Authority, Dogma, and History: The Role of Oxford Movement Converts in the Papal Infallibility Debates of the Nineteenth Century, 1835-1875

By Hughes, John Jay | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Authority, Dogma, and History: The Role of Oxford Movement Converts in the Papal Infallibility Debates of the Nineteenth Century, 1835-1875


Hughes, John Jay, The Catholic Historical Review


Authority, Dogma, and History: The Role of Oxford Movement Converts in the Papal Infallibility Debates of the Nineteenth Century, 1835-1875. Edited by Kenneth L. Parker and Michael J. G Pahls. (Palo Alto, CA: Académica Press. 2008. Pp. 364. $79-95. ISBN 978-1-933-14644-7.)

The Oxford Movement (OM) started with John Keble's Assize Sermon in July 1833, protesting control of the Church of England by a parliament that included members of other faiths and none. The OM quickly became an attempt to recall Anglicans to an awareness of their Catholic roots- never completely severed, OM's members contended, despite the repudiation of papal authority in the sixteenth century. The OM in its original form ended some twelve years after it had begun, when its leading spokesman, John Henry Newman, departed for what was, in the England of that day, a social and ecclesial Siberia, by entering the Roman Catholic Church.

Keble's broken-hearted but deeply affectionate letter to Newman said that his beloved friend's departure had produced in Keble "a feeling as if the spring had been taken out of my year."1 In his concise and accurate chapter on the OM in this book, Benjamin O'Connor cites other less temperate reactions, ranging "from surprise to complete devastation." "The sensation to us was as of a sudden end of all things and without a new beginning," wrote one. Another expressed anger: "We felt we that had been betrayed, and we resented the wrong which had been done to us" (p. 36).

Although only two of the seven contributors to this book have experienced Anglicanism from the inside, all manifest remarkable understanding of a form of Christianity seldom accessible to outsiders. The authors share three assumptions: that the OM converts brought into their Catholic experience preoccupations rooted in their efforts to reform Anglicanism; that their shared concerns produced very different reasons for their conversions; and that, despite their small numbers, they transformed and refashioned Catholic theological discourse, particularly regarding papal authority.

The best known of Newman's works, next to his Apologia pro vita sua, is his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), which was his attempt to persuade himself that it was right, indeed imperative, to accept the faith of the Catholic Church.

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