Project Canterbury

Alexander Heriot Mackonochie: A Memoir

By E.A. Towle

Edited by Edward Francis Russell.

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

Chapter XII. 1875-1882.

Desire for peace--Powers of endurance, mental and physical--Renewed prosecution--Joint letter from Dr. Pusey and Dr. Liddon--Mr. Mackonochie's reply--Behaviour under sentence of suspension and deprivation in 1879--Visit to America--Signs of progress--lawful liberty.

In reading the history of the repeated prosecutions--of condemnations, inhibitions, suspensions on the one side, and of refusals to recognise jurisdiction and to submit to authority on the other--it is very necessary to remember that a life of contention is by no means inconsistent with a desire for peace. There were not only to be no reprisals, but there was to be no desire to retaliate. All 'this fighting,' writes Mr. Mackonochie, with a confident simplicity hardly justified cither by the experience of individuals or the history of nations--'all this fighting must be in the spirit of love.'

Over and over again, both in private letters and public addresses, we find expressions of thankfulness when freedom from litigation has brought peace to his parish and congregation. He was able by the force of his strong will to bear anxiety and suspense without manifesting any uneasiness, but he dreaded its effect upon others.

My feeling about ritual (he wrote as early as 1865) is to get the actual law of the Church generally observed in order to give people's minds rest. At present the great anxiety on all sides is to know 'how far you have got.' Thus ritual takes a wrong place from which it cannot be dethroned till the chasuble at the altar is at least as common as the surplice in the pulpit. Then people will know that in a church of a certain type they will certainly find the legal ornaments; thus they will cease to be disquieted on this head. Of course there are some people who will always be found to run after something: and if they have a chasuble everywhere they will then think about details in music, &e. But there are many to whom this growth of ritual is very trying, and to them I do earnestly wish to be able to say--'there you see the whole.'

His keenest anxieties were, however, never personal. In 1874 he wrote:

The year must be a most anxious one, and probably one of great importance to a much wider range of persons than merely myself and my people. . . . However, God sitteth above the water-floods, and if we do our best He will win the battle for Himself even with our mistakes if better may not be had.

And again:

No doubt our walk through this little world is through much fog and darkness and many alarms; but it is wonderful when one looks back to see how little the evils of life have been allowed to leave real marks upon our course, or upon our present state. It seems as if we have only to go on with our eyes fixed upon God and somehow the mist disperses at the critical time.

It is, no doubt, in the last sentence that we have the real groundwork of his composure; but he had at the same time powers of mental and physical endurance which were rather the results of nature than of grace.

Delicacy of health had passed away with early youth, and occasional attacks of illness had left his vigorous constitution unimpaired. This was in one sense a snare; for no physical weakness nor overwhelming sense of exhaustion gave timely warning that it was being subjected to too severe a strain. It sometimes appeared as if the ordinary accidents of life--pain and weariness, heat and cold--were alike indifferent to him. If he suffered, he gave no sign cither of physical distress or mental disquietude.

A little incident curiously illustrating his habitual stoicism took place in 1874. He had been calling at a house in Portland Place, when his foot slipped on the door-step and he fell, dislocating his shoulder. He had an appointment at Haggerston that afternoon, and conceiving this trivial misadventure to be unworthy of attention, he pursued his road. By the time he reached St. Saviour's Priory he was not unnaturally a good deal worse, and after a while consented to go home in a cab. On his arrival at the Clergy House one of the Sisters came to attend upon him, and perceiving the nature of the injury, without waiting for his permission, sent off for a doctor. In the meantime nothing could be done. Knowing the pain he must necessarily be suffering, the Sister, in a good deal of anxiety, went back into his room to find him still apparently unmoved. His arm hung helpless, but voice, manner, looks were unaltered, as he quietly observed, 'Perhaps, Sister, it might be as well to send for a doctor.'

By this time the journey to Haggerston, the jolting of the cab over rough pavement, and well-meant but ignorant efforts at relief, had aggravated the mischief. It was not without difficulty that the surgeon did his work, and the Sister was thankful when the last wrench was over and she could follow him out of the room, but she was taken by surprise at his first words: 'That is a good man.' His professional knowledge had rightly estimated the agony so unflinchingly endured, and in the one .short emphatic sentence he summed up his verdict.

