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George Rundle Prynne
An Early Chapter in the History of the Catholic Revival
by A. Clifton Kelway

London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1905. 248 pp.


Prynne's theological works--The "Eucharistic Manual"--The Real Presence--Non-communicating attendance--Archbishop Longley and the "Eucharistic Manual"--Prynne's profession of faith-- Second Eucharistic work--Dislike of mere ritualism--Obedience to episcopal authority--"Pardon through the Precious Blood."

IN tracing the story of Prynne's life, which was, above all else, that of a Mission priest, it has seemed best to leave for final consideration those literary activities which formed such an important part of what may be called his wider work, and the knowledge of which has long since spread throughout the Anglican Communion. Roughly divided these works fall into two classes--first, and chiefly, his Eucharistic teaching; and secondly, hymnology. In the first, his "Eucharistic Manual," published in 1866, was, unless we are mistaken, the earliest book of its kind prepared for use in the English Church; while, as regards hymnology, one of his hymns--

"Jesu, meek and gentle,"

has long since attained the widest popularity, and now finds a place in almost every collection.

The preceding chapters of this book will have established the fact that all through his ministerial life the Holy Eucharist was the very sum and substance of his teaching. Nowhere more than in this is the remarkable consistency of Prynne's life and teaching apparent--a consistency so great that on the fiftieth anniversary of his appointment to St. Peter's, Plymouth, he preached again his first sermon as vicar of that parish, for the purpose of showing that his teaching remained fixed and unaltered. His first sermons to his Cornish flock at Tywardreath, and later at Clifton, embody precisely the same belief in regard to the Holy Eucharist as is stated in his later publications, "The Eucharistic Manual" (1865), and "The Truth and Reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice" (1894). With that intense evangelicalism which was so conspicuous a feature of his spiritual life, he seems to have had from the beginning of his priestly career an extraordinarily full and clear grasp of that doctrinal teaching in regard to the Holy Eucharist which Pusey and the other Tractarian leaders were seeking to revive. To him the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar was not so much a Doctrine as a Fact: this was apparent in all his teaching, and in personal intercourse with him to the end of his days. Not only to his own people, but to that larger public which he began to reach very early in his ministry, Prynne put this great fact more clearly than was customary in those days. Thus, in "A Few Plain Words about what every Christian Ought to Know, Believe, and Do, in Order to be Saved"-- first published in 1860, and afterwards circulated by many thousands--we find these words concerning "the Holy Eucharist; or, the Communion of Christ's Body and Blood":--

"This is the most wonderful and the most mysterious of all the sacraments, since, under the outward elements of bread and wine, Jesus Christ, our Lord, "verily and indeed," gives His body and blood to every faithful communicant. This is brought to pass through Christ's blessing and the consecration of the priest. We need not curiously enquire, as did the Jews of old, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" What Christ has spoken, He is certainly able to bring to pass."

This teaching he affirmed again and again; indeed it was the basis of all his ministerial words and actions. In 1869, preaching in his own church, he said:--

"I am exceedingly anxious that you should most clearly understand our teaching relative to the Holy Eucharist, because it is the doctrine which is becoming the most prominent subject of controversy amongst us. We desire to have no reserves as to our teaching on this or any other point of Christian doctrine. We speak as candidly and openly as we can. We, then, dear brethren, who minister in this church, do most thoroughly and absolutely, without any reservations whatever, believe in the doctrine of our Lord's real presence in the Holy Communion. We do not assert it with one breath, and explain it away with the next; but we assert it without attempting to explain it at all. We say it is a great mystery. The mode of His presence is utterly beyond any explanation we can give; but it is as real as His presence upon earth after His Incarnation--as real as His presence at the right hand of God the Father."

The clearness and absolute simplicity of such teaching as this leaves nothing to be desired, and presents a striking contrast to the line of thought more generally typical of the period under consideration. There were, of course, at that time many thoughtful and devout persons who held such belief as Prynne here expresses: writings of Bishop Philpotts and Bishop Hamilton of Salisbury, for instance, were largely in agreement with the lines he adopted. But the Tractarian movement in its earlier stages was in the main academic: and the learned writings of such men as Pusey influenced the scholarly few rather than the general public. It was at this point that Prynne stepped in and did immense service to the Catholic Faith, stating in simple language and accessible form the Church's almost forgotten teaching in regard to her central act of worship.

