Project Canterbury

The Mind and Work of Bishop King

By B.W. Randolph and J.W. Townroe

With a preface by the Bishop of London.

London: Mowbray, 1918.

Chapter VIII. The Bishop and His Clergy

"ECCO chi crescera li nostri amori!"--"Lo, one who will increase our love!" They are the words with which Dante was welcomed by the spirits who were manifested in one of the spheres of Paradise. There could be no higher standard for a bishop in his relations with his clergy. They are called to special "loves"--the love of God, the love of the Church, the love of devotion, the love of holiness, the love of souls. The bishop and leader they need is one who, in Dante's words, might help to increase their love.

Let us try to see how Bishop King endeavoured to fulfil this high responsibility.

Here is a noble passage in which he set forth very early in his episcopate the standard of clerical life and work:--

"If we are to undertake a spiritual charge--the cure of souls--we must be spiritual men--men of sincere, unaffected, inward piety, men of prayer--men, that is, who know the privileges of having access to the Father in the power of the Spirit, through the mediation of the Son. . . . We must know what prayer and worship mean ourselves before we can hope to direct and lead the worship of the people.

"We need men who have thought out, as far as they can, their own relation to God, and who have realized the strength of the complex proof on which it depends; men who have walked in the threefold light of their own faculties, of revelation, and of the Church; and have seen how the three agree and lead back to one.

"We need men who have disciplined their reason by endeavouring to discern and speak the exact truth, without fear of the reproof of man, and without the desire of his praise.

"We need men who have endeavoured to keep a conscience void of offence, not only in the sight of men, but of God; men who can, like Bishop Andrewes, pray God to 'crucify the occasions of their sins '; men who have striven to cleanse themselves from all filthiness, not only of the flesh, but of the spirit; men who exercise 'themselves unto godliness, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.'

"We need men whose eyes have been opened by the power of the Holy Ghost, so that they can 'say that Jesus is the Lord '; who can see 'all power given unto Him in heaven and earth to be the Head of the Church, which is His Body.'

"We need men who are rooted and grounded in and constrained by love; men who will be patient with sinners and those who are ignorant and careless and 'out of the way '; men who will wait and watch for single souls, as the Saviour did for the woman of Samaria at the well, though she was a woman of a false theology and a broken character; men who will love and not grow cold, but who, having loved, like Jesus, will 'love to the end'; men who know the Church to be a true Society, and, as such, to possess all those natural assistances which the wisest of the heathen of old sought to secure for the individual by his relation to the State; men who see the Church to be divine in her origin, in her organization, and in her powers--a Divine Society of which Christ is the living animating Head; men who see that the ordinances of the Church are not barriers between the soul and its God, but the appointed means by which the soul shall return to God, by the mediation of the one Mediator, Christ--both God and Man; men who desire to draw all men within the fold of the visible Church of Christ, because there they will find their true relation to God and to their fellow-men. In her they are reconciled back to God and reunited to man in the Communion of Saints, and in her receive new powers that this twofold communion may endure for ever and ever." [The Love and Wisdom of God, pp. 272 sq.]

It is a great ideal of priestly life. It might well serve as matter for thought and self-examination and inspiration on Ember Days, or in seasons of quiet devotion. It was preached in a sermon to a great gathering of clergy in the cathedral at the first Festival of the Scholae Cancellarii in 1888. [The theological school of the diocese founded by St. Hugh, and re-established by Bishop Wordsworth.] It is a message St. Hugh might well have desired to be given to his sons. Its teachings formed the groundwork of the addresses given by the bishop at many retreats and quiet days for the clergy of the diocese.

One of these stands out above others, a Diocesan Retreat held in the cathedral in September, 1892, the first of a long series of such retreats or spiritual conferences. The bishop was desirous of gathering his clergy together once every year for a season of thought and devotion in the cathedral. It was not exactly in the technical sense of the term a Retreat, but it took a form well suited for the clergy of the diocese, most of whom were in charge of country parishes, and whose lives were passed in much loneliness and isolation. The Retreats were three days' devotions, with special Eucharists and spiritual conferences delivered by some of the greatest masters of spiritual life in the English Church. It was a wonderful refreshment and inspiration to be brought, year by year, under the influence of great teachers who, but for these conferences, would have been known by little more than their names and their writings to most of the clergy of the diocese.