It was the same with regard to fatigue and fasting. On Good Fridays, for instance, he would be at St. Alban's taking services and hearing confessions from an early hour until 12 o'clock. He would preach the Three Hours, and afterwards remain at his post seeing people until five; then for the first time he would break his fast, walk down to Haggerston to his duties at the Sisterhood, and return to preach at the evening service at St. Alban's, the day of incessant mental and physical strain not being ended until midnight. In one of his letters he speaks of having preached twenty-three sermons in seven days, and he would carry on as many as six: courses of sermons at a time, keeping his subjects perfectly well defined, and handling each of them separately with clearness and power. It would have been only possible to a man who was at once singularly clear-headed and physically robust, and these sustained efforts having apparently no ill effects at the time, established dangerous precedents for future exertions. One secret of his strength was no doubt to be found in the power he possessed of laying aside the burden of the day in those times of spiritual rest and refreshment which are amongst the necessities of the Christian life. Every year he went into retreat, and no need of relaxation nor press of business could induce him to forego that period of closest self-communing, of silence, and of prayer. Exact in all things, he was more especially careful lest the fightings without' should destroy the peace within. Yet he was so lavish in placing his time at other people's service that when at last he broke down, those who watched him most closely could only wonder that the natural result of his persistent disregard of ordinary precautions should have been delayed so long.

The second London Mission took place in the spring of 1874, and, as in 1869, was fruitful in blessings to the parishioners and congregation at St. Alban's. Mr. Mackonochie was absent from his church, being engaged to preach at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge; he returned full of thankfulness for the mercies vouchsafed there and elsewhere, to carry on and consolidate the work to which the Mission week had given a fresh impulse; but he was not long destined to do so undisturbed.

Already in May the fresh suit 'Martin v. Mackonochie' began in the Court of Arches, and was followed by the events which have been detailed in Chapter IX.: Sir Robert Phillimore's judgment on December 7, against which Mr. Mackonochie appealed; the withdrawal of the appeal on May 21, 1875; and finally, on June 12 of the same year, Mr. Mackonochie's suspension for six weeks.

The storm which broke with the renewed prosecution in 1874 had been threatening for some time; and those most deeply interested in the affairs of the Church observing the ominous signs of its approach were not slow to perceive that in all probability it would first burst over St. Alban's, and that weighty interests (by no means affecting that church and parish alone) would be involved in the line of defence which should be adopted; and already in March 1874 Mr. Mackonochie had received the following joint letter from Dr. Pusey and Dr. Liddon:

Christ Church, March 14, 1874.

My dear Mackonochie,--You will have seen from the newspapers that we are threatened with legislation having for its object the summary enforcement of recent disputed decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. If, as is apparently the case, we can trust the articles which have appeared in the 'Times,' the Episcopal authority is to be shared--in the work of diocesan administration--with laymen elected by the nominees of the ratepayers, and therefore not necessarily Churchmen or Christians; while it is also proposed that those directions of the Prayer Book which are notoriously disregarded by the Low Church and Broad Church clergy, shall no longer have the power of law.

We will not characterise this project as it deserves. But we wish to submit to you, that even if, as we trust will be the ease, it should be defeated, it points to a permanent source of danger to the progress of Church work and life among us.

There are, of course, opponents whom nothing that we can do or say will ever conciliate, since, unhappily for themselves, they reject the revealed doctrines of Sacramental grace, and, not infrequently, the more central truths of Christianity from which these doctrines directly radiate. But if such persons are assisted by others who seriously believe what God has revealed, or wish to do so, we have reason to ask ourselves whether we ever act or speak in a way calculated to cause needless 'offence,' and so to retard that very work of God which we have at heart.

Must it not be acknowledged in view of the exaggerated ceremonial and ill-considered language which are sometimes to be found among (so-called) 'Ritualists,' that there are grave reasons for anxiety on this head? We at least cannot help thinking so, and we are therefore writing to ask you to use your great influence with many of our brethren, in favour of a course which appears to us to be recommended alike by charity for souls, and by loyalty to the common Truth.

Would it not be possible to take some early opportunity of considering how much of recent additions to customary ritual could be abandoned without doing harm? We will not attempt to go into details. But surely matters of taste or feeling, not necessarily or of long habit associated with the enforcement or maintenance of doctrine, yet calculated to alarm the prejudiced and uninstructed, ought, on St. Paul's principle, to be at least reconsidered. If we could show that we have unity and humility at heart as truly as we have at heart the loyal maintenance of the Church's faith and worship, much of the existing opposition would be disarmed, and we might hope by God's mercy to escape from dangers which are more imminent and serious than appearances would suggest.

