On the subject of London preachers, perhaps we ought to begin with the most worked preacher London has known in the past century. He is the Very Rev. W. R. Inge, K.C.V.O., F.B.A., D.D., the Dean of St. Paul’s. Dean Inge is over ninety years of age, and has preached in every English cathedral except Southwell.
When Dean Inge is talking in St. Paul’s Cathedral, it is hard to know whether he is preaching, lecturing, or giving an address. So perhaps we ought to add, in addition to his acknowledged work in the pulpit, some of his platform work, as well. He has given the Gifford Lectures, the Paddock Lectures in America, the Romanes and Herbert Spencer Lectures in Oxford, the Hulsean and Rede Lectures at Cambridge, the Hibbert Lectures, the Jowett Lectures, the Liverpool Lecture, the Warburton Lectures, the Galton Lecture, and two or three at the London hospitals. Many more lectures he could have had if he were willing to travel far enough. Australia he declined with regret. It would have taken him too long from London. He also declined Germany.
In addition to his sermons and lectures, Dean Inge has given innumerable addresses, everywhere. Again, his addresses are indiscernible, even by the most astute listener, from his work on the platform or in the pulpit. He has given addresses in America twice, in Sweden, Norway, Holland, Switzerland, and Greece.
To his work of preaching, lecturing and addressing, we perhaps ought to add, in all fairness, some of Dean Inge’s other clerical employment. Besides being the Dean of St. Paul’s, he has been President of the Modern Churchmen’s Union, of the Clergy Home Mission Union, and of the Religious Thought Society, of which he is an assistant founder.
If we were to add to that, the clubs to which Dean Inge has belonged, including the Hellenic Travelers’ Club, the London Clerical and Medical Committee, the Guild of Freemen, the Birth-Rate Commission, the International Medical Congress, the Middlesex Hospital Associates, the Women’s Diocesan Association, the Ecclesiastical Commission Committee, the Clergy Home Mission Union, the Musicians’ Company, and the Church Family Newspaper Editors; — to say nothing of innumerable others I cannot recall — it is no wonder that Dean Inge has secured for himself, among other reputations, that of being the outstanding Neo-Platonist of our day. He is a new version of Plato’s Universal Man.
It is also no wonder that he got gloomy, being so much on the go. Seated at any one dinner table, his thought had to be: Where do I eat next? Whom do I meet next? Whom do I greet next? Where do I move my feet next? It is hard not to be depressed, dressed up in black, while fulfilling such incessant obligations.
Dean Inge admits that he dined out at night, never less than two or three times a week, which is well over a hundred nights a year, and practically one night out of three. And this is not counting luncheons, which occurred in the middle of the day. Nor teas, every afternoon. There was even an occasional breakfast, thrown in here and there, in the morning.
Perhaps the next thing we ought to ask about Dean Inge is this: What did he say when he preached? My answers are going to be taken either from his sermons, lectures, addresses, conferences, or just plain chats. Oh yes, I forgot — or from his diaries. Because Dean Inge, whenever he was left alone, was always preaching to himself.
Dean Inge dressed always in somber black, with clerical collar, and — until a few years ago — in gaiters. He was what is known in London as a Low Church Anglican. But he travelled only in the highest society.
Either one must call everything Dean Inge did preaching, or else it is wrong to call that preaching which he did with vestments on in the pulpit. And let no one think, for all that he claimed to be a retiring man, that he has not made a lasting public impression on London.
Dean Inge is London’s quintessential clergyman. He is that to which all London beliefs are pointing whenever they imply “the church,” “a cleric,” or “the cloth.” If Dean Inge did not exist, London would have had to invent him. London needs only to say “the gloomy Dean.” All the rest of its clergy are then brushed aside, eliminated, pushed out of the picture, no matter how sad-faced or pious or jurisdictional they may look.
Being a Low Anglican and not a High one; being a Protestant and not a Catholic; being a practical man and not a mystic; being an idealist in thought and not a realist; being a realist in history and not an idealist; being a cleric and not a layman; being a married man and not a monk; being, if somewhat somber, always social; and although set apart for the sanctuary, yet seething therein with secular notions, — Dean Inge manages to spot himself a friend or defender in every area of public life. Somebody always has some reason for liking him, and for saying that he is not as bad as he is cracked up to be. The most frequent reference one hears made of Dean Inge is: At least you’ve got to admit that the Dean was on the right side of this controversy … that discussion … this debate … that disclaimer … this doubt … or that decision.