The bishop himself conducted the first of these gatherings; and one who was present has contributed the following brief and vivid account of his memories and impressions:--

"We had, of course, often seen the bishop and heard him preach on special occasions. Now we seemed really to know him for the first time, to feel his whole heart and soul laid open to his clergy. It is impossible adequately to summarize or describe the addresses. They were searching and uplifting. We felt 'the spiritual life around the earthly life.' There was boldness of illustration, swift description, the light touch that photographed a character or an experience never to be forgotten, new and unexpected comments on familiar passages or scenes in Holy Scripture. There were flashes of humour, and then piercing appeals that drew swift, hot tears. There was a fearless confidence that everything would go home, everything be understood. He was the theologian setting forth the deepest teachings of the Faith; the master of ethics playing with Aristotle and the anti-pelagian treatises of St. Augustine, as we might have done with the multiplication-table; the spiritual guide bringing it all into relation with every sphere of our life and duty. And it was all done with such ease and naturalness: it seemed absolutely inevitable.

"What renewal of hopes! What possibilities were before us. We could be something of all that. It was so deep and yet so simple. We could be penitent and forgiven and start again. We had seen it all. We had a bishop, a friend, a father who knew and understood."

With such an ideal of clerical life it will be clear that Bishop King would take immense pains in the arrangement of Ordinations and the influences brought to bear upon ordinands at that season.

A short reference to the Retreat immediately preceding the Ordination must suffice for the purpose of this chapter. Three days of special preparation were arranged; and the addresses and devotions were entrusted to some priest experienced in pastoral work. There were daily Eucharists and rules of discipline and silence. The bishop always gave the last address on the night before the Ordination. He felt an almost overwhelming sense of responsibility, and he had an extraordinary realization of the gifts of ministerial grace. It was often thought that he deliberately held in reserve the personal influence which he might have been expected to use to the full at such a time. His chaplains were sometimes almost disappointed. But he probably knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted the men to be brought into absolutely direct fellowship with God. He wanted their experience to rest not on the wisdom of man but on the power of God. He spoke deep and searching words about the necessity of a realized vocation, the need of a cleansed and forgiven soul, the quiet restfulness in which he trusted they were waiting for the great gift that was coming to them. And often, as he brought into his final words some message from Dante--"the great companion," as he called him--he seemed to have something of Dante's greatness of love, of his serious and even austere outlook on life, of his almost infinite hope. But the ordinands were always left in the last silence with God and their own souls face to face, no human influence thrust in between.

It was the bishop's custom to hold triennial visitations. The preparation of the address was always a matter of most serious concern to him. The. primary charge, which has already been fully referred to, was a pronouncement to the diocese, the forecast of work he believed he was sent to undertake. In later charges the bishop set forth somewhat fully the doctrines of Holy Communion, Absolution, the Unity of the Church, and Holy Marriage. His method of exposition does not easily lend itself to quotation. He set forth his teaching in the statements of theologians of "high position and allowed orthodoxy" in the Church of England rather than in language of his own. People often wished that he had been more ready to put his doctrinal message in his own words. But the charges are of very real value, and the method of exposition is significant of his intense loyalty to the Church in which he held office as a bishop and teacher of the Faith.

All the addresses make special and detailed reference to the work of the diocese, and abound in wise and loving suggestions as to methods of pastoral work. Perhaps the third triennial charge is one of the most characteristic. It was delivered shortly after the Clergy Retreat in the cathedral, conducted by the bishop, in September, 1892. It deals with the danger of indifference, and urges ministerial zeal as its great antidote. The following quotations well represent the bishop's thoughts on the subject; and the beauty and simplicity, as well as the directness and sincerity, of his appeal:--

