Monday, April 4, 2016

Father Stanton: 50 years a Curate at St Alban's Holborn

When I was a teenager, it was still the habit of clergy in our tradition to make sure that young men who seemed to be called to the priesthood read the stories of the heroic slum priests of the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England. As was intended by this strategy, the lives of the "slum ritualists" helped me greatly. They still inspire me. In fact, they should continue to inspire us all in these dark days to persevere in the midst of all our difficulties, to live and proclaim the Gospel and to teach the Faith once delivered to the Saints. The principles by which these servants of the Lord ministered are still important, even if the methods they used to reach the people around them require considerable adaptation. The "ritualists" were passionate evangelists, bringing many to know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. This they did by genuinely befriending the people among whom they lived as much as by their preaching from the pulpit and the street corner! They built magnificent churches in the foulest of slums; they taught the Catholic Faith in its fulness; they led their people before the Lord, worshipping in the beauty of holiness and in the holiness of beauty. They inspired extravagant sacrificial giving among their friends and supporters.

They were hated by "political protestants" and those interested only in "civic" religion, but admired by many good evangelicals both within the Church of England and outside it, who saw how effective they were at bringing "ordinary" men, women and children to the Lord Jesus. Many of the "ritualists" had strained relationships (to say the least!) with those bishops who had become mere ecclesiastical functionaries, but they gave themselves away to the Lord and his people, believing that he had called them to the hour in which they lived.   

That's why I am sharing some of their stories on this blog. Today (again, in a rather long post - but stay with it . . . you'll be blessed! -) we look at Father Arthur Stanton, who remained a non-stipendiary Curate at St Alban’s Holborn for fifty years. I have conflated Mackay’s chapter on Fr Stanton in Saints and Leaders, with those of Morse-Boycott in Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, Russell's Arthur Stanton, a Memoir, the Catholic Literature Association's 1933 Heroes of the Catholic Revival, and Joseph Clayton' Father Stanton of St Alban's Holborn.

Follow these links to some other sermons and other reflections of Father Stanton:

When asked what he hoped might be carved on his tombstone, Father Stanton's answer was simple yet profound: “He preached Jesus and only Jesus.” That sums up this man of God.

Arthur Stanton was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 1839. He went to a preparatory school at Leonard Stanley, and on to Rugby, where he remained from 1854 to 1858. Then he went up to Trinity College, Oxford and was deeply influenced by the great leaders of the Catholic revival in the Church of England. Upon receiving his degree, Stanton spent six months at Cuddesdon Theological College under the saintly Edward King, and put in his vacations working at St. Alban’s, Holborn. There eventually he accepted a title, being ordained deacon at Advent, 1862, and priest at Trinity, 1864: and there he remained for more than fifty years.

There his talents and powers developed, ripened, bore great fruit, and mellowed with advancing age. He left his post only a few months at the end, with the intention of returning. Outwardly, it was an ordinary, unexciting and (in the worldly sense) undistinguished record. 

But Stanton was one of the most influential priests of his day. A man of private means, he supported himself financially, while living in modest rooms at the Clergy House, giving lavishly to the work of the Lord and to the poor.  


Holborn was a bad slum area famous for its poverty, drunkenness, vice, and a flourishing trade in child prostitutes. Mackonochie had begun his services in a room over a fish shop. By the time Stanton arrived the parish had moved to a cellar in Greville Street. The only light came through a grating in the pavement, the coal-hole was the vestry, and in this cellar Stanton preached his first sermon while passers by mocked him, shouting at him down the coal-shoot.

The passionate preaching of the Gospel, the building of the St Alban’s church and the establishment of Catholic worship involved a struggle lasting many years - a struggle with disapproving authority, popular prejudice and violence. 

The Parish Priest, Father Mackonochie was plunged into litigation in defence of Catholic Faith and practice. This lasted fifteen years, and ended only with his resignation. Father Stanton in joining him and supporting him was one of the chief reasons for the victory which was ultimately secured, but in so doing he deliberately turned his back on all preferment and advancement in the Church of England. 


