Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

I. Looking Backwards

"THE MAN WHO THINKS BACKWARDS" says Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, "is a very powerful person to-day," and he goes on to point out that the right way to estimate contemporary events is to go back to the beginning and see all things as new and strange, and trace their growth and their dependence upon each other. This is our justification for recalling the past. There follows this aphorism of true wisdom, "The good journeyman tailor does not cut his coat according to his cloth: he asks for more cloth." That is the lesson which the past enforces. Instead of telling us to be satisfied with existing conditions, it says, Advance and Improve. The Past does not teach stagnation but progress.

In the middle of the last century, religion presented some features the loss of which may be deplored. There was certainly more home religion. A child would be taught at least simple prayers and perhaps hymns, and, when the time for churchgoing arrived, would be taken to Church. It may have been an utterly inappropriate form of worship, but it represented an ideal, the Sunday morning visit to the Father's House, and as such was not without value. Churches in London in those days contented themselves with a respectable 'parish church' tradition. Some were definitely Tractarian in teaching, though no outward observances betokened the sacramental beliefs inculcated. ['Sanctuary lamps' were a feature of most 'advanced churches.' They were introduced by Fr. Mackonochie at St. Alban's, Holborn, in about 1869 and were believed to be the gift of Fr. Stanton. An idea grew up in later years that they were intended to be a substitute for the altar lights, which were ordered to be discontinued by a monition of the Privy Council referred to elsewhere, but there is no foundation for this belief, which suggests a desire to circumvent the Privy Council. Fr. Mackonochie was not the type of man to lend himself to such a policy. Still less was he likely to invent a piece of fancy ritual. The true explanation was probably the desire to restore an ancient custom, the existence of which is vouched for by various authorities. Thus Orby Shipley, in his Ritual of the Altar stated that sevenfold sanctuary lamps were pictured in the catacomb-frescoes of San Clemente in Rome, and J. D. Chambers in his Divine Worship, p. 294, refers to seven lamps between the choir and the altar at Rouen and elsewhere, adding "It appears from Grandisson's Consuetudinary cc. vi and xi that suchlike seven lamps fed with oil had existed from ancient times at Exeter." St. Albans, Holborn, St. Paul's, Walworth and Christ Church, Clapham, seem to have introduced this custom about the same time. Though recent fashion has discouraged the custom, there seems to be respectable precedent, both Oriental and Western, for the use of lamps in the sanctuary.] About nine or ten in the whole of London used the eucharistic vestments. These, at St. Mary Magdalene's, Paddington, were of white linen. A cross embroidered on a plain black stole would arouse suspicion of Popery. Incense was almost unheard of: St. Alban's, Holborn and St. Matthias, Stoke Newington used it, and it is claimed that St. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square and Christ Church, Union Grove, Clap-ham, had adopted its use still earlier. 'St. George's Mission,' as St. Peter's, London Docks was at first called, was beginning to be heard of, and St. George's-in-the-East riots were recent history. The church had to be closed in 1859 owing to the riots. One of the priests associated with the Rector, Bryan King, was the Rev. Charles Fuge Lowder, who came to him from St. Barnabas, Pimlico, and for a time conducted services in the old chapel in Well-close Square. Father Lowder's imperishable memorial is the great work which he built up at St. Peter's, London Docks. At first in his mission chapel, and later at the stately church, we find the combination of Evangelical and Sacramental, which distinguished the 'sub-Tractar-ians.' Indeed, it was on this count that he incurred the disapproval of Bishop Blomfield, who censured Henry Collins, one of his colleagues, for the authorship of the hymns 'Jesu, my Lord, my God, my All,' and 'Jesu meek and lowly.' The Bishop, as has been told in the Introduction, considered these 'contrary to the spirit of the Book of Common Prayer'--apparently regarding them as savouring of 'Methodist enthusiasm.'

