Project Canterbury

The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter XVII. The Calcutta Episcopate

Bishop Lefroy was enthroned as Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan on Feb. 20, 1913, in his cathedral. A few days previously he had received an address at Delhi from old students of St. Stephen's College. Two sentences must be quoted: "It seems to us quite in the fitness of things that with the rise of our city to a position of pre-eminence in India, one who in the past deservedly ranked among its most worthy citizens should be called to the headship of the Anglican Church in India. . . . We pray that God may give you grace to act not only as one of the peacemakers between the various races in this country, but also that through you the deepest and most wholesome influences of English life may flow into the life of India." The Bishop, in reply, said he stood absolutely and unhesitatingly for the policy of higher education in India. Ere he concluded he referred "to the foul deed of shame which had been committed not long ago in their midst." They hung their heads with shame, especially when they remembered how Lord Hardinge had identified himself with the policy of trusting the people. On leaving Lahore it had been determined that one of the towers of the cathedral just being built, should be given the name of "Lefroy," and that choir stalls should also be part of the memorial.

George Lefroy had now come to the third and last phase of his ministerial life. He came with a stricken body but with a spirit unconquered, a wonderful example of pluck, and all from a sense of Christian devotion. No letter of his has a querulous note. All the same it is possible to suppose that he might have done an even greater work than he actually accomplished, good as it was, had he been sound in limb. I think I will insert here an appreciation of him given in 1919 by one of his leading Calcutta clergy. Let it stand in the forefront as he enters Calcutta life.

"Oxford Mission House,
"42, Cornwallis Street,
"Calcutta: "May 13, 1919.

"If his physical strength had been equal to his endowment of mind and spirit he would have been almost an ideal bishop. His deep and earnest piety, his charming courtesy, and his great administrative ability combined to make him so, and he gave such a stimulus to the work of the diocese as, in my experience of nearly forty years, it has never known. He had width of outlook as well as careful attention to detail. He did not profess to be a student or a scholar, but with the greatest humility he would take the opinions of those who were. Perhaps he relied rather too much on external advice, but his decisions when they came were firm, definite and clear. He was a most indefatigable worker to the utmost limit of his strength and then beyond it, but he never allowed himself to become absorbed in routine, and with him the human element was always uppermost. I never once knew him the least bit ruffled in temper. More than once he had to meet attacks that were both violent and unfair, but he met them with complete serenity and robbed them of their sting by recognising the element--a very small one--of justice which they contained. He always saw the best in them, and by giving them full credit for it he lifted them up to higher levels His chief work in this diocese was the care he took in preparing it for Synodical Government, a task whiqh involved an immense amount of laborious detail. My chief regret is that he did not come to Calcutta in the fullness of his powers and give it three or four times the number of years which he was allowed to spend here. The position of a Metropolitan See is unfortunate in this way: it so often receives a bishop whose best work has been done elsewhere.

The transfer from Lahore to Calcutta was almost as great a change of sphere as for the Delhi evangelist to go to the See of the Punjab. Lahore was in a sense a new diocese, largely missionary. The overwhelming number of the European population consisted of the army. The Bishop there had a very free hand creating precedents and realising his own (ideals of work: traditions were few. Calcutta is much more like an English diocese in the sense that the Church system in it dates back to the eighteenth [century, when there were Presidency Chaplains and State-aided Vestries, and long before Bishops were heard of; there are numberless traditions and many vested interests. The chaplains are numerous, and one who was pre-eminently a missionary bishop with a strong character and a way of expressing precisely what he meant in unmistakable language might well create alarm among members accustomed to a morej conservative Church life. There is no doubt, indeed, that the coming of Lefroy did create apprehension among a certain number, though it was short-lived. Looking back upon his coming and referring to the fear of some, another of his leading clergy, and one who was to become his right hand and a very dear colleague, says, "The hard George Alfred never came, but a great heart yearning for love and, I am afraid, rather too anxious to bestow that love on persons who would abuse it. We were prepared to receive 'a great administrator,' some one very efficient, who captured a Secretary of State, but instead came a man who, if great was perhaps the humblest and kindest person we had ever met with. To have seen the tears from those brilliant Irish eyes running down over the story of a priest's shame, and to know how little emotion was the note of his temperament, was indeed a memory. It was also found that no man was so ready to devolve responsiblity upon others and then to leave them as free as possible, without interference. Not otherwise could he have accomplished a tithe of what he did."

