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Alexander Penrose Forbes:
Bishop of Brechin, the Scottish Pusey
by William Perry

London: SPCK, 1939.


IT was at this time that Dr. Pusey was haunted by a fear that the Bishop might at any moment betake himself to the Church of Rome; some of his English friends who had already taken that step were tactfully urging him in that direction, Ambrose de Lisle among them. Forbes himself, though well aware of its weaknesses, appreciated the strength of the Roman position perhaps better than any churchman in England and Scotland. In the autumn of 1861 he proposed one of his frequent visits to Christ Church, Oxford, telling Pusey to expect him at a certain hour. At the appointed time, however, he failed to appear and, after an hour's waiting, Pusey became uneasy. Another hour, and still there was no sign of the visitor. "He has fled headlong to Rome," said Pusey. Half an hour after, Forbes appeared, full of apologies for the lateness of his train. Pusey told him of his fear. "Ah," said the Bishop, "if I become unsettled in my convictions, I shall not, like some of our friends, run away from them." From Christ Church the Bishop went on to Hursley to see Keble, and arrived in time to be present at a harvest home. "I had never seen such a thing before. The church was all decorated with bundles of ripe corn and before the altar two great sheaves were placed as a thank-offering to the Lord. After a hearty service at which all the labourers assisted, there was a plentiful feast for the peasantry, who passed the afternoon in mirth and rustic sports."

Braced and comforted by these visits, the Bishop returned to Dundee to learn that the movement for Anglicizing the Scottish Church had gained ground. The agitation to exterminate the Scottish Communion Office was drawing support from all the Scottish dioceses except Aberdeen and Brechin. This question was mixed up with another, the removal of the last of the penal laws of 1746 which enacted that a clergyman ordained by a Scottish bishop could neither be appointed to a benefice nor even officiate on consecutive Sundays in the Church of England.

At the head of the Anglicizing party was Bishop Ewing of Argyll, who had made it his business on every possible occasion to seek the favour of Bishop, afterwards Archbishop, Tait and other English bishops. His policy was complete identification with the Church of England and, to achieve this end, the abolition of the national liturgy of the Scottish Church. The Scottish liturgy was his pet aversion. To its existence he attributed all the weaknesses of the Church, including the heresy hunt of which Bishop Forbes had been the victim. The Bishops of Edinburgh and Glasgow and their clergy more or less shared his views; in these dioceses the Scottish liturgy was used only in four small congregations. Bishop Forbes himself had found it impossible to introduce the national liturgy into St. Paul's, Dundee, though, according to the Canons, it was of "primary authority" in the Church. The liturgy at that time had a bad name. It was supposed to be "Popish", though nobody with the smallest knowledge could fail to see that of the two forms of service the English in its theory of consecration was far more Roman than the Scottish, since the latter was framed on Eastern and not Western lines. Early in 1861 it was urged that the proposed Bill for the removal of the legal disability debarring clergy of Scottish ordination from holding office in England would be more acceptable to Parliament if the Scottish liturgy were abolished or degraded from its position of "primary authority". Some of the English bishops lent their countenance to this argument. Forbes reported this to Dr. Pusey and Gladstone; the latter at first could not believe the report:--

Downing Street
March 2d 1862.

I cannot but be persuaded your apprehension respecting the intention to commute the Scottish Liturgy for the access to English titles must be unfounded. It is in my opinion, and by no means my private opinion only, a scheme which not Bishops alone, but men of the world, would consider inadmissible--nay, even despicable. My excellent friend Sir W. Heathcote chanced to call on me as I was looking at your letter. I must not tie him to words, but I am at liberty to say that in the sentiments I expressed he warmly concurs.

Writing three weeks later to Dr. Pusey, Mr. Gladstone admitted that there must be some truth in the rumour that the abandonment of the liturgy was being offered as a quid for the quo of the Bill in the House of Lords:--

Downing Street
March 24th, 1862.


I am obliged to write in great haste, but what I have to say does not require much time. I cannot obtain evidence of the fact that the English Bishops demand the abandonment of the Scotch Communion Office. I am told that the Bishop of Lincoln, who is considered to be strongly opposed to it, only considers it should cease to be of "primary authority".

But if such a negociation be in progress as the concession of a civil privilege in return for the surrender of an ecclesiastical and symbolic document (i.e. the Scottish liturgy), all I can say is that it would seem to me, on the part of those making the surrender, to be a transaction in which neither Bishops, nor Christians, nor men of honour, should have a part.

