Project Canterbury

Cuddesdon College 1854-1904

A Record and Memorial

London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1904.

Appendix II. Theological Colleges for Graduates.

(Reprinted from the Contemporary Review, September, 1899)

Many charges have recently been made against the training which is given in those Theological Colleges where graduates of Oxford and Cambridge are prepared for Holy Orders. Probably one of the best services to the cause of clerical education would be to remove some of the current prejudices which are based on their supposed defects; for these prejudices prevent many earnest Churchmen from throwing themselves heartily into the movement for making some definite form of professional training, such as that which is given at these colleges, compulsory on all who are to be ordained.

It may readily be admitted that, like all other human institutions, Theological Colleges are not perfect; but the more serious imperfections alleged against them either do not exist, or are not attributable to any part of the systems of those colleges. An "Essex Vicar," in a letter to the Times of April 6th, has very usefully focussed and reproduced much of the floating talk against them. He says:--

"It is a grave misfortune for the Church that the training colleges through which many of her clergy now pass should do so much to foster a temper of mind favourable to ritualistic and sacerdotal extremes, hut so little to promote either breadth and largeness of view or fruitful study of theology. No one will deny that these institutions have done, and are doing, useful work They have helped to supply the lack of professional training for the most important of professions, and their influence may be seen in the increased professional zeal and practical activity of our younger clergy.

"But they have not attempted to counteract the inevitable narrowness of all professional training. They have done little to widen the mental horizon of their students, or to keep the study of theology abreast with the times. For anything like a really scientific theology they do less than [134/135] nothing. The majority of them are administered on narrow ecclesiastical lines by men of one school of thought. They turn out year after year a supply of young clergy all cut after one pattern, zealous for practical work, but with no desire for further study and mental improvement, with minds narrowed rather than strengthened by what ought to have been a bracing discipline. And they have certainly encouraged one of the most regrettable tendencies of our time--that the clergy should regard themselves and be regarded by others as a separate caste. They have helped, I fear, to widen the gulf between clergy and laity in ordinary life and in intellectual development. ..."

The writer of this letter appears to have had only a slight acquaintance with a few students from Theological Colleges, and to have passed his judgment without seriously considering the limited opportunities of those institutions. Still, except in one important particular, he seems (if we look behind his words) to expect of our clergy only what ought to be expected of them. First, he feels that a clergyman ought to be a man among men, of fair general information, who has moved about among men of varied characters, attainments, and interests, and who has sympathies with opinions which are not his own. Then, it is right to expect of a clergyman knowledge of his own professional work. He should be at home in the worship of his Church, its laws, organisation, methods of reaching and helping various classes of people, and he should show true zeal and self-sacrifice in doing that work. Next, a clergyman should have an intelligent knowledge of the faith as interpreted to him by the Church of England. He ought to know about all of it generally. He need not be a specialist in any part of it; and there are subordinate questions connected with each portion of the Creed, of which he may, without being charged with ignorance, know little or nothing. But he ought to be on the right lines with regard to Christian doctrine as a whole. He ought to be able to express himself with intelligence and accuracy about grace, moral responsibility, the Church, faith, the Sacraments, as well as about inspiration, the Incarnation, and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He cannot afford to say of any portion of the Creed that he did not take it up for his examination, as if that were an excuse for not knowing it. And his knowledge of Church history ought not to stop, either downwards or upwards, at the Reformation period.

Besides these three requirements, there is a fourth which our critic does not mention. A clergyman must be primarily and essentially [135/136] a man of spiritual power. Let me be quite clear. Of course, he receives "the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God": I do not mean that. He performs spiritual functions in administering the Sacraments and preaching the Word of God: I do not mean that. He has been baptised, and is a communicant: I do not mean that. But he must aim at leading a life entirely converted to God, true to his baptismal vows, and to his moments of highest communion; he must be truly in Christ and Christ in him, and thus he will have that special power of influencing others which can only flow from our Lord through His Spirit, but which does not flow through anyone whose heart is not right towards God. A clergyman must be a man who is in a continuous vital relation to our Lord through prayer, the Word, and the Sacraments.

