"These are spots in your feasts of charity."-Jude v. 12.
The year is 1840. The scene is St. Mary's, Oxford, and it is a quarter to five on a Sunday afternoon in term time. The church is packed with people, among them hundreds of undergraduates.
The vicar of St. Mary's is standing in the pulpit wearing his black gown, and he had just announced this text from St. Jude, in those low, silvery tones which no hearer ever forgot: "These are spots in your feasts of charity." Mr. Newman, in whose mind the arguments of Tract XC is at this time taking shape, has been reflecting during the past week on the dangers attending a religious movement.
Amid a breathless stillness, he unfolds his subject in a series of short paragraphs, exquisitely enunciated, with those strange pauses between them which his listeners had come to find part of his charm. "A danger of the present time," said Mr. Newman, "arises from what may be called the luxury of religion. None can rejoice more than the preacher at the increased regard to ecclesiastical architecture and music, and to the ornamenting of our churches. But it must be reflected that these require to be accompanied by personal holiness, and even the spirit of devotion may become little better than a luxurious pleasure unless we maintain a spirit of self-denial in it, and remind ourselves that even devotion must not be so much a gratification to ourselves as a sacrifice to God."
If the preacher, unconsciously drawn by some magnetic attraction, had raised his eyes from his manuscript (a thing Mr. Newman rarely did) he might have met the eager gaze of a tall, handsome, fair-haired boy with a radiant face, shining among the rest because so very few youths have radiant faces. For Mr. Newman had done a great thing with that short paragraph. He had founded St. Peter's, London Docks.
Charles Lowder, the son of a well-to-do banker of Bath, had just come up to Exeter and was enjoying Oxford enormously. He had taken up rowing, and as he had tremendous spirits, charming manners, and was extremely good-looking, he was very popular. He had always taken a keen interest in public affairs. He had been sent to school at the age of nine, and his first letter home runs this:
"My dear Mamma,
"I like Mr. Simms very well. He wears a gown. We are to learn Caesar and Greek Delectus, and to read Goldsmith's History of Rome. O'Connell is to sit in Parliament."
We are not surprised that this charming young man, whose heart and conscience Mr. Newman had awakened, flung himself with enthusiasm on the Tractarian side when Dr. Pusey's Eucharistic teaching was condemned, and he was suspended without a hearing. Charles became a keen Tractarian, and made up his mind to take orders.
While Lowder was at Oxford, his father's bank failed, and he found himself impoverished. He took this with amazing dignity, sweetness and unselfishness. The boy was through and through sterling gold. He got a second in Greats, tried for a fellowship, in which he was beaten by Coleridge (afterwards Lord Chief Justice), and was ordained to a curacy and tutorship in Somersetshire.
Here he met the second great influence in his life, his fellow-curate, Merriman, afterwards Bishop of Grahamstown. Merriman was a missionary by vocation, and he interpreted Lowder to himself. He showed Lowder that the love at his heart was really the love of souls. Lowder tried to go to the mission field, but was prevented by the fact that he had to help the broken fortunes of his family. But the missionary spirit would not rest, and it seized on the work nearest at hand. Lowder got the spiritual charge of the neighbouring workhouse, and set to work at once to teach the older paupers and to improve the schools. He was remembered in his first parish as "the kind young gentleman who used to come and see us very often, and who said the prayers in church every day all by himself."
Picture him, still the radiant boy, on a wet winter morning. He unlocks the damp, old country church,and enters the cold, musty place in the dark. He kindles a candle or two and puts on a surplice, the old square pews stretch around him into the darkness. Above the reading pew rises the tall, gaunt pulpit, which hides the little table doing duty for an altar. The curate has tolled a few strokes on the bell; no one responds. After a while, the fresh young voice breaks the hollow stillness, and the prayers are recited "to the four walls," as the neighbours said, but really to the most Holy Trinity, and with the angels, the archangels, and the whole company of Heaven. Out of that acorn grew St. Peter's, London Docks.
Then came five years with his family at Tetbury, on the Cotswolds, five years of hard work under the limitations of those days. Tetbury was High Church, but I doubt whether the lowest church in London now has the sort of services Tetbury had in 1846. There were two churches, and each had two celebrations a month.
Lowder taught and taught and taught; he visited and visited and visited. What people called his beautiful, kind, noble face was seen everywhere. He was often surrounded by the children, and often carrying wild flowers. "Children and flowers," he said, "God made to make the world beautiful." He had the wonderful power with the children with is the gift of purity. He could soothe a crying baby when no one else could. When he went away the children felt that he had taken half the fun with him.
He went in 1851 and began his battle for God at St. Barnabas, Pimlico. Mr. Bennet had just been driven out of his living by the Prime Minister, the Bishop, and a Protestant mob. Mr. Liddell had been appointed to St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and he had installed Mr. Skinner as curate in charge of St. Barnabas.
The clergy of St. Barnabas and the choristers lived then in community as we do at All Saint's, Margaret Street. The order, the reverence and the music were of the best.
