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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 VI. Sunshine Ending in Storm

WITH the consecration of S. Barnabas' what has been truly called "the second stage "of the Oxford Movement was fairly begun. It placed before the world clearly and definitely the ideas of the Movement as to what the ritual and worship of the Church of England ought to be. "Others were supposed to go beyond us," says the present Warden of S. Michael's College, then a member of the choir at S. Barnabas'--and it is probably Oakeley and Dodsworth who are thus remembered--but their attempts were necessarily on a smaller scale, and although considerable advances seem to have been made at S. Andrew's, Wells Street, by 1849, nothing had been done in so large an arena and in so prominent a manner as at S. Barnabas'.

All seemed for a time bright and beautiful and prosperous, and at no time in the history of the Church of England were the words more applicable than to the earnest Churchmen of those days--the early days of the Catholic revival--

"They sing a service which they feel:
For 'tis the sunrise now of zeal,
And faith and hope are in their prime."

But we have now, alas! to relate the troubles which ended in the exile of Mr. Bennett from his own beloved work. They go back a long way in the story, and coming events began to cast their shadows so far back as 1847. Already at that time, 1847, Mr. Bennett tells us "the theology and the principles of the Oxford teaching began to grow out of fashion."

The Bishop of London had, as we have seen, commended ritual observances to his clergy in his charge of 1842, but by 1847 there was a considerable change in his attitude. "His opinions," says Mr. Bennett, "were now leaning manifestly to the Protestant side of the Church." He was no doubt a most amiable prelate, but of unfortunate timidity in character and a wobbler in policy. He listened too easily to the many absurd statements that were made to him. Complaints poured in upon him about everything in the least new or unusual, and Mr. Bennett's life at S. Paul's was "one continuous battle." The position was, it must be ever remembered, made more difficult by the very standpoint of those who were attacked. To disobey a Bishop was with them impossible. The Islington clergy disobeyed their Bishop without a qualm of conscience, but such defiance was impossible to those whose very bond of union to the Church was the Apostolical Succession, and to whom that doctrine was a great reality.

"There was," Mr. Bennett says, "a strange cross in the path which I had taken; and, more strange still, that cross arising from the very quarter whence most one had looked for encouragement.

"Some arose to complain and some to expostulate and some to get us back to what they called the old-fashioned ways of the Church, and some began to speak of Popery and Rome; and many plotting in secret would write anonymous letters to the Bishop, asserting either things which they really thought they saw, deceived by the vigour of their own imagination, or inventing what they did not see, tempted by the desire of mischief."

He gives an amusing specimen of these letters--

"Knightsbridge, January 7, 1847.


"As a resident Protestant of Knightsbridge, and an attendant with my numerous family to S. Paul's Church, I have of late, with grief, witnessed those errors (as I conceive) in the simple rules laid down in our Reformed Established Church, and which I am fearful would embue in my youthful family Romish doctrine. We have for the present withdrawn ourselves from attending the said church, and humbly implore your Lordship to cause a searching investigation to the unhappy practices there, ere I return with my family to S. Paul's.

"I am, my Lord Bishop, your obedient servant,


Needless to say, this person with his numerous and youthful family and his surprising use of prepositions existed in imagination alone, and the only result was a protest on the part of Mr. Bennett and his curates--Henry Stretton, C. C. Spencer, George Nugee, and Henry Sandham--of their undiminished love to the Church of England.

Mr. Bennett proposed to print the correspondence which he had with the Bishop about this. The Bishop, who "really feared Mr. Bennett was carrying things too far," objected to the publication of the letters on the ground that "the private communications of a Bishop with his clergy ought not to be handed about amongst their people." It would have been well, as we shall see hereafter, if his Lordship had always kept to this rule.

