Project Canterbury

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

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.


I HAVE BEEN ASKED to write an introduction to this book, to which I have very gladly contributed some notes from my memories of the past. Perhaps I may perform this little service most usefully by relating some of my personal experiences.

Only recently have I realized that I am no longer growing old but am old, that I have passed by some years the span of life allotted by the Psalmist and that my contemporaries are getting few indeed. I have heard Dr. Pusey preach. Only a single sentence of that sermon lives in my memory and it is worth quoting: "Satan has in all ages been exceedingly crafty, but in our age he has surpassed himself in that he has succeeded in persuading a considerable number of mankind that he does not exist." I might have seen Newman on one occasion had not a rule implanted in me from my boyhood, never to go to a Roman Catholic service in England, stood in the way; it was a severe temptation. I was brought up in a High Church atmosphere--we did not use the term 'Anglo-Catholic' then, on the ground that all Anglicans were in the Catholic Church--but in quite unecclesiastical surroundings, so that it was not till my Oxford days that I came into touch with leaders of the Oxford Movement. Subsequently I got on terms of friendship with them all. I only knew one Bishop, Archbishop Magee, and that slightly, and it was through him that I came into touch with Archbishop Benson in 1883, the first year of his Primacy, and my long connexion with Lambeth began. A little later my friendship with Lord Halifax, the President of the English Church Union, ripened, and for forty years we have been closely associated in every crisis that has befallen the Church of England. Such an experience is my only excuse for writing the following pages.

During my life I have seen the Church of England transformed out of knowledge, outwardly and inwardly. To begin with the bishops. In my youth they were dignified ecclesiastics who kept as closely as possible to their palaces and, in the case of the more important, to their town houses. They were rarely seen, except at confirmations and in the pulpits. Wigs had been abandoned about ten years before I was born, but bishops that I remember wore enormous balloon sleeves of lawn, tacked on to the chimere, not the rochet, over stiff bags of black or scarlet to make them stick out. Bishop Wilberforce, about 1870, first put a hood over his black chimere to relieve what we irreverently called the 'Magpie.' They also wore in Church bands and kid gloves, always, I think, of lavender; pectoral crosses were unknown and croziers came in very gradually and timidly. Mitres, except in the case of some daring Colonials, were also unknown, and copes were confined to the Coronation until what seems to me almost recent times; it was not till after the War that Cathedral Chapters began to accumulate copes and other vestments. The tradition that a bishop should exhibit, if possible, the gift of continency, which lasted with some tenacity to the revolution of 1689 had quite gone, but bishops' ladies kept at home and though they may have exerted considerable private influence over their husbands, like Mrs. Proudie, they never appeared on platforms nor took any public part in diocesan affairs. Before Lambeth palace was altered at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Archbishop's official apartments were separated from the ladies' private ones and he seems to have spent the day alone. [From Saint Augustine to Sancroft (679-1691) Parker was the only married Archbishop of Canterbury if we except Cranmer's secret alliance. Of course the wives of Archbishops and Bishops still have no social precedence as such, being morganatic.] He met his family at Chapel in the evening and at the conclusion of the service the Archbishop's wife and daughters went out first, curtsying to his Grace as they passed. The Archbishop proceeded shortly afterwards across the courtyard to join them, preceded by two footmen carrying torches. The convocations had been restored before I was born, but there was no Church Assembly; this was of slow growth and began under Archbishop Benson with the Houses of Laymen (I was a member of the second house; the present Marquis of Salisbury was a member of the first and has continued his membership without a break). Then came the 'Representative Church Council,' i.e. the joint session of the Convocations with the Houses of Laymen, and finally the statutory National Assembly of the Church of England with its local bodies, largely the work of Archbishop William Temple, as we have it, for good or ill, to-day. Diocesan conferences had come into being and the Church Congress was a popular institution. It is difficult to realize that there was no Church House or central office of any kind.

When I was a boy in very few churches were the eucharistic vestments worn. At St. Mary Magdalene's, Paddington, to which I used to be taken, there were vestments of plain white linen. A cross on the altar was supposed to be the mark of extreme 'Ritualism' and in the 'seventies I have known of serious apprehension of popery in a village church, because the new rector had a cross embroidered in black on a black stole. Candlesticks, though universal in cathedrals and college chapels with the alms-dish between, were very unusual in parish churches and the candles were seldom or never lighted. Father Henry Collins, the Trappist, whom I saw for the first and last time at a great age about 1905 (I had known his brother, Thomas Collins, to whom I shall refer later, from childhood) 'went over' when an assistant curate at St. George's in the East. In reply to my inquiry as to why he left us, he told me that, becoming unsettled, a curious little incident had finally upset his equilibrium. This was a disagreement with the senior assistant at St. George's, 'a clergyman named Lowder,' who complained to the rector that Mr. Collins had lighted two candles in the mission chapel of the parish! This was in the 'sixties. Henry Collins was the author of two well-known hymns, 'Jesu, my Lord, my God, my All,' and 'Jesu, meek and lowly.' These he wrote for the mission chapel; the then Bishop of London objected to them on the ground that they were "contrary to the spirit of the Book of Common Prayer," precisely as some bishops objected to certain hymns connected with the communion of saints in the English Hymnal when it was published in 1906. In both cases opposition soon died away.

