Project Canterbury Arthur Stanton
by H.F.B. Mackay
"Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper there came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment and poured it on His head as He sat at meat. But when His disciples saw it they had much indignation saying, To what purpose is this waste?"-St. Matt. xxvi, 6, 7, 8.
The scene is the first-floor landing of a staircase at Rugby. The best-looking boy in the school stands with his hands in his pockets. He has a powerful voice and is consequently known to the school as the Scranker.
The Scranker's study is being moved to an upper floor, and the agonizing moment has been reached when the sofa appears to decline to go round the curve of the staircase. His school-fellows used to say that the Scranker had a rum way of seeming to be looking at something a long way off. On this occasion he is concentrated on the agitating foreground. At last the sofa kindly relents and disappears aloft, followed by the benediction of the Scranker, "Sofa-r, so good."
The text I have chosen was the text of the first sermon I ever heard the Scranker preach, and I have chosen it because it tells us in a phrase the story of the Scranker's life.
Arthur Stanton was one of the beautiful creatures of this world. Through that splendidly moulded head and face poised on that tall and manly body there gradually shone out an enchanting personality.
His colleague, Edward Russell, was one of the most fastidious of men; it was easy to offend the taste of Russell, but the spell of fascination which Stanton laid on Russell never weakened through all the years. Of all the beautiful products of nature or of art which Russell admired, his wonderful brother priest came first. I have never seen an actor who could compare with Stanton for physical beauty, and although he was the simplest of men and would have repudiated with laughing scorn what I am saying about him, there is no doubt that he had the temperament, mind and power of a consummate artist. Had he entered the theatrical profession, with his physical beauty, his power of expression, his compass of voice, and the spiritual perception which lay behind them, he would have been one of the greatest actors of any age.
Stanton came of a well-to-do Gloucestershire family; his father died when he was young, so he was always a man of independent means. He had all the acute sensitiveness of the artistic temperament. He was over-sensitive; it was his besetting fault. He was acutely sensitive to personal opposition; he was inclined to be sensitive to pain and discomfort. He was extremely sensitive to climate: is barometer and his thermometer were his hobbies, and a standing joke among his brother priests; he had a passion for watching the sky and the clouds; there is a seat on the staircase of the St. Alban's Clergy House on which he used to sit peering up into what he could see of the murky London sky. In fact he was to other men what that costly, graceful vessel of fragrant perfume was to the other vessels in the supper room at Bethany, and like that vessel he gave himself to be broken and poured out upon the Saviour's head and feet in a London slum.
I take Stanton to-night therefore as illustrating one of the elements in the morale of a true Anglo-Catholic movement. He illustrates the fact that it must exhibit the consecration-I should have said the sacrifice-of all natural gifts to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The artistic temperament and an artistic gift bring pain and sacrifice into the life of their possessor. If the gift is of the highest quality it is rarely recognized at first; often its owner, like the Supreme Artist Himself, Jesus Christ, is despised and rejected of men, and always it is with travail that its fruits are borne. But all artistic gifts are divine, and they never manifest themselves in the completeness of their naturalness and power unless they are used as His instruments by the servants of God.
Stanton lived a life of sacrifice, and therefore his natural gifts did the greatest work of all; they saved souls.
Many of you knew something of Father Stanton in his later days, the days when he was immovably fixed at St. Alban's. Some of you used to help to crowd St. Alban's on his Monday evenings; some of you used to wedge yourselves in to assist at the Three Hours when he preached it. You saw him get up, pen a Bible, and he always suggested to you the preciousness of the Bible by the way he turned over the pages; then he found his text, or rather discovered it, and began with a sort of hesitating, adventurous air to explore its meaning; then he would pounce on its meaning and gather it all up and soar away and carry you with him, now laughing, now crying, always rigidly absorbed and thrilled, thrilled as you are thrilled not by an argument but by music. It was a gift of using speech like music which Stanton had. He could suggest things to you which he did not say and which are incapable or statement. I daresay you thought it was all a spontaneous effort, that it gave him no trouble at all. No, the whole sermon had been carefully thought out, analysed, written out fair in a note-book, not learned, but entirely absorbed, and then put forth as the deliberate message of the preacher. Every sermon of Stanton's was the deliberately offered sacrifice of his consummate gift to Our Lord.
For the rest, you loved the man's personality, and delighted in collecting funny stories about him and his adventures with the people in the slums.
I once tried to get him to come to Oxford to speak to undergraduates. I got a crushing reply. "My dear Mackay, I can't lecture a hang, and I don't really think the fellows would care a hang. It would be dismalissimus. This is really why I think I can't come. It's a matter of common sense and no kid at all about it."
