1902 Encyclopedia > Edward Bouverie Pusey

Edward Bouverie Pusey
English religious leader

EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY (1800-1882), originally Edward Bouverie, was born near Oxford in 1800. His family, which was of Huguenot origin, became through a marriage connexion lords of the manor of Pusey, a small Berkshire village near Oxford, and from it took their name a few years after Edward Bouverie's birth. In 1818 he became a commoner of Christ Church, Oxford, and after gaining high university distinctions was elected in 1824 to a fellowship at Oriel College. He thus became a member of a society which already contained some of the ablest of his contemporaries,—among them J. H. Newman and John Keble. But for several years his intercourse with them seems to have been slight. He divided his time between his country home and Germany, and occupied himself with the study of Oriental languages and of German theology. His first work, published in 1828, was a vindi-cation of the latter from a strong attack which had been made upon it by one of the leaders of the nascent High-Church party, H» J. Rose. His work, which is entitled An Historical Enquiry into the probable Causes of the Rational Character lately predominant in the Theology of Germany, is an impartial and clear summary of the history of German theology since the Reformation. In the same year (1828) the duke of Wellington appointed him to the regius professorship of Hebrew with the attached canonry of Christ Church, which he held for the rest of his life. Mr Rose's somewhat intemperate reply to him led to the publication in 1830 of a second part of his Historical Enquiry, which is not less liberal in its tone than the pre-vious part. But in the years which immediately followed the current of his thoughts began to set in another direc-tion. The revolt against individualism had begun, and he was attracted to its standard. By the end of 1833 "he showed a disposition to make common cause " with those who had already begun to issue the Tracts for the Times. "He was not, however, fully associated in the movement till 1835 and 1836, when he published his tract on baptism and started the Library of the Fathers " (Cardinal Newman's Apologia, p. 136). The real work of his life then began. He became a close student of the fathers and of that school of Anglican divines who had continued, or revived, in the 17th century the main traditions of pre-Beformation teaching. In ten years after his first adhesion to the movement he had become, with his almost, boundless capacity for accumulating information, saturated with patristic and " Anglo-Catholic " divinity; and a sermon which he preached before the university in 1843, The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent, so startled the authorities by the re-statement of doctrines which, though well known to ecclesiastical antiquaries, had faded from the common view, that by the exercise of an authority which, however legitimate, was almost obsolete he was suspended for three years from the func-tion of preaching. The immediate effect of his suspension was the sale of 18,000 copies of the condemned sermon; its permanent effect was to make Pusey for the next quarter of a century the most influential person in the Church of England. The movement, in the origination of which he had had no share, came to bear his name : it was popularly known as Puseyism and its adherents as Puseyites. His activity, both public and private, as leader of the movement was enormous. He was not only on the stage but also behind the scenes of every important controversy, whether theological or academical. In the Gorham controversy of 1850, in the question of Oxford reform in 1854, in the prosecution of some of the writers of Essays and Reviews, especially of Professor Jowett, in 1863, in the question as to the reform of the marriage laws from 1849 to the end of his life, in the revived con-troversy as to the meaning of everlasting punishment in 1877, he was always busy with articles, letters, treatises, and sermons. The occasions on which, in his turn, he preached before his university were all memorable; and some of the sermons were manifestoes which mark distinct stages in the history of the party of which he was the leader. The practice of confession in the Church of Eng-land practically dates from his two sermons on The Entire Absolution of the Penitent, in 1846, in which the revival of high sacramental doctrine is complemented by the advocacy of a revival of the penitential system which mediaeval theologians had appended to it. The sermon on The Rule of Faith as maintained by the Fathers and by the Church of England, in 1851, stemmed the current of secessions to Rome after the Gorham judgment, which had seemed to show that on an important point of dogmatic theology the Church of England had no definite doctrine. The sermon on The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, in 1853, first formulated the doctrine round which almost all the subsequent theology of his followers has revolved, and which has revolutionized the current practices of Anglican worship. And the last university sermon which he composed, and which he was too ill to deliver himself, Vnscience, not Science, adverse to Faith, in 1878, rendered not only to his party but to religion in general the signal service of abandoning the old quarrel between theology and science, as to the manner in which the world was created, by admitting the possibility of evolution. Of his larger works the most important are his two books on the Eucharist—The Doctrine of the Real Presence (consisting of notes on his university sermon of 1853), published in 1855, and The Real Presence . . . the Doctrine of the English Church, published in 1857 ; Daniel the Prophet, in which he endeavours with great skill to maintain the traditional date of that book ; The Minor Prophets, with Commentary, which forms his chief contribution to the study of which he was the professor; and the Eirenicon, in which he endeavoured to find, for those who accepted his premises, a basis of union between the Church of England and the Church of Rome. In 1836 he joined Newman, Keble, and Marriott in editing a series of translations from the fathers entitled A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church anterior to the Division of East and West, and contributed to it a revised translation of St Augustine's Confessions and several valuable prefaces; the series was accompanied by a translation of the Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas, and was followed by an edition of some of the texts which had been translated. He also edited, with suitable omissions, several books of devotion by Roman Catholic writers, such as Avrillon and Scupoli.