It cannot be said that the authorities emerged with any particular credit for their action--or rather inactivity--in the case of St. George's-in-the East. Mr. Bryan King had never been guilty of any 'extremes,' the enormity which provoked the disturbances being the wearing of a surplice in the pulpit. He had endeavoured, with some success, to introduce new methods of work into what had been a sleepy and neglected parish, and in pursuance of his design, had invited Lowder and other young priests to help him. Throughout, he was hampered by the campaign of which the figure-head was a 'lecturer,' who had rights in the parish church. This gentleman's sermons were of the Calvinistic cast affected by most of these independent lecturers, but behind the Protestant opposition was an element of organized rowdyism, subsidized, it is believed, by those who held vested interests in the dens of vice now for the first time being challenged by the forces of religion. Dean Stanley is said to have persuaded the Rector to resign and so to end the tension.

To return to Henry Collins. He belonged to a well-known Church family, his father being a Yorkshire 'squarson' and one of his brothers being the first vicar of St. Saviour's, Leeds. Another brother was the well-known Thomas Collins, 'Noisy Tom' as he was called when depicted in a 'Vanity Fair' cartoon. Thomas Collins was a well-known figure in Parliament and in Society. He was a staunch Churchman, and must have been one of the earliest to use the word 'mass' habitually: he would speak of 'going to mass' at St. James' Chapel Royal, which he was accustomed to attend. He died in 1884. Henry Collins went over to Rome some time after the incident recorded above, which began his un-settlement in the Church of England. The Introduction has told how Lowder delated him for lighting two candles on the altar of his mission chapel! Collins ultimately became a Trappist monk, dying at the age of 93 in 1919.

There were probably few who could foresee the future advance of what they were apt, in those days, to term 'Ritualism.' Probably most people regarded it as ephemeral, an interest in "the quaint old dresses and ritual of the Mediaeval age," as a somewhat pompous Archdeacon once put it! Some, however, were more far-seeing. A personal recollection is that of a visit from Dr. Magee, the eloquent Dean of Cork, subsequently Bishop of Peterborough, whose great speech in the House of Lords on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1869 led to his appointment to the primatial see of York. [Step-father of Mr. Athelstan Riley.] He came on a visit to London. There was, at the time, much talk of 'putting down ritualism,' and the Dean announced his intention of going to St. Alban's, Holborn, 'to see what those fellows do.' On his return, he was asked "Well, what did you see?" Magee replied very gravely "I have seen something that can never be put down." Mr. Athelstan Riley has already referred to this incident, which is a striking commentary of the impression made by Catholic reverence on those comparatively unfamiliar with Catholic ways.

Churches of the type of St. Alban's were, however, all but unknown. Let a description of Hampstead Church in the 'sixties stand as typical of the conventional type. There was no structural chancel, the altar being simply railed in against the east wall (it has subsequently been placed at the western end). There was a tall pulpit, and a slightly lower reading desk, with the clerk's seat below it. The black gown was in use in the pulpit, though subsequently the incumbent abandoned it on the pretext that its use involved an unnecessary perambulation to the vestry to change his surplice. It can be imagined that there was little in religion, as thus presented, to appeal to young people. Strange accounts of the doings of Mr. Purchas at St. James', Brighton, stirred a certain amount of interest about this time, but it would not be untrue to say that that pioneer priest was regarded by sober churchmen of the period as somewhat of an eccentric.

Books supplied, to some extent, the inspiration which churches, on the whole, failed to afford. It has often been said that Sir Walter Scott prepared the way for the Catholic Revival. His novels are full of inaccuracies and anachronisms from the ecclesiastical standpoint, but they are written with a sympathy and understanding of Catholic ideals somewhat rare in the period of which we are thinking. The Monastery exercised a profound influence, particularly when reinforced by visits to such places as Fountains and Melrose.

