Project Canterbury

Lead, Kindly Light:
Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement

by Desmond Morse-Boycott


The Romance of the Century

THE Keble Centenary in 1933, which the whole of the Anglican Communion is about to celebrate, will be a silent comment upon the attitude of the Church in former days to the great Oxford leaders; a time for the powers that are to ask themselves whether, in building the tombs of the prophets, they are consistent in stoning their children; and for the children to ask whether they are legitimate or otherwise. A survey of a century of the Oxford Movement, better known now as Anglo-Catholicism, cannot but be profitable.

A century ago England was a land of closed churches and unstoled clergy. The Sacraments were seldom, and often irreverently, administered. The altar was a mean table, as often as not, which the parson would have been ashamed to have in his kitchen; and the verger would place his bucket and dustpan on it when he came to do the cleaning. Art was weeping in the wilderness, and old churches were as disfigured as new ones were hideous. The parson was often an absentee, not infrequently a drunkard. Bishops filled their aprons with emoluments from sinecures, and did but little work. The rich went to church to doze in upholstered, curtained pews, fitted with fireplaces, while the poor were herded together on uncomfortable benches. The lynx-eyed beadle would pounce with his wand upon any child in the gallery who failed to attend to the tedious dronings of clerk, reader and parson, perched one above the other in the pagoda-like three-decker.

From the organ-loft came garish music, village singers vying to over-top one another in the metrical mutilation of the psalms by Tate and Brady. Prayers were, as Newman said, clipped, pieced, torn, shuffled about at pleasure, until the meaning of the composition perished, and what had been poetry was no longer even good prose. Where once the scent of incense had hung about the ancient walls there was, instead, the odour of snuff, and the smell of dust and damp. The Royal Arms had taken the place of the crucifix. Ugly boxes of wood frowned upon the congregation, from which the preacher moralized by the hour, and our ancient cathedrals were more like tombs than palaces of God.

Lord Halifax has told us that when he was a child the Holy Communion was celebrated in his parish church only four times a year. Lent and Holy Week were unobserved; although, without anyone knowing why, the Shriving Bell was rung at noon on Shrove Tuesday, and a merry clamour was made each Sunday morning at 8, though no one remembered any service at that early hour.

The bells tolled of a past as dead as good Queen Anne. In obscure parts of the country, perhaps, some ancient customs lingered. A dairy-woman might fast from dawn to noon on Sacrament Sunday, as her mother had done before her, but she would be an anachronism.

The Church got the clergy she deserved, comfortable fellows who thought more of the things of earth than the things of Heaven. The weakness began from above. A bishop’s chaplain examined two candidates for Holy Orders in a tent on a cricket field where he was playing. Another examined a candidate while he (the chaplain) shaved, and required him to construe two words.

Bishops were absentees from their dioceses for years. In Mansfield Park the summit of clerical achievement seems to be reached when the fashionable female rejoices at dinner that her clerical flame in no wise betrays his profession by his dress. Mr. Pickwick's Christmas at Dingley Dell is also informative. Of holly and mistletoe and plum-pudding and cheering drink there is abundance. The decorations are complete when a parson flits across the stage, but the revellers no more think of worshipping in the early morning than of cutting off the parson’s nose. It is true that they attend the "morning service," but the morning service was what Dickens had been wont to find in his boyhood in the church which I serve, St. Mary the Virgin, Somers Town, that is, a long, dreary Mattins with a prosy sermon. None cares more than I for the Choir Office of Mattins, but the point of view of the Oxford leaders was that Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas had lost the meaning of its suffix.

There was a Member of Parliament named Thomas Massey who at least recognized the meaning of "mas," which he regarded as stinking of Popery. He moved that it be altered to "tide." Christmas would be Christ-tide and Michaelmas, Michael-tide. He was given his quietus by an opponent who called him Mr. Tom-tide Tidey.

It is beyond argument that the Church was, broadly speaking, spiritually moribund and discredited utterly. Her general, if rather later, existence, is it not written in the Books of Barchester? There were a few earnest men who deplored her imminent collapse. The Wesleyan Movement had seceded, for no beating of enthusiasm could be welcomed in her bosom. Wesleyanism might have saved the Church in the early nineteenth century, as General Booth might have saved her (for the poorer classes) in a later generation. Great movements ever fare badly within her borders, and are usually driven out. Perhaps, if St. Francis of Assisi had been an Anglican, the bishops would have driven him into founding a Salvation Army. That eccentric genius, Father Ignatius, met with the sternest opposition to his attempt to revive the Benedictine Order in the Church of England, and only ruins now remain as his memorial where there might be flourishing monasteries. The wonder is that the Oxford Movement has never been driven out. Multitudes of individuals have "gone out," but the Movement has gone on.

