Steven Haws CR considers the links between the Community of the Resurrection and the Society of St John the Evangelist
Before the foundation of the Community of the Resurrection (CR) there was the Society of the Resurrection which had its origin in 1887 with the clergy of Pusey House, Oxford linked by a common rule, prayer and a commitment to celibacy with the brethren of the Oxford Mission in Calcutta whose English base was at Pusey House. At the end of August 1889 Charles Gore (who was Principal of Pusey House and Superior of SR), along with John Carter, James Nash and William Carter drew up a provisional Rule on Oratorian lines aimed as far as possible to reproduce the pattern of life in Acts 2:42-44. William Carter and James Nash as members of the Society of the Resurrection had gone to Cowley to experience the monastic life. Nash’s visit was brief due to an illness. Carter decided the Religious Life wasn’t for him. However, Nash concluded that the life lived at Cowley was not something that appealed to him especially Benson’s autocracy and teaching about ‘deadness to the world’ which was a misquotation of S. Paul (Romans 6:11) who had written ‘dead to sin’ and not deadness to the world. On 11 October 1891 Walter Frere, writing from Stepney, wrote to Gore informing him of his own experience at Cowley: “I did not see Father Page (who by then was Benson’s successor as Superior-General) but I saw enough to show their ideal and the one I humbly pursue are very different.”
Richard Meux Benson founded (along with two other priests) the Society of S. John the Evangelist in 1866. The Society’s foundational principles was to cultivate in a life dedicated to God according to the principles of poverty, chastity and obedience and occupy itself in works missionary and educational at home and abroad for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, as God in His good providence may seem to call. Benson belonged to the generation of Pusey, Newman and Liddon. Gore did not, yet Gore revered Benson and Benson appealed to Gore’s Tractarian side. When the six brethren made their profession as the first members of the Community of the Resurrection in Pusey House chapel on S. James Day 1892, Gore was chosen as “Senior” or Superior. The founders of CR were keen not to publicly advertise themselves and did not want a Superior who held autocratic power over his brethren as it had with the SSJE. CR believed strongly that governing authority should be committed to the full chapter of the professed brethren and not solely to one person. Another attribute of CR was brethren addressing one another by their Christian name, which was not the case with SSJE at the time.
Walter Frere one of the foundation members professed in 1892 thought that Cowley seemed to be so much like monks and even monks of the Carthusian type, hermits, while his ideal before him was rather that of friars, men detached by vows from three at least of the bonds of the world but living in the world and actively ministering to its masses of men and women. The Cowley Fathers (SSJE) as Mission Priests, from its inception included laymen in the Society although Lay-brothers had no say or vote in any matter pertaining to its governance. Voice and vote was reserved to the Professed Fathers only. CR was founded as a community consisting of celibate priests who would be occupied in various works ‘pastoral, evangelistic, literary and educational’ in such ways as would develop the faculties of each member, but forty years after its foundation the first lay-brother made his profession. Some of the lay-brethren of the Society of S. John the Evangelist and of the Community of the Resurrection have been lesser known, but invaluable.
Both SSJE and CR within the first decade of their foundations were engaged in mission work in America and Canada, and although there had been requests for CR to open branch houses in Canada, this never happened. SSJE on the other hand became firmly established in America and eventually in Canada where it would engage in running mission churches from its mission house for almost sixty years.
In 1883 the Cowley Fathers were invited to start work in South Africa. They would be followed two decades later by CR. Early in 1903, three CR brethren from Mirfield: Latimer Fuller, Clement Thomson, and James Nash arrived at the Cape Town Mission House of the Cowley Fathers where they stayed with Henry Power Bull SSJE, George Congreve SSJE and Nalbro Robinson SSJE. Nash, Fuller and Thomson went to Pretoria and stayed with the bishop as his guests until a house was found for them in Johannesburg. Much of the work done by SSJE and CR had been closely followed and supported by the Sisterhoods of All Saints, S. Mary the Virgin, Wantage and in the 20th century by the Order of the Holy Paraclete, Whitby.
We can see how SSJE and CR were involved in similar activities missionary and educational at home and abroad, preaching missions, retreats, running parishes, educational works in the care of schools and orphanages, teacher training colleges, universities, and literary work. Yet SSJE and CR had been very different in their witness in the Church. More austere would be one way in describing SSJE.
In 1907 Walter Frere CR had written a commentary on the Rule of the Community of the Resurrection. He describes the Community’s ideal in offering the Eucharist as primitive rather than medieval, for the brethren regard themselves as one body uniting in a common act of Eucharistic worship, rather than as a number of priests who aim at saying his mass daily. But in regard to the Hours, the Community’s position is neither primitive nor medieval but modern. In the apostolic church the principles of the Hours of prayer was recognised, and it was a legacy from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem but as a system was undeveloped. System first began with the organisation of community life in the fourth and fifth centuries. It developed until it had aimed the larger part of the day and night and in varying degrees this has always been the monastic ideal.