You will, we are sure, understand this appeal in the sense in which it is addressed to you, viz., that of a sincere wish to secure whatever has really been gained of late years in the way of faith and reverence, to the glory of Our Lord and the good of souls. Your faithful brethren in Him,

E. B. Pusey.
H. P. Liddon.

To this letter Mr. Mackonochie replied as follows:

My dear Liddon,-- I suppose I am right in addressing what I can say to Dr. Pusey and yourself, to you, as the writer and sender of the letter, rather than to him as the one chiefly to be regarded as its author.

In the first place, I am most sorry for the long delay, and hope that Dr. Pusey will believe that it has arisen from no disrespect, but on the other hand, from unwillingness to send anything which must have been hasty and ill-considered, in the midst of the constant pressure of work, seldom leaving me many minutes quiet for thought at any one time. Somehow or other one gets to be so much the slave of everybody as to have little control over time, except, perhaps, late at night when men of small mental power, like myself, are too worn out to think, or at any rate to rely upon the wisdom of such thought.

The letter, moreover, is one of great difficulty. It appeals to me as a man of influence with many, whereas I suppose that there is hardly a man connected with the 'movement' who is more utterly destitute of influence. Then there conies next the difficulty of the subject-matter.

The principal point, I suppose, to which to address myself is the practical one: how far any agreement might be come to for some kind of compromise about Ritual.

(1) I would venture very respectfully to suggest that such a step on our part would be attended with the greatest danger. If we could proceed in the matter under authority the case might, and no doubt would, be different; as it is we should simply be in the condition of an army attempting to change its lace in the presence of an assailing force. In 1865, under strong pressure from Sir R. Phillimore, dear old Mr. Richards and Perry, I tried the experiment, and was dragged into Court and condemned by Sir R. P. for the very things which I had given up. It is to be remarked that my being singled out for attack has not been owing to my being foremost in ceremonial. Except the early days of the church when I was wearing the white linen vestments, and before other churches had adopted vestments at all, I have never been in the front ranks of ceremonial. Doubtless the apparent weakness of compromise encouraged an attack on me rather than on those who showed no signs of surrender.

(2) Then at that time we had a meeting of priests who were committed to extreme ritual as it was called. With what result? No two agreed in any one point, except that each meant to go on as he was doing; I gave way, and I suffered as being the only one attacked.

Nor can I find fault with this spirit. You think us impracticable. But just consider. We have taught the people that ceremonial is the legitimate expression before God of the Faith. We have taught them the special significance of the great Eucharistic ceremonies, and the secondary but not insignificant symbolism of ceremonies at Matins and Evensong . . . and of minor ceremonial at other times. Then we have repressed and regulated the desire for these things, and finally granted them, some in a less, some in a greater degree. . . . What are we to expect if after such careful advance, after teaching the people to value each act and each object as a sermon preaching Christ to them, we are to sweep all away for fear of deprivation or the more remote possibility of imprisonment. Can we expect our people to honour us or our teaching? Those who are not mixed with the class of people who come in contact with us cannot imagine how deeply they have been outraged by the loss of ... things which to outsiders seem so small. . . . They know that they are giving not money only, but themselves in countless ways to it and its work for God's sake, and they are to be robbed for the gratification of cold-hearted partisans. You see whose interests they are we have at stake, and can we be other than careful of them? They have more than built the church twice over with money scraped out of hard personal self-denial, and all this is to go to the winds because puritans, who have shown over and over again in each generation since the Reformation that they are insatiable, demand it.

No doubt ceremonial has a double aspect. That of the Altar is beyond question that on which we set the greatest store; . . . we believe that in handling the Divine and unspeakable mystery of the Eucharist we are bound as Catholics to the utmost of our power, and entitled according to the fair reading of the Church of England Prayer Book, to surround it with all the reverent adjuncts which the Catholic Church has from ancient times attached to its celebration. This is certainly our great point, but the other aspect is also of great value. This which I have spoken of we may call the Sacrificial aspect, the other I call the Missionary. If you want to touch people's hearts and rouse them, give them a procession.