"The Eucharistic Manual," of necessity prepared, like so many other of his works, in the fragments of a very busy life, was first published in 1865 (London: Joseph Masters and Co.), and the interest aroused by its issue is witnessed to by the fact that a second edition was called for early in 1866. This Manual, the first of its kind to be published in the English Church, attracted attention on many grounds, and notably by the provision it made for those English Churchmen who, "with the members of every other portion of the Catholic Church throughout the world," exercised their "undoubted right" of "attending the celebration of the Holy Eucharist for worship, without at the time communicating." Such provision--as to the wisdom of which even some of the Tractarian leaders themselves were not in agreement--was bound to meet with criticism, some of which Prynne thus dealt with in advance:--

"It is sometimes said that to encourage such a practice (as non-communicating attendance) is to lead people to substitute attendance at the Sacrifice for Communion. This theory has surely been sufficiently tested during the last two or three hundred years. Christian people have been, practically, driven out of church at the commencement of the chief and only Divinely appointed act of Christian worship. But has this practice had the effect of leading our people to set a true value on the Holy Eucharist, and to become communicants? Non-communicating England is the reply. Not one in a hundred, probably, of our people are communicants. Nay, further, the great mass even of church-goers simply ignore the one distinctive act of Christian worship altogether, and satisfy their consciences by attending at Matins and Evensong, and listening to sermons. What they have never seen or joined in, they have learnt to forget.

"It is believed by an increasing number of English Churchmen, that a different and better result may be obtained by returning to a more Catholic practice; and that, if our people can be led to remain and worship their Incarnate Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, they will not long rest until they have also feasted upon their Sacrifice, and tasted and seen how gracious their Lord is."

Thus the Preface, written, be it remembered, in 1865, when the "Quarterly Communion" and the First or Second "Table" were still the prevailing features in many a parish. In taking so pronounced a line on non-communicating attendance, Prynne undoubtedly went beyond the teaching and practice of some of the older leaders of the movement. Indeed, in this and several other matters, he lived long enough to share in the due and proper development of those principles which the older leaders laid down, and to advance somewhat upon practices which they nowhere erected into a final standard.

In the second edition of the Manual, Prynne incorporated several "Acts of Adoration" and an Act of Spiritual Communion compiled by the late Canon T. T. Carter, with whom he ever shared much in common. As to the general plan of the Manual, the value of which was again and again borne witness to by Catholics throughout the world, it was divided into four main parts: (I) The Holy Eucharist: instruction; (2) Devotions before Communion; (3) The Office of Holy Communion; (4) An Appendix, with thanksgivings, intercessions, form of self-examination, etc. It was, of course, compiled from various sources, and its character evidences Prynne's wide range of reading and intimate knowledge of the Church's devotional literature. The wide circulation of this Manual, which in seven years passed through eight editions, drew upon it considerable attention, and it formed the subject of discussion in the House of Commons, where its teaching was denounced by several members in the strongest terms. Following upon this condemnation the then Primate, Archbishop Longley, in a detailed criticism, took exception to some expressions contained in the book. These, he maintained, were "exaggerated and misleading," going beyond the teaching of the Church of England. Prynne, having carefully weighed these objections, was convinced that "they did not go beyond the mind of the Church of England, as illustrated by the teaching of the Primitive Church, to which she so constantly refers us." Instead, therefore, of withdrawing the statements complained of, Prynne recapitulated the chief points for which Catholics contended, and appended to the tenth edition of his Manual (1875) "a summary of doctrines which, as Catholic Christians, we believe and teach, touching the Holy Eucharist and the Christian Priesthood; doctrines which were constantly and consistently taught by two of the best-known and most deeply respected Bishops who have lived in the passing generation--the late Bishop of Exeter (Philpotts), and that orthodox and saintly Bishop, whose loss is yet fresh in our memories, Hamilton, late Bishop of Salisbury." This admirable "Summary of Eucharistic Teaching" was undoubtedly of immense value in days when clear statements of doctrine were neither so numerous nor so easily accessible as they have since become: and by its means it is safe to say that the faith of thousands of Catholics was moulded, and their devotion to our Lord in His Blessed Sacrament increased. Prynne's own profession of faith in the teaching which he put forth was as strong as words could make it:--

