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The Future of St. Augustine's.

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. II (No. XIV) (August, 1848, pages 41-46.)

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


THE last month witnessed the inauguration of one of those noble institutions which have ever been the glory of the Christian Church and the means of regeneration to apostate man. In the earlier and middle ages they grew up thickly and widely, became the centres of conversion and civilization, till, their work accomplished, they seemed to stand at last in the midst of established Christianity, as landmarks from whence the waters had retired, or monuments of past conquests,--and then fell into decay.

It is not our intention to repeat the circumstances which attended the consecration of the Missionary College of St. Augustine's--the concourse of the priesthood and of the laity--bishops from the sister-Churches of Scotland and Canada--the solemn dedication to God of the chapel by the select band who met with one accord, and shared the Eucharistic feast within its narrow limits--the associations of the place, burdened with the recollections and the traditions of 1200 years--the strong voice of the praying multitude in the Cathedral, which, resounding in the aisles, struck with such solemn and intense grandeur on the ear--all this has been related again and again; it has made St. Peter's Day, 1848, historic; we therefore pass it by, and yet, in passing, must indulge in one mental prayer, "Benedictus benedicat."

It were idle and intrusive to express our sympathy with this noble undertaking. It is an augury of the future no less than a sign of the present. And we would rather indulge in the thoughts which offer themselves under this twofold aspect of the College, and which seem most naturally to engage the mind now that the first ebullition of feeling has passed away.

It is a sign, then, of the present. Its very singleness, its being the first College set apart for the supply of our Foreign Missions, this [41/42] makes it, the more significant; for it indicates the "care which now at length hath flourished again" for the heathen world, and for our own expatriated fellow-Christians; it indicates this care recognised as a known and fixed duty by the Church, for the accomplishment of which it would make a special provision. It is thus an index of the religions movement and progress of the times. Again, in the very way in which the foundation of the College has been provided, it is full of import; for it is chiefly due to the munificence of one man. We witness once again amongst us the founder of an institution for the service of God; we see the responsibility of large possessions acknowledged; and while the nation, or individuals, are squandering twenty times the amount in raising places for the trafficking of merchants, for the contests of politics, for the cumbrous magnificence of royalty, or the family pride of a noble, we here find wealth which might have been, unblamably by the world, given to some such vain and perishable purpose, dedicated to Christ and His Church, and the salvation of human kind; and we hail the sign with thankfulness.

But further, and above all, we discern herein a token for good in the circumstance, that we witness in this institution not so much an original and new foundation, as a revival of one which before existed for the same object. It is said that history affords no example of a powerful nation, when once it has lost its national spirit, being again regenerated to its former life and greatness: it is said that when once a Church has allowed its faith to be extinguished, or to die out, history records no instance of its light being again rekindled. But here is a revival of the past, a renewal of that spirit of faith which recovered England from a lapsing state in early ages. That spirit lives; it rises from the ashes of antiquity; it burns with a fresh flame and light; it teaches our country what benefit heathen England once received, and what a debt Christian England now owes; it identifies itself with past deeds of heroism, and becomes itself the augury of future destinies. And as the Jews who laboured at the restoration of their fallen temple--fallen for its idolatry and sin--witnessed the completion of their work with fond recollection, mixed with grateful joy, so may we thankfully hail the renewed blessing of God upon us, shown in His permitting this offering of faith to be presented to Him; and we may humbly trust that He has in store for it a destiny and a glory exceeding all that attended any former structure which occupied the site of this old nursery of evangelists.

But we discern in this institution also an augury for the future. In the future, indeed, lies all its history; but what will that future be? We are standing, as it were, by the [42/43] cradle of its fresh birth, and are naturally tempted to picture to ourselves the character of its existence, and to anticipate the influence and blessings which it may be the means of dispensing. Yet from the expression of hopes or expectations such as these we deem it wise to abstain; they should rather take at present the form of aspirations. Still, the course it has to run will be shaped in large measure by the specific objects and views which shall be set before it; and on these, which are matters of practical judgment and forethought, we may, perhaps, without presumption, form and express our anticipations.

It cannot be denied that the field presented to the labours of such an institution is large and varied; more large, and more varied, than any which ever yet lay before a similar foundation. The Missions of England are directed towards the pastoral wants of our Colonies, the vast systems of heathenism in the Eastern empires, and the barbarous idolatries of islanders and Africans. We need labourers for all--labourers fit, and trained, and numerous. The question then arises, Whether any one institution can supply men fitted for these different departments of labour; whether it can comprise a course of studies and pursuits sufficiently wide, and influences for the formation of character sufficiently various, to qualify men for duties requiring such diversity of tempers, habits, and attainments? We apprehend that this question must be answered in the negative; that, if the institution is to be effective, its object must be limited, and that one portion of the wide field that is presented must be selected for its special culture, and for the concentration of its efforts.

It can scarcely be needful to mention, how this principle of divisional labour, and specific preparation for it, is observed in the organized system of Rome; how special instruments are provided for special service, whether that service lie at home or abroad, among christianized or heathen people, each sphere of action being almost allotted to its own Society, and having its appropriate seminary.

Since then it will probably be found needful to confine within certain limits the objects of the College, and to fix a point and direction to its labours,--and since, upon a general view, the supply either of Clergy for our Suffragan Churches in the Colonies, or of Missionaries for the heathen, seems to offer the alternatives for our selection, we conceive that the very circumstances of the case indicate how that selection must be made.

