The Moral Temper

Fr. James Pereiro’s new history of the Victorian Church examines a much-neglected element of the Oxford Movement’s central tenets.  Ethos, he contends, was the key component in the development of a complex theory of knowledge that Tractarians—named after the movement’s “Tracts for the Times”—would adopt as their own.  The idea was conceived by Anglican priest and poetry professor John Keble, based on his reading of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Bishop Butler’s Analogy.  It was quickly adopted and further developed by fellow Tractarian leaders Richard Hurrell Froude and John Henry Newman.

In the process of explaining the meaning and significance of ethos, Pereiro introduces a figure who he believes has not received enough attention.  Samuel Francis Wood, a gifted student of Newman, played an important role in the movement by formulating a theory of doctrinal development that made a significant impact on his former tutor’s intellectual trajectory.  Along the way, we learn of another neglected aspect of Tractarian history: the activities of laymen, like Wood, who carried on the cause in London while the more famous members continued their work at Oxford.

The movement itself was formed for the purpose of countering the influence of religious liberalism or rationalism within the Church of England.  The events that precipitated...

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