated host (the bread and wine) that was not used during the service was sometimes discarded irreverently into the yard. And attendance at the sacrament was often low, though in Evangelical churches participation did increase dramatically during the first decades of the nineteenth century. For instance, on Easter Sunday in 1800, there were only six people in attendance at Holy Communion at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (Abbey and Overton 454); by 1827, a prominent Evangelical church in Islington boasted 238 communicants on one particularly well-attended Sunday (Mackean 29). Until the outburst of the Oxford Movement, Evangelical Anglicans were most responsible for the revitalization of the celebration of the Eucharist; the orthodox High Anglicans who were largely in charge of the Established Church and the administration of Oxford and Cambridge were, certainly, not.[11]

The authorities of the Established Church were anxious about a revitalized practice of communion because of its centrality in Roman Catholic worship and theology; in particular, they were on guard against the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which holds that the bread and wine, upon consecration, become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in a material way. Pusey explicitly argued against transubstantiation in Tract 81 (and elsewhere explicitly argued against Roman Catholicism in general).[12] In fact, no one could seriously suspect Pusey of leaning towards Rome. Dean Church notes that Pusey was perhaps the only leader of the Movement who “never for an instant wavered or doubted about the position of the English Church” (134). After all, as early as 1839, Pusey had attempted to moderate the disputes between the Tract-writers and their critics by writing an open letter to Richard Bagot, then Bishop of Oxford, “running to over two hundred printed pages, in which he repudiated the charges of Popery brought against the movement and showed that the Tractarians . . . held a distinct line, ‘removed from modern novelties, whether of Rome or of ultra-Protestantism’” (Prestige 66). Nonetheless, Pusey was entering dangerous territory, because he was inserting himself into a long, fractious debate within Anglicanism itself about the nature of the sacrament.[13]

Pusey was promoting an especially vigorous view of what was called “virtualism,” the view  that the bread and wine, “once set apart by consecration, while not changed physically into the body and blood of Our Lord, became so in virtue, power, and effect” (Nockles 236-7). Virtualism was actually the most common view of orthodox Anglican theologians, following the main line of argument made by Daniel Waterland in his 1737 A Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist, as laid down in Scripture and Antiquity. As Pusey was to do, Waterland argued that the act was a commemoration but also a sacrifice—memorably, in Waterland’s phrase, “a feast upon a sacrifice” (442).[14] The other prominent and equally orthodox view of communion was “receptionism,” which held that the degree that communion was attended by the Real Presence of the Holy Spirit depended on the state of the recipient’s soul.[15] As Herbert Marsh, the Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford from 1807 to 1819, explained in a sermon of 1809: “The Church of England does not believe in any miraculous conversion of the bread and wine. . . . It is not the elements which confer the spiritual grace, but the repentance and faith which accompany the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine” (Mackean 20). The two doctrines were not necessarily incompatible, and were held in some degree by most eighteenth and nineteenth-century Anglican clergymen, but the more virtualist one was, the less likely one was to hold fully to receptionism, since receptionism implied that the consecrated bread and wine were not as instrumental in conferring grace as was the act of reception by the communicant.

The Tractarians had not initially concerned themselves with Eucharistic theology; their first concern was to revitalize the practice of the sacrament. However, the very use of the word “altar” rather than “holy table” in the Tracts (as in Newman’s Tract 71, a compilation of church writings on the apostolic succession, and Pusey’s Tract 81, discussed above) caused concern, both because “altar” was the term used by Roman Catholics and because the term could be seen to imply that at communion a person made a sacrifice of propitiation—such as those sacrifices set out by divine edict in the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, 2 Chronicles, and Ezra—rather than a sacrifice of penance and worship. Another potential trouble lay in the Tractarians’ widespread insistence on the idea of apostolic succession. The concept held that Christ’s laying on of hands and commission to St. Peter (who in time became the first Bishop of Rome) passed on an authority that lasted in every age and every place, assuming the proper chain of ordination (and laying on of hands) from bishop to priest. (Incidentally, this idea explains why the Anglican Church in the United States is called the Episcopal Church, as the episcopate is the order of bishops). This authority, passed down through the apostles through the bishops to every priest thereafter, determined the efficacy of Anglican priesthood, including the ability to consecrate the bread and wine. Anglicans presumed that the line of apostolic succession had remained unbroken by the establishment of the Church of England in its breaking away from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. However, given that break with the Catholic Church, the Establishment naturally preferred not to press too robustly on the idea of apostolic succession (and indeed, the problematic nature of the claim that Anglican priests stood in a direct line from Peter was one among many difficulties that ultimately led to Newman’s conversion in 1845).

