I. Introduction and Meditation
Why do we pray? What do we expect to communicate to God? How should we shape our heart toward God? The first place we look for instruction in prayer is the Holy Scriptures, as our words to God should reflect His words to us. The second place we look should be the words we pray in public worship: the texts of our hymns, our common Scripture readings, the prayers made from desk or pulpit. Our public liturgies should be forming us into the Body of Christ and whatever private devotions we practice prepares us for the next Sunday’s public worship and the public worship shapes our private devotions for the next week. The third place we look are the personal prayers of the saints who have gone before us, those who have been formed by the same liturgies, by the same understanding of the Holy Scripture. Among these saints is numbered Bishop Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929).
Though Bishop Brent published some fifteen books in his lifetime (in addition to multiple articles associated with the opium concern), only one concerned the subject of prayer. The current volume, No Other Wealth: The Prayers of a Modern-Day Saint Bishop Charles Henry Brent, is a small volume, convenient for a jacket pocket and meditation between Offices. The editor, Frederick Ward Kates, pulled these prayers together from his own examination of Bishop Brent’s papers as deposited in the Library of Congress cross-referenced with two previous collections of Bishop Brent’s prayers. The Editor has divided the work into five parts: “Prayers for Personal Needs,” “Prayers for Persons, Occasions, and Causes,” “Prayers for Special Days,” “Prayers from His Diary (1902-1929),” and “My Little Book of Praise (1917-1918).” Each part is introduced with a meditation on the purposes of prayer drawn from Bishop Brent’s literary corpus. Representation of the prayers in that order would be tedious for a book review; this essay will consider something of Bishop Brent’s writing style, his attitude toward prayer, and an assessment of his ministry as reflected by the prayers. Before considering the prayers, it is worth knowing something about the author and why this book and man are so interesting.
Allow me to summarize his biography in a decontextual way: A century ago, a priest, busy with nine years of reopening a shuttered parish in the slums of an enormous city, was called to serve as bishop of a newly conquered territory. He became colleagues and friends with the colonial governor who himself later became head of state and government and even the most senior judge of law in the land. While at his missionary efforts of establishing schools and encouraging the faithful, this bishop convinced military generals to receive baptism and confirmation as he encouraged those responsible in government to care for these under their military care as they might those from the homeland. From the colonies, he returned to a somewhat obscure diocese and traveled broadly, preaching before primates and laymen alike concerning the work of the Gospel until his death (which he found through overwork)—the life of an Evangelist and confessor, even if not subject to physical torments from those outside the faith. Where is his kind now? Where have they gone?
Out of a fear of becoming Cardinal Richelieu, it seems as if our bishops have given up on the possibility of St. Ambrose. Those men of vision who do exist have been marginalized, even as their own ecclesial traditions have been leveled: the government sees no difference in citizenship between the bishop and the layman, but does between its appointed scientists and the common citizen. Bishop Brent was a man who believed in the capacity of the Faith to change the hearts of men, and the ability of America to enact that change in government. An examination of his biography and his collected prayers will give us some idea of this effect.
In 1862, the third child of the Rev. Henry and Sophia Brent entered the world. Rev. Brent, Sr. served the town of Newcastle, Ontario, Canada for forty-two years. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration to the episcopate, Bishop Brent reflected he was particularly grateful that his upbringing gave him Canadian discipline, his mother’s kindness, and his father’s stability. Charles Henry Brent was ordained deacon in 1886, served a curacy in Buffalo, NY, returned to Toronto for priestly ordination, and served a mission in Buffalo. He spent three years with the Cowley Fathers in Boston, though never taking vows. In 1891, he was naturalized an American citizen and then served ten years as the Associate Rector (the last two months as Rector) of St. Stephen’s, Boston. In October of 1901, the House of Bishops elected him to serve as the first Missionary-Bishop of the Philippines. He accepted the nomination a month later and was consecrated December 19. After eight months of fundraising, planning, and consultation with his opposite numbers in government, he sailed for the Philippines.
Though a full treatment of his politics belongs to a different article, his prayers reflect a concern that American ideas of justice be enacted according to the Gospel. The practical workings of those prayers reflected an earlier interest in Christian Socialism and the “social gospel” of the Cowley Fathers. During his seventeen years in the Philippines, he built a cathedral, parish churches, schools, community centers, and orphanages. He also made a great effort towards the suppression of opium, both in the Philippines and internationally. Though various American dioceses elected him as their own bishop, he declined for many years. After fifteen years a series of recurring heart attacks left him unable to continue the strenuous work in Manila; he submitted his resignation as ordinary on the 20th of October, 1917. At General Pershing’s invitation, he then joined the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe as Chief-of-Chaplains for the duration of the Great War. In January of 1918, he accepted his election as the fourth bishop of Western New York the previous October, but did not begin serving in the diocese until February 1919.