As a result, the Church is now a very lively body. Dean Inge, who has no sympathy whatever with Anglo-Catholicism, would be horrified were there no more than six communicants in St. Paul’s on Easter Day, as in 1800. We should be distressed to read in our newspapers that a dead cat had been thrown into the Archbishop of Canterbury’s carriage, as into Archbishop Howley's, in his own cathedral city, even though he were merry enough to rejoice that it was not a live cat. One would have to search far and wide before one could nowadays find a church in which the consecrated bread is thrown into the farmyard, or the remains of the chalice are poured back into the bottle. I doubt if such things are done. But they were done frequently a century ago. In the lowest of churches things are done decently and in order. There were riots over surpliced choirs less than forty years ago; now an unsurpliced choir is an oddity. The early Anglo-Catholics would rejoice with exceeding great joy could they but see how the wilderness has blossomed like the rose.

Newman little thought, when he rode along the country lanes on his horse, delivering parcels of his tracts at remote parsonages, that the Church's future was in the hollow of his hand. He despaired of the dry bones in the end, but what he thought in private when, full of days and honour, he wore a Cardinal’s hat, none knows. It must have been a great puzzle to him to see his Movement feed upon one disaster after another, and grow more vigorous, and bring to birth the monastic and conventual life (the lack of which had been, in Pre Lacordaire's eyes, the token that there was no Catholic ancestry to which the Anglican Communion could lay claim); revive the ancient glories of plainsong and Church art; and in a thousand parishes, especially in the slums, kindle lights from the dying torch that had fallen from his hand. Newman used sometimes to go into St. Paul's Cathedral to hear the boys sing, and would weep. Was that a token? But Manning became too ultramontane to regret. . . .

When John Keble preached the "Assize" Sermon in 1833 he had no notion that he was inaugurating a movement. Newman and Richard Hurrell Froude were associated with him, and Dr. Pusey came in later. The "Tracts for the Times" resulted, a fact that is interesting from a literary point of view. Tracts were very worn-out weapons to choose, for they were in ill-favour, having sunk to the "Converted Washerwoman" stage. These, which varied in length from four-page leaflets to large treatises, took England by storm. But Froude died young, and Newman "went out" in ’45. A counter and Romanizing Movement endangered the future. Its leaders, younger and less experienced and sober, "Ideal" Ward (who saw in Rome the pattern of the Church), Dalgairns, Oakeley, of the Margaret Street Chapel, Christie, and Faber (who wrote "Hark! hark, my soul," and many hymns now sung by all Communions) went out, too. Herein is food for thought. In the Catholic movement of to-day there are like schools, of sober High Anglicanism and extreme Anglo-Catholicism. Yet Rome gains more from the former than the latter, whereas the contrary was the case in early days.

Archdeacon Manning, of Lavington, near Chichester, went in ’51, to become a Cardinal, to stand for a glittering moment (it is said) on the steps of the Papal Throne, from which, in magnificent renunciation, he turned away. Canon Ollard has said of him: "Memories of ‘the Archdeacon,’ as they called him, still survived among the older folk at Lavington in the present century. The shepherds and downsmen remembered the sound of the bell ringing for the daily office, and the figure of a tall man with a cloak over his surplice who passed them twice daily on his way to church." They were then little boys, gathering mushrooms on the dew-drenched downs at dawn.

The Movement survived by a miracle. It ceased to be mainly academic, and became parochial. While Dean Church and Canon Liddon were storming intellectual strongholds, lights were kindled in the slums which no persecution could quench.

Mackonochie, who died in the Scottish snows, guarded by two faithful dogs, sleeping like a tired child after stressful years at St. Alban’s, Holborn; Father Stanton, tenderest teacher and golden preacher, a true Father O’Flynn; Dolling in Portsmouth, a rollicking Irishman with a passion for souls; the Pollock brothers, of Birmingham; Arthur Wagner, who founded one Catholic centre after another in Brighton; John Mason Neale, first hymnologist in Europe, and a host of others were translating into parochial action the donnish Oxford Movement. The conventual and monastic life began to grow up. Dr. Pusey established the first sisterhood, and the strange, wilful, meteoric Father Ignatius sought, as I have said, to accustom the mind of the Protestant Englishman to the notion of monasticism, while Father Benson laid a sure foundation at Cowley.

Eminent Anglo-Catholics are now to be found in every walk of life, notable for their cheeriness and liberal outlook, as if they are determined to laugh themselves through the great adventure of restoration. One seldom finds the austere, other-worldly spirit of the Tractarians, but no doubt each dispensation must reveal unity in diversity.