Those who are disturbed by Protestant attacks on faith and practice can have no idea of what we had to endure in the 'seventies. Then no one had a good word for us and faithful priests toiled on, often in the slums of our great cities, marked down for every species of obloquy. A powerful Prime Minister with, as we now know, the active support of the Sovereign, embarked on the task of 'putting down Ritualism.' Few bishops refused to join in the hue and cry and the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed in 1874.1 remember that at this moment the vestments were adopted at St. Barnabas, Pimlico, and Punch, which openly supported the Protestant cause, made a joke--what a pity it was to put on clothes which would so soon have to be taken off! A few years before, Dr. Magee, then Dean of Cork, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough and Archbishop of York, came on a visit from Ireland to our house in London. On Sunday morning he announced his intention of going to St. Alban's, Holborn, "to see what these fellows are doing." At luncheon he was asked what he had seen. Magee replied very gravely: "I have seen something that can never be put down." It appeared that having gone up to communicate he put out his hand in the old-fashioned manner to take the Blessed Sacrament between thumb and finger. Mackonochie, who was celebrating, carefully held the paten beneath the Dean's hand as he raised it to his mouth and the sincerity and reverence of the action had deeply impressed Magee. The first prosecution under the new Act was that of Mr. Tooth at St. James's, Hatcham. For several Sundays, I saw a howling mob collected outside the church and it was said that barrels of beer were broached for its consumption. Mr. Tooth went to prison and this prosecution really sealed the fate of the Act. What Disraeli called 'the mass in masquerade' had triumphed.

But though I must not linger over history that is fully dealt with in the subsequent pages of this book, a short account of the pious practices of the Sub-Tractarian epoch may prove of interest. The Tractarians seemed to have been fond of vows and this practice lingered on. Thomas Collins, brother of Henry and of Richard, the first Vicar of St. Saviour's, Leeds, was a well-known member of Parliament. He had the habit of making a vow at the beginning of every year to give up some article of food which he never touched again; one year it was oranges, another year it was partridges. I last saw him in 1883 at Lord Salisbury's house in Arlington Street, at the meeting called to decide upon the memorial to Dr. Pusey. He always spoke of 'going to mass' (generally at one of the Chapels Royal!): very unusual in those days; we generally spoke of a 'celebration.' Few churches had a daily mass, but pious people went to an early Matins and to the Litany on Fridays, or read the psalms and lessons for the day at home. One thing that even now I cannot get accustomed to, is to call an ordinary priest 'Father so-and-so.' The title of 'Father' was limited to religious, such as the Cowley Fathers, and to those bands of secular priests, living in community and recognized to be celibates, such as the famous four at St. Alban's, Holborn. All others were simply 'Mr.' and I believe this was also the custom amongst the older generation of Roman Catholics.

An outstanding event was the publication of Lux Mundi under the editorship of Charles Gore in 1889; this shattered the tradition of the Tractarians and marks the end of a period. Liddon, the pupil and biographer of Pusey, wrote: "Lux Mundi is a proclamation of revolt against the spirit and principles of Dr. Pusey and Mr. Keble" and gave it as one of his reasons for declining the bishopric of St. Alban's; its publication literally broke his heart and in a few months he passed to his rest. I had known Gore since 1881, when he was Vice-Principal of Cuddesdon, and his theological development was no surprise to me as it was to Liddon, who up to then had reposed complete confidence in Gore, as marked out by his intellectual ability to be the future leader of the successors of the Tractarians, and through whose influence he had been made Principal of Pusey House, Oxford. Gore was by nature a Liberal; Liberalism, and not the old Evangelicalism, was the enemy to the Tractarians. No one could have anything but the deepest respect for Charles Gore; besides his conspicuous piety, his detachment from the world and his great intellectual gifts, he was absolutely courageous; he would follow what he believed to be the truth to the end. He always seemed to me to be moving along the path which duty put before him without any clear idea of where that path would end; his writings give the impression of one thinking out loud and feeling his way step by step--all very different from the attitude of the Tractarians. He died in the communion of the Catholic Church and, as the foremost Anglican theologian of his day, wielded great influence in the Anglican Communion and even outside. I often wonder what would have happened to him had his lot been cast in the Communion of Rome.

