Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Early Hobartian Reaction to the Oxford Movement: Assessments of the Tracts for the Times in the Churchman, 1835-1841

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Early Hobartian Reaction to the Oxford Movement: Assessments of the Tracts for the Times in the Churchman, 1835-1841

Article excerpt

The two sisters do not quite agree on matters of church doctrine, though their differences are of the most amicable description. Mrs Arabin's church is two degrees higher than that of Mrs Grantly. . . Mrs Grandy, who belongs to the high and dry church, the high church as it was some fifty years since, before tracts were written and young clergymen took upon themselves the highly meritorious duty of cleaning churches, rather laughs at her sister.

-Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, chapter 53 (1857)

As George B. DeMille amply demonstrates in The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church, there was a vigorous and successful high church party in the Episcopal Church long before the Oxford Movement.1 For this reason, DeMiIIe argued, the Tracts for the Times were more favorably received in the United States than in England:

There was little, if anything, in the earlier Tracts which had not long been taught in the American Church, and by men of the highest authority. [American high churchmen] had nothing new to learn from Keble and Newman about the apostolic succession, or the sin of schism, of the value of the sacraments, or the authority of the Fathers. The Tracts were well received, not because they taught new doctrine, but because they fell in with one of the prevailing currents of thought in the American Church.

According to DeMiIIe, we can find "an excellent measure of American High Church reaction to the Tracts"' by looking at The Churchman, a weekly paper that served as the "semi-official organ of the High Church party."4 From 1833 to 1850 the paper was edited by Samuel Seabury (1801-1872), a grandson of the first American bishop and a disciple of the late John Henry Hobart (1775-1830), the leading figure of pre-tractarian high churchmanship in the United States. As Demille says, it was Seabury "who perhaps best represented the pure milk of the Hobartian word."

DeMille offers only a cursory look at the high church reaction to the Tracts, devoting a single paragraph to The Churchman 's engagement with the Oxford Movement. He suggests that the paper's treatment of the Tracts was largely favorable, criticizing some aspects of tractarian thought but "too certain of American High Churchmanship ... to feel any 'apprehension that the republication of the Tracts among us will make converts to what are deemed their peculiar views.'" ' But a more thorough examination of The Churchman's engagement with the Tracts in the six years following their first appearance in the United States reveals a far more cautious and more equivocal approach to the Tracts dian DeMille 's brief treatment suggests. In this paper I shall set forth the evidence that The Chuwhmaris early engagement with the Tracts went through three distinct stages. At first, Seabury kept his distance from the Tracts. He paid as little attention as possible to the Oxford Movement, apparently hoping that American interest in the movement would wither if The Churchman largely ignored it. But when it became evident that the Tracts would be reprinted in full in the United States and be widely discussed, The Churchman moved into die second stage: attempting to prepare its readership to respond to die Tracts in a properly critical way. Seabury worked to highlight the aspects of tractarian teaching that reinforced established Hobartian doctrine and cautioned his readers against the dangerous novelties and Romanizing tendencies that could arguably be found in some of the Tracts. A third stage began when Seabury saw the success of the Tracts in winning broader acceptance for high church principles. The high church triumphalism that characterized The Churchman in tbis tbird stage would be shattered by the Carey controversy of 1843 and the Onderdonk trial of 1844; but in the period with which this paper concludes, it seemed reasonable to Seabury to think that all evangelical opposition to sound Catholic principles was being swept away.


The first mention of the Tracts for the Times in The Churchman occurred in January 1835. …

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