Saint Phillips Brooks

These online columns published on the BBH eScholarship page , an experiment in Boston/New England studies commentary, are timed to be a 20 minute read — except for occasional  “ebooks” that will demand an hour or more. Always sourced, but never peer-reviewed, they are the latest iteration of DSTs television “column” on WGBH,  Boston’s PBS outlet,  for Christopher Lydon’s Ten O’Clock News.  The column moved in the 1990s from television to print, appearing in The Boston Phoenix  as “Skyline”  (so named by editor Peter Kadzis),  and has now moved from print to online, modeled on the Center for History and New Media blogs at George Mason University. This months “blook”  is published in observance of the 100th anniversary of the erection in Copley Square of the Brooks Memorial in 2009-10, unveiled in January of the later year.


Brooks’s Pulpit: A Torrent of Sweet Reason

Brooks’s Cult: Contested Images


Brooks’s  Altar: The  “Table of Holy Desire” and Henry Adams

Brooks’s War: The Copley Square Monument and Charles W. Eliot


Brooks’s Communion Set: Relic and Type

Brooks’s Christus: The Conversion of Augustus Saint-Gaudens


It is,  let’s face it,  a little creepy — the Brooks Memorial in Copley Square , that is — and on the eve of its 100th birthday it is time to try to get to the bottom of what is going on between those two figures who keep such apparantly incongruous company under that lofty classical canopy. The answer turns out to be the last chapter in a story of many twists and  turns,  a story I think is best begun at a much earlier memorial:  the one inside Trinity,  in the Bapistry — the one that’s not creepy at all.  In fact,  Daniel Chester French  caught Brooks so much more aptly than did Augustus Saint Gaudens outside in my opinion that  his portrait of America’s foremost priest-poet and saint-bishop of the 19th century strikes in me at least a very true chord.  Standing before this huge bust of Brooks is,  in fact,  for those familiar with the work of biographer Richard Lischer to see again in the mind’s eye,  to hear again in the mind’s ear,  Martin Luther King Jr., — “I have a dream” — preaching before  the same sculptor’s great seated Lincoln in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial.

This is less because Brooks once famously preached on Lincoln  the day after he had himself attended the reception of the dead president’s  body in Philadelphia,  and more because King’s own preaching,  at once so epochal and so intimate to us today,  drew always importantly on past orations, and in that vein  “for much of his inspiration”  according to Lischer King drew on  “nineteenth-century bishop Phillips Brooks”.  For us,  who can do so still through tape,  to hear King is thus not only impressive in itself,  but doubly so as being our best hope today of hearing Brooks.  Dead now for over a century,  his voice never recorded,  Brooks now is the memory of no one living.

To google Brooks, whose eloquence made of Copley Square in the 1870s, ’80s and’90s after the erection of Trinity Church a Trans- atlantic religious mecca,  can also be problematic.  A sermon read is not a sermon heard;  thus that route will only get you so far in this world.  To try to engage Brooks in the next is,  perhaps, an alternative,  but only for believers. Something  Christians are encouraged to do — on the premise that dead saints’ prayers are there to be asked for in the same way as those of living friends,  and perhaps more efficaciously — it is also something non-Christians might find it useful to keep up a lively curiosity about,  if only as a useful device to shift mental and spiritual gears and unpack tired assumptions.

My thinking is — why not go for broke?   The more thoughtfully  and imaginatively one seeks Brooks out,  whether the historical figure  (1835 – 1893)  or the now duly canonized saint (January 23rd in the American Book of Common Prayer)  the more likely one is to wake up what is fast becoming,  at least in the post-Christian era and outside the Church,  a very dim memory indeed.  Moreover,  Brooks was always open not only to Catholic or Protestant but Jew or Muslim —  indeed he was so breathtakingly ecumenical he once pointed to the many “affinities of Islam with modern Unitarianism”,  adding:  “I should  dishonor God if I did not believe that Islam has done good” —  he might now be more open to the somewhat impertinent inquiry of this historian about the Christmas carol he wrote — “O Little Town of Bethlehem.  It  has  in my opinion  done more harm than good to his reputation,  all tied up as that carol has become with the modern American Christmas,  of which it is now an over-sentimentalized and saccharine staple.

Brooks has also suffered greatly,  not so much from his contemporaries  (Theodore Roosevelt compared him to Emerson and he came up more than once in William James’ s Varities of Religious Experience),  as from his biographers.  Mark Twain’s wickedly funny satire on Brooks and on his efforts to bribe his wasy into  becoming head of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral  (a position Brooks had just turned down to accept Trinity, Boston)  is a literary gem.  If only Twain had written a biography. But, of course,  he didn’t.  And when Twain,  a great admirer of Brooks,  tried to read Alexander Allen’s two volume study of  Brooks’s life — full of excellent fact and some insight but totaly lacking in the force or passion or style of its subject — Twain  spoke for more than himself when he pronounced it  “the very dullest book that has been printed for a century”‘.  Quoth Twain:  “in that dead atmosphere Brooks himself is dull”.  Nor was another biography, by Raymond Allbright,  much better.

That Brooks is trapped,  historically, between those who have idolized him and those who have thought him distinctly a lightweight has always been the problem.  No less than Charles Eliot Norton,  Brooks friend and the leading American critic of high culture in his day, reached the latter conclusion,  writing in the year of Brooks’s  death that  “he was quite sincere,  for religion was a matter of sentiment,  not of intelligence to him.  His strong sense of right and wrong prevented his optimism from sapping his moral integrity,  and from doing much harm to the easy going public whom he served and pleased. The eulogies of him are sadly extravangant.” Scholars subsequently —  Gillis Harp, for instance — have also  found Brooks “neither a particularly sopisticated nor a terribly deep thinker”, arguing that he exhibited a distinct  “lack of originality”, opinions that should be kept in mind throughout this study, which naturally tends to find its sources among Brooks’s admirers and , if not to idolize him,  to nonetheless take very seriously  his life and work.

Brooks was also a very private man, even secretive, which together with the fact that he never married, has led to speculation about his sexuality,first by Mother Barbara Grafton,an influential priest of the Episcopal Church, and then by me, in the first volume of my biographical study of Ralph Adams Cram, Boston Bohemia. Furthermore,according to Father Seamus Doyle, the distinguished University of the South scholar,Marion Hatchett, recounts that “the family of Brooks objected to their uncle being placed in the Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, one of them report[ing] about how difficult he was to live with” according to family oral history. One can only wonder at the protest that might have been mounted by the family of Saint Paul.

Interestingly,  the distinctly unimpressed with Brooks Professor Harp also takes as his starting point the Brooks Memorial in Copley Square,  one thing he and I agree about.  He finds  that  “the sombre, hooded Christ with his hand on his servant’s shoulder…adds an eerie feel to the monument”,  though he sees that the meaning  is “unmistakable…Brooks was God’s mouthpiece”.  Which, of course,  would not have offended Brooks at all.  He would undoubtedly have said he could claim no higher calling.  Yet here I must agree with Professor Harp and admit that the historian’s perspective must be more complicated.

Fortunately, there  is the corrective of the French bust within.  Actually,  and here is the idolotry,  there are no less than five statues of  Brooks within and without Copley Square’s Trinity Church– only the beginning,  moreover,  as statues of him are to be found in churches all over  the place.  Surprisingly, however, they all in the end justify themselves as being  rather  different in one way or another.  And by studying  those differences and their contexts , and pairing them with Brooks’  words in the light of the latest scholarship,  the truth about Phillips Brooks comes startlingly into focus.

Brooks’ Pulpit: A Torrent of Sweet Reason

A three-act play explicating Brooks’s life  and work as I see it would have to begin with “Brooks’s Pulpit”,  dwell longest on  “Brooks’s Altar”  and conclude with  “Brooks’s Communion Set”,  with sidebars inbetween about his early Boston Brahmin upbringing,  his years at Harvard and at Virginia Seminary,  his world-wide travels,  the growth of the Brooks cult and his first two pastorates in Philadelphia.  During the second of these he was ordained to the priesthood in  1860.  There too,  at the Church of the Holy Trinity,  Rittenhouse Square,  Brooks took up a theme that while it crested in his Philadelphia years,  remained constant with him all his life,  for his strong advocacy for the abolition of slavery during the Civil War led to a life long commitment to the cause of African- Americans generally,  a cause he by no means lost sight of when in 1869 he  accepted the call to become rector of Trinity Church,  Boston.  Black leaders drawn to Copley Square thereafter included W. E. B.DuBois when he was at Harvard,  Booker T. Washington whenever he was in Boston and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin,  widow of the first black graduate of Harvard Law School and the first black judge in the Northeast,  who would herself convene the first National Conference of Colored Women.  Her son,  George Ruffin Jr., sang in the choir of Trinity,  Copley Square ,  for over thirty years and Brooks himself officiated at the marriage of his sister,  Florida,  in 1888,  at a time when only blacks who were servants were welcome in the Back Bay.

In post-Civil War Boston,  however,  Brooks seemed to most to take  on rather a larger cause,  responding to what would become his life’s motivation,  meeting the challenge ,  naturally most evident in the nations intellectual capital ,  of increasing disbelief in religion itself.  He did so with a series of sermons of mounting  power,  so much so that like Saint John Chrysostom he began to be called  “golden tongued”.  Indeed, as Chrysostom had been commanded to preach to the Byzantine empress,  Theodora,  in the 5th century,  so was Brooks summoned from Copley Square to the Chapel Royal at Windsor Castle,  there to preach to Queen Victoria,  the great queen empress who gave her name to   Brooks’s own era.

Science,  exploding in Brooks’s period on every side,  was at the heart of the task Trinity’s new rector took up.  He had read his Darwin, some of whose friends and allies,  it is interesting to note,  Brooks also claimed,  including one so close as William Barton Rogers,  the scientist who founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  then located just across Boylston Street in Copley Square from where Trinity Church was to be built after the old downtown church burned down in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.  Brooks became one of the key trustees of the new MIT,  a member of Rogers’s inner circle. In fact,  it was at MIT that Brooks earned his increasing reputation during his early years in Boston,  for while Trinity was being built,  he held services in MITs  Huntington Hall,  where  a frieze of scientists,  not saints,  adorned the walls,  and Brooks labored mightily to see,  in his first biographers words,  “how far it was possible to be true to one’s reason,  to be free to accept new truth,…yet to maintain the Faith…as given in the Apostles and Nicene creeds.”

Brooks rejoined,  in the words of his friend and successor,  William Lawrence,  that “religion and science were not necessarily at odds” and,  rightly considered, “the Faith would not suffer,  but gain,  by every discovery of truth from every science.”  Nor was Brooks only general,  teaching,  for instance,  that the  “tendency of physical science, which with its theories of evolution,  dwells upon the presence in the world of a  nature of a continually  active  formative  force,  is in line with Christianity” . Indeed,  his was rather a Christian vision of evolution!  “Behold man is this”,  Brooks complained that everyone asserted,  “shutting down some near gate which falls just  beyond,  quite in sight of,  what human nature has already attained”.  Then:  “To man,  all lower lives have climbed,  and,  having come to him,  have found a field where evolution may go on forever.”

Brooks’s modernism in thought was paralled by as pronounced a modernism in practice. Most notably,  he took the view that all Christians should be welcome to receive communion at his eucharists,  however vulnerable this left him to to more conservative critics who accused him of ignoring confirmation before hand.  As Brooks was otherwise a strict canonist  (who never, for example, allowed non Anglican clergy to preach in his pulpit), this surprised many. On the other hand,  there was no canon to prevent  Brooks himself from preaching in the churches of other denominations,  which the  new  rector of Trinity began to do early on,  in part  biographer Allen pointed out,  to counter “the deep rooted predjudice against the Episcopal Church in the city of the Puritans”,  a predjudice made more acute in Brooks’s day by the overall rising Yankee predjudice against the Roman Catholicism of Boston’s increasing number of immigrants.

