Charles Marson, 1859-1914
Charles Marson was a member of the Guild of St Matthew and dedicated his collection of essays, God's Co-operative Society, to "The bravest of captains, and most skillful of the swordsmen of the Holy Ghost, Stewart Duckworth Headlam."
In For Christ and the People [London, 1968], Maurice Reckitt writes:
The name of Charles Marson is not one that is now at all widely remembered. This is both an injustice and a misfortune, for few more vigorous personalities have appeared in this century in the Church of England, of which he was at once a devoted lover and an astringent critic . . . Part of his early ministry was spent overseas [in Australia], and his short, meteoric blaze in metropolitan curacies in the early 1880s was soon succeeded by what proved for him a wholly satisfactory pastorate in the heart of the west country. His books (save for a few pamphlets) were never widely circulated and are now almost unobtainable; they tended to be either too fiery or (on rural themes) too placid for most readers to welcome or cherish them. . .And the Bishops and clergy often were absurd -- even today their antics are quite capable of producing gales of healthy laughter, whether Charles Marson is around to poke at their foibles or not. If the Church of England has improved, as Reckitt insists, there are still those in the U.S. who think they carry around the infallible answer to everything in their hip pocket, who think it "godless" for the public schools to teach arithmetic without "collects before and after", "Christian Academies" teaching more than anyone needs to know about "the second missionary journey of St. Paul", and not one word about justice, liberty, or the Commonwealth of God.
Moreover Marson, dynamic, dogmatic, contentious, had what is perhaps more justifiable in his than in most cases to describe as the defects of his qualities. He did not suffer those whom he was perhaps too quick to dismiss as fools gladly, or even politely. . . "To some," wrote Gilbert Binyon, who well remembered him, "he was extremely attractive, an enchanting soul, a real leader. . . but there may have been others who felt less inclined to join in the shouts of laughter which his writing irresisitably provoke than to wish he dealt with the Bishops and his fellow clergy more in the manner of the Fabians when dealing with capitalist politicians, ignoring their absurdities and prescribing what they ought to do." But anyone less like a typical Fabian than Marson it would have been hard to find, then or now.
We are in the midst of a resurgence of an irrational, undemocratic, and often downright silly distortion of Christianity. I, for one, wish Charles Marson were here to have a go at it.
But there was a great deal more to Charles Marson than his ready wit. His little book on the Psalms displays the wideness of his reading and the depth of his devotion. He is still admired by devotees of folk music for his work with Cecil Sharp in collecting and reviving the folk music tradition of Somerset. (Selections available on CD: The Seeds of Love, Herald AV Productions, ©1998).
And, above all, as Henry Scott Holland wrote of him:
He had a deep love for the poor, of a singularly Christ-like intensity, venerating them as the true people after God's own heart. He saw them exactly as they really are; he had none of the illusions about them which come from pity and condescension. Just as they are in themselves, he found them real and lovable. He sat at their feet.No higher tribute could be paid to any follower of Christ, of his time or ours. -- Ted M.
from Charles Marson's God's Co-operative Society. London, 1914.
The absolute inefficiency of the individual to help himself by himself, the consequent need of a society, a club, a country, a Church -- whatever we call it -- that was the root principle for which the Tractarians contested. In things spiritual this leads to all their principal doctrines. Man is broken into men: that is the fall. Men must be united into man; that is the need of Baptism and its regeneration. They are united by God's grace; that is the Church, the Apostolic Succession, and the unity of the Faith. They are constantly liable to fall from this unity and can be restored; that is absolution and penance. They are united in a living whole, which needs constant feeding and building up; that is the whole Sacramental system. This work can only be done by the perfect and archetypal man; that is the Real Presence and the miracle of the Mass, to be set forth with all that is solemn and impressive, with all the appeals to each gate of the soul, the organs of sense, eye-gate, ear-gate, nose-gate, and so on; that is the meaning and use of ritual. All these teachings are of a piece and go together. But the man who tries to think in a straight line cannot stop here. The anarchy he combats in things of religion, he will suspect and oppose in the outward world. The bread, which is transformed until it becomes the highest gift of God, the drink which becomes the essence of the atonement, will cause him to ask, what invisible thing also lies behind the cottage loaf and the dinner beer. It has been well said the generation which despises the bread of God cannot get an unadulterated loaf at the baker's and the people who mock at the wine of heaven cannot get a glass of ale made without substitutes. Then this bread and this beer, it is evident, are outward and visible signs of some inward and spiritual disgrace.
