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The Story of W. J. E. Bennett
Founder of S. Barnabas', Pimlico and Vicar of Froome-Selwood
And of His Part in the Oxford Church Movement of the Nineteenth Century.

By F. Bennett, M.A.
Formerly Rector of Farleigh, Surrey.

New York, London, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, 1909.

Chapter III. S. Paul's, Knighstbridge

IN the year 1840 Mr. Bennett had been invited by Bishop Blomfield to take charge of a new church which was to be built in Knightsbridge as a relief to the enormous parish of S. George's, Hanover Square. Even the extra accommodation given by S. Peter's, Eaton Square, was insufficient, and so S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, "came," as Mr. Bennett expresses it, "into view." But the support of the church was (alas!) to be pew rents. Neither Mr. Bennett nor any one else, it seems, had in 1840 any vision of the free and open church of the future, for he tells the parishioners of S. Paul's that "at that time you were collecting your money for the purpose of building S. Paul's; the plans were made; the site was chosen. I came among you as your recognized minister and took part in the deliberations of the building committee."

The first stone of S. Paul's was laid in 1840, and the church was consecrated in 1843, Mr. Bennett becoming, by the Bishop's appointment, the first incumbent.

The parish of S. George's, Hanover Square, which was arranged in 1725, contained, in 1851, no less than 8792 houses and 73,230 inhabitants. It included, besides the district bounded by Regent Street and Hyde Park, an excrescence which extended from Knightsbridge down to the river, between Chelsea and Westminster, and contained Chelsea Hospital and its surroundings. Out of this had been carved a parish for S. Peter's, Eaton Square, and the district assigned to S. Paul's was taken partly from the old parish and partly from that which belonged to S. Peter's. Its shape was a narrow strip of land a mile and a quarter long, and it contained, in 1840, a population of about 12,000, and had within its borders some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest streets in London.

"Rows and rows of splendid palaces," says Mr. Bennett, "were coupling Hyde Park with the banks of the Thames; piles of splendour in furniture and luxury were creeping down the once marshy fields of Pimlico and filling the abodes of the noble and the rich."

It became in the course of a few years perhaps the wealthiest parish in England. Lord John Russell, Prime Minister from 1846 to 1852, was one of the parishioners. "Mind you make a good Churchman of Lord John Russell," the Bishop is reported to have said. "I'll try," was Mr. Bennett's answer; and the story agrees with an entry in his diary which he prints in his farewell letter. The Prime Minister did indeed become from the first a member of the congregation of S. Paul's and a frequent communicant at its altar. According to the alarmed Protestant newspapers of the day his Lordship was credited with the intention of making Mr. Bennett one of his first bishops.

One pauses to wonder what would have been the effect on the Church had so uncompromising a man become one of her hierarchy. With a second "Henry of Exeter "on the bench her vigour would surely have been doubled. But we are also induced to reflect on the danger to which Mr. Bennett was now exposed. How great must have been the temptation to rest on his oars in the pleasant place in which his lot was now cast, to be the fashionable and much-run-after cleric of the most fashionable of congregations, and, by bending a little to the prejudices of men, to become in course of time "My Lord"! Happily this was not to be; yet the friends, noble and wealthy, whom he made at this period were destined to be, for many years to come, enthusiastic helpers in his many works.

The story of Mr. Bennett will not be intelligible to those who have not made a special study of the Oxford Movement unless we here continue our brief chronology of its varying fortunes. Pusey, Professor of Hebrew at Oxford from 1828, began in 1833 to join the Movement, and in the course of the next two years became fully identified with it. Newman had severed himself from the "Evangelical party." He was now Vicar of S. Mary's, Oxford, and also of Littlemore. Hurrell Froude, who was the most rapidly progressive of the little band, and who, in 1828, had thought Newman "no better than a heretic," made with him, in 1833, that famous journey to Rome which was illumined by the commencement of the "Lyra Apostolica," and by the inspiration of "Lead, Kindly Light," as Newman lay becalmed in the Straits of Bonifacio. Newman returned to Oxford in time to hear the Assize sermon of Keble, now Professor of Poetry, on "National Apostacy," which the future Cardinal always regarded as marking the real era of the Movement. The same autumn saw the meeting at Hadleigh at which it was determined to "fight for the Apostolical succession," and also the commencement of those "Tracts for the Times," which gave the party one of their nicknames. It is curious to note that the immediate cause of the Movement was an attack on the Irish Church. The abolition of ten Irish bishoprics by Act of Parliament brought before the minds of the leaders the claim of the bishops to be independent of State arrangements, and thus the Apostolic succession came into the foreground. It is important to observe how chief a point in the Movement was the Episcopal authority, since extreme reverence for this doctrine determined Mr. Bennett's conduct at the chief crisis of his life.

The ten following years, 1833 to 1843, during which Mr. Bennett was at All Souls and at Portman Chapel, were full of events. Pusey, with Newman, Keble, and Charles Marriott, began the "Library of the Fathers," with the intention expressed in its motto, "Thine eyes shall see thy teachers." Manning joined the ranks. Church, to be hereafter Dean of S. Paul's, and, as it seems, had he chosen, Archbishop of Canterbury, was elected Fellow of Oriel. Gladstone, then "the rising hope of the stern and unbending Tories," published his works, "The State in its Relations to the Church," and "Church Principles considered in their Results." "Ideal Ward," of Balliol, aptly so called from his "Ideal of a Christian Church," threw in his lot, as a very "free lance," however, with the work. Sixty thousand copies of the Tracts were sold in one year, and "all went merry as a marriage bell." In 1839 the influence of Newman at Oxford was at its height, owing largely to those Sunday afternoon sermons at S. Mary's, wonderful in their effect though delivered in the most unimpassioned manner. The enthusiasm of the party increased with its numbers, and it was thought then (as James Lonsdale said to the writer) that "the Tractarians were going to have it all their own way."

Then came a series of reverses. "Tract ninety," published in 1841, though to us nowadays it seems merely a stream of obvious truisms obscurely expressed, alienated many, and Mr. Bennett himself wrote in condemnation of it. The bishops took alarm and ranged themselves against the Tracts and their authors. Ward's "Ideal "was condemned by the University, and Tract ninety only escaped a similar fate by the veto of the Proctors. In 1842 Newman withdrew from Oxford to Littlemore. In the following year Dr. Pusey preached his famous sermon, "The Eucharist a comfort to the penitent," and Oxford, unable to accept his doctrine, suspended him from the University pulpit for two years.

It is well observed by Dr. Neale (in his "Church Difficulties," published by him in 1851, and republished by Mr. Bennett in 1871) that it was of the greatest advantage to the Movement that "the light gradually dawned on the minds" of the leaders. Had it been otherwise--

"had it pleased God that the fuller light should at once burst in upon them, undoubtedly they would have sought in Rome what they never tould have hoped to obtain in our Church."

Some of them, indeed, had been brought up as "Evangelicals "; some as "high and dry "; some with vagueness. Mr. Bennett, like others, had been from the commencement feeling his way to the light, and his opinions developed along with those of the party. At first he followed the others very cautiously and at a distance. Though in his earlier days distinctly "low church," he never held those ideas which have been dignified with the title of "Evangelical"--the ideas that you must individually receive a special revelation that Christ died for you in particular and that, having received such a revelation, your salvation is henceforth a matter of certainty. Nor did Mr. Bennett hastily accept the teaching of the "Tractarians." We can trace in his books the change of his views, and this change is the more interesting in that it synchronized with the same change in a very large number of his contemporaries. It should, indeed, be rather called "development," than "change," in his case.

His first volume, "The Eucharist, its History, Doctrine, and Practice, with Meditations and Prayers suitable to that Holy Sacrament," published in 1837, when he was thirty-three, consists of lecture-sermons preached in Lent at All Souls in 1835, and at Portman Chapel in 1837. In this volume he shows himself to be but little touched by the Oxford MovemeHt, for he thinks that the doctrine of the Presence in the Sacrament, as taught by the Church of England, approaches more nearly to that of Calvin than any other of the Continental Reformers;

"The Bread and Wine signifying, not being in reality, but signifying in a spiritual manner, the Body and Blood of the Saviour of the World."

And again he says--

"The Bread and Wine represent the Body and Blood of JESUS Christ."

