Skip to main content

Sermon at Evensong on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2019

Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey, who fought for the soul of our beloved Church of England.

The Venerable David Stanton Canon in Residence

Sunday, 15th September 2019 at 3:00 PM

This morning a service of thanksgiving to mark the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Britain took place here in the Abbey.

We remembered those dashing RAF pilots who fought for the freedom this country, in what was the first decisive battle fought entirely in the air.

Tomorrow (16th September) we will  remember the life and witness of a rather undashing yet influential individual called Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey, who instead of fighting for the RAF, fought for the soul of our beloved Church of England.

During much of the nineteenth century he was Regius Professor of Hebrew and a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. He was for forty years a figurehead of the Oxford Movement and its de facto leader after Newman's conversion in 1845.

The term ‘Oxford Movement’ is often used to describe the whole of what might be called the Catholic revival in the Church of England.

Along with John Henry Newman and the saintly poet John Keble, who’s marble bust stands in Poet’s Corner, Pusey became one of the key leaders of this revival movement.

After Newman’s conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, Pusey became the de facto leader of this movement, stoically standing firm in the face of much opposition and criticism.

Pusey believed that Christians had become too autonomous, ignoring necessary aspects of the Christian life because they were inconvenient or uncomfortable.

He was simultaneously one of the most erudite and most polarizing figures in the nineteenth century Church of England, and yet at the same time he was deeply pious and something of a mystic.

The historian,William Tuckwell, writes within his reminiscences:

Dr Pusey was not in the least a picturesque or tremendous character, but only a sickly and rather ill put together English clerical gentleman, who never looked one in the face, or appeared aware of the state of the weather.

His appearance struck another contemporary as having always ruffled hair and being an exceeding slovenly person, always dusky, and with suggestions of a blunt or half-used razor.

Pusey’s particular spiritual contribution this Catholic Revival was the call to the holiness of life, to the assiduous cultivation of a devout life, of a structured life of daily devotion and self-examination.

It was a style of life that rejected the pursuit of pleasure and stressed the virtues of humility, of lowliness and self-denial. The touch words being obligation and responsibility.

This call to holiness of life sprang from the two great spiritual themes of Incarnation and the mystery of the Cross.

For Pusey the Incarnation and the Cross were two aspects of the same divine reality.

He was baptised on Holy Cross Day and throughout his life he held a deep devotion to the Holy Cross. This was the feast we kept yesterday.

If you are ever in Oxford, make your way to St John’s College and look across the road.

There you will find Pusey House which was opened in 1884 as a memorial to Dr Pusey.

Within the chapel you will find an adoring angel, a detail from Comper's baldacchino, erected in 1936, and said to be based on Torrigiano's baldacchino here in Westminster Abbey.

One of the basic principles of the Oxford Movement - was that the life of the mind and the life of prayer belong together, that holiness of life overflows in ministries of love and service, and finds its ultimate focus within the Holy Eucharist.

Our second lesson this afternoon reminds us of the fact that Christ said of himself:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world in my flesh. (John 6.51).

We are reminded again that this is the way to find full and everlasting life.  Jesus is very clear and blunt about it.

His flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. Any other food leaves us spiritually empty and hollow, hungry and bereft of life.

‘Very truly, I tell you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.’

These are ominous words, words that both haunt and challenge us.

If you take the trouble to read through Pusey’s writings, a theme soon becomes very clear, that of constant contact with Christ.

How being a Christian doesn’t just mean observing a certain way of living, or even of just using our Lord as a way for living.

Of course it involves these things, but being a Christian also means becoming involved in the life of Christ, or to put it another way, allowing Christ to become involved in our lives.

There must be a meeting of person with person, a mutual involvement of the one with the other.

Here he means that being in contact with Christ involves being in contact with Christ’s work, with what he has done.

In other words it means being involved with his work of redemption and his work of salvation. It means being in contact with his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

His deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist speaks to us about an intimacy of faith a meeting of heaven and earth, where God, by the power of his grace, reaches down to touch us, and we, by making a full and complete offering, receive the power to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.

But perhaps his chief influence was as a preacher and spiritual adviser.

As a preacher he didn’t really communicate well in public, but compelled attention by his searching and practical earnestness.

His correspondence as a spiritual adviser was enormous; his deserved reputation for piety made him a very popular confessor to whom many unburdened their doubts and their sins.

His private life was simple and austere. Though fierce with his opponents, he was gentle to those who knew him, and he was financially very generous.

He financed the building of St Saviour's Church, Leeds, and was instrumental in the foundation of Ascot Priory.

In his home life he had some severe trials; his wife died, after eleven years of marriage and only one of his daughters survived into adulthood. His only son, who was a scholar like-minded with himself, died in 1880, after many years of suffering.

From that time Pusey was seen by only a few people. His strength gradually declined, and he left Oxford to be cared for by the community of nuns he had founded at Ascot, where he died on the 16th September 1882.

At his funeral in Christ Church Cathedral his pall-bearers included Edward King, later the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, Charles Wood, later Viscount Halifax, the Earl of Glasgow, the Warden of Keble College and the Prime Minister, William Gladstone.

A future Prime Minister, the Marquis of Salisbury was to head the appeal committee which raised funds for Pusey House.

Pusey’s embrace of the Catholic tradition has introduced many elements into Anglicanism that are still bearing fruit.

Anglican worship has undoubtedly been enhanced by Pusey’s holiness, discipline and sacramentalism, and his relative warmth toward Roman Catholicism has given encouragement to later Anglicans to benefit from that tradition of theology and spirituality.

Twitter logo Tweet this