But to return to the contrasted spheres of Lahore and Calcutta. The former city was one centre among many in the Punjab. The cathedral, so to speak, dominated nothing. The districts were as strongly manned and their representatives came almost as equals to the centre. The Diocese of Calcutta means the City of Calcutta, that is, the centre dominates everything, much as London stands out in Middlesex. Moreover, it is a city of old-established business firms with their centres very largely in London, conservative, largely Scotch Presbyterian. The tone of the wealthy was undenominational in a sense; generous, but in the direction of general beneficence, not yearning for very definite Churchmanship, and perhaps suspicious of a Bishop who was known to be striving for self-government, assessment for funds, and all by "consensual compact." But their new Metropolitan was so human a person, so full of fun in spite of his pain, so appreciative of others' opinions, that he conquered Calcutta.

One more point may be made at once. The duties of a Metropolitan had been growing continually. It had become increasingly difficult to visit the whole diocese. The position would have been overwhelming had not Bishop Copleston prepared the way, and most generously, for a Diocese of Assam. Of this I will speak again. But it was evident that another division must in due course be made, a diocese with Patna as its centre. Patna, an unequalled evangelistic centre, the Headquarters of a Provincial Government, a Civil Division, with a University and a High Court. The new Metropolitan saw Assam set on its way: he died before the Patna scheme took shape.

In 19l4 the Metropolitan visited England. The following letter will show that he desired to use any means to regain physical strength. In Calcutta in due time, as will be seen, he submitted to "anointing" for healing.

"Trinity Lodge, Cambridge:
"St. Luke's Day, 1914.

"Do you remember Miss Hort writing and suggesting to me that I should go to Mr. Hickson, the Faith Healer? I do not remember whether I said anything about it to you in Killiney, but the matter stayed in my mind, and after a good deal of thought and prayer I decided to go to him. I have been three times and hope to go twice more. I will try to tell you more about him and his methods some time. All I will say now is that he has a band of, I believe, really earnest and good people who make regular intercession for those who are being treated by him, and the desire to secure their help was one of the things that weighed much with me in deciding to go to him. That must be to the good, whatever other forms of treatment one may try."

He returned to India and on December 27 in that year with characteristic courage he faced the question of the Christmas message in relation to Germany and the war, recognising no doubt that he would lay himself open to misconstruction at such a time. Controversy arose at once both in India and in England and in Belgium, and it is necessary to quote a few extracts from his sermons and letters in order to give his views. (December 27, 1914, in the cathedral.) He asks, "Is not this war evidencing the bankruptcy and failure of Christianity? ... If Christianity has not been tried as the basis of international relationships, in what sense can it be said to have failed?" He criticises the Press. "I am bound to say, and I know that in saying it I express the feelings of many besides myself, that I deplore intensely much of the tone of our Press, more especially of the comic papers, in dealing with this great tragedy. Am I not right in saying that the attitude of the Press, broadly speaking, may be summed up as twofold, either breathing out simply a spirit of bitter vengeance, of desire for the uttermost defeat and humiliation to the dust of our enemies, or in the case of the comic papers, indulging continually in taunt, ridicule and sneer?" Then he speaks of the magnificent contribution Germany made (before she became infected by the deadly virus of philosophy and teaching, etc.) in every department of civilisation.

Then he guards himself. "To prevent the misunderstanding to which the preacher is constantly liable, I want just to say that there is not a man in this cathedral who believes more absolutely than I do myself that this fight must be fought through to a finish and that the terrible spirit of Prussian Militarism must be utterly broken. But what I ask is that we should remember that this is only one part of the process, a step towards the end, that end being the recovery of a true and lasting peace on the basis of rightful and mutually self-respecting international relationships."

Only extracts of the sermon were telegraphed home, and the Bishop writes, "I agree as to the unsatisfactoriness of the hostile criticism of my sermon which has appeared, but it needs to be remembered that, so far as I know, the whole sermon has not appeared anywhere at home, only that one extract: so that was all the critics had to go by."

On January 2, 1915, he returned to the subject on the "Day of Intercession." After referring to the difficulty of praying for one's enemies, and while wishing to be fair to the enemy, he said, "It was of no use shutting their eyes to facts. They could only get a sane and balanced judgment in this matter by looking at the facts on all sides, the ugly as well as the pleasant. It was on account of that German teaching and of its effects that they were justified in saying that the issues involved were quite definitely moral, religious, and spiritual ones." In the same month the Bishop lectured to the public on "The Message of Christ to the Modern World." One extract is all I can give. "Can it be right, can it be Christ's will and teaching that man should fight? Most of them would answer the question in the negative. But was there anything He hated more than fighting? Was there anything more intolerable to Him than this resort to force? He believed there was, and illustrated his contention by drawing a picture of a big bully ill-treating a helpless child. Was force never justified?" In writing home he says, "I had to lecture on 'Christianity and the War' to a number of educated Hindus, and I felt the responsibility and difficulty very much. The terms are so incongruous, and the incongruity seems so much greater to them than to us. However, it went off well. There was a crowded hall, about 700 apparently, and they remained remarkably still and attentive while I talked for just about an hour."

In August, 1916, the Metropolitan preached in the cathedral on "The Forgiveness of Enemies." "I want to try to give guidance on one point, namely, the duty of forgiving our enemies and the injunction so often given in the words of Christ Himself to pray for them. I suppose there can be no question whatever that this duty presents to many people the greatest difficulty of all at the present time. In the service which was held in this church on the 4th instant, while the responses in most parts of the service were distinctly good, I could not help noticing a falling off at this point." He then refers to the Lord's Prayer, and to the warning, "if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." "The fact that no such warning is attached to any of the other petitions shows not only how much importance He laid on this point, but also how conscious He was of the great difficulties men would find in obeying the injunction. ... It is, I know, often thought that when we urge the duty of forgiving the Germans we mean that as things are, the Germans still persisting in their hideous wickedness . . . men ought to ignore all this, to pretend that things are otherwise, and to say that they forgive them. . . . This you entirely refuse, and 'such refusal is entirely justified. . . . The point to get clear is that God's own forgiveness which is offered as the pattern of ours is never an unconditional forgiveness which takes effect irrespective of the moral condition of the offender, regardless of whether there is in him any real sorrow for his sin." He points out that the Absolution in the Prayer-book is for those "being penitent." But he also warns as follows: "If we do not desire to secure that change in the Germans which will make forgiveness possible, if we are not prepared to strive for this by whatever means may be in our power, prayer obviously being one of them, then we are cutting ourselves off from the possibility of Divine forgiveness and showing that there is not in us that temper upon which it can take effect."

In connection with the Metropolitan's attitude towards the war, two more facts must be mentioned. In September, 1916, he presided at the 81st commemoration of Founder's Day at La Martiniere's College and animadverted upon the fact that the Anglo-Indian (formerly called Eurasian) community in Calcutta had not been able to contribute 240 men to the Battalion specially to be recruited. "I know how much there is to be said in the matter by way of explaining the poor response. I mean that before the Battalion was sanctioned by the Government a large number of young men and boys of the community, probably in many cases the pick of it, had already volunteered. . . . But no one will question that it is rather in nature of an excuse for the response not having been what was hoped. It would be quite impossible to exaggerate the influence on the future of this country if the instant the fresh call had come its leaders had sprung up and said, 'At last our chance has come, the very chance we have always asked for, to prove our grit.'" It is interesting to know that one of the papers in Calcutta considered that the Bishop was hard upon the community; that a good many had offered but had been rejected from lack of stamina, but not of willingness.

Another public utterance was in regard to the War Loan. One of the Calcutta papers asked him for a message. He sent one, but writes in a letter, "I wonder whether you will think its sentiments quite in place for me." Those sentiments are very clear. "We all recognise the immensity of the issues.. . they are not in the deepest and truest sense material issues but spiritual ones, touching the very roots of human life and of all that makes life worth living. . . . Let there then at this time be no slackers, no shirkers, but let each one do his bit worthily for King and Country, for God and the Right."

Bishop's College

Early in his Calcutta Episcopate the Metropolitan also faced the problem of Bishop's College. That famous college, perhaps the best endowed in India, founded in 1819, and magnificently placed, has been in the eyes of many in the past an inexplicable failure compared with the hopes entertained of its place in the Christian life of India. Nor can any blame be attached to any one in particular. Probably every Bishop of Calcutta has held some such view as I have expressed. In 1914 the new Metropolitan had interviews with the Committee of S.P.G. when he was at home, and found himself in agreement with the Society when he proposed drastic action, and an attempt to go back to the original intention of the College, making it a wholly Christian institution and for the purpose of giving advanced theological instruction in English to candidates for Holy Orders from all parts of India.