It may be dull and stupid and unmeaning to you and me, but it comes home somehow to the poor people with a loud call. ... It is certainly manifest among our people. Then other things do the same in perhaps a less degree. . . . Still this last, important as it is for the sake of poor souls, is little compared with that in which we do honour to God. If each priest were fully at liberty to celebrate Mass in the way he thinks most pleasing to God and most in accordance with the mind of the Prayer Book, we might forego the processions, &c. ... If we could retain the full Eucharistic ceremonial--lights, vestments, wafer-bread, mixed chalice, &c, to be used in old Catholic ways, and the general ordering of the ceremonial acts to be also after the like old Catholic ways; if we could do this and regain peace and forbearance--I was going to say mutual forbearance, but we have forborne beyond all bearing--if we could do this the sacrifice would be worth making. ... It has been the mutilation of our altar ritual which has driven people into less definitely ordered ceremonial of other kinds. If we may not have what we ought, we must take what we can; and this warfare, guerilla though it be, we shall have to pursue. ... If you ask if I have anything to propose, I confess that I see no other course than that which the Bishop of Lincoln [Wordsworth] indicates up to a certain point. I can imagine a satisfactory issue if the Bishop would have the courage to face these facts:

(1) That a time when men's minds have been lashed into a ferment of excitement by reckless persecution on one side and perhaps recklessness in changes on the other, is no time for legislation either civil or spiritual.

(2) That most of the Bishops brought up in an opposite school of thought are utterly incapable of forming the slightest conception of what ceremonial is to us; that they cannot imagine the ceremonies of the Mass being anything but child's play, when to us they are the barest alphabet of reverence for so Divine a Mystery.

(3) That the defects of others are at least as great a scandal to us as our excesses (real or supposed) are to them. . . . By using the influence which their office gives them, they might insist on toleration on both sides, so long as no grievous outrage was committed on the great mass of the communicants worshipping in any particular church; and thus give time for a more general understanding of our respective positions by means of which it should be possible after a time to establish some basis which should be sufficiently wide to embrace all who can honestly accept the Prayer Book, and not so indefinite as to leave the Church open to the charge of having no law at all on so grave a subject. Nothing, it seems to me, can be more ruinous than the course taken by some, who are, as a matter of fact, quite at one in principle with us extreme men, e.g. our dear friend------and others in Convocation, of having a kick at us every few words. If they throw us off and we are smashed, they will, I fear, share our fall. ... I hope you will kindly express to Dr. Pusey my great regret for the long delay and seeming disrespect, but I have been simply unable till now to get the time, and even now hardly know what I have written, as it has been a scramble between other calls. Yours most affectionately in Our Blessed Lord,

A. H. M.

This letter is all the more valuable because he rarely wrote at any length about matters which might have been supposed to touch him most nearly; and it is not surprising that his self-restraint should have occasionally been mistaken for want of feeling. It is very rare to find anything more than a short commonplace reference to any fresh aspect of pending trials or to his own conduct upon critical occasions.

The Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol has asked me not to preach at All Saints' [he wrote in 1875]. This I expected from the moment that Randall asked me. I never like an ill wind to blow nobody good, so I mean to avail myself of your pressing invites and come to you on Tuesday.

Then again, on November 21, 1879, he writes:

We do not anticipate any row next Sunday, although, of course, there may be one. The Bishop and I have through his secretary made an amicable arrangement. His chaplain will come down attended by the secretary. He will exhibit the Bishop's licence. I shall read and deliver to him my grounds for not accepting him, and they will go.

This was on the occasion of the sentence of deprivation passed by Lord Penzance, when, in obedience to the Bishop's orders, his chaplain, Mr. Sinclair (now Archdeacon of London), came down licensed by the Bishop to fake the services. The sentence of suspension had been tendered to Mr. Mackonochie and nailed on the door before the bell began to ring; but when Mr. Sinclair arrived he found Mr. Mackonochie already vested and in the vestry with the churchwardens preparing to go into church. Mr. Lee, the Bishop's secretary, at once proceeded to state the object of their visit, and read the Bishop's licence appointing Mr. Sinclair curate-in-charge of St. Alban's until other arrangements could be made. Mr. Mackonochie replied by reading his protest; Mr. Sinclair said he understood he was not to take the service, though perfectly prepared to do so. Mr. Mackonochie replied, 'Distinctly so;' and the interview, conducted with courtesy on each side, came to an end. As Mr. Mackonochie had foretold in his letter, Mr. Sinclair went, and the service proceeded as usual without any public reference being made to this preliminary episode.

It was a typical instance of his way of dealing with difficulties of this kind; and he had, moreover, the unusual faculty of rather under-estimating than exaggerating the evils which affected either himself or his cause.

In legal matters and in the public courts he sometimes made the mistake of arming himself with the untried weapons of lawful casuistry, but in personal intercourse silence was his only resource when in a difficulty. He had no aptitude for evading a question or parrying a thrust; in short, no mental agility. A half-truth, if not exactly 'the blackest of lies,' was at any rate to be reprobated and condemned. He was rigidly and literally truthful, and indeed in this world of compromises the remorseless manner in which he would drag unwelcome truths to light was found by many people to be extremely inconvenient.