The Protestant riots had been going on for some time when Lowder arrived. The principal laymen had been sworn in as special constables, and they stood all through the service drawn up at the chancel screen to defend the choir. The ritual attacked was not the ritual of All Saints', Margaret Street, it was the ritual of St. Paul's Cathedral as it is now. The choir and clergy walking in two and two, the eastward position, cross and flowers on the altar, and coloured frontals for the seasons. The Bishop, to appease the mob, had ordered the cross and flowers off the altar. "I will have that cross removed if it costs me my see," he had said, with the gesture of a Christian martyr. He had stopped the office being sung in the chancel, and had ordered a reading place to be made in the nave. He had forbidden the priest to carry the chalice to the altar, and had characterized the plan of communicating the choir before the congregation as extremely ritualistic.
Nevertheless, the mob still battered on the doors, shouted through the windows, hissed in the aisles and charged the chancel gates. Lowder the junior was solid with his brethren that they must stand firm against this combination of tyrannies, but he was wholly immersed in his work among the poor in horrible slums, which then lay west of Ebury Square, and have since been cleared away.
Lowder was weak in imagination, he had no aesthetic taste or skill. His strength lay in logic and courage. To him ritual was a logical necessity, the employment of a natural law in the service of revelation. Given a human soul and a body for the instrument, the Catholic Creeds for the subject,and Almighty God for the object of faith and worship, then ritual is the only process by which Christian worship can be outwardly paid.
And then, suddenly, the third great influence entered into Lowder's life, and St. Peter's appeared on the horizon.
One day Lowder found the choirboys of St. Barnabas filling their pockets with stones and preparing to bombard a sandwichman who carried a Protestant sandwich board. "You must not hurt that unhappy man," said Charles, "it would be very wrong; it would not, however, be wrong to obscure the words he is carrying. Throw the stones away, and there is sixpence to buy rotten eggs with." Now, it was the year of the Great Exhibition, and Prince Albert had brought in the reign of plenty. Rotten eggs were very, very cheap that year, and you could get a lovely lot for sixpence. Consequently, the sandwich-board was successfully veiled in greenish yellow, and the Protestant Party complained to the Bishop. The Bishop was secretly rather amused and in private talked of Lowder's "ovation," but publicly he was very indignant and suspended Lowder for six weeks.
Lowder was deeply penitent at having given scandal. His brother said he had never seen anyone so brokenhearted. He went to France for the six weeks,and lived with a group of French clergy, and in France he came face to face with the man who fixed his career.
That man was St. Vincent de Paul, for he began to study the live and methods of St. Vincent, and St. Vincent sent him to London Docks.
At this time there had lived in the East End for fifteen years a depressed clergyman called Bryan King. He was rector of St. George's-in-the-East, a parish of 30,000, through which Ratcliff Highway ran. The parallelogram in which the church stood contained 735 houses, of which 40 were public houses and 154 houses of ill-fame. Many of these houses did a combined trade. Ratcliff Highway and its surroundings sheltered the scum of all Europe. There is no plague spot so bad as this in London to-day. Lowder and a little group of priests, all inspired by the example of St. Vincent de Paul, offered to give what help they could to Bryan King.
So one evening Lowder and a friend went down to a room in a court off Ratcliff Highway, and somebody rang a bell at the entrance of the court,and two or three of Mr. Bryan King's decent old women came, and nobody else.
A fortnight afterwards they tried another pitch in the worst alley in the neighbourhood. Here they were attacked by Irish Roman Catholics with wild fury. There were no stones handy, so the Irish smashed up a beer pitcher and pelted the priests with the pieces. The uproar went on for a week or two. Then the Irish got tired of it and stopped-but nobody came to listen. Lowder's companions began to drop off.
"Will you also go away?" said Bryan King to Lowder.
"On the contrary," said Lowder, "I shall come and stay."
They took a hideous and horrible old house left derelict in the slums, and made it the headquarters of a knot of priests, and so the mission began. Lowder prepared for it by going to the first retreat for priests held in the revival, at Dr. Pusey's house in Christ Church.
Lowder arrived on the scene in 1856. St. Peter's, London Docks, was consecrated in 1866. Lowder died in 1880. The twenty-four years were given to ceaseless labour for the salvation of souls in the worst quarter in London, and the building up of a devout Christian community of the souls thus saved. This work was helped greatly by the call to fight two terrible enemies, the attack of organized evil in 1860, under the guise of Protestantism, in the St. George's riots, and the epidemic of Asiatic cholera in 1866.
In considering Lowder's work, mark in what his power lay. He had no outstanding personal gifts, he was a poor preacher with a difficult manner; although the children liked having him better than anybody else, he did not catechise particularly well; the strain of his work made him seem cold and restrained to the people he worked with; naturally excitable, he had so schooled himself to self-restraint that his friends said that it was not until his bodily health weakened that the love within him could break through the self-denying ordinance, and shine forth at all times.
No, Lowder's power was simply the power of a human will entirely given to the salvation of souls for the glory of God; that was the power with which he applied the instrument of the Catholic Religion, and worked the miracle of London Docks.
