Project Canterbury

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

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

VI. Bishops

IN 1831 THE PEOPLE OF BRISTOL burned down the bishop's palace, and the bishop (Gray, father of the celebrated Bishop Gray of Capetown) had to escape from the fury of the mob. A few years later, the see was suppressed and merged in that of Gloucester.

If any class of men owes its position to the Catholic Revival, it is that which occupies the bench of bishops. At the beginning of the nineteenth century they were thoroughly unpopular. The people had gained an idea of a bishop as far removed as possible from the Apostolic model. The Palatinate bishopric of Durham, according to Canon Body who took up work there at the invitation of Bishop Lightfoot in 1883, was regarded by the miners as a great secular institution. There was little contact between the people and the highly-placed clergy. As Oliver Goldsmith said in an 'Essay on the English Clergy and Preachers,' "the clergy are nowhere so little thought of by the populace as here, and though our divines are foremost with respect to abilities, yet they are found last in the effect of their ministry."

Dr. A. C. Benson in The House of Quiet has described the popular preference for the old-time parson and the unpopularity of his High Church successor, but his representative of the 'old school' is endowed with ample means, a magnetic personality and a generous disposition while his Anglo-Catholic successor is hard and businesslike, commonplace and practical--and not overburdened with wealth. One learns without surprise that the parishioners resented the change! But normally the post-Tractarian era saw a change for the better in the relations of Church and People.

The Church Congress has perhaps outlived its usefulness, but it was an excellent means of affording a species of 'refresher course' to the clergy of the somewhat somnolent era of its inception. The credit of this was due to Archdeacon Emery of Ely who was a born inaugurator of movements. He started the Volunteer Movement at Cambridge in 1859, and in 1861 his efforts brought about the first Church Congress. Bishops took up the idea and competed with each other to secure a meeting of Congress in their see cities. Some were less enthusiastic. Thus Bishop Temple, presiding over the Plymouth Congress of 1876 began "Some clergymen stay at home and do their work faithfully in their parishes. Others gad about and go to Congresses"!

Nevertheless, these gatherings did good in showing the public that the Church was facing the problems of the day, and they led the clergy to feel that attention was being focussed upon their work as well as their words, which was, at that date* distinctly a good thing. Nor were these Congresses without effect on the bishops themselves. Bishop Ryle of Liverpool, a fiery Protestant, on one occasion prepared a characteristic speech, of which he gave a copy to the reporter. The actual speech he delivered differed very markedly from his manuscript. Asked for an explanation, the good Bishop replied "When I prepared that paper, I had no idea of the deep religious feeling and loving kindness which pervaded the Congress. I could not deliver the speech I had prepared: I spoke as I was moved at the moment."

Differences were apparent in those days which would perplex our easily upset generation which finds in our disunion a pretext for secession or indifference. Archdeacon Denison and the Evangelical; Hugh Stowell, attacked each other with vigour, but warmly shook hands afterwards. Father Ignatius dramatically rose on one occasion and cried out "In the name of Christ, I say that Charles Gore ought not to be allowed to speak!" The post-Tractarians took their full share in these gatherings, though on one occasion a deputation protested against the presence of Father Mackonochie.

Another development which was fostered by the bishops was that of the Pan-Anglican Congress inaugurated by Archbishop Longley at the instigation of one of the Canadian bishops. Immense good has come from these meetings of bishops from all over the world; they have been all the more valuable from the fact that they do not issue decrees which bind the Church. Few things have done more to get rid of insularity and to make English people realize that the Anglican Communion is far wider than the Church of England, and the Catholic Church infinitely wider than the Anglican Communion.

Among the bishops whose learning and great influence told heavily on the side of Catholic ideals was Bishop Stubbs of Oxford. His tractate on English Ordinations and the Apostolical Succession is even at this date a mine of valuable information. He was one of the 'characters' of the period and his 'blazing indiscretions' were the theme of many a story. But his learning and his piety were unquestionable and both were enlisted on the side of the ancient Faith. The effect of such championship was felt among scholars of the Eastern Church as well as at home.

Among bishops who stood out as champions of the Faith Robert Gray of Capetown holds a foremost place. When in 1861 Bishop Colenso of Natal published his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, he was 'presented' on the charge of heresy, and Gray had the courage to pronounce a sentence which must have been painful and unpopular. He called for retractation, but it was not forthcoming, and felt compelled to proceed to deposition, on the ground that Colenso had denied fundamental verities of the Faith. In this action, Gray had the strong support of John Keble, who counted him 'the greatest of Colonial bishops, a real confessor of the Faith.' The bitterness of protracted controversy which ensued undoubtedly hastened Bishop Gray's death, but by his action he had not only carried out his duty to repress error but he had struck a blow for the freedom of the Church to control its own affairs.

Selwyn and Patteson were among the bishops whose lives lent lustre to the Church of England. Both were influenced by the Oxford Movement, and Patteson in particular was a great admirer of the character and writings of Keble. Selwyn was one of the moving spirits behind the Pan-Anglican Congress of 1867 (a Pan-Anglican Synod had met as early as 1850 but no more was heard of the project till 1867).

