Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Society of the Holy Cross ("SSC") Founders' Day



Charles Fuge Lowder (1820-1880) 


Today is "Founders' Day" of the Society of the Holy Cross ("SSC"), the oldest society of priests in the Church of England which was brought into being in 1855 by a small group of Anglo-Catholic priests led by Father Charles Lowder. Today there are more than a thousand members around the world in parishes, missions, chaplaincies, schools and other areas of pastoral ministry, committed to witnessing to the Cross of Christ by their lives and ministry. SSC is organised in Provinces under Provincial Masters elected by the Brethren. Within each Province are various Regions headed by Regional Vicars, and the work of the Society at local level is carried forward in Chapters led by their Local Vicars. Priests of the Society can be recognized by the small gold lapel cross that they generally wear. On it is inscribed the motto of the Society - in hoc signo vinces - in this sign, conquer!

The following is a slightly abbreviated form of the first chapter of In This Sign Conquer: A History of the Society of the Holy Cross (Societas Sanctae Crucis) 1855-2005, a collection of essays edited by Owen Higgs.


Charles Fuge Lowder, was born in June 1820 in Bath the son of a banker. In 1840 he went up to Exeter College Oxford. While at Oxford he attended S. Mary’s, where, like the best of his generation, he fell under the spell of the vicar, John Henry Newman, whose sermons guided him to the priesthood. Mr Lowder took a second class degree in 1843 and in the Autumn of that year was made Deacon to serve a title in the parish of Street-cum-Walton. On his ordination as a priest, by Bishop Denison of Salisbury, on the 22nd December 1844, he took up additional work as chaplain to the Axbridge workhouse.

As a Deacon he had looked into the possibilities of mission work in New Zealand. The failure to achieve this brought to the fore his other, parallel and perhaps greater ambition. He desired to work in a parish with a more advanced and catholic pattern of worship, thus he applied to become a curate at the famous ritualist centre of St Barnabas Pimlico. St Barnabas Pimlico, the most catholic building erected for worship in the Church of England since the reformation, was from its foundation a centre of ritual controversy. Bennet, the first vicar was long persecuted, and unsupported by the Bishop of London departed under pressure.

After the change of incumbents, the Revd R Liddel was the new vicar, the problems continued. The assistant curates, Skinner and Lowder carried out a splendid parish ministry but the proponents of the protestant cause were not to be persuaded by energetic evangelistic and pastoral zeal.

This parish, then a maze of slum streets had been built to serve the poor and was the most catholic parish, in both externals and teaching, in London. In the atmosphere of a daily celebration of Holy Communion, daily Morning and Evening prayer, a Sunday sung Eucharist and strict patterns of parochial visitation, Mr Lowder deemed himself to be in the best possible situation for an Anglo-Catholic assistant curate.

In due course a legal challenge resulted from a number of the furnishings that had given St Barnabas its catholic atmosphere. These included the altar cross, candlesticks, credence table, rood screen. The judgement, which went against Liddel was soon challenged on appeal. The atmosphere in parish life was however one of conflict and confrontation.

In fact, a man had been hired to walk around the area wearing a sandwich board advocating support for Liddel’s foes. Lowder, in what he described later as ‘a moment of madness’ gave some of the choir boys 6d with which to purchase rotten eggs; so armed, they assaulted the poor board carrier. Lowder appeared before Westminster Magistrates where he was fined £2.0.0, and before the Bishop of London on 6th May 1854, he was suspended from duty for six weeks. Thus one of the heroes of the Anglo-Catholic revival began his great work as a man with a criminal record and a diocesan black mark. 

Lowder went to France, later in May 1854 to spend his suspension out of the public eye. Being poor he walked, and stayed at the Seminary at Yvetôt. While there, he read Louis Abelly's Vie de Saint Vincent de Paul. This meeting with the great French Apostle of the poor marked the rest of Lowder’s life. He concluded that England was in desperate need of priests committed to the service of the urban poor of the great cities, just as S. Vincent’s Company of the Mission served the poor of rural France.

On his return to England, he completed the life of the saint and meditated on the dual need of a society far from the Gospel, and priests who lacked the structure, which was used by the Vincentians for mission. As a result he called a meeting of Anglo-Catholic clergy, hand-picked as the most trustworthy. The group of six came together at the House of Charity Soho on the 28th February 1855.They were, Charles Maurice Davies, curate of St Matthew's, City Road: David Nicols, curate of Christ Church, St Pancras; Alfred Poole and Joseph Smith, fellow curates with Lowder at St Barnabas' and St. Paul's; and Henry Augustus Rawes, Warden of the House of Charity, Soho. The meeting took place at the House of Charity in Soho. The six formed themselves into the Society of the Holy Cross and in this society and company made promises binding on them until May 1855. These were: of confidentiality in matters concerning the society, the second an affirmation of the Nicene creed, the third concerned mutual help, both temporal and spiritual, to brothers of the Society; in this way they dedicated themselves to lives of self-disciplined service, first of the poor, and the extension of the Catholic faith. Membership was to include obedience to a rule of life prior to a further major meeting in May at which the future of the new society would be decided. Lowder appeared first on the roll of members and was elected the first Master, to serve for twelve months.

Unlike many bodies founded during the second phase of the Anglo-Catholic revival, therefore, the SSC was not in original intent a devotional society; it was structured to be a rule for mission priests. It was thus from its inception original, more than a devotional society, other than a religious community, greater than a friendship circle, less than an oratory. It was an original conceit; original because the founders had no models from which to work, original because it was founded for a situation that was unique: the new outworking of a catholic priesthood whose conscious catholicity had been for centuries dormant in an English society undergoing enormous change.

Of the Society Lowder was to write in 1856, “It was so ordered also, by God's good providence, that a society of priests had lately been founded in London, called the Society of the Holy Cross. Its objects are to defend and strengthen the spiritual life of the clergy, to defend the faith of the Church, and to carry on and aid Mission work both at home and abroad.”

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Father Lowder's heroic work at St Peter's London Docks is summarised HERE.



1 comments:

BrB said...

A good defence of the Church indeed, even with rotten eggs and gaining a criminal record!

Please say a prayer for all Priests Deacons and those religious that support the SSC...+++

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