Arthur Middleton revisits a schoolboy enthusiasm

TT Carter (1808–1901) came to the attention of the present author when, as a schoolboy, he was introduced to The Treasury of Devotion that Carter edited. The Preface (1869) states that he was suggesting what would exercise ‘a vital and lasting influence on the character of the devotional life now’. This included ‘all the great principles which it is important to cherish in perfecting communion with God … from authoritative guides in the ways of faith and piety.’ The Catholic faith and piety of the Christian ages influenced everything in Carter’s life, and answers his neighbours when as Rector of Piddlehinton, Dorset, they wondered what he would do when he neither ‘shot nor fished’.

Thomas Thellusson Carter was born 19th March 1808, the son of a priest, who became Vice-Provost of Eton, where Thomas spent twelve years before entering Christchurch Oxford and where Pusey was kind to him. He took a first in Classics in 1831, leaving before the Oxford Movement to be ordained deacon in 1832, priest in 1833 and licensed to St Mary’s Reading. His six years at Piddlehinton were punctuated by inexplicable absences, two winters for health and two years as his father’s curate. He offended his parishioners by removing the church gallery, dismissing the choir, and changing a charity in favour of the needy by cancelling Christmas gifts to every parishioner.

The Tracts for the Times he read after becoming his father’s curate in Burnham, touched him deeply and he ‘felt a sense of interest and earnestness in religious doctrines one had not known before’ (Life, p14). He discovered what Thomas Sikes described as that ‘one neglected article of the Creed’, the One Holy Catholic Church. Sikes prophesied that more confusion would come ‘when it is thrust upon minds unprepared, and on an uncatechised Church’, and one might add an uninformed episcopate.


As Rector of Clewer in 1844, he succeeded the first residential priest for a century, who had faithfully served countless parishioners, but the ‘intemperate habits’ of his latter years pushed the parish into sequestration. With the authority of his Eton patronage the small congregation accepted Carter’s development of the liturgical life, with vestments, the sign of the cross in blessing, the Agnus Dei after the consecration and the elevation of the elements. Fr Carter was a gentle man of personal charm, otherworldly and unquarrelsome, who became an Honorary Canon in 1870. Some objected to ‘an unauthorized manner’ of worship, in particular a Doctor Julius who lived for six months in Egypt. He petitioned Bishop Mackarness of Oxford to prosecute Carter, but the wise bishop refused. A court ruled that he could be compelled to prosecute Carter, so he appealed, and won and this influenced the bishops in their policy of vetoing ritual cases. Though the bishop had supported him he knew that Mackarness disapproved of ritualism and resigned in 1880 to become full-time warden of the Community of St John Baptist, ministering to the sisters and writing his forty publications, The Treasury of Devotion going into eleven editions before he died in October 1901. My 1929 edition of The Priest’s Prayer Book, in its 28th thousand impression, lists five of his books as recommended reading.

Liturgy and Doctrine

Liturgy was ‘ritual’ to Tractarian opponents, the uncatechized and uninformed. For Tractarians liturgy was an expression of doctrine. Carter said that when the great mysteries of the Incarnation were first revived among them doctrine alone fed and sustained them, without any ritual expression. But doctrine necessarily leads to liturgy. For the Fathers doctrine alone was at first the Church’s life. Then the maturing Church gave birth to symbolism. Doctrine depends on liturgy. When symbolism ceases, doctrine declines. Puritanism spurned symbolism and the spurning of doctrine followed. There is an intimate connection between ideas and their expression so that doctrine is not only conveyed by words, but also by signs and symbolic actions. It is not possible to deny that the Catholic liturgy encircling the Eucharist conveys a general impression that Puritanism does not. The clergy had taught them the doctrine and the people provided the symbolical expression.

Sacramental Confession

In the Holy Catholic Church Canon Carter recovered an essential tool for his pastoral practice, sacramental confession. He publicly appealed to Archbishop Tait for Freedom of Confession in the Church of England. His long experience, with the approval of Bishop Wilberforce, had established sacramental Confession as a pastoral necessity in the work of the House of Mercy. Without it his work would be impossible. There was ample authority within the Anglican tradition for such a practice, and he cited such devout and learned divines as George Herbert, Hooker, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Duty of Man, Archbishop Wake, and others. Carter told Tait, that he thought the revival of Confession would be a cause of rejoicing and thankfulness to him and the other bishops because it had brought a more active ministry, a growing conviction of sin, and the deepening and advancing of spiritual life.