In private life his habits were simple almost to austerity. He had few personal friends, and rarely mingled in general society; though bitter to opponents, he was gentle to those who knew him, and his munificent charities gave him a warm place in the hearts of many to whom he was personally unknown. In his domestic life he had some severe trials : his wife died, after eleven years of married life, in 1839 ; his only son, who was a scholar like-minded with himself, who had shared many of his literary labours, and who had edited an excellent edition of St Cyril's com-mentary on the minor prophets, died in 1880, after many years of great bodily affliction. From that time Pusey was seen by only a few persons. His own bodily infirmi-ties increased, and on 16th September 1882, after a short illness, he died a painless death. He was buried at Oxford in the cathedral of which he had been for fifty-four years a canon. His friends devised for him after his death a singular memorial: they purchased his library, and bought for it a house in Oxford which they endowed with sufficient funds to maintain three librarians, who were charged with the duty of endeavouring to perpetuate in the university the memory of the principles which he taught.

His name will be chiefly remembered as the representative of a great religious movement which, whatever may be its ultimate issue, has carried with it no small part of the religious life of England in the latter half of the 19th century. His chief characteristic was an almost unbounded capacity for taking pains. His chief influence was that of a preacher and a spiritual adviser. His Parish Sermons reproduce the substance of patristic homilies in the massive style of the Caroline divines. His correspondence as a spiritual adviser was enormous ; his deserved reputation for piety and for solidity of character made him the chosen confessor to whom large numbers of men and women unburdened their doubts and their sins. But if he be estimated apart from his position as the head of a great party, it must be considered that he was more a theological antiquary than a theologian. He exhumed many forgotten theories and sup-ported them by a large number of quotations from ancient writers; but the heterogeneous masses of information which he accumulated require a sifting which often leaves but a scanty residuum, and, however valuable to advanced scholars, cannot safely be commended to learners. Whatever he wrote was relative to the controversies of his time, and as a controversialist he holds a place which is unique among his contemporaries. He had an almost unrivalled power of massing his evidence, of selecting from an author just so much as was pertinent to the point under discussion, and of ignor-ing or depreciating statements which were at variance with the views which he advocated. As a party leader he combined great enthusiasm with indefatigable energy and tenacity of purpose ; he chose his positions beforehand with great skill, and never after-wards abandoned them. But he does not seem to have had any great logical power : he builds elaborate arguments upon words of shifting connotation, such as "faith" and "church," and slides unconsciously from one meaning to another. Nor is there any evidence that he ever faced the historical difficulties which the position of the Church of England presents from the Catholic point of view, and which ultimately led to Newman's secession. He lived in Christian antiquity, and his arguments seldom touched any but sympathetic natures. Unlike Newman, who appealed to the cul-tured intellect of his time, he never caught the modern spirit. The result was that after Newman's departure the party of which Pusey was the head never made a single convert of mark. The intellect of Oxford and of England drifted away from it; and, in spite of the eloquence of some of its advocates, "Puseyism" does not now number among its adherents any one who exercises an appreciable influence upon the intellectual life of England.

In fact Pusey survived the system which had borne his name. His followers went beyond him, or away from him, in two direc- tions. On the one hand, his revival of the mediaeval doctrine of the Real Presence, coinciding as it did with the revival of a taste for mediaeval art, naturally led to a revival of the mediaeval cere- monial of worship. With this revival of ceremonial Pusey had little sympathy : he at first protested against it (in a university sermon in 1859) ; and, though he came to defend those who were accused of breaking the law in their practice of it, he did so on the express ground that their practice was alien to his own. But this revival of ceremonial in its various degrees is now the chief external characteristic of the movement of which he was the leader ; and "Ritualist" has thrust "Puseyite" aside as the designation of those who hold the doctrines for which he mainly contended. On the other hand, the pivot of his teaching was the appeal to primitive antiquity. It was an appeal which had considerable force as against the vapid theology of the early part of the century, and as a criterion of the claims of Catholicism. But it lost its force, and his followers came to substitute for it an appeal to the prin- ciples of an a priori philosophy, some of which were borrowed from Thomism and some, though at second hand, from Hegelian- ism. Nor is it probable that Puseyism will revive again. On the one hand, an appeal to primitive times wdiich is divorced, as was Pusey's appeal, from the history of those times must necessarily fail in an age in which the spirit of historical inquiry is abroad ; on the other hand, however excellent the maxim may be which Pusey put in the forefront of his arguments, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, yet, when limited, as Pusey limited it, to the statements of particular writers and the current beliefs of particular ages, it becomes a mere paradox and ceases to afford a logical basis for any system of doctrine. (E. HA.)

The above article was written by: Rev. Edwin Hatch, D.D., Vice-Principal, St Mary Hall, Oxford.

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