Between 1847 and 1849 nothing special occurred "further than the usual constant murmurings of the ignorant and prejudiced." But in February, 1849, "one individual succeeded in obtaining the Bishop's ear, and thence issued, as before, another tiresome and wearing contest." This was the letter already mentioned, one complaint of which was that Mr. Bennett had five separate services; the rest of it contained no accusation worse than that the Perpetual Curate expressed a wish in his sermon of December 17, 1848, that the Church were separated from the State.

The year 1849 brought with it a more troublesome and more interesting correspondence with the Bishop. It arose from the outbreak of cholera of which we have already spoken.

"At that period," says Mr. Bennett, "I thought it my duty, among other means of comfort, to draw up a little form of prayer, which might be used as occasion served in the houses of the poor. It had long been my habit to pray for the souls of the departed. I could not conceive any realization of the Universal Church--the oneness of that Church--without conceiving that the dead in Christ were not altogether separated from us, nor beyond the reach of our sympathy, nor on either side they for us or we for them, without help in prayer. For our dear departed friends, relations, parents, wife, husband, for all whom we have any reason to commemorate or to love I had thought that it was our Catholic privilege to pray, ever reading of this practice in the Fathers, seeing it confirmed in the Universal Church, receiving it even as a natural impulse of an affectionate heart, and convinced that unless we practised it one of the main consolations of the miseries of this world would be withdrawn. Therefore in the impulse of the distress which I saw around me, in speaking of the dead I suggested prayer for the repose of their souls as one source of consolation in the raging of the pestilence. This form of prayer I enclosed in a letter to the Bishop. No notice was taken by way of objection for some time. At length the newspaper press, which seems, alas, to govern all things among us now, sent forth its decree of condemnation against my form of prayer."

The Bishop wrote to Mr. Bennett on September 19, 1849, objecting to the words--

"For the souls of those departed in the faith of Thy holy Name, that they may have their perfect consummation and bliss."

And in his postscript he says--

"Upon looking a second time at your prayers I see that you pray for the dead generally: Have pity on living and dead."

His Lordship thought that the words in the Burial Service took it for granted that all such as had departed in the faith would have their perfect consummation and bliss, and that the prayer was therefore only for ourselves. The more general prayer he thought "still more indefensible."

On this Mr. Bennett wrote defending prayer for the dead by the practice of many of the great divines of the English Church--Bramhall, Wilson, Usher, Hammond, Barrow, Thorndike, Forbes, Hicks, Field, and Jeremy Taylor--and mentioned the custom of the learned Dr. Johnson. He pointed out also that even the Court of Arches had decided that prayer for the dead is not contrary to the formularies of the Church of England, and that as regards the words chiefly objected to, "have pity on living and dead," they were taken directly from the Devotions of Bishop Andrewes.

The Bishop replied that the authorities quoted had no weight with him; he thought it to be clearly shown that the mind of the Church is against the use of such prayers by the fact of her having carefully excluded them from the place which they once occupied in her liturgy, and by the condemnation of them in the homilies. So he called upon Mr. Bennett to cancel them.

This Mr. Bennett declined to do, and the correspondence continued till January 24, 1850, Mr. Bennett concluding with the testimony of "the present Bishop of S. Asaph"--

"To pray for the dead was the dictate of human nature and the practice of the Early Church; and no reasonable Christian will blame Dr. Johnson for the cautious manner in which he mentions his mother in his prayers."--Short's "History of the Church of England," p. 16.

He mentions that he was "fortified by the counsel and singular coincidence of opinion with myself of one whose name is dear to the Church." No doubt Dr. Pusey is meant.

Soon a new trouble arose.

"The position, altogether vexatious and harassing, was rendered more and more intolerable by the fearful judgment in the celebrated case of Mr. Gorham.