"These doctrines, touching the Holy Eucharist, and the power of the Priesthood in connection therewith, I, in common with a very large number of both clergy and laity in the English Church, firmly hold--not simply as matters of opinion (we should have few inducements to hold them very tightly, if that were the case), but as portions of the Faith once delivered unto the saints. We believe in them with the same kind of faith that we exercise when we profess our belief in the existence of God, or the Incarnation of our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are quite sure that they are an integral part of that sacred deposit of Gospel truth which has been committed to the Church. And believing this with our whole hearts, we must and we will teach them, at all risks and at all hazards. All doctrines of the Catholic Church are revealed facts, and, like other facts, are capable of proof by evidence. Opinions may be shaken about by every blast--by argument, by change of circumstances, even by fashion; but facts are, to use a common expression, stubborn things. No amount of talk, no degree of popular clamour, can upset a fact. The sun would shine on in his wonted splendour, though all the blind people in the world should refuse to believe that there was such a body. God would reign on in all His majesty and glory, though all mankind should combine to deny His existence; and so also will those truths, which God has made known to His Church, remain true, in spite of any amount of opposition, in spite of any degree of popular clamour or violence."

"Our enemies," as he declared at this time, "we'll have to cut out our tongues before they shall stop us from declaring the full truth touching the most holy and blessed Sacrament of the Altar." These words-- and Prynne's life bore witness that they were no idle boast--suffice to prove the vital character of his belief in the great Sacrament of the Church. Doctrinally his teaching on this fundamental point may be described as identical with that of his old leader, Dr. Pusey: devotionally the Holy Eucharist was the very centre of his life on earth, to which all else for which he contended bore the most intimate and inseparable connection.

Prynne's second and only other theological work of any importance was his book, "The Truth and Reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, proved from Holy Scripture, the Teaching of the Primitive Church, and the Book of Common Prayer" (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1894). This book--which was dedicated to Viscount Halifax, "with sincere appreciation of his able and consistent efforts to maintain the principles and spiritual rights and liberties of the Church of England"--was mainly written during one of his long illnesses. Its object was "to bring together in a concise form, some of the most salient facts and arguments which have been adduced by learned divines in support of the truth and reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and to answer some popular objections which have been raised against the Church on this subject." But the book was far more than a mere compilation. On the contrary, while quoting ancient and modern authorities in support of his thesis, Prynne in vigorous fashion furnishes admirable teaching on the whole doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament, and does it with a simplicity which makes his work most valuable to the average reader. In the Preface to this book, written when nearing the close of his life, his words entirely harmonize with what he had said on the same matter thirty years earlier:--

"My own firm conviction, after more than fifty years' experience as a priest of the Church of England, is, that we shall never gain the enthusiastic love of our people for their Mother Church, or secure their fidelity to her, until we bring them to realize that the Catholic Church is God's own creation for the promotion of His greater accidental glory and the salvation of souls--that the Holy Eucharist is Christ's own appointed act of worship and means of close communion with Him, and that this divinely ordained service can only be rightly and duly celebrated in God's spiritual Sion, His Holy Catholic Church, by those who have received authority from Him to act as His ambassadors and the stewards of His mysteries. It is because our people have lost their grasp of these great truths that they are so easily alienated from the Church, and become a too ready prey to every new thing, in the way of religion, which the cunning craftiness of man may invent."

