by D. C. Lathbury
The English Churchman's Library
London: A. R. Mowbray & Company, 1905
Transcribed by Dr.
Elizabeth G. Melillo
School and College
Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff quotes in his diary a saying of a certain Jesuit Father that "a man may do an immense deal of good if he does not care who gets the credit for it." Dean Church's career is an excellent example of the truth of this theory of life. For some twenty years he was the most influential churchman of the last century - the man whose judgement was held in the highest esteem by the few who knew him, the man who did most to determine the course of ecclesiastical affairs. And yet few careers were more removed from the public eye. Though he was to be the historian of the Oxford Movement, it had already been three years in progress when he took his degree, and the incident which most brought him into prominence in the course of it was quickly forgotten in the excitement of Newman's secession. When he left Oxford in 1852 it was to take charge of a small country parish, where he remained for nineteen years. The pastoral care of two hundred souls is not one of the roads to fame, and, though some of his most striking essays were reprinted soon after he went to Whatley, and the most original perhaps of his Oxford sermons were preached during his stay there, his appointment to the Deanery of Saint Paul's came as an absolute surprise to the public. His name had not been in men's mouths, and few then knew how wise had been Mr Gladstone's choice. From that time, indeed, the seclusion which he loved passed out of his reach. The Deans of Saint Paul's preach in their own Cathedral only on the very greatest festivals, but the rarity of Church's sermons made each of them an event. The reforms, which were to make Saint Paul's the first of English Cathedrals in achievement and influence, had been begun before his arrival. But their complete accomplishment necessarily depended on the energetic support of the new Dean. Though the occasions when he took part in ecclesiastical controversies were still as few as he could make them, even his dislike of publicity was never permitted to cloud his conception of public duty. In these various ways, therefore, though by no desire of his own, he became a conspicuous figure in London and in the Church, and, had Mr Gladstone been able to persuade him, on Archbishop Tait's death, to leave Saint Paul's for Lambeth, the change would have caused none of the wonder which had been evoked by the earlier promotion(1).
Richard William Church was born at Lisbon on the 25th of April, 1815. Three years later his parents went to live in Florence, and there, and at school at Leghorn, Richard lived till his father's death in 1828. His mother then returned to England, and sent her son to school at Redland, near Bristol. In 1833 he went into residence at Wadham College, Oxford, took a First Class in 1836, and ordained Deacon at Christmas, 1839.
By the father's side Church came of Quaker parentage. No religious body whose separate life has been so short has left so distinct an impression upon its members. A certain sobriety in judgement, consideration in action, restraint in the formation of opinions, direct and habitual responsibility to an unseen Power, have been the constant marks of the best examples of the "Friends." His father, indeed, left the Society on his marriage and was baptised in the Church of England. But those who love to trace out the sequence of hereditary qualities may please themselves by discovering these same features in the Dean of Saint Paul's. How interwoven with his life these characteristics were is best told in the words of his son-in-law, Bishop Francis Paget: - "He was apt to take with him, in judging the affairs and cases of ordinary life, a broader volume of thought, a greater multitude of considerations, than most men bear in mind. He was less likely than most men to forget, in forming a judgement, something that should have been remembered: something that told upon the problem, and might help one towards precisely solving it. One constantly felt, when one was seeking counsel from him, how much his mind was carrying as it did its work. It carried much and yet was never cumbered; partly because he had a singular habit of disregarding, as if by set purpose, what was really trivial; never worrying himself or others over little things, and even, with all his own exactness, letting harmless blameless inaccuracy go unnoticed, as though life were too short, too full, too grave, for a man to take every chance of setting others right(2)."
