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Alexander Heriot Mackonochie: A Memoir

By E.A. Towle

Edited by Edward Francis Russell.

London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1890.

Chapter VIII.

Work outside the parish of St. Alban's--Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament--Society of the Holy Cross--Letters from abroad--Chaplaincy of St. Saviour's Priory, Haggerston--Letter from Bishop Tait--Position of affairs at the time of the first prosecution

BUT though Mackonochie's name must always be inseparably connected with the church and parish of St. Alban's, Holborn, his work with individuals, as we have seen, extended far beyond its limits, and his sympathies (always readily enlisted in any effort for the cause which he had so much at heart) led him to take an active part in organisations and societies whose objects were coextensive with those of the Church herself.

In the annual address of the Superior, Canon Carter, at the meeting of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in 1888, he referred to the loss they had sustained in the death of Alexander Heriot Mackonochie, and 'we can mention,' he adds, 'no one more distinguished, more single-hearted, or more devoted as a witness to the truths we are leagued together to promote.'

The Anglo-Catholic movement had been essentially a revival, and the central doctrine, so long obscured or practically ignored, which it was destined to revive, was 'the honour due to the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.' They are the words in which the first object of the Confraternity is set forth, and that object was one which Mackonochie had especially at heart. His public teaching, his personal practice, the ritual for which he afterwards suffered were all most intimately connected with it. He was one of the first Priest Associates of the Confraternity, and, fostered and directed by him, the ward in connection with St. Alban's grew and increased year by year until at the present date it is one of the largest upon the roll of an association which numbers 12,500 lay associates and 1,400 clergy.

This was only one result of his consistent upholding of a high standard with regard to the duty of Eucharistic worship and frequent Communion. In 1867 he wrote to a younger priest who had consulted him:

I think myself that we ought to put before all who are in earnest about their souls the standard of Sunday and Festival Communion. I see no lower standard unless the carelessness of the receiver obliges us to restrain him and insist on a very special preparation before each Communion. Of course it is much more satisfactory that such should come to confession; but where their not doing co seems to spring from the invincible ignorance of inborn and engrained prejudice, I do not think--always supposing they possess a proper amount of spirituality in other ways--that they ought to be limited. Indeed, we may hope that the grace of frequent Communion will make them wish for that which they have not yet learned from other sources to desire.

And with regard to this subject, in every annual address, whilst warning his parishioners against judgments formed as to spiritual advance being based upon statistics, he records with deep thankfulness the increase of communicants, and the evidences of greater devotion and self-denial in the larger number of those who received fasting.

So far, thank God (he writes), the gradual increase of celebrations has been marked by a steady advance in the desire of His people to show their love for Him by their use of this increase--I hope I may add by a corresponding growth of the interior life.

And in 1867, referring to his first prosecution, he says in his address to his congregation:

The battle must be fought in your prayers and before God's Altar. If our daily Eucharist be attended by double the present numbers; if there be a great and growing increase in communicants and in the frequency and devotion of their Communions, we shall prevail. If we lose, it will not be because we have broken the law, but because we have not deserved God's help.

Always anxious to lead people on to the highest Christian privileges, he was keenly alive to the demands they made upon them for corresponding spirituality and strictness of life. He was not only one of the first Priest Associates of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, but he was the Master of the Society of the Holy Cross, 'founded for the primary purpose of deepening by means of a definite rule the spiritual life in its brethren.' This Society was, in accordance with the terms of its constitution:

restricted to bishops, priests, and deacons, and bona fide candidates for Holy Orders. The originators of the Society were convinced that work for Christ in His Church could only be effectively done by those over whom the Spirit of His Own Life on earth had gained some hold; and on the other hand, that this spirit can only retain its hold upon the character of a priest when it finds its expression in vigorous action within the sphere of his calling.

Hence the features of the Society are two-fold; its interior rule, acting upon the character and its outward work, leading the brethren to take their position towards the world as possessors of a supernatural life and commission which must either die out or extend its influence to others.