Seldom, surely, has the Catholic position been stated with greater clearness than in these words. Prynne, when he had completed the treatise, submitted it to the Rev. F. W. Puller, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cowley, and before publishing it availed himself freely of the many excellent suggestions offered by that well-known scholar. After its appearance the author's heart was gladdened on more than one occasion by the receipt of letters from bishops abroad and fellow-priests at home, telling him how they valued his book and found its teaching helpful. The Bishop of Quebec, in his charge of 1898, made considerable use of the book, and urged the clergy of his diocese to get it and study it for themselves. In a personal communication to Prynne the Bishop told him that when Vicar of South Acton he looked upon the work at St. Peter's as in many respects a model mission, deriving much help from its example.

Such communications often cheered the veteran priest as in his quiet study in Wyndham Square he sat amidst his books and papers, keenly alive as ever to the activities and necessities of the Church, and anxious always to do his part in her great struggle against evil and ignorance. Moments there were-- it is needless to deny it--when so looking out upon the world he felt some anxiety--not as regarded the Church, but rather as to the wisdom of those responsible for her guidance. Toward the end of his days, too, he frequently expressed his misgivings as to the wisdom of some of his clerical brethren in the Catholic party, who by their course of action would, he feared, hinder rather than help that extension of Catholicism for which he had ever laboured.

That advance was a necessary result of the teaching of the older Tractarians Prynne frankly recognized, but, as he observed in his little book "Treachery" (1889): "Some of them would, I think, have said that a few of the 'Ritualists' had gone too fast and too far, and had thus endangered the great principles for the extension of which they (the early leaders) spent their lives, and thus retarded their wider acceptance." He also remarked: "When I sometimes hear young priests abusing their Bishop and talking of the hopelessness of the existing state of things in the Church, I cannot but look back on the past, and wish that they could see the far blacker state of things that we had to face in the early days of the Catholic Movement, and realize the enormous advance that has been made all along the line during the last fifty years. I sometimes think if only their eyes could be opened, like those of Elisha's servant, they would see that the power of God is ready at hand to help, and I pray that they may have patience and faith to face the passing difficulties with courage and humility." Mere "ritualism" he abhorred; and the introduction of teaching or practice which was Roman and not Catholic he strenuously and firmly opposed to the end of his days. Like every other conscientious priest, he had, early in life, examined for himself the Roman claims; and, having satisfied himself as to their untenability, his loyalty to the Anglican Communion was henceforth firm and unswerving. In those early days of his ministry to which we have referred, Prynne read deeply, gaining a profound knowledge of the Fathers, of Pusey's works, and of such writings as Palmer's "Origines Liturgicae." His diary often contains such entries as show that in Cornwall and Clifton whole nights were devoted by him to theological study and the preparation of his sermons. Thus grounded, Prynne knew with equal' certainty what he believed and what he rejected, and was always prepared to assert either when occasion demanded. This sense of accuracy made him impatient of what he termed "exaggerations of Catholic truth" in pulpit or print; statements which tended to unsettle people's faith as to their position in the Church; and terminology which might be associated with the modern and erroneous teaching of the Roman Communion in regard to the doctrines discussed. Taking the word "Purgatory," for instance, he says:--

"I am convinced that the introduction of this word into sermons and instructions misleads people, who quite understand by it the modern popular teaching of the Romish Church. Such comparatively modern Romish teaching, connected as it is with the doctrine of indulgences, I believe to be unscriptural and a grave corruption of primitive truth. I think, therefore, that the use of the word in public teaching should be avoided, as leading the people to think that teaching identical with current popular Roman teaching."

He was equally averse to the introduction of unauthorized and Roman services, such as Benediction and the public recitation of the Rosary, entirely failing to reconcile such developments with that loyalty to his communion which was so strikingly manifested throughout his life. When, some years before his death, he sought his Bishop's permission for the use of special epistles and gospels on the minor saints' days, and it was refused, Prynne yielded implicit obedience and adhered to the Prayer-book offices. In matters such as these he was, it is to be feared, sometimes misunderstood by the younger Catholics around him. Of this he was fully aware, as the following words, addressed to a colleague a few years before his death, testify:--

"I trust that He who has given me courage in the past to maintain Eucharistic truth in the face of much opposition, will not fail me during the short remainder of my life, or allow me to sink into the grave with the stain of cowardice upon my name.

"It is sadly true, and much to be deplored, that we cannot in all things obey our Bishop; but I do not think that because we cannot obey him in all things, consistently with the claims of conscience and higher duty, that we are, therefore, exempt from obeying him altogether in matters on which he has the right to speak. It is not a mere pretence of obedience to obey as far as we can."

And again--

"It is a matter of principle with Catholic Churchmen to obey the Bishops, as those 'set over them in the Lord,' in all things consistent with their common obligation to that standard of faith and worship to which they are equally bound" ("Treachery," p. 37).

Such words as these, written only a few years before his death, might find their parallel in the advice he gave to his brethren much earlier in his career. Thus, in 1874, we find him pressing the "overwhelming necessity," which even then existed, of "consolidating the High Church party." It might, he contended, be needful "not only that so-called Ritualists should abstain from any advance in ceremonial, but also that they should show a readiness to draw in and curtail in matters which are unnecessary as not involving any special principle." Reviewing the ecclesiastical situation not long before his death, he expressed grave misgivings as to whether the practice of ceremonial had not been too often permitted to precede the teaching of which it was only meant to be the outward expression. He was also disquieted by symptoms of what he conceived to be less strictness and discipline of life among the younger clergy than should properly be associated with their high calling. Contrasting the present with the past, as he was able to do, it seemed to him that the reaction from that austerity of life which was apparent among the Tractarian clergy of the 'sixties, had resulted in a freedom which was carrying young priests to-day to the other extreme. For himself, although gifted with artistic perceptions which caused him to derive the fullest enjoyment from such things, he abstained from attending any theatres in his own locality, preferring to do so rather than risk giving offence to good people who entertained old-fashioned ideas on this point. When on holiday, and relieved from his ordinary clerical duties, his enjoyment of a good play or musical entertainment was intense. The love of music was always a very great solace to him, and his knowledge of the art enabled him to assist in bringing the choral services of St. Peter's to the high pitch of excellence they long since obtained. In preaching and in speaking the beauty of his voice was always apparent, enabling him to give unusual emphasis and power to his utterances. This gift he retained to the end.

One other literary work calls for mention here-- a small book, truly, but one which has brought thousands of souls to the Sacrament of Penance and a knowledge of the power of their Lord's love. "Pardon through the Precious Blood" needs no analysis or description: it is simply the handbook or guide to that ministry of reconciliation which Prynne so long and so lovingly exercised, and for the vindication of which he gladly suffered persecution and insult. The extent and blessedness of Prynne's work in the spiritual direction of souls can never be told; it was one for which he was endowed with special gifts of inestimable value. On this point, as on other main doctrines, it is interesting to note the identity of his teaching at the beginning and end of his life. Thus, in 1899, he who in 1852 had witnessed to the Church's possession of this means of grace says:--

"I speak strongly on this point because, with the experience of fifty years, during which I have been largely called upon to exercise this ministration, I have come to the full conviction that it has been the means, under God's blessing, of saving many souls from spiritual shipwreck, and that many of the evils from which we avowedly suffer would have been greatly modified if our people could have felt that, without difficulty or suspicion, they could freely have availed themselves of the spiritual guidance and help which it was the duty of their clergy to give them." Very many who have drifted away from us into Romanism or various forms of dissent would still have been with us, very many who swell the vast number of non-communicants would have shared with us in the sacred Feast of God's Love; for many are held back by the consciousness of past sin, which they feel they ought to confess before they are restored to the full privileges of the Church, but who have been told by false teachers that such relief and restoration is not to be had in the Church of England, and thus they drift on to the end, 'unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd.'"

"Via Dolorosa," a book of devotions for the Stations of the Cross, published in 1901, and sundry sermons on special occasions, make up the remainder of Prynne's prose works. Together with other well-known writers, he was associated in the preparation of a "National Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer," which Bishop Forbes, of Brechin, contemplated producing, but which never came to a completion. In this work, the plan of which was extremely comprehensive, Prynne, whose "Eucharistic Manual" had already appeared, was to be responsible for the section dealing with the Communion Service. The work was to have been published in numbers in order to make it accessible to the many.

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