So once more--

"There is, therefore, the Presence of Christ, but it would seem that the presence depends, and the reception 'verily and indeed' depends, not on the Consecrating words of the priest, who gives, but on the faith of him who receives."

Nevertheless, his discussion of the question is entirely of the Catholic type and manner, and though he comes to a "Low Church" conclusion, it is not difficult to see to what results his principles must in the end lead him. He argues, indeed, for a daily Eucharist, and for the use of a credence table, and points out the meaning of "Oblations." He wishes the proper oblation of the elements by the priest--instead of by the parish clerk! And it is clear enough that he will soon become his own convert to the Catholic faith.

In 1842 he published a "Guide to the Holy Eucharist," two small volumes, the first for use in preparation at home, the second for use in church. In these he advocates Confession; speaks of the Sacraments as channels of Grace; advocates the mixed Chalice (but objects to wafers); and wishes the Prayer of offering the Sacrifice were joined to the Prayer of Consecration as of old. Already he was abused, in 1842, as a follower of Newman, Keble, and Pusey.

A series of lecture-sermons on "The Distinctive Errors of Romanism," preached in Portman Chapel, 1842, was the outcome of "the present alarm in the Church "about Popery, of which the Oxford Movement was now freely accused. His point is that Romanism consists of additions to the Faith. The book did not relieve him from suspicions of Popery, for it produced more than one attack from Protestant controversialists. His views on the Eucharistic Sacrifice and on Tradition did not meet with their approval. In 1845 he put forth his "Principles of the Book of Common Prayer," a volume which shows him to be by that time fully in accordance with the whole of the Oxford Movement.

In his "Farewell Letter to the Parishioners of S. Paul's "he gives us a not unamusing narrative of his own progress, together with a description of the Movement as it appeared to men in 1851. This, as a contemporary account of it by an eye-witness, is much more authentic and interesting than any which could be compiled now.

"In reviewing my opinions of Church matters at that period (1840), I do not find that there was any remarkable peculiarity about me either as to doctrine or to practice; I only remember that I was then, as I had always been, fond of external propriety in the things of God, and that I was a great lover of order and regularity in divine worship; but I do not think there was in me the slightest bias towards any ritual observances, saving those which are well known as carrying out the common ordinary decorum of what is usually called the 'Protestant' Church of England. On the contrary, towards the Church of Rome I perfectly well remember that I showed to the full extent all the prejudices and abhorrence which good 'Protestants' as such so faithfully cherish. As an instance of which I full well remember preaching a sermon on the fifth of November, in which sermon I indulged in such a degree in all the vituperations of the doctrines of Rome that the sermon was printed by desire of the congregation."

This sermon must be that which is printed in his "Sermons on Miscellaneous Subjects," Vol. I. No. 5, and his chief point is "the fatal mistake of joining politics to religion and associating a temporal with a spiritual dominion"--a point in which all wise Catholics as well as all good Protestants will surely concur.

"I had also published a little work on the 'Eucharist,' and another on 'The Distinctive Errors of Romanism,' in both of which, while I endeavoured to set forth to the full extent, as I then imagined, the teaching of the English Church, I gave vent to those explanations of Roman doctrine which I found embodied in our great divines of the seventeenth century. These things I only mention as a sort of satisfaction to myself in the review of what is past and to convince you as parishioners that your then appointed minister did not come among you with the slightest taint of that odium or suspicion which has since so wonderfully grown against him in reference to the Church of Rome.