Fairly little of his tenure in Western New York was in fact spent in Western New York, but his people seem to have been contented by the international fame of their bishop and his excess of road speed when he was rushing between parishes at home. While Bishop of Western New York, he spent much of his time on ecumenical efforts, regularly traveling the Europe for the ecumenical conferences of the 1920s, culminating in his presidency of the First World Conference on Faith in Order at Lausanne, Switzerland. From 1926-1928, he served as “Bishop in Charge of the American Episcopal Churches in Europe” in addition to his responsibilities in Western New York. Bishop Brent’s final public sermon was as the American representative at the enthronement of Archbishop Cosmo Lang in December 1928. His doctor discouraged him from the sea-voyage back to America and he decided to return to Lausanne where he died March 27, 1929. He is buried in the Bois-de-Vaux cemetery in that city in a purple bishop’s cassock.
III. General Introduction to the Volume
The small blue volume in front of me was printed in 1965 and appears to have only gone through one printing. In fact, most of the works of Bishop Brent appear to be out of print and a re-issue of his collected works may be desirable. I think any effort for American Christians—whether of the Anglican Tradition or otherwise—to consider the particular sanctity of this nation is advisable. In too many ways, we have become attracted to the idea that our own nation has nothing to give but political heroes of the increasingly secularizing variety. Americans need local saints, whether we pray for their intercessions or not. Interestingly, this small blue volume bears the epigraph:
While Anglicanism in particular and the Church of God in general can produce a character of the nobility, purity, courage, simplicity and achievement of Charles Henry Brent, no one need have any fears as to the future of the Christian religion.
S. Parkes Cadman, 1864-1936
American Congregationalist clergyman
Similarly, this volume of prayers appears to be edited by a non-Anglican. Research has yielded little to the personal history of Frederick Ward Kates, but the division of the prayers into five parts seems somehow faulty for assessing Brent as one who lived as a High Churchman under obligation of choir. Furthermore, it would be a curious error for a pupil of Prayer Book spirituality to give “Undated” as the only note to a prayer handwritten in Bishop Brent’s notebooks which in fact predates the Bishop’s birth by some fifteen decades. On one hand, this speaks to the place of Bishop Brent in particular and the Episcopal Church in general as a leader in the American mind; on the other hand, this and other omissions which could lay below the surface seem to encourage a re-assessment and re-publication of the Bishop Brent files in the Library of Congress.
The present review doesn’t permit time to evaluate Bishop Brent’s role in American racial politics; similarly, there is not full space to evaluate the accusations that he was soft on doctrine with respect to the Roman church or to other Protestant groups. To the first, one might refer the reader to his 1901 address at Howard College on the equality of all races before God; to the second, one notes that Bishop Brent did not particularly mind if Filipinos returned to the Roman church after experimenting with Episcopalianism. What ought be affirmed after the introduction given is that the politics of 2020 do not correspond to the politics of the bulk of Brent’s adult life. The century of political transition should alone give us hope that we are not cursed to forever hear CNN argue with Fox News while the far-left and the alt-right sit in basements sharpening their bayonets. Bishop Brent may have been a “Progressive,” and the reader may be conservative, but Brent lowers this author’s hackles into an opportunity for serious appreciation for a man who took a rich life of interior prayer into a life of public action. Without further editorializing a three part assessment of the prayers themselves, attempting to separate Bishop’s attitude toward prayer (his theology), his attitude toward written prayer (his style), and his attitude to the world (his prayers for the public).
IV. The Prayers
a. The Bishop’s Attitude towards prayer
Bishop Brent’s biographer, Miss Eleanor Slater notes that “He strove to pray well that he might live will; but equally, he strove to live well that he might pray well.” The editor of the collected prayers, Frederick Ward Kates, comments that he prayed “pen in hand” and that the prayers offered in the volume are the product of draft after draft of careful thought on how to approach God. An example is found in Bishop Brent’s stated three counsels on prayer:
1. Aim to see God before you address Him. In the course of time this practice will become an unbidden habit. You can see Him at least as clearly as you can the absent friend with whom you correspond, for the human lineaments are in the Divine.
2. Pray with your intelligence. Bring things to God that you have thought out and think them out again with Him. This is the secret of good judgment.
3. Repeatedly place your pet opinions and prejudices before God. He will surprise you by showing you the best of them need refining and some the purification of destruction.