The worship of the ever blessed Trinity is primary in the Christian life, and this worship finds its highest expression in the offering of the Eucharist, according to the Rule of SSJE (Cowley). The opportunity of sharing frequently in this liturgical action enables the brethren to renew that offering of them which is central in their life through sacramental union with Christ. Corporate unity in this action is to deepen the reality of their common life, and draw towards a faithful expression of this in their daily tasks. Likewise, at the heart of their life lies the desire to be united with Christ in giving praise and thanks to God in offering this praise in the Divine Office, so fulfilling within the Church their call to prayer for which they are given special opportunity. The corporate offering thus gives mutual support, and through all changing moods enables the community to offer as worthily and joyfully as possible this constant action of worship.
Although Father Benson had his critics he also had his admirers. It is true to say that CR from the outset wanted to be a community different from the Cowley model of Religious Life. Both communities have undergone many changes since their respective foundation days. Whatever shortcomings SSJE and CR had in the past, there is still something of the monastic ideal that continues to attract men to test their vocation within SSJE and CR and to other communities.
It is extremely rare that siblings within the same family would find themselves drawn to a vocation to the Religious Life, and while some managed to join the same community, others would join different communities. SSJE and CR can claim to have had siblings, cousins, an uncle and a nephew among their brethren.
William Longridge SSJE (1848-1930) was professed at Cowley in 1883. After spending more than sixteen years in America (Philadelphia and Boston) he returned to Cowley in 1899 to become Assistant Superior. Known for his work in Ignatian Spirituality, his published retreats for priests, laymen and Religious are based on the Spiritual Exercises of S. Ignatius Loyola. William’s younger brother was George Longridge CR (1857-1936) who was a foundation member of the Community of the Resurrection, professed in 1892. George wrote a History of the Oxford Mission to Calcutta in 1910. He became CR’s Superior 1913-1916. Edward Fenton Elwin SSJE (1853-1921) was professed at Cowley in 1894 and established the Sisterhood of the Holy Childhood in Marston Street, Oxford. His cousin was Elwin Millard CR (1876-1960); Frederick William Puller SSJE (1843-1939), professed at Cowley in 1883 the same year as William Longridge, was an uncle of Lionel Spencer Thornton CR (1884-1960), professed at Mirfield 1915.
There were certain members of CR who though not blood related had at one stage contemplated a vocation with Father Benson’s Society at Cowley.
Long before Bishop Rupert Mounsey joined CR, he had written to Father Benson about becoming a Lay-brother in 1885 when he was a young lad of eighteen. Benson replied that if he were accepted his noviciate was likely to be prolonged for several years, at least to the age of thirty when Profession in the Society would take place.
Another Mirfield Father, Hubert Northcott CR had been devoted to Father Benson and at one stage hoped to join Cowley in 1913 but was persuaded to join Mirfield instead.
Geoffrey Curtis CR who in some ways had the characteristics typical of a former generation of Cowley Fathers, and it was believed that he almost joined SSJE, had a deep veneration for Father Benson. In 1952 the then Superior of Mirfield, Raymond Raynes CR approached SSJE suggesting that Father Geoffrey Curtis CR might write a study of Father Benson’s theology, two members of SSJE, Fathers Dalby and Bryant thought it a good idea, but the Cowley chapter disagreed, suggesting Father Wain SSJE should write it, but he could not be spared from India, hence nothing was written not until nearly thirty years later in 1980 with the publication of Benson of Cowley edited by Martin Smith who also contributed a chapter on Benson’s Theological vision.
Charles Gore who first encountered the Father Founder during a retreat held at the Mission House at Cowley when Gore was an undergraduate at Oxford in the early 1870s had a deep respect for Father Benson. At the time of Benson’s death on 14th January 1915 and subsequent burial Gore who was Bishop of Oxford and Visitor to SSJE had been on business abroad. On his return to England, he wrote to Father Maxwell, the Superior-General on 20th January 1915 offering to come and preach in the Society’s Church on a Sunday giving two suggested dates. He ends his letter with “I shall be truly thankful to be allowed to say a few words about your Father Founder. I loved and honoured him with all my heart. Yours affectionately, Charles, Oxon.”
On Sunday 27th February 1915 Bishop Gore preached in the Society’s Church on the Religious Life and added a moving tribute to Father Benson whom he held in high esteem.
Brother Steven Haws is a member of the Community of the Resurrection Mirfield