He did it, as he did all his work, without a regret. But reflecting on this period as an older man he would speak of the disillusionment which his young enthusiasm suffered, and while there was the inevitable ‘breaking of dreams’ which the visionary suffers when he comes in contact with human nature as it is, he was most hurt by the misunderstanding and lack of sympathy, to say nothing of official criticism and even censure, on the part of those who might have been expected to promote his work of evangelism and pastoral care. 


Father Stanton’s preaching power appeared at once; from the first he was magnetic, at once he preached Jesus, and the people began to crowd. One of his publicity stunts when taking a mission was to stand at a street corner in a cassock and biretta, and toss his surplice into the air. If you saw a young man playing ball with a surplice you would feel obliged to investigate the matter; so did the crowd, and then Stanton would stand on a stool and preach Jesus to them.

Indeed, Father Stanton, now widely regarded as one of the real heroes of Anglican history, always looked upon himself as an alien in the Church of England, and though his loyalty to his work and to his people never faltered, he saw himself as an Anglican by the ‘accident’ of baptism and ordination, in the English Church. 

He was, simply, a Gospel preaching Catholic; his religion was the faith of the undivided Church, centred on the Incarnation and the Atonement, and their ministry to the world today through the Sacraments, and especially the Mass and Penance. To this, and second only to it, was added a profound belief in the Communion of Saints, and a deep devotion to Our Lady. 

Father Stanton preaching out of doors


During the years of persecution, Father Stanton’s mother was deeply distressed that her son should be doing the kinds of things that attracted severe criticism in the media. She wrote, pleading with him to be less “extreme.” Stanton’s reply shows the depth of his convictions:

“My dear Mother, I am a Catholic in heart, longings and hopes. Catholics believe, as they believe in their God, that Jesus Christ is present on His Altar in the Holy Sacrament. A Catholic priest believes that he holds between his hands the Blood of Life; as St. John says he handled the Word of Life with his hands. I hold the doctrine of the Real Presence dearer than life. As I hope for salvation I would rather be hacked to pieces than omit adoring my God in the Sacrament.”

Lest, however, the reader misunderstands the man, it is also important to point out that at the same time, Stanton wrote to his sister, “I go to Shepparton this week to preach for a dear old Evangelical Calvinist. I am sure we shall get on, as he loves Jesus.”

Father Stanton was one of a number of clergy in the second half of the nineteenth century whose resoluteness in preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic Faith got him into trouble with the bishops. So it happened that on most occasions when he was advertised to take Missions bishops refused him permission to preach in their dioceses. 

In 1875 Stanton realized that his ministry “out and about” was at an end. So, for the remaining thirty-eight years of his life, although he preached here and there for friends in the handful of dioceses where he had not been inhibited, he regarded his Anglican ministry as closed except at St. Alban’s itself, and he was happy in his work God gave him to do.


For Father Stanton, the ministry was ALL ONE PIECE. Holding together in himself movements and emphases that Christian history has often seen as contradictory, he was at the same time the passionate evangelist, the catholic priest, the teacher, the organizer of leagues and societies, the minister of the poor and needy in the slums around St Alban’s, and the supporter of Christian Socialism, believing that the Gospel drives us to work for justice and peace. 

This remarkable ministry continued until his death. People flocked from all over the world to hear him preach - not just at the beautiful liturgical services of St Alban’s, but also at the famous Monday night Mission services, made up of hymns, extemporary prayer and an animated, powerful preaching of the Gospel that gripped the minds and hearts of all who came.  

Father Stanton died on Friday, March 28, 1913, in his seventy-fourth year. ‘If he wills it, I am willing,’ were his last recorded words, just before the end.

"Incense in Kingsway" was the headline in the Daily Sketch
describing Father Stanton's funeral procession.

- Joseph Clayton's eyewitness account

On Monday evening they brought the coffin into the church. It was Father Stanton’s last ‘Monday-night sermon’ this, for the dead resting there within the chancel spoke in its silence as eloquently as the living within the pulpit had spoken of the life lived for GOD and man. 

