Thursday, 23 December 2021

Praying in Advent 2021:
26, Archbishop William Temple

Frederick Temple (1821-1902), Archbishop of Canterbury (1896-1902) … died on this day in 1902 (Portrait in Exeter Palace)

Patrick Comerford

We are in the last few days of Advent, and there are Christmas sermons and the details of Christmas services to finalise. Today (23 December 2021) is going to be yet another busy day, but before the day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in my Advent calendar this year, I have been reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

As we come to the end of Advent today [23 December], there are no major saints in the principal calendars of the Church, and Frederick Temple (1821-1902), with his liberal views on theology and Biblical criticism, would hardly have been regarded as a saint by many of his Victorian contemporaries in the Victorian Church of England.

Yet, Archbishop Temple’s own life span in some way symbolises our journey through Advent: he was born 200 years ago on Saint Andrew’s Day (30 November 1821), and he died on this day, the day before Christmas Eve, 23 December 1902.

He took costly and risky efforts to reconcile science and religion in his day, faced down harsh criticism from his fellow bishops and clergy, was outspoken in his efforts to promote women’s education, and sided with the working class in their demands for industrial justice.

Although he was initially attracted to Tractarianism as an undergraduate at Oxford, he was unloved by High Church Anglicans for many of his decisions as a bishop and archbishop, yet he continuously sought to maintain Anglican unity and diversity.

During his long and active ecclesiastical career, Frederick Temple held some of the most important posts in the Church of England during critical periods for the Victorian Church. Temple was an undergraduate and fellow of Balliol College during the Oxford Movement, a close friend of Matthew Arnold, Benjamin Jowett, and Archbishop Archibald Tait, a noted educational reformer and headmaster of Rugby, the contributor of the lead article to the controversial Essays and Reviews, Bishop of Exeter, Bishop of London and finally Archbishop of Canterbury from 1897 to 1902.

He was involved in many crucial events in education, theology, and Church politics in the second half of the 19th century. One of his last acts as Archbishop of Canterbury was to crown Edward VII.

William Temple was born on 30 November 1821 in Lefkada in the Greek Ionian Islands, where his father, Major Octavius Temple (1784-1834), was a colonial administrator. Major Temple was transferred to Corfu in 1828 as Administrator of the ecclesiastical and municipal revenues, and in 1833 he became lieutenant-governor of Sierra Leone. When he retired, he moved to Devon. The archbishop’s grandfather, the Revd William Johnson Temple (1739-1796), was known for his radical views and was a friend of both Samuel Johnson (see 13 December) and James Boswell.

He was baptised in Lefkada by the Revd George Winort, a British military chaplain, on 8 December 1822. As a child in Lefkada, the young Frederick Temple became fluent in modern Greek and Italian. When the family returned to England, he was sent to Blundell’s School, Tiverton, where he earned a Blundell scholarship to Balliol College. Oxford. When he arrived at Oxford, the Oxford Movement was already under way, although Tract XC had yet to be written.

When he graduated in 1842, he was elected a fellow of Balliol, and was appointed lecturer in mathematics and logic. He was ordained priest in 1847 four years later, and was appointed head of Kneller Hall, a college for training masters of workhouses and penal schools.

The college was not a success, and in 1855 he became a school inspector. He could be considered the real designer of the Oxford and Cambridge Examination Board in the 1850s. In 1856 he was appointed a chaplain to Queen Victoria, in 1857 he was the select preacher at Oxford University, and in 1858 he took the degrees BD and DD at Oxford.

From 1857 to 1869, Temple was the Dean of the Chapel Royal and Headmaster of Rugby. At Rugby, he strengthened the school’s reputation in classics, set up scholarships in natural science, built a laboratory and reformed the sporting activities. His school sermons emphasised loyalty, faith and duty.

Temple had a lifelong interest in science and religion. In 1860, at the famous meeting of the British Association when Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce engaged in a famous debate, Temple preached a sermon welcoming the insights of evolution.

The publication of the volume Essays and Reviews in 1860, a year after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, stirred controversy. In the book’s opening essay, ‘The Education of the World,’ Temple discussed the intellectual and spiritual growth of humanity, and pointed out the contributions made by the Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and others.

Many people called for the collection of liberal essays to be banned, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford led demands that the headmaster of Rugby should also dissociate himself from his colleagues. However, Temple refused to repudiate his associates, and it was ten years before he decided to withdraw his essay. In the meantime, he published a volume of his Rugby sermons to put forward his own religious views.

Politically, Temple was associated with Gladstone, and supported educational reforms and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. In 1869, Gladstone offered him an appointment as Dean of Durham Cathedral, but Temple wanted to stay at Rugby and declined. Later that year, however, the Bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts, died, and once again Gladstone turned again to Temple, who accepted the nomination.

Temple’s appointment to Exeter caused a fresh controversy. Archdeacon George Denison of Taunton, Lord Shaftesbury, and others led the protests. Edward Pusey said ‘the choice was the most frightful enormity ever perpetrated by a Prime Minister.’

When it came to the confirmation of Temple’s election, the chapter of Exeter Cathedral was divided in its vote. But Gladstone stood firm, and Temple was consecrated on 21 December 1869. In his 16 years as Bishop of Exeter, Temple overcame the prejudices of his opponents.