If these four characteristics are essential for clergymen, let us consider what contributions the graduate Theological Colleges have to make towards their training. It is for many reasons obvious that they have not all the work to do, for they neither begin nor end the training of their students. Before a graduate comes to such a college he has studied for three or four years at Cambridge or Oxford, besides having been taught, as a rule, at a public school. That is to say, he has already had eight or nine years of the best opportunities of education that England can give. Besides this, when he leaves the Theological College, he is still in statu pupillari. It is the duty of every incumbent to train the deacon to whom he is allowed to give a title; he ought to teach him the details of ordinary parochial work, to guide his visiting, to criticise his sermons, and to stimulate his reading. Very many vicars admirably fulfil this duty, and anyone who has to find a curacy for a deacon carefully avoids those parishes where he has reason to know that the supervision of the curates is neglected.

If, then, a clergyman has to be a man of wide sympathies and general knowledge, so as to understand his fellow-men, he must to a great extent have acquired this characteristic at an earlier period, at school and college, the very best places in the world to teach them. A year's training at a Theological College can neither make nor unmake wide sympathies. If school and college, with their great opportunities, have not created them, how can a Theological College do so with not a twentieth or even a hundredth part of those opportunities? We must all admit that there are some narrow-minded [136/137] clergy, and some of them have passed through Theological Colleges. But there is not a shadow of proof that the Theological Colleges are the cause of their narrowness. If a graduate comes to them unsympathetic, intolerant, with few interests, unable to think for himself, and having adopted narrow views of life, religion, and society, it is no discredit to us that in one year we cannot effect what the Universities have so signally failed to do. On the other hand, if a graduate comes to us with varied interests and with the power of thinking for himself, we could not, if we would, cramp him into what are called "narrow ecclesiastical views" in twelve months. To allege that we cause the narrow-mindedness of the small minority of our students who can be charged with it, is as foolish as it would be to credit us with their classical or philosophical attainments.

In the same way, as regards parochial work, the utmost that the colleges can do is to give the students a knowledge of the principles of their work, some very slight experience, and an earnest desire for more. They ought to teach them to read aloud (no slight task, in many cases, after eighteen years of neglect), to know how to arrange a sermon, and what subjects to avoid in their public preaching in the first ten years of their ministry, to train them in some elementary knowledge of Church order and arrangement of services, how to baptise (in case their vicars should be absent), and to assist at Holy Communion. This is about all that can be done in the time, consistently with other work which is absolutely necessary. A vicar is expected to carry on this part of the training during the year of the diaconate. As regards "efflorescences of advanced ritual," theological students (certainly at Cuddesdon) never see anything, whether in the parish church or in the College Chapel, but the simplest ritual of an ordinary country parish church. All our visitors are amazed at the contrast between the services they see and the charges of "disloyal ritualism" which they have heard. No one who knows anything about us can say that "the temper favourable to ritualistic extremes" is either created or fostered here. One aim of our system (and one of its results) is to moderate and discipline such a temper wherever we find it.

It is with the other two points, the theological and religious preparation for Holy Orders, that graduate Theological Colleges are chiefly concerned.

The theological training is most difficult on account both of the [137/138] varying powers and attainments of the students and of the great range of study that has to be covered. In the last four years at Cuddesdon we have had one hundred and five students, of whom rather more than half were men who had taken honours at the Universities. Among them there were eleven first-class men (seven of them being double firsts) and fifteen second-class men. But they all needed the sariie instruction in the Bible and in dogmatic theology. We vary our method slightly with the ability of the student. First of all we have set them to study the Bible. "Four hours' work a day on the Bible only" is the rule that is suggested to our students. The abler men work at it by themselves, reading the text carefully with the best introductions which have been written to the Old and New Testaments and the best commentaries on certain special books. The weaker men are helped by lectures and some less difficult works. All we can hope to do on this subject in a year is to provide a good general knowledge of the Bible and of the best teaching about it, and a more intimate knowledge of some special books. It is the greater portion of the daily work of every student. But so many graduates know so little about the Bible that one year is sadly insufficient.

