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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Phillips Brooks (1835–1893)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
PHILLIPS BROOKS was born in Boston, Massachusetts, December 13th, 1835, and died there January 23d, 1893. He inherited the best traditions of New England history, being on the paternal side the direct descendant of John Cotton, and his mother’s name, Phillips, standing for high learning and distinction in the Congregational church. Born at a time when the orthodox faith was fighting its bitterest battle with Unitarianism, his parents accepted the dogmas of the new theology, and had him baptized by a Unitarian clergyman. But while refusing certain dogmas of the orthodox church, they were the more thrown back for spiritual support upon the internal evidences of evangelical Christianity. “Holding still,” says the Rev. Arthur Brooks, “in a greater or less degree, and with more or less precision, to the old statements, they counted the great fact that these statements enshrined more precious truth than any other.” Transition to the Episcopal church was easy; the mother became an Episcopalian, and Phillips Brooks received all his early training in that communion. But heredity had its influence, and in after-life the great Bishop said that the Episcopal church could reap the fruits of the long and bitter controversy which divided the New England church, only as it discerned the spiritual worth of Puritanism, and the value of its contributions to the history of religious thought and character.  1
  Such were the early surroundings of the man, and the subsequent influences of his life tended to foster this liberal spirit. For such a purpose, Boston itself was a good place to live in: it was too large to be wholly provincial, and it was not so large that the individual was lost; and at that time it was moreover the literary center of America. When Phillips Brooks entered Harvard, he came into an atmosphere of intense intellectual activity. James Walker was the president of the college, and Lowell, Holmes, Agassiz, and Longfellow were among the professors. He graduated with honor in 1855, and soon after entered the Episcopal theological seminary at Alexandria, Virginia.  2
  The transition from Harvard to this college was an abrupt one. The standards of the North and South were radically different. The theology of the Church in Virginia, while tolerant to that of other denominations, was uncompromisingly hostile to what it regarded as heterodox.  3
  When the War was declared he threw himself passionately into the cause of the Union. Yet his affection for his Southern classmates, men from whom he so widely differed, broadened that charity that was one of his finest characteristics, a charity that respected conviction wherever found.  4
  No man, in truth, ever did so much to remove prejudice against a Church that had never been popular in New England. To the old Puritan dislike of Episcopacy and distrust of the English Church as that of the oppressors of the colony, was added a sense of resentment toward its sacerdotal claims and its assumption of ecclesiastical supremacy. But he nevertheless protested against the claim by his own communion to the title of “The American Church,” he preached occasionally in other pulpits, he even had among his audiences clergymen of other denominations, and he was able to reconcile men of different creeds into concord on what is essential in all. The breadth and depth of his teaching attracted so large a following that he increased the strength of the Episcopal Church in America far more than he could have done by carrying on an active propaganda in its behalf. Under his pastorate Trinity Church, Boston, became the center of some of the most vigorous Christian activity in America.  5
  His first charge was the Church of the Advent, in Philadelphia; in two years he became rector of Holy Trinity Church in the same city. In 1869 he was called to Trinity Church, Boston, of which he was rector until his election as bishop of Massachusetts in 1891.  6
  It is impossible to give an idea of Phillips Brooks without a word about his personality, which was almost contradictory. His commanding figure, his wit, the charm of his conversation, and a certain boyish gayety and naturalness, drew people to him as to