Additionally, every moment of rendering time back to God is prayer. As one reads the body of prayers, one cannot imagine that any need has been missed. Certain temptations are not covered in detail by the prayers, but temptation in general is discussed. The spirituality of his Prayer #49 is quite comprehensive:
O Author and Giver of Life, who rejoices to make the desert like a garden of the Lord and the wilderness to blossom as a rose, fertilize with the breath of Thy mouth the barren portions of my nature, that instead of the thorn of __________may come up the fig tree of __________, and instead of the brier of ___________ may come up the myrtle tree of ________. Let there be showers of blessing until the blossoms of promise come to full fruition in the attainment of those virtues of which I am destitute. Grant this, O Holy Spirit, who with the Father and Son art worshipped and glorified as God forever and ever.
Though the reader is encouraged by the strong view of prayer herein expressed, one is also concerned by the theology proper. It is unusual to address a prayer directly to the Holy Spirit. We think of Him as the one by whom our prayers are offered through the Son to the Father, not as the direct Object (or Subject) of our prayers.
Alongside the peculiarities of the Bishop’s prayers goes his contributions to the liturgy of the Church. His Prayer #150 is identical to the prayer “For the Unity of God’s People” on page 37 of the American Book of Common Prayer (1928). Kates’s only note to this prayer is “Undated,” which unfortunately points only to his unfamiliarity with the Prayer Book tradition. Per Massey Shepherd’s commentary on the American Prayer Book, the Prayer had been part of the service for the Accession of the Monarch since 1714. The prayer was added to the American Book in the 1892 revision as a result of the American turn to ecumenism, particularly in terms of the Lambeth quadrilateral promulgated in 1886 and 1888. Bishop Brent would have been familiar with this prayer, having grown up under the Crown. Furthermore, the 1892 revision was a mere six years into his ministry in Boston; as a devoted son of the Church, and a High Churchman at that, he would have attended to Prayer Book revisions with interest. Between his commitments to the “social gospel” acquired in Boston and his experience with the Roman church in the Phillippines, it is of no surprise that such a prayer would have attracted his personal devotion. His great contribution to the Prayer Book was listed as the seventieth prayer in No Other Wealth:
Lord Jesus, who didst stretch out Thine arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross, that all men might come within the reach of Thy saving embrace, clothe us in Thy spirit that we, stretching forth our hands in loving labor for others, may bring those who know Thee not to the knowledge and love of Thee, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest one God.
The Episcopal Church found a use for it as part of the revision of 1979 as one of the two options expected if the Eucharist is not immediately to follow, under the given form on p. 58 for “Rite I” or in the broken form of collects common to “Rite II” on p. 100.
Noteworthy also are the manifestations of Bishop Brent’s “High Churchmanship.” This is found in his prayers concerning the Blessed Sacrament, the Church, and the departed. Bishop Brent composed four prayers specifically concerning the Lord’s Supper; in these prayers on the Eucharist, he manages to stay just inside the lines of “spiritual presence” laid down by the Caroline Divines, without tipping into transubstantiation. The Church as Christ’s Body, of which we are made members but partly regularly occupies his thoughts, whether by explicit prayers for the Church as a whole, in its Dioceses and its parishes, or by simply remembering to pray in the first person plural as a priest and bishop interceding for the flock committed to him. His prayer for Loved Ones Departed (Prayer #98) indicates the same theological bent: “give to our dear ones who are with Thee, especially ____, a full share of Thy treasures, …” is consistent with the 1928 Prayer Book “Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church,” but not with the wording of the prayer in 1892. This change was rejected by many more Reformed or Evangelical members of the Episcopal Church as a dangerous drift backward to the problems of medieval theology.
b. The Bishop’s writing style
There is a great difference between Bishop Brent’s written prayers and his consolation on prayer. In the prayers, he often follows the pattern of the ancient Western collects manifest in the Prayer Book tradition. These prayers typically are one sentence supplications which begin by addressing or invoking God (often by specifically naming a particular quality of God relevant to the petition), making petition (often by including the reason for which a given petition is made), and a conclusion based on the mediation of Jesus Christ. Consider the short Prayer #29 from Bishop Brent: “O God, make me strong that I may use my strength as a shield wherewith to protect others, so that of them Thou givest me I may lose none; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Some of the longer prayers even maintain a single-sentence structure, an impressive feat of word craft.
Bishop Brent’s advice on prayer has the quality of intentionally crafted aphorism. His second counsel on prayer as quoted above is exemplary. Consider also the opening paragraph of the introduction to his “Personal Needs”:
There are but two great realities in the vast universe—the heart of God and the heart of man, and each is ever seeking the other. It is this that makes adventure for God not an experiment, but a certainty. The appeal issuing from man’s abysmal need is met by the amplitude of the divine supply.