"The opposite of indifference is obviously zeal. How, then, can we promote more zeal--religious zeal--amongst our people? The answer I wish to offer to you, my brethren, and to myself with you, is this:--By being more zealous in our calling ourselves. Is not the indifference of the laity the result, in part, of the indifference of the clergy? Thank God! I know what improvement there has been; how many zealous clergymen, and clergymen's families, there are amongst us now. But still, has there not been in the past enough indifference amongst ourselves to the special duties of our sacred calling to account for a part, at least, of the indifference amongst our people? Have not their highest spiritual desires and aspirations often been disappointed, so far as we are concerned? They have expected us to be more holy, more helpful in spiritual things than they have found us. They have looked for grapes, and have found only wild grapes. They have hoped for the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace; and they have seen in us little more than the results of natural religion--prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance! . . . Do not misunderstand me, dear brothers. No one is more fearful than myself of having wasted time in lingering on the lower level of natural religion instead of ascending the Mount of Transfiguration with the Saviour, in the power of the Spirit. I grieve to feel myself but a child in reading the Gospels and Epistles when old age is closing upon me. But it is because I am conscious of this in myself that I feel constrained to say this to you. Let us try to live more as a reader of the Gospels and Epistles would expect to find us living."

The bishop then goes on to speak in some detail of "Frequency of Communion":--

"We need it, do we not, dear brethren, for ourselves? What is the great difficulty which we labour under in our small and scattered parishes? Is it not isolation, the sense of loneliness, and that depression and loss of heart which arises from isolation and the sense of loneliness? And where shall we find a better remedy for all this than in the constant renewing of our Communion with our Divine Lord, in the way which He has Himself provided for us? Under the old law the priest was bound to rekindle the fire upon the altar, and to trim the lamps of the sanctuary every day. And so we need to rekindle the fire of our love and zeal, by putting ourselves in the closest relation we can with the Source of zeal and love, even with Him of whom it is written, 'The zeal of Thine House hath eaten me up.' Let us do this at least at the beginning of each week, through the means which He has Himself appointed. He is 'the Light of the world,' and we are to shine as 'lights in the world' by His light reflected in us. We must therefore put ourselves in His presence, and endeavour to preserve unbroken through the week the Communion into which we are thus taken.

"We need this frequency of Communion for our own souls, and for our ministerial efficiency. And do we not need it for our people? Is not one of the things which most grieves and depresses us in them the low view they take of the sinfulness of sin? They are content to regard sin, not as it appears in the eyes of God, but according to the traditional standard of their own village, or according to the standard which they pick up from the newspapers, or from the current tone of public opinion. They use all kinds of minimizing phrases in speaking of it. Now where, my brethren, shall we learn what God thinks of sin, but at the Cross of Calvary, where we see the Son of God dying for the sins of the world? And might it not be one effect of the constant weekly celebration of the Holy Communion if our people knew that week by week we were pleading that one 'full, perfect, and sufficient Sacrifice' for the remission of sins, that they might learn to look on sin more in the light in which God sees it, and no longer rest satisfied with the low standard of morality which we have so often to deplore?

"And we need it for the faithful few. Scattered about, even in our smallest parishes, one here and one there, are those whose hearts God has touched, who only want to be drawn out and sustained in those aspirations which we cannot see, and which we are not worthy to know, but which we may by our divinely-given ministry assist.

"Lastly we need this frequent Celebration for the sake of the whole Church; for God answers prayer beyond all that we ask or think, and for the praise and glory of the Lord, whose death we thus show forth until He come."

Later, in the same charge, the bishop urges a fuller obedience to the Church's directions as to the regular and public use of the Daily Offices:--

"I desire to ask all to consider this matter afresh in the light of the present indifference, and to see whether more might not be done in this direction which our Church has so plainly pointed out for us. The difficulties, I know, are most real and great, especially in country parishes. In some cases, I am ready to allow, they are insuperable . . . but still I do desire that, wherever it may be, the bell should ring out, at least once a day, to give notice of a service in church. I cannot but hope that, if every day the bell were to sound, it might do something to dispel the indifference which is so much around us.

"There may from time to time be some one lying upon the bed of death, some one whom we have been unable to reach by our sermons or admonitions, some one who has not yet turned to God; and the sound of the bell from the House of God borne in upon the ear may, by God's grace, strike the soul with that wondrous power which belongs to sacred music; and the wanderer, even in that last hour, may think of God, and turn again and pray and be forgiven.

