Project Canterbury

India and Oxford
Fifty Years of the Oxford Mission to Calcutta

London: SPCK, [n.d., but 1933]

Chapter VII. Conclusion

This brief outline of the principles which have underlain the methods and work of the Oxford Mission for more than half a century, together with a sketch of its present activities, goes forth at a critical turning-point in the history of a fascinating land. Deep and wide have been the changes that have taken place since the first members of the Mission landed in Calcutta in 1880. It has become commonplace knowledge that the East, so far from being unchanging, has, in these latter days, changed perhaps even more profoundly than the West. In India a congeries of peoples racially and linguistically distinct, and of civilizations at widely differing stages, has been knit together gradually into something approaching political unity. Deeply divided socially and religiously as are the two main sections of the huge population, they are wholly at one in the demand that henceforth Mother India shall be mistress in her own house, that her own children shall manage her affairs, and as far as may be control her destiny.

This is not the place to recount once again the oft-told tale of the forces and the contacts which have worked this revolution. It must suffice just to note that the proclamation of the Christian faith has contributed largely to the evoking of a new sense of the value of human personality among the Indian peoples, from the outcaste to the Brahman, and from that consciousness has sprung in part the fervent desire for political power and independence. If Christianity had been unknown in India, the demand for self-government would assuredly have been clamorously urged, but it would have been confined to a comparatively small section of the multitudes of the land. To-day it is no longer so confined.

The granting of a new Constitution to India is close at hand. The direction of affairs, both provincial and imperial, will soon be almost wholly in the hands of Indians. A task which the most experienced of statesmen might well tremble to undertake will be laid upon men whose political experience has been very largely confined to the criticism of those whom they were unable to dismiss. The task is rendered the more difficult because, united as are most Indians in their demand for self-rule, there is not only that deep and jealous antagonism between Muslim and Hindu which has been noted above, but in both these communities there is an obstinately divisive spirit which splits them into contentious factions and self-seeking sects. In Hinduism, through long centuries, caste has been the matrix of this disintegrating force. In Islam one would not have expected to find it rife and vigorous, but it is scarcely less powerful in the Indian followers of Mohammed. Thus far it must sadly be acknowledged that a common hatred has alone been able temporarily to unite Hindu and Muslim; but hatred once let loose is like a pestilential germ which, ever multiplying itself, seeks fresh victims to destroy. So in these latter days has it been in India. The new Provincial Governments as well as the Central Government must be formed from every section of those who now regard one another with suspicious and hostile eyes.

Is it not, then, obvious that India can only become equal to this stupendous task as she becomes more and more leavened with the Christian spirit? If this be so, is it not also obvious that the consummation of Britain's political work is a fresh and urgent call to the Church to increase her spiritual forces in India, to send forth her sons and daughters in still larger numbers, to be centres from which the love of God in Christ, incarnate, sacrificed, alive for evermore, may radiate in the land, overcoming little by little the virus of hate, and infecting anew the hearts of great and small with that spirit in which alone Governments can rule impartially for the good of all?

The previous chapters will have been written in vain unless they have demonstrated that one at any rate of the more effective modes of leavening India with Christianity has been found by experience to be that of Religious communities living simple lives of worship and service in the midst of the multitudes of Hindus and Muslims. From its foundation a corporate life has been essential to the very existence of the Oxford Mission. Its basic principle has been expressed by the "two or three gathered together" in Christ's Name for prayer and study and work in India. As in the Brotherhood, so in the Sisterhood, the life takes precedence of the work; but as all life must propagate itself or cease to be, the life of friendship with God necessarily manifests itself in the life of friendship with men. "If God so befriended us, we ought also to befriend one another." A life of prayer in India means a life of service. The closest contact with the people could alone show what forms that service should take, and as the years have passed, experience has led the Fathers and Sisters to adopt varying forms of ministration as opportunity offered, such as have been simply described in the preceding chapters of this book. They have included in the scope of their service "the weak things," "the base things," "things which are despised"--in the estimate of orthodox Hinduism, that is--but never have they lost sight of their main objective, which is to extend the Kingdom of God among the educated classes of India. [For instance, the first of the Namasudras, a community reckoned as "untouchable," though this has never in Bengal carried the same disabilities as in other parts of India, to take the medical degree of Bachelor of Medicine and be appointed to the Government Medical Service lived under the care of the Mission in the Hostel of St. Luke.]

It may be confidently anticipated that under the new political constitution the opportunities of befriending Indians, of guiding them, of drawing them into the Kingdom, will be greater and not less than before. Great as they have been in the half-century which has gone, they will be greater in that which is to come. But men and women ready to give their lives to the peoples of India are sorely needed, not only to take the places of those who have passed upwards to their rest, and of those who after more than thirty and even forty years of service find their natural force abated, but also in larger numbers to consolidate and enlarge the work for which the Mission is directly responsible at this day.

Inscribed on the Roll of Honour in the Liddon Memorial Chapel in the Mother House are the names of Edward Willis, Marsham Argles, Philip Smith, Charles Walker, Horace Conway and Ernest Brown, priests, with the lay-brothers Oswald Lloyd and Raymond Wilson. In the fifty-third year of his life of prayer and service in India, almost on the eve of entering his eightieth year, Ernest Brown fell on sleep. Probably never in the history of the great city of Calcutta has an Englishman been so sincerely and widely mourned by every rank and caste and creed. This son of Charterhouse and Oxford, both of which he deeply loved, was the chum and playmate of student and gamin, of high caste and low caste, of outcaste and beggar, of garriwalla and even of goonda. [Cab-driver. Professional ruffian who can be hired to commit assault and even murder.] "Calcutta is not Calcutta without him," said a Hindu Advocate. On the day following his death the Hindu Mayor of the city, in population the second city of the Empire, a Swarajist leader, asked the Hindu and Muslim Councillors of the Corporation to stand awhile in silence in honour of him whom he described as "everybody's friend." All unknowing, he had recalled the phrase sometimes found in the catacombs on the memorials of those who had proved themselves to be Christians indeed: Pantwn filoV. Such indeed, was Ernest Brown, "a friend of all," a missionary of the missionaries.

If ever there was a characteristic fruit of the Tractarian and Oxford Movement, he was one. Born twenty-one years after the famous Assize Sermon was preached by John Keble, he was among the first to volunteer to take part in that which was one of the two first-fruits of the Movement in the Foreign Mission-field, the Oxford Mission to Calcutta. He was in the first small party which arrived in Calcutta nearly fifty-three years ago. As he loved his University, so he believed in her and trusted her. When it had almost seemed to her all too few representatives in the Mission that she had forgotten the Indian adventure which bore her name, his optimism never failed; sooner or later Oxford would send out an adequate supply of men. Of that he was confident. It could not be that Oxford would abandon what was for her in particular the first-fruits of the Oxford Movement in the Mission-field. Now that he has passed, after nearly fifty-three years of fidelity to his call, surely his life calls urgently and insistently for other lives to follow his: "Let me not be disappointed of my hope."

This little book is published not only at a critical turning-point in the history of India, but also in the year of the celebration of the Centenary of the Oxford Movement. Could there be a better fruit of that Celebration than a new outburst of missionary enthusiasm and of missionary sacrifice?

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