New Oxford Movement

6f690-1412588611621I have just seen something from Fr Anthony Clavier on Facebook about the question of a new Oxford Movement, with a quote from an inaccessible website:

We shouldn’t compromise the traditions of High Church worship. But if we think the reverence that inspires them is important to the spiritual flourishing of the wider church, then we ourselves must practice them with reverence. If we worship with pride, then we will communicate pride. And if we communicate pride, then we cut off the possibility of something like a new Oxford Movement at its root by substantiating the perception of Anglo-Catholics as arrogant, haughty, and contemptuous.

I think some vital points have been missed. The Oxford Movement was primarily a very small group of academics at Oxford University. They all had a classical education and were very widely read. Their immediate priority was not the liturgy. They probably had more in common with the Wesley brothers and Methodism than with the later liturgical movements in the Church of England, repressed by bishops and English law until well into the twentieth century.

Another part of the background is Romanticism, something like the movement for change that emerged from both the downfall of eighteenth-century ultra-rationalism, the corruption of much of the aristocracy and the Church and also from the bloodbath of the Revolution. Of course, I refer to France, but the instability was everywhere in Europe. The Romantics sought something new, a sense of being fully human and aspiring to the divine.

The Oxford Movement coincided exactly with the monastic revival in France, the restoration of many cathedrals and parish churches and a renewal of parish life under the influence of saintly or otherwise inspired priests. This is one reason why I cannot isolate the Oxford Movement from the general cultural feeling in the air in the early nineteenth century.

Certainly, we do well to celebrate our liturgy with reverence and take our Christian life seriously. We also do well to seek the various characteristics of a generalised desire for change in our political institutions and a combat against everything that de-humanises us. There is something out there. Much of it is very shallow, easily taken in by demagogues and populists, but the desire to reject the corrupt establishment is as legitimate today as in 1789.

If we want a new Oxford Movement, then we need to find in ourselves the characteristics of a bold desire to change and rediscover. We are not in a university but on the internet. That is something of a game-changer! We need to use the internet responsibly, aware that it involves real and sensitive human beings. Above all, we need to rise above shallowness and give others the fruits of the university studies some of us were privileged to do years ago.

The ingredients seem to be a cultural predisposition, academic erudition and a simple and sincere spirituality. That might then be refined into a version for parish priests and lay organisations in parishes, dioceses and other ecclesiastical entities. My own inspiration for liturgical work has been much of what was done in the mid nineteenth century, already a goldmine of research in the greatest libraries of England. That is the seed – if that is what we want to do.

* * *

The fairly widely memed Facebook thread finds its reflection in Why No New Oxford Movement. This article contains a couple of links to articles. The upshot is that it won’t happen for a number of reasons. No one should entertain any illusions. Again, for me, there are plenty of inspirations for us as individuals, subjects for books and articles, but nothing more.

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3 Responses to New Oxford Movement

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you! A very interesting putting things in context, historically, and accenting practicalities! Could we vary something from Newman’s last great Anglican work – ‘to be deep in history, is to be able to conduce to Romanticism coming of age!’?

    I don’t know enough about this strand of either French or English history, but you encourage me to try to get reading further. (Any particular recommendations would also be welcome!) There are whole intensely practical, ‘temporal works of mercy’, sides to this (about which I also do not know enough), early and late – Wesley and the anti-slavery movement, (Anglo-)Catholic (and, I think, ‘broad’ Church – Kingsley, for example) work for and among the poor and downtrodden, which you (still?) see at the following turn of the century, with R.H. Benson, for example.

    • There is something I recommend very heartily: Bernard M.G. Reardon, Religion in the Age of Romanticism, Cambridge (University Press) 1985. It is less of a historical account than a study of the thought involved, especially German idealism. Perhaps Dom Louis Soltner, Solesmes et Dom Guéranger, Solesmes 1974. It gives a good illustration of a French priest in the early 19th century seeking the ideal. If your French is up to it, there is François-René de Chateaubriand, Le Génie du Christianisme. It has certainly been translated into English. There is also Félicité de Lamennais who incurred the wrath of Pope Gregory XVI for his Liberalism (separation of Church and State in particular). Reardon’s footnotes should give you a few ideas, since there is no bibliography.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you very much! My French, alas, isn’t up to anything, really (maybe laborious attempts at decoding…), but I’ll look for the Chateaubriand in English. (I enjoyed the fairly recent edition of de Tocqueville and Beaumont’s American letters in English and have started Democracy in America to follow up…) And I’ll try to get Reardon.

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