Dean W. R. Inge and Lord Bertrand Russell are exactly the theologian and the philosopher the British Empire requires, so as to leave it unembarrassed in its pursuits. Inge gives London gloomy theology; Russell gives it the philosophy of despair. After thinking in the territory of these two, anything is a relief, even British Empire annoyances: high taxes, low wages, bad food.
Dean Inge believes in the salvation of the precious few. He endeavors to show charity towards this arrangement by taking it gloomily. Lord Bertrand Russell believes in the damnation of the unprecious everybody, and maintains we should look on this with satisfaction. Inge and Russell often have it out together, and pretend to be intellectual enemies. When Bertrand Russell makes a statement like this:
“Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built,”
Dean Inge dandles the statement with a great deal of reflection. He hopes he can ultimately settle it serenely by his distinction between the ideal and the real order.
Dean Inge is a Protestant divine who thinks damnation is ideal, as long as it occurs in the ideal order, which is to say, the order to which he does not belong. Bertrand Russell is an heretical atheist who thinks his own damnation, of which he is certain (and so am I) is the presage of damnation for all, and is desirable because there is no escape from it.
I may now let Dean Inge tell a little of his own story. He is most anxious to.
“I have no social gifts. I have inherited from my mother’s family, the Churton’s, the faculty of being silent in several languages. I have been further handicapped by slowly increasing deafness, and by a ridiculous inability to remember faces. I have failed to recognize at least three duchesses, and a score of less exalted people.”
Some thoughts, while listening to the choir of St. Paul’s.
“I can and do pray when I ‘enter into my chamber and shut the door’; but in the midst of howling and caterwauling, I cannot.”
“ ‘Melodies heard are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.’ Quite right, John Keats; they are.”
“ ‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.’ It has the opposite effect on me, who am not a savage.”
“If I believed that I shall listen through all eternity to the seraphim blowing their loud, uplifted trumpets, it would almost deter me from the practice of virtue.
“They turned the Nicene Creed into an anthem; before the end, I had ceased to believe anything.”
“ ‘Use not vain repetition.’ For ten minutes today the choir repeated the words, ‘I wrestle and pray.’
“Are we quite sure that the Deity enjoys being serenaded?”
“Bernard Shaw, while wholly disagreeing with me in politics, speaks of me as, ‘our great Dean,’ ‘our most extraordinary writer, and in some respects our most extraordinary man.’ ”
“Bernard Shaw is a good man, and a great man, and he is kind enough to wish to be our friend.”
Thoughts on Catholic Saints:
“After the Reformation the Catholic Church became narrower, and no longer produced men of genius, like Augustine, or even Thomas Aquinas. Its most outstanding figures are Ignatius of Loyola and Alfonso of Liguori, in whom ‘vulgar Catholicism’ overwhelms the mystical and evangelical elements of Christianity.”
The Church of England:
“The question, ‘What does the Church of England stand for?’ must, of course, be answered. It can be answered only by considering what it has stood for since the Reformation and before it. It has been … the church of the English people. This is the principle upon which Hooker most insists. ‘There is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the Commonwealth; nor any man a member of the Commonwealth, who is not also (a member) of the Church of England.’ ”
The Chosen People:
“We need a Bible of the English race, which shall be hardly less sacred to each succeeding generation of young Britons than the Old Testament is to the Jews. England ought to be, and may be, the spiritual home of one-quarter of the human race, for ages after our task as a World-Power shall have been brought to a successful issue, and after we in this little island have accepted the position of mother to nations greater than ourselves.”
On the death of his daughter, Margaret Paula:
“It has been my strange privilege, as I believe, to have been the father of one of God’s saints, a character as pure and beautiful as many which are recorded in the Church’s Role of Honor.”
I am sorry, but I think this is all I have to say on the subject of Dean Inge of St. Paul’s. It pleases me to think he had a daughter whom he loved. It pleases me even more to notice (which I think escaped his own notice) that the highest tribute he could pay to her was to put her on the Role of Honor of the Church which he despises. It grieves me to think that she was not canonized by more infallible authority.