Pusey’s 1841 Tract 81 had been cautious in its Eucharistic doctrine, and indeed was, as noted above, primarily a compilation of quotations. However, his 1843 sermon on the same subject posed more problems. On that Sunday, admittedly, there had been no sign among the congregation that the sermon was potentially heterodox. J. B. Mozley was in attendance:

The audience listened with the attention it always does to Dr. Pusey, and then the audience went away. . . . The remarks upon it were pretty much the same as usual: it was pronounced a useful sermon, an eloquent sermon, a striking sermon, a beautiful sermon. Some said it was a long sermon, others that it was not longer than usual. . . . In short, it was one of Dr. Pusey’s sermons; the audience recognized that fact, went home, were perfectly at their ease, thought nothing more about it . . . when all of a sudden comes, like a clap of thunder on the ear, the news that the Board of Heresy is summoned to sit on Dr. Pusey. (2. 2, 150-1; qtd. in Liddon 2. 309)

Many auditors felt the sermon was a “quiet, uncontroversial” one, “entirely in accord with the teaching of the Anglican Church, as expressed in the Prayer Book and the writings of her great Divines” (Morse-Boycott 81).  Dean Church, one of the most important early chroniclers of the Movement (and also an advocate), wrote that it was “a high Anglican sermon, full . . . of the fervid language of the Fathers; and that was all. Beyond this it did not go: its phraseology was strictly within Anglican limits” (328). Yet several of the hearers on that day were troubled. While the sermon drew from the ideas of Tract 81, it was a more passionate affair, written with a commingling of figurative and non-figurative language about the Eucharist that made it difficult to discern Pusey’s exact doctrinal position. At points, he seemed to suggest that the bread and wine are actually mixed with Christ’s body and blood and that our “bodies as well as our souls received His body and blood” (Mackean 84); such phrases as “touching with our very lips that cleansing blood,” “How must He not be thought to abide in us by the way of nature,” and “He the Eternal Son . . . commingled and co-united with us, with our bodies as with our souls” intimated a position a shadow-line (perhaps) away from transubstantiation (The Holy Eucharist). His good friend, H. E. Manning (in 1851 to become Cardinal Manning but at this point still a staunch advocate of Anglicanism) was also troubled by phrases that suggested Christ suffered anew in every Eucharist; responding to Manning’s letter, Pusey agreed that such an idea was incorrect and that one needed to make an “explicit distinction between the actual offering on the cross and the act of representation and memorial before God which is made in the eucharist” (Härdelin 212).[16] As the events that followed made evident, the subject of Eucharistic theology was so vexed within the Anglican Church that almost any contemplation of its doctrine was bound to offend someone, and Pusey’s enemies were ready to pounce.

Two days after the sermon, Dr. Fausset, the Margaret Professor of Divinity, delated the sermon to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford on the grounds of heresy. To “delate” meant to lodge an official complaint, and thus Philip Wynter, the Vice-Chancellor, following University statutes, was empowered to convene a committee of six doctors of the church to judge whether the sermon merited this charge. All six members of the committee were openly opposed to the Tractarians, for while one, R. W. Jelf, was a long-time friend of Pusey, he was nonetheless no friend to the Movement, and, shamefully, the committee also included Dr. Fausset, the very man who had made the complaint. Pusey was never informed about who had lodged the complaint, nor about what passages the complaint concerned (the statute concerning delation did not explicitly require Pusey to receive this information). Further, though Pusey requested a hearing, he was not allowed to mount any defense to the committee, either by letter or in person. Worse, when the committee was first convened, the Vice-Chancellor enjoined Pusey into a vow of silence about the proceedings, so he was unable to mount any public defense of his sermon or conduct. The Vice-Chancellor also enjoined a vow of silence upon Dr. Jelf, Pusey’s one defender on the committee (the final vote to condemn was 5-1), so Dr. Jelf was never able to speak or write of what had happened.