Brooks was,  however, very ecumenically minded.  For that reason he disbelieved the form of the doctrine of “apostolic succession [of the Church’s] ministry which gives to the [Episcopal clergy] alone a right to bear witness”,  as he put it.  He  “valued episcopacy”,  he said,  regarding it as having  “apostolic sanction,  yet as not essential”,  and preferred to stress a more “spiritual”  than legalistic succession from the Apostles.   Yet when such ecumenical concerns did not arise Brooks’s modernism only seemed to underline the overall orthodoxy of his teaching generally.  His confidence about sharing the  eucharistic sacrament,  for example,  was rooted in his classic Anglican belief in its efficacy, as opposed to the classical Puritan view of seeing  the Lord’s Supper as a seal of final acceptance into the fellowship.  “He who made the sacraments made  them such that they must help”,  Brooks insisted,  admonishing his flock,  which had many converts like his own once  Unitarian parents,  that the sacraments were  “great realities [that] cannot exist without giving precious blessing”  and that they should not  perpetuate the mistake of their parents and grandparents in making  “too little use of sacraments and priests”.

“Skepticism offers no satisfactory substitute for what it disbelieves”. “Christianity is supernatural or it is nothing”  So Brooks thundered, despairing to be sure as a modernist  of the “lulabies of traditional creeds”,  but of the lulabies,  not the creeds!  Which is why so conspicuous a modernist as the rector of Trinity Church was hailed by Oxford University —  royalist,  high church Oxford —  when it gave Brooks an honorary doctorate,  as “an eloquent exponent of the true Catholic Faith”.  Never more eloquent,  significantly,  than in his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity itself,  which he  urged on his hearers,  not “as a puzzle or a satisfaction to the intellect”,  but as something far more real,  indeed,  everyday:  as an expression of how  (in what we today would call the reciprocity of mutual love between the three Persons)  “the divine nature”, in Brooks’s words, “offers itself to the human”.

Charles Eliot Norton was not the only one who could not abide all this.  When a friend of Henry James complained to the novelist about Brooks,  his reply, while suitably Jamesian,  left little doubt he agreed:  “the explanations of such as [Brooks] require more explanation than anything else in the world”.  Alice Stone Blackwell,  the  future feminist, agreed;  hearing Brooks as a precocious teenager,  she  pronounced  him  “an unctuous priest”.  Even Henry Adams wife,   Clover,   who liked Brooks well enough as a witty dinner party companion,  did not respond at all to his preaching:  “I’ve heard him preach twice twice”,  she recounted,  “but each time neither heart nor brain got any food”.

For most,  however,  Brooks struck a vital contemporary chord.  Non judgemental in his approach — “we are all God’s children,  whether the best or the worst of us”– and willing to concede more than most clergy — “it is possible to sell goods for God’s glory and it is possible (as the Church knows only too well)  to swing censers and preach sermons for our own” — Brooks was usually plain spoken:  “sometime a world may come where hope may be conceived entirely apart from danger,  but…when men dare to anticipate great things,  the certainty that great evil as well as great good may come starts up at once,  and will not be forgotten.  Christ never tried to  forget it, ” he added.  And if failure was  the result,  Brooks faced that too.  “There are no times in life when the chance to be and do gathers so richly about the soul as when it has to suffer”.  All of which reflectected his keen interest in the new field of psychology.  Noting  “the mysterious,  bewildering mixture of the consciousness of guilt and the consciousness of misery in our sin”,  Brooks pulled no punches: ” we live in a perpetual confusion of self-pity and self-blame. We go up to the scaffolds where we are to suffer,  half like culprits,…and half  like martyrs”.

That said,  Brooks was an Emersonian afterall,  a Boston Brahmin who bridged  apparant  chasms well enough when he counseled that  “thankful to priest and church and dogma,  the soul will always live in the truth of its direct,  immediate relationship to God”  and make  priest,  church and dogma  “minister to that”.  And if there was  “no hope for the world but in a healthy individualism”  (“personal concience must always be the final test”),  the Christian individual in Brooks’smind did not stand alone at all.  “True individualism”,  Brooks taught,  “is not the individualism of Robinson Carusoe,  but the individualism of Saint Paul”.

It was alot to take in at about 215 words per minute,  as one reporter clocked Brooks. Try it sometime.  Even one of his biographers admitted, “hearing Brooks was no luxury…it strained the tension of the hearer”.  Oxford Professor Bryce thought Brooks carried it off because he was so obviously “self-forgetful”,  and indeed,  according to David Chesebrough , Trinity’s rector did  “disdain rhetorical training lest the sermon become a performance”.  Probably for the same reason Brooks was very sparing in gesture.  “Bishop Brooks,  whose gatling gun speed was the terror of reporters”,  as Louis Lyons once wrote in his Globe history  (“shorthand men couldn’t take him”)   meanwhile found his mark nonetheless.  One woman,  according to Lyons,  just gave up trying to write and cultivated  “concentrated attention”,  finding she then retained it all.  Another approach,  more that of the man of action, perhaps, was that  of one man  who admitted that while Brooks spoke  “as if the weight of the Atlantic…were behind every word…there is no let up…to the rush of the torrent”,   it was only at first that  you feel as if you should never be able to follow at such breaklength pace”.  Fact was though,  “you soon find yourself caught up….What is more, presently,  you enjoy riding so fast”.  Which was something of an insight into Brooks himself.  Trinity’s rector  “loved speed…burned up energy rapidly…walked rapidly, ate rapidly…like{d} fast horses “as one contemporary observed,  and had more than once been heard to say: “I’m in a hurry. God isn’t”.

Strange,  though,  how for others,  when Brooks spoke , time itself seemed to slow down,  for all his rapidity of speech.  There is a distinctly slow motion quality to the oft quoted desription of his vesper sermons when the new church was finally open:  “The solitary pulpit light  [on Brooks’s text] became the sole illumination [as the church got] dark. I could see here and there in the murkiness…[But the] darkness deepened the stillness, and the voice of the preacher,  growing more fervid,  came full and strong.”

The more fervid the more the subject was bound to be the personal Christ,  Brooks’s supreme subject. “The death of Christ saved the world.  The death of Christ!   Not merely his character and teaching….The picture Christianity has always held up has been the picture of a cross. The creed it has always held made the fact of his death vital and cardinal”.  Similarly with the divinity of Christ.”  To anyone who really knows and believes in the Incarnation,  the life of the God-Man,  [it is always] Christ the mountain up which the believer goes and in which he finds the divine idea of himself.”  A remarkable image,  the way doctrine suddenly gives way to intimacy,  which reflects not only  Brooks’s love of mountain climbing in his prime,  but  the way he alway sinsisted on  “truth through personality”, and not just in preaching.  “Christianity becomes real only when it becomes for a person…the attainment of a holy personal character.”  Declared Brooks : “In Christ’s mind at this moment there is apicture of you…not a vague blurred picture of a good man.  It is a picture of you.”

Always “more aware of the background than the foreground”,  Brooks,  Ambrose Vernon argued , was interested neither in  “insisting on full requirements in doctrines , nor in paring them down….He thought  ‘the duty of such times  as [his] was to go deeper into the spirituality of our truths’….For Brooks this was no evasion….The insignia of spiritual truth for him”, Vernon states, “were largely antiquity and catholicity….When a great   doctrine came before him…the question he asked was,  not  ‘Is it true?’  but  ‘Why is it true? ‘ or  ‘Wherein resides its truth?’  So  it was with the great pivotal doctrine of the divinity of Christ….He found its truth to reside, “wrote Vernon, “in the fact that Christ had lived out the secret yearnings and possibilities of humanity:  Christ was the prophecy of Christ that was eveywhere to be”.

Brooks talked that way all the time.  He could be droll — “I say many things on Sunday afternoon that I would never say on Sunday morning” —  and by many accounts  he could be a difficult man, yet jovial, who thought,  for example , Rosetti’s poetry was best read “a  little drunk” — an earnest man,  an overwhelming man he must have seemed for many.  “He brought pilgrims as to some sacred  shrine”,  his successor remembered:  “Trinity Church in those years was like an open cathedral…a vast confessional for human souls,  whose spiritual dierctorship was bringing strength …to…thousands whom no man could number.”

Brooks’s Cult: Contested Images

No wonder after his election as Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891 and his sudden death eighteen months later,  at age 57,  the earliest memorials to Brooks  took the form of depictions,  not of Brooks,  but of Christ,  most memorably in 1894 at Westminster Abbey,  where Brooks was the first American to be invited to preach,  and where his memorial still is to be found in the south aisle of St.Margaret’s.  The first depictions of Brooks himself — the Daniel Chester French bust of 1898 is a good example — sidestepped religion rather and were in the mold of  the Victorian hero,  entirely secular.  The first depiction of Brooks in frankly religious guise did not come untill 1902 in Harvard’s Memorial Hall,  where artist Edward Sperry did a stained glass image of Brooks,  but still at one remove,  so to speak,  from sanctity:  it is Brooks’s face but in the overall form of Saint Bernard,  the tenth century Cistercian monk.

Sperry’s boldness in  using Brooks’s image may reflect how two years earlier,  in 1900,  Brooks’s first biographer, AlexanderAllen,  had treated the  national controversary sorrounding Brooks’s election to the episcopate,  as every diocese in the country decided whether or not  (as Episcopal canon law requires) to assent to the Massachusetts election.  Allen,  who believed the stress of that election and the burden of expectation of his subsquent episcopate had caused Brooks’s early death,  presented the election as having had in retrospect  “corresponded to the process of a people’s canonization”  that in turn validated all the debate:  because  “the honors of canonization were in question,”  wrote Allen, “all of which might be said against a man should be considered”.   And certainly was!  Significently , it was not   for six and more decades that Brooks was formally canonized by action of the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy and Lay Deputies  of the Episcopal Church and placed in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer.

Meanwhile,  only three years after Brooks’s death, in 1896-97, the issue had flared — though surpressed at the time– at Trinity Church,  where the new entrance porch built that year seemed rather mysteriously to take a very long time.  The issue was the porches  ten great heroic figures of saints by sculptor Hugh Cairns.  Twenty years later the reason became clear:  “nine of the statues were accepted,”  the Sunday Herald reported in 1919,  but “the tenth was discarded…of Phillips Brooks”.  The article continued:  “Controversary arose….Robert Treat Paine was the persistent advocate of the Brooks statue….But Phillips Brooks had not been canonized.  He was not recognized as a ‘saint’….Canonization usually comes a long time after a man has died….Some  objected strongly,  among them the Rev. Winchester  Donald,  then the rector….The plaster cast was broken up before a photograoph had been made.”  (But not before Cairns could retrieve the head and exhibit it at the Paris Exposition of 1900 as a bust).

It is not clear if Paine was  ‘pro saint’ as well as  ‘pro statue’,  but others certainly  went  all  the way,  including the Battle Hymn of the Republic’s author,   America’s  Queen Victoria as  many called her,  Julia Ward Howe.  Allowed to retrieve  a relic from Brooks’s rectory,  she wrote in her diary the year Brooks died:  “I never think of the ‘saints above’ without seeing him in the foremost ranks of those of my own time”.  Another devotee was William Lawrence,  Brooks successor as bishop,  who refered to Brooks in print as “prophet and saint”  in the same way Allen had in his 1900 biograqphy.

Meanwhile,  by 1914-16,  the situation had developed sufficiently that Brooks finally appeared,  vested as a bishop and   in  ‘saint-like’ elongated  form in his own niche , in the work of the Boston sculptor , John Evans , in two pulpits of those years erected at Trinity Church,  Boston,  and at the Cathedral of Saint John The Divine in New York City.  The former figure was of wood,  the latter of stone, and because  stone was very much the preferred medium for Evans,  it is the New York statue,  sculpted in uncrystaline limestone so excellent for fine work,  that has been accounted  (by critic Edward Hall)  “surpassingly beautiful” portraiture.  The New York Brooks is also important as documenting that he was not   a local saint.  However, the company if not the statues, is better on the Boston pulpit,   more inclusive in just the way Brooks would have liked, incorporating not just  John Chryusostom,  for example,   but also Martin Luther.

Brooks’s modernism,  of course,  was the  background for  the whole issue of  him  as saint or no,  as it had been in the matter of his election to the  episcopate . But the election is also very clarifying in retrospect in  indentifying Brooks’s  motivations,  and thus very pertinent to the whole question of his canonization.  Who believed untill Brooks’s biographer  documented the fact that he turned down the preachership to Harvard University because he  felt it would involve his having to give up proclaiming  “the doctrine of the  Trinity,  the liturgical worship of the Prayer Book,  the method of the Christian Year”  and so on.  Similarly,  who  guessed that Brooks declined to even consider the presidency of Columbia University because, as he wrote to an old friend,  “my only ambition is to be a Parish Priest”, adding: “Though not much of one I would  as a college president be still less.”  A  wider opportunity or a larger field for his preaching was not Brooks’s goal at all.