"I had been occupied very much and very anxiously on the subject of Mr. Gorham's heresy for many months. I had called together a certain number of the parishioners and stated to them that. unless the Church could be delivered from the taint of heresy, it would be impossible for me as well as many others to remain in the charge of our cures. The consternation and alarm into which the judgment of the Privy Council threw all those who were desirous of adhering to the Catholic Church, you remember. I had been labouring with Dr. Pusey, Mr. Keble, Archdeacon Manning and others in framing resolutions of defence, protests, and other (as we thought) saving clauses, so that we might conscientiously retain our position in the Church. To them it was the mere outward controversy of the Church; to me it was also the climax of a long series of trouble, vexation, and contest in my own parish."

The position was such that, at this time--

"in great doubt and perplexity, for one whole week the works at S. Barnabas' stood still; orders were given to the architect to stay the whole proceeding; it seemed impossible to go further."

But an interview with the Bishop seems to have relieved his mind.

"I felt I might more safely proceed with the works of S. Barnabas'. Time worked its usual fruits; we became gradually soothed. The works did proceed."

All these events, previous to the consecration, were but heralds of the storm to come. Then for the Octave the sun shone brightly enough; but only

"three weeks after the good began the evil. On July 1 began that fatal correspondence which placed me," he says, "outside of the Church of my twenty years' priesthood--banished and shut out from all my habits and thoughts of long years--in a barren and dry land where no water is; without a flock, without an altar, without a settled place, without a home."

The letter which Mr. Bennett received from the Bishop, dated July 1, complained of "further deviations from the ordinary forms of our Church." These were: eastward position of celebrant and also of gospeller and epistoler; not giving the Cup into the hands of the communicants; putting the Bread into their mouths; the Invocation at commencement of sermon, "which seems to be adopted simply from its being a practice of the Church of Rome;" and that the other clergy then crossed themselves. Another accusation was that he had administered Extreme Unction.

All this was "from accounts which have reached me," In reality, what had happened was this: Mr. Spencer, senior curate, could not agree with some details of ritual, and wished to resign. On going to the Bishop for that purpose, his Lordship, against his will (as he says), had insisted on his telling him what these details were.

Mr. Bennett's reply to the Bishop's letter was: That he had never administered Unction to any one; that he had used the eastward position for five years past at S. Paul's; and it had been conceded to Richards, Murray, Dodsworth, and others; that there are no directions against the assistant ministers standing where they pleased; that the giving the Elements not into the hands had only been in the case of six persons, two of whom were converted Roman Catholics; that to object to the Invocation merely because it is used by the Church of Rome is a principle which would abolish all the faith. He defends the use of the sign of the cross--

"It seems to come so naturally from the Baptismal font. It seems so called for in this age of unbelief and worldliness. Where the true Christian could be found to object to it is beyond me to imagine."

Then he continues--

"But, my Lord, what a miserable thing this is--to be so continually watched, pried into, hunted down, complained of, accused unjustly, everything done and said suspected, even the priest's visit to the dying bed the subject of a 'railing accusation.'"

Then, alas, comes the fatal pledge--

"If you think, upon reading what I have said, that the picture of my mind is not that which could justify my remaining in your Lordship's diocese, I am ready and willing to depart. As my own spiritual adviser, as well as the Church's guardian, I leave myself in your Lordship's hands."

He meant this to be a private communication to the Bishop.

"I was laying open before him for advice my secret mind. I doubted my position. I was compelled to entertain the question, 'Am I really a sound member of the English Church?' I wanted his help privately. What help he gave me, what advice he gave me, how he entered into my wounded and harassed feelings, you "(the parishioners) "were, no less than myself, astonished to see, when you read the publication of a correspondence, such as I have described, in the Times, and remember that when I solicited permission to publish, it was denied me on the ground of' the communications between the Bishop and his clergy not being fit to be handed about among their people.'"

No answer came from the Bishop for three months. In the mean time there was peace--delusive peace. Then events succeeded one another with startling rapidity.

