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The Victorian Church of England was riven by a heated conflict over the meaning and nature of the Eucharist. Traditionally Anglicans could believe either that the consecrated bread and wine were used as, but not changed into, Christ's body and blood – which was known as the virtualist view – or that Christ was present only to the worthy communicant, which was the receptionist view. The rather peaceful coexistence of these two views was challenged beginning in the late 1830s, when the Tractarian doctrine of the Real Presence introduced theological and liturgical strife into the established church. This doctrine held that Christ was ‘really’ present in, or in conjunction with, the consecrated bread and wine. The doctrine quickly found adherents in the Scottish Episcopal Church as well; and by the 1860s ritualists had introduced liturgical practices associated with it – including bowing to the altar, kneeling during communion and even reserving the sacrament – at the parish level.
This new doctrine was denounced by traditional Anglicans who were horrified by what seemed to them to be crypto–Roman Catholicism. While the preferred form of dispute was through the spoken and written word, some of the more excitable opponents of the doctrine disrupted church services, and clergymen who preached the doctrine were prosecuted in church and civil courts. The controversies were so fierce and so prolonged partly because, while they were about liturgy and doctrine, they were also about deeper issues of whether the Church of England was Catholic or Protestant and whether material objects could have a central role in Christian worship.
The Oxford Movement, initiating what is commonly called the Catholic Revival of the Church of England and of global Anglicanism more generally, has been a perennial subject of study by historians since its beginning in the 1830s. But the leader of the movement whose name was most associated with it during the nineteenth century, Edward Bouverie Pusey, has long been neglected by historical studies of the Anglican Catholic Revival. This collection of essays seeks to redress the negative and marginalizing historiography of Pusey, and to increase current understanding of both Pusey and his culture. The essays take Pusey’s contributions to the Oxford Movement and its theological thinking seriously; most significantly, they endeavour to understand Pusey on his own terms, rather than by comparison with Newman or Keble. The volume reveals Pusey as a serious theologian who had a significant impact on the Victorian period, both within the Oxford Movement and in wider areas of church politics and theology. This reassessment is important not merely to rehabilitate Pusey’s reputation, but also to help our current understanding of the Oxford Movement, Anglicanism and British Christianity in the nineteenth century.
In an era noted for its outsized personalities and high achievers, Edward Bouverie Pusey was one of the most prominent and influential Victorians. Born into a minor aristocratic family and educated at Eton and Oxford, his early academic success culminated in his appointment as canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford at age 28. For the rest of his long life, from this prestigious academic position Pusey was at the forefront of public disputes over religion. As one of the co-leaders of the Oxford Movement, he was a staunch defender of the Catholic identity of the Church of England; he was also a very influential figure to the younger generation of Anglo-Catholics, including his biographer Henry Parry Liddon and Christina Rossetti.
Shortly after his death, Pusey's life and achievements were commemorated in the four-volume Life of Pusey, begun by Liddon and completed after Liddon's death by John Octavius Johnston, Robert John Wilson and William Charles Edmund Newbolt; and in Pusey House, which still houses a library, chapel, and rooms for scholars. Yet since that flurry of post-mortem recognition, Pusey has largely dropped from public memory, and from prominence among scholars of nineteenth-century British Christianity. When he is remembered, it is as a caricature. His popular image is now that of an excessively austere defender of an increasingly irrelevant and even incomprehensible way of life.