In an otherwise uneventful childhood, ten years spent in a foreign country count for much. The love of Italy and Italian things, which was implanted in Richard Church between 1818 and 1828, never left him. Later on Switzerland secured a large place in his affections; but, though it was in the Alps that he loved to spend his holidays, "Florence," says Miss Church, in the Dean's recollection always seemed a home, and when he revisited it years after it still wore to him the same homelike and familiar look which he remembered - the one place it seemed to him that he could never tire of." The recollection of Italy was doubtless made more vivid by the contrast with the tameness of the years that immediately followed. Redland School seems to have left but little impression on him. "We were made," he says in some recollections of School and College life which he put on paper long afterwards, "to learn rules carefully. But as to any spirit in our lessons, or examples or scholarship or scholarly tastes, there was none." He formed no enduring friendships either among the masters or among his school-fellows. "He went very much his own way, a reserved, serious, studious boy, loving books and already beginning to collect them; and with an eye to editions, which he used to search for among the second-hand bookshops in Bristol." Such interest as the Headmaster took in the boys related chiefly to the teaching of religion. Dr Swete was a pronounced Evangelical. The boys "were encouraged, side by side with their classical work, to write out sermon notes and to find texts in defence of justification by faith, sanctification, total depravity, election, and final perseverance."
It is interesting to compare the effect of this early teaching on Church's mind with that which a somewhat similar training had upon the kindred minds of Newman and Liddon. With Newman it went deeper and lasted longer than with either of the others. In the Apologia he describes himself as more certain of his inward conversion when he was fifteen, "than that I have hands and feet," and speaks of Thomas Scott(3) as the writer to whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my soul." Up to 1843, his imagination was "stained" by the doctrine that the Pope was Antichrist; it was not till 1825 that he took "the first step towards giving up the Evangelical form of Christianity"; and long afterwards "certain shreds and tatters of that doctrine hung about his preaching," and was one of the causes which gained it a hearing in quarters which would otherwise have been closed against it. Even as late as 1828 Hurrell Froude could write of him: "He is a fellow that I like the more, the more I think of him; only I would give a few odd pence if he were not a heretic!" All this time, indeed, Newman was breaking away from Evangelicalism because, "considered as a system and in what was peculiar to itself," it had from the first failed to find a response in his own religious experience as afterwards in his parochial(4). But within five years of the beginning of the Oxford Movement he would generally have been reckoned an Evangelical, and, unless it had been associated with some particular doctrine which he had ceased to hold, would not have disowned the name. Of Liddon on the contrary, though brought up while a child in the straitest sect of the Evangelicals, it has been written that at seventeen he was just as deeply absorbed in Dr Pusey and his work as at twenty-seven. And though this testimony may have been unconsciously coloured from later knowledge, there is no question that it became true while Liddon was still an undergraduate.
The process in Church's mind was unlike either of these. He speaks, indeed, of having taken in the religious character of Redland "too much for any healthy sincerity." But even then he weighed the arguments addressed to him and sometimes found them wanting. "I remember," he writes, "questions arising in my thoughts as to whether we really could be so cock-sure." At Wadham, though he shrank from the very pronounced Evangelical men, he "did not much care" to go to Saint Mary's to hear Newman. From the first, however, he had two friends among the older men - Moberly, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, at Balliol, and Charles Marriott at Oriel, both of them men likely to draw him out of the narrow teaching and still narrower sympathies of Redland. At the end of 1836 he went into the Schools. His First Class, he says in his MS Recollections, was a great surprise to him. "But it was more than a surprise. It opened to me a new prospect: I had never thought of remaining at Oxford after my degree. From most Fellowships I was shut out, having been born abroad. But now I might think of going in for one at Balliol or Oriel. And now I could dine at High Tables and go into Common Rooms. From this time, from the leisure following the Schools, began my closer connection with the men of the Movement - first through Marriott, and those to whom he introduced me, and then in time through Newman himself(5).." It is in this simple way that the future historian of the Oxford Movement describes how he was first gathered into it. The Oriel Fellowship which followed a year and a half later strengthened and consolidated the influence under which Church had thus passed. He became Newman's friend, and to be Newman's friend was to be closely associated with the enterprise into which Newman had thrown his whole soul.
Index to Dean Church