I waited a term or two and then got some undergraduates to ask him, and he came like a shot. There was a tremendous pack all agog for Stanton's stories. Stanton asked for a Bible, found a text, and preached a heart-searching sermon on the Precious Blood. Afterwards he told the men to stand, and then he prayed in his own words that they might know the love of the Lord Jesus and the power of His Blood. Then he sat down, and there was an appalling silence for a long time until someone in desperation said, "Will you tell us something about your work?"
"About St. Alban's?" said Stanton. "Oh yes, of course," and kept them all for over an hour between laughter and tears.
The man who described the meeting says, "It lives in my mind out of all the meetings I have ever been to as the one meeting to which I am enormously thankful to have gone."
I am not going to tell you funny stories about Stanton or funny stories Stanton told; I am going to tell you the story of Stanton himself. I am going to explain to you why you could always find him at St. Alban's, and this is not at all a funny story.
Stanton sacrificed all his prospects in life, not like Lowder and Dolling for the sake of Christ in His Poor, but for the sake of Christ in His Church. He loved the poor; if he had been forbidden to exercise his priesthood he meant to go and love as an artisan in the slums, but among my six worthies he stands out as the confessor for the Faith.
Every great artist has a great ideal, a great love. The love of Stanton's life was the love of Jesus and Mary, who from his earliest childhood spoke to him and helped him through the Catholic tradition. The artist in him recognized that Catholic Faith and Practice is the Divinely ordained expression in this world of Jesus, His Mother and His Saints. Those who attacked Catholic Faith and Practice in Stanton's eyes attacked the home of Jesus and Mary, obscured their manifestation, and thwarted their work for men. He defended Catholic Faith and Practice therefore as a man defends his spouse and his home.
When he was at Oxford he went to St. George's-in-the-East to help Lowder and Mackonochie in the riots. Once, when the Protestants made a rush at the altar to destroy it, Stanton in cassock and surplice threw himself in front of it and stood there with folded arms facing the mob. The mob dared not touch him, the altar was saved. That remain his life-long attitude.
He went to Cuddesdon at the time when Bishop Wilberforce was trying to make it more Low Church. He found that Catholic acts of devotion were being discouraged, and asked Liddon what he should do. Liddon advised a measure of conformity, but said, "On no account should I rise from my knees while any of the Consecrated Elements were unconsumed, either at the time of Communion or at the conclusion of the service. To do so would be to imply that you believed only in a Presence in the soul of the receiver, and those who know how much depends upon the revealed truth that our Lord is present in and under the sacramental elements after Consecration whether He is received or no, could never consent to let the point appear to be one of indifference."
Stanton had been profoundly impressed by the zeal, the fervour, and the Scottish courage and calm of Mackonochie. Mackonochie was about to form the parish of St. Alban's in the slums of Holborn, and Stanton accepted his invitation to join him. He mentioned his intention while still at Oxford to Dr. Tait, Bishop of London. "If you go to Mackonochie at St. Alban's," said the Bishop, "you must never expect any Church preferment." Stanton went.
Mackonochie had begun his services in a room over a costermonger's fish shop, but he had now moved them to a cellar in Greville Street.The only light came through a grating in the pavement, the coal-hole was the vestry, and in this cellar Stanton preached his first sermon while his parishioners cat-called at him down the coal-shoot.
That the boy knew what he was in for is plain from the text he chose to have painted over his chimney-piece in the new clergy house: "There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God."
His preaching power appeared at once; from the first he was magnetic, at once he preached Jesus, and the people began to crowd. One of his dodges when taking a mission was to stand at a street corner in a cassock and biretta, and toss his surplice into the air. If you saw a gloriously beautiful young man playing ball with a surplice you would feel obliged to investigate the matter; so did the crowd, and then Stanton got on a stool and preached Jesus to them. He was very soon denounced; somebody complained to the Bishop that Stanton confessed to Mackonochie every day, and carried the Blessed Sacrament about in his pocket. Tait pooh-poohed the rubbish, and said to Stanton, "Remember, they are watching you."
Stanton began by doing the sort of work Father Vernon is doing now, preaching big missions about England. Some of his earliest missions were to soldiers, and had the most wonderful results. My tale will tell you how all is missions were put to an end.
In 1866 came the great attack on the Anglo-Catholics by Lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne in The Times. The second great attack, you remember, came in 1899, when Sir William Harcourt attacked us in the same journal. The Public Worship Regulation act was the result of the first attack, the revised Prayer Book is the long-delayed result of the second.
In the general mêlée which followed the attack of 1866, St. Alban's, Holborn, became the storm centre. The Protestants astutely saw that the moral weight of a successful Catholic work among the poor was greater than that of a church frequented by the well-to-do. No doubt it was felt also that the attractive young Stanton must be got rid of, but that could only be done by attacking his Vicar.