The Movement has suffered many losses, especially in the field of literature. Robert Hugh Benson, that doughty apologist G.K.C., Ronald Knox (never so brilliant as when writing impish essays for the Anglican Society of SS. Peter and Paul, in the days when it offered its wares half-price to bishops and deans, while the C. of E. rocked in merriment or writhed in wrath; as the case was), have gone. So, too, that devoted missionary priest and writer of spiritual treatises, Robert Keable, better known to the general public as the author of a dreadful book called Simon, called Peter, and Miss Sheila Kaye-Smith, whose End of the House of Alard seemed to herald the coming in our midst, at last, of a first-rate Anglo-Catholic novelist. And Father Vernon’s secession shook many souls, and was again a warning to the bishops (who had been proud, in some cases, to point to him as an example of non-extreme Catholicism) that Rome often wins the moderate, while the "extremist" remains unshaken.

On the stage there is Sybil Thorndike, a splendid representative of Anglo-Catholicism. In public life there are Lord Lloyd, Mr. George Lansbury and Sir Samuel Hoare, and it should not be forgotten that Lord Irwin, the former Viceroy of India, is the son of the "Lay Pope" of the Anglican Communion, Viscount Halifax, who inaugurated the Malines Conversations.

Of clerics there are, of course, legions, and it is computed that nearly a quarter of the Anglican clergy are definite Anglo-Catholics, while many more are under the influence of the Movement. Of these it must suffice to notice such astonishing figures as Maurice Child (a modern John Inglesant), Wilfrid Knox (known as "Rags and Tatters," a quiet but brilliant brother of "Evoe" of Punch and Father Ronald Knox); "Nippy" Williams, of Oxford, who has achieved a first-rate reputation by his effort to synthesize Anglo-Catholicism with modern science; Prebendary Mackay, of All Saints’, Margaret Street, feared by bishops and able to influence them, and train them (at least three of his clergy have become bishops); monks as diverse as Father Waggett, of Cowley (who is alleged to have said, satirically, perhaps even seriously, that "the bishops would be all right if they would leave religion alone"), and the monk-bishop of Truro; and elderly, venerable scholars such as Dr. Darwell Stone, a modern Thomas Aquinas, who would go to the stake for a comma. I could quote names indefinitely. Of saints there are legion, and the memory of Father Wainwright dying in his garret in the London Docks is a reminder that although the monasteries and convents are making lovely lives, the plain parish priest, beset by the difficulties incidental to parochial life, is also enhancing the Church's glory.

But the hero of the Movement is still Frank Weston, the late Bishop of Zanzibar, a man in a million, nay more, of a century, even of an on. When the mourning bells tolled in the cathedral of Zanzibar, built where the old slave market that inflamed the zeal of Livingstone once stood, the Anglo-Catholic Movement was moved as never before.

It is obvious that it cannot be ignored. If its giants are not outstanding now as in days gone by it is because the general measure of the stature of all is higher. It is unparalleled in history. It is a potent force in slums, in the countryside, and in genteel circles. It occupies vast tracts of the mission field. Yet I would say that its glory lies not primarily in its wide appeal, but in its capacity to "stay put," come what come may, proscribed, persecuted, despised and misunderstood, and unpopular with the people.

Its need at the moment is for wise leadership, and that is hard to come by. Perhaps no leader comes because the moment is not ripe for a cut-and-dried policy, because its vocation is to permeate the whole Church rather than stride off in one direction. But in time to come the problem of authority must be settled. In the early days the battle was over the fundamental question of whether the Anglican Church was a new one made at the Reformation, or the old one in spite of the breach with Rome. To a large extent that battle has been won. There are few well-educated critics who would dare to say that she is merely a Protestant body, born at the Reformation, like Merlin—offspring of a spryte and a nun—a new version of Christianity, a sect that has cornered the Faith. Her claim to be Catholic in creed and character has been vindicated. Yet the Church of Augustine was not originally independent of the rest of Catholic Christendom, and cannot remain so. The movement towards inter-Communion with the Orthodox Churches of the East and the Old Catholics revives our longing for corporate re-union with the Latin Church. But as yet our bishops are concerned with lesser questions, even while the saints before the altar cry "How long ?"

The Anglo-Catholic Movement is both the spur and the whip, and the very power of activity, too. It lives, to vary the metaphor, to dig again the choked-up wells. It speaks the voice of the Universal Church up to the moment when she broke asunder in the ninth century, before, unfortunately, she had thought out a consistent theory of her being. And if it be urged that Anglo-Catholic teaching and practice is false, then must the Church of God have erred for nigh half her history, which, from the point of view of Churchmen, is a manifest absurdity.

Securus judicat orbis terrarum.

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