He was marvellously tender with the sick; in illustration they sketch him ministering to the body as well as the soul of a woman dying of typhus. He was marvellously tender to the fallen: he established rescue homes for the poor girls he brought to the Sisters from the dens he found them in. A Sister describes his arrival once in the middle of the night with a girl he had saved from throwing herself into the docks. She was raving and struggling in his arms, and the Sister said that the calm love with which he looked down on her made his face shine with light.
On the Cotswolds Lowder had said that God made children to make the world beautiful. It could not be said the that world was made beautiful by the poor children of the docks. Half-naked, stunted, deformed, many half-witted, they lived in a vast brothel in which their parents, their brothers and sisters and themselves were all more or less implicated.
But they came to adore Lowder, and through love he reclaimed them, drew them into Christian schools, and gradually purified their homes and their lives. Lowder often stopped street fights, and for a long stretch of time faced infuriated mobs, but the characteristic picture of him shows him with a band of tinies about him, two or three of whom are spreading out his priest's cloak like a tent while the others struggle to get inside with shouts of laughter; or he is surrounded by a band of bigger boys and girls all listening with laughing eyes to his funny stories; or he is stroking a crew of rough lads on the river, and from all sides as they row by comes the cheery shout, "Hulloa, Father Lowder!" Such was the personality and spirit of the missioner, but these alone could not have created the community of Christians who worshipped at St. Peter's, London Docks. The missioner converted these people with the instrument he brought to bear on them, and that instrument was the Catholic Religion.
He showed them his Master, Jesus Christ. He told them to come to Jesus, but he also showed them how to come, and when. He told them that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin, but he also taught them how it is applied. These people came to believe that their children were regenerate in Baptism; they came to believe that the Holy Ghost in given in Confirmation; they came to believe hat our Lord has left power to His Church to absolve; they came to believe that the Blessed Sacrament has an inner part, and that it is the Body and Blood of Christ; they came to believe that there, there on that spot of ground where sin had reigned, there had now come the Power, and had begun to reign; they transferred their allegiance, and found themselves lifted up into peace and joy.
After five years of this work began the riots at St. George's-in-the-East, in which publicans and brothel-keepers fought our Lord with the weapons of Protestantism. I will not speak of the disgraceful attitude of the Church authorities. I content myself with saying that the police refused protection to the priests as far as they could. Bryan King and his curate broke down, and Lowder and Mackonochie, who came to help him, faced the music. The mob seized the choir stalls, pelted the altar with bread and butter and orange peel, tore down the altar cross, spat on and kicked the clergy. One day they would have thrown Lowder into the docks if his friends had not made a cordon across the dock bridge, and enabled him to get to the Mission House by a back way.
Lowder said that much good came out of this. It was a grand advertisement. The lowest and vilest were made to think about religion. His reply to the riots was to buy the site on which St. Peter's stands to-day.
St. Peter's had just been consecrated when the cholera came. Of all plagues this is the most awful, far worse than bubonic plague or the Black Death. In Asiatic cholera fiends appear to have seized the victim, and to be tearing him in pieces.
In this visitation the Anglo-Catholics won their spurs. Dr. Pusey came down to help, laymen, among them Lord Halifax, came to work with Lowder and his priests. Morning after morning they met for communion in the newly-consecrated St. Peter's, and separated for the appalling labours of the day, each recognizing that the day might be his last.
When at length the cholera vanished, it left Lowder completely master of the field. Nobody wanted to attack him or his methods again.
As he was seen carrying some cholera-stricken child in his arms to the hospital, the people began to call him "Father." Thus was the title "Father" won for the secular clergy of the Anglo-Catholic movement: it is a title which they will only retain as long as they are true to this ideal.
My tale is told. After the cholera, Lowder's work lay in holding the field he had won for our Lord.
There came a night, fourteen years after, which had a significance unrecognized at the time. It was school treat day, and in the evening nineteen large vans crammed within and without with happy, cheering children came home from Epping Forest, and rolled over the dock bridge, Father Lowder in the midst with a baby on each knee.
To their complete surprise they found the whole parish en fête, banners and coloured lights decorated all the windows, cheering crowds filled the streets, and the parish band played the Father home.
Six weeks afterwards the over-strain found him out, and he died suddenly on his holiday in the Austrian Tyrol.
Once more the streets are crowded but now by silent crowds. St. Peter's stands open far into the night, and is crowded by the poor. The Masses begin at 3 a.m., hundreds receive Holy Communion. Later in the morning the people go to the confines of the parish to receive the Father's body. It is borne across the bridge which his friends had once held to save his life in the days when the police would not intervene, but now the police are there in reverence to clear a way, for the crowd is thronging round the bier, and trying to lay their loving hands upon the pall made holy by the Father's body.
So they carried his body to his church, and laid it before the altar which he had built with his life's blood.
Those who say the scene all marked one feature-at every point the crowd was fringed with little children who were crying inconsolably.
So I make my first point. To the morale, that is to say, to the inspiring and controlling spirit of a true Anglo-Catholic movement, the first essential is a thirst for souls.