And all that evening, until the time came for the Office of the Dead to be sung, a long line of mourners passed up the aisles and knelt for a moment by the coffin; and some would place their lips against the coffin in token of their love. They were mostly the people of St. Alban’s who made that long line of mourners - men and women, fathers and mothers with their children, many of them, and young men from workshops and offices; business men, too, on their way home, and hospital nurses. 

All through the night the watch was kept in the church; and all next morning from six o’clock was the Holy Eucharist offered for the repose of the soul of Arthur Henry Stanton. 

At eight o’clock was the Children’s Requiem, with Father Russell at the organ, and Father Hogg celebrating, and all the children of the parish there, it seemed. Numbers of these little ones brought tiny bunches of flowers to lay on the coffin. 

When the Children’s Service was over people began to gather for the Solemn Requiem. Tickets had to be issued for this, because it was impossible to find room for all who sought to be there. Miss Emily Stanton - Father Stanton’s sister - and other relatives were present. More than a hundred clergymen came to do honour to the dead; and these included Canon Newbolt, of St. Paul’s; the Rev. L. S. Wainwright, of St. Peter’s, London Docks, a former warden of one of the St. Martin’s League’s Houses; and the Rev. Arthur Tooth, the first of the clergy to be imprisoned for ritual, in the old days of legal prosecutions. 

But there was no representative of the Episcopate at the funeral of Father Stanton, nor were there many whom the world would call persons of importance in that vast congregation that filled the church. Lady Henry Somerset was there; among the devout laymen, the Duke of Newcastle, the Right Hon. G. W. E. Russell, and Mr. Ian Malcolm, M.P., churchwarden of All Saints’, Margaret Street. The Rev. R. J. Campbell came across from the City Temple. 

But the great bulk of the congregation were the ‘old guard’ of St. Alban’s, and the regular worshippers at the church, who are not to be classified by any system of social caste. 

The Solemn Requiem was rendered in the customary way of the Catholic Church - only the service was in English - and at its close the final absolutions of the dead were given. Mr. Suckling was the celebrant, and Mr. Hogg and Mr. Russell were the assisting ministers. 

Out in Brooke Street a crowd was steadily collecting while the Requiem was sung within the church. At noon the pavements were lined, and hawkers went about with ‘Father Stanton’s Memorial Card.’ On this card were the words: ‘The blessings of the poor follow him, for he was their best friend for fifty years.’ 

It was not till one o’clock that the funeral procession came out of the church gate into Brooke Street. The churchwardens, Mr. H. Longden (churchwarden of St. Alban’s since 1889), and Mr. F. E. Sidney marched first, followed by a thurifer, with smoking censer, and then by one who carried high aloft a crucifix, and had torch-bearers for his companions. 

The choir came next, and after them a great company of clergy in surplices. 

Wheeled on a low bier came the coffin. The flowers piled up within the church were left behind. Only a purple pall, whereon was the dead man’s biretta, was over the coffin, and in front of that pall, in big white letters, were the familiar initials, A. H. S. Six men wheeled the bier, and at the corners of the pall were the four clergy of St. Alban’s; three of them, bent with age, had borne Mackonochie to his grave more than twenty-five years ago. 

Father Stanton’s relatives were immediately behind the bier, and they were followed by the Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth with their scarlet badges. 

And then, four abreast, came the men of the congregation, and behind them fell in many who had been waiting in the streets. For Stanton’s friends were there in force to see ‘the old Father’ home. Postmen in uniform - a remnant of St. Martin’s League - Sisters of Mercy, mothers with babes in their arms, a detachment of the Salvation Army, a company of Boy Scouts, men and women who had left their work for the time, all fell in and found a place in the ranks till the procession was more than a mile long. 

It was the dinner hour; and as we slowly moved along Holborn the streets were lined with spectators who stood and watched respectfully the crucifix that was carried on high, and the lines of clergy, and the bier, and the long procession of the common people behind. And men uncovered in presence of the dead, and here and there they crossed themselves in these London streets, and no word of discord was uttered. 