A man, who has been sojourning in his own country, the New Jerusalem, and learned his fraternity, its unity with itself, cannot lightly or logically see the predatory society outside and conform to it immediately and without qualms. If he has been a colonist in the land, which is free and the mother of us all, he will be ill content with a servile State, or a gross and partial polity of privilege. The very test of his sincerity, and of the truth of the vision he tells us he has enjoyed, will be his outlook upon social and political problems; whether he is patient or impatient of sullied waters of life, of healing trees cut down, of stained robes, soiled crowns, and harps jangled, of freedom sold and Christ's face-marks clean obliterated. The most serious charge which can be brought against our modern High Churchmen, is that the things they tolerate and support outside the Church clearly prove that they have not seen what they think they see inside. That is why they are not only negligible in politics, ineffective in the City, impotent in all great movements, unheard upon all great questions of the day, and only half accepted, as a kind of game, by the people who profess to support them.
The Ever-Worshipped Bible
from Charles Marson's God's Co-operative Society. London, 1914.
Above all things the greatest source of disunion and individualism in religion is the unreasonable and baseless view about the Bible, which is but too common among devout English people. Even in the zeal and excitement about the Divine Library which prevailed in the seventeenth century, the Second Sunday of Advent was provided with a beautiful Collect, describing the Christian use of the Scriptures. These are for learning, to teach patience, to bring the comfort of the Holy Word (which is not the Bible, but the living Christ), and to inspire hope. The Bible is not the rule of faith. We did not promise at our Baptism to believe the Bible. The Church is not founded upon it. It is not the one thing needful. It was written, composed, gathered, preserved, and translated by Churchmen for Churchmen. Many of the dead in Christ never knew there was or would be a New Testament at all. When we have it, it is not of private interpretation. It has quite other than the literal meanings, as we assert when we sing the Gloria after each psalm. These are often the exact opposite of the author's meanings. The Church has the right to contradict the Bible. For instance, in Psalm lxxxviii, verses 10, 11, and 12, the poet expected the answer No, to his questions. The Church gives the answer Yes, and uses the psalms as proper for Good Friday, If abuses were ever an argument against use, surely the misuse of the Bible would be an overwhelming reason for denying it to nearly everybody. The proud ignoramus, who thinks that a Bible in his knapsack makes him master of the highest wisdom, is in a perilous condiition indeed. He fancies that he is bound by a golden rope to the heavenly Guide, so that no precipices need now trouble him the slighest. He actually believes that he has the Eternal Word in his fingers, that the Word took print instead of flesh, that a work of human mechanics is the Divine device for his salvation. He pits the handmaidens, the writings of the holy servants, against the Mother and Mistress of Christians, against the Bride of God. He will prove to you that the Bible is inspired, because it says, or he thinks it says, that it is inspired; that it cannot err, nor he err in construing it. The plenary inspiration of the bumptious reader is the sole creed of such unfortunate wanderers. Every man becomes infallible without further ado. Let him once have an authorised or loose version, sold under cost price, he is fully equipped for heaven. No greater device was ever invented for ruining the sweetness, modesty, and graduation of the soul in the School of Christ. No wonder the ever-worshipped Bible becomes the object of the utmost contempt and derision. Often the earnest youth, trained in Bible adoration, ends as the most bitter detractor of what he ought never either to adore or to burn.
from Charles Marson's God's Co-operative Society. London, 1914.
The New Education Acts, so pleasing to Dissenters, have one very obvious merit. The clergy are evidently to be kept trotting briskly, in a heavy set of brass Government harness, until they tire of pulling the weight of so-called secular education. This harness will be from time to time improved with heavier bits and weightier breeching: the load will be added to, and, after a little flicking and even flogging, it will then become evident that the light-draught clerical animal is unfit for such a severe strain. He will have to be unyoked, and kept to his own particular work. Religious education will be assigned to him, as it should be, and the rest will be hauled by the great Government traction engines as well as may be.