To return to the events of these years, from 1875, the date of his second suspension, to 1882, his last year at St. Alban's, we shall see that, though broken in upon by the sentence of suspension for three years under the Public Worship Regulation Act in 1878, there was a period of comparative peace. In January 1880 Mr. Mackonochie thankfully records the fact that since the preceding Advent Sunday 'St. Alban's has been a parish without a history.' It was in the September of this year that Father Lowder died, and he writes:

You will have seen the accounts of dear Lowder's funeral. It was most striking, when compared with twenty-five years since, to see the patient crowd on each side lining the way, many in tears, some audibly praying for the rest of his soul, while a long, slow procession of surpliced clergy and weeping parishioners first met the body at Old Gravel Bridge, conducted it to the church, after service again escorted it to the bridge, and returned at the same slow processional pace to the church. Traffic, of course, was stopped, but all was most reverent and respectful. The scene at Chislehurst was almost equally striking, as we walked across the great common amid throngs of people and stood in the crowded churchyard. Clergy of all schools of thought came to show their respect for the man whom they were obliged to look up to, though they differed from him.

It was in the August of this year that he had paid his first and last visit to America. Landing at New York, he subsequently, in the course of a few weeks, visited Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, the mountain region of Wyoming Valley, and Niagara. He preached three times on one day in Toronto, and spent a Sunday at Montreal. He was much struck with the country, but still more interested in the people, and both at New York and at Boston spent a great part of his time in the poorest quarters, asking eager questions of those best able to give him information about social and political matters, the various charitable institutions, and the condition of the people; whilst upon his side he was perfectly ready to speak with absolute openness about his own views and work, the state of things in the Church of England, and the position of religious parties. His practical insight was, perhaps, what struck those who 'interviewed' him most forcibly. As a correspondent of the 'Boston Herald' remarked, 'He is a champion apostle of the practical element in modern Christianity.'

This practical element in his character was no doubt as strong as ever; but during his last years at St. Alban's he had less and less to do individually with the details of parochial work. Not only was he to a great extent relieved from the mechanical duties which are a necessary part of all pioneer labour, but he had no longer to contend with harassing and distracting questions arising from perpetual lawsuits. He was already permitted to see some result not only of his work, but of the battle which he had been fighting. For the time it seemed as if an honourable truce might lead to a lasting peace. Others, it is true, were as yet fighting the same battle at an apparent disadvantage, and their losses had been heavy; but, though an outpost might be lost here and there, there had been a steady and general advance along the line. Those who might possibly have blamed him for extreme opinions or precipitate action were unconsciously reaping the result of the bold enunciation of long-forgotten truths and the uncompromising attitude which he had adopted. All over the country--in the midst of the dense populations of manufacturing towns, in London itself, and in remote country villages--open churches, frequent Eucharists, reverent ritual and increasing congregations, were all testifying to the revival which had taken place since first the old Tractarian leaders pleaded as for high privileges hardly to be allowed, for daily services and weekly Communions. And it was with sincere and sympathetic pleasure that the Vicar of St. Alban's marked every sign of progress.

There was not only hope for the future, but there was much to be thankful for in the present and satisfaction in retrospect. Naturally sanguine, his hopes for the Church of England were based upon a foundation of faith too sure to be shaken by temporary discouragements or individual reverses. The history of the past thirty or forty years was, moreover, the surest guarantee of ultimate success. It was in July 1876 that he wrote:

God works out His own work in truth and power, but through the weak and wavering agency of fallible humanity. The mind that is bent upon an unerring regularity and an infallible certainty will not find it either in God's ruling of the universe or in His dealings with His Church. . . . Young people find it so hard to be patient. We who have lived through the marvellous revival, of which we can remember more than forty years, have in it a testimony to the abiding and active energy of the Holy Ghost in this Church of England which they cannot have. Every wave is to them--as to children--a terror, whereas to us it is a token that the Spirit of God breathes upon the water and causes those waves which are carrying forward the Church to her final haven.

It was upon this confidence that he rested in times of trial or moments of despondency. Yet it never led him to be either mentally or spiritually inactive. The work was to be done because it was God's alone, the battle which He had already won was to be fought out. There was no new creed to be accepted, no new ritual to be enforced; no desire to establish an unelastic uniformity and shut out from the pale all who declined to conform to it; the contention was simply for the Church's rights and Christian liberty.

For whom the truth makes free
Sacred as law itself is lawful liberty.

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