Project Canterbury


The Presiding Bishop's Address

Address given at the Choral Evensong
marking the completion of thirty years as Dean
by the Very Reverend Hughell E. W. Fosbroke, S.T.D.,
in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd,
at the General Theological Seminary, New York City,
Wednesday, May 7, 1947,
by the Right Reverend Henry Knox Sherrill, D.D., Presiding Bishop.


Volume XXXIII June, 1947 Number 3
In Two Sections Section 2, pp. 58-67



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

The Gospel according to St. John, the first chapter, sixth verse: There was a man sent from God.

God works in many ways in His Universe but chiefly we find Him in human lives. There was a man sent from God whose name was Isaiah or Amos or Hosea or John or Paul or Peter Trimble Rowe or Charles Henry Brent. The list might include countless names from every walk of life, the well known and the obscure in the world's judgment who have been lights of the world in their day and generation. God has called us into His service. He has committed unto men the ministry of reconciliation. The deepest revelation of this truth is found in the human aspect of the Incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt upon us and we beheld His glory full of grace and truth."

God could of these stones raise up children but He has chosen us to be His servants, to be priests and prophets of His Word and of His Church. There may be found the true importance and significance of the Ministry. The Church does not move forward through the power of things, of slogans, of methods, of buildings, but through the quality and the character of the Christian ministry touching the lives of men, women, boys and girls. Any Bishop knows that the determining factor is that of personnel. Given the right man sent from God and even the desert will bloom and blossom as the rose. I venture to say that there are few dead parishes or impossible locations if we only had the men to serve them. I have seen this proved in actual experience many times. Wardens and Vestrymen may be mistaken in their choices but they understand this fact thoroughly—the call is constant. "Give us devoted and able Rectors of parishes, missionaries, chaplains in Institutions, teachers in schools and colleges." The need is for more clergy to be sure but even more insistent is the demand for clergy more able to meet the exacting conditions of our times. The strange fact is that in all of this, the strategic and vital importance of the Theological School is so often overlooked, even forgotten by the Church. In general our Seminaries have been inadequately supported in terms of prayer, of interest and of financial support. Yet it is in the Seminaries that our clergy are trained, moulded and disciplined intellectually, emotionally and spiritually for their service to the Church. In the enlistment of candidates for the ministry, the home, the parish, the school and the college count heavily. Bishops, Rectors, Standing Committees and Vestrymen have their responsibilities but in the last analysis it is the Seminary which is best adapted to weed out the unfit and to develop the suitable candidate for his service to the Church. When I think of the failure of the Church to realize this simple fact the wonder is that on the whole the Seminaries have done so much with so little.

One cause of this neglect has been the popular idea that whereas a physician, a lawyer, a scientist must be trained adequately, almost any one is able to discuss religion intelligently or to serve people adequately as a Pastor. Another has been that many laity and clergy who certainly should know better have regarded the Seminary as a kind of trade school—a place to learn how to keep a card catalogue or what to do in every kind of a practical pastoral exigency or opportunity as if there were a bag of tricks with which every theological student could be equipped. Far be it from me to decry the practical aspects of the work. But there is no such easy method of training either the Priest or the Prophet in the deepest meaning of those great words. The task of the Seminary is to develop men of God which includes qualities of mind as well as of heart. The Christian minister must have as a basis knowledge of the Old and New Testament, the History of the Church and Theology. These in addition must be related to the whole current of history and of thought including our own times. Ideas are still helpful in preaching, particularly if a clergyman stays for more than overnight in any one parish. The clergyman should speak not out of his own notions but as a result of mastering to the best of his ability the Revelation of God in human experience. This means the consecration of the mind in hard and honest study. But in addition the theological student should grow and deepen in his spiritual life, through the Chapel services, and the fellowship with others of his fellows and of the Faculty. Here in these formative years he sets the pattern of what he is to be and to do. The Seminary is, therefore, of tremendous strategic importance to the Church for here and in similar places elsewhere it is largely determined whether we are to have for clergy little men of small vision who can perform conventional acts or men of intellectual and spiritual capacity and depth who in the name of Christ can meet effectively the needs of our time.

