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Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter III. The First Bishops

IN our last chapter we visited an old church in Calcutta, and its history took us back to the beginnings of missionary work in Bengal. Let us now visit another sacred building in the same city--the cathedral. On inquiry we find that it was built by the fifth Bishop of Calcutta, Daniel Wilson, who gave £20,000 out of his own pocket towards its cost and endowment; and we see on his memorial tablet the inscription directed in his will, the publican's prayer: O QeoV ilasqhti moi tw amartwlw, literally, "God, be propitiated to me the sinner."

It may be that we are invited to look in at a certain ecclesiastical meeting being held hard by. We enter, and find thirteen Bishops sitting--the Episcopal Council of the Province of India and Ceylon; and, in the chair, the Metropolitan, the eleventh Bishop of Calcutta. That is a clear evidence of an advanced state of Church life, a great contrast to the position, little more than a century ago, depicted in our last chapter. How and when came the first Bishop? and who was he? and what of his successors?

We have seen how in the days of George III. it was the way of many English people to expect the State to direct the work of the Church. Yet they had small encouragement for such an expectation. For 200 years England was extending its possessions and its commerce abroad, and providing a few, a very few, clergy to minister to its sailors and soldiers and consuls and merchants; and all that time there was not a single Bishop to guide and govern their work. Was that the Church's fault? Archbishop Laud began moving in 1634, and obtained from Charles I. an Order in Council extending the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London to all clergy and congregations abroad; but his efforts, and those of later Archbishops, failed to get a Bishop consecrated, even for the growing American Colonies. The S.P.G., from the very year of its foundation, appealed again and again to the Government, but in vain. Bishop Sherlock, in 1751, remarked that "for a Bishop to live at one end of the world and his Church at another must make the office very uncomfortable to the Bishop and useless to the people." [Two Hundred Years of S.P.G., p. 743. The accounts there given of the appeals and their failure are quite pathetic. See also Hist. C.M.S., Vol. L, p. 404.] It involved, for one thing, that every candidate for holy orders in the American Colonies had to take what was then a dangerous voyage to England to be ordained, and of those who sailed one in five perished at sea.

Not till 1784 did the Church in the United States (as the Colonies had then become) obtain its first Bishop from the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was in the same year that John Wesley, despairing of the English Church ever sending Bishops to America, took the bold step of "setting apart by the imposition of hands Thomas Coke to superintend the flock of Christ"; which step in its issues led to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, now so vigorous and influential in America. That Church has now the largest missionary organization in India, a significant fact, suggesting the loss sustained by the Anglican Communion through the too complete subjection of the English Church to the State in those old days.

At last, in 1787, the English Church got leave from the State to send its first two Colonial Bishops to Canada. India had yet to wait twenty-seven years more. Then the agitation before referred to, which led to the opening of India to missionaries, was also directed to the foundation of the See of Calcutta. Claudius Buchanan was commissioned by the still young and unrecognized C.M.S. to write pamphlets for both objects, and these were circulated all over the country. The clause providing for the appointment of a Bishop and three archdeacons was not seriously opposed in Parliament, though the usual objection was raised that the time was "not opportune" (when is the time ever opportune for a good reform?); and the Bill received the royal assent on July 21, 1813.

The new diocese was to comprise all India and Ceylon, and--Australia! The clergyman chosen for this impossible sphere was Archdeacon Middleton, Vicar of St. Pancras, the very man who had just given so warm a send-off to Jacobi, the S.P.C.K.'s latest recruit from Lutheran Germany, as before mentioned; a man, therefore, already interested in Missions in India. He was consecrated on May 8, 1814, in Lambeth Palace Chapel. At a farewell meeting at the S.P.C.K. house, Bishop Law of Chester expressed a hope that the new Episcopate would "stop the wild progress of enthusiasm and spread uncorrupted Christianity." "Enthusiasm" in those days was a recognized phrase for evangelical fervour, and Bishop Law's words were directed against "enthusiasts" of the type of Carey and Henry Martyn. The East India Company seems to have thought that caution was necessary in letting India know of the coming Bishop. It is said that secrecy was kept regarding his voyage and landing, for fear the Hindus should be alarmed or offended at the advent of a great chief priest of Christianity. But Sir John Kaye quaintly says:

"There was no commotion, no excitement. Offended Hinduism did not rise up in arms, nor indignant Mohammedanism raise a war cry of death to the infidel. The Bishop preached in the Christian temple, and that night the Europeans slept soundly in their beds. There was not a massacre; there was not a rebellion. It really seemed probable, after all, that British dominion in the East would survive the blow." [Christianity in India, p. 290.]