What had happened, indeed, was a rushed series of written negotiations between the Vice Chancellor and Pusey. These included an attempt to have Pusey recant in response to a document he was given privately on 31 May, a “Formal Statement of Objections to the Sermon.” The “Formal Statement” argued that passages in the sermon “convey the idea of some carnal and corporal presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist” (Liddon 2. 323), and, while Pusey responded that his only intent was to affirm that the sacrament is received in a “heavenly and spiritual manner” (thus disavowing transubstantiation), he was unwilling to disaffirm that “the body and blood of Christ [are] present with the consecrated elements by virtue of their consecration before they are received by the faithful communicant and independently of his faith.” Pusey would not disavow this latter idea because doing so went beyond what was stated in formal church doctrine, as contained in Article XXVIII of the Book of Common Prayer—the statement was in effect a full affirmation of “receptionism” and a disavowal of “virtualism.”[17] On 2 June, Pusey received a Sentence privately from the Vice-Chancellor (in Latin) which found him guilty of promulgating ideas contrary to the teachings of the Church of England and barred him from preaching for two years; to this day no one knows exactly which passages offended or why, as there was never any official report of the committee’s judgment to the University (Church 331). That very day, Pusey wrote a Protest which he made public—it was his Protest that told the world that anything had happened, since the University notice-boards were empty. R. W. Church explains why this process constituted “clerical knavery”: it was “arbitrary power acting under the semblance of a judicial inquiry, with accusers, examination, trial, judges, and a heavy penalty. The act of a court of justice which sets at defiance the rules of justice is a very different thing than a straightforward act of arbitrary power, because it pretends to be what it is not” (330-31).[18]

Dr. Pusey’s sentence occasioned a great uproar, within Oxford and without. Petitions and protests were drawn up, and even Gladstone, then a Member of Parliament, was drawn into the ensuing fray (he wrote a letter of support on receiving a copy of the sermon). Dr. Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby, also weighed in, but against Pusey (not surprisingly, since Arnold had famously aligned himself against the Movement as early as 1836, at the time of the Hampden Controversy, when he penned a scathing attack titled “The Oxford Malignants and Dr. Hampden” in the Edinburgh Review.) Pusey paid himself to publish the offending sermon in that ensuing fall of 1843, adding all the passages from St. John Chrysostom and other Church fathers that buttressed his argument; Newman wrote a preface. The work sold thirty thousand copies. For many years thereafter, Pusey tried to explain his Eucharistic doctrine through other writings, including his 1853 sermon on “The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist,” an 1857 volume, The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ: The Doctrine of the English Church, as well as one last Eucharistic sermon, in 1871, “This is My Body.” But the end of his period of being exiled from University pulpits came in 1845, just as Newman left Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism, and, once that catastrophe for the Oxford Movement had come to pass, Pusey was left to uphold the banner of what was left of the Movement in the very worst of circumstances.

At the end, as G. L. Prestige has shown, scarcely anyone suffered as much from Newman’s conversion than did Pusey himself. He was attacked by Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, in a letter which claimed Pusey was showing dangerous disloyalty, and was cautioned by the Vice-Chancellor that he was lacking in spiritual discernment. Some Heads of Houses cut him in the street, while a flood of letters, some signed, some not, accused him of dishonest dealings with the Church. Even his daughters came into view as targets, as several parents withdrew their children in protest from the girls’ school (Prestige 78-9). Pusey never publicly complained about the injustice of the process that had condemned his sermon, nor of Newman’s defection, but in the immediate years thereafter instead did his best to keep as many of his fellow clergymen in the Anglican Church as possible. As he wrote to the Rev. W. F. Hook, “I felt that I could not stand it. But what could I do? God brought me at that crisis work to do, often thankless; I cast away everything, so that I might, by God’s mercy, retain children of our church within her” (qtd. in Prestige 80). Pusey’s role to the end was to “reconcile and explain, which he did with singular reasonableness and charity” (Cobb)—he continued to write, preach, practice extraordinary charity, and raise churches until his death in 1882. For many years after his sermon caused such trouble, he continued to take communion daily at four in the morning, and his last publication was a pamphlet that preached for peace in the church.