Each of these sentences one could imagine floating down as a Sentence for meditation. In the same category would be find a few brief sentences from his “Diary,” stylistically reminiscent of the Jesus Prayer, or the ninth prayer, much like the Anima Christi.
The Bishop’s style has also a vibrant sense of imagery. Besides the garden imagery summoned in Prayer #49 mentioned above, there is a consistent theme of rising, of “uplands of righteous and just living, as in Prayer #47, and of “adventure with God,” which pops up in various reminisces and introductory paragraph. At the same time as the images are stunningly beautiful, some prayers have a loveliness which falls apart on reflection. For instance, the eighth prayer:
O God, creation’s secret force, whose hand last night fixed the order of the starry heavens with the wild streamers of the North, we thank Thee that Thou didst share with us the mystic splendor of the sky beneath which afterwards we slept in the bosom of thy love. Now as Thou sendest forth the dawn to perform its daily miracle of renewal in plain and forest and mountain, pour the light of pure wisdom and the fire of undaunted purpose into our lives, that, assured of Thine indwelling, we may fulfill our duty to God and man with the blitheness of the birds and the masterfulness of the storm. Teach us this day some new song of unselfish service; endure us with the inner beauty of simplicity that will radiate peace in the ways of men; crown us with hope that will brighten as the day wanes; and when night comes grant that it may not take us unawares or startle us with fears. Carry us through the sunset into the glory of the day that knows no night, and give us place in the firmament where the stars are made brighter by the strong shining of the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is almost as if he attempted to compose a prayer-poem about all of nature and about all the desires of dawn, mid-day, and evening. These are all good requests to make of God, but one wonders if it is not overwrought; the phrase “the blitheness of the birds and the masterfulness of the storm” is sublime, but somewhat lacking in instructiveness for the believer.
c. The Bishop’s public ministry
Bishop Brent’s ministry was directed towards the reunification of Christendom. Under that heading, one might consider what affect his mildly socialist politics and Americanism affected his theology. Those questions are very much intertwined, especially in the ecumenical prayer mentioned in the first section.
Massey Shepherd again notes the political dimensions of this particular prayer For the Unity of Christ’s Church, saying “‘our unhappy division’ had more of an eye to the political schemes and intrigues of the Jacobites and the Jesuits than to the schisms of the Dissenters.” That this prayer is moved into an ecumenical effort seems to be of major significance in the Anglican political mind, a move which Bishop Brent’s efforts helped to cement in the formation of the twentieth century. The Bishop seems little interested in a sort of state Church, but at the same time worked quite actively for the various national churches to come together in some manner. Some of the prayers confuse his “High Church” outlook, like Prayer #152: is the title “For a Church Unity Conference” from Bishop Brent’s pen? Does this indicate that Bishop Brent did not intend to call a council in the classical sense, and, if so, was this because such a council would be undesirable or rather impossible given the great doctrinal and procedural differences among those who call upon the name of Christ?
Similarly, consider the second-to-last prayer given from his diary, dated simply “1925.” In it, the sectarianism of the Church is all but analogous to the sectarianism in the world:
What we ask for ourselves, we pray for others as for friends and members of a common family. Awaken the great Church of Christ to new spiritual life that it may put off the tattered garments of sectarianism and clothe itself in the seamless robe of unity and fellowship. To the nations of the word give forbearance and mutual understanding that wars may cease. We pray Thee especially for our own country that we may be generous to our debtors, forgiving toward our enemies, and dauntless leaders in adventures for peace.
The Church of Christ exists, for Bishop Brent, under the various denominations, jurisdictions, “Churches.” It is a spiritual reality even if it is not identifiable in any particular way: his prayers on Church unity do not reflect greatly on a sense of shared communion among other Christian churches. Even still, the task is not to create unity but to reveal the unity which already exists. This seems to be the key difference between his version of ecumenism and what was presented as ecumenism-the-enemy to Evangelical children of the 1990s. That latter ecumenism seemed intent on pulling various ideas out of each denomination to assert an ahistorical, deracinated unity, the sort of unity which reduces to airport meditation chambers festooned with the various permutations of the Golden Rule in the “Great Religious Traditions” of the world. Rather, Bishop Brent’s ecumenism prays “…Give us conviction of worldwide mission,” recognizing Christ as Lord and the One to whom all peoples and nations should be oriented, whether those already exposed to faith or those yet to be encountered as in the cited Prayer #108.