Devotional books were not available in such numbers as in later years, but the Treasury of Devotion and the English Catholics' Vade Mecum were used, and have by no means ceased to be serviceable aids to prayer and worship. A book which exercised a profound influence was Bishop Forbes on the XXXIX Articles. [Written in 1867 at the instigation of Dr. Pusey and dedicated to him.] It has been followed by such scholarly works as those by Dr. Gibson and Dr. Bicknell, but it was the first to break away from the somewhat insular and anti-Catholic tradition of dealing with those documents, though, of course, the famous Tract XC had led the way in 1841.

A new world was opened up to many by Dr. Neale's Translation of the Eastern Liturgies, which led students away from the merely insular view crystallized in the phrase 'our incomparable liturgy.'

The contrast afforded by the Public School and the University in matters of religion is illustrated by the different atmospheres of Eton and Oxford. At the former, the typical 'public school religion' prevailed, and in most schools persists to the present day, though even there a small guild of Catholic-minded boys existed.

At Oxford, however, there was keen interest in what nowadays would be called 'Anglo-Catholicism.' Pembroke was considered a 'High Church' college, though the services were uninspiring, and the College chapel severely unadorned. What atmosphere there was was due to the undergraduates, who took charge of the Sacred Vessels after the Communion, having taken the Ablutions, instead of allowing them to be cleaned by the porter and pantry staff! It was in later days, when the late Douglas Macleane became a clerical Fellow, that the chapel was decorated and properly furnished. The altar-plate and candlesticks provided at this time bear the names of some of the undergraduates who kept alive the tradition.

In the University at this time the remarkable trio of Divinity Professors were giving their lectures at Christ Church. Canon Liddon was a preacher of matchless eloquence: Dr. Bright's lectures, given in the Lady Chapel on the Early Church and especially on St. Athanasius, were unforgettable: he made Church History live. Canon King's spiritual influence was at its height. His Thursday evening lectures to undergraduates preparing for Holy Orders were crowded, and their influence upon the devotional life of the Church can scarcely be overestimated.

Fr. Benson at Cowley and Mr. Noel (the clergy were not usually called 'Father' unless they belonged to a religious order) at St. Barnabas, were influencing University men as well as ministering to their congregations. Other names were Noel Freeling, Fellow of Merton, H. R. Bramley, Dean of Magdalen, and R. J. Wilson. Bramley followed his friend Bishop King to Lincoln, and died in 1917. R. J. Wilson died after a brief tenure of office as Warden of Keble. He is, perhaps, best remembered for the excellent little devotional book which he compiled, Before the Altar, which still has probably the widest circulation of such manuals.

Dr. Pusey was in residence in the period under consideration. He was then in extreme old age, but remained a power to the last. He passed away at Ascot in 1882 and was buried at Christ Church, Oxford, where his memorial tablet may be seen. [Among the pall bearers were Mr. Gladstone, Lord Halifax, Canon Bright and Canon King.] A greater and more striking memorial was the Pusey House, founded in order originally to preserve Dr. Pusey's library, in 1883. This project was decided upon, in the first instance, at a meeting in Lord Salisbury's house in Arlington Street, and subsequently taken up by the English Church Union. For many years, the Principal and three 'librarians' were content with the temporary chapels in the house and garden, endeared to generations of Oxford men, but the present noble chapel and buildings were erected from the designs of Mr. W. Tapper in 1912 and are worthy of the situation they adorn and of the great personality they commemorate. The actual work of the 'Puseum' is not easy to define, but its indirect influence alike among senior and junior members of the University has been productive of much good. The names of its Principals, Charles Gore, V. S. S. Coles and Darwell Stone are a guarantee of the mingled learning and devotion which have been associated with it from the first.

No account of Oxford in the last century would be complete without some mention of its great bishop, Samuel Wilberforce. More than most men, Wilberforce has suffered from being a 'character.' Innumerable stories are told of him to illustrate his energy, his ambition, his tact and his diplomacy, but they scarcely do justice to his real spiritual force. Canon Carter, who was brought into close relations with him, said "his activity reached everywhere, embracing all details, stirring work where it was slack . . . with an enormous capacity for work, an overpowering attractiveness of manner and excessive warmth of affectionateness, he entered into the Church Movement in a practical way. He popularized the Church Revival." Retreats and Missions, hitherto looked upon as the concern of a few enthusiasts, found official encouragement from the Bishop, and though he never identified himself with the Movement, and was often found among its opponents, yet the cause of true religion found in him a champion just when such encouragement was peculiarly needed.

Although the worst period of neglect was past, there was still much lost ground to be regained. At the beginning of the century, only half the parishes had a resident clergyman; in one rural diocese there were 280 parishes without resident clergy, while urban districts fared little better for in 1834 there were 350,000 people in East London with only ten parishes. Traditions of slackness die hard, and as late as 1870 we read of a Norfolk church in which everything was dilapidated, and coated with whitewash to conceal its ruinous condition, and with grass growing in the floor cracks.

Marked progress has been made in the adoption of Catholic externals in many of the college chapels in post-War years, but a very different standard prevailed in the last century. Services everywhere were severely plain: even Keble attempted nothing in the way of elaborate ceremony. Musically, the greater colleges maintained a cathedral service of an excellence scarcely surpassed anywhere, but the average level was simply a continuation of the Public School tradition, and such it remained till recent times. The increasing secularization of the University has had the effect of setting free the college authorities from the supposed necessity to water down teaching and practice to an undenominational level, and to-day most undergraduates can find their needs satisfied without going beyond the walls of their own colleges.

Few will dispute the melancholy fact of the decline of attendance at public worship in post-War days, but it is as unwise as it is untrue to exaggerate it. The fact is that Post-Reformation England is not, and never has been, a churchgoing country. To contrast the present condition of things with an imaginary golden age when churches were crowded is not in accord with fact. When the Commissioners' churches were built, at the beginning of the last century, says Mr. Eastlake in his History of the Gothic Revival, "the Church of England had lost its hold on popular favour ... no doubt much of the apathy that prevailed was due to the uninteresting character of the service and all that pertained to it. The interior of a church fitted up at that period would present indeed a melancholy spectacle. We must tax the recollections of our childhood, if we would realize to some extent the cold and vapid nature of the ceremonies which passed for public devotion. Who does not remember the air of grim respectability which pervaded, and in some cases still pervades, the modern town church of a certain type? Enter and notice the tall neatly-grained witness-boxes in which the faithful are empanelled: the three-decker pulpit placed in the centre of the building: the lumbering gallery carried round three sides of the building on iron columns: the earnest penitent inspecting the inside of his hat: the patent warming-apparatus: the hassocks which no one kneels on: the poor-box which is always empty. Hear how the clerk drones out the responses for a congregation too genteel to respond for themselves. Observe the length, the unimpeachable propriety, the overwhelming dulness of the sermon!"

On examination, the golden age of respectable and popular Churchmanship disappears. "In country districts," to continue Mr. Eastlake's description, "a bad road or a rainy day sufficed to keep half the congregation away. Of those who attended, two-thirds left the responses to the clerk. . . . No one thought of kneeling during the longer prayers. The parson preached in a black gown and not infrequently read the Communion Service from the pulpit." Cathedral services, according to Digby, the author of the Broad Stone of Honour who wrote in 1824, were equally deplorable. "What would have been the feelings of Samuel Johnson," he asks, "if he had lived to see a cathedral in England closed upon Sundays, with the exception of a small part of the choir: the nave and the great body of the building converted to all intents into a museum, to afford amusement to the curious and emolument to the vergers?"