For it seems to us that everything conspires to claim for St. Augustine's a new and peculiar character. It is not a common foundation. It is inaugurated with no common wishes and prayers. It is raised for a special work. Its appliances [43/44] for learning, its arrangements, and the discipline contemplated thereby--its very locality, apart from our ordinary Colleges, under the shadow of the Metropolitan Cathedral, as though it were a fresh offset from the very centre of the English Church; the recollections and prestige with which it is encompassed--all seem to demand that it have its special purpose and character, and to forbid its settling down into a common theological seminary. But this it would become, were it to be thought that a mere undistinguishing preparation for the priestly office, such as is required to supplement the Church either at home or in our Colonies, fulfilled the object for which it has been founded. Much as we value an institution set apart for the training of poorer scholars for the ministrations of the altar, and appreciate the dignity of such an office, still it seems to us to fall short of the calling reserved to such a College as this, and scarcely to come up to its elaborate construction and the influence of its name.

But, besides this, other circumstances seem to withdraw it from such a destination. The testimony of our Colonial Bishops, while it presses upon our notice that our second-rate men are not such as they require in their Dioceses, assures us, too, with increasing unanimity, that they can themselves provide, better than we can, men fitted for their less prominent and important posts. Among the children of the Colonists, and in their own Theological Seminaries, they can rear, under their own eye, men competently instructed for their work, having the advantage, too, of an acquaintance with the feelings and customs of the inhabitants. And if a few men are needed from the mother-country--men of high attainments, and cultivated intellect, and wide ecclesiastical experience, to infuse a higher tone in their institutions, or occupy the more responsible stations, such as these may be better found among the members of our Universities than they can be furnished in any school of more confined or special training. For labourers such as these, rarely needed and already provided, it would seem ill-suited that St. Augustine's should sacrifice any of its specific character and toil.

We are led, then, to turn our minds from our Colonial empire to another sphere, as the appropriate and destined scene of action for this new-born College. And looking to the heathen world, what an ample field unfolds itself, worthy of its high purpose and the devotion of its capabilities. We are met at once by the two-fold aspect of Paganism, as it is presented in the ancient and philosophical mythologies of the East, or in the uncivilized idolatries of Africa or Polynesia. We see room for the devotion of every kind of individual gift and capacity, and a necessity that to the development of these a special system [44/45] of instruction be applied. It would draw us too much into detail, and away from the simple thought we have before us, were we to venture on the details of such a topic as is presented in the various qualifications which the task of evangelizing the heathen world demands. While, on the one hand, there is much training that is common to all who shall be called and shall dedicate themselves to these apostolic labours,--much therefore which can be imparted under one system, such as the acquisition of some foreign tongues, acquaintance with some of the practical sciences or manual arts, and, above all, the hardihood of habits, the self-denial, the ardour, and piety with which all must be alike armed; yet, on the other hand, there are attainments of a special sort, mental culture of a higher order, a wider range of learning, and dialectic skill of more than common power, which will be needed in those who shall be fitted to maintain anything like a successful conflict with the intricate systems of Brahmanism or Buddism, the subtle morality of Confucius, or the mystical philosophy of Lao-tze.

We perceive, then, in labours such as these, not merely room for the devotion of all the resources which any one institution may possess, but the necessity of a line of training which will impress upon it its own stamp and peculiar character. If St. Augustine's at all discharge its great purpose, if it at all satisfy the strong wishes and prayers of those who witnessed its dedication to Christ, it cannot be that it should sink into an ordinary theological college. Not merely in the peculiarity and variety of its studies, but in the moral culture of its inmates, in the rule of life observed, in the discipline and tone of thought encouraged, we look for its distinctive eminence, and for the influence which it shall spread abroad even amongst ourselves. A standard of piety and holiness will be set within its walls, which has not commonly belonged to kindred institutions; a new spirit will have to be fostered, and men of a new stamp reared. To effect this, the whole imagination and feeling of the place should be directed to its one object, and be undistracted, till it grow into an enthusiasm, and create the temper it needs. And strongly do we feel to how responsible and difficult a task they are called, who are, or who shall be, set to superintend the early growth of this Institution. They have in their own Church no model on which they may form it, no traditions to guide and sustain them; the first impress is to be given; and much do they need, and should receive, the sympathy and the prayers of the Church in their behalf.

With such feelings as these, then, we venture to forecast the future of St. Augustine's. It is no unworthy, no inappropriate sphere that is allotted to it, when the imagination assigns to it the [45/46] heathen as its portion, and specially the heathen of the oriental superstitions. Nor can we help anticipating the time when, as many a Saxon convert was once gathered within its walls, and, after a dedication to God, was sent forth to win back our forefathers from their fierce idolatries, so again, from across the ocean and from lands then, little dreamt of, converts from China or India; Borneo or Siam, may be received into this asylum, and, when their early faith has been disciplined and matured, then be consecrated as the servants of Christ, and return to their torrid lands charged with the conversion of their brethren.

But we must draw to a close. And in turning once again from the future, on which we have ventured to cast an anticipative look, to the present, the feeling of thankfulness recurs for the Divine favour which has brought this great project to its completion, and we again repeat the prayer which has throughout been on our minds, BENEDICTUS BENEDICAT.

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