At times during the march some of the Father’s favourite hymns were sung, and ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘JESUS, Lover of my Soul,’ and ‘Peace, perfect Peace,’ might be heard. The alleluias of the Easter hymn, ‘The Strife is O’er,’ rang out clear just before the station was reached. 

But for the most part we walked in silence. In Kingsway the bell of Holy Trinity Church was tolling while the procession passed, and lower down on the opposite side of the road, the purple, white, and green flag of the Women’s Social and Political Union was half-mast high above their offices. 

The traffic was stayed when the Strand was reached, and then we crossed Waterloo Bridge and turned round into York Road. There the crowd was very dense on the pavement - the same respectful and reverent crowd - for it is a neighbourhood of mean streets, and the poor are always respectful to the dead. At the All Saints’ Mission in York Road, on the steps of the church, the clergy and a cross-bearer had taken up their places to pay silent tribute, and all along the route were those who stood at windows and on roofs and balconies to bid the Father a good-bye. 

When the Necropolis Station was entered in Westminster Bridge Road, 800 mourners went on with the train to Brookwood, but they were only a small part of the procession. 

The rest turned away to go back to their posts in this workaday world, this world of London, whose streets Father Stanton’s feet would no more tread. 

At the graveside in St. Alban’s private burial ground, hard by where Mackonochie and Robert Dolling rest, the final prayers were said, and the body of Arthur Henry Stanton was committed to the earth whence it had come. And the hundreds of men and women gathered there, to whom Stanton had taught something of the meaning of life, whom he had saved from despair, or lifted by his friendship from the mire, knew that henceforth for them there would be a gap in life that none could fill, a blank that would remain till the end. 

The skies were grey and lowering on that April day of Father Stanton’s funeral, but the rain did not come down till the late afternoon. It beat heavily on the carriage windows on the journey back to London. The dead are blessed, they say, upon whom the rain falls at their burial; and so Father Stanton’s resting should be greatly blessed. 

The love he had given so lavishly brought many harvests, and ‘love shall be love till death--and perhaps beyond.’ Blessed by man, and blessed by God, well may Arthur Stanton rest in peace.” 

A semon preached by Father Stanton on Sunday 13th October, 1912. 
(This is, in fact, a transcript written down by a stenographer, 
as Father Stanton "preached" rather than "read" his sermons.)

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven..... That you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' Mark 2:1-12

You know the story: they let him down from the roof. And what I gather from the story is this: anybody who wants to come to Christ, can. If you don't, you can easily slip away unobserved. If any of you wish to come to Mass on Sunday morning, you can - you can - although, I know, there are hundreds of excuses if you don't want to come. And then you say: "Well that is the very thing we want to do. Here we are, all of us, on purpose to get to the Master. Has not He promised to be present with us! And here we are - in order to get near the Master. That is just what we want."

And the lesson of the Gospel is, we must take trouble about it. When people say: "We want to get near the Master- Christ," the answer is, "Well, have you taken any trouble about it? Have you taken the roof off?" The men in the Gospel were determined to get to Him, and when they could not get through the door, they went on the roof, and took it off, and placed the palsied man before Him. They saw he could not get to Jesus himself, so they brought him. They meant business; and the business was done. They were in earnest, and they got to the Saviour, and they got the man there.

And so I can say: Now, if you really want to get near the Master, and feel Him your close friend, your All in all, have you done anything out of the way? We hear that the ladies who want the vote are determined to starve themselves to death. Well, that is being in earnest. If you want to get to Christ, you must not mind doing something for the Saviour. Well, then, they could not get in at the door; the whole passage was full. They could not possibly get through the crowd round the door.

And how true that always is! And how true it is of the simple Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ! There are some people always blocking up the gangway. We cannot get to Him. There are the philosophers, the schoolmen, the logicians. There are the Catholic theologians, the Greek theologians, the Roman theologians, the Protestant theologians. They are all arguing, splitting hairs, talking against one another, proposing different theories, and then breaking them up. They choke the door full.