Laura Mooneyham White is Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the author of several books on Jane Austen, the most recent of which is Jane Austen’s Anglicanism (Ashgate, 2011). Her current book project studies Lewis Carroll’s engagement in the Alice books with the social and political issues of his day and is tentatively titled Alice and the Victorian Culture Wars.

HOW TO CITE THIS BRANCH ENTRY (MLA format)

White, Laura Mooneyham. “On Pusey’s Oxford Sermon on the Eucharist, 24 May 1843.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [Here, add your last date of access to BRANCH].

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RELATED BRANCH ARTICLES

Miriam Burstein, “The ‘Papal Aggression’ Controversy, 1850-52″

Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi, “14 July 1833: John Keble’s Assize Sermon, National Apostasy”


ENDNOTES

[1] There had been, of course, a good deal of bad feeling and accusations of bad faith between and among Tractarians and the Establishment prior to 1843. The leader of the Tractarians, John Henry Newman, had been instrumental in one of the most serious earlier controversies, over the appointment of Renn Dickson Hampden as Regius Professor of Divinity. Hampden’s Observations on Religious Dissent (1834) had argued that subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles should no longer be required for admission to the University since, as Stephen Thomas characterizes it, “although the truths dogmas guard are eternal, the dogmas, being relative to culture, may in the future be altered” (75). Newman saw the possible slippery slope: “that the articles of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds are merely human opinions, scholastic, allowing of change, unwarrantable when imposed, and in fact, the produce of a mistaken philosophy; and that the Apostles’ Creed is defensible only when considered as a record of historical facts” (Newman, Elucidations 5-6; qtd. in Thomas 75). The pamphlet war between the two men, carried on through 1836 when Hampden’s Professorship was approved, was further embittered by the fact that both were Fellows of Oriel. This kind of internecine fight prepared the ground for the events following Pusey’s sermon; its delation in some sense was just one retribution among many by each side. Hampden was named Bishop of Hereford in 1846 (again, amid substantial protest), and at that point largely retired from the field of ire-filled disputation. Both Thomas and Turner have chapters on the Hampden Case (Thomas 71-9; Turner 207-54).

[2] In 1850, there was a second wave of defections, including that of H. E. Manning (later Cardinal Manning), as a consequence of the Gorham Judgment. The year before, the Bishop of Exeter had refused a living to George C. Gorham, an Anglican clergyman, on the grounds that Gorham did not believe that baptism conferred fully regenerative grace. The highest ecclesiastical court in the kingdom, the Court of Arches, upheld the Bishop’s decision, but its decision was reversed upon appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, a body not under Church control. Those who defected were alarmed not merely that the Privy Council had held that Gorham’s ideas about baptism were acceptable; it was also that the Privy Council had had the last word—State had overruled Church in a matter that at heart concerned doctrine.

[3] One New York publisher (Charles Henry) brought out an edition of Tracts for the Times in 1839 and republished the collection with some additions in 1840. The editor’s preface explained that “[t]his republication has been commenced from the conviction that these writings are even more important for this country than for that in which they first appeared. . . . From a variety of causes, loose and vague views in regard to the value of antiquity, the authority of the Church, the doctrine of the Sacraments, etc., are widely prevalent, it is apprehended, even in the Episcopal body, and still more in the religious community at large; and for these evils the corrective influence of these writings is perhaps more needful than in England” (“Introduction to the American Edition”). For more on the reception of the Tractarians in the United States, see Kirstie Blair’s “Transatlantic Tractarians: Victorian Poetry and the Church of England in America,” which follows the reception of Arthur Cleveland’s unapologetically Anglican Christian Ballads, first published in New York in 1840, the year after the first American edition of the Tracts.

[4] Evidence of these squabbles over ritual can be found, for instance, both in Trollope’s Barsetshire series (written between 1855 and 1867) and Angela Thirkell’s series set in the same fictional county (written between 1933 and 1961).

[5] Pusey liked to tell of being confronted by a lady in a public coach who told her fellow travelers that Dr. Pusey sacrificed a lamb every Friday. He confessed to his identity and told her, “I assure you I do not know how to kill a lamb” (O’Connell 235).