There is one other aspect of the Seminaries I would mention. It is imperative that there be centers of scholarship and of reflection. Ideas have a much greater potency than we are apt to realize in a day when we lay such emphasis upon action. Most men in the ministry cannot have the opportunity for this unceasing study, meditation and productive scholarship. Therefore it is important that there should be those with these gifts and opportunities that from them may come for the illumination and inspiration of us all knowledge and fresh interpretations of the eternal Gospel. To fail to interest men in this task and to fail to support them in this work is to impoverish the message and the impact of all our clergy upon our secular and largely pagan society. The Seminary is not therefore a luxury or an aside in the life of the Church. It is a necessity as profoundly touching and affecting the character of the whole Church.

All of this is illustrated by the life and ministry of Dean Fosbroke. For almost fifty years he has given himself to the ministry of Theological Education, at Nashotah, the Episcopal Theological School, and the General Seminary. We are met to thank God for all that he has meant to the Church and to us. I am here in no conventional or official capacity but as one of his students who many years ago came under his influence as an inspiring teacher and friend. Ever since, I have turned to the Dean for never-failing help, guidance and spiritual insight. This experience of mine could be multiplied many times among the graduates of these three institutions.

Dean Fosbroke is a truly great scholar and teacher. It is difficult for the present generation of theological students to appreciate the intensity of feeling engendered by the modern, so-called critical approach to the study of the Bible. To many of an older generation failure to believe in complete verbal inspiration meant the destruction of nothing less than the Christian faith. Dean Fosbroke at Nashotah came to definite, positive decisions in the scholar's search for the truth of God. To many this seemed extremely radical. But with these conclusions, Professor Fosbroke emphasized the deeper spiritual and constructive truths, so that constantly he built and never was content merely to tear down. The result was that admitting all that modern scholarship could bring to this discussion, the Revelation of God through the history of the Jewish people stood out in even clearer and stronger terms. That there was no open controversy or any deep break was due first of all to the constructive and spiritual teaching and interpretation of the young teacher, and secondly as a result the trust which men like Dean, later Bishop Webb and Dr. St. George placed in him. Through all the succeeding years Dr. Fosbroke has held to the scholar's search and reverence for the Truth. As a lecturer he has been inspiring to many generations of students. The intensity of his feeling and conviction, the clarity of his presentation with a remarkable felicity of expression, developed through discipline and careful preparation, the depth of his spiritual insight, have stirred the minds and hearts of us all who have been privileged to be his students. It is now over thirty years since I have attended his classes, yet still the impress of his teaching is vivid and vital in my mind. There are some who have felt that he has been something of a hard taskmaster. It is true that he has had a tremendously high ideal of the work (and I use the word "work" advisedly) of the theological student and of the Christian clergyman. But he has asked nothing which he has not exemplified in demands he has made upon himself. Who in his right mind can deny the validity of the standards which he has required of us all?

The Dean is not only a scholar and teacher, he is in himself and in his outlook, an example of that sometimes greatly abused but none the less significant word—a Churchman. He has given his life to the Church. As a result of this deep conviction he has emphasized those truths and practices which are vital and central. He has covered a considerable range in his transition from Nashotah to Cambridge to New York—and the remarkable thing is that he has felt at home in every environment and has in each place held the esteem and the respect of faculty and students. With some, this could be achieved by complete acquiescence and an amiable drifting with the tide. But this was never true of Professor Fosbroke. Indeed one of his characteristics, perhaps a saving characteristic, is that he is apt to react against his environment. His ideal is so great that he never can be content with partial truths of any character. Let any one be too dogmatic and too certain of his point of view, the Dean will be sure to see unmentioned and perhaps unthought of values to the contrary. I do not wish to give the impression that this means a controversial and a captious spirit, for this has never been characteristic of the Dean. He has seen the strength and the weakness of many opinions and schools of thought. In these he has found much to admire and to uphold in genuine appreciation, but he has never lost sight of the whole truth or the complete picture. With quietness and gentleness he has held to his own view and conviction. He has therefore never been at home in any so-called party in the Church. To many who have emphasized the truth in Catholicism he has interpreted the truths inherent in Protestantism and to many with a Protestant outlook he has given an understanding of the meaning of Catholicism. He has always been unhappy in the presence of shallow thinking or of pettiness, or of sham, as many of his students can testify from personal experience. He has never been an ecclesiastical controversialist. He has been content to be a teacher, and his loyalty has been to the Church in all Her depth and breadth of truth. That is what I mean when I say that he is a great Churchman.

