RICHARD MEUX BENSON and CHARLES GORE
RICHARD MEUX BENSON , RELIGIOUS, 1915
CHARLES GORE, BISHOP OF WORCESTER, BIRMINGHAM & OXFORD, 1932
Collect: Gracious God, you have inspired a rich variety of ministries in your Church: We give you thanks for Richard Meux Benson and Charles Gore, instruments in the revival of Anglican monasticism. Grant that we, following their example, may call for perennial renewal in your Church through conscious union with Christ, witnessing to the social justice that is a mark of the reign of our Savior Jesus, who is the light of the world; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lessons: 1 Kings 19:9–12; 1 John 4:7–12; John 17:6–11; Psa 27:5–11
Preface of a Saint (2)
Richard Meux Benson (1824–1915) was a priest in the Church of England and founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the first religious order of monks in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation, often called the Cowley fathers because Benson organized the society while serving as vicar of Cowley, Oxford. High Church in his liturgical practices and theology, he chanted with his brother monks Morning and Evening Prayer in choir dress (cassock and surplice) every day. He led retreats using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. A measure of his incarnational theology is reflected in opening lines of the current Rule of the Society:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us. In all the signs that he did and the teaching that he gave, he made known to us the grace and truth of the eternal Father. When his hour came the Son consummated his obedience to the Father, and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross. He was lifted up from the earth in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead in order to draw all people to himself. We whom God calls into this Society have been drawn into union with Christ by the power of his cross and resurrection; we have been reborn in him by water and the Spirit. God chooses us from varied places and backgrounds to become a company of friends, spending our whole lie abiding in him and giving ourselves up to the attraction of his glory. Our community was called into being by God so that we may be entirely consecrated to him and through our common experience of the glory of the Father and the Son begin to attain even now the unity that God desires for all humankind.”
Charles Gore (1853-1932) was a priest, and then bishop in the Church of England. After the death of early Anglo-catholic tractarian Edward Pusey, a library and study center was established at Oxford in 1883, known as Pusey House, and Gore became its first Principal. Gore’s appointment initially raised some eyebrows, since his support of modern biblical scholarship was seen as a betrayal of Pusey’s earlier rejection of what was then known as the “Higher Criticism.” Gore, however, saw the need to integrate orthodox and catholic faith to reason and science.
It was his theology of the incarnation, in fact, that led him to accept Biblical Criticism. He put forward what he called a “kenotic” theology of incarnation, using the word kenosis (emptying) from Philippians 2:7, where Jesus “having the nature of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, and took the nature of a servant.” For Gore, incarnation and kenosis meant that in the occultation of the divinity when God became flesh, God took on the limitations of knowledge and culture along with the weakness and mortality of the flesh. Thus things on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels about scripture, whether a reference to Noah and the Flood, or Jonah and the Great Fish, or the authorship of scripture Jesus quotes, reflect more the ambient culture in which Jesus lived rather than divine infallible knowledge. Gore’s orthodoxy and careful scholarship of the early Church Fathers gradually brought most of his detractors around.
In his magisterial Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation (1890), Gore did us all a favor by gathering together quotes from several early Christian theologians on how our view of nature and the world changes in light of the doctrine of Incarnation:
“The wisdom of God, when first it issued in creation, came not to us naked, but clothed in the apparel of created things. And then when the same wisdom would manifest Himself to us as the Son of God, He took upon Him a garment of flesh and so was seen of men” (Hugh of St. Victor, Migne Patrologia Latina V 177 para 580). “As the thought of the Divine mind is called the Word, Who is the Son, so the unfolding of that thought in external action … is named the word of the Word … The incarnation is the exaltation of human nature and consummation of the Universe”” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles IV 13). “The whole world is a kind of bodily and visible Gospel of that Word by which it was created” (Herbert of Bosham, Migne Patrologia Latina V 190 para. 1353.) “Every creature is a theophany” (John Scotus Eriugina, Migne Patrologia Latina V 122 para. 302). “Every creature is a Divine word, for it tells of God” (Bonaventure, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, ci. t. ix).
Gore was made a canon of Westminster late in 1894, where his preaching attracted great crowds. In 1901 he published The Body of Christ, arguing that Christ is objectively present in the Sacrament, that the Sacrament is a sacrificial offering, but questioning some later Medieval Eucharistic devotions such as Processions of the Sacrament, unknown to the Primitive Church. Typical of Anglo-catholics, he supported strong support of the poor and social justice (siding with workers in one of England’s early major labor disputes). At great personal cost, he opposed British Imperialism and its atrocities in the Boer War in South Africa.
In the first decades of the 1900s, some Church of England clergy went further than Gore in supporting Biblical Criticism, arguing that an Anglican might deny the Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Christ and remain an Anglican. Gore was horrified, and proposed to resign his bishopric so as to devote himself to contending against a position that he believed to be destructive of all Christian faith. His friends persuaded him to reconsider.
In 1914, WWI broke out. Gore traveled to France twice to preach and administer the sacraments to soldiers in the trenches. In June 1918 he went to the United States for a major speaking tour on the Church and the post-war world. Once the war ended, he spoke for reconciliation and the necessity of restoring Germany as soon as possible to the family of nations. But the victorious powers at Versailles decided to be punitive instead, and the hardship thus caused was a major driver of the Nazis’ rise to power. Had we listened to Bishop Gore, we may have avoided World War II. (--A. Hutchinson+)