The storm began by the Chaplain-General forbidding Stanton to have anything further to do with soldiers, and by the Bishop giving the Church Association leave to attack Mackonochie.
Mrs. Stanton, of Upfield, was deeply distressed that her Arthur should be involved in such matter, and remonstrated with him pathetically. Stanton's letters show the love and the firmness of a St. Francis de Sales.
"My dear Mother,
I am a Catholic in heart, longings and hopes. Catholics believe, as they believe in their God, that Jesus Christ is present on His Altar in the Holy Sacrament. A Catholic priest believes that he holds between his hands the Blood of Life; as St. John says he handled the Word of Life with his hands. I hold the doctrine of the Real Presence dearer than life. As I hope for salvation I would rather be hacked to pieces than omit adoring my God in the Sacrament."
About the same time, Stanton wrote to his sister, "I go to Shepperton this week to preach for a dear old Evangelical Calvinist. I am sure we shall get on, as he loves Jesus."
After a long delay the courts forbade the St. Alban's clergy to elevate, genuflect, use incense, mix the chalice and burn altar lights.
Mackonochie thought he must submit in some particulars. Stanton did not. "In the name of the God of justice," he said, "let us resist this tyranny tooth and nail."
Mackonochie gave up lighting the candles, and Stanton bought seven lamps to burn instead. "Following the example," he writes, "of Mr. Richards of All Saints', Margaret Street, we shall be more explicit in future in teaching the doctrine of the Mass."
But Mackonochie had not pacified his opponents, because he would not give up the adoration of our Lord in the Holy Sacrament. He was summoned before the courts again, and this time suspended for three months. On the first Sunday he sat in his stall unable to say Mass or to preach, while Stanton thundered on the subject from the pulpit. Not long after this the courts in Mr. Bennet's case decided that the doctrine of the Objective Presence in the Blessed Sacrament was, after all, permissible in the Church of England. On which Stanton wrote, "I see Mr. Bennet's case is given for him. I am glad only because if people prosecute they should pay for it. It does not matter in the least to me whether the law says Christ is in the Sacrament or not. He is, and that is all I care about."
Years went on during which Stanton was wholly engaged in preaching the Gospel, ministering in the confessional, and doing social work of various kings; but in 1875 he found himself temporarily in charge of St. Alban's. The tireless Church Association had managed to get Mackonochie suspended for six weeks. He went abroad, and the Bishop of London told Stanton that he was to celebrate next Sunday in a surplice only, not even a stole, and must use common household bread. Stanton put up a notice: "N.B. There will be no celebration of Holy Communion in this church until further notice. All other services as usual." And next Sunday he marched the whole congregation off to St. Vedast's, Foster Lane, where Father Hogg sand Mass in the usual way. The Bishop stopped this by prohibiting the clergy of St. Alban's to officiate in any church where the vestments were used, but the congregation continued to go off to St. Vedast's once Stanton's sermon was finished, until Mackonochie came back. When Mackonochie returned Missa Cantata was resumed at St. Alban's.
But this decisive action of Stanton's changed the whole course of his life and the character of his ministry. When he was advertised to take Missions bishop after bishop inhibited him from preaching in his diocese. After 1875 Stanton's urbi et orbi ministry was at an end, for the remaining thirty-eight years of his life, although he preached here and there for friends in diocese where he had not been inhibited, he regarded his Anglican ministry as closed except at St. Alban's itself. He was perfectly happy in his work, but he felt he had been rejected by the Church of England. When he was dying he was offered a Prebendal stall in St. Paul's, but he refused it with a grateful acknowledgment of the kindness of the offer.
But there was one honour, however, he could not refuse. He could not stop London giving him a public funeral. The complete sacrifice of this man of such wonderful beauty and power to his convictions in a life-long service of God and man brought the whole of London to his grave. From St. Alban's to Waterloo Station amid dense and silent masses of bareheaded Londoners, his brother priests, now old, old men, walked with the little hand bier between them on which his body lay. When they got across the bridge the crowds on the Surrey shore began the Easter hymn:
The strife is o'er, the battle done;
Now is the Victor's triumph won;
O let the song of praise be sung,
I stood at the corner of Wellington Street and the Strand that day, and saw the little hand-barrow wheeled down past the portico of the Lyceum Theatre, sacred to me with memories of great Shakespearean nights, amid those vast multitudes, and the scene lit up for me a Gospel story. For here was one who as a young man had kneeled at Jesus' feet and said to Him, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" and Jesus, looking upon him, had loved him and said, "Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me." And the young man was glad at that saying and he had come with joy, having sold all that he had, for he had great possessions, and he had followed Jesus in the Way.