And if you read the reports of the Church congress, you think: "Oh, dear! What are we to believe and think? And they use such long words: there is Predestination! Transubstantiation! Immanence! Incomprehensible. And the poor simple old Gospel we used to love seems to be so difficult now. And we open our Bibles, and turn over the pages, and read this: "One thing is needful" (S. Luke x.42).

Oh, I am very glad there is only one thing - you would think from all the controversies that go on, there were about two thousand things needful! But the dear Lord says, "One thing is needful," and that is to sit at Jesus' feet, and hear His word.

Think! How is it that religion has become so difficult, with all the controversies, and the philosophies, and the old theologies, and the new theologies? You cannot-the passage to the door is full. Impossible! Oh, why have they blocked up the passage and made it so difficult, when we want Jesus Christ Himself?

Well, then, what must we do? We must do something. We must get to Him somehow, for He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (S. John xiv.6). You must get near Him. Brethren, you must do something by which you can get at Him.

Do you recollect Nicodemus? He was a man in high position in the Church and state - of unimpeachable, correct orthodoxy. And he went to the Master, and found Him. He did it secretly. He did not want anybody to know -Timid! Only Christ could help to lift up the dear soul. He was very timid at first. He went out secretly at night. And he saw the Master. And as he walked home at night, the whole heaven was full of stars, and every star trembled with glory. For had he not heard that he must be born again? And had not the Master spoken to him of heavenly things? He got near Him.

And we take another case: Here is the man who is despised - morally - we do not think much of him - Zacchaeus, a collector of taxes. And no doubt he made his riches by excessive increment. And if he was at a social disadvantage, so he was physically, for he was short of stature. But he climbed up the sycamore tree. That man would never have been the rich man he was if he had not been used to climbing! He climbed up the tree just to get a view. And the eyes of the Lord Jesus and the little man met! The Lord Jesus saw him, and said: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" (S. Luke xix.5)

And yet there is one more: the poor woman who said: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole" (S. Matt. ix.21). The poor woman! She pressed right through the crowd. In the midst of the throng she knelt down and touched the hem of His garment - just brushing it - that's all - but she became whole. And the Master noticed. And they said, "Master, you see how they throng Thee. Why dost Thou say, Who touched Me?" But the Master said, "Some finger has taken life out of Me" - "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole."

And she was made whole. You must get to the Master. You must. And if you say with the poor woman, May I? May I? I say, You must - you must. For this reason, He came down from Heaven and was Incarnate amongst us that He might get to you. You must get to Him.

Well, then, I should like to say again, of course, the process of getting to the Master may cause a good deal of disturbance. Of course, the removing of the roof from the house must have caused a lot of debris and dust, and no doubt it fell down on the people beneath. They broke up the roof. There was a great deal of disturbance. Even the getting to Him may cause a good deal of disturbance. Oh, yes - at home! The people in your village! Oh, we know it is not done quite easily, is it?

A clergyman who was talking to me of the S. Alban's clergy, said the other day: "Oh you know this, you fellows of S. Alban's, you have made such a disturbance in the Church of England." Don't you think it was necessary? Now come! In order to get the Establishment to have a Catholic and Evangelical nature, it was necessary to make a disturbance - but it was necessary. Anything to get any number of people to the Master.

You recollect that when the poor woman was sweeping up her room to find a piece of money that was lost, she must have kicked up a lot of dust in sweeping, but she found it. Now we must never make a disturbance for the sake of disturbing; but if we want to get any society - the Church - to the Master's feet, it may be necessary sometimes to do extravagant things.

And, last of all, just for ourselves, personally: it is not easy often for ourselves to get to the Master but we, too, must take some trouble. We must be in earnest about it. We must take the gates of Heaven by storm. The road up Calvary at times is a bit stiff. But it does not matter, if we get to the Master at the end, and kneel down, and kiss His feet, does it?

Along the road to Calvary is writ large, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (S. Luke ix.23). Along the road, that all may read. "In the last day that great of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." (S. John vii.37).

Why, Lord! we all thirst, and we come to Thee to drink of the water of everlasting life. I am sure you can say in your heart what I tell you this morning is true.

 Inside S. Alban's Holborn (before World War II damage)

S. Alban's Holborn today


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