There was an obligatory rule binding all associates to certain definite religious duties and strictness of life, and two voluntary rules, one of which was restricted to celibates, recommended to those who 'feel called to seek in them a means of closer union with God.' From the first it was the stricter rule which Mr. Mackonochie adopted; and willingly conformed to its obligations.

The ordinary routine of life at the Clergy House was only broken in upon by the necessary interruptions and exigencies of parochial work, and one is glad to find in 1866 mention of a real holiday and short tour abroad. In October, 1865, he had gone for a short time to Aix-la-Chapelle, when a sharp return of rheumatism had obliged him to seek the remedy of the baths; but he was without a congenial companion, and more or less of an invalid, and it would appear from his letters that his enforced idleness was rather a duty than a pleasure. In the following year, however, we find a long letter from abroad full of pleasant accounts of the places he has seen and the people he has met. The city father with his invalid son, a nice young fellow with a cough that, Mackonochie fears, he will only lose in Paradise; George Williams, of King's College, Cambridge, with whom he dined in Paris; and various other travellers with whom he appears at once to have entered into friendly relations. At Paris he did not like the Madeleine,' it has so very much the character of a show place'; but he was much struck with the various services he attended, and remarks, 'I think I have seen people communicating at most of the masses to which I have been, and sometimes in great numbers.'

From Paris he went on to Dijon to see Citeaux, the cradle of the Cistercian Order of Benedictines, and to visit Les Fontaines, the birthplace of St. Bernard.

I saw (he writes) the room in which St. Bernard was horn. I bought two of the books, one for Mrs. N------, who greatly loves St. Bernard. The priest met me as I came away. He knows Perceval Ward. As we parted he said, 'Je vous souhaite un pas de plus vers l'unité.' My next resting place was Villefranche, on All Saints' Eve. Having slept and been to the services, all very crowded and many communicants, I then started for Ars, where the great Curé lived and worked and died. If you see Stanton tell him that I visited Ars on All Saints' Day. I saw his bedroom, dining-room, confessional. I did not see his altar, for, leaving the building of the little old church untouched in other ways, they have taken down the east wall and built on a very fine addition of transepts and chancel, a handsome new altar standing under the lantern tower . . . T shall tell you much, if you care to hear it, when I come back. I was shown about by the dearest and most simple Brother, who had been with the dear Curé for years.

From Dijon he went on to Grenoble, and as they passed through the hills and valleys he writes that

involuntarily one could only exclaim, 'Oh my God, is Paradise like this?' Till again the thought came, 'If Thou hast given such loveliness to us sinners on earth, what hast Thou not reserved for Thine elect hereafter?'

It is one of the very few references which we have in his letters to his love for natural beauty. It was not the educated appreciation of the artist or the poet, but something at once simpler and deeper; an instinctive, childlike delight, mingled with wondering reverence for this outward revelation of the mind of God.

Perhaps the feeling gathered strength from the fact that he was rarely able to indulge it. Nearly all his life after he left Wantage was spent in London. His holidays were rare and brief. Already, in this year 1866, he was at home and at work again within the month. There was one more winter before him of undisturbed parochial progress; though, indeed, there were indications of rising opposition and of the storm which was to break in the spring of 1867; but they were the natural, perhaps almost the inevitable, accompaniments of a success which was at once a surprise to his friends and a practical answer to those who condemned the course of action he had adopted.

As we have seen, it was in March 1867 the first prosecution had begun; and it does not seem out of place to relate one or two facts which curiously illustrate the condition of his own mind at this critical time, and the friendly relations he still maintained with those who might naturally have been supposed to be antagonistic to him.

As we have already seen, the work of his own church and parish by no means absorbed all his energies; but it is a very remarkable instance of absence of pre-occupation with his own concerns that in this very year when he was first exposed to the open attacks which were unhappily such familiar incidents in his after life, we find him voluntarily taking up a fresh work, and one certain to land him in new difficulties and subject him to further misconstruction.

