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Isaac Williams and Welsh Tractarian theology



An important and often neglected aspect of Oxford Movement’s effect on the world beyond Oxford can be seen in the extent of its influence in Wales. Although historians have tended to dismiss the significance of Welsh Tractarianism, claiming that it was merely an English movement which had little effect on the Welsh populace, studies by Eifion Evans, A. Tudno Williams, D. P. Freeman and B. M. Lodwick have demonstrated that the Oxford Movement did have a notable effect on a number of Welsh parishes, clergy and lay people. There were a number of Welshmen who came under the influence of the movement while they were students at Jesus College, Oxford, during the 1830–40s; they were to propagate its principles when they returned to Wales through their teaching in their parishes and the publication of devotional and polemical works in both English and Welsh.

A prominent individual who formed a connection between Wales and the Oxford Movement was Isaac Williams, a close friend of John Henry Newman, John Keble and Hurrell Froude, who was born at Llangorwen, outside Aberystwyth, and became a prolific writer of Tractarian poetry, as well as sermons, biblical commentaries and three of the Tracts for the Times. While various studies since the 1950s have dealt both with Isaac Williams’s contribution to the Oxford Movement and the contribution of many of the Welsh-speaking Tractarians, little attempt has been made to examine the extent of Williams’s influence over the clergy who came to promote the movement in the parishes of rural Wales. This chapter argues that, while Isaac Williams’s direct and practical involvement with the Oxford Movement in Wales was somewhat limited, his distinctively conservative approach to the movement’s principles was echoed in the writings of many of the Welsh-speaking Tractarians. This suggests that Williams’s writings and example may well have had an important influence over the movement’s leaders in Wales.


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