To his Americanism, we must include a brief exclamation found in his diary from June 16, 1923:
(Nearing sunny America in a calm sea and under a cloudless sky—America with her limitless power and opportunity)—May God awaken us, her citizens, to a realization of what we may do if we will to further the commonwealth of mankind!
One thinks of another political aphorism, “America is great because it is good; when it ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.” Bishop Brent saw the idea of America as a positive good for the world as an idea of liberty, that old idea that freedom is the ability to choose the good, not the ability to choose between evil and good. Americanism then is the opportunity to free people to be able to choose the good. This animates prayers concerning his missionary vocation: “Abudantly bless my dear fellow workers [later “comrades”], who so fearlessly in response to my leadership have bent their endeavors to enlighten the ignorant, to relieve the distressed, and to succor the needy….” and “Let me not fall victim to preference or to the lesser good. Let me rather tower in my decision, that whether I go or stay I may command conditions and not be their slave.” (from Prayer #75 and #76, respectively) These were not prayers for himself only but those virtues that he hoped for others, as evidenced by his Prayer #108, titled by the editor as “For All Men Everywhere.”
His prayer for those of his missionary efforts contains some of the same balance and sensitivity. Prayer #107 considers the American party as “strong,” but is more commendatory of the simplicity of the Igirot ethnic groups and condemnatory of “the evils and distractions of our civilization.” The cause of Christ is worthy, but does not mean that we should assume that we are automatically right in all things for our belief. This is the thrust for all his prayers for leadership, e.g. “Deliver them from self-love, that they may be servants of all.” (Prayer #108) So on with his Prayer for the President of the United States, for Pershing in the Great War, for the Governor-General of the Philippine Islands, for the Archbishop of Canterbury, even the National Organization of Churchwomen. The “Prayer for the Induction of a Governor-General” is not actually such, but a prayer for the whole American Government. To read it is to weep that it was not prayed by more than one Bishop, and that it was not prayed daily in face of the decline of the American Presidency in the last eighty-five years.
This review, in a brief space, has tried to communicate both the insight of one man’s soul directed against himself and his vision for a world united under the Cross. Because of the focus on his public ministry, his meditations on repentance have been insufficiently treated, as have his prayers regarding sanctification. May God grant us all that insight so that we may serve Him half so faithfully as this man. Blessed Bishop Brent, pray for us, along with your episcopal brethren, Anselm, and Athanasius!
Eleanor Slater, Charles Henry Brent—Everybody’s Bishop Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, 1932, pp. 70-71, as cited in No Other Wealth: The Prayers of a Modern Day Saint Bishop Charles Henry Brent, Frederick Ward Kates, ed., Nashville, TN: The Upper Room. 1965 ↑
No Other Wealth, 8 ↑
No Other Wealth, 96 ↑
The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to theuse of The Episcopal Church The Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, eds. New York: The Seabury Press. 1993. ↑
The best exemplar would be the thirteenth prayer:
O Christ of the Eucharist, who in a special manner dost manifest Thyself to Thy people in the Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood, make Thyself known to us un the breaking of the Bread, that by faith we may clearly see Thy form and humbly adore Thy presence, who art God forever and ever.” ↑
E.g. Prayer #35:
“O Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the mystical body of which we are members, cleanse our eyhes to see for Thee, quicken our ears to hear for Thee, open our lips to show forth Thy praise, give our hands skill to do what Thou biddest, make our feet swift to go whither Thou guidest, that Thy will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Prayer #76 is curious as a reflection of Bishop Brent’s attitude and prayer before each of the three refusals to become the Ordinary of the Diocese of Washington (D.C.) or the refusal of the Diocese of New Jersey. Cf. Prayer #101, Prayer #112 -#114, Prayer #117 ↑
The final paragraph and the relevant selection from the Prayer for the whole State of Christ’s Church reads as follows in the 1928 revision with the innovative phrase in bold print:
“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear, beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to gives us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.” ↑
Cf. Hackett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book, San Francisco: HarperCollins. 1995, p. 164 ↑
Shepherd, Massey Hamilton Jr. The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary Oxford: Oxford University Press 1950, p. 37. ↑
Such a teaching might be implied by the eighteenth prayer: “Grant, O Son of God, that as Thou and the Father art one, so we Thy people may be bound together in Thee. Unite in mutual forbearance, loyalty, and brotherly kindness, us Thy brethren who are fellow guests at this Thy table, that we, being moved by the common impulse of Thine eternal purpose, may promote the peace of Thy Kingdom in the daily comminglings of our common life; whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost we worship and glorify as God forever and ever.” ↑
Note Prayer #72 “Grant us, Lord, the ill to live Christianly, that by Thy might we may storm the fortress of evil and set free its prisoners into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” ↑