Edward Bouverie Pusey

The English clergyman and scholar Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was one of the major figures of the Oxford Movement, which began at Oxford in 1833 to overcome the dangers threatening the Church of England.

Edward Pusey's lineage was noble. His father had inherited the estate of Pusey, in Berkshire, where Edward was born on Aug. 22, 1800. His childhood was calm and self-assured but isolated. He accepted his mother's High Anglican teaching and moved confidently toward a clerical vocation by way of Eton and Oxford. As a student, Pusey labored endlessly, reading for as much as 17 hours a day. He won a first-class degree at Christ Church, Oxford, and then in 1823 was elected a fellow of Oriel College, where he met John Keble and John Henry Newman.

Pusey then determined "to devote my life to the Old Testament, " and he studied theology and Semitic languages at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin between 1826 and 1828. On his return his father permitted him to marry Maria Barker, whom he had loved for many years, and that same year Pusey was ordained. Late in 1828 he became regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford and was appointed canon of Christ Church. He also published a critical history of German theology.

Late in 1833 Pusey gravitated toward the Oxford Movement. He wrote tracts on the advantages of fasting (1834) and on baptism (1836) in the series Tracts for the Times. From the standpoint of public prestige, his adhesion to the Oxford Movement, Newman said, supplied it with "a position and a name." The movement was sometimes known as "Puseyism" throughout the later 1830s.

In 1836 Pusey began his influential editorship of the Library of Fathers, beginning with the works of St. Augustine, Ultimately 48 volumes in this series were published, and Pusey contributed several studies of patristic works.

When Newman withdrew from the Oxford Movement, Pusey became its leader. In 1843 Pusey, who had defended Newman's Tract No. 90, was charged with preaching heresy in a sermon on the Eucharist, "The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent." In secret proceedings of questionable fairness he was privately suspended from preaching at Oxford for 2 years. In 1845 he assisted in the establishment of the first Anglican sisterhood, and throughout the rest of his life he assisted in establishing Anglican orders. In 1846 Pusey claimed in his sermon "The Entire Absolution of the Penitent" that the Church of England possessed the right of priestly absolution, thus inaugurating the Anglican practice of private confession.

In his remaining years at Oxford, Pusey fought for Tractarian objectives but without major successes. He opposed the increasing secularization of the university, in which intellectual life was being segregated from a moral and spiritual base. He also worked for Christian unity, but he was defeated partly by the new assertions of Roman authority under the papacy of Pius IX. His sermon "The Rule of Faith" (1851) did, however, check English conversions to Roman Catholicism.

Pusey's private life exemplified the personal holiness that marked the Tractarians' purpose. His wife died of consumption in 1839, and his only son became a chronic invalid and a cripple. Only one child survived him. For Pusey these tragedies, and the public hostility he encountered, were spurs to greater penitence, humility, and submission. He practiced simplicity, self-denial, and works of charity.

Pusey's Eirenicon (3 parts, 1865-1870) was an attempt to find common ground for reuniting Roman Catholicism and the Church of England. Its publication caused much controversy, being answered by Newman. Pusey died at Ascot Priory, Berkshire, on Sept. 16, 1882.


Further Reading on Edward Bouverie Pusey

The basic biography of Pusey is Henry P. Liddon, Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, D.D.. (4 vols., 1893-1897). A brief panegyric by Charles C. Grafton, Pusey and the Church Revival (1902), is useful as an explication of Anglo-Catholic theology. Newman's comments on Pusey are in his famous autobiography, Apologia pro vita sua (1864). Of the large literature on the Oxford Movement generally, an early and deeply sympathetic account by a disciple is Richard W. Church, The Oxford Movement (1897). Among the later histories are a broad and fair treatment by Yngue T. Brilioth, The Anglican Revival (1933), and Geoffrey C. Faber, Oxford Apostles (1933), a lively work full of psychological insight but not unfriendly. A useful anthology of primary readings is Owen Chadwick, ed., The Mind of the Oxford Movement (1960).


Additional Biography Sources

Pusey rediscovered, London: SPCK, 1983.