Carl Sandburg, a mid-western American poet, who called his native habitat “Hog-Butcher for the World,” and expected Chicago schoolchildren to be pleased, endeavored once to put a fog into verse. He called it a little cat.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
The fog comes on little cat feet. Does it? I agree it comes softly and silently, but its own softness and silence are all too evident to me without my needing to have them emphasized in terms of the softness and silence of something not in the least more soft or more silent. What good does it do to say of a ball that it is as round as an orange, or of a piece of coal that it is as black as a crow? Supposing I were to write Sandburg’s poem emphasizing the resemblances between a little cat and a big fog?
The little cat creeps into the room
as silent as a big fog.
Softly it fills my chamber
and sits watching a tiny mouse
scampering towards a hole
which despite the presence of the cat-like fog
has not become invisible.
Perhaps we now understand why the London poets left the theme of fog alone.
Perhaps we also can understand why a young Indian girl, Lyra Ribeiro, after a taste of America’s proletarian poets from places like Chicago, should innocently reply from an undemocratic place like Goa:
To root and star
To leaf and stone
To little things that are
To snail and moth
And such-like, each,
God spared the greater loneliness
To be foggy on the subject of fog is bad enough; but what shall we say of being foggy on the subject of Faith?
One might think that because Archbishop William Temple, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, was an Anglican on a higher plane than Dean Inge, that he would be definite about things that are doctrinal, authoritative about them, and occasionally apostolic. He was not. Not only did he lack Dean Inge’s clear powers of affirmation, he actually cast doubts on Faith itself.
Many of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermons disregarded entirely the facts of Faith. They were concerned only with Faith as a function. It can be truly said of him, no matter how shocking it sounds — that he did not believe in God. He believed in belief.
Here are a few of Dr. Temple’s statements taken from a sermon he delivered in a Church at Oxford when he was the Archbishop of York, and before his government appointment to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. And here are a few of the replies I made to them, at a lecture delivered before the Nicene Society of Oxford, in the year 1931. The lecture was presided over by Dr. S. Vernon Bartlett, a Non-Conformist, and President of Manchester College.
The Archbishop of York.
Faith in God is precisely an hypothesis that the one principle which is capable of offering a final explanation of the universe does, in fact, explain it.
This means that we take a chance on the chance that there may be a God.
The Archbishop of York:
For us, finite beings in this world, that which calls forth our noblest capacities is always a hazard of some kind, never a certainty.
I always thought a hazard involved the difficult attainment of something you knew was there to attain. What would you think of asking me to bet my money on an imaginary racehorse in the hope that he would spring into existence in time to run in the race?
The Archbishop of York:
To adapt our lives with caution, to follow established certainties, is not in the least noble or heroic; it is merely sensible.
What superiority has religion over any other form of human activity in tempting us to embrace uncertainty?
The Archbishop of York:
Faith is something nobler in its own kind than certainty.
Possibly there is an ignorance in its own kind nobler than knowledge; a darkness nobler than light; a Blessed Ignorance and a Beatific Darkness, so to speak.
The Archbishop of York.
There used to be in this country a study called ‘Mods,’ or formal logic, which divided the processes by which men think when in pursuit of truth, into deductive and inductive. If God exists, then you may draw deductions from His nature, but from the very nature of deduction itself, you cannot reach Him by means of it. Nor can you hope to get there by induction, by looking about in the world for a variety of events which you cannot explain any other way. You could never say there was one cause which explained them all; you could never, therefore, reach God.
The existence of a sole cause of the universe is proved by both processes of thought, induction and deduction, employed not simultaneously, but successively.
Our third London preacher is a Catholic priest. He comes from a family in which five daughters were nuns, and six sons were priests. Three of them became Bishops, and one of them was made a Cardinal.
Our third London preacher is the magnanimous, broad-gestured, handsome, kindly-eyed, Father Bernard Vaughan. He was a younger brother of Fr. Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, the third Archbishop of Westminster, and who built Westminster Cathedral.
Father Bernard Vaughan had the first requisite for an impressive preacher; he was himself impressive. At Holy Name Church, in Manchester, where he was stationed for a time, he had charge of the building of a pulpit. He designed it for a great preacher’s needs. One ascended it, not by a sudden and clumsy stair, but by a gradual ramp, as though floating up a hill. Father Vaughan’s pulpit was commodious, and was constructed of marble and imperishable wood. Behind where the preacher stood was a beautiful concave shell. It was calculated to show the preacher off, itemized to perfection. I myself preached in this pulpit for fifteen consecutive nights; and felt totally unworthy of it, entering and leaving.
Though Father Bernard Vaughan’s congregations were mostly London’s high society, he made efforts to be evangelical according to the Gospel’s humble prescriptions. He went out into the London lanes, ringing a bell and summoning the crowds to hear him speaking on the street-corner. Father Vaughan was a man of God who could dine with kings, and still not lose the common touch.
And dine with kings he did. King Edward VII of England was constantly inviting him to Buckingham palace to dinner. There was, in the royal dining room, a life-size picture of King Henry VIII.
“What would you do,” Father Vaughan was asked, “if Henry VIII stepped out of that picture?”
“I would ask the Ladies to leave the room,” he said.
Great numbers of people in Mayfair, knighted, or wealthy, or both, came to hear a course of sermons given by Father Vaughan, entitled “The Sins of Society.” The pews at these fashionable sermons were kept open for their pew-holders, up until five minutes before sermon time. After that, anyone standing at the door could rush in and take an empty place.
One night, Lady Bedingfeld came late for one of these sermons. Lady Bedingfeld was a tall, London beauty, of conspicuous manner and voice. The church was packed. The empty places in all the pews, including her own, had been filled. Father Vaughan was ready to come out into the pulpit, dressed in his black silk cassock.
It was then that Lady Bedingfeld walked, unushered, down the middle aisle, and in view of, and in hearing of all, was heard to say, to a young shirt-waist seller sitting in her place, “I beg your pardon, are you Lady Bedingfeld?”
“Well, I am; and that’s her seat.”
Surely, a more brilliant change of personal pronoun has never been recorded.
It was interesting to watch Father Vaughan come out to preach at Mass. He loved altar boys. He delighted in seeing droves of them walk ahead of him in white surplices and dark cassocks, with folded hands and lowered eyes. Father Vaughan never hurried his acolytes.
Father Vaughan particularly liked to wear a cape in the sanctuary, and then ceremoniously to take it off; and to hand it, with a bow of almost personal regard, to whoever took charge of it while he was busy in the pulpit.
Father Vaughan’s prayer at the foot of the altar, antecedent to his sermon, he never hurried, nor did he move towards the pulpit quickly. He approached it in slow strides. And when he had finally reached and ascended it, he stood there, tall and erect, for what always seemed like the major part of a minute. He gave the congregation a good long gaze of recognition, and, turning sideways, was handsome in profile; and then, front forward, he turned once more. And in the midst of slow, deliberate and majestic breathing, with beautiful intonation and superb reverence, he both made and spoke the Sign of the Cross.
Father Vaughan’s sermons were enormously pleasing. His patterns of thought were aristocratic, simple, benignant, and clear. Here is a fashion in which he might begin:
“My dear Brethren: Life may be compared to a game of chess. In a game of chess there are various wooden pieces, the King, the Queen, the Knights, the Bishops, the Castles, and the Pawns. These are the parts these pieces play, while the game of chess is going on.
“The Pawns are the smallest of the pieces, and they move forward only one space at a time. By special privilege, they may move two. The Castles must move in squares; the Knights must move in angles; and the Bishops diagonally.
“Last of all, we come to the King and the Queen. The King and Queen may move in any direction; the Queen in lengthy, royal excursions; the King in majestic, slow ones.
“Before the game of chess is over, some inconspicuous Pawn may turn out to be the most valiant defender of the King, and on this otherwise unimportant piece, victory may depend. And so it is in life.
“Life is a game of chess. It is most like it when the game is ended; for then it is when all the pieces, independent of their former dignities and prerogatives, are packed in the same little box, King and Queen, Bishop and Pawn, and put away on the shelf.”