Which is by no means to suggest that preaching  was not his first priority. Brooks’s own definitions explain the matter. “To preach,  to tell the truth, …that is our great commission”, he insisted.  “If we desert that there is no hope left but that intellectual palsey will fall on the priesthood” — that last word giving the clue to the kind of preaching Brooks craved:  which was not preaching in general — whether in college chapels  or public ceremonies –but priestly  preaching , in service time,  which is to say liturgical preaching.  When Brooks declared that  “no sacramental act done at the font or at the communion table is superior in dignity to the work of the pulpit,  preaching the gospel of  Christ”,  one is reminded that , according to Ann Boyd,  it was Brooks’s dear friend,  William Reed Huntingrton,  whose “appreciation of all that is best in liturgical expression [had] no parallel in the experience of the Anglican Communikon for 200 years”,  in Parsons and Jones’s words,  who urged in his efforts  for prayer book reform that the  proper place for the sermon  in the eucharist  was  after the gospel, not after the creed,  something it is likely Brooks agreed with.

Brooks’s teaching in this matter was most clearly expressed in  one of his best sermons, not  now widely known  , entitled  “The Priesthood”,  preached by him at an ordination liturgy . Nor was his teaching in this area unnoticed. The wide range of influence of this  teaching can be seen in  its influence decades after Brooks’s death in the work of the Spanish Roman Catholic philosopher and religious writer,  Miguel de Unamuno,   rector of the University of Salamanca in the early 20th- century.  Unamuno  took particular note in one of his works of   “those who like Saint Teresa,  do not wish to avail themselves  of  theology”,  in respect to which Unamuno  argued  “it was for this among other things that the priesthood was instituted,  that the teaching Church might be the depository — ‘resevoir, instead of river’, as Phillips Brooks said — of theological secrets.”

This is,  perhaps,  why Allbright made such a point of writing that  “those who knew Brooks over the years often felt that great as his sermons were,  his really greatest utterances came in discussion groups or in informal addresses he gave in preparation for Confirmation or Holy Communion.  Sermons at the latter services were delivered briefly and freely and from the chancel steps rather than the pulpit.”

Although it is true that Brooks  felt   that not understanding the  role of  the sermon in the liturgy harmed the sermon — “you never can make a sermon what it ought to be if you consider it alone…the prayer and praise must have their influence” — he could not have been clearer that the sermon must serve the liturgy,  not the  liturgy the sermon.  Indeed,  he made the point in the most personal of ways,  and in yet another sermon,  where  he  asserted four reasons he was happy to be an Episcopalian:  “the breadth of her conception of Baptism as a  universal right” was his first reason;  the Church’s “simplicity of doctrine” and  “sense of union with the ages” were two others;  but the third was  “the value she sets on worship;  the constant summons to all men not merely to be preached to , but to worship”.

Interestingly,  as  the Brooks cult developed,  images of Brooks and about Brooks began to migrate from the pulpit to the church interior generally and most especially to the altar,  actually to the altar reredos of wood or stone or the painted altar piece that rise behind most altars.   At Trinity,  Boston,  where the apse wall  functions to some extent that way,  Ernest Pellegrini’s gilded marble bas relief of Brooks teaching was enshrined in 1937,  its subject  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”,  the subject as well of certainly the most elaborate  homage to Brooks,  the  huge tryptych of 1940  above the high altar of  Holy Trinity,  Philadelphia,  by the well known Art Deco muralist Hildreth Meiere,  she of the Nebraska State Capital murals.  The  Philadelphia tryptych  is an expansive hymn to  Brooks’s  experience  in the Holy Land,  evoking as it does his memory of Christmas Eve Midnight  Mass in “the old church at Bethlehem when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with the splendid hymns”.

It also has a larger significence as connecting Brooks’s Christmas hymn, his own contribution to the Churches worship (however many shopping malls appropriate it) to the the Brooks cult  itself and the carol’s role in furthering it.  First published in William Reed Huntington’s Church School Hymnal of 1874,  and taken into the Episcopal Hymnal in 1892,  Brooks’s Christmas hymn was  set by Ralph Vaughan Williams himself to an old tune he adapted and harmonized for the English Hymnalof 1906.  When that was followed by Walford Davies choral version,  a fixture from the beginning of that iconic Anglican liturgy of  Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College Chapel ,  Cambridge , Brooks may be said to have taken his place in the liturgical  tradition of the Anglican Communion worldwide. The climax , however, surely came when  a stone figure of Brooks  by Angelo Lualdi was enshrined in the great three story high Ter Sanctus reredos of the high altar of the National Cathedral in Washington.   Seeing Brooks there,   though he is one of more than 100  Christian heroes  (as opposed to the  only half dozen or so preachers he kept company with on the pulpits his figure first appeared on),  augments rather than diminishes him   in a  time frame of nearly  two millennium.

Brooks’s Altar: The “Table of Holy Desires”and Henry Adams

Famously a  preacher,  Brooks is even more famously a  church builder, and on the cutting edge not only of American architecture — for which his architect,  Henry Hobson Richardson,  must be given most of the credit — but  for his own  revolutionary ordering of liturgical space, for which Brooks has never been given  the credit he deserves.

That Brooks was both preacher and church builder may be from the perspective of the 21st century what is most interesting about his life achievement, this being a century in which critic critic Clive James  protests against ” a generation of young people who know nothing except images, [and are thus] cut off from the ‘mother ship of culture’,” protesting as well against a generation of adults who know better but too easily forget Camile Paglia’s truism that “the only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words”. Brooks showed himself to be a master of both.

In building Trinity Church Brooks led, in tandem with Boston’s newly founded Museum of Fine Arts, then in Copley Square, and  a decade later, the new Boston Public Library across the square, in recasting a key part of  how American national culture was experienced.  At a time when Boston’s role as the nation’s intellectual capital  was being newly reinvigorated by the rise of modern Harvard and the founding of MIT and Boston University,  it was, however, loosing its cultural pre-eminence because of  Boston’s decline as a literary center ,often symbolized by novelist William Dean Howells’s move from Boston to New York and historian Henruy Adams’s move from Boston to Washington,  Brooks it was who played a key role in generating equally important moves in the other direction, the move from New York to Boston of Richardson and his friend and colleague,  the father of American landscape design,  Frederic Law Olmstead.  Thus it was that on the cultural side, as New York became the new literary center of  a by then trans-continental country, Boston,  never mind its  more curatorial role in generating  new museums and musical institutions , became the countries center of  architecture and the built environment,  of which Copley Square,  of course,  and the Back Bay  would be  the jewels in the  American crown , for only the Capital itself in Washington rivalled at the turn of the 20th century the architectural ensemble of  Copley Square’s public library and Trinity Church,  the latter  built in Brooks words to be “the glory of America forever”.

Brooks’s  own and more distinctly spiritual urge towards church building  is perhaps best explained by recourse to his  Yale lectures on the Teaching of Religion. Not read as often as his much better known lectures on preaching of the year before, these fix on the idea that religion is best taught by “the personality of the  teacher invad[ing] the personalityof the scholar, bringing the personal Christ to the personal human nature”.  It was a method, he declared, that when recognized as absolutely fundamental, and only then,  opens up  “three avenues”, none of which Brooks thought valuable in isolation —  indeed,  as ends in themselves he thought they could be harmful  —  but any or all  three of which as means to an end Brooks taught could become the way “the personal Christ may come to the soul”. The three avenues are, first, intellectual or dogmatic; second,  emotional;  and third, mechanical, each avenue respectively addressing intellect, feeling and will.  And it was  “under feeling”– the emotional avenue — that Brooks,  in biographer Allen’s words, “included worship”; adding:  [Brooks did] not restrict worship to prayer and praise…[but included not only] preaching, [but also] architecture and music”.   About all of this he  would brook no argument:  “The importance of feeling in religion is strongly urged”,  wrote Allen. So  was what Brooks called “the artistic element…. [and] the power and inspiration which [a church building] ought to exercise” — note  the “ought  — “upon  [those] who are to worship within it.”

In Trinity Church Brooks achieved every one of his goals and then some.  The building that launched the  Richardsonian Romanesque style  that made “a figure of international renown” in James O’Gorman’s words of its architect,  it has been accounted ever since by almost universal critical opinion one of the top dozen or so landmarks in the history of American architecture.  More:  Harvard professor Peter Gomes has called Trinity “the most significant religious edefice in America”. For  Brooks, who preached one of his first sermons in the new church on  “the sacramental value of external beauty”,   Trinity became  the icon more or less of his life and work.

The  artistic firepower Brooks marshalled for this effort was not limited to his brilliant young architect. Although (because of what Allbright  characterized  as  “a great hunger in his soul”)  Brooks  sought to meet Ruskin when as a young priest he was travelling abroad  and was greatly disappointed to find the great man away ,Brooks did meet up with both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones and  was able to commission important art from them for Trinity. Closer to home, moreover,  in the wake of Richardson,  he  fell heir to Americans of  just a little less or equal power, sculptor John Evans and muralist John La Farge,  the latter with several younger artists in tow, not least the man fated to become the great American sculptor of the era,  Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The wonderful result was to be an interior O”Gorman has characterized as  one of the “most inspirational sacred spaces in the country,  if not  the world”, verily   “a cultural revelation” for America on the eve of its ascent to world power.

It was a revelation   rather differently conceived within  than without.  Of Trinity as a whole, British scholar  J. B. Bullen has written:  “Richardson…moulded Romanesque and Byzantine into a highly original American style”.  But while the exterior was unmistakably of western and Romanesque inspiration,  within Trinity was overwhelmingly of the Byzantine East,  the whole evoking the  “pure Catholicism” of Brooks’s ideal,  the Early Church, and not the corrupt Catholicism as he saw it of the late medieval Church.   “The Greek cross plan”,  for instance,  was noticed at once by The New York Times;  also the “Moorish” profiles within.  Brooks’  Travel Notes , published after his death , explained it all,  for  his much wider than Richardsons’s experience of Old World cathedrals is everywhere evident at Trinity.  The Kremlin cathedrals in Moscow, which  Brooks found  “brilliant with gold,  barbarous in taste but very gorgeous” , come at once to mind for  example, when one reads a letter of Brooks to a friend about how  “we are  preety much covering [the interior of]  Trinity with it” —  gold,  that is.  Above all there was the epochal but despoiled Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople that so moved Brooks even before his ship enetered the cities harbor, and its by then  far more glorious proxy, the  Venetian Cathedral of San Marco,  which like Bethlehem brought out the poet in  Brooks: of San Marco he wrote he had seen “a strange light shine he never knew before”.   It must have been the adventure of his life to rekindle that light, and as he saw it,  to revitalize it,  in Copley Square.

Henry-Russell Hitchcock , America’s pre-eminent architectural historian at mid 20th-century seized exactly on this point, describing Trinity as “not altogether unworthy of comparison with St.Marks”,  and by implication the despoiled Hagia Sophia,  a large perspective of the interior of which,  by the way,  is very prominent in a photograph of the time of Richardson in his study.  Richardson had never seen Hagia Sophia.  Brooks had.  Thus did Trinity, its New World progeny,  take its place  among  the  most gorgeous liturgical spaces in the world.

For this  great good fortune if any one person should be signaled out it would be the muralist and glassman John La Farge,whose response to Richardson’s and Brooks’s desire for what the architect called  “a color church” was inspired. Such were La Farge’s gifts  William Morris’s and Burne-Jones glorious glass at Trinity seem but highlights (“Ruskin’s passion for Byzantium was taken up…by Morris and Burne Jones”, wrote Bullen) in an overall and unifying scheme the  presiding genuis of which is definitely La Farge, who seems  also too to have had his mind on Venice,  for he developed in his Trinity murals  “a personal mural style based on the painterly colorism of the 16th century Venetians”.  So much so the volumetric forms of his naturalistic figures beautifully preserved, mosaic-like,  the flat planesf the walls.  Similarly with his  stained glass Majestas over Trinity’s West Door.  With “its  luscious aquamarine glass “,  O”Gorman calls it   “the single most stunning example of glass work in America”.  In fact,  it may be the most notable 19th-century stained glass in the world.

Reaction to Trinity was immediate and overwhelming. The Boston Evening Transcript was astonished. “There is  literally nothing like it this side of the Atlantic ocean”. The New York Times went further, characterizing Trinity as “a new departure in art in the United States….the first instance where a church has been decorated throughout in oils…by artists of the highest talent”.  Indeed,  such was “the Venetian splendor of  [Trinity’s]  interior ” the Transcript hymned  it with unaccustomed exaltation, describing the effect, for instance, of Trinity’s great golden hanging lamp, a huge gas-fired corona,  thusly:  “down through the midst of [the] aerial gallery,  with its golden walls,  its prophets, angels,  and  GLORIA  in huge Roman letters of flat gold upon gold,  hangs [this]…crown-like circle  of lights suspended by thick golden chains, dropping sheer from the lofty vault of the tower.”  Only Hitchcock ,  decades later,  went further: La Farge’s murals he likened to mosaics in that they  “fill the interior not with a glow like the windows,  but with a colored mist”.

If the Tower was the first glory of Trinity’s interior, it  is significant that it  pointed  toward and magnificently framed and thus lent its power to the greater glory intended to adhere to the Chancel.  Thus The New York Times noticed at once on the churches first day,  not  only  that the  huge  San-Marco-like and mosaic-like figures of SS. Peter and Paul in the tower on either side of the chancel arch—-though  “they showed something of a personality.., cast no shadows…and maintain the reserved attitude [of liturgical art] ” were so configured as to point the worshipper to the Chancel they framed and introduced.  At once,  even “from the vestibule doors…the gigantic decorative figures on the east walls of the tower [Saint Paul especially,the work of Saint-Gaudens] already appear and beckon one on”  the Times reported, “Saint Paul on the right and Saint  Peter on the left of the arch leading into the chancel”,  of  which the Times’s description was,  perhaps , the  most complete,  and so at odds with with all the washed-out, glary black and white photographs of Brooks’s original chancel that  so so utterly fail to convey its Victorian splendor.

“Extensive consideration and expense were devoted to the decoration of the chancel”,  art historian H. Barbara  Weinberg has written.  “The ribbed ceiling was laid in gilt, relieved by bits of mosaic. The penetrations of the seven apse windows [of stained glass by Clayton and Bell] were also gilded….Solid gold formed the ground for six panels between the windows. Elaborate Latin crosses [appeared to each side of the windows,inbetween which] were panels containing extracts from the communion service…the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed.  [Underneath the windows] was a broad band of scrollwork containing white doves flying through …flowers painted in gold and bright colors,…suggested by one of the borders seen in the Basilica of Saint Mark’s in Venice”.  The two large elaborate crosses,  Latin in form but elaborately Byzantine in ornamentation,  were the work of La Farge himself, while the “Dove”  scrollwork was  painted by Francis Lathrop.

The original lighting design , even more than the tower saints,  focused  emphasis  on the  high vault  that crowned the chancel.  So great was the emphasis,  in fact,  that there is some suggestion of complaint in a Globe  report  that “on the chancel side of the two columns, out of view, are perpindicular rows of gas jets,lighting up almost with glare the gilded  vault of the apse”.

Magnificent enough,  the Chancel by all accounts,  however,  was  unfinnished.  The Transcript noted the “bare wall space some ten feet high encircling the apse…[which was]  to contain a processional decoration by Mr. La Farge”. Brooks for his part pined soon enough for  “a pulpit that would be in harmony with the splendid interior”. Above all and no surprise at all,  both rector and architect are on record as feeling  keenly the lack of mosaics.  “Richardson[s] ….dream was of mosaics such as those that glorify the mighty  vaults of Sancta Sophia”, Thomas Tallmadge wrote,  “but this for reasons of cost and perhaps of accoustics,  was out of the question”. Brooks, too,  urged mosaics on Robert Treat Paine, seconding Richardson’s plans that the great piers of the crossing  “should be covered from top to bottom with mosaics. ”            You  will listen with interest and dream as I do,” wrote Brooks to his dearest friend in the building of Trinity, of   “how more and more beautiful the dear old church may be made from generation to generation”.  Meanwhile the plan perhaps closest to Brooks’s  own heart surfaced in a letter he wrote Paine once from his beloved Venice:  “How many things I have coveted for the new church.  There was a big mosaic at Salviati’s that would glorify our chancel”.

Alas,  all three,  Brooks,  Richardson and Paine,  were long dead when their dreams  were  finally realized  in 1937, when a large bequest,  a liturgically minded rector and a gifted architect,  Charles Maginnis,  the most eminent of Ralph Adams Cram’s followers,  conspired so as to  “glorify”   indeed Trinity chancel.  More refined in detail, more splendid in material, and to us  more tasteful  (i.e.,less Victorian)  in decor,  Maginnis’s splendid  marble and mosaic altar-table and islanded sanctuary achieved in 20th-century terms the  less stridently colorful but  more  understatedly magnificent   ensemble of altar and sanctuary sorround  that 20th-century aesthetics demanded . However,  if    Trinity’s   original  chancel of  richly carved black walnut  in a sea of  red carpet ,  with red  plush altar rail cushions and fiery bright metalic gold ceiling vaults,  would  seem somewhat vulgar perhaps to us today  with our  post-Victorian tastes,  what  was truly revolutionary about it was how Brooks himself ordered this majestic liturgical space.

First, due honor was paid in a radical new way to the  episcopate and the ordained ministerial priesthood,  by Brooks’s introduction into America  of a form of the ancient synthranon of the Early Church  — a continuous bank of connected clergy seats running all around the  apse such as survives today in a very few ancient chancels in Rome and Istambul,  and has lately been most splendidly  re-conceived by Dean Richard Giles at the Philadelphia Cathedral.   Traditionally, a bishops chair was placed at the center,  and a sketch for such survives in Richardsons plans for Trinity,  but instead that symbol of episcopal authority in a church where many bishops often officiated was pushed forward of the synthranon and multiplied from two to three to four or even five episcopal chairs as required,  all modeled on the 11th century throne of Bishop Elia at San Nicole in Bari.  All of which for a diocese then without a cathedral , Massachusetts,  made much sense  — and not only for priests, but, for national church events, for bishops too.  Remembered Bishop William Lawrence of one such liturgy:  “the whole body of the [American] bishops were seated in the sedilia [as Trinity’s syntranon was called] about the chancel,  [including]  the Presiding Bishop and…the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was as if we were carried back to an ecumenical council in a basilica of the earliest age”.

Second,  and in such a setting hardly less radical,  there was the architectural expression of the non-ordained Priesthood of All Believers,  about which Brooks felt so strongly Lawrence recalled him saying  “the one need of the Church was a recognition of the Priesthood of the Laity”.  Thus,  smaller than  the synthranon,  but circling around in the same way,  the balustraded altar rail  with its vivid red cushions  sorrounded  Brooks unusual islanded sanctuary  with as much meaning as the larger synthranon  circled around the whole apse .

Third, on axis with the  center  sanctuary,  there was,  at  the very front of the chancel at the head of  the  nave’s center aisle,  another but very much smaller railed platform,  the ambo,  on which stood an elaborate brass eagle lectern for the Great Bible ,  from which the Gospel and other lessons were read during the liturgy .A very unusual placement for the  United  States, it reflected not onlt the then current placement in English cathedrals, b ut the custom of the  Early Church, and was intended, surely, to declare boldly the equal   dignity of Word and Sacrament.

,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Back to front,  on axis with the the center of the  circling synthranon ,  were the  the islanded sanctuary  and the Bible  lectern on its ambo,    the  three  features of the chancel’s center.  To the right hand side of the chancel was the Rector’s Stall,  an elaborate throne like chair and  prie-dieu , and the Pulpit,  or,  rather,  what served for one  for most of Brooks’s time at Trinity,  he  actually having had a preference for a very small,   plain preaching  lectern .  On the left side of the Chancel was the large and elaborate Baptisimal font , together with its reading desk, the font so placed,  Allen suggested,  so as to “connect closely”  the two great sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism, “setting forth the fact that [as was the fashion in that era ]  an inward purification [was]  the condition for participating in the heavenly banquet”.  Choir stalls,  by the way,  which then as now symbolized nothing liturgically but pompous processionals , were nowhere  to be seeen.  Brooks  abominated them, as he did vested choirs..  The choir was in the rear balcony.

Finally, in  a chancel which Allen significantly characterized as  “a large semi-circular apse devoted to the one purpose of the administration of the Lord’s Supper”,  there was at the center of the islanded Sanctuary Brooks’s  original  altar,  now the high altar of a church in suburban Boston to which it was given when the present altar awas was erected in 1937.  That original altar was far and away the most revolutionary feature  of them all  in so far as Brooks’s chancel was concerned.  Wrote Lawrence: “[Brooks] cared not for a lengthened aisle…and a Lady Chapel at the East End. The people were  not [to be] at distant points….The Lord’s Supper instituted by Christ was a Feast, a Feast of  the faithful; hence its table was placed in the center of the chancel and the people knelt around  it.”

The language was a bit clumsy — this was a parish church in the New World, not a French monasatry of the Liturgical Movemenmt –but Lawrence made Brooks’s  eucharistic teachings and liturgical design concept very clear,  and  has left us   first hand evidence that the principles of the Liturgical Movement were conceived and acted upon in other places than those monastaries,  and,  in fact,  in a manner at once beautiful and compelling by the standards of the time  in Brooks’s new basilica and in a manner, furthermore, thought to be distinctly characteristic of the New rather than the Old World.  Wrote Lawrence of Brooks’s Trinity chancel:   “It was a daring enterprize in its day, as original an expression and as unique as was the genuis of the American people.”  Lawrence’s  American   boast,  moreover, became  equally an Episcopalian boast  when  Allen  pointed out that Brooks’s  liturgical design  was   very Anglican in its eucharistic theology” as distinct from Romanism”.

It was The New York Times that noted  that  style as well as order was part of Brooks’s conception, for he   contrated Trinity’s   overall richness with  what the Times called  “the severe dignity” of  the   apse’s furnishings. His chancel and altar are remarkable, ” the Times announced,  “for their stern simplicity,  being without hangings or adornments of any sort”. It was,  again,  a telling homage to the Early Church.  “The Holy Table”,  wrote a seventh  century bishop of Constanople,  Saint Germanus,  “is the place where Christ was buried and upon which is set forth the true bread from heaven,  the mystic,  bloodless,  sacrifice,  the  throne upon which God,  who  is borne up by the cherubim, has rested”.  Brooks’s severe altar set off very well what it was supposed to,  evident in a contemporary Transcript report on it at service time , when on the altar  “shone the sacred vessels of the communion” on the fair linen. Trinity’sconsecration sermon,  afterall,  preached by Brooks’s great mentor,  Alexander Vinton,  was an echo,  was it not?  a thousand and more years later of Germanus’s call:  “we come to the place where God is invisibly enshrined”, Vinton declaimed: ” We   approach the Sacrament….We offer Him the sacrifice….We wait for Him in worship”.

Brooks’s Altar II

Such was the amazement of Phillips Brooks’s altar,  some people saw  it and some  people didn’t.  The Globe saw it (in 1884: “the altar was beautifully decorated”).  Sarah Orne Jewett,  Brooks’s dear  friend, saw it — at his funeral, in fact  (“the altar [was] heaped with flowers….the coffin reverently placed at the altar steps”) .  Ralph Adams Cram , on the other hand, didn’t see it at all (“raised on a single step, stands a black walnut table”),  though Richardson  did; at least the word occurs on his snactuary drawings.  One is reminded of Brooks’s reaction during his election trials to a caricature of him , the truth of which , of course, was in the eye of  the beholder. Typically,  he wrote rather a droll poem about it:    “And is this,  then,  how he looks, / This tiresome  creature Phillips Brooks? /  No wonder if tis thus he looks, /  the Church has its  doubts about Phillips Brooks”.   The problem with  his altar was that to Victorians it  didn’t look like an altar should.  His  first biographer was sure there was “not an altar”;  his second biographer described one very clearly — it was, Allbright reported,  apparently innocent of its significance, a  “free standing altar”.  But  Victorians were  used to sideboard altars of towering wedding cake detail backed up to East Walls. Trinity’s altar didn’t look  like an altar to many of them at all. Yet what a measure  of the importance of Trinity’s original chancel that a hundred years later such an altar is to be found in every chancel, everywhere.