What of the future of the great Oxford Movement of which we are the inheritors and of the Church to which we belong, the Church we are banded together to serve? We live in a stirring age and it seems impossible to forecast the future of anything, Churches, nations, enterprises; one can only give one's impressions and that with much diffidence. Protestantism, as a definite Christian movement, seems in rapid decay throughout the world, disintegrating into rationalism, for it has not the traditions of the Church to fall back upon and the New Criticism has discredited the old authority of the Bible. Eastern Orthodoxy is reeling from the results of the Great War, though if it be still true that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, a mighty harvest is being prepared for Russia. Romanism is by far the most vigorous religious body in the world to-day, the spiritual heir of the Roman Empire, 'its ghost sitting crowned amidst the ruins thereof has inherited its genius for organization and its authority and discipline, those conquering endowments, in a world which has largely abandoned both. ["The Fathers rightly gave the primacy to Rome, because it was the chief city." Palin and Caesar seem inextricably mixed up in the government and administration of the Roman Church. If it be said that this confusion is in accordance with the Divine Will I am prepared to go so far as to concede a 'perhaps.'] In the Church of England we have nothing to fear from the spent force of Protestantism, sporadic outbursts may give a little local trouble, but Protestantism has had its day. The English episcopate is no longer active in 'putting down Ritualism' and the 'mass in masquerade' has invaded our cathedrals and is slowly becoming the only service Englishmen think it worth while to attend. Our danger, as I see it, lies precisely in that Liberalism which the Tractarians feared and fought. To keep the Church of England together the most contrary elements are to have equal treatment; she is to be regarded, as Liddon used to say, as an interesting garden full of flower beds where each species is to be cultivated in a place by itself. If only we will acquiesce in treating the Virgin Birth or episcopal ordination, for instance, as open questions in the Church of England, we may be allowed eucharistic vestments or even Reservation; the successors of the Tractarians must answer firmly that come what may, even the destruction of the Church of England, our principles, entrusted to us by the Saints, are not for barter. For we belong to the Church above and we have a Master in Heaven who will one day come to be our Judge. The present interest in Christian re-union is very remarkable and calls for great thankfulness. But no re-union worth anything will be accomplished by forcing the pace--wise Archbishop Davidson knew this--by formulae meaning different things to the parties concerned or by slurring over fundamental differences.

The ball lies at our feet on two conditions, that we are united and that we are the supporters of discipline. I look back with regret to the times when we marched as one body, when the English Church Union was the only rallying point of our forces, under the incomparable leadership of Lord Halifax; I doubt whether we have gained much by the new organizations, though the Anglo-Catholic Congress has certainly raised great enthusiasm, especially among the young. As to discipline, up to the end of the last century the Book of Common Prayer was held in great esteem. The bishops could talk of 'our incomparable liturgy' and the High Church party followed their old Tractarian leaders in regarding the Prayer Book as a sheet-anchor of Catholicism. Whatever its liturgical shortcomings, it provided an adequate Court of Appeal on any question of theological controversy. Provided the ancient ceremonial were permitted, our clergy and congregations adhered surprisingly close to the text. Thus the Ten Commandments, that most irritating 'farcing' of the Kyries, were solemnly recited at every mass and the dislocation of the Canon was remedied by the ancient prayers being recited as the private devotions of the celebrant. Many such Altar books were issued following the earlier effort of The Priest to the Altar. I made a last attempt to promote loyalty to the Prayer Book in my evidence before the Royal Commission on Disorders in the Church, tendered at the private request of Archbishop Davidson (though he was not responsible for what I said), which may be read in the voluminous Report of the Commission. But the recommendations of the Commission altered the whole situation. Directly revision of the Prayer Book was put before the Church and Letters of Business were issued to deal with that revision, everybody began making experiments and all uniformity was lost. The rejection of the revised Prayer Book by the House of Commons accentuated the confusion and converted the episcopate itself into law breakers. [I found myself unable to vote for the Revised Prayer Book in the Church Assembly (though I had had some influence on it in the House of Laity and in the Joint Committee) because of its numerous concessions to Modernism, and, in particular, its treatment of the Athanasian Creed and the Psalter. The Tractarians would certainly have taken the same line. As to the 1928 office of Holy Communion, I do not share the objections to it. But I still think that the policy I urged in the Joint Committee, and urged alone, to adopt the mass of 1549 instead of trying to construct a new one would have been the wiser course in all the circumstances. I say this though I am quite sensible of Cranmer's liturgical lapse over the position of the epiclesis.] No longer could the ordination promise 'as this Church and Realm have received the same' have any intelligible meaning or be regarded as having any binding force. Here, again, if only we were united we should be the deciding factor in the Church's future. But up to now it has been proved impossible to get our priests to agree upon any one form of celebrating mass, to the perplexity of the faithful laity. Not by such methods shall we convert England.

And so I end the Introduction I have promised to this book. I have tried to set forth, briefly but faithfully, the history of the past sixty years and to estimate the gains we have made and the losses we have sustained. The future is in the hands of God and of His Holy Angels and Saints. Only let us be strong and very courageous and then we know that the Lord will provide.

Advent, 1932

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