When Father Bernard Vaughan had finished his sermon, he walked back into the sacristy with the same regal air with which he had come out of it. He had that quality which Willa Cather once praised in a good priest. He had “beautiful manners with himself even when he was alone.”
One day Father Vaughan was in a small town in Lancashire, called Wigan. He was leaving the town, and was standing in the railroad station awaiting the train, which was late. He went up to the baggage-man, piling trunks, and said: “What is the name of this place?”
Father Vaughan paced up and down the platform a few more times.
“What did you say the name of this place was?” he said again to the man.
“WIGAN!” the fellow shouted. “Look at that sign, starin’ you in the face!”
Again Father Vaughan, after a few more excursions up and down the platform, and because there was still no train arriving, went up once more to the same employee.
“I have a dreadfully bad memory,” he said. “What is the name of this place?”
“How did you get here if you didn’t know what the name of it was?” the man shrieked, walking away from him.
The train finally arrived. Father Vaughan boarded the train and entered one of the compartments. He sat down with a large, audible sigh.
“Oh!” he said. “Oh! I am so glad to get out of this place. I have never met such uncivil people. They are so discourteous, so impolite.”
“I don’t agree with you, Reverend,” said one of the other passengers in the compartment, putting down his morning paper. “Lancashire folk are well known for being courteous and polite, particularly the folk from Wigan.”
“Well, then, let us see,” said Father Vaughan, as he opened the train window and beckoned to the baggage-man.
“Will you please tell me what is the name of this place?”
“Will you go to Hell!” the fellow replied.
“Do you see what I mean?” said Father Vaughan, closing the window.
Father Vaughan preached in many other cities besides London and Manchester. Indeed, he preached in many other countries besides England. I heard him preach in Boston. The Mikado of Japan listened to him preach in Tokyo.
At the end of one of Father Vaughan’s sermons, on Heaven, he started perorating as he left the pulpit. “To Heaven!” he said, as he went down step after step. “To Heaven!” he repeated, as he entered the sanctuary and closed the gate … “To Heaven!” he cried, as he genuflected, and started to go out — the wrong sanctuary door.
“To Heaven!” he shouted, as he put his hand on the door-knob, and prepared to turn it and disappear; only to find that the door was locked.
But Father Vaughan was not you or I left in such a predicament. “To Heaven!” he kept on shouting trustfully, until he found the right door. And out that door he went.
There was one trait especially which Father Vaughan possessed, and which I should like to mention before I point out his deficiencies. It was the trait of being a Catholic “to the manner born,” and as one is so born, in England. There were no inferiority signals or cultural omissions in his style. He did not have the awkward manners of present-day London apologizers for the Faith.
Father Bernard Vaughan was not in the tradition of the Newman school of preachers. These preachers like to carry written sermons into the pulpit, and then half recite, half read them. Father Vaughan was never a lecturer at the lectern, nor a pulpit pedagogue. He was first, last, and always, a preacher. Those who could not match him at excellence in this endeavored to depreciate him, and, indeed, through him, pulpit oratory itself.
Father Vaughan always talked in the pulpit in the tones in which he prayed. But the topics of his talks often lacked the tone of his prayers. Here was one of his prayers — a Christmas message which appeared in print:
“Dearest Jesus, on this Gift-giving Day, I offer myself with all that I am and have in life and in death to be entirely Thine. I give Thee my work — do Thou give me rest. I give Thee my sorrows — do Thou give me support. I give Thee my trials — do Thou give me triumph. I give Thee time — do Thou give me Eternity.”
But all too often, when speaking in public, he tried to offer England a sociological Jesus, instead of the Jesus Who died to save our souls. He made Our Lord the ardent supporter — almost contributor, to all sorts of uplift enterprises, for better food, better living quarters, better hospital care. Here is how he spoke in the pulpit in behalf of a collection for a hospital in Aberdeen.
“If Our Lord were here today pleading for the object for which I am standing in this pulpit, you would see tears upon His cheeks! I think you would.”
As a Catholic in the pulpit, Father Vaughan was edifying. As an apostle in the pulpit, he was not always satisfactory.
Father Vaughan did have, as the fruit of his personal apostolate, one notable victory. I shall mention it at the end of this chapter. But instead of a hidden victory, which it was, it should have been a glorious one, set on the summit of a hill, like a city shining in the sun; as a crown on the brow of a King, blazing with light for the astonishment of the world and for a testimonial to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Over-explanations always displease an Englishman. Eloquence for its own sake is something of an over-explanation, and this is probably why the English are prone to dislike it. But eloquence for God’s sake is a requirement that makes no allowances for tastes.
When an Englishman sees a point, he nods. This is a signal for the one who is talking to retire. Yes, even to retire from a pulpit in case the nodding has occurred in a church. For the first time in England since the Sixteenth Century, Father Vaughan made congregations nod from incipient appreciation and deep delight; not, as had been their custom, from incipient slumber and profound sleep. Father Vaughan rid English churches of their sleepers and sleepy sermons. This is my praise of him. But his clarion call, waking Catholics up, did not always let them know what they were waking up to. And this is my criticism.
All utterance in a Catholic pulpit must be pointed to one end: the salvation of souls. There never has been an English saint whose teaching on the subject of salvation has not been as clear and unequivocal as the discourse of Christ to His twelve Apostles.
Father Bernard Vaughan taught with power, according to Christ’s command, when He said, “All power is given to Me in Heaven and on Earth. Going, therefore, teach … ” John Henry Newman taught without power, and was a scandal, at least to Our Lord’s little ones. I wish, however, that Father Vaughan had added to his power and to the generosities of his heart, the concreteness and the chastity of the Word of God.
Of these two, Newman and Vaughan, give me Vaughan any day. A man may have enthusiasm without Christian truth, but no man can have Christian truth without enthusiasm. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Not out of the cautiousness of the mind.
When England forsook the dramatic values of Revealed Truth, its preachers became dry as dust. Its congregations then turned to drama in works of fiction. Chaucer, through fiction, had converted the Cathedral of Canterbury into a Tale, and stopped it from being the Holy Cupboard of the Bread of Life. Geoffrey Chaucer died, beseeching Jesus Christ to forgive him his sins. And I am not a bit surprised.
Jesus Christ was not mystery and mist. He was mystery and vision in the same adorational thought. Jesus shed His blood for us, and expects us to want to shed our blood for Him. After a sermon by Father Vaughan, one never thought of shedding one’s blood for Jesus, but only of paying commemorative respects to those who had done so. But English blood must go on being shed for Jesus, as long as England remains a child (not a mother, Dean Inge!) among the islands of the world, and as long as London is a place.
One night, at the end of a touching sermon, Father Vaughan spoke a phrase which the London liberals did not take to. I myself heard several priests apologize for this phrase, when the story was being told me. It was what they called, “Father Vaughan’s overdoing it a bit; meaning well, of course, but unfortunately going too far.”
Father Vaughan was talking about the God Who became little enough to be lullabied in Bethlehem. He was trying to put tenderness and adoration into the hearts of his listeners by asking them to remember that God was a Baby. He told them to close their eyes, and listen to the Blessed Mother of Jesus whispering Good-night to Eternal Light as it started to fall asleep.
He urged them to thank Mary for the flesh and blood she gave to Jesus. This Flesh and, Blood, he said, transformed into the Bread of Life, transforms us, when we partake of it, into Mary’s own children. He said that sometimes at night, Mary might forget which baby she was rocking to sleep — Jesus of Nazareth, or some little London boy or girl.
And with his hand extended high in the sky, and with the pulpit-light shining on his face, and with the church walls echoing his triumphant tones, he made this apostrophe to the Queen of Heaven. He called her:
“Oh, darling Mother of God!”
And now — as we say in America — comes the payoff on Father Vaughan.
It is the law of the land in England, and the law of the English Church, that when the King is dying the last clergyman who may see him must be the Archbishop of Canterbury. After the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to a dying King, no other clergyman is admitted to the royal bedchamber.
The last clergyman who entered the bedroom of King Edward VII, when he was dying, was not the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was Father Bernard Vaughan. And after he came out, no other clergyman went in.
“How did things go,” Father Vaughan was asked, concerning the last hours of King Edward VII.
“Everything was quite satisfactory,” was all that Father Vaughan ever consented to answer.
But anyone who knows a Catholic priest, knows that there may be great depths in such a reply, without the violation of any secret.
– FINIS –