Then, at some expense of time and temper, perhaps we shall begin to understand what religious education (in a strictly elementary sense) really is; and we may hope that two exasperating fallacies which haunt our controversialists will then be laid to rest. These two have disfigured for a long time the schemes and speeches of our so-called educationists.
The first is that it is "godless" to teach any honest lore without collects, but particularly godless to teach arithmetic, pothooks, or hendecasyllables without collects before and after. Yet the gymnasium is not called godless: The drill-sergeant might, but usually does not, begin his exercises with the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent. We seem to agree that to bring the body into strength and under control is a wholesome and hold work, which fits us for the Resurrection of the body. Why can we not agree that the same is true of the intellectual powers? -- that to develop these is, so far, a holy work; and that every step towards the perfect stature is of itself a step towards the Son of God? There seems to be no reason to doubt that civil powers may do holy work. . . we must not attack honest teaching as godless.
The second fallacy, which affects really superiour persons upon the other side of the quarrel, is a certain blind belief in facts, as they call them, in detached, isolated notions, such as the number of the planets, the specific gravity of zinc, and the like. Believers in God claim that no facts, and no haystacks of facts, are of value at all, unless they are united by a true conception of Him, and thus knit together with other facts by a strong central thought. This true conception of God fertilises every form of knowledge . . .
If children and quite illiterate persons need this knowledge of God, quite as much as do old, intelligent, or learned folk, then it follows that this knowledge must be quite an easy one, and easily acquired. The necessary thoughts about God are, and must be, few, plain, and simple, so that they may find an entrance into the minds of quite small babes and simple peasants; may inform our first and easiest actions and dispose these in the way of everlasting life. If the foaming and fury about religious education were made by men as sincere and reasonable as they are furious, we should hear much about these few plain thoughts, these grains of mustard seed. Our religious leaders would teach them clearly and persistently, and make them known on all sides.
But the fact is otherwise. Children pass in crowds and shoals through the academies which our passionate shepherd manage and superintend. They stream forth over the world after years and years of so-called religious education; and what have they learnt? Let the opponents of voluntary schools give ear. These children can tell you who Huppim and Muppim and Ard were; they know the latitude of Beersheba, Kerioth, and Beth-gamul; they can tell you who slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day; they have ripe views upon the identity of Nathanael and St. Bartholomew; they can name the destructive miracles, the parables peculiar to St. Luke, and above all, they have a masterly knowledge of St. Paul's second missionary journey. They are well loaded and ballast with chronicles of Baasha and Zimri, Methusela, and Alexander the coppersmith. This may be valuable as historical, geographical, critical, topographical, or memorial education, but it can hardly be called religious education except in the most dissenting and unthinking use of the term. Take any of these "religiously educated" children and ask them what one must do to make life nobler and less sordid? How may there be an increase of grace? They simply look puzzled . . .
Amid all the din and smoke of the battle about religious education, one thing is evident, that the people are perishing for want of knowledge, of the simple saving knowledge of how to live, how to get shrift, where to find Christ, how to worship Him and how to die in His arms. . .
If men are saved by a knowledge of Huppim and Muppim, then the martyrs burnt in Nero's tar-barrels are undoubtedly lost. Even the dignified clergy could hardly maintain that these worthies consoled themselves, in their sheets of fire, by reciting over the names of the sons of Benjamin. If the wanderings of St. Paul make up such knowledge as Christ loves, then the beloved disciple can be no longer beloved, for it is unlikely that St. John, or any of the Apostles, could pass the smallest examination on such matters. While the children are loaded with cram, which the saints in Paradise never knew, they are profoundly ignorant of all that brought these saints towards Heaven: which was certainly not stuffed nescience about Perga and Jehoiachin. . .
While our clergy are coaxing and caballing, petitioning Parliament, charging and plaguing everybody about private schools and voluntary schools as the one and only means of life and light for the English; while they are instant in season and out of season, with rates or without them, to proclaim the glories of Huppim, Muppim, and Ard, the people are destroyed through lack of knowledge. Congregations turn their backs upon Christ's precious Blood, reject His Body, scoff at the remission of sins and the Sacrament of Penance. They do not hew out for themselves anything so dignified as a broken cistern, but they scratch out, each man for himself, paltry little puddles which they call their religion and their "views". They are the prey of quack-salvers and charlatans, false prophets from whom Huppim and Muppim are impotent to defend them. They know all about Abraham except the way to his bosom; all about David except his sure mercies; and all about St. Pal except the Faith which he preached and which justified him.
