Project Canterbury

The Starvelings: A Study in Clerical Poverty

By F. J. Hammond

London: The Society of SS Peter and Paul, 1921.


My friend Mr. Hammond, who, since he has been so for well over thirty years, knows, I must assume, what he is doing, asks me to write a line or two of recommendation of this little book of his. I commend, such as I am, not only the courage, but the good sense of what he says; and not only those, but the high religious conviction which illuminates his book from within. If that conviction turns his proposals into counsels of perfection, it is only because Christianity itself, the true doctrine of Christ, is a counsel of perfection. "Be ye perfect," we were instructed in the beginning; and so, as nearly as might be, perhaps we were for, perhaps, one hundred years. Then, or about then, the world and the flesh insensibly enmeshed us again; and so netted and bound, with rare exceptions, we remained until the time of St. Francis of Assisi. Once more the stimulus and example of an apostolic life brought apostolic living into the West. For how long? Perhaps fifty years. After that, except for isolated instances in isolated periods of time, and in all cases outside the Established Churches, there have been no other considerable revivals of apostolic faith illustrated by apostolic practice. And now comes Mr. Hammond urging, as he has reason, the practical necessity of apostolic poverty for a Church whose worldly revenues, all told, run, I imagine, into millions per annum.

As one who has himself preached the virtues of poverty for a number of years, and who, since the [13/14] calamity of 1914, has proved them by actual experience, it would be very odd if I should withhold support from a man who is asking that his Order should be allowed the good fortune which I enjoy. Obviously it is debarred from it as things now are. Poverty, to be a source of happiness, must be self-sufficient; otherwise it is penury, a very different thing. In fortunate poverty a man stands on his own feet, without a superfluity, but with a sufficiency gained by his own labour. That implies that the world is still his oyster, so far as necessaries are concerned. But the world is in no sense the oyster of the clergy, seeing that their actual incum-brances, through no fault of their own, absorb all that they have. Being in fact poor men, they are not able to live like poor men. They have inherited a status; they are tied by the legs to country houses, sometimes to country estates. They are not self-sufficient, but are required to be sufficient to a way of life which was not contemplated by their original calling--which, indeed, is not compatible with it. When I found myself poor, all I had to do was to drop every superfluity and live upon what I could earn. It was enormously good for my health; it made me free and, as I had always expected, made me happy. Mr. Hammond asks a similar liberty of choice for the clergy, and I don't see how it can be denied him.

He does so little more than touch upon the implications of his doctrine that I don't think it would become me to consider them. Into the question of happiness, for instance, pushes the further question of vocation. I am myself happy in poverty because I am thereby left free to exercise a calling in which I take delight. That would be the effect also upon a man to whom Christianity was more than a way of life--in truth The Way. [14/15] I assume that Mr. Hammond contemplates something like a pooling of Church revenues and a readjustment of incomes all round. I assume that the Church dignitaries would stand in with the parish priests. A good many of them would be thankful to do it; a good many would dislike it extremely. That leads one on to the matter first referred to, the really cardinal matter which Mr. Hammond and those who share his views (among whom I think I may include the Dean of St. Paul's) will have to deal with more directly than has been done here-Apostolic Christianity is an enthusiasm, an illuminated way, as I have said, a way of life. To true believers, therefore, poverty is not only a grace, but a spiritual need. It is of the essence. Then how will those take it who consider their ministry nothing more than a profession or a career? And how many are there of them? To them poverty would be disgrace rather than grace, hindrance rather than necessity. They must be converted or discarded if poverty is to serve instead of wreck the Church. Mr. Hammond must write another book in which the zeal of George Fox must combine with the persuasiveness of Pascal. I believe he has it in him. At any rate, if it have the reasonableness and candour of this one it will be its worthy as well as inevitable sequel.

Maurice Hewlett.

17th March, 1921.

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