While the Evangelical Movement had done much to raise the level of personal religion, it had left corporate worship unaltered; indeed it afforded an excuse for further debasement. Mr. Eastlake instances a book written to show for what small sums churches might be built. "They were very Protestant, and what was equally important, they were very cheap. The ingenious author narrated how, in one church, a neat portable font had been purchased for fourteen shillings. This did not include the price of a pedestal, but when required for use, it might be placed upon the Communion Table, in which position he (a clergyman of the Church of England) recommended that it might be used for the service of Baptism!"

The clergy cannot be acquitted of blame. "They had allowed Church fabrics to fall into decay and Church services to lapse into slovenliness. Children were allowed to grow up utterly uninformed as to the nature and significance of the English Liturgy and Sacraments. Baptism was a mere ceremony, frequently--in private life--performed under the parental roof. Confirmation was, in most cases, dispensed with altogether. Many an undergraduate learnt for the first time at his University the difference between Lent and Advent."

Such were the prevailing conditions in the early part of the last century, and they lingered on in many districts till well into the period with which this record is concerned. It can be a matter of little surprise to discover the low level of religion as a result of this long period of neglect, for the poor certainly had not 'the Gospel preached to them,' and from that period of their alienation we have never recovered. For long, the Sacraments were infrequently administered, three celebrations a year being considered enough in the country, and a monthly Communion sufficing for a town church. In not twenty churches in England was there a weekly Communion, even Westminster Abbey did not rise to that level.

According to the record of W. J. E. Bennett of Frome, two-thirds of the marriage service were customarily omitted, the Prayer Book was incompletely printed, and pamphlets were circulated advocating its further mutilation in order to conciliate Dissenters. Latitudinarians were supposed to be placated by the omission of all references to Regeneration in the Office of Holy Baptism.

It was the aim of the Post-Tractarians to win back the poor to religion. "Look round for the poor!" began Mr. Bennett in issuing his first appeal for the building of St. Barnabas', Pimlico. "They have been driven from the pews to the open seats, from the seats to the door, from the door to the conventicle or to the preaching of the infidel in the parks and open spaces or to the depth and darkness of despair in their own uninstructed hearts--discontented, ready for rebellion, alone, friendless, unloved, unloving." The note of devotion to Christ's poor has never been absent from the Movement. St. Barnabas' was to be 'free and open,' a startling innovation for 1847, and thenceforward the aim of the pioneers was to give of the best in the service of God and in ministering to the poor. In the slums of Holborn and Pimlico, Shoreditch and Seven Dials, were found the citadels of Anglo-Catholicism, and an incalculable debt is due to those who saw that the greatest danger to the future of religion was the alienation of the poor from the Church, and took measures to stem the tide of apathy and indifference. That such efforts have not achieved greater success is only to be expected in view of the appalling heritage of neglect described above, but it would be pessimistic and unworthy of the memory of the early leaders not to recognize the immense improvement which has taken place both in the attitude of the Church to the poor and in that of the poor to the Church. It has not come about by watering down religion to the supposed requirements of the man-in-the-street, but by faithfully presenting the Church's teaching, reinforced by the consecrated lives and self-denying labours of those who professed it.

Solid teaching was given in earlier days by such divines as Dean Goulburn, who used to lecture in London churches. His books on The Holy Catholic Church and The Communion Office, though falling short of a full presentation of the Faith, contain much that is good. Goulburn had a considerable following in religious circles. As Headmaster of Rugby, he reduced the numbers alarmingly, but on the other hand, his administration produced a phenomenal number of distinguished men. As a preacher, he is said to have excited the mirth of the boys by his quaint mannerisms. "Let the scintillations of your wit be like the coruscations of the lightning, lambent but innocuous!" was an injunction attributed to him, and a tradition is recalled that he took for his text on one occasion the long list of Kings in Joshua 13, ending on a tremendous crescendo "All the Kings, thirty and one!"

Still earlier, the names of Alexander Knox and John Sykes deserve to be recalled. Sykes, a Northamptonshire clergyman, had written a treatise called: The Forgotten Article of the Creed: I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.

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