What hold has Anglicanism got upon the ordinary Anglican? None whatever. A Roman Catholic will spend ten solitary years in the Australian bush, and return to it on the first opportunity; but his English brother cannot be trusted for ten minutes near a strange conventicle or he will quickly go a-whoring after the dreary gods of division and negation, despite his probable knowledge of the missionary journeys.
Contrary to the opinion of those great Cambridge divines, whose one message to mankind is to read the Greek Testament in uncials, and avoid profane swearing, it must be asserted that the knowledge which saves is small and easily gotten. It is not God's will that all His people should climb the steep heights of logical difficulty or ford the deep streams of learning and research. Gentlemen who know Hebrew and Greek and Latin -- like Pontius Pilate, Bunyan says -- are too apt to forget that it is not by grammar, or geography, not by sound reasoning and correct glossing on the name of Huppim, not by rote knowledge of antique travels, that the Lord wills his people to enter into life. The narrow way and the strait gate may be small, but they are simple. The one is not a maze and the other is not fitted with ingenious and complicated locks. By all means let whosoever has leisure and inclination rack the Scriptures and revel in the geography of Asia Minor, let anyone number and date the kings, disentangle the very secrets of the Apocalypse, and distinguish Lebbaeus from Thaddaeus, but none of these things is religious education. If there is anything in the teaching of the historical Christian religion, there must be glorious companies, goodly fellowships, noble armies, and holy saints walking in glory, who knew nothing of all this "religious education," but who merely knew how to live and how to worship, how to wash their robes white in the Lamb's Blood, and how to die fortified with all the antidotes against death and hell.
The conclusion therefore may be easily drawn. It does not matter a bit, as far as religious education goes, whether we have secular provided schools, or whether we have non-provided schools, or no schools at all. It matters very much indeed that we should recognize that real religious education is not being given now and never will be given, so long as we attempt boundlessly too much and vitally too little.
from Charles Marson's God's Co-operative Society. London, 1914.
There are, of course, two nations in every modern country. It is merely a truism to say this. But the Churchman, who stands for a City that is at unity with itself, must face the fact that he is fighting for the moment a losing battle; for the two nations are drawing apart, industrially (which is dangerous), and mentally (which is disastrous). Everybody with a thinking cap can see that in the days of domestic industry a man could quickly own his own capital, be master of his own tools. In the early period of combined manufacture, the tools began to be more elaborate and more costly to acquire, and now they are so increasingly complex, that by saving from his wages, a weaver or a printer would have to live for several generations to be master of the capital which he uses, or rather which uses him. Moreover he would have to be educated in business methods, as even our Labour members and Labour leaders are not, before he could use the capital which such fancy saving might give him. This complexity and skill is obviously growing not only yearly but monthly. That is to say, as all men must agree, the status of the labourer is diverging still more widely from the status of the owner and from the status of the director of industry. Not all the ladders we can devise will do more than exalt the wisest heads of the one nation to the ranks of the other. . .
It is also a truism that personal relations between the classes are now old-fashioned. Bassanio and Portia do not beat Gratiano and Nerissa; but then neither do they gossip with them, confide in them, speak their language, eat with them, nor, in a word, make friends with them. The stately homes of England are week-end resorts, where the new man from Change or Colony knows none of the tenants by name, except the gamekeeper and large farmer. The travelled and cultured manufacturer is served by drifting gangs of workmen, whom he knows less and less. . .
There remains religion to interpret each nation to the other. She has ambassadors always moving to and fro between them; with a message to denounce pride and insolence on the one side, fury and despair on the other; with an aloofness, which gives a power to see the possible, where other men only see the actual; or to put the matter in its true light, to remind both sides that they do not belong to the capitalist fashion of this world, which must pass away (the sooner the better!), but to a world wherein dwelleth justice. . . [The clergy] almost wholly ignore these pressing duties, and are generally unaware of their unique position. . . We have a class ministry. Decent men know and love their fathers and their friends of school and college days, quite rightly. The natural man who is lit with gospel charity must always be, by instinct, a conservative. He loves what he knows and wishes to keep it. But when he finds that the world he knows is flowing away from the fixed principles of heaven, that mere conservatism does not conserve, he is apt to become peevish, to waste life in vain regrets and uncriticised criticism, to shiver and lose his head, to charge blindly at things he knows nothing about, and to furnish cogent arguments for the very flow which he deplores.
