Bishop Henson of Durham

Bishop Henson of Durham, 'Pilgrimage', reprinted from the Evening Standard 1 Sept 1926; and Fr Patten's critique of it: 'The Durham Paper', both printed in Our Lady's Mirror October 1926 Pilgrimage Holiday-making is, perhaps, as respectable a motive as that which sent on their journeys the religious vagrants of the past. An interesting church or castle is as effective a magnet in the twentieth century as the shrine of a miracle-working saint was in the twelfth. With the multiplication of oil-driven vehicles of all sorts and descriptions, from the mammoth bus and charabanc, which obliterate the road, to the neat little two-seater and the swift but noisy motorcycle, pilgrimage has become the habit of multitudes in whom curiosity generated by education has replaced devotion born of faith. An interesting historic building or scene has taken the place of the saint’s miracle-working shrine and picture-postcards do the work of the countless objects of devotion, duly blessed and stamped, which the medieval pilgrims carried away from the sacred places. In the Middle Ages every famous church was surrounded with inns where the pilgrims could find rest and refreshment, but so easy and rapid is modern travel that modern tourists have little need for special provision save at widely distant centres. My thoughts were directed to the subject of pilgrimages by a visit I paid to Walsingham on August 17. The porch of the very noble parish church contained announcements of an annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham, which was to take place on the following day. My mind fled at once to Erasmus and his visit to Our Lady’s Shrine somewhere before 1514. The illusion of medievalism, which the notice in the porch had created, was confirmed by the aspect of the church. A Revival Campaign Walsingham is, I suppose, as complete an example of triumphant Anglo-Catholicism as the country can present. The parish church might easily be taken for a Roman Catholic church; there was certainly nothing Anglican about it except the fabric. There was a confessional box against the north wall. This at least was out of keeping with the medieval suggestion, for there were no confessional boxes in the Middle Ages. The priest heard the penitent without any precautionary barrier to isolate his person and make his ministry impersonal. He is so represented in bas-relief on the wonderful font, which is the glory of the church. The air was heavy with incense. Images with tapers burning before them arrested the eye. The Reserved Sacrament in a side chapel distinguished by its lighted lamp was evidently the centre of devotion; it seemed quite natural that Walsingham should again have become a place of pilgrimage. Perhaps it is inevitable that the revival of pilgrimages should be included in the general policy of "undoing the Reformation" which the Anglo-Catholics have adopted, and are pursuing with such remarkable vigour, pertinacity, and success, for the abolition of pilgrimages and the demolition of the shrines to which pilgrims resorted were conspicuous features of the religious revolution which the Reformers effected. Pilgrimages were, indeed, no creation of the Middles Ages. They have their origin in the first centuries of the Christian era, and may claim therefore a primitive character. The natural piety, which led devout believers, as early as the third century, to visit the sacred scene of the Saviour’s life on earth, was soon associated with that credulous belief in the spiritual potency of relics, which received notable stimulus when the Empress Helen "discovered" the Cross, and in the course of time ran out into almost incredible excesses of credulity and superstition. Women Pilgrims From the first women were conspicuous among the pilgrims. Their natural piety co-operated with their impatience of the normal dullness of feminine life in antiquity to incline them to enter this avenue to social freedom. Under the severe conditions of ascetic dominance which obtained in the primitive Church the pilgrimage provided a means of bringing the sexes together without scandal. "It may be permissible to say," observes Mr Glover in his fascinating "Life and Letters in the Fourth Century", "that the pilgrimage involved a certain amount of masculine society, if it were only that of Egyptian monks." Inevitably however this association of the sexes led to grave consequences, and these became accentuated when the practice of imposing pilgrimages as penances swelled the host of pilgrims by large numbers of more or less penitent sinners. A considerable section of the criminal class was dispersed throughout Christendom disguised under the name and garb of pilgrims. The result was as shocking as it was in the circumstances inevitable. Pilgrimages carried crime and corruption in their train. As early as 789, writes H.C. Lea in his great "History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences", Charlemagne was awakened to the evil of this, and he deprecated the imposition of pilgrimage as penance whereby criminals and vagabonds were sent wandering through his dominions, invested with these special privileges; it would be, he said, much better to keep them at home, labouring and serving and performing their penance, and the repetitions of this decree in the collections of the ninth century show how little it effected and how keenly the evil continued to be felt. (v. Vol. II, p. 132) The Crusades were only armed and organised bands of pilgrims, and no doubt the addition of a military character carried also a further decline of moral quality. St Bernard gives an evil report of the crusade whom he sent to the East. "Europe rejoices to lose them and Palestine to gain them: they are useful in both ways, in their absence from here and their presence there." In ancient and in modern times pilgrimages have been darkly shadowed by immorality. St Boniface laments the profligacy of the English pilgrims of the eighth century. The scandal persisted throughout the Middle Ages and has survived the Reformation. In the seventeenth century Father Gobat says that those who perform many pilgrimages are rarely sanctified, for to most people they are merely a matter of carnal gratification, and, if we may judge from