The Discomforts of Rome

September 1991By Bryant Burroughs

Bryant Burroughs is an industrial manager and speech writer living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In a recent article provocatively entitled "Mistaking Rome for Heaven," the popular British evangelical-Anglican theologian J.I. Packer reproached those who take the "slippery slope Romewards" for seeking "a feeling of at-home-ness" rather than a conviction of truth. But the momentous decisions made a century and a half ago by two of Packer's countrymen give the lie to this argument.

The pilgrimage of John Henry Newman from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism is well known, while John Keble is remembered only for the sermon that marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement, a sermon given in Newman's absence and from Newman's pulpit at St. Mary's, Oxford. Yet, Newman himself described Keble as "the true and primary author" of the Oxford Movement.

God granted to Keble an astounding measure of personal greatness: brilliant intellect, good and gentle spirit, and a grace of character that attracted devotion from men and women alike. Reared in an idyllic childhood as the son of a country vicar, Keble entered Oxford at age 14. Four years later he became the first student since the legendary Sir Robert Peel to win a Double First, a triumph capped by his election to an Oriel fellowship. By the time Newman arrived at Oxford seven years later, Keble was, in Newman's description, "the first man in Oxford." Newman recalled years later walking along High Street with fellow undergraduate John Bowden when Bowden suddenly shouted, "There's Keble!" Newman added, "Keble's had been the first name which I had heard spoken of, with reverence rather than admiration, when I came up to Oxford."

Newman won an Oriel fellowship in 1822, and Edward Bouverie Pusey came the next year "because of a strong wish to know Mr. Keble whose character even then inspired a strange reverence far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance." The three men formed the inner circle of the Oxford Movement and, within that circle, Keble was the acknowledged leader.

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