The tradition of academic bishops was never really broken down. Here and there was an exception like Bishop Sheepshanks of Norwich who was appointed by Gladstone straight from the comparatively 'advanced' church of St. Margaret, Anfield, Liverpool. He had been a pioneer missionary and was the only bishop who had ever been asked to preach in the great Mormon tabernacle of Salt Lake City! Despite his missionary keenness and his successful administration of an important parish, he never seemed to exert as bishop the influence which might have been expected, nor was there much progress in a Catholic direction under his rule. A devout priest and a conscientious administrator he exemplified the mistake of transferring a townsman to rural work.

Contemporary with Dr. Sheepshanks was Bishop Walsham How of Wakefield. His greatest work was done as Bishop of Bedford, by which singular title the bishop-suffragan of East London was known before the designation 'Bishop of Stepney' was adopted. Though not what would be called even in those days a High Churchman, Bishop Walsham How rendered real service to the cause of the Church by his work, his writings and his personality. His little book Pastor in Parochia is still valued, and his hymns are widely used, the best known being the fine hymn 'For all the saints' one of the most popular in any collection. Walsham How's influence was widely felt: he made the bishop a friendly and accessible pastor instead of a distant personage, and built up a tradition of affection which has never died out in East London.

Coming to later times a promising career was cut short by the early death of Bishop W. E. Collins of Gibraltar. A scholar of no mean attainments, with firmly Catholic convictions, Collins was appointed to the difficult and delicate post of Bishop of Gibraltar. At the 1908 Pan-Anglican Congress, while other bishops made a good impression, he made a reputation, and there is no doubt that, had he been spared, he would have proved a leader of thought and a powerful spiritual force in the Catholic Movement.

Despite the examples of saintly and scholarly bishops of distinctly Catholic sympathies, from Hamilton and Moberly of Salisbury to Charles Gore, the general tendency of the Anglo-Catholic Movement has been to distrust the episcopate. How has this unfortunate result come about? The answer may be given in the words of the Bishop of London who, in a sermon addressed to the lawyers in the Temple Church in 1922, said that "The bishops in the past have never been fair to this movement" and continued: "Nothing excites greater prejudice and few things are viewed with more mistrust by those ... accustomed to the old-fashioned teaching of fifty years ago. But an educated man must never be prejudiced, and while there is a party in this movement clearly disloyal ... it is only a small section. The rest, who are unjustly involved in the suspicion excited by the others are intensely loyal to the English branch of the Church which they love and into which they have been baptized and in which many of them have been ordained. But they rebel against the insular view of the Church which seems to represent the Church of England as a Church entirely by itself. They love to feel and test their fellowship with the great Greek Church which holds the doctrines of the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Sacraments very much in the same balanced way the Church of England holds them; and as for the Church of the West, of which they feel themselves to be part, they are longing for the day when, with a reformed Church of Rome which has laid aside modern dogmas and has returned to the primitive belief, they may present once again the spectacle of a united Christendom. And in the meantime, they cherish all ancient customs and services which seem to connect them with the old days. Vestments, incense, copes, mitres, are valued not so much as important in themselves but as being links with a great historic past and signs that the Church of England is no Protestant or Puritan sect but part of the historic Catholic Church of Christendom."

This bold declaration is the key to the policy which has prevailed in the London diocese ever since the days of Frederic Temple, with a brief interval in which Bishop Creighton, a prelate of decidedly Catholic outlook, felt it to be his duty to curb the more 'extreme' churches. Dr. Ingram, like Dr. Temple, believes in supporting priests who work, no matter what their ecclesiastical complexion, and so level-headed an observer as Lord Parmoor pointed out, in the debates on the Revised Prayer Book, that the accounts of the alleged 'chaos' in the London diocese had no real importance. With the approaching Centenary it may be hoped that a new era of confidence on the one hand and loyalty on the other may succeed the suspicions and antagonisms of the past.

Archbishop Davidson, about whom more is said on another page, was scarcely understood by the Anglo-Catholic School till his later years. Yet those who knew him best regard him as being one of the greatest men of his time. His character was exactly suited to his task: deeply religious, he had no prejudices, and it may have been this which led some to think him deficient in convictions. Constitutionally hating ceremony ("his liturgical ideal is family prayers!" was the description of one who was intimate with him), he was a great prelate, and a clear-headed statesman of almost uncanny shrewdness. Despite his supposed 'astuteness,' a word which in the popular mind was commonly associated with him, he was straight as a die, one who could be absolutely trusted, and who in turn, reposed entire confidence in those whom he honoured with his friendship. Few people ever fought him without being worsted: even Liddon came offsecond-best in a controversy in The Times with the Dean of Windsor, as Davidson then was. But, as one who by no means saw eye to eye with him put it, "To be in opposition to him was like playing chess with an honourable player who was master of the game. He would never cheat you, but beat you by sheer superiority."

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