English Faith & Culture From Reformation to Catholic Revival

Second Spring’s Oxford Summer School

We invite you to walk with us in the footsteps of your favourite English writers, on a pilgrimage for mind and soul. The Second Spring programme, organised and run from England by our Oxford team for the last ten years, offers participants a rich feast of experiences in the land known as “Mary’s Dowry”. From the “dreaming spires” of Oxford and the world-famous sights of London to the “woods, and fields, and little rivers” of the shires, you will experience with fresh eyes the places that bred so many great theological, artistic, and literary figures: William Shakespeare, Edmund Campion, John Henry Newman, William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. We will explore the context in which they lived and worked, as well as the culture they helped to build.

This unique programme is a combination of lectures, discussion seminars, visits to museums and relevant historical sites, accompanied by knowledgeable local scholars and guides. We understand the city as a classroom, and believe nothing can compare to the power of place. This exciting approach makes connections across the topics of study and helps participants to understand the context in which major cultural and intellectual developments took place.

What happened to English culture at the time of the Reformation? What is the recurring thread, the ante-deluvian nostalgia, woven through English mythology and spirituality? Why were there so many high-profile conversions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries among the English intellectual elite? What was the Catholic Literary Revival about? These are some of the questions we discuss together during the course.

Our Distinctive Curriculum

The Second Spring summer school explores the history, literature, and spirituality of Christian—and specifically Catholic—England, from its flowering in the late middle ages, through the period of schism and persecution, then into its resurgence in the modern age. The course culminates with an in-depth look at the 19th- and 20th- century writers and artists who contributed to the “Catholic literary revival”: a resurgence of Christian imagery and sensibility, prophesied by Newman in his “Second Spring” sermon of 1852 after the lifting of restrictions that had been imposed on Catholics since the Reformation. 

The English Reformation laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution and the modern state. Like the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothic Revival, and the Arts and Crafts movement, Catholic Revival writers often found inspiration in the medieval past, and in England’s traditional devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They also sought to restore the human dignity of the poor that had been shorn away by the factory system and big business. The Revival writers were concerned to defend Christian orthodoxy against atheism, materialism, and agnosticism. They shared with the Romantic poets a belief in the importance of the imagination in undertaking this task. For Coleridge, imagination was “the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception… a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM”. As Keats wrote: “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination.” Responding to the spiritual impulses found in these and other Romantic poets, Catholic convert and Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, explored, through verse, how Christ “plays in ten-thousand places”, accompanying us in times of joy and suffering. Other Catholic converts (or reverts) of the Victorian period, and into the twentieth century, such as Oscar Wilde, G.K. Chesterton, and Evelyn Waugh, found in Catholicism unique resources for understanding personal identity, meaning, and purpose, in the contexts of emerging modernity. Our programme specifically attends to how Catholic theology and doctrine formed and informed artistic and poetic experimentation, extending the alphabet, as it were, of what could be thought and understood about life, the imagination, culture, and the arts broadly speaking.

Join Us in 2023?

We are hoping to revive this programme for summer 2023, after all the Covid19-induced uncertainty. Subscribe to our mailing list to hear about the launch first. The details for the last programme, in August 2019, are below.

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