How immediately  influential were these revolutionary arrangements?  Lawrence claims they “caught the imagination of the country”. The  British scholar Paul Snell has uncovered  a contemporary article by a leading Gothic Revival architect,  John Sedding,  in a British publication,  arguing for  just such arrangements   (‘the altar”, Sedding argues,  should be “brought forward from the east wall” in a “large chancel with semi-circular apse”) and illustrated by Richardson’s  floorplan for Trinity’s chancel,  an article that certainly  documents and for the first time the fact that what I identify as his distinctive liturgical ordering of Trinity’s chancel was known abroad in influential circles and somewhat admired.  On the other hand,  Trinity itself  began  to dismantle  Brooks’s chancel arrangements within nine years of his death — and  if Trinity’s magnificanr marble andmosaic altar and sorround is a fitting apotheosis of Brooks’s altar and sorround,  the rest of Trinity’s present chancel is not,  barricaded as it  still  by the choir stalls and parapet installed the decade after Brooks’s death — so the question must remain an open one even at Trinity!

More immediately influential,perhaps, was  Brook’s liturgy at Trinity ,  as revolutionary as his chancel arrangements. As much a modernist liturgically as theologically,  Brooks in great diosecan liturgy’s especially set quite a standard. Consider this report form the Boston Globe of 1891:  “The Bishop’s in the full robes of their office  took their seats around the altar”. Or another Globe report from as early as 1877:  “the clergy formed a great semi-circle in two lines around  the walls of the apse”,  allied to a Transcript report: “in the central space  [the sanctuary of the chancel]  were seated the bishops…facing the people.”  Finally,  from The New York Times in 1891: “Brooks…entered inside the chancel and knelt at the communion table….sorrounded by kneeling,  white robed clergymen,  the scene being aparticularly impressive one,  while  the hymn  ‘Bread of the World’  was sung by choir and congregation,  following which the solemn celebration of the holy communion took place.”  And that  it was a concelebration would seem to be the testimony of Newhall Dunbar that ” the bishops took their places at the altar” . Nor was it only diosecan  liturgies. One  frequent worshipper of the 1870s and ’80s   at Trinity, Alexander Allen, attested that in his experience :  “a communion service at Trinity Church became one of the most impressive religious spectacles anywhere to be witnessed”,  going on then to describe how “the congregation seemed to rise as a whole and press forward to sorround the Lord’s Table.  To the influence of  this service  a young Japanese student confessed that he owed his conversion to Christianity”.

Certainly, Brooks’s liturgy impressed the very artistic Bernard Berenson: “Perhaps no other congregation in America worshipped in more impressive sorroundings…The dim, vaulted interior glowed with the stained glass and murals….Here  [Berenson] could let his spirit soar”,  wrote his biographer,  Ernest Samuels, “Here it was easy to identify himself with the sensitive young pagan, Marius, who had moved in almost dreamlike fashion toward Christianity.”  To a young man’s witness add an old lady’s:  Julia Ward Howe again . As a result of one of Brooks’s sermons,  Howe wrote in her diary that she “felt much drawn to go to communion…but  [because she was not Episcopalian]  thought it might occasion surprise and annoyance”.  Instead, she wrote movingly,  she sought out “a remote  upper gallery…and felt I had my communion without the ‘elements'”.   On the  way home,  she wrote later, “these lines…suggested themselves as I walked:   ‘The universal bread, / The sacrificial wine, / The glory of the thorn-crowned head, / Humanity divine.”

While it is hardly possible to imagine anyone else but Brooks orchestrating all this, here too there is abundant evidence on the matter.  Asked once why he did not  for a long time have an assistant,  Brooks replied:  “I didn’t want one.  I liked to [do] the service myself.” And it showed.  Very alert to what  he called in 1889  “the effect of a largely constructed liturgy like ours,  constantly used”,  he tried to keep himself  “alive to the deeper meanings of familiar words…[and] gave them force…in daily services”.  They were mistaken,  Allen contended,  “who thought [Brooks] slurred the service to get to the sermon. ‘He puts into his utterance of creed and litany…such a wealth of personal consecration that a person who should hear that and nothing more would remember the thrilling experience all his days.”  That’s the idolotry again, of course, which actually  suggests a controversary about the matter,  else there would have been no need for the defense,  which,  however,  seems preety well  the truth of the matter.

Certainly Lyman Abbott thought so. Probably the most eloquent, and unusual, witness in this matter , Abbott,  who confessed in his Silhouettes of My Contemporaries that  he “at first intended to entitle a chapter on Brooks  ‘A Catholic Priest’  [but a] wise friend advised me to change the title”, nonetheless insisted in his text  that “if   a priest is one who by his conduct of public worship interprets the unspoken experience of a silent congregation to themselves by speaking for them to a listening Father,  then Phillips Brooks was pre-eminently a Catholic priest.”

A problem in getting at the truth in these areas is that a great deal of misunderstanding sorrounds Brooks’s liturgical tastes.  From a letter to a friend:  “I conceive the   trimming of the altar and the cleaning of the candlesticks…and the darning of the sacramental  linen to be, on the whole,  the noblest occupation of the female mind, the very crown and glory of the parish work of women”. All of which,  be it said at once, is an example ( given by Allbright )  of the  “biting sarcasm”  for which the private Brooks was notorious.  Another example in another letter described a fellow priest as one of those who believed  “only by altar  lights and altar clothes can the Church be saved”.  Even in the pulpit his disdain for such things surfaced,  as when in one sermon he deplored  “the trickery of colored altar cloths”

On the other hand what he liked liturgically was equally evident, and rather surprising. Formative above all was the experience of Holy Week in 1866, which he passed in Rome. Particularly impressed by “the great blessing of the Palms” at Saint Peter’s — which he described as  “a gorgeous service” —  he was also deeply moved by the Maundy Thursday liturgy;  “the dim chapel,  dusky old frescoes…by far the most sublime and affecting sacred music I ever heard”.  And Easter he found anything but anti-climactic:  “the moment in the Easter service was very solemn when the Host was elevated [and] the silver trumpets sounded.”  Finally,  he described the  “great papal blessing on Easter day at noon from the balcony of St. Peter’s…[as] one of the sights of a lifetime.”

Always very critical– he found the liturgy at the Anglican church of All Saints’,  Margaret Street,  in London,  for example,  “full of “altars, candles, genufelxions and all that to nasuea”.   But his response to the liturgy of Frankfurt’s Roman Catholic cathedral  was little short of ecstatic.  Wrote Brooks:  ” Mass…I almost trembled when I saw and felt the power of pure emotion…splendid procession of the host…thrilling incense…thrilling music”,   his praise the result primarily of what Brooks called  “the most superb congregational singing I ever heard — it rings in my ears now.”

Congregational participation.  That was forever the key to Brooks’ liturgy,  and how to excite it. In 1881 at a church congress  Brooks argued for  “a larger freedom in their churches,  at their altar’s,  at their prayer desks” for clergy interested in supplementing the prayer book liturgy, especially at the end of the sermon,  with more extempore prayer; a point of view which found its musical equivalent in Brooks’s policy of having both professional soloists  at Trinity every Sunday,  but also an amateur chorus of parishinors.  Noting that there were  “two ways”  to praise God — the parishioner  “uttering it himself  in the best way he can;  the other by hearing its ideal uitterance from the lips most gifted to declare it” — Brooks was clear: “I beleive in congregational singing…[as] the chief and preponderent method of our worship”.  Yet  for his consecration as bishop, Trinity commissioned an anthem from composer Amy Beach. Ceremonial Brooks hated,  the reason probably his own shyness.  Wheras  he thought Queen Victoria’s  Jubilee “a noble pageant”,  he told a friend he  “dreaded the pageantry” of his own consecration liturgy , which would, of course, and did, center on him..

Brooks approach to  liturgy,  like his approach to worship generally , can be best studied in his sermon on “The Priesthood”, where he stressed,  first,  the lay priesthood,  then the ordained priesthood.  Wrote Brooks:  “While [the Church] sets apart certain words which only the priest may utter in the church” — he instanced “her declaration of absolution” –he insisted  “we must not loose the larger priesthood of believers in the smaller priesthood of the ministry”.  Pointedly, he urged that “all visible forms of priesthood” —  this time the image was of “solemn, robed figures standing before altars and swinging censers” –were a quite “partial” sign of what he called “the essential idea of priesthood”,  about which Brooks was very clear in his own mind,  though really very moderate:  The solution was  “not to deny the priesthood of the clergy,  but to assert the priesthood of all”,  which would then “release”  the  Church from  “the old sacerdotal idea of substitution [that] has not died away”.  In place of priestly substitution,  Brooks urged priestly representativeness.  The role of the ordained ministerial priesthood as Brooks saw it,  was to  “hold forth in their  [the lay priesthoods]  behalf that which is hidden in them.  He becomes their representative.  The [ordained] priest is the representative man,  the man who represents…not the…familiar outside of human life, but its most secret,  its hidden not unlost meaning”

That was what both Brooks’s chancel and his liturgy was designed to accomplish,  even as in his sermons and lectures Brooks’s own eucharistic teaching emerged year by year,  perhaps most  bluntly in something so simple as the syllabus of his Lenten lectures one year,  in which the Christian life  is boiled down to four key aspects:  “Baptism – the enrollment;  Catechism – the Instructions; Confirmation- the marching orders;  and Communion – life in the field.”  More grandly , his attitude toward what he called the “lofty rite” emerged in a sermon where he scanted utterly  what he termed  the  “crippled”  thinking of a communicant  who disdained instruction with the protest:   “Hush, it is a mystery”.   If only he should ” bring his intelligence to bear”  upon  the sacrament as much as on anything else,  and  “understand in some degree what he already adores”.  That done, said  Brooks , he would “without  loosing in the least his adoration,  gain a new delight in a perception of the beauty of his truth.”

Finally, Brooks could write eloquently about the Eucharist, never more so than when he declared: “The great Christiian sacrament embodies…the idea of the feeding of the soul upon the flesh of Christ,  [and]  is filled full with memories of the agony in which his flesh was offered”.  Indeed,  in one sermon he became quite exultant : “The  Christian Church around the Christian Feast.  There is no other rallying place for all the good activity and worthy hopes of man…[than] the great Christian sacrament….Think how it would be if some morning all the men, women and children in this city…were to meet in a great host at the table of the Lord…and own themselves His children, and claim the strength of  His bread and wine….How the communion service would  lift up its voice and sing itself in triumph.”

Brooks’s Altar III

No wonder that no less than Henry Adams himself,  a close friend of both Brooks and Richardson and the formers neighbor in the Back Bay, was drawn  to,  almost haunted by,  the building and glorifying  of Trinity Church,  out of which arose his  “spiritual biography”,  Esther . It is a novel in which Phillips Brooks goes by the name of Stephen Hazard,   Adams’s wife Clover is Esther,  and the action  revolves around Esther working out her salvation  — or not  —  Clover committed suicide two and a half years after the publication of Esther , which Henry described once as witten in his “heart’s blood” — trying to paint one of Trinity’s murals .  A “dark book”,  historian   Charles Vandersee called it,  “as dark as the…figures painted high on the walls of Trinity”,  its relevence  to  us here can be seen in the subject of Esther’s mural:  Saint Cecelia, patron of music, the great intergrating medium of art,  architecture and liturgy.  Jackson Lears put it thusly:  “was the worship [of Trinity]  spiritual or simply dramatic?” It was the key,  of course,  to whether  “the moral was equal to the aesthetic”. Readers,  Vandersee relates,  “have to face the darkest idea of all…On these walls and in these windows  are figures of saints.Do they work?”