The difficulty is even greater in teaching dogmatic theology. All our students need to be grounded in the meaning of the Creeds and Articles, their evidence, their history, their mutual relations, and the practical bearing of each portion. Our plan is much the same as in teaching the Bible. We try to guide the abler men to read, after lectures, the best books on each subject--the books which the best men of whatever school of thought, Churchmen or Nonconformists, have written. The other students are instructed on the lines of those works; they would hardly read them for themselves. We try to make them think out and express in their own words the truths which they will have to teach, while we bring them more or less directly into contact with the forms in which those truths are expressed by the best writers. We refuse to allow the students to limit their studies to the subjects of the ordination examination, and we never use any handbooks.

But it is alleged that these colleges do not give their students "the knowledge, critical, historical, and philosophical, which can prevent the intellectual degradation of which the crudities" of a one-sided "theology are a symptom," "that they do not attempt to counteract [138/139] narrowness," "that they do little or nothing to widen the mental horizon." In reply to this, it should be remembered, first, that the students are already Oxford or Cambridge graduates; and next, that in four-fifths of the dogmatic teaching that is given at these colleges there is no question whatever of any party interpretation of Scripture or of formulae, or of any one-sided theology. We have to deal mainly with the Catholic doctrine held alike by all, whether English Churchmen, or Roman Catholics, or orthodox Nonconformists; a man would be unfit for the ministry who did not know it or who denied it, and a man who has been carefully taught it has passed through a good and bracing mental discipline. Most of our dogmatic teaching is on this common ground; the aim of it is to give that sound knowledge which will prevent a man from being "carried away with every blast of vain doctrine."

Beyond this area of generally accepted doctrine there is the distinctive teaching of the English Church, and within that there is a portion on which High Churchmen differ from Low Churchmen, Here our aim is to show, as clearly as we can, that even in this portion the difference is, in many instances, more verbal than real; and that the most learned and devout men on both sides are, in truth, consciously nearer to one another than the noisy disputants on either side are able to admit. (See the recent papers in the Guardian by Dr. Moberly and Dr. Sanday.) Have I not a right to claim that this method of teaching is not narrow? I go further, and claim that it is truly broad. I am sure (for I know probably ten instances to every one that is known to the majority of our critics) that it never makes partisans, although it may not always succeed in unmaking them. There are points in our teaching at Cuddesdon where we should be rightly said to inculcate High Church doctrines; yet those points are studiously so kept in true relation to the far greater field of theology on which all educated Churchmen are at one, that we cannot by any lawful use of language be said thus to encourage narrow dogmatism. Those who are actually in touch with the inner life of our Theological Colleges have seen the moderating effect of this teaching, and can point to many instances where it has rescued a man from the ignorant narrowness of earlier years.

At the very best we can but lay the foundation of their theological training. They are only admitted to Holy Orders if they take a lifelong vow to carry on their studies after they are ordained.

[140] It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say much about the religious preparation that is given at a Theological College. All our critics who mention the subject admit its value. But they should do more than that. Training of this kind is not only valuable, it is absolutely essential if a man is to have spiritual power, if he is to be a man of God, and not of the world, or of half-diluted worldliness. Unless a man has learnt to know God in Christ and himself in Christ, to deny himself and imitate Christ, he is of little use for the ministry. Here the earlier training at the University has done nothing. Among other ways, the chief methods that are used for this purpose at a Theological College are the insistence on the necessity of always realising the presence of God and our entire dependence upon Him, on very careful prayer, on the regular devotional study of the Bible (not less than half an hour every day), and on the careful and frequent use of the Holy Communion.

