Margaret Laird finds modern parallels in the archive at Hatfield House in the letters of Dr Edward Pusey to the Third Marquess of Salisbury

The Rt Hon. Lord Patten of Barnes CH, Chancellor of Oxford University, preached at High Mass in Pusey House Chapel, which was filled to capacity for the Friends’ Festival in June – a glorious and memorable occasion. Pusey House has long had an historical association with the Oxford University Chancellorship for it was a former Chancellor who chaired the appeal for the founding of the House in 1884; another who was both Chancellor and President of the Governors of the House; and yet another who, as an undergraduate, served at the altar.

Dr Edward Pusey shared with John Henry Newman and John Keble a primary concern for holiness and the text of his first sermon was ‘without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.’ Pusey also believed that responding to the call of holiness required involvement with others in order to witness to the faith in the wider world – a similar point was made by Lord Patten. Pusey himself once admitted that he did not regard business (or pleasure for that matter) as distractions from prayer, ‘for prayer,’ he wrote, ‘may take place at any time and in the midst of business or employment.’

There are at Hatfield House, seventeen letters of Dr Pusey to the Third Marquess of Salisbury, who as an undergraduate at Christ Church was strongly influenced by Pusey. Andrew Roberts, biographer of the Marquess, comments that it was Tractarianism which had provided the main spiritual and intellectual influence on the future Prime Minister. The two men greatly respected each other and after Pusey’s death, the Marquess, as Chancellor of the University, chaired the appeal for the setting up of Pusey House, its chapel and library.

Study of languages

For convincing evidence of the way in which Dr Pusey responded to the call to holiness through his involvement with so many matters, both secular and religious, we need look no further than the letters amongst the archives at Hatfield. When Lord Salisbury was Secretary of State for India, Pusey gave advice on the training of men for the Civil Service, particularly those who would work in the India Office. ‘Altogether,’ he wrote, ‘I am disappointed at the seeming meagreness of the course of study which the Civil Service Commissioners seem to have laid down.’ Men destined for India, he thought, should receive a longer, more intensive training in order to acquire a knowledge of several Eastern languages, including Arabic, Sanskrit, Persian and Hindustani. Pusey then added a personal note to prove the point. Arabic, he admitted, was the most difficult language he had learnt. ‘I had to employ,’ he wrote, ‘12–14 hours a day (Sundays excepted) for ten months on this exclusive study…and Sanskrit is so much harder.’

Another letter shows Pusey’s involvement in University matters. He expressed his concern to Lord Salisbury, as Chancellor, about a clerical Fellow who was causing problems in one of the Oxford colleges. ‘A half believing clergyman is practically much more mischievous and his unbelief much more offensive than that of a half believing layman.’

Dr Pusey’s concern for the wider Church and particularly the London diocese is reflected in several letters. In 1878 he wrote to Lord Salisbury about the abysmal standard of worship in some of the East London Churches. ‘Spiritual desolation is extreme,’ he commented, ‘Nothing seems to be going on…there is no one seemingly to speak the word for God or to their souls. The accession of five or six worshippers is hailed as a gain among empty pews or benches.’

State of the clergy

Dr Pusey was distressed by what he heard about some clergy, who seemed unaware of their pastoral responsibilities. ‘In other parts of East London,’ he wrote, ‘I hear that the clergy are non-resident – and many pass the week in the suburbs.’ This letter ends with a significant sentence which reflects how highly Dr Pusey rated a priest’s involvement with his people. ‘A population unvisited in the week will not come to church on Sunday.’

He also quoted for Lord Salisbury an extract from the findings of a report on the state of East London: ‘In two parishes out of seven, there were no weekday schools. In five out of seven, there were no night schools.’ Pusey did not, however, place all the blame on the clergy. ‘It is no use,’ he wrote, ‘urging the cry ‘the clergy must do more work’ until they have a leader. They are wearied and out of heart and cannot work for want of strong sympathy and leadership – of a heart and mind that can show forth these gifts.’ In other words, they needed a new bishop.

Aware that there was to be an episcopal vacancy and that the Marquess could be influential in advising on the appointment, Pusey commented on the sort of man he envisaged. ‘The remedy must be a bishop who should have good powers of energizing, who would be the means of enthusing new life into East London, tolerant and with an organising mind.’ He realized that a high Churchman might not have been acceptable to Queen Victoria but he concluded, ‘even a high Churchman is tolerable if gifted.’

Worship, study, care

Thus we see that responding to the call to holiness did not isolate Dr Pusey from what he described as ‘business and employment.’ It is also interesting that in the seventeen letters, from which these extracts have been quoted, the three main aims of the House which bears his name are clearly reflected; the importance of upholding high standards of worship, of encouraging scholarship and disciplined study, and of providing for pastoral care and spiritual growth.

The 125th anniversary of the founding of the House occurs in 2009 and already consideration is being given to how this might be celebrated. One possibility is an international conference on Pusey which would encourage serious study of ‘that Father of the Oxford Movement who still attracts too little attention’ in the words of Fr Barry Orford, the present Archivist of the House. A famous Church scholar recently remarked, ‘Pusey had all Newman’s ideas before Newman had them but Newman expressed them more stylishly.’ The Chapter and Governors of Pusey House believe that the 125th anniversary could provide a wonderful opportunity for the exploration and recognition of Dr Pusey’s many achievements.