In the case of Julia Ward Howe there is more than a suggestion they  do. But in the case of  Clover Adams  one would have to reach another conclusion. Wrote Lears:  she suffered from  “spiritual desire unrequited”,  never mind  sick headaches”  brought on by trying to make sense out of the Athanasian Creed’s  explication of the  Catholic Faith’s  dependence on  the doctrine of the Trinity.  Rather like Brooks in his lectures on the Teaching of Religion,  Adams in Esther tries “to paint pathways to God”,  in Vandersee’s words,  reason,  worship,  submission of the will,  art and imagination”,  using  “the oppulence of Trinity Church and the charisma of its rector [to] enable [those pathways]”.  Thus does Brooks’s Trinity Church and Esther open the door in Adams’s imagination for his historic pilgrimage to Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres, which may be the greatest book of  its kind ever.  And thus  did Esther finally yield —  become? — the Virgin of Chatres.

Brooks’s War: The Copley Square Memorial and Charles W. Eliot

On a day of driving rain and blustery winds in January of 2010 Bishop William Lawrence emerged from a glorious liturgy in Trinity Church into the North Cloister at the end of a procession headed for the new Brooks Memorial,  which he  was about to unveil.  Suddenly,  a gust of wind  “blew the sheet covering the statue” away and Lwrence was stunned to realize at once that Augustus Saint Gaudens had failed utterly.  After the unveiling  “there was a feeling of dismay” evident on all sides. “Many”, the Globe reported,”went away not enthusiastic.”

Nor did the dismay  dissipate in the days and months and  years following.  Seven years later the Globe was frank to report: “criticisms of the statue have been constant since it was erected. “Most   important,  a trio of  Great Brahmins — Harvard’s former president,  Charles W. Eliot,  Boston Symphony founder Henry Lee Higginson and Bishop Lawrence — rose up like thunder over Copley Square, determined to to do something, anything,  to undo what they saw as an unmitigated disaster.  Nearly a decade later the cause was still driving a movement of such strength that on January 10,1919  a Globe headline was preety amazing:  “Changing Brooks Statue Up to Supreme Court”.  The case , unbelievably,  was  “Eliot vs. Trinity Church”, which is to say modern  Harvard’s founder versus  Phillips Brooks’s church. One can almost hear the the old gods rattling in their tombs at Mount Auburn.

Not once,  but twice,  the full bench of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts heard arguments:  in 1916 to claim the surplus of the monument fund to cast in bronze a new statue of Brooks by sculptor Bella Pratt — which the plaintiff’s won —  and then in 1919 , when Eliot and Higginson alone sought finally to banish the Saint-Gaudens figure to the Episcopal Theological School outside Harvard Square, and to replace it in Copley Square with the Pratt figure.  This time,  however,  Eliot and company lost.  The court ruled that the charitable trusts provisions that had placed the Saint-Gaudens statue did not allow for its removal,  and Trinity would aid such efforts at its legal peril.  What the Globe blandly described as  “the present agitation for the removalof the memorial to Bishop Brooks from the lot at Trinity Church to make way for another statue of the great divine” failed,  in no small part because Saint-Gauden’s widow mounted so spirited a legal defense  her lawyer warned her once that she was driving Trinity’s vestry to drug use!  “Verenol to quiet their nerves”  was the lawyer ‘s phrase .  ( How many vestry members read Brooks’s poetry it is impossible to say, but I never glance at Saint-Gaudens’s figure without hearing  Brooks’s droll lament of 1891:  “And is this, then,the way he looks, / This tiresome creature Phillios Brooks?”)

What was to have been the final resolution of all the conflicting messages of all the various images ofTrinity’s famous priest-poet and Boston’s famous saint-bishop was by the 1920’s becoming  a positively absurdist running joke.  So decidedly of their mind was Eliot in 1915 when the surviving disgruntled donors of the 1893 Saint-Gaudens fund appealed to Harvard’s former president for leadership, they did well in their choice,  yet must surely  by the 1920s have had increasingly second and third thoughts as Eliot, when thwarted by the court,  led them down paths ridiculous by any measure.  His response to the court’s ruling against him in 1919 was to arrange with the Museum of Natural History,  diagonally across Boylston Street from Trinity Church,  to erect the Pratt statue of Brooks on the museum’s front lawn!  Dissuaded by neither an acrimonious correspondence with Trinity nor the parishes threat of legal action,  Eliot charged ahead,  only agreeing to a six month limit to the alternative statue’s presence.  “Boston”,  reported the Boston Post in January of 1920, “now has two Phillips Brooks statues within a stone’s throw of each other”!

Meanwhile, negotions continued, Eliot, now with the city art commission on his side,  persuaded that not only must the Saint Gaudens go but the new Brooks statues should stand not to the side, but in front of Trinity,  in the square’s center.  Trinity countered by supporting the Pratt statue in front while leaving the Saint Gaudens statue on the side,  a suggestion so absurd that for a while Eliot was checkmated.  When the parishes rector  ran into Eliot at a wedding,  Eliot  would hear nothing of compromise,  stated again that the Saint-Gaudens was “an outrage”,  and that he would bring the matter to the Supreme Court a third time. Reported the Globe: “Requests continue for the removal of the Saint Gaudens statue of Phillips Brooks from the shadow of Trinity quite regardless of the implied judgement of the court that its present status can be changed only by stealthy and surriptitious proceedings under the cover of night”.

That at least  all concerned were  spared. But not Ralph Adams Cram’s suggestion the statue be cut out of its setting and allowed to stand alone, a solution no one took up,  noticing instead that Cram thought the Pratt statue no improvement. In fact, he declared, it was “dull and dreary”.

All of which seemed to give a new lead and turn some opinion back toward the Saint Gaudens figure,  which Cram pronounced to be full of  “character,  force ,personality, and considerable sculptural beauty”. Cram and Eliot, be it said,  were mortal foes and had been for years.  Perhaps these final exchanges sufficiently exhausted all concerned. In any event the Pratt statue went to the Museum of Fine Arts entrance court on Huntington Avenue and thence to the North Andover Common. The Saint  Gaudens stayed where it was.

Fascinating the  way exactly why the Saint Gaudens aroused such warfare among such  major American figures of the day as Harvard’s former president,  Massachusetts’s bishop and the countries leading church architect emerges only very secondarily and always somewhat as if the real reasons were too deeply felt or too deeply held — or too deeply buried —  to be hazarded in the public arena.  That  Saint-Gaudens’s figure  was not a true likeness of Brooks  , accepted by  all,  did not seem to be the problem.  Lawrence took the sculptor’s view that  “the  next and succeeding generations will not care whether or not the statue is a likeness” and that  both the  false prop — Brooks never preached from an eagle  lectern — and the false pose — Brooks ‘s raised hand in bronze was totally untrue to his habit   —  were the only way in bronze to suggest his mesmerizing presence . Wrote Lawrence, however: “The figure and pose of the statue are of a conventional American orator”.  As far as he could see, continued the  bishop,”there was almost nothing [to} suggest the simplicity, the glow, the spiritual feeling” of a man who Lawrence, of course, had declared for years was a saint. As suddenly as the storm had blown up it seemed, after fifteen years, to die down.

All the solution there was to this war was that in anticipation of the coming centennial in 1933 of Brooks’s birth, a new rector of Trinity,  Arthur Kinsolving,  also an advocate of Brooks’s canonization,  commissioned old Hugh Cairns to finally sculpt  the figure of Brooks in fuill ecclesiastical mien that had been proposed but rejected in 1897 for the entrance porch of Trinity,  the site of which had remained a great uncarved block.  Thus, at last, there was,  on the other side of Trinity from the Saint Gaudens figure,  the “tenth saint”, which, of course, the Saint-Gaudens figure was not.  But that was only the front story.

Brooks’s Communion Set:  Relic and Type

The back story was something else entirely.  And redemption was in the back  story,  which was stranger still, involving as it does,  first, what for many the cult of Phillips Brooks was all about in the first place, which was a matter neither of pulpit nor altar,  and,  second, what was all the while  on the mind of the sculptor of the Brooks Memorial,  Augustus Saint Gaudens.

What drove — drives– the Brooks cult can be seen , for example, in a recent  book entitled Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings for Saints’ Day, the compilers of which do indeed note that Brooks is widely regarded as  “the greatest preacher in the history of American Christianity”,  but only by way of setting up what then does seem a preety astounding contrast,  the fact that ( as a  story long  told  recounts)   once a parishioner found  Phillips Brooks  “in the  apartment of an elderly woman, scrubbing the floor on his knees”.

To reject offers of advancement on the grounds of wanting only to be a  “Parish Priest”  is one thing.  It is quite another thing when stories  like the one just recounted grow rather than diminish through the years. My old friend and mentor, John MacQuarrie, onetime Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford,  asked once if he really believed if George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, replied that he had no idea,  but that the real question was whether or not the cynic who had asked the question thought that 200 years later it was very likely that such  a story  would be  told about  Richard Nixon.

Another kind of story about Brooks is one Theodore Ferris,  a modern rector of Trinity,  born long after Brooks’s death, used to tell,  of how  “a small private communion set was given to Mr. Brooks in 1860 by one of his classmates after they graduated from Virginia Seminary”,  about which Ferris had his own tale to tell:  “I don’t take   it out very often, but when I do…somehow just the touch of it makes me feel his presence   in a way that I don’t when I just simply talk and talk and talk of him”.  Talk and talk and talk.  And the presence he means is Phillips Brooks’s.  It is a complicated story.  Any rector of Trinity Church must not like looking over his  or her shoulder at  a  predecessor who not only won’t go away, but grows more and more present in some curious way.

Another way into  this terrain is opened up by the history of  Brooks’s  sick  communion set itself.  One place we know he carried it to — the story is told in Allen’s biography —  seems particularly significant  touching on  what almost seems to have been Brooks’s underground ministry to black people,  who as has been noted here,  were a cause he kept up  in Boston after his very high profile abolitionist days in Philadelphia  more than many realize:  “A colored girl who was   dying sent for [Brooks] with a verbal message through her sister.  It was Sunday morning, just as the service at Trinity was beginning.  In this case Mr. Brooks sent his assistant,  explaining why he was unable to come.  But the assistant returned with the  message that the girl had declared she would not die untill [Brooks] came.  When  the service was over Mr. Brooks hiumself went according to the request,  with the intention of administering the Communion.  The sequel of the story is this.  He found that the two sisters,  fearing he might not come,  had concluded to keep the Communion for themselves,  imitating te sacred rite,  as far as they could, with bread and water.”

The story is told so baldly,  leaving as much unsaid as said,  and ends with an almost biblical abruptness,  and seems to admit of no explanation better than the one Theodore Ferris gave,  all unknowing,  in a sermon once,  the thesis of which was that the Eucharist was “mystery, not miracle”,  and which Ferris  announced he preferred to end with a poetic rather than a logical summation,  an anecdote derived from a poem by Yeats about an old Irish priest  by the name of Peter Gilligan:  “He was a faithful priest….But he was getting older now and he was tired.  He had had a long hard day when a call came from a man’s wife that her husband was dying,  would he please come right away.  He complained to himself,  he didn’t want to go,  but he knew that he must go and he knelt down by a chair to say a prayer  to  ask the Lord to bless him on his mission….[He} fell asleep….and when he woke up he was terrified…’The man will have died’….[He] went as quickly as he could,  and when he got to the house,  the wife met him…’O Father,  thanks for coming again,  he died peacefully with  a smile after you left’. And Peter Gilligan realized that somehow,  in the mystery of God,  the man and  his wife  believed that he had been there and that God had made up for his shortcomings in some way that he could not understand,  that God  had heard his prayer”.

Ferris,  a modernist like Brooks,  no more forced Yeats’s anecdote than did  Allen  force the one about Brooks any further than  mystery.  Miracles for modernist saints can seem unseemly, though Brooks certainly was a supernaturalist.  Better, however,  to consider an observation of a contemporary of his that is very pertinent to the choice  Brooks made between a church full of  two thousand people and a dying , colored girl,  an observation made by Atlantic Monthly editor Ellery Sedgewick,  who wondered once after talking with Brooks at some length, “whether  [Brooks] did not love everybody too dearly to care especially for anybody”.  It was ,  perhaps,  another reason,  never mind his sexuality and his likely same sex orientation,  that Brooks never married.  To love everyone in general and no one in particular has ever been a charge lodged against intellectuals,  which in his way Brooks certainly was.  “The ink of the learned is as precious as the blood of the martyrs.”