The Religious Life

The practicalities of pastoral ministry prompted the foundation of the Sisterhood of St John the Baptist in 1851, to provide a ministry to ‘fallen women and girls’. In the House of Mercy under Harriet Monsell as Superior, it became the Community of John the Baptist. Carter’s ideal for this Community was to cultivate the counsels of perfection and to practice active service both in spiritual and corporeal works of mercy.

These women had no experience of the Religious Life. They grew into it under Carter’s direction while they directed and trained a larger group of ‘fallen women and girls’.

For Bishop Wilberforce, fearful of ‘Romishness’, vows became a difficulty and were not taken in the early years. The desire for vows originated in the Communities themselves because the Sisters had always assumed a lifelong dedication and not a transient interlude in their lives. Permanence was the principle of the rule but a Sister was free to leave if she changed her mind. Their life was the deliberate profession of permanent, absolute dedication. Carter remained cautious because he felt that vows were not a matter of necessity but of expediency, knowing that the early history of Religious orders had proved this. Religious life is a special divine vocation in which vows express trust in the power of God to sustain the life into which he has called those who serve him, but great caution was needed in the general introduction of vows as a formal part of the bonds of Community life. ‘A Sisterhood … implies a vocation to live and work wholly and undividedly for God as a permanent state; an aptitude for devotion and useful service; a religious rule; fellowship in prayer and work, binding all together; a gradation of offices with recognized authority; rights and customs carefully guarded; and a systematic way of adapting the capacities and dispositions of the different members of the community to the necessities of the work undertaken.’ The Bishop’s sanction seals it with the Church’s blessing (Church Congress, 1875).

Church and State

The principle raised by the Ritualist trials, was the right of a spiritual Institution to self-expression within its own sphere on matters of doctrine, sacraments and the discipline of the Church, in things spiritual.

The final Court of Appeal in ecclesiastical matters was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Submitting ecclesiastical matters to temporal Judges sacrificed a great principle on which depended the very existence of the Church. For Carter the relationship between Church and State was limited and safeguarded by law. He told Archbishop Tait, that in Church affairs, the two Houses of Convocation limit the power of the Crown.

Therefore, legally and constitutionally the Government, cannot meddle with her doctrine and discipline, before consulting the clergy in Convocation, and the laity in Parliament. Tait welcomed Carter’s thoughts, but differed on numerous points.

The proposal to obey no court or authority in Church or State, as long as such courts and authorities have to conform to the interpretations of law given by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Tait thought ‘intemperate and foolish’. He appreciated Carter’s authority among Churchmen and was confident that he could restrain many who, without his guidance, might be led into dangerous courses, injurious to their own souls and to the Church. Both had differing conceptions of the Church and consequently of its relation to the State. Tractarians wanted no change in the constitution of the Church. For them the constitutional rights pledged to the Church had not been fulfilled, therefore the Courts had no authority over matters of doctrine, worship and discipline. This would only be secured by a truer concordant action of Church and State that had been pledged by the principles of the Constitution.


In 1858 Fr Benson conducted the first clergy retreat and Fr Carter conducted the second in 1860 at Cuddesdon, for such people as Mackonochie, Lowder, Cosby White, Bishop Forbes the ‘Pusey’ of Scotland and Bishop Wilberforce. There was a daily Eucharist with Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline from a college usage and Bishop Cosin’s Hours.

His Wider Ministry

Fr Carter became a prominent Tractarian. He was sought after for spiritual direction and with W Bright, Liddon and Pusey published a defence of Confession in The Times (1873). In 1856 he protested against the Bath Judgement on Archdeacon Denison, which was a statement on the Real Presence. He was a founder and vice-president of the English Church Union, a founder and Superior General of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and a founder and Master of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC). His administrative skill, piety, pastoral zeal, spiritual insight, and writing, gave him an almost unequalled influence in the Catholic movement. He believed it was the ‘Broad Church’ element in our national life under William III that forced decline, hindered the possibility of the continuance of the spirit of Nicholas Ferrar and led to the spiritual barrenness of the eighteenth century and early years of the nineteenth. With the Wesleys and the Evangelical Revival the situation was partially redeemed. This quest for holiness became the spirit of Tractarianism, was centered in the Incarnation and emanated in a Christian Socialism that keeps the balance between the sociological and the religious without depreciating either. Its converting influence is the self-sacrificing love that Christ lives in such dedicated lives and where lifestyle has to be conformed to the doctrine, and not the doctrine conformed to the lifestyle. This is what touches hearts with a converting influence.

Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon in the Diocese of Durham.