[6] The Tractarian emphasis on church history of course stands in stark contrast to the work of German Biblical scholars of the day, who by relying on scientific skepticism and setting aside at the outset any claims of special revelation, studied both the Old and New Testament as ancient documents open to agnostic inquiry. 

[7] Newman, Keble, and Pusey all promoted the importance of the apostolic writings of the early Church. As Newman wrote in 1837, “Scripture, Antiquity, and Catholicity cannot really contradict one another” (Via Media 1. 134; qtd. in Härderlin 43). Keble’s sermon on “Primitive Tradition” makes an equally “uncompromising acceptance of Antiquity. . . . Whatever can be shown to be apostolical tradition must be received . . . with the same reverence as the New Testament, because the unwritten as well as the written word come from the same source; they are both God’s word” (Härdelin 44). This fully authoritative tradition does not extend, according to these same figures, beyond the formal disunity begun in 451, because “it is only as one that the church is infallible, because it is the one church which has received Christ’s promise of the Spirit of truth (Härdelin 45). Thomas explains that “Anglicanism has tended, in fact, even in its theology courses up to this day, to consider AD 451, the date of the Council of Chalcedon, as the terminus ad quem for the normative Christian past” (307); this tenet (for “doctrine” is too strong a term) is called quinquasaecularism—in other words, the belief that the doctrine of the first five centuries of the Church represents revealed Truth. As Newman explained in his Tract 71, On the Controversy with the Romanists: “Every thoughtful mind must at times have been beset by the following doubt: ‘How is it that the particular Christian body to which I belong happens to be the right one? . . . In other words, the truth is surely no where to be found pure, unadulterate and entire, but is shared through the world, each Christian body having a portion of it, none the whole of it.’ . . .  Now the primitive Church answered this question, by appealing to the simple fact that all the Apostolic Churches all over the world did agree together. True there were sects in every country, but they bore their own refutation on their forehead, in that they were of recent origin; but all those societies in every count, which the Apostles had founded, did agree together in one, and no time short of the Apostles’ could be assigned, with any show of argument, for the use of their existing doctrine. This doctrine in which they agreed was accordingly called Catholic truth, and there was plainly no room at all for asking, ‘Why should my own Church be more true than another’s?’”

[8] The standard biography is H.P. Liddon’s four-volume work, Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey (1893-4). Liddon was a strong advocate for Pusey and focused on Pusey’s role in the Oxford Movement. David Forrester’s Young Doctor Pusey (1989) offers a wider view of Pusey’s intellectual development prior to the Movement, as well as a greater consideration of Pusey’s personal life and pursuit of civic and spiritual engagement after 1845. Similarly, the essays in Pusey Rediscovered (ed. Butler, 1983) offer perspectives on a wide array of Pusey’s concerns—for instance, his investigation into Old Testament prophecy, his marriage, his charitable enterprises such as church erection, and other matters for which Liddon’s voluminous work does not account.

[9] As Owen Chadwick has argued, Pusey “desired only to stand in the ancient ways, and his sole intellectual weapon was information about the ancient ways. He was shocked to find that the professors in Germany seemed to read no book not published during the last twenty-five years” (38).

[10] As I argue in my Jane Austen’s Anglicanism, late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Anglican thinkers were “remarkably incurious about the skeptical Biblical scholarship consuming German theologians of the day” (29). Only the Unitarians achieved much success in their promulgations of such radical positions as the idea that Moses did not in fact write the Pentateuch or that the miracles recorded in either the Old or New Testament were unscientific and thus impossible. Elinor Shaffer has argued that “not until the 1830s in England [was] knowledge of the most advanced Continental scholarship [anything other than] a stick [with which] to beat the Anglican academic Establishment, pictured by Unitarian journals as sunk in parochial ignorance, sloth, and obscurantism” (25).