The proper course would be, if such a thing is intended, to begin by making Esau Primus

W. E. G.

By the month of June Mr. Gladstone was convinced that the report was true, and in a severe letter to Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford he wrote, "I know from evidence in print--to wit, Dean Ramsay's pamphlets--that your authority and your words are pledged to the abolition or degradation of the Scottish Communion Office. If this thing is done and done with your authority, all I can say is, that the relations between us are new relations and I must consider my course afresh upon many matters."

Gladstone spared no pains to avert "the abandonment of the sole possession, the single representative of the historical character of the Scottish Church", and wrote at length to Bishop Forbes requesting him to inform his brother bishops that Trinity College, Glenalmond, would never have been built if the present canon securing the use of the national liturgy had not been in force.

It may be asked by what title I am authorized to speak for the views and ideas of those who planned the College. My answer is this: they were but two; I was one of them, and I devoted to it for a considerable time my principal labour and anxiety. I was intimately acquainted at the time with the views of the other [Mr. James Hope], and I fully believe that I have given a just representation of them, though doubtless, if called upon as a witness, he would speak better for himself. The two obtained the valuable countenance of Dean Ramsay in their first address to the public: they did so because they felt that he was an admirable representative of the Anglican element in the Scottish Episcopal Communion, and because it seemed but just that that element, to which full and free scope was to be afforded, should be represented from the first.

But either Dean Ramsay had not then formed the plans which he has since promulgated with respect to the Scottish Office, or, if he had, they were not known to the two original promoters. Had anything of the sort been known or suspected by them, they could not honourably, and would not, have accepted his valuable assistance. Perhaps I should rather say that their purpose never was to embark upon a sea of controversy, and that, whatever else might have happened for or against the Episcopal Communion of Scotland, the particular institution of Trinity College would not in that case have existed.

If reference is made to Dean Ramsay respecting the material statements in this letter, I feel convinced that, though I am obliged to write in the main from memory, and although he has declared his views and wishes in a very different sense, he will not contradict me on those matters of fact on which I wish to rely.

W. E. G.

In another letter to the Bishop dated Sept. 15, 1862 he offers this fine defence of the liturgy:--

My opinion, which may be a very wild one, is this: that the office is a great treasure, as all particles of primitive Christian usage are, to use a feeble simile, like so much gold-dust, and that the possession of it stamped the body in which it was found with, in the first place, an ethical character, and in the second place, with the tokens of a possible Providential mission, far exceeding in importance any of its merely local concerns, so that it may almost be said that without it the body itself sinks into a mere local aggregation of some hundred and fifty Episcopal congregations.

I look upon the abandonment of the Scottish Office as disowning the past, and, in the sense I have described, as surrendering the future.

There is little doubt that Mr. Gladstone's influence, exercised chiefly through the medium of Bishop Forbes, saved the liturgy from extinction. The compromise finally reached by the General Synod of 1862-1863 was far from satisfactory, but at least it preserved, though it fettered, the use of the Scottish liturgy, until the time should come when minds free from prejudice could reach a settlement which placed the two forms for the celebration of the Eucharist upon a level of equality; this, however, was not effected till 1929, with the result that, whereas during the episcopate of Bishop Forbes only a small proportion of congregations used the Scottish form, now there are few congregations from which it is excluded. The Bishop on the whole accepted the canons of 1863 as the best compromise that could be expected, while Mr. Gladstone hailed them as a victory for the cause to which, in spite of political engagements and anxieties, he had generously given so much time and trouble. Not so the Bishop's brother. George Forbes contested the legality of the new canons first before the Episcopal Synod, when the Bishop was obliged to sit in judgment on his own brother, and then, in spite of the Bishop's remonstrances, in the House of Lords. He fought with the tenacity of the Forbes clan for a civil ruling on an ecclesiastical question which the Bishop knew from the first was bound to fail.

In 1864 the Duke of Buccleuch announced his intention of bringing a Bill before the House of Lords to remove the injustice imposed upon the Scottish Church by the last of the Penal Laws of 1746 and 1792. Thanks to the persistence of Mr. Gladstone and Bishop Forbes, this much-needed reform had been postponed until the liturgical question was settled. Sir William Heathcote of Hursley, an old friend of the Bishop, took charge of the Bill in the House of Commons, and on the historical facts of the case the Bishop was his coach and counsellor. To Sir William and the Duke of Buccleuch in the House of Lords was due in large measure the successful passage of the Bill, which swept away the last fetter of Erastian intolerance from the Scottish Church.