Bishop Middleton was an excellent prelate for the English community in India, and bravely tackled awkward questions of jurisdiction and the like. But he was sorely perplexed what to do with missionaries to the non-Christian population. He regarded them as quite outside the range of his authorized functions, and, says his biographer, "was uniformly anxious to keep the duties of the chaplains and of the missionaries separate from each other." It was not a burning question when there were so few men concerned. The S.P.C.K. men, being Lutherans, could of course not be licensed. The S.P.G. had only one clergyman in Middleton's life-time, and it had not yet taken over the S.P.C.K. Missions The C.M.S. sent out eleven English clergymen during his episcopate, besides Lutherans, so it was with them that the Bishop's difficulties were chiefly concerned, and his attitude, conscientious as it was, caused the Society much disappointment. Moreover, he could not see his way to ordain Indians, though the C.M.S. had much hoped that Abdul Masih (to be mentioned hereafter) would have been admitted to the ministry. In time, however, he came round, and a happy arrangement was nearly settled when he died, after an eight years' episcopate, worn out with his incessant "labour and travail"--in his case travel, though he never attempted Australia! But his great project was Bishop's College--of which more hereafter--in aid of which a royal letter, then an occasional custom, commanded collections in all the churches in England, which produced £45,000; and the three Societies, S.P.C.K., S.P.G., and C.M.S., each gave £5,000, the Bible Society adding a fourth £5,000 for Scripture translations. But, as we shall see, the scheme was premature, and the fine buildings and plans never fulfilled the Bishop's noble anticipations.

Then came Bishop Heber, a devoted parish priest, a brilliant scholar, a true poet, a fascinating personality. "No man," wrote young Lord Ashley (afterwards the great Earl of Shaftesbury), "ever equalled Bishop Heber. His talents were of the most exquisite character. If he were not a Socrates, able to knock down by force of reasoning the most stubborn opposers, he was like Orpheus, who led even stones and trees by the enchantment of his music." [Life of Lord Shaftesbury, Vol. i., p. 102.] We know him best now as a hymn-writer; and truly, the author of "Holy, holy, holy," and "The Son of God goes forth to war," and "From Greenland's icy mountains," can never be forgotten. But his Indian journals were for half a century regarded as the most vivid description of the country ever penned. His policy was quite different from Middleton's. The man who had heard the "call" from "India's coral strand" for deliverance from "error's chain" was not likely to hesitate in giving his whole-hearted support to the missionary enterprise. He expressed "entire approval" of the principles on which the C.M.S. Missions were conducted. He arranged at once to give licences to the missionaries, and this enabled them to render occasional help to the chaplains in ministering to the English community, which they were glad to do. And he ordained two native clergymen: the first a Tamil from Ceylon, who was a student at Bishop's College; the second, Abdul Masih.

On April 2, 1826, Bishop Heber was at Trichinopoly, Schwartz's old station in the South, and in the Fort Church "spoke with great affection on the glorious dispensation of God in Christ Jesus, and the necessity resting on us to propagate the faith throughout India." The same day he was found dead in his bath. Universal was the grief in India; high officials addressed meetings held in memory of him at Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. It took five months for the news to reach England, and here also the grief was extreme.

Two more episcopal lives were sacrificed in the hopeless task of superintending the whole work of the Church in India. Bishop James lived eight months, and died; Bishop Turner lived eighteen months, and died. The death of the fourth Bishop in nine years caused the utmost consternation in England. The three Societies at once memorialized the Government, urging the establishment of more Bishoprics, but political strife prevented anything being done. It was the epoch of the Reform Bill.

But who would take up the mantle of prophetical service and sacrifice dropped by the four Bishops in succession? Charles Grant, son of the former East India Director, had now the charge of India in the new Reform Ministry; and he applied to several leading clergymen without success. At last Daniel Wilson, Vicar of Islington, volunteered "to sacrifice himself if God should accept the offering." He was consecrated on April 29, 1832, went out to his great sphere, and lived and worked twenty-six years with only one visit home. One incident of his episcopate is worth noticing in passing. The first steam-vessel from England reached India in the year of Heber's death, but of course by the Cape route, and she took five months to do it, like the old sailing "East Indiamen." It was Bishop Wilson's energy and influence that inspired new schemes, and in 1841 the P. and O. Company organized the Malta, Alexandria, Red Sea route with "big" liners of 1,600 tons!

And at last came the division of the impossible diocese. Charles Grant the younger, who had become Lord Glenelg, revising the Company's charter again in 1833, made provision for the two new dioceses of Madras and Bombay (the former including Ceylon); and after two or three years' further delay, two admirable Archdeacons of long experience in India, and full of missionary zeal, were appointed--Daniel Corrie, the friend of Henry Martyn, to Madras, and Thomas Carr to Bombay. Australia also received its own Bishop at the same time.

This is not the place to tell the whole story of the growth of the Indian episcopate. Let us only put on record the names of the Bishops. At Calcutta since Wilson, we recall Cotton, Milman, Johnson, Welldon, Copleston, Lefroy. At Madras, after Corrie, Spencer, Dealtry, Gell, Whitehead. At Bombay, after Carr, Harding, Douglas, Mylne, Macarthur, Pym, Palmer. At Lahore, French, Matthew, Lefroy, Durrant. In Travancore, Speedily, Hodges, Gill. In Chota Nagpur, Whitley, Westcott. At Lucknow, Clifford, Westcott. In Tinnevelly, Morley, Williams, Waller. At Nagpur, Chatterton. In Assam, Pakenham Walsh. Seventeen sent out from England; six East India chaplains; fourteen missionaries; two translated from other dioceses. If we add the nine in Burma and Ceylon, we have, for the Ecclesiastical Province of India and Ceylon, an apparent total of forty-eight Bishops; really forty-six, as the names of R. S. Copleston and Lefroy would be reckoned twice.

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