But we are told that "this training does not make a man understand his fellows" (he has already had twenty-three years of that discipline); "it puts him out of touch with them, it creates a priestly caste, and sets the clergy in antagonism to the laity." It would be interesting to know exactly the laymen who make this complaint and the clergy about whom they complain. Undoubtedly there is a marked difference of outward life between some of the clergy and some of the laity, and also of tone and of interests. But is this always an evil? Besides, there are many habits of life innocent in a layman, but unadvisable in the clergy. We do not want our clergy to hunt and dance and be at liberty for all social amusements. There must be a distinction. Again, all deepening of spiritual life and theological knowledge will of necessity tend towards a separation from some of the laity if they have no desire to grow in the same direction. And even if it be admitted for the sake of argument that some clergy are pedantically clerical, can it be truly said that, in every instance of estrangement in temper between the clergyman and the layman, it is the clergyman who is at fault? There may be a special "lay caste" as well as a "clerical caste." Again, if some clergy are stiff and angular, are they the only human beings with these characteristics? And do all such clergy come from Theological Colleges? If some do, we ought in fairness to ask what sort of people they were when they passed out of the hands of the University, before we lay their want of humanity to the charge of [140/141] the Theological Colleges. I never heard of one instance of a man being made to care less for any of his fellow-men, and to sympathise less with them, by residing among us. Men of widely differing temperaments have told me that one of the great blessings they received through Cuddesdon was the power to understand and appreciate those who differ from them.

"All our students are of one mould." There must be some similarity as the result of a common training. One often hears the word "Oxfordy" used by Londoners to describe the tone and speech of a young Oxford Fellow; to a certain extent they resemble one another, but the resemblance is not that of new shillings from the Mint. In the same way our students vary infinitely, in spite of their general resemblance. Are all army men and lawyers "all of one mould" in a reprehensible sense? In one sense they are of one mould, as much as, if not more than, our students.

It is further laid against us that the students influence one another. This means, in the mouth of the objector, that, whatever the officers of the college may do, a narrow-minded student can counteract their influence and make other students like himself. Of course this is possible. The influences that I have known at Cuddesdon have been so greatly for good that any very exceptional influence of another kind could not be noticed in the balance against them. It must needs be that offences come, sometimes; but it is not at all impossible to discover the source of baneful example and to counteract it.

Lastly, we hear that our course is too short. To this I heartily agree. Our life at Cuddesdon is crammed full; it is as bad as a busy life at Oxford, perhaps even worse. We sadly want a longer time for what we already attempt. It is all we can do to run rapidly through the Bible, the Creeds, and Articles, Church history, the Prayer-book, and the principles of parochial work, to teach voice production, create an intelligent interest in the right methods of charitable relief, and in home, foreign, and colonial mission work. And one year is all too short to form lasting habits of self-discipline and spiritual life. Another year would be a great gain for all this; and it would allow us also to teach Christian ethics in a more systematic way, and to touch several other subjects which are now neglected.

But, in my opinion, it would not be for the good of the Church that the professional training through which candidates for Holy [141/142] Orders voluntarily pass should at this moment be lengthened. What is needed is that this amount of training, at least, should be made compulsory on all candidates. There can be no doubt in the minds of those who are intimately acquainted with the best men from our Universities, that, as a rule, no graduate ought to be ordained who has not had a year's special theological and spiritual training at a Theological College, or elsewhere under some other supervision which has episcopal sanction. If at this moment the course at the colleges is lengthened to two years, it will in all probability greatly delay the day when the bishops will find themselves able to enforce this most salutary requirement.

I have only alluded hastily to some of the chief allegations against us. I sincerely trust that in this brief defence of a work which it is a very high privilege to be allowed to touch, no word has been used which can wound the feelings of any of our critics.

Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College.

Project Canterbury