[11] The Church did encourage thoughtful preparation for taking communion, and the liturgy provided a warning that was always read before the consecrated host was distributed to the effect that one risked eternal damnation if one partook without prior repentance. So strong was this three-paragraph warning that it was common practice for people to exit the church after the readings and sermon but before communion was served, lest through “unworthy reception,” they put their souls at risk (Walsh and Taylor 23). Serious Anglicans could also read any one of the many guides to the communicant, most of eighteenth-century authorship, which helped a person prepare for communion through prayer and the examination of conscience. Jane Austen, for instance, had a well-thumbed copy of Vickers’ A Companion to the Altar (originally published in 1707 but reprinted many times throughout the century); Taylor’s The Worthy Communicant (1701), Gibson’s The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper Explained (1752), Comber’s Companion to the Altar (1721), and Beveridge’s The Worthy Communicant (1724) were also available through reprinted editions throughout the first decades of the nineteenth-century.

[12] D. C. Lathby argues that Pusey’s commitment to the Anglican Church held fast even though he also refused to show even passing hostility to the Roman Church:

Newman, Keble, even Hurrell Froude, had moments of active hostility to Rome, Pusey never. He was attacked from all quarters because he would not render railing for railing, but he remained immovable. Often as he had to take part in the Roman controversy, he never forgot the debt of Christendom to Rome, or how much those who are not her children have to learn from her.  (n.pag.; ch. 2).

Newman himself confirmed that Pusey had no doubts about whether he should remain an Anglican or not; in the Apologia, he writes that “[p]eople are apt to say that [Pusey] was once closer to the Catholic Church than he is now; I pray God that he may one day be nearer . . . than he was then; for I believe that, in his reason and judgment, all the time that I knew him, he was never near to it at all” (72).

[13] The most comprehensive account of the Tractarian wrestlings with the doctrinal problems related to the Eucharist can be found in Alf Härdelin’s The Tractarian Understanding of the Eucharist. He makes it clear that none of the key players in the Movement held exactly the same view of the subject, though they were united in wishing the sacrament to be revitalized by being celebrated with greater frequency and marks of sanctity. For those interested in the subject, Härdelin’s treatment of the vexed issue concerning what exactly is “sacrificed” in this “feast upon a sacrifice” is well worth reading (see esp. 199-222).

[14] Waterland provides an interesting survey of the various names for the Eucharist: “breaking of bread, communion, Lord’s Supper, oblation, sacrament, eucharist, sacrifice, memorial, Passover, mass” (4); the variation in names reveals something of the variation in theological claims about the sacrament even among orthodox Anglican thinkers.

[15] Other important Anglican writings on the theology of the Eucharist that predated the Oxford Movement include Johnson’s The Unbloody Sacrifice (1714-18), Warburton’s A Rational Account of the Nature and End of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (1761), Cleaver’s A Sermon on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (1787), and Hoadly’s A Plain Account of the Lord’s Supper (1819). Also see H.C. Grove’s 1858 defense of Pusey and Keble’s Eucharistic views and Stone’s two volume A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1909) for a sense of post-Oxford Movement Anglican Eucharistic theology; Härdelin’s 1965 The Tractarian Understanding of the Eucharist is the most complete modern treatment of what members of the Oxford Movement actually argued on the subject.

[16] The first of the two phrases to which Manning objected was actually a quotation from St. Chrystostom: “But that which He suffered not on the Cross, this He suffers in the oblation for thy sake, and submits to be broken that He may fill all men”; the second expands on the saint’s language: “that Precious Blood is still, in continuance and application of His One Oblation once made upon the Cross, poured out for us now, conveying to our souls . . . the remission of our sins also” (Pusey, The Holy Eucharist). Manning wrote that “[i]n the use of both these expressions it seems to me there is a distinction required. S. Chrysostom does not mean that Christ is suffering in the Eucharist in the sense in w[hic]h he suffered on the Cross. Nor do you mean that the oblation in the Eucharist is the oblation of Christ upon the Cross” (Letter to E.B. Pusey). Pusey’ response noted his agreement with Manning; it would be “heresy to affirm, that [Christ’s] humiliation and Passion had not taken place once for all” (Copy of Letter to Henry Edward Manning).

[17] Article XXVIII of the Articles of Religion, “Of the Lord’s Supper,” reads in full as follows:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped. (Book of Common Prayer)

One can see that what exactly happens at consecration—as opposed to reception—of the sacrament is left unexplained.

[18] The second volume of Liddon’s biography provides an extraordinary wealth of the primary documents relative to Pusey’s sermon, as well as a comprehensive account of every by-blow of the matter (306-69).