"YOUR YOUNG MEN shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams." God gave both to Howard Baldwin St. George.
In his youth he had his vision. Our Lord showed him a Church, restored to the beauty of holiness, without blemish, wrinkle, or spot, purged anew by the fire of the Holy Ghost, cleansed of its mildew, and roused again from the torpor and sloth of years. It was as though he had caught a glimpse of the Holy City, coming down out of heaven to earth, adorned as a bride for her husband. It was the same vision that was inspiring numbers of young men in England at that time, and which has strengthened multitudes since then for a superhuman task, the reconversion of the flock of Christ. Thus he dedicated his life to a Leader and a Cause.
It was no light decision. Those were perilous days. Let but a parish priest try to preach to his people in a surplice, and the Protestant mob was upon him. His windows were broken, his Church defiled, his supporters beaten. Let him but strive to obey the plain directions of the Book of Common Prayer, and jail yawned for him. Throne, court, bishops, parliament, press, all were against him. It was a heavy cross to bear. St. George was one of the young men who escorted Fr. Enraght from the prison gates back to his parish church, after the exasperated government, not knowing what else to do with the priest, released him. Enraght's weeping congregation, kneeling in the street for his blessing, was a memory which never failed to bring the tears to St. George's eyes.
In an atmosphere of such persecution his faith was formed. He had afterwards no more doubts about the validity of his position than the Pope had about his. His principles needed neither reconsideration nor restatement. Minimizing, compromising, explaining away, became abhorrent to him; not of such stuff were martyrs made. The frenzied hunting for unifying formulas which might mean anything one chose, and which might therefore provide an opportunity for a sentimental but spurious unity, amazed him. He had seen women harried, men trampled, priests beaten, saints jailed; and, unlike Gallio, he was proud to remember these things.
Out of these experiences arose his passionate devotion to the Book of Common Prayer. It was his great missionary document, his second Bible. He recognized its liturgical imperfections, for no one had a keener nose for that sort of error than St. George. None knew better than he where and how it could be improved. But this was the bulwark which had saved the Church from Protestantism in the sixteenth century, and was the only defense against a similar disaster in the nineteenth. This was the rite he had sworn to use, and the sacredness of his ordination vow constrained him. In his utter loyalty to the Prayer Book he equaled Bishop Gore.
But he had another and most practical reason for this attitude. He was sure that if the Church was ever to be converted to Catholic faith and practice it must be by means of the Prayer Book. He had seen too many promising fields of Catholic endeavour wrecked by Italianists in a hurry. Not only was it disloyal to play with alien rites at the altar, but it did not pay. Faithful Churchmen were bewildered and estranged, and souls were lost through it. He was constitutionally and temperamentally incapable of appreciating the arguments of such as differed from him on this point, though he tried hard to the end.
This solid, stable, substantial loyalty was no doubt one reason why General Convention esteemed him so highly, and the Catholic cause owes him an unpayable debt for his work on Prayer Book revision. As one of the most learned liturgical scholars in Convention, his opinion had great weight; but in addition to learning, he also had the respect, affection, and trust of the House of Deputies. More than once his word alone saved the House from some liturgical mistake which might never have been repealed; and the message of comfort and good cheer which the Deputies sent him in 1931, when his growing infirmity prevented his taking his usual seat among them, must have heartened him greatly. Seldom could the dream have shone more brightly than then. From the mobs and missiles of 1881 to the thanks of a great Church in 1931! Surely he had lived.
Probably, however, his greatest work for the Church was done in the classroom. For thirty years he lectured at Nashotah House on ecclesiastical history, canon law, and liturgics. In that time several hundred embryo priests passed through his hands, and few left uninfluenced. Always his theme was loyalty: to the Church, to her creeds, her councils, her formularies, her rites, and offices, her Book of Common Prayer. As old age began to overtake him, he was forced to relinquish some of his duties; but up to three months of his death he clung to his beloved liturgics. The thought of retirement filled him with dismay; and if he had had his way he might have chosen to die in his chair, facing a class of boys. Pastoral theology was not officially his province; but none of his young men will forget the wise counsel and sage commonsense which he imparted in his lectures on the sacramental rites and occasional offices of the Prayer Book.
Stories about him are many, most of them perhaps apocryphal. It was said that if he came down the path to his classroom with his head thrown back and his beard sticking out horizontally in advance of his approach, it was a good time to keep reverently quiet. His Irish wit was proverbial, and often lured the unwary to his doom. "Tell me, Mr. So-and-so," he would begin, with his beautiful touch of the brogue, fixing on his proposed victim a kindly and benignant eye, stroking his whiskers meanwhile from below the chin outwards )always a danger sign to the wise). A question or two, with more or less inappropriate answers; then the pounce, the flurried squawk, and another idle youth lay slain in his ignorance before his fellows. A small number of cuts he would condone; but if a man abused his good nature, and was "not feeling very well this morning," he would appear at the bedside of the malingerer with a bottle of castor oil and a large spoon. A certain astonishing marriage of a rather contrary priest having been announced, he was asked, "Canon, can you imagine Fr. So-and-so standing before the altar saying 'I will'?" "No," he replied grimly, "but I can imagine him standing there saying, 'I will not!'" "Gintlemen," he once said at the end of his last lecture to a class of seniors about to graduate, "let me give you a piece of advice which comes from me heart. When you get into your parish, either let it be known at once that you are a celibate priest and that you will not marry anyone in any circumstances, or else accept the first member of your altar guild that asks you."
Many tales of his prowess as a Nimrod are told, usually exaggerated. It is not true that he never hit anything, but it cannot be denied that his quarry sometimes did not fall at the first shot. Certainly on one occasion he crawled a hundred yards through brush and reeds, and plumped his charge into the midst of a flock of beautifully painted decoys. Luckily the owner was lurking near, or we would never have heard of it. A certain rabbit lived close to his house, and led the old man to a merry chase. He always maintained that he had hunted the animal with great perseverance for over two years, and that it knew him well, and got as much fun out of the pursuit as he did. Consequently, when some rash newcomer among the students shot poor bunny and ate her, the canon mourned as for a dear old friend. Both these stories he would often tell against himself with immense relish.
But right to the end his main interest in life was his vision and his dream, and how his boys were bringing it to pass. He still saw the Holy City established on earth, but with the light of heaven in her streets. The crystal waters to which all men might come were very real to him; and his bed of pain and weakness was shaded by the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. A happy, happy dream--the healing of the nations. "Wherefore, O King Jesus, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision."