THE FOUNDATION OF THE SSC
By a priest of the Society
In 1845 John Henry Newman seceded to Rome; in 1850 the Privy Council decided in favour of George Cornelius Gorham against the Bishop of Exeter. In 1700 economic growth averaged 1% per year and 13.4% of people lived in large towns; by 1840 economic growth averaged 4% and 28% of people lived in large towns. This, therefore, was the background to the foundation of the SSC – large-scale industrialisation and urbanisation, and profound questioning of the catholicity of the Church of England.
In 1845, following his study of the Arian controversy and the production of Tract XC, Newman despaired of the catholicity of the Church of England and repaired to Rome. He had inspired a whole generation of Oxford undergraduates with a renewed religious seriousness and an excitement concerning doctrine and belief which the old ‘orthodoxism’ of Oxford less easily produced. His way of walking, talking – even of kneeling in church – were aped and lauded by great circles of awe-struck young men and he opened their minds to the church of the first centuries and to the reality of the sacraments of baptism, holy communion and ordination. When he studied the church fathers’ debate with Arius, however, a small voice told him that the Church of England, if it had been around in Arius’ day, would have been on Arius’ side. Newman began to worry; the ultimate product of his worry was Tract XC, an attempt to demonstrate that the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion were at least patient – if not demonstrative – of a catholic understanding of Christianity. When the Bishops, whose authority he had exalted in his writing and teaching, disagreed with his Tract, he felt he was finished. He retreated to Littlemore to ponder his future and in 1845 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. With him went a swathe of young men and his departure marked the end of the first phase of the catholic revival in the Church of England.
In 1850, Henry Phillpotts, the Bishop of Exeter, refused to induct the Rev’d George Gorham into the living of Bampford Speke on the grounds that he held heterodox views concerning baptismal regeneration. The Court of Arches upheld the Bishop’s position when Gorham appealed, but when he appealed again – this time to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – Gorham succeeded. The Privy Council declared that the ‘true and legal construction’ of the Church of England’s formularies permitted him to believe that regeneration did not automatically happen at baptism. At this decision great controversy enveloped the Church of England, Archdeacons Henry Manning and Robert Wilberforce arguing, among others, that a secular body was being allowed to decide what was and what was not Church of England doctrine. In all over 60 pamphlets and tracts were produced arguing the case back and forth. Manning declared that the Gorham Judgement confirmed for him that the Church of England was completely Erastian in nature, simply an adjunct of the state, and not part of the Catholic Church, able to pronounce on her own doctrines and teachings. Manning, Wilberforce and many other Tractarian priests seceded to Rome and for a while all sorts of apocalyptic responses were offered to the Privy Council’s decision.
Was the Church of England Catholic? This was the question that Fr Lowder and his fellow-founders of SSC were faced with. Newman, Manning, Wilberforce had decided that she wasn’t; Pusey, Keble, Gladstone had decided that she was. The essentials were there – the sacraments, the scriptures, the creeds, the historic ministry of bishop, priest and deacon – but it needed missionary life injecting into it. As Newman wrote in the first Tract for the Times “I fear we have neglected the real ground on which our authority is built – our apostolical descent.” The first phase of arguing over rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer and establishing the patristic roots of Church of England teaching was over. What was needed now was a Catholicism to win not just professors, but the proletariat.
It was not, however, simply a Church of England whose catholicity had been thrown into question and so needed declaring and robustly living out, that was a great spur for the foundation of the SSC; secondly, and just as importantly, it was the need for a priesthood to minister to a new England. Keble still lived the George Herbert dream of the Country Parson – of a rural nation with a rural heart and rural clergy. The pattern of the Church of England, however, no longer met the pattern of the nation. Tiny villages and hamlets had their own parish priest, but large towns had one priest for thousands. Blomfield, the Bishop of London (supported by Pusey among others) had set to work in remedying this with a huge programme of church building in the capital city. The problem, however, was not just lack of churches and clergy in the urban areas: what was being discovered was that rural methods of ministry could not simply be imported unthinkingly into the towns. Herbert had given the Church of England an inspirational model in his Country Parson but a new model was needed for the nineteenth century, where over a quarter of all people now lived in towns and where production was booming in coal, metals, cotton, shipping; by 1855 there were over 7,000 miles of railway track; the largest towns were no longer York, Norwich and Exeter but Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. It was into this fast-changing society that Lowder and his fellow priests stepped in the 1850s, and it was this great sweep of national economic, social and religious history interacting with Lowder’s own personal journey that caused the birth of the Society of the Holy Cross.
Charles Fuge Lowder, was born in June 1820 in Bath the son of a banker. In 1840 he went up to Exeter College Oxford. While at Oxford he attended S. Mary’s, where, like the best of his generation, he fell under the spell of the vicar, John Henry Newman, whose sermons guided him to the priesthood. Mr Lowder took a second class degree in 1843 and in the Autumn of that year was made Deacon to serve a title in the parish ofStreet-cum-Walton. On his ordination as a priest, by Bishop Denison of Salisbury, on the 22nd December 1844, he took up additional work as chaplain to the Axbridge workhouse.
As a Deacon he had looked into the possibilities of mission work in New Zealand. The failure to achieve this brought to the fore his other, parallel and perhaps greater ambition. He desired to work in a parish with a more advanced and catholic pattern of worship, thus he applied to become a curate at the famous ritualist centre of S. Barnabas Pimlico. S. Barnabas Pimlico, the most catholic building erected for worship in the Church of England since the reformation, was from its foundation a centre of ritual controversy. Bennet, the first vicar was long persecuted, and unsupported by the Bishop of London departed under pressure.
After the change of incumbents, the Revd R Liddel was the new vicar, the problems continued. The assistant curates, Skinner and Lowder carried out a splendid parish ministry but the proponents of the protestant cause were not to be persuaded by energetic evangelistic and pastoral zeal.
This parish, then a maze of slum streets had been built to serve the poor and was the most catholic parish, in both externals and teaching, in London. In the atmosphere of a daily celebration of Holy Communion (with priest vested in Cassock, surplice, black scarf and hood), daily Morning and Evening prayer, a Sunday sung Eucharist and strict patterns of parochial visitation, Mr Lowder deemed himself to be in the best possible situation for an Anglo-Catholic assistant curate.
The case of Westerton vs Liddel was one of the great dramas of the early ritualist movement. Westerton challenged a number of the furnishings that had given S. Barnabas its catholic atmosphere. These included the altar cross, candlesticks, credence table, rood screen. The judgement, which went against Liddel was soon challenged on appeal. The atmosphere in parish life was however one of conflict and confrontation.
Mr Westerton, after the cases, sought election as Church-warden in order to further pursue his persecution of Liddel and the proclamation of the catholic faith. To this purpose he hired a man to perambulate the area carrying a sandwich board proclaiming the message, “Vote Westerton”. Mr Lowder, in what he described later as ‘a moment of madness’ gave some of the choir boys 6d with which to purchase rotten eggs; so armed, they assaulted the poor board carrier. Mr Lowder appeared before Westminster Magistrates where he was fined £2.0.0, and before the Bishop of London on 6th May 1854, he was suspended by him from duty for six weeks. Thus one of the heroes of the Anglo-Catholic revival began his great work as a man with a criminal record and a diocesan black mark.
Lowder went to France, later in May 1854 to spend his suspension out of the public eye. Being poor he walked, and stayed at the Seminary at Yvetôt. While there, he read Louis Abelly's Vie de Saint Vincent de Paul. This meeting with the great French Apostle of the poor marked the rest of Lowder’s life. He concluded that England was in desperate need of priests committed to the service of the urban poor of the great cities, just as S. Vincent’s Company of the Mission served the poor of rural France.
On his return to England, he completed the life of the saint and meditated on the dual need of a society far from the Gospel, and priests who lacked the structure, which was used by the Vincentians for mission. As a result he called a meeting of Anglo-Catholic clergy, hand-picked as the most trustworthy. The group of six came together at the House of Charity Soho on the 28th February 1855.They were, Charles Maurice Davies, curate of St. Matthew's, City Road: David Nicols, curate of Christ Church, St. Pancras; Alfred Poole and Joseph Smith, fellow curates with Lowder at St. Barnabas' and St. Paul's; and Henry Augustus Rawes, Warden of the House of Charity, Soho. The meeting took place at the House of Charity in Soho. The six formed themselves into the Society of the Holy Cross and in this society and company made promises binding on them until May 1855. These were: of confidentiality in matters concerning the society, the second an affirmation of the Nicene creed, the third concerned mutual help, both temporal and spiritual, to brothers of the Society; in this way they dedicated themselves to lives of self-disciplined service, first of the poor, and the extension of the Catholic faith. Membership was to include obedience to a rule of life prior to a further major meeting in May at which the future of the new society would be decided. Lowder appeared first on the roll of members and was elected the first Master, to serve for twelve months. The first provisional rule instructed:
1. Every Brother is to pray daily for the Church and Society using either the Office or the Collects in the Office.
2. Every Brother is to make on Sundays an offering to the Society to be used for the relief of the poor, the remainder given to the Society.
3. Every Brother is to inform another Brother of any report he may hear either to his advantage or disadvantage.
4. When two brothers meet, the elder is to salute the younger with the 'Pax tibi' etc.
5. Every Brother is to attend all the meetings ... and positively the Great Meeting on May 3rd.
6. Every member is to pay 20 shillings a year.
Unlike many bodies founded during the second phase of the Anglo-Catholic revival, therefore, the SSC was not in original intent a devotional society; it was structured to be a rule for mission priests. It was thus from its inception original, more than a devotional society, other than a religious community, greater than a friendship circle, less than an oratory. It was an original conceit; original because the founders had no models from which to work, original because it was founded for a situation that was unique: the new outworking of a catholic priesthood whose conscious catholicity had been for centuries dormant in an English society undergoing enormous change.
Of the Society Lowder was to write in 1856, “It was so ordered also, by God's good providence, that a society of priests had lately been founded in London, called the Society of the Holy Cross. Its objects are to defend and strengthen the spiritual life of the clergy, to defend the faith of the Church, and to carry on and aid Mission work both at home and abroad.”