"But it happened, as you probably well know, that for a few years previous there had arisen in the English Church an important and prevailing party, deriving their strength principally from a revival of the ancient discipline of the Church in her dogmatic teaching, her privileges as derived from the apostolic succession, and her beauty in the external features of public worship in ritual and order. From 1840 to 1842 this party in the Church advanced very considerably in the public estimation; it began to impart a new spirit and life to the ordinary character of the priesthood, which till then had been so widely tainted with coldness and formalism. There had been Nothing for a long period preceding between the extravagance of the Calvinists or semi-Dissenters, who despised all idea of sacramental grace, and the cold didactic teaching of the mere moralist, who would preach a sermon one day which you might have read in the Spectator the day before. In fact, life was nearly extinguished. The embers of the fire lit up by Andrewes, Laud, Beveridge, Wilson, Ken, Hooker and such other learned and holy men were fast dying out, and had it not been in the preceding century for the zeal and devotion of Wesley, even though it ended in a schism, you would probably have seen the death of the English Church by the mere process of inanition. But now a revival of the ancient energies again appeared; in the new party life again rekindled; reverence, devotion, and self-sacrifice were the peculiar features of its teaching. Churches better ordered, services more frequently said, a higher and a purer tone of sermons, a deeper appreciation of sacramental grace, catholicity in faith, sanctity in practice, unity in love,--these, I thought, appeared to be the principal features by which the new school or party in the Church began to be distinguished. It grew on, filled the churches and the pulpits, it laid hold on the hearts of men. All combined towards its perfection. Architecture began to stir in the external construction of a better order of the sanctuaries of God; music lent its aid, and the songs of David began once more to be sung to the ancient choral services of S. Gregory; painting lent its aid, and the churches began to manifest the beauties of colour and art and man's device for the decoration of the place where His honour dwelleth. Thus all combined in a revival of devotion which soon began to make itself felt.

"And then it was--just at this very period, when it was at the height of its popularity, without any of the fears or jealousies which subsequently molested it--then it was that the Bishop of London, in his charge of 1842, thought fit to introduce it to the observance of the clergy in terms of general approbation. Speaking of the celebration of Divine Service, the Rubrics and the Canons, he uses these words--

"'Now, it is impossible to deny that a great degree of laxity has crept over us in this matter, and we are much indebted to those learned and pious men who have forcibly recalled our attention to a branch of duty too imperfectly performed. In some instances, indeed, they have gone beyond the line of duty and of prudence, in recommending or practising ceremonies and forms not authorized by their own Church, and in ascribing to others an importance which does not properly belong to them; but there can be no doubt of their having mainly contributed to the progress which has been made during the last few years towards a full and exact observance of the Church's rubrical injunctions as well as to a better understanding of the foundations and proportions of her polity and the nature and value of her discipline.'

"To me, as one of his Lordship's younger clergy at that time--one just beginning to feel his way and forming for himself a system of theology--this encomium of the Bishop seemed of great importance. It could not well be thought that the Bishop would speak thus highly of a party in the Church, could praise them as tending in their teaching to a better understanding of the foundations and proportions of her polity, without, in some degree, leading us to infer that they were meant to be objects for our imitation. I confess that my agreement in opinion with their tenets had long attached me to that party, while if any doubt remained as to the wisdom of openly following what was taught, the doubt was at once removed by this well-deserved encomium of our Bishop. It seemed to say, 'Follow these men in their practices and doctrines, allowing for some few exceptions. Do not go into certain extremes; yet, in the main, follow them, and you will be consulting my wishes as your Bishop.'

"And so it was, my heart grew warm towards the system of Church Restoration so prominently put forward. My reason was convinced, my determination was fixed, and from that period I became an open and professed advocate of what was then generally denominated the Oxford School of Divinity. I was resolved that, as opportunity was afforded me, even in the curacy I then occupied (Portman Chapel), I would pursue the Bishop's wishes; and, should it please God to fulfil His promise in calling me to a more important sphere of action as an incumbent, by these principles I would abide, as furnishing the people with 'a better understanding of the foundations and proportions of the Church's polity.'

"Nor was it long. The year 1842 gave us the Bishop's charge of which we have been speaking. My appointment to the Church of S. Paul had preceded the charge, but my commencement of the actual work was deferred to the succeeding year. The year 1843 saw the consecration of the new church, and my ministry among you began. I came to it fresh and ardent. I came to it in the full tide of the popularity of Church Restoration, on the Bishop's own appointment. I came to it as in reality my first public opportunity, in a new church and with a new congregation, to carry into effect what my reason convinced me was right, my heart prompted me to follow as pleasing to myself, and my obedience to my Bishop confirmed as my obligation and my duty."

S. Paul's was to be, as Mr. Bennett expresses it, "the trial ground" of this charge of the Bishop, and, indeed, "the church and parish were to be," as Mr. Wakeling says, "for a long time the centre of many struggles to maintain the showing forth of Church principles before the world of London."