"Or there may be others not so near the end as this, but still confined to the house by age or sickness, and liable to that despondency and depression which continued weakness and inability to take part in the business of life so often bring; and the sound of the bell may lead their thoughts upward, and recall them to a sense of what this life really is--the school, nay, rather the infant school, for the true life beyond.

"Then there are those who are at their work, and cannot come, whom we would not have to come. But do we not desire that, while they are at work they should feel that they are doing God's will--that while they are walking in the furrow, following the plough, they may still be walking in the spirit? And will not the sound of the Church bell bring to their minds the thought of God and of the world to come?

"So again with others who might come from time to time. There are two calendars which might bring people to church on certain days. There is the Church Calendar, with its saints' days and other holy days; and there is a Domestic Calendar, which is observed in almost every house, indeed, almost by every single person. A man would say to himself, 'To-morrow is my birthday, and I should like to go to church to thank God for my life; and to pray Him to forgive the way I have wasted my time, and to give me strength to use what may be left to better purpose.' Or, 'To-morrow is my wedding day, and I should like to thank God for the blessings He then bestowed upon me, blessings more than I had any idea of at the time.' Or, 'To-morrow is the day God gave us our first child; or the day He took that child to Himself; and ever since it has been to me as a guiding-star in heaven.' So there would often be somebody in some corner of the church, for reasons of which we might know nothing; but God would know, and God would hear them."' [A correspondent writes: "In four or five huge gatherings of the clergy in Lincoln the bishop always drove home the intense reality of the Daily Offices, and implored for no omission of the 'State Prayers.' 'Never was there an age when King and Queen more needed our prayers than now. O my brothers, don't rob King, Queen, and country of your help.'"]

The bishop knew and loved his clergy. He understood their difficulties; he knew that sometimes the standard might seem too high, too impossible. He had always words of encouragement:--

"Perhaps you have found it harder than you thought; perhaps you are surprised at the indifference and the ignorance which still prevails with regard to the Church amongst your people; perhaps, as priests, when visiting the sick you have felt unable to use the Office which your Church has provided for her children; perhaps you are disappointed with your brethren of the clergy around you; perhaps you are surprised and disappointed with yourselves. Do not be disheartened; these, and such as these, are the trials by which the priests of the Church of England are being tried; they often are not understood, not wanted, not cared for; isolated, lonely, unnoticed, unknown by the world; and all this has to be borne too often now in poverty which cannot be expressed, and it may be in actual sickness, or under the intimidation of declining health. So are many priests left now, but it shall not be for nothing. It is all under the Saviour's eye. He is watching, He is working; it is His Father's business that He is about, making the English priesthood holy not simply intelligent, not simply moral, but holy. The Saviour is watching, and the people are watching too. Whatever they may be themselves, they expect that if the Church is holy the ministry will be holy too--a city set on a hill cannot be hid."

Encouragement is for most people one of the greatest needs in life. It is so especially with many of the clergy. There are those who have found their way almost fully and completely to the Source of all Comfort, and who go with bright, glad hearts through any trouble or difficulty. But there are others. It is not easy to know exactly when consolation and comfort is in danger of weakening rather than of strengthening and quickening into new life. Bishop King knew the peril well enough, but he seems never to have feared it, always to have been ready to risk it. He knew, on occasion, how to speak sharp, stern words of warning, and the fact that they were spoken so seldom gave them an added force. In one of his charges he felt driven to say: "There are some parishes where I cannot but fear there has been grave and culpable neglect; parishes from which there have been either no candidates at all, or so few as to make it impossible for me to believe that due attention has been given to this most important part of your duties." The words almost flame out with the wrath of gentleness in the midst of a charge full of love and gratitude and humility about his own shortcomings. But it was nearly always through love and gentleness that he put new heart and courage into people. And the strange thing was that he did not set himself to do it. We felt he knew, he understood, he saw the difficulties just as much as we did; but he spoke as if we were doing what we wished to do when we were at our best. He seemed to be winning encouragement for himself out of our difficulties, and we went away with newness of hope and strength. It was really something of his own life we had seen, and it passed into our lives. It was the way of the Gospel of Christ, not of the Old Law.

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