A ‘Radical Contemplative’

Review by Peter Doll


Edward King:
Teacher, Pastor, Bishop, Saint

By Michael Marshall
Gracewing, pp. xxi + 565, $40

When in 1885 Edward King (1829-1910) was appointed Bishop of Lincoln, the eminent church historian and Bishop of Chester William Stubbs told Prime Minister William Gladstone that he had made “the best appointment … since St. Anselm.” The eminent canon of St. Paul’s, Henry Scott Holland, exclaimed, “A St. Francis de Sales at Lincoln!”

A reader unfamiliar with Bishop King might assume that there was some friendly exaggeration at work here. Not the least strength of Michael Marshall’s biography of King is that by this point in the bishop’s life these comments come as no surprise, but seem fully justified. His contemporaries from all walks of life, no matter their perspectives on his principled high churchmanship, agreed that King exemplified in life the holiness that he preached.

In the same way that George Herbert came to be seen as an embodiment of the authentic parish priest in the reformed Church of England, so Marshall demonstrates that King — successively as parish priest, principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford, Bishop of Lincoln, and “radical contemplative”— decisively shaped the ethos of Anglican priesthood for a century.

As a disciple of Newman, Pusey, Keble, Marriott, and other founders of the Oxford Movement, King as pastor, teacher, and liturgist embodied its priestly ideals and communicated them to successive generations. “Cuddesdon seemed to point further to something more radical in the training of the clergy, by providing not only a college for theological education but to set all study in the context of community life, committed to regular worship [of the Office and the Eucharist] and training in personal prayer,” and gathered around the bishop supervising their formation for ordination.

As a priest, King was not only a person of prayer, but he was also outstanding in his love and care for the poor and the vulnerable. Even as bishop, he visited prisoners and accompanied the condemned to the scaffold.

Though he was not notable for his academic gifts (he took a “pass” rather than an “honors” degree at Oxford), he was an assiduous reader both of ancient and modern theology and of contemporary literature. He mastered French, German, and Italian so that he might read and converse with European churchmen, being influenced particularly by the writings of Johann Michael Sailer, the pastoral and ecumenical Bishop of Regensburg.

Although King is perhaps best known for being persecuted by the extreme evangelicals of the Church Association and put on trial for his very moderate high-church liturgical practices, he was not a “ritualist,” and he always respected the traditions and practices of the parishes he visited as bishop. Far from being a narrow party man, he went out of his way to befriend Roman Catholics and Nonconformists.

Marshall, as a fellow bishop with King, writes with one eye on the present, acutely aware of how far today’s managerial culture of the Church of England has devalued the pastoral tradition King embodied. This biography, clearly a labor of love, is in part a call to the Church to return to first principles.

Marshall has delved deeply in the primary sources, both manuscript and printed, and he has made good use of early secondary sources such as the work of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. But, inexplicably, he has virtually ignored the rich seam of revisionist writing on the Oxford Movement stemming from the work of Peter Nockles. Had he not done so, Marshall would have been better able to appreciate the extent to which King’s ministry and theology were more in sympathy with the high churchmanship of the long 18th century than the Anglo-Catholicism of the 20th.

The Rev. Canon Peter Doll is canon librarian and vice dean of Norwich Cathedral.

 

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