The  reflection of the sick room in Brooks’s sermons is also significant,  for he was apt to conflate same with the church sanctuary: “I have been in sick rooms where men and women …were breathing out their long days of sufferings”,  Brooks declaimed once,  which seemed to him “verily  Holies of Holies….They made God real” — what  a believer believes happens  in the sanctuary — “and interpreted Him”,  Brooks continued,  “with something of the power  of the incarnate diety of Christ”.  Interestingly,  by all accounts,  Brooks’s torrent of words slowed to nothing in a sick room , where it was his habit to  sit sometimes for hours,  in silence,

Indeed,  it is a striking aspect of Brooks that the two sorts of people he seemed most to draw to him  irresistably were,  as was widely known,  college students,  nearly all young men ,  and sick people.  Allen noticed that  Brooks”seemed to attract  [troubled people], …as he did the poor,  the sick,  the outcast,  by some force which he did not consciously exercise,  and yet of whose existance he was aware.”  Lyman Abbott,  in his Silhouettes of My Contemporaries,  made the point  of writing that he had, in fact,  heard “greater orators” than Brooks  — he instanced Lincoln —   but had known no better  priest, and  told the anecdote of how a man he described as not of the higher classes  and an absolute stranger to Brooks, but  who knew him trough the papers as many knew other celebritjes of the time like Isabella Stewart Gardner, faced with the death of a child and his distraught wife,  could think of nothing else to do but seek out Brooks in his rectory — where there is more evidence than that of his  maids  that the doorbell rang constantly and was never unanswered — and was then at once followed home by Brooks .

It is too easy,  but inevitable,  that all this testimony should be linked to what Brooks himself wrote in the sermon I’ve quoted so often here, “The Priesthood”:  “The priest should be,  above all things, “he told the ordinands in this sermon, “a man with an intense and live humanity”,  and must have no  “fastidiousness both with regard to the people for whom he works”. Only then, he declared, could  “the priesthood…go about among men with the true light of the Incarnation in it”.  More: “To live largely and openly and yet be innocent of the evil life,  that is the power of our priesthood. Oh my brother priests,  nothing that ordination can do for a man can create priestliness in him without  [a] personal life in Christ”.  Almost unnecessarily,  he added:  “You must be priests of Him”.

There is no time here to trace out that influence as one must to gage its influence in others. Of William Bayard Hale I had something to say in 1994 in Boston Bohemia.  There was Frank Parsons,  the Socialist theorist based in Copley Square in Brooks’s time,  and Vida Dutton Scudder,  another Socialist, both proteges of Brooks . Scudder and her friend Emily Balch, she of  “the Boston aristocracy of goodness”,  as she called it — the background for Balch’s Nobel Prize — were  both notable followers  of Brooks.   And it is quite remarkable, really, when one recalls how little emphasis Brooks placed in his Boston years on what is sometimes called the Social Gospel, or so a least it seems,that in a book like Bernard Kent Markwell’s The Anglican Left, his name comes up more than once, and always through other people,people who he converted or confirmed or mentored or befriended.  And then,  of course,  there was the young Cowley Father,  Charles Brent,  himself to become a bishop and be canonized,  who was Brooks’s  ardent second  in slum work  the Massachusetts bishop funded in Boston’s the South End at St. Stephen’s Church.

Another image,  this time a stained glass window of Brooks, complete with halo   now ,  a  striking work of  art designed and crafted by the  Willet Studios of Philadelphia at St. Peter’s, Phoenixville,  Pennsylvania,  installed in 1940.  Not just the halo stands out.  In this window Brooks has a companion in his work,  and well chosen.  It is the young Cowley Father,  Charles Brent.  When Brooks was elected bishop every one expected  one  of his first projects would be  to make Trinity the cathedral of the diocese,  and the papers were full of it.  Brooks,  in a letter to Robert Treat Paine,  remarked that such a project  “does not interest me very much.”  “What  interests me most”,  he wrote,  what he would  “like to make the first struggle of my episcopate” , was  the  purchase of a proper physical headquarters for Saint Stephen’s Church.

Brook’s Christus: The Conversion of Augustus Saint-Gaudens

And all the while,  from 1893,  the year of Brooks’s death,  to 1907,  the year of his own,  America’s greatest sculptor,  Augustus Saint-Gaudens, set the unenviable task of  creating the crowning image of Brooks,  bent to his task;  and with what disastrous results we have already seen.   Yet the task became,  certainly,   the culminating struggle of  the sculptor’s life– for his life one might almost say — and in the end,  for the sculptor,  and,  perhaps, for Brooks himself,  no failure at all.

The sculptor’s first idea back in the mid-1890s when the project was new was for what  Baker,  the biographer of Stamford White,  the architect,  called an “altarpiece”,  which is to say an enshrined relief very much like the Shaw Memorial,  Saint-Gaudens’s triumph on Boston Common,  perhaps the greatest American civic sculpture ever,  of which it was  confidently hoped the Brooks Memorial would be  the equal.  White,  however,  would have none of it, insisting on a “canopied”  setting for a free standing statue so strongly it put Saint-Gaudens off the project,  shut down his inspiration and in Baker’s words,  “eroded considerably”  the relationship of sculptor and  architect. In consequence Saint-Gaudens  “delayed moving  ahead with the Brooks commission for years,  possibly  relunctant to bring the artistic disagreement to a head”.

Even when the sculptor finally roused himself in the matter,  the glimpses we get that enable us to track the sculpture’s  progress are hardly confidence building.  One of the ways we know,  for example,  that by 1902 the work was underway is a startling enough report of a young woman who was studying with Saint-Gaudens that (because the sculptor invartiably modelled the body before its drapery)   ”  Phillips Brooks with nothing on but an open coat stands alone above me with outstretched arms”.  A remarkable sight indeed !   All the more so if one accepts the testimony of Allbright that the sculptor endowed Brooks wih the legs of Abraham Lincoln from  a   previous statue. .  We know  the head was well underway by 1904 because in a fire of that year an apprentice thought it worthwhile to save,  “dash[ing] into the burning building,  wrench[ing] off the head of Brooks and carry[ing] it to safety”.

Add melodrama, then, to farce.  But also, finally, “fervor”– Saint-Gaudens own word  (in a letter of 1904)  for the level of intensity he  roused himself too in the Brooks commission once he had got going.  All the public criticisms aired after the statues unveiling,  two years after his death,  Saint-Gaudens     considered when    he  modeled   the  figure  of the Bishop.  He knew the upraised hand was untrue to Brooks,  but argued  “since the statue was to last for all time it was best to take a slight liberty with the idiosyncrasies of the preacher  which   would only go against the grain of a few of  his friends now surviving in order to present to generations to come a symbol     of the  spirit   of the real man”.  As he had said of another  upraised arm  on another figure,   such a   gesture     was one of the few ways in so unforgiving a medium as bronze  for giving some idea of  “commanding spirit…and nobility and calmness of bearing impossible to show in any other way”.   According to his son Saint-Gaudens insisted on the false gesture;  he had,  he said, “no means of portraying [Brooks] freedom of vocal expression except by freedom of gesture”.  Eagerly,   anxiously,  he     modeled the  gesture , stubbornly, fervidly.

Saint-Gaudens,  it turned out,    like Charles Brent, was devoted to Brooks.  He had met Brooks not very often,  perhaps   a dozen times,  and never  at close quarters, but it soon transpired that he revered  him.  So much so that his son Homer declared later that the sculptor  was motivated by  “love of his subject”,  which probably explains why he reacted so negatively when his first ideas were thwarted by Stamford White,  lingered so long thereafter in denial,  and then attacked the job so fiercely when finally it could not be postponed any longer.  Interestingly, the sculptor’s    feelings proceeded   less from  his meetings   with  Brooks and more from reading his books of sermons in just the same way most of Brook’s    admirers knew him,  and we have Homer’s word for it that one saying of Brooks’s in particular Saint-Gaudens carried around in his head insistently, one, indeed, of his most quoted utterances still:  “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men;   not for tasks equal to your powers,  but for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no   miracle:  you shall be the miracle”.

A modernist miracle?  It was certainly a teaching characteristic  of  Brooks, and one that one can see would strike home to an artist.   So often, one imagines, Saint-Gaudens found himself taking up the easier task — the task he was sure he could accomplish and please his client,  in which success was assured.  But only success of a sort.   Significantly, Saint-Gaudens did not do that with the Brooks Memorial.  Art historian Katherine Greenfall is right that in formal terms the sculptor’s  point of departure for the Brooks figure was the McCosh Memorial which showed Princeton’s president lecturing from an eagle lectern in academic gown, but  the influence of the Shaw Memorial–recall Saint-Gaudens’s first idea–should not be discounted. And if the McCosh is a good example of of risking little and achieving rather a limited success, and the Shaw of hazarding much more and,  indeed,  struggling through finally to a masterwork,  the Brooks Memorial naturallySaint-Gaudens wanted to be more like the Shaw. This was all the more true because from the very beginning Saint-Gaudens,  though the Brooks was to be outside the church and primarily a civic  not an ecclesiastical  memorial, had decided he would overturn and transcend that distinction. He even  had a model: “the Sangliere Monument at Verona”, next to the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Antico that Trinity Church surely put him in mind of.

Firm in that idea,  Saint-Gaudens was firm in another:  the Brooks Memorial, even if it could not be a relief and should stand under a classical portico, could not be a solitary figure. Instead,  the sculptor wrote  that the memorial   should be  “compose[d of] the Bishop with an accessory figure,  the character of which was to be determined by future study,  and of the same height, both  ten or eleven feet in height”. At once,  a sense of subterfuge appears,  for the nature of the accessory figure is not very difficult to imagine,  especially in view of the Shaw Memorial.  And Saint-Gaudens only abandoned the obvious choice  thirty-four angels later!  That’s  how strongly he felt about the matter,  and that’s how many angelic figures he modeled,  none of them acceptable.  Models exist of several,  and anyone who thinks the Brooks Memorial eerie, as I do,  would  do well to look up those models with the angel.

Thus the  Christus.  As Bella Pratt himself saw, “Christ…[was] analagous to that of the floating [angelic?] figure in the ShawMemorial”.  The question mark is important, however. The floating figure in the Shaw is a very vague figure.  The Christus of the Brooks  Memorial is not vague at all.

What could be more true to Brooks himself,  however?  What was “Brooks’s Pulpit”,  his principal public persona,  all about if not Jesus Christ?  Like Hans Kung today,  Brooks was nothing if not Christ-centric.  And such an attempt on the part of the sculptor — was it not a case of  “pray not for tasks equal to your powers, but for powers equal to your tasks”?  Saint-Gaudens was  not only determined.  He wrote La Farge that in attempting Jesus Christ — he was,  afterall,  not the usual purveyor of religious statuary,  but the countries foremost sculptor —  he had been made to  “feel abominably audacious”.  But if he welcomed the struggle with himself,  he did not welcome the struggle with the Brooks committee.

As late as 1899, six years after he won the commission, the committee’s surviving correspondence makes clear  that  “only in a very general way is Saint-Gaudens’s conception of the work,  even to the committee…[known] and…there is no intention of handicapping the sculptor’s freedom…[there being] a concensus of belief that…a great sculptor had been given a great subject…[and]…that Saint-Gaudens’ memorial of Phillips Brooks will be  his chef d’oeuvre.”  So much is said,  the suspicions already present are also clear.  Years later,  Homer Saint-Gaudens confirmed that  “as soon as [his father] knew exactly what he desired,  he worked not only with his usual energy, but behind closed doors in the fear that the committee would get wind of his scheme”.  Not surprisingly,  in 1901, when Trinity’s rector visited Saint-Gaudens’s studio,  he reported that as to the  “allegorical figure”  he had found the sculptor “a good deal reticient “. By 1907,  the year of his death,  Saint-Gaudens had identified the figure as Christ in correspondence to the committee,  but still had allowed no one to see it. “The Christ”,  he wrote in the year of his death, “is still unfinnished . And it is the Christ, of course, that  lay behind the war.  The matter was put succinctly in a Globe report of 1924:  “There has been strong opposition in Trinity Church to this statue from the beginning for the reason that [Saint-Gaudens] had been given a commission for a statue of Phillips Brooks  ….but he left a model which included  a   Christ-like figure standing behind Bishop Brooks.  A strong group in Trinity Church favored and erected [the statues].  But this group became the subject of much criticism”.