In order to effect this it was thought best to start afresh with an absolutely new staff, although this meant parting with one of the most respected and high-minded of Principals, the Rev. R. Gee, who was also the son-in-law of Bishop Copleston, the late Metropolitan. It was solely on the general principle to be adopted as wisest that Bishop Lefroy could bring himself to advocate such a step, not only in reference to his great friend the Principal, but also of the existing staff. A three years' course was adopted. The Rev. Norman Tubbs, Principal of St. John's (CM.S.) College, Agra, was made the first Principal under the new regime, and the Rev. R. L. Pelly, Vice-Principal. On July 17, 1917, the College reopened, after having been closed for a few months. It may also be mentioned that at one time it was even advocated that Bishop's College should be moved away from Calcutta altogether, the site sold, and a new building erected in some healthy and more retired spot, such, for example, as in the Diocese of Chota Nagpur. But wiser counsels prevailed, and the splendid, and now historic, site has been retained. The College opened with twenty students, who hailed from regions such as Burma, Tinnevelly, Travancore, Madras, Chota Nagpur, Nagpur, Lucknow, and the Punjab, and soon included two Syrian Malabari Christians.

As with Bishop's College, so with the education and advancement of the Anglo-Indian community, Lefroy, in spite of growing physical infirmity, pressed on every endeavour made on behalf of a class which has of late years been neglected by the Church of England as compared with the efforts made for them by other denominations. The "Church Education League" received his warmest support in its endeavour to give a Church of England education to the Church of England children. A few figures will show how important the work of the League is, especially in connection with Anglo-Indians. The S.P.G. has always supported their claims at home, and of late years the Indian Church Aid Association, with Mr. H. Skipton as Secretary, has been foremost in publishing facts and soliciting and obtaining help.

The following figures refer to Bengal alone. The Roman Church has of late years been prominent in this educational field, and in 1912 there were in their Bengal schools for Europeans and Anglo-Indians, 4852 pupils; in Anglican schools, 1412; in other schools, 2630. In the report of Mr. L. S. S. O'Malley of the Census of the city in Calcutta, he says, "The term Anglo-Indian is used under the orders of the Government of India for those persons of mixed descent who have hitherto been designated Eurasians. Among them the representation of the Church of England and of the Church of Rome is exactly the reverse of what it is among the Europeans: for 8350 Anglo-Indians (or nearly two-thirds) are Roman Catholics, while 4791 (or one-third) are Anglicans." But the next paragraph is worthy of the sympathetic attention of Churchmen who shrink from the stigma that the Church of England is careless of her own members. Mr. O'Malley says, "The figures (given above) are very different from those returned in 1901. The Roman Catholics (in 1911) being more numerous by 1240, while the Anglicans have sustained a loss of 1229." The figures give good reason for the belief that the Church of Rome is steadily gaining ground, whereas the Church of England is losing its hold on the domiciled community. Proportionately the number belonging to the Church of Rome has increased by 17 per cent., while the Church of England has lost 20 per cent. Only 1036 belong to other denominations. Whilst 447 per cent, of the European and Eurasian population belong to the Church of England, only 158 per cent, of the children are in Anglican schools. The S.P.G. and the Indian Church Aid Association have requested the Indian Bishops to place before them a scheme which may cover India, and one of the last letters Lefroy ever wrote to Bishop Montgomery as Secretary of the S.P.G. is an answer to that request, as follows:--

"The Palace, Calcutta: September 1, 1916.

"My dear Bishop,

"Thank you very much indeed for your letter of July 21, re the Anglo-Indian community. It is splendid and stimulating to a degree to see that even in days like these, and in spite of the distinctly discouraging way, to say the least of it, in which earlier communications on the subject have been met, the old Society can return to the charge with such keenness and hopefulness. It is a lesson for all of us and will not, I hope and believe, be lost. I have circulated copies of your letter and the papers you sent, to all the Bishops, as well as to some chaplains and good educationalists in this Diocese, asking them for practical suggestions, and I think I can at any rate promise that your offer will not be ignored this time, but that a genuine effort will be made to deal with the question in a spirit like your own. I need not assure you that the problem has been constantly engaging, for years past, many of the best wits out here, and no at all adequate remedy for the difficulties at present besetting the community has been found, though you must not for a moment think that by this I mean that nothing whatever is being done. More than one genuinely successful attempt to improve matters at one point or another is being made, though I have not time to speak of them now. I have little doubt myself that P. strikes the right note when he suggests a Teaching Brotherhood as the most urgent need of all, and I quite believe there would be a general concurrence of experts in this view, but then we are at once faced with the fact that at the present time men are above all else difficult to come by.

"We will, however, not fail to seek the guidance and strength which are available and sufficient for every need."

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