But troubles soon began. At the consecration of S. Paul's the Bishop, in spite of his recent charge, is said to have ordered the removal of an oak eagle! History does not record whether his Lordship feared an idolatrous worship of the bird or whether his mind was prescient of the old woman at S. Barnabas' who informed Sir F. Ouseley that she always sat close by the turkey. At the consecration Mr. Hodgson, Rector of the parent church, S. George's, Hanover Square, read the prayers facing the people, though the desk was placed sideways. Letters of complaint about all sorts of matters, trivial or otherwise, were continuous. Yet progress went on. In Advent, 1846, the choir was put into surplices, and from Mr. Bennett's pastoral letter of the same year we see what were at that time the arrangements for Service in one of the most "advanced" churches in London.

Nothing is said of an early Celebration. Mattins, followed by Celebration, began at n. This he proposed to alter by having the Mattins at 10.30, and beginning the Celebration at 11, but on putting the matter to the vote of the congregation "the amendment was lost," it seems, for no alteration was made. As a reason for the proposed arrangement he gives us a picture of the work done which will astonish some modern workers.

"We have an average of 120 communicants; we commence the service at 11 and seldom conclude before half-past two. At half-past two the congregation come in for Evening Service at 3, women for churching, children for baptism; so that we are occupied, with very little intermission, from 11 to 5, i.e. six hours, in the presence of a congregation of seldom less than 1700 persons in the morning and 1200 in the evening; and withal the second Evening Service following closely after at half-past six. Very frequently the clergy have not time to take off their robes between the Communion Service and the Evening Service."

His rules about other services were these: Baptisms after Second Lesson on Sundays at the 3 p.m. Evensong; on weekdays at the 5 p.m. Evensong. Churchings before any service. Marriages to be performed as ordered in the Prayer-book--the first part in the body of the church, the second at the altar. But the most striking advance was in lighting the two candles on the altar at the Celebration. The exact date is not recorded, but it was before the consecration of S. Barnabas'. In November, 1846, the Theologian tells us that on holidays Mattins was sung at 8, and there was Holy Communion at n, preceded by Litany sung by the choir "decently habited as in cathedrals." By 1848 an early Celebration had begun.

On the First Sunday in Advent, 1848, the services were these: At 7.45, Holy Communion; at 9, Mattins and sermon; at 11, ordinary full services of Sunday with second Celebration; at 3 p.m., Evening Service; at 6, Evening Service repeated, and a sermon,--nothing very amazing in these days, yet a correspondent complained to the Bishop of the number of these services. "Five separate services," he says, with the "five "underscored. An awful crime! Obvious Popery! Truly "the Church was in danger"!

The usual charge of Romanizing was, as we have seen, frequently brought against Mr. Bennett. Nevertheless, there was perhaps no stronger or more effective opponent of the Roman claims in England than he was. Throughout his career he considered the position of the Roman Catholic Church in this country as schismatical, and we shall see that with perfect consistency he regarded our chapels and chaplains abroad in the dioceses of Roman Catholic bishops as being equally schismatic.

On October 16, 1845, soon after the reception of Newman and others into the Roman Church, he wrote to the English Churchman, then the organ of the High Church Party, complaining of the use of "soft words," such as "secession," "departure," "going over," to describe the sin of schism.

"No one better than yourself would acknowledge that there can be but one Catholic Church; and that whatever be the branch of that Church existing in this country, to break off one's self from it and go out of it is an act no more nor less than schism.

"Why this softening of words? Is it an act of schism to leave the Communion of the Catholic Church or is it not? If it be, then why not call those who are guilty of the sin by the right name? Whether it be the imaginative Mr. Ward who deals in Ideas; or should it be the subtle Mr. Oakeley who holds all Roman doctrine; whether it be the simple Mr. Wingfield who believes the Church to be represented by the individual Judge of the Court of Arches and takes his dogmas as though he were a Pope--infallible; or whether (alas!) it should be, as now it is said beyond doubt it is, the learned and pious Mr. Newman,--still every one is nothing more nor less than guilty of schism. If they depart from. us, let them depart: let us grieve for them; let us pray for them; let us fast day by day and offer up bitter cries and supplication to GOD on their behalf. But let us not deceive ourselves and them by soft words. It is a sin of which they are guilty; and as sinners in that act let us lament for them in common justice to ourselves, for if they are not guilty of sin, in what position are we who remain? Let them depart, but let them depart not as 'Seceders' but as 'Schismatics.'"