Throughout the year 1864 the Bishop was working at high pressure day and night. In addition to the regular routine of weekdays and Sundays, he prepared sixty confirmation candidates, and in presence of a congregation which crowded the church confirmed 157 persons, many adults among them; he entertained 1800 scholars of Church schools, he preached to the Church Penitentiary Association in the Chapel Royal, London, and afterwards presided at a meeting of the English Church Union. He spent part of a week in Bovey Tracy in Devonshire and confirmed for the Bishop of Exeter both in the parish church and in the Home of the Sisterhood. He wrote two important articles for the Edinburgh Review on "Scottish Religious Houses Abroad" and another for the Proceedings of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries on a manuscript of the eleventh century belonging to the Monastery of Ratisbon. He published a volume of sermons by the friend and kinsman who had been with him all through the trial, the Rev. C. T. Erskine, and prefixed to it a touching memoir of the preacher. Finally, he saw through the press the Arbuthnott Missal, a work on which he and his brother had spent years of labour. In the autumn the Bishop was worn out both in body and mind. He writes to Mr. Gladstone from Dundee on October 8:--


I am sorry to say that I am compelled to go abroad for the winter, being overwrought and prescribed rest. I think of going to Florence, and I venture to ask you if you could give me a few letters to any interesting people. In my present mind, I fancy that I am more "papalized" than you would think wise, but I hope I am prepared to judge candidly.

I hope your copy of the Arbuthnott Missal reached you safely. There have been mistakes with regard to the transmission of some of the copies. My direction, till the 18th, will be "Dunphail, Forres"; after that, "Dundee".

His reference to "papalizing" shows that the Roman Catholic Church had not yet lost its attraction for him. Perhaps Newman's Apologia, which was published that year, had helped to revive it. Ten days later he acknowledges Mr. Gladstone's help:--

October 18, 1864.


Thank you so much for your kind letter. I should be even more gratified than I am, had I not the abiding sense how little I deserve it. I shall be very thankful for the letter to Padre Tosti, the Cassinese, but I do not care to go recommended by Dr. Manning.

We are already beginning to feel the good effect of the measure of emancipation granted to us by Parliament during the last session. God grant that we do not become more secular under the influence of the world's smiles. A time like ours is, as to individuals, so to religious communities, a special temptation.

With gratitude and sincere admiration.

Having arranged with some of his brother-bishops for episcopal duties in his diocese, he left Dundee in November for Florence. The rest, change, and especially the freedom from responsibility, soon produced a beneficial effect, but his health was for months very uncertain. Italy was then in a sorry state, and the Papal power was maintained in Rome only with the help of French bayonets, Garibaldi its implacable foe. In a letter from Florence to his friend, the Rev. G. R. Lingard, Forbes writes, "I have seen very little of the clergy. They are 'dis-gorgiate ' and therefore sore. The number of nostrums for converting Italy would amuse you." And again :--

Casa Molini
Florence 1864.


I begin a letter to you in hopes that I shall elicit one from you. We have had a spell of rain, but no day so bad that one has not had the opportunity of getting to some gallery or church. I see a great deal of the Southesks and also I have found an old brother civilian, a very nice fellow who links one to all the old pleasant heathenness of Madras. This house is most comfortable and I shall certainly not leave it while the weather is so bad. I am undecided what to do--both on account of my crochetty health and other reasons. I would like to go to Rome if it were not for the worry of the "converts". As it is I shall probably take one week of it. I am so glad matters are going on decently well at Dundee. I hope that Noble [one of his clergy] will turn out better than was expected. My mind must have been weakened when I was such an ass as to take a man with a large family: but "nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit".

Letters of appreciation of his edition of the Arbuthnott Missal were a pleasant diversion during his long convalescence. The following letter from his Roman Catholic kinsman, Count Charles Forbes Montalembert, author of The Monks of the West, shows what an accomplished historian thought of the Bishop's work.

Côte D'Or
January 19, 1865.


The beautiful volume which you have had the extreme kindness to send me has been safely forwarded to me here, and I have been just reading your preface with the greatest attention and interest. I cannot sufficiently thank you for the undeserved honour you have conferred on me by the gift of so valuable a contribution to the history both of the Church and of Scotland. As I have been for the last two years principally occupied, during my leisure hours, with the study of St. Columba's life and the Hiberno-Scotico monasteries of those days, you may easily imagine the gratification which I have experienced in perusing your most excellent and most laborious researches on a subject so closely connected with my recent occupation.