First came the unexpected bombshell exploded by his Holiness the Pope--commonly called the "Papal Aggression." On September 24, 1850, he issued a Bull appointing Bishops of the Roman Communion with titles from sees in England, instead of the Vicars Apostolic, who had previously acted in some such capacity. This Bull was published in the newspapers in the beginning of October. Instantly all England was in an uproar. The blame was laid on the Tracts and the Puseyites, on Mr. Bennett and S. Barnabas'. The Oxford Movement went out of favour. The rats promptly deserted the ship which was supposed to be sinking.

The Bishop, roused from peace and terrified at the "alarms and excursions" which now commenced, mingled in the fray and cleared himself of complicity with Popery by an answer, dated October 18, to Mr. Bennett's letter of July 15. He reiterated his objections to certain practices and, as far as he could, ordered Mr. Bennett to give them up.

On October 30 Mr. Bennett replied. His letter gives clearly his reasons for finally resigning his post at S. Barnabas'.

"It grieves me to say that, having conscientiously considered all the bearings of the matter, I am unable to withdraw or alter anything that I have said or done. The principles themselves, as above" (i.e. in his former letters) "described, you would not ask me to abandon; and I also feel that not abandoning the principles and yet abandoning the practices founded upon them, I should be a mere hypocrite in God's sight. There would be such a loss of consistency and steadfastness of purpose in the eyes of my parishioners as would cause me deservedly to lose all their confidence and support and utterly destroy my usefulness in the pastoral office. On the other hand, I have very great reluctance to disturb the peace of the Church, if so it must be. I dread becoming the occasion of any legal prosecution or running the risk of ecclesiastical proceedings. I think it my bounden duty to sacrifice all that belongs to myself rather than place your Lordship under the necessity of appealing to any such means for correcting that which in your opinion is wrong. Therefore my conclusion is in this difficulty, as it was in my previous letter of July 15, that I ought, if called upon, to resign my living. I would then put it to your Lordship in this way: I would say, If your Lordship should be of continued opinion, seeing and knowing me as you now do, that I am guilty of unfaithfulness to the Church of England; and if your Lordship will after that signify your judgment as Bishop, that it would be for the peace and better ordering of that portion of the Church which is under your Episcopal charge that I should no longer serve in the living of S. Paul's, I would then, the very next day, send you a formal resignation."

The next event was that the Bishop refused to ordain a curate on Mr. Bennett's nomination. "It was, of course, an effectual way of putting an end to my ministrations at S. Barnabas'," says Mr. Bennett.

Then came, on November 2, the Bishop's charge.

"The latter part of this bore reference to Romanist tendencies and ritual observances said to be in imitation of the Church of Rome. It decried certain ceremonial observances as 'almost histrionic,' which gave to the editor of a popular publication which deals in jests an opportunity of exhibiting one of the most blasphemous and atrocious engravings and caricatures which have been on record in London for many years." [This is apparently not in Punch, and cannot be traced, though there is a "playbill" accusing Mr. Bennett of "Histrionics." But it cannot be described in the words Mr. Bennett uses. There is no "engraving" in it.]

Next in the charge came a reference to the sisterhood established in the parish.

"I deprecate," said his Lordship, "the establishment of any society of females which shall have almost every peculiarity of a nunnery but the name."

Then followed an accusation of receiving sisters against the wishes of their parents. This, as the Bishop admitted, had reference, among other cases, to Miss Law, daughter of the Recorder of London. She had a strong wish for the religious life, and applied to Mr. Bennett for his help, and wished to work in his parish, and in the end did so. In consequence of what the Bishop said in his charge, all sorts of "dreadful accusations were afloat." On this, Miss Law and her brother-in-law wrote to the Bishop and showed clearly that Mr. Bennett told Miss Law in the strongest terms that she ought to do nothing without her parents' consent; that her father, who at first opposed her joining a sisterhood, fully consented before his death; that her mother was always a "willing consenting party" to her joining; that Mr. Bennett was on intimate terms of friendship with her father and the whole family throughout, and at her father's own request ministered to him during his last illness; that so far from neglecting her home duties Miss Law was with and nursed her father through his last illness. Thus this accusation was disposed of.

On November 10 began the riots at S. Barnabas', but it will be conducive to clearness in our story if we describe them and their causes in another chapter, and finish here the story of Mr. Bennett's resignation, with which the Riots had little or nothing to do. No riots would ever have made him resign.

On November 16 the Bishop again wrote, calling on Mr. Bennett to give up the disputed ritual; again, in consequence of the riots, pressing for an answer on November 22.

Mr. Bennett replied on the following day that--

"seeing that at the present time I am under external pressure from a mob and under threats from persons not my own parishioners, which amount in some cases to bodily violence, it is my intention at present not to make the slightest alteration in anything that has been done at our church for the last five months."

This was obviously the true policy, and it would have been well if the same course had always been followed in other cases of mob violence.

On the 27th the Bishop again called on him to give up the ritual in question or else fulfil his promise to resign.

Mr. Bennett answered, on December 4, that he concluded from the Bishop's so calling upon him, that the Bishop was, as expressed in Mr. Bennett's letter,

"of continued opinion that I am guilty of unfaithfulness to the Church of England," and that the Bishop "thereupon signified his judgment that it is for the peace and better ordering of that portion of the Church which was under the Bishop's charge "that Mr. Bennett should resign. "Accordingly," he says, "I now redeem the pledge, and hereby send you my resignation of the perpetual curacy of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge."

Such was the effect of respect for Episcopal authority in the early days of the Movement. If no one would make such a pledge nowadays, or, being made, redeem it, whose is the fault?

Then came a most curious event. On December 11 Mr. Bennett received a letter from the Bishop at 12 o'clock which was dated December 9. He opened it and read it in the presence of the churchwardens at half-past one. It was found to terminate abruptly without any signature. He waited till half-past six in the expectation that the Bishop would discover the omission and send the missing sheet. But at half-past six appeared a note from the Bishop saying that he presumed Mr. Bennett had no objection to the letters of December 4 and 9 being published. Mr. Bennett sent back a note by the servant to explain about the missing part of the letter, and also said that he should publish the whole of the correspondence.

Having thus received on December 11 part of a letter dated December 9, he was not a little astonished to find in the Times of December 12--the next morning--

"the Bishop's version of the whole correspondence, in ex parte extracts, and, not only that, but a violent leading article commenting on and criticizing the two letters.

"It would appear," he says, "almost impossible that the Bishop had sent the letters to the Times, before he sent them to me. He sent his last letter to me so hurriedly that he left out the last sheet. It was delivered to me on December 11, though written on December 9. Where had it been these two days? It would appear, and, unless it shall be contradicted by some person worthy of credit, it must be held as a matter of belief, that the letter--the expected letter, sent to me on the 11th--had been in the hands of the editor of the Times previous to its being in my own hands; so that a march was stolen upon me before I could possibly take any measures of reply or defence. The public--that great court of appeal in Episcopal matters--the public were regaled with a violent attack upon me to suit the popular prejudices of 'No Popery,' while I was left stranded and helpless, in ignorance of all that had happened. And, moreover, observe this: at half-past six in the evening preceding a letter had come--' I presume you have no objection'--when, alas! it was too late."

In short, the editor of the Times had blundered somehow, and "given the Bishop away" by not sending on the letter as soon and as complete as he should have done, and so let out the secret of this charming little arrangement!

And all this after the Bishop's telling Mr. Bennett, "The private communications of a Bishop with his clergy ought not to be handed about amongst their people."

"I shall say nothing further on this head," Mr. Bennett drily concludes, "only should it ever again be my lot to be placed under Episcopal superintendance, I shall be more wary in the manner of my correspondence."

In this manner the Bishop accepted Mr. Bennett's resignation, and "Mr. Bennett was cast out as a sop to Cerberus."

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