Sisterhoods in the Church of England were still in their infancy. Most of those who theoretically approved of their constitution and objects looked upon them as experiments; whilst to many more they were objects of ridicule or suspicion. The old 'No Popery' cry had been raised against them with some show of reason, since the secession of some of their earliest members to the Roman Communion had awakened a not unnatural fear as to the ultimate influence upon young and enthusiastic minds of a life to which the engrained prejudices of the average Englishman were so absolutely opposed. It was easy enough to awaken popular antagonism; it has taken many years of patient perseverance and of still more convincing practical experience to allay it. And in 1867 there were as yet few parishes in which the work of organised communities of women had been tested, though the names of Dr. Neale, Canon Carter of Clewer, Dr. Butler of Wantage, and many others, were sufficient proofs of the stability of its foundations and the purity of its aims.

In 1865, the Sisters of St. Margaret's, East Grinstead, had started a new mission in Haggerston. It now embraces the three parishes of St. Augustine's, St. Mary's, and St. Chad's; but in those days it was comparatively unknown ground, with an overwhelming population, scanty church accommodation, and, numerically, an altogether inadequate clerical staff.

The Priory was opened with its full contingent of Sisters and workers on May 3, but besides the difficulties and disappointments which were naturally to be anticipated, it was almost at once beset with unexpected trials. Dr. Neale, whose last work had been the planting of this offshoot of his Sisterhood, upon whom the Sisters had depended as their counsellor and stay, died in the August of the same year, and the sympathies of the people amongst whom they laboured had hardly been enlisted, and early prejudices overcome, before the struggling mission received a yet greater shock in the secession of its Chaplain to Rome.

Mr. Mackonochie was not only a strong man, but he was a strong Anglican, and it is not surprising that the minds of the small and disheartened community should have turned to him as one most likely to assist and guide them in their need.

Little as many would have given him credit for it (writes one of his intimate friends), Mackonochie was a staunch, I had almost written a bigoted, Anglican. Even when I first knew him he had passed the insular limits of mere Anglicanism; but from first to last he was Anglo-Catholic. The only occasion on which I remember coming into anything like collision with him was once when (early in our acquaintance) I ventured to exclaim in somewhat a disparaging tone, in answer to something he had said, 'Yes, but--the Church of England!' His eyes flashed with indignation, and with one angry look he swept out of the room without deigning to give me one word of reply. . . . The Bishops of the Church of England never made a greater mistake than when they treated this man as a Romanising traitor; he was, at the first at all events, the most rigidly loyal of Anglicans, and if he at all receded from this position it was because he was forced, to some extent, out of it by the oppression and suspicion with which he was treated by Anglican authorities.

But at this time, at any rate, the one amongst those authorities who had come into personal contact with him, and most closely observed his line of action, both at St. Gcorge's-in-the-East and at St. Alban's, spontaneously confirmed his friend's verdict by giving him the strongest proof of confidence in his power.

It must be remembered that St. Alban's had been the subject of more or less embittered controversy in the public press. Various circumstances had combined to set a mark upon it. Mr. Martin had instituted his suit in March, the Ritual Commission was sitting during the summer, and Lord Shaftesbury, in a letter to the 'Times,' had made strong objections to Mr. Hubbard's position upon it as being the founder of the Church of St. Alban's, 'which is the head of all the offence in this matter.' [In July 1866 Lord Shaftesbury had made the following remarkable note in his diary: 'On Sunday to St. Alban's Church in Holborn with Stephens and Haldane. In outward form and ritual it is the worship of Jupiter or Juno. It may be Heaven itself in the inward sense which none but God can penetrate. ... Do we thus lead souls to Christ or to Baal?'] Even friends were doubtful and uneasy, opponents loud and clamorous in denunciation, and the press almost without exception ranged on the adverse side; but Bishop Tait's last dealings with Mackonochie (then comparatively unknown, except to his Bishop, as curate of St. George's-in-the-East) had not been forgotten; and widely as their views might differ, he would not withhold the tribute due to his personal integrity and consistent conduct. On hearing that the distressed community at Haggerston desired to secure his services as Chaplain, the Bishop wrote to him as follows:

I am told they are in much perplexity from the secession to the Church of Rome of Mr. Tuke, who has been their clerical adviser for some time, and are most anxious to avail themselves of your assistance and advice. I have carefully inquired into the circumstances, and am most anxious that everything possible and right should be done to prevent these ladies from being unsettled in their allegiance to the Church of England by what has happened, and that they should have whatever assistance and advice you are able to give them. I understand that they have confidence in you, and are more likely to listen to you than to any one else. Although I have reason to believe they depart from the model I approve, I hear from undoubted testimony how great is their self-denial in nursing the sick, by exposing themselves to so many dangers for Christ's sake, and I cannot, therefore, withhold the expression of my sympathy with their ceaseless labours for the poor and afflicted. If by kindly advice and guidance, and such help as you can afford, you can be of use to them at this crisis, I shall be well pleased. I have full confidence in your conscientious desire, according to your own views, to uphold the Church of England, as against the slavery of the Church of Rome, and I think it right you should give what assistance you can to these ladies, and especially to endeavour to save them from following the example of Mr. Tuke, and taking a step which, I fear, could never be retraced, and would be found most injurious to their soul's health.

And in the midst of his own difficulties at St. Alban's, when most men would have considered themselves already overwhelmed with work, Mackonochie accepted the chaplaincy. The post was not only an unpopular one, but it was beset with perplexities. Suspicions had been aroused which seemed to be justified when a few months later a number of the Sisters and their Superior followed their late chaplain to Rome. The reduced members were left almost without friends or funds; and the relinquishment of the work in Haggerston seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Still one person was determined that, triumphing over all temporary discouragements, it should in the end succeed. Mr. Mackonochie at least would uphold it with all the power of his strong will and undisturbed confidence in its ultimate success. Year after year in the midst of his own anxieties, with ever-increasing responsibilities at St. Alban's, with a sphere of work which, as his powers became more known, was opening out in all directions, he yet found time to guide and guard the little community, putting aside his own weightier interests to enter into every detail of the Sisters' work; until in the end it grew and prospered even beyond the most sanguine expectations. For a while the Sisters occupied small and inconvenient premises in the Kingsland Road, but in 1870 they moved back into the parish of Haggerston. There they still remain, and in the year 1889 have seen the opening of their new Priory house, from which all the various machinery of mission work is successfully brought to bear upon the adjacent parishes. The value of the devoted labours of the large staff of Sisters who inhabit that house cannot be estimated, and in all human probability Haggerston would never have benefited by them if the struggling community had not been upheld in its earlier days by Mr. Mackonochie's resolute will and wise judgment.

There was an obvious reason for the reliance placed in that judgment, not only at this juncture nor by one class of people only, but by so many who at some turning point in their lives felt the need of counsel or assistance. It was a judgment singularly free from personal bias or subsequent vacillations. There is a self-confidence which justly awakens distrust in other people, as being the natural result of egotism or prejudice. But this was rather the confidence of a mind at once candid and clear-sighted following an argument without hesitation to its practical conclusion. In a letter dated 1865, he wrote:

I always think of ----- as a 'moderate' man. This I abhor because it seems to me that it commonly means a man who lacks courage, either moral or spiritual, to carry out his principles to their legitimate issue.

Before we begin the story of the hostile legislation upon which we are now about to enter, we would once more emphasise the fact that the spirit in which Mackonochie met it, though far enough removed from conciliation or compromise, was absolutely free from personal bitterness. Neither at any time was he so absorbed in the pending suit and the verdict which so intimately affected him, as to forget for one moment the interests of the Church at large, and the furtherance of those interests in his own parish. The various religious organisations with which he was connected, and which he had done so much to form and guide, were as much to him as ever. Individual souls with their various needs claimed and received an attention undisturbed by the anxieties which were pressing upon him.

New efforts were made for the evangelisation of the poor people in the courts and alleys about St. Alban's. The unremitting care of the clergy for the children in the day and Sunday schools was bearing good fruit; the young men and women found not only guides and teachers, but friends at the most critical period of their lives

ignorance was in some measure at least dissipated and prejudices overcome; moreover, the sympathies of the working men were enlisted in the Church's cause; and when the conflict came they were not only ready to range themselves upon the losing side, but they had attained to an intelligent appreciation of the principle for which they were contending, and were well aware that it was not merely a question of a posture or a vestment, but of the doctrines, rights, and liberties of the Church.

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