Binterim’s defence of pilgrimages, objections to their demoralising influence are urged against them at the present day. (v. Lea l.c. where references are given.) Hysterical Excitement The truth would seem to be that pilgrimages, like revivalist "camp-meetings", create an atmosphere of hysterical excitement which is itself morally enfeebling, and, by bringing crowds of both sexes together, provide occasions of evil which may too easily lead to deplorable results. The quality of motive which induces men and women to go on pilgrimages will vary greatly, and sometimes, perhaps more often than not, it will be woefully inadequate. It is not spiritually wholesome that the normal holiday-maker’s motive should disguise itself as a devotional purpose. In former times the risks and discomforts of pilgrimage may have restrained hypocrisy, but, in the comfortable circumstances of modern travel, that restraint no longer exists. Accounts of medieval pilgrimages give a horrifying picture of danger and discomfort: Hans von Mergenthal, who accompanied Duke Albert of Saxony to the Holy Land in 1476, recounts that the sleeping place allotted to each pilgrim was so narrow that the passengers lay almost one on the other, tormented by the great heat, by swarms of insects, and even by great rats which raced over their bodies in the dark. If a luckless pilgrim succeeded in dozing in spite of the general discomfort he was soon awakened by the stamping of the animals penned up on deck or by the talking, singing and shouting of his neighbours. Most of those who fell sick died. "God be gracious to them!" (v. Canon Pietro Casola’s Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1494. Introduction p. 91) Rooted in Superstition Long before the Reformation the serious thought of educated Christians had condemned pilgrimages as rooted in superstition and leading to grave practical evils. The popularity of the great Shrines had declined and, though many people still went on pilgrimage, the fact rather illustrated the holding power of an immemorial custom than the energy of a living faith. Erasmus would hardly have indulged his mocking wit so freely if he had not been able to count upon a sympathetic public. He gibes at the relics, and ridicules their guardians. There were fashions in Shrines which changed quickly. When Erasmus visited Our Lady’s Shrine at Walsingham, the greater Shrine of S. James at Compostella, which had rivalled Rome itself in the number of its pilgrims, had fallen into comparative neglect. He states the fact and suggests the cause: Menedemus – Tell me, how goes on that most worthy man James? Ogygius – Much colder than formerly. Me. – What is the reason? Old age? Og. – You trifler! You know the saints do not grow old. But this new doctrine, which is spread so widely through the world, makes him less frequently visited than of yore: and those who come, salute him only; they give nothing, or as little as possible, saying that the money may be better spent upon the poor. Me. – Impious opinion! No doubt there were many close-fisted folk who argued thus, but yet gave nothing to the poor: but the plea itself was sound, and expressed the best conscience of the time. Pilgrimages were stricken when once men had gained view of that worthier conception of Divine service which gives religious primacy to active charity. The attempt to revive pilgrimages can only succeed if it carry back the religious Englishman to the spiritual level of the Middle Ages. It would probably be an error to attach much importance to the revived pilgrimages, which are rather “pageants” than religious acts. The pitiable rubbish of the Walsingham processional hymn could only be intelligible as part of a “pageant.” As an act of religion it would be profane. HERBERT DUNELM: top of page The Durham Paper The article of the Bishop of Durham on Pilgrimage published in the "Evening Standard" is too amusing to be passed without comment, and, indeed, we have ventured to reprint the whole paper lest some of our readers may not have had the pleasure of reading it. It is always interesting to hear the criticism of those in the opposite camp, but when it proceeds from such a well-known Modernist as the Bishop of Durham it is much more arresting. Strangely the Bishop seems to condemn and yet to give praise almost with the same stroke of the pen. He condemns pilgrimage because it "brings crowds of both sexes together, provides occasions of evil which may too easily lead to deplorable results." Really, such statements make us laugh. What about the concourse of people for a Church Congress, the enthronement of a bishop, to say nothing of more doubtful gatherings! There is nothing good that cannot be abused. It seems that that the rest of his Lordship's condemnation is because he has a horror of anything done with a religious motive. He prefers the ordinary tourist to the person who carves a day or so out of a hardly-earned holiday to go with a "devotional purpose" to a shrine or holy place, and implies that to do so is merely matter of hypocrisy, and because it is easier to travel in the 20th than the 6th or 9th centuries there is greater danger of this evil! In brief, the Bishop wants to cut spiritual things out of daily life and relegate them to the four walls of a barn-like church on Sundays only. Yet, on the other hand, he makes a startling statement when he says that "Pilgrimage has become the habit of multitudes to whom curiosity generated by education has replaced devotion born of faith." What a statement from a Prince of the Church who is condemning pilgrimage, and at the same time acknowledges that it springs from "devotion born of faith". Dr Hensley Henson seems to have a very high idea of the mind of the "weaker sex", whose motive, according to him (not only in the past but in the present) for taking the pilgrim staff - is to obtain male society!!! And yet here, again, is a lurking acknowledgement of the work of the Holy Spirit in the movement, for he acknowledges that even in the women at least part of their motive is prompted by their natural piety. Read his paper and then say your "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" for the writer and the enlightenment of the Protestants in the fold of the Church in this land. A H P