What is the role of Pusey House?
"Ein centrum von Catholic life", stumbled the late Canon Freddy Hood, Principal from 1934 – 1951, when challenged by a visiting German delegation who were asking just this question. The exchange was overheard by an undergraduate who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. "Not a bad definition of Pusey House", thought the young Lord Runcie; and not a bad definition it remains. There is a greater clarity and robustness in the manifesto set out by the leading Founder of Pusey House, Henry Parry Liddon, though his words perhaps lack the disarming warmth and spontaneity of those of Freddy Hood. For Liddon, Pusey House was to be "a home of sacred learning and a rallying point of the Christian faith", charged with doing "something to arrest the further decay of faith in Oxford". It was "to exhibit solid learning allied to Christian faith and piety", and, not least, "to keep its eye … on those speculations which, with the caprice of ever-changeful fashion, occupy in successive years the thoughts of young men." Now it is, rightly, young men and women: but with that amendment, the House remains true to each component of Liddon’s vision.
University of Oxford coat of arms, detail from stained glass window in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, Pusey House, Oxford, designed by Sir John Ninian Comper (1864-1960)
The Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House
The influence of Pusey House has spread through those who came to worship in their undergraduate days. Among them was Glyn Simon, one of the most distinguished Archbishops of Wales: things learned at Pusey House shaped his episcopal ministry just as much as when he was Warden of Church Hostel, Bangor. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, came to the chapel on his first Sunday as an undergraduate and continued to look upon it as one of the holy places in his life. He remembered the people whom he used to meet in the common-room, including C. S. Lewis, John Betjeman and Harold Macmillan, an altar server of an earlier generation!
The Eucharist is celebrated daily for eleven months of the year in the Chapel built by Temple Moore and furnished by Ninian Comper. Morning Prayer is said and Evening Prayer is sung. There is a termly programme of visiting speakers and seminars. The Sunday morning High Mass sees the liturgy of the Church offered to God with a combination of grandeur and restraint in the traditional language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Sunday sermon is an occasion when the academic and spiritual work of the House come together. In days when short homilies are common, Pusey House provides substantial sermons to stimulate both the brain and the heart.
The Library and Archive are open all year round and are used by a wide variety of people from all parts of the world. Pusey's books were moved from Christ Church to form the nucleus of the collection. There are treasures which are ancient and very rare, but the Library also buys new books every term to keep abreast of the latest scholarship. The Archive contains an unrivalled collection of theological and ecclesiastical controversial pamphlets from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in addition to many thousands of letters and documents relating to the Catholic Revival.
For a century and more, it has continued. Pusey House is true to what it set out to be, a "house of sacred learning." It has given opportunities to countless scholars - both its staff and its guests. They have all been given not only time, but also an atmosphere of quiet and sustained prayer within which all Christian theology and scholarship ought to be pursued. Just as important has been its contribution to the spiritual and intellectual life of the University and, indeed, the whole Church.
It would be impossible to estimate the numbers of men and women who have discovered the riches of the Christian life within its walls. For some, it has been the great discovery of the Sunday liturgy, with its opportunity to hear some of the great preachers of the day. For countless others, it has been the place where first confessions have been made, or where a quiet talk with one of the Priest Librarians has elucidated some obstacle to faith or other apparently intractable personal problem. Pusey House has become part of men and women who have followed many diverse paths and the Friends of Pusey House include in their number as many bankers, stockbrokers, diplomats, lawyers or teachers as parish priests: people who knelt together as undergraduates.
It is an institution which proclaims the Catholic Faith without apology at a time when so many of our theologians and bishops seem uncertain what they believe or what they should preach. Above all, it is the combination of daily Christian worship and prayer with scholarship and unremitting pastoral work which makes Pusey House unique and indispensable.
Portrait of Dr Pusey in the Liddon Room,