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Edward Bouverie Pusey

Edward Bouverie Pusey

Readings for the Feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey, September 18:

Psalm 106:1-5

Ezekiel 36:24-28

1 Peter 2:19-23

Luke 3:10-14

Several of us in the Episcopal Church self-identify as “Anglo-Catholic” and are not a bit embarrassed to admit that we are drawn to the bright shiny objects of “smells and bells” liturgy like magpies. We have Edward Pusey to thank for much of that. He, along with John Henry Newman, were two of the brightest lights in the Oxford Movement, the period of time in Anglican church history where we first began to grapple with the more catholic roots of our Angican theological heritage. Unlike Newman, though, who packed his bags for Rome, Pusey remained Anglican, despite some serious opposition within his own theological scholarly community.

The end result of his faithfulness in remaining Anglican is now reflected in our 1979 Prayer Book, when we moved to Eucharist, rather than Morning Prayer, being the norm on Sunday mornings. It’s hard to conceptualize what seems routine to any of us who came after the 1979 BCP, as once being highly controversial.

Pusey had to feel, at the least, disappointed, and at most, betrayed, by Newman’s defection to Roman Catholicism, yet he stayed the course in a time of theological upheaval within our denomination. His fidelity is reflected in the Collect of the Day:

Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant Edward Bouverie Pusey, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect, as well as Pusey’s story in relation to the Oxford Movement, is a good reminder that many things in the history of the Episcopal church started out as minority opinions but, over time, became the face of the church. Decrying slavery and ordaining women were just as unpopular notions at the time they were introduced. The “three legged stool” of Anglican theological process–scripture, tradition, and reason–is not the fastest way to move the direction of the church, but history has shown us that it is a reliable one. Most of us in 2011 can barely imagine Sunday worship without the Eucharist, but the people of the time of the Oxford movement (1833-1845) went to their grave never seeing what they had brought to the pulse of our denomination. As we moved from a more penitential theology to a more incarnational one, it opened the door for us to “live Eucharistically” in the world outside our red doors.

One of the more striking coincidences is our reading today from Ezekiel is what Claude Akins, as the Rev. Jeremiah Brown, quoted in Inherit the Wind, but with a different tack. He quoted parts of this passage in the scene when he was concerned about “saving” his daughter’s soul from the perils of being in love with evolution-promoting Bertram Cates, and her refusal to believe the Stebbins boy died outside of a state of grace:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:24-28 (NRSV)

The fictional Rev. Brown chose to use this verse to justify his self-righteousness, rather than to focus on the healing qualities of being bonded to each other in the waters of baptism. In contrast, Pusey never undercut Newman for his differences in opinion. Instead, he focused on Eucharistic worship being a unifying facet of our varied shared lives.

As we live in the tension of the newer struggles of our denomination with regard to controversies such as inclusivity, or interpreting the vagaries of the Bible in a popular culture that prefers a more literal interpretation of Scripture, let us remind ourselves to keep the focus on the transformational process of our own faith in community. Many a sermon delivered from an Episcopal Church pulpit points to the power the Eucharist can generate in both self and in community; because of the steadfastness of Edward Bouverie Pusey, we can celebrate that Eucharist more frequently.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepsicatoid


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Maria L. Evans

Thanks for your comments and insight, Malcom. What I see as key to what Pusey brought to our theology was his understanding of the Real Presence and of the Sacrament of Confession; the “bright shiny objects” are more of where we have taken it. It was not my intent to necessarily hook Pusey to the “bright shiny objects”but to the theology of the Real Presence.

My own faith journey has been one of being attracted to the bright shiny objects first and uncovering what was behind them in their theology. I think his theology of the Real Presence created movement for us to explore those places. I do think we have the Oxford Movement in general, and Pusey, as one of its bright lights, to thank (or curse) for that, depending on one’s point of view.

Thanks for your insights as always, and particularly the wonderful telling of the “vestments” story. As a person who is somewhat sartorially autistic in the secular clothing sense, I can fully commiserate with Pusey’s sartorial difficulties there. I suspect he might not have been alone in the church there, at that time in history.

Malcolm French+

With respect, I think this inaccurately leaves the impression that Mr. Pusey was a ritualist. In fact, the first generation Oxford fathers tended to see the ritualists as a bit of an embarrassment. Their principle issue was theological.

I have read (but cannot find a reference) that the first time Mr. Pusey ever donned eucharstic vestments was as a protest against the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874 – and that he had to have help to wear them properly.

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