He followed this up on the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, 1845, by a sermon at S. Paul's, "On the Schism of certain Priests and others lately in communion with the Church." In this he condemns them as "setting up a rival worship," as denying their baptism and (in the case of priests) their orders. A caution given in that sermon is almost or quite as much needed now as then.

"It has been frequently, and with truth, observed that some among us, even among the clergy, seem as though they took delight in indulging in sneers and disrespectful language when they speak of our Church--seem to take a sort of pleasure when difficulties beset her and misfortunes come, as though it were her own fault. This is not, indeed, schism, but it is want of faithfulness. Such are most surely smoothing the way in their minds for the assaults of Satan, when they look upon the Church otherwise than as to them most dear. These men are fond to contrast her with Rome; they bring out, as a favourite topic, all the beauties of the one system, to set them off against the blemishes and imperfections of the other, and then seem as though they rejoiced because in some respects, we must with grief confess, the one falls short. But this is not the affection of faithful children. May not God visit such in His time, by sending them a hard heart and suffering them to fall? It is dangerous to play with holy things. Next to God and the Holy Scriptures is the Church holy. To speak a word of disparagement against her--to think even with disparagement of her, save it be with a desire by our own good works and our own self-sacrifices and our own prayers, to raise her and to amend in her what is deficient in discipline and decayed in practice--even to think with disparagement of her as a mother, is hostile to the feelings of a faithful child. Do not, then, indulge in this nor suffer it in others. But enter into no controversy, for controversy, as well as speaking lightly, hardens the heart. Let there be no wrangling among us about mysteries above our comprehension. We have had quite sufficient of this in the schism of the Dissenter, we want it not now in the schism of the Romanist. What we want now is PEACE. Almighty God, give us PEACE."

But, alas! the trouble was to come nearer to himself and to his work. In August, 1847, Mr. Alexander Chirol, who had been Curate only since April, and who was to have been the chief worker at S. Barnabas', became a Roman Catholic. "He fotind" wrote a correspondent to Mr. Bennett, "all so anti-popish amongst our pastors that he could not remain longer" On this Mr. Bennett preached and published a sermon called "Apostacy. A Sermon in reference to a late event at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge." In this he takes the position that for an English priest to become a Roman Catholic is not only schism, but also the breaking the oath of the priesthood, and so is "apostacy." He thought, too, that, as sometimes happens, undue secrecy had been preserved with regard to Mr. Chirol's intention to join the "Italian Mission." Mr. Chirol replied with "A Statement of Facts," to which Mr. Bennett rejoined in a small pamphlet. The sermon went through eight editions before the end of the year.

He also placed the following, truly called "characteristic," notice on the door of the church:--

"Whereas Mr. Alexander Chirol, late assistant curate of this parish, has joined certain Schismatics and Sectarians, generally called Romanists, and is thereby ipso facto DEPRIVED for the present of all the spiritual functions of HOLY ORDERS and EXCOMMUNICATED from the Church of England; and whereas the said Mr. Alexander Chirol has been circulating letters and otherwise tampering with the Faith of certain of the parishioners, endeavouring to induce them to join him in his sinful act of Schism and Apostacy, it is my duty, as the parish priest, to warn the parishioners and all other faithful members of the Church; and they are hereby warned against holding any intercourse, by letter, speech or otherwise, in spiritual matters with the said Mr. Alexander Chirol, until such time as he may be restored to the Communion of the Church. The rule of Holy Scripture and the Church is that the faithful should not hold communion with Schismatics and Apostates, according to the precept of our Lord, 'If he shall neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.'--S. Matt, xviii. 17."

The rest of the story is the most important and most pleasant part of it. Many years elapsed; Mr. Chirol returned to the Church of England. Mr. Bennett readmitted him to the Church at Froome, and gave him one of the curacies there, putting him in charge of the little Church of S, Mary's, at Innox Hill.

During the whole of Mr. Bennett's time at Froome his loss of parishioners in the direction of Rome amounted to two, or, at most, three.

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