He was Bampton Lecturer at Oxford University in 1884, taking for his subject ‘The Relations between Religion and Science.’ In his eight Brampton Lectures, he states clearly that the ‘doctrine of Evolution is in no sense whatever antagonistic to the teachings of religion.’ His Bampton lectures made the theory of evolution respectable and also addressed the origin and nature of scientific, and of religious belief and the apparent conflicts between science and religion on free will and supernatural power.

He was elected an honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1885, and he was appointed Bishop of London that year.

As Bishop of London, Temple often worked 14 or 15 hours a day, even in the face of the rapid onset of blindness. He was demanding when it came to standards of diligence and preaching among his clergy, and he was a tireless temperance worker. He became known as a friend of the working class, and he attempted to mediate in the London dock strike in 1889.

As his sight continued to deteriorate, he offered to resign as Bishop of London, but when Archbishop Edward Benson died suddenly in 1896, Temple was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury at the age of 76.

Temple presided at the 1897 Lambeth Conference. In the same year, Temple and Archbishop William Maclagan issued a joint response to the papal encyclical Apostolicae Curae, in which the Pope denied the validity of Anglican orders.

In 1899, Temple and Maclagan acted together again, when they responded to an appeal from the bishops of the Church of England and ruled against the use of incense in the liturgy and against carrying candles in liturgical processions. After hearing the arguments the two archbishops decided against both practices.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Temple was deeply distressed by the divisions within Anglicanism, and in his sermons he called repeatedly for unity.

He was a keen supporter of missionary causes, and in a sermon to mark the opening of the 20th century he said Britain had a supreme obligation to seek to evangelise all nations. He presided over the World Temperance Congress in London in 1900, and also preached on the need for women’s education.

He crowned Edward VII as king in 1902, but by then the strain of advanced age was telling on his health. While he was speaking in the House of Lords on 2 December 1902 on education, he was taken ill. He was revived sufficiently to finish his speech, but he never fully recovered. He died on this day, 23 December 1902, and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

He was succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by Randall Davidson. Over 100 volumes of Temple’s official papers are kept at Lambeth Palace.

Frederick Temple married Beatrice Blanche Lascelles, daughter of William Sebright Lascelles MP, on 24 August 1876 and they had two sons. His second son, William Temple, was later Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944.

Archbishop Frederick Temple’s monument in Canterbury Cathedral

Prayers of Frederick Temple:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
take us to thyself,
draw us with cords to the foot of thy cross;
for we have no strength to come,
and we know not the way.
Thou art mighty to save, and none can separate us from thy love.
Bring us home to thyself, for we are gone astray.
We have wandered: do thou seek us.
Under the shadow of thy cross let us live all the rest of our lives,
and there we shall be safe. Amen.


Let us take all our wishes, all our longings….to the feet of our Father.

God does not require you to be sinless when you come before him, but he does require you to be unceasing in your perseverance. He does not require that you shall never have fallen; but he does require unwearied efforts. He does not require you to win, but he does require you to fight.

Frederick Temple in his own words:

Am I really what I ought to be? Am I what, in the bottom of my heart, I honestly wish to be? Am I living a life at all like what I myself approve? My secret nature, the true complexion of my character, is hidden from all men, and only I know it. Is it such as I should be willing to show? Is my soul at all like what my kindest and most intimate friends believe? Is my heart at all such as I should wish the Searcher of Hearts to judge me by? Is every year adding to my devotion, to my unselfishness, to my conscientiousness, to my freedom from the hypocrisy of seeming so much better than I am? When I compare myself with last year, am I more ready to surrender myself at the call of duty? Am I more alive to the commands of conscience? Have I shaken off my besetting sins?” These are the questions which this season of Lent ought to find us putting fairly and honestly to our hearts. – Frederick Temple, Biography

We often make our duties harder by thinking them hard. We dwell on the things we do not like till they grow before our eyes, and, at last, perhaps shut out heaven itself. But this is not following our Master, and he, we may be sure, will value little the obedience of a discontented heart. The moment we see that anything to be done is a plain duty, we must resolutely trample out every rising impulse of discontent. We must not merely prevent our discontent from interfering with the duty itself; we must not merely prevent it from breaking out into murmuring; we must get rid of the discontent itself. Cheerfulness in the service of Christ is one of the first requisites to make that service Christian. – Frederick Temple, Biography

In return for the love which brought the Son of Man down from heaven, in return for the love which led him to die for us on the cross, we cannot give him holy lives, for we are not holy; we cannot give him pure souls, for our souls are not pure; but this one thing we can give, and this is what he asks, hearts that shall never cease from this day forward, till we reach the grave, to strive to be more like him; to come nearer to him; to root out from within us the sin that keeps us from him. To such a battle I call you in his name. And even if at the last day you shall not be able to show any other service, yet be sure that when thousands of his saints go forth to meet him, and to show his triumph, he will turn to embrace with arms of tenderness the poor penitent who has nothing to offer but a life spent in one never-ceasing struggle with oneself, an unwearied battle with the faults that had taken possession of his soul. – Frederick Temple, Biography

The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George in Corfu was once home to British administration in the Ionian Islands … the Temple family lived in Corfu in 1828-1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 57-66 (NRSVA):

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (23 December 2021) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the power of creativity to raise awareness of complex issues and break taboos.

Yesterday: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tomorrow:The Little Drummer Boy

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Further reading:

Peter Hinchliff, Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: A Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

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