This is not the occasion to attempt a history of the General Seminary for the past thirty years—except as the Seminary reveals the interests and the ideals of the Dean. I have been reading a number of the Dean's annual reports. One must be impressed with his understanding of the supreme values in Theological Education and the many practical steps taken to achieve these objectives. I mention a few which come to mind—the development of the tutorial system with the appointment of teaching fellows, comprehensive examinations, emphasis upon the basic disciplines with increased attention to clinical training in many fields and in many ways, the effort to relate the life of the Seminary to that of the Church and of the community, the refusal during the war to consider the Seminary as a means of escape from the responsibilities and dangers laid upon the young men of the nation, an interest in the education of women workers in the Church, extension of graduate study, particularly in relation to returning Chaplains, the necessity during two post-war eras of holding to high standards of training, avoiding the danger of easy so-called short cuts. The position of the administrator of any educational institution is not an easy one. There are pressures over the years from faculty, students, Trustees, alumni and in the Church from Bishops who exercise by canon a responsibility for the theological education of their candidates. Dean Fosbroke has consistently pointed to the necessity of the most demanding discipline in the training for the ministry. It is safe to say that whatever the future of this Seminary may be, there will be felt here for many years to come the impress of his ideals for theological education.

The Dean has spent all of his ministry within the walls of theological seminaries but his interests have been as wide as life itself. His reading is continuous and extensive, particularly outside of his immediate professional responsibilities in the fields of philosophy, literature and history. He keeps constantly in touch with the events of today. For he feels deeply that God is revealing Himself in every phase of life. How many of us have been helped by the suggestion of some worthwhile book little known to the general public and particularly by some quotation discovered by the Dean, giving a rich and deep interpretation of the Truth of God.

The greatest of Dean Fosbroke's gifts to his students is the consciousness of the reality of the Presence of the Living God; in history, in the religion of Israel, in the life of Him we call Our Master, and in the world today; here is the keynote of his teaching, his preaching, his entire ministry. I quote from the Dean's address of this year to the Alumni because it is so characteristic of his message and of the resulting impress upon our lives:

"The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals Himself in what is as well as in our thought of what ought to be. Indeed it is because He is here in the actual that there is any hope for the realization of the ideal. Infinite in His power and wisdom, transcending our every thought of Him, He seeks to make Himself known to us not only in the great moments of worship and those unexpected visitations of our souls which He vouchsafes but in all the countless details of daily living, in all our involvement in the life of nature, in the life of the community, in the whole process of human history. We take, we must take, full account of the grievous disorder and misery that sin has brought into being. We are ready to face the worst but always for us facing the worst brings us to the foot of the cross, and we realize anew that it must indeed be God's world into which He could come Who on that Cross died that He might redeem mankind."

I knew of no greater tribute of gratitude which can be paid to a Christian teacher than to say that he has brought many of us, in mind and heart into the Presence of the Eternal God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soon the Dean lays down administrative responsibility but we may confidently believe that this freedom will increase the scope and the breadth of his ministry. A theological professor seems to touch the few rather than the many. But that is a mistaken view. The teacher multiplies his influence many fold in the message and in the service of his pupils. In reality he is represented in every field of the Church. So tonight we, of many points of view and from varying positions within the Church, meet to thank God for all that has been given us because there is a man sent from God whose name is Hughell Fosbroke.

+ At the meeting of the Board of Trustees on February 15th, it was determined by unanimous rising vote that upon his retirement Dean Fosbroke should become Dean Emeritus.

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