Had any of these people been listening to Brooks’s sermons?  Well, we all hear, perhaps, too often,  what we want to hear.  And what President Eliot heard was entirely in accord with his belief that  “one of the most discouraging  phenomena…has been the [positive] reaction in the New England community toward ritualism and aestheticism”.  And as Eliot pointed out ina letter of 1919 to Robert Treat Paine the Saint-Gaudens memorial   “attributes to [Brooks] belief in asceticism,  or acceptance of the guidance of an ascetic Christ”. It was,  Eliot was sure, “untrue”.  It is surely the case that Harvard’s  former president knew the difference between aesthetic and ascetic — between the beautiful as opposed to the merely useful and the disciplines of self denial —  but he does seem to have rather conflated them, at least in the sense that neither the one nor the other appealed to Eliot,  a strict Unitarian, very anti-Catholic  (though otherwise a very great liberal)  who wanted neither  ritualist  nor  aesthete nor  ascetic  nor,  indeed,  any knid of Christ at all anywhere in the background of Phillips Brooks.

A Boston architect probably saw the truth of the matter when he wrote to the Herald that “whatever the shortcomings of the St.Gaudens, one can see now,  when the work of  both St.Gaudens and Pratt can be compared  [on either side of Boylston Street]  that St. Gaudens at least felt,  and attempted to embody in the work,  the great fact that  Phillips  Brooks was an inspired teacher,  driven irresistably by  a force outside and beyond himself….That spiritual force St. Gaudens recognized….That he did not wholly succeed is evident,  but that he saw and appreciated the significance of Brooks’s life is equally evident”.  By comparison,  Sturgis concluded,  the Pratt statue of Brooks was only a “portrait statue”.  Which was,  surely, what President Eliot wanted

Yet in the end  it would seem that more people have been put off by the Christ figure than not.  Certainly it has attracted a considrable lore,  all of it rather mocking, which, considering the subject,  is rather interesting.  Walter Muir Whitehill,  for  example,  likened  the Lord and his bishop to ” a policeman interrupting a soap box orator”.  Louise Hall Tharp thought the figure behind Brooks  “seemed to judge an over-worldly prelate”.   Charles Maginnis ventured that there was rather  “a  suspicion  of flamboyancy” about Brooks’s  upraised arm, which led one wag recently to wonder if  Jesus was reminding his bishop to stay carefully in the closet!  Worst of all,  Holker Abbott , head of the CopleySociety,  saw  “the figure of Death” stilling Brooks,  a  figure he found “shocking”.  Best,  perhaps,  is the story of the devout lady who asked  a kindly-looking gentleman who was also looking at it,  ‘Who is that man behind our good Bishop?’….’That is the figure of Christ’  she was told….’Well’,  she exclaimed indignantly, ‘It don’t look like him!’

Even those who were on quite the other side of that issue disliked the Christus. Bishop Lawrence himself found it  “so ghostly a muse”  it was altogether  “alien to [Brooks] whole temper”.  But,  of course,  it was not Phillips Brooks’ Christ.  How could it be?  It was Augustus Saint-Gaudens Christ.  And if he produced no more than an adequate depiction of Brooks,  nowhere near so apt as Daniel Chester French’s,  his  Christus ,  looked at on its own merits,  is altogether more  compelling.

When the Christ figure first trumped  the angel,  Saint-Gaudens immediately encountered in most dramatic fashion a problem rather similar to the saint or no problem in any depiction of Brooks:  was the  “Holy Figure”,  as he called the Christus, to be God or Man, or the God Man entire?  The sculptor’s assistant,  Herring,  described two models:  the first  tried to show “the dead but risen Presence”;  the second  “the helpful,  human,  loving Presence”. Terms no theologian would use,  they were nonetheless very exact terms for an artist in such a quandry.

Saint-Gaudens, meanwhile,  sought help from Henry Adams,  of all people,  by then deeply emeshed in another quandry entirely: “the unity he could find neither in the religion of  his Puritan ancestors, nor in western or eastern philosophy,  nor in science  [but which he] seem[ed]  finally to have discovered in the Virgin”.  Thus pre-occupied,  Adams was terse,  and suggested to Saint-Gaudens that his best source would be  “the Bible”, not aware apparently of why the sculptor had thought of him especially in this matter,  which surprisingly few today quite register either.

Interested parties have sourced the form of the Brooks Memorial Christ figure to everything from the sketches of Tissot — art historian John Dryout’s choice — to various Vatican figures by Raphael — Homer Saint-Gaudens’s distant   choice, but two works highlighted by the latter from his father’s own work seemed to Homer most immediately influential, including one that for me jumps out at once and is suddenly so obvious:  the shrouded, silent figure of 1886-91  Saint-Gauden’s  famously sculpted in Washington as a memorial for Clover Adams,  a figure Adams called  “the Peace of God”  and Saint-Gaudens  “the Power that Passeth all Understanding”.  Both are ultimately derived from Saint Paul but, especially the second, from the priestly blessing at the end of the Anglican eucharist.

It is thus one should approach Homer Saint-Gaudens memory of his father’s struggles with the “Holy Figure”  working on which according to his son  created  “a sincere change in  [the sculptor’s]  attitude  toward his subject….[T]hough educated a Catholic,  he had never found appeal in the historical self-chastising doctrines of  Christianity.  Only the joy of religion had drawn from him any response.  He always remembered his  aversion to his schoolmates, who,  according to their instructions,  beat their chests and named themselves  ‘miserable sinners’….But now, as he gave the subject more and more individual thought,  Christ no longer stood to him as the head of a cult that announced bewildering self-contradictions and endless punishment of sin….From that time  Saint-Gaudens began to express a genuine faith”.

The  Brooks Christus was the last but one work Saint-Gaudens hands touched before his death.  And the very last was another figure of Christ– the Baker Memorial — in which according  to Homer, his father felt  “impelled to express still further his new sense of the beauty of Christ”.  Notably,  the Baker Christ was endowed with what the Brooks Christ was not — a halo.

This  is conversion ,  if not by stealth,  than by indirection —  very reminiscent of Brooks ‘s long time  method of   teaching  thusly.   ( “[Brooks]  is at his best, ” Vernon wrote,  “when he preaches by indirection”.)

“”[Saint-Gaudens]  desired the figure back among the  columns”,  Homer recalled,  “and sought in the head an air of mystery which should be intensified by drapery and shadow….Eventually…my father evolved a scheme which satisfied him.  The head of Christ was one of the last two pieces of sculpture that he actually touched with his hands….Toward the end of the  commission,  and of his life,  he said more than once:  “There, it’s all right now; all right now.”

The words of the Archbishop in George Bernard Shaw’s  Saint Joan are surely pertinent:  “a miracle, my friend,  is an event which creates faith.  That is the purpose and nature of miracles.  [They]  may seem very wonderful to the people who witness them….That does not matter:  if they  confirm or create faith they are true miracles.”


The  scholarly foundation for “Saint Phillips Brooks” is “The Ecumenical Quest” in Douglass Shand-Tucci, RALPH ADAMS CRAM: AN ARCHITECT’S FOUR QUESTS  (Univ.of Mass.Press, 2005), footnotes for which should be consulted before the source notes below,which are only for additional sources used in this blook.

Abbott, Lyman. SILHOUETTES OF MY CONTEMPORARIES (1921; Hardpress, 2008).

[Adams, Henry] Snow, Francis Compton. ESTHER (1884; Tutis,2008).

Brooks, Phillips. “The Priesthood”, in Bradley, Susan Hinckley,ed., LEVERETT BRADLEY; A SOLDIER-BOY’S LETTERS, 1862-1865, A MAN’S WORK IN THE MINISTRY (privately printed, 1905). In the numbering of Brooks’s sermons, “The Priesthood” is #620.

[Balch, Emily] Randall,Mercedez M. IMPROPER BOSTONIAN: EMILY GREENE BALCH (Twane,1964)

Baker, Paul R. STANFORD WHITE (Macmillian, 1989).


Benson, Louis. STUDIES OF FAMILIAR HYMNS  (Westminster, 1924).

[Blackwell, Alice Stone], quoted in Woolverton, which see below.

Bullen, J..B. BYZANTIUM REDISCOVERED (Phaidon, 2006)

Chesebrough, David. PHILLIPS BROOKS: PULPIT ELOQUENCE  ( Greenwood,2001)

[Dryfhaut, John H.] in Duffy, Henry, AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS  (Trust for Museums Exhibitions, 2003)

Emerson, Everett. MARK TWAIN: A LITERARY LIFE  (Twayne, 1999).

Ferris, Theodore. “The Bread and the Body”, “Does God Hear Us When We Pray?” in SELECTED SERMONS  (Trinity Church,1976).

Gomes, Peter. Forword in Wilbur, Ellen CONSOLATIONS OF GOD  (Eerdmans, 2003).

Globe, Boston: “An Imposing” (4 Oct 1877); “Brooks’s Statues” (4 July 1920); “Phillips Brooks” (25 June 1925); “Today Tenth Anniversary” (23 Jan 1903); “Moving Statue” (25 Feb 1924); “Christmas” (25 Dec 1877).

Greenfall, Kathryn. AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS: MASTER SCULPROR (Metropolitan Museum, 1985).

[Hagia Sophia] Ochsher,  J, K.   H.  H.   RICHARDSON ( MIT Press, 1982).

Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. THE ARCHITECTURE OF H. H. RICHARDSON AND HIS TIMES (MIT Press, 1966)

Harp, Gillis. BRAHMIN PROPHET (Rowan and Littlefield, 2003).


[Howe, Julia Ward] Richards, Laura, and others, ed.,  Chapter V (1886-1888) in DIARIES OF JULIA WARD HOWE 1819-1910 (Houghton, 1893).

Haston, Herbert S.”Memorials of Phillips Brooks” in THE OUTLOOK (7 June 1899).

[Jewett, Sarah Orne] in Weber, Clara Cutler, A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE PUBLISHED WRITINGS OF SARAH ORNE JEWETT (Colby College, 1949).

Lyons, Louis. NEWSPAPER STORY (the Boston Globe, 1971).

Lischer, Richard.THE PREACHER KING.(Oxford University Press, 1997).

[Meiere, Hildreth] . Visit

Maginnis, Charle S.. “Sculpture” in FIFTY YEARS OF BOSTON (Tercentenary Committee, 1932).


[Norton, Charles Eliot]. Letter to E. L Godkin, 29 Jan 1893, quoted in Harp, Gillis, which see above.

New York Times: “Bishop Paddock’s Successor” (1 May 191); “A Brilliant Boston Wedding”” (12 Oct 1883).; “Statue to be Unveiled” (23 Jan 1910).

O’Gorman,James.LIVING ARCHITECTURE  (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

[Ruffin, Josephine St.Pierre]  in Lyman, Darryl, GREAT AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN  (Jonathan David, 1999).

Parsons, E.L.  and Jones, B. H. THE AMERICAN PRAYER BOOK  (Scribners,1937).

Roosevelt, Theodore.PROGRESSIVE PRINCIPLES  (National Progressive Service,1913).

Roosevelt, Theodore.”The Reformers”oi THE  STRENUOUS LIFE  (Century, 1900).

Samuels, Ernest.BERNARD BERENSON (Harvard, 1979).

Sedding John.”Notes on Church Planning”, THE BUILDING NEWS  (Vol.51 / 186).

Slocum, Robert B. “The Social Teachings of Phillips Brooks”, ANGLICAN THEOLOGICAL REVIEW (Winter 2002).


Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, papers, Dartmouth College Library.

Sedgwick, Ellery.THE HAPPY PROFESSION (Atlantic 1940).

Tharp, Louise Hall. I have forgotten and cannot retrieve the exact source of the two quotations from Tharp in the text, but willpersevere and post them when they turn up.. DS-T

Tallmadge, Thomas E. THE STORY OFARCHITECTURE IN AMERICA (Norton, 1986).

Unamuno,Miguel de. TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE (1913; Dover reprint, 1954).

Vandsersee, Charles “User: Henry Adams and ‘Esther'” in THE MAKING OF TRINITY CHURCH (Univ.of  Mass.Press, 2004).

Vernon, Ambrose. “Phillips Brooks”in “Later Theology” in  CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE (vol.xvi, 2008).

Woolverton, John. THE EDUCATION OF PHILLIPS BROOKS  (Univ.of Illinois Press, 1995).






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