I shall not return to Paris till the beginning of March, but if you come back from Italy during the spring and go through Paris, then or at any other time when I am there, I trust you will do me the favour of calling on me, as I shall be very anxious to make your personal acquaintance as well as that of your brother, and to express to both viva voce the gratitude and respect with which I remain, Right Reverend Sir,

Your most obliged and obedient servant,


As his health continued to be precarious, he worried not a little about the future of St. Paul's, Dundee. Early in the following year he writes to his friend and colleague in Dundee:--

January 10th, 1865.


I think it not at all impossible that I may go on to Constantinople. I shall perhaps never be abroad again, and being so far on my way, I may as well spend the time in the Aegean Sea as on the Cheaja at Naples. I shall not, however, leave till the weather is improved, if I am fit to go at all, which of course depends upon my secretions. Dr. Fraser found the bad symptoms the last time he examined me, and I fear I shall never really get better.

I wish you could turn in your mind what would be best for the future of Dundee. I really dread going back to that gloomy house. Now would it be best to have Macnamara made joint Incumbent and give him the house, reserving a couple of rooms for myself, and myself getting some little country place? Or should I cut St. Paul's altogether, reserving a seat in choir and certain episcopal privileges--or should I carry on as at present with such absences as I fear will now be my lot during the rest of my earthly pilgrimage?

Even as late as April 30 he was incapable of much mental effort, though he was able to visit Rome and Naples and was looking forward to seeing the famous German scholar, Dr. Döllinger, in Munich.

Florence, April 30, 1865.


I was thankful to get your letter telling me that the dear fellow (Nicholson) had got the turn. I have great faith in Lyell in typhus cases. It is a comfort to me to know that he has been well nursed.

I hope you have lost no time in seeing about filling up his place temporarily. Don't boggle about £10 in making financial arrangements. My sisters and I have plenty for these purposes, and don't wear your dear old self out with that infernal hill after dinner. I believe that N. would never have taken the fever if he had not got undertoned with the constant fatigue.

I have not been able to arrange about the reredos in Rome [for St. Paul's], They wanted to do me; so I shall wait till I see Scott [the architect]. To tell the truth the great length and lowness of the space above the altar to be covered greatly enhances one's difficulty.

Tell dear Macnamara not to be disheartened about the choir worries. These are always proverbially scenes of discord. Tell him to say from me to Lees and Robert Cowie that in a great work like the providing music for the service of the sanctuary they must expect the devil to raise up those troubles, but they must endeavour to carry on as well as they can.

I suppose Mr. Noble, having been a schoolmaster, like the Bishop of St. Andrews, cannot get over the magisterial manner which is engendered by that profession. But he will soon be gone. Tell Macnamara to be looking out for a new assistant. By the way, I wish to consult you about Mac. I would like to make his position better. Of course now that my salary is raised, I shall give him more, but I think he should be made by institution independent of the will and caprices of the people. What do you think of a collegiate charge? or that I should resign, reserving for myself any necessary privileges? Then on this consideration comes the revising of the Constitution. Can you think of any feasible scheme for keeping the thing straight in future? Do write your good sage head on this matter.

I am rather relieved at your view of the Primus [Bishop Eden], for I thought I was uncharitable, but he betrayed me on the matter of the Charge, having written half of an opinion on my side, and then Wordsworth overruled him. I never have quite got over that. I am glad, however, he did no harm.

I think I may stay here for ten days or so and then work my way to Munich. I am certainly better for my stay in Rome, but I cannot yet compose a sermon. My head very weak and incapable of sustained attention. I shall expect to hear from you at Munich. I went down to Naples for seven days with my cousin and then spent the best part of a week at Monte Cassino very happily. I will tell you more about it when we meet. It is a wonderful place, as you know.


During his long stay in Italy from November to June nothing pleased him so much as his visit to the celebrated Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino, seventy miles north-west of Naples. The community then consisted of nineteen monks and ten lay brothers. He had long appreciated the religious life; but Monte Cassino, with its splendid library, rivalled only by the Vatican, its beautiful church, its printing-press, and the courteous and scholarly brothers, completely won his heart.

The Bishop, himself a born conversationalist, tells of the long talks he had with the members of the community "on the future of Italy and the mission of that country to humanity and Christendom, on the philosophy of history and the development of nations, and on modern thought and speculation. Very large and charitable thoughts, pregnant with political foresight, were expressed in the beautiful language of the south, and we left the Abbey with the conviction, not only that here the Church of Rome exhibited herself in one of her most attractive and dignified manifestations, but also that there is probably a mighty future for Monte Cassino, and that in the reconciliation of progress to faith, in the great process of the reunion of Christendom and in the development of a Christian civilization, this ancient seat of learning may acquire new honours and inherit a future as glorious as its past.

The dissolution of the monastery in 1866 seemed at first to disprove the Bishop's hopes, but the Abbey was saved, chiefly through the influence of Mr. Gladstone, Lord Clarendon, and others. The Bishop's interest in Monte Cassino continued until his death, as is shown by this letter to Mr. Gladstone dated Stonehaven, 1873:--

As I know that you are always glad to hear of our friends at Monte Cassino, and as my latest news refer to you, I think that I shall not be trespassing unduly on your attention by writing it to you.

Caravita tells me that they have published some facsimili of the great work Bibliotheca Cassinensis, and in the preface, written by Padre Tosti, these words [in Latin] occur:

"Among the many great men who have visited the library, the name of William Gladstone, who did so much for the preservation of the Abbey, must not be omitted. As proof of his warm interest in us, he left written in our archives the single word 'Floreat', which recalls the fragrance of his remarkable spirit." I have come here for a confirmation, and return to Dundee to-morrow. The congregation has nearly doubled since my time, and we are going to build a new church. What a sad loss the Church of England has sustained in the sudden death of Dr. Wilberforce! You must feel it exceptionally.

P.S. I wish to send my book on the Scottish Saints to Monte Cassino and to Dr. Dollinger, but it is too large to go by post. Could I get it transmitted by the ambassador's bag?

By the month of May 1865, the Bishop was able to tell Mr. Gladstone, "My visit to Italy has done me much good and I am allowed to return to Scotland for the summer and autumn. I am going from Florence to Munich to see Dr. Dollinger and expect to get home in the middle of June." On the 15th of that month he was at Christ Church, Oxford, recounting to Dr. Pusey his experiences in Italy and discussing prospects of reunion disclosed in conversations with Roman Catholic clergy in Italy, especially with the Brothers of Monte Cassino and the learned Dr. Dollinger in Munich. Pusey was then engaged in writing his first Eirenicon, published under the title of The Truth and Office of the English Church. Forbes strongly urged him to have it translated into French and German for the benefit of Roman Catholics who sympathized with the liberal views of leaders like the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Dupanloup of Orleans, and Dr. Dollinger in Germany. Pusey also had resolved to reissue Newman's Tract XC on the Thirty-nine Articles, though he believed that the time was now ripe for a fuller treatment of the Catholic interpretation of the Articles than was possible in a tract. Forbes agreed, but when Pusey suggested that he should take up the subject, he demurred on the ground that his episcopal and pastoral duties were as heavy as his health could endure. Pusey, however, promised his help, and the Bishop, who in writing his Charge and preparing for his trial had made an elaborate study of the history and purpose of the Articles, agreed to begin the work at once.

Early in July Forbes was back in his "gloomy house" in Dundee, where a happy surprise awaited him. During his absence abroad the congregation of St. Paul's had determined to clear off the church debt, so that one of his first episcopal acts might be the consecration of the building. The proposal caught the imagination of the people, and their response was so generous that the whole ' sum required, amounting to some £2000, was contributed. In good spirits, though still far from strong, the Bishop took up the routine of weekday and Sunday duties, even down to the catechizing class of young men and women on Sunday afternoons. He spent much time in preparing for the consecration of the church, and on All Saints' Day, at a great service, attended by four bishops, a large number of clergy, and a congregation of nearly a thousand people, St. Paul's was consecrated. Dearer even than this were the tokens of affection mingled with veneration with which the Bishop was met from every quarter. Scottish people are anything but demonstrative, but, once moved, they can glow with appreciation; their warmth of feeling was like Italian sunshine to the Bishop.

For recreation there was the translation of the Scottish liturgy into Greek for the benefit of the Primus, who intended to visit prelates of the Holy Orthodox Church in Russia, and there were the Thirty-nine Articles, which once had been "the forty stripes save one", wherewith his brother-bishops had scourged him, and which now he was trying so to explain that Romans and Easterns alike might see in them an olive branch of peace for the reunion of Christendom.

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