It is of the first importance that our clergy, the ecclesia docens, should study humbly and patiently the lives of the poor, which they do a little; and the views of the poor, which they never do. Then they must themselves explain those views to the class to which they belong (in the ugly worldly sense of this word class). Before they improve the poor man's mind they must know it and tell it. Then it will follow that all the things which do or can protect the disinherited will be their delight. They will try to know and to understand Labour leaders (most pathetic of men, with all the woes of Moses and but a little of his vision). They will be openly in favour of the existence, strength, and health of Unions. They will support all laws, imperial or local, which make for the health and are against the helplessness of the governed. They will speak frankly about the sin of low wages, pigstye houses, contentment with bad conditions, careless passing by on the other side, selfish snatching of individual benefits. They will convict men of these sins, of which the burden is truly intolerable. It is not necessary for every Churchman to join a Socialist Society, because he has already done this in his baptism. It is entirely necessary for a great many of our clergy to join one of our Socialist Societies, because not to do so is sheer sloth, cowardice, and want of vision; it is the ungirt loin, the unlit lamp, and a craven terror of the subscribers.
Yet neither Unions, nor Socialist Societies, nor political parties are always wise or heavenly minded. (Nor yet, to do them justice, are the clergy themselves.) It requires often more courage to call a Union short-sighted than to call the squire a vampire and the board of directors assassins and burglars. . . It is harder still to make both [sides] understand that when Jerusalem is built in England's green and pleasant land, there will be no wages and no profits at all, no landed estates, no rival classes, no combinations of employers or of employed, no dirtied streams, no hedged orchards, no underground scamping, no unsymmetrical dimensions. Meanwhile why should not both nations unite to fight against the outrage of this inhuman division? to transform a system of captivity, which truly impoverishes both nations, into a co-operative polity where that captivity will not be smashed but led captive to the universal Man, Whom now we seek and shall some day behold? To do so might be to recapture some of that joy in life, which is almost extinct in the richer nation and far too uncommon in us all. But apart from their great work as ambassadors of the better land, the clergy ought to be correcting the unworthy caricatures of the poor which fill the press, the table-talk of diners out, the art galleries, the bookshops, and the ignorant minds of those who never allow Lazarus to come between the wind and their plutocracy. They need not explain the virtues and the graces of the well-to-do, or voice their aspirations and pleas, because these people have already four hundred prophets, the Court Chaplains of King Mammon, who are ceaselessly speaking in every corner of the City, with all the persuasiveness of all the arts, and the monopoly of the Press. The clergy and the clergy alone can, if they have the grace of the Holy Ghost, not only hear the cry of the poorer nation, but can reach the ears of the classes and carry the truth to them. As priests they are and always have been bound to be ardent social reformers; but as modern priests they are now bound also to be interpreters. We have missions from public schools and universities to Bethnal Green and Southwark; we really need settlements and missions from Seven Dials and Hoxton to Oxford or to Eton. The fish-porters cannot well reach the perishing hundreds in the West-end clubs, nor the Railway Men's Union evangelize the sorely necessitous in the grand stands, badly as these missions are wanted. But even the most timid archdeacon or the panic-stricken prebendaries might bear witness to the patience, dignity, wholesome mindedness, bodily grace, and mental sincerity of their humbler (splendid word!) parishioners; until their less humble relatives and friends are something eased of the foolish fictions, which they imbibed with their mothers's -- patent food for infants. These fictions are dinned into their ears and eyes from their earliest age. They are assumed in conversation, mixed with the alphabet and the arithmetic table, kneaded into their bread, sung to them in concerts, and shouted in the press. The father of lies had never been so active in traducing the absent, because the poor have never yet in the world's history been quite so out of sight and out of mind as they have now become. . .
A great wrong has arisen causing a schism, a widening schism, in the human family. Its existence is denying and blaspheming the life principles of Christ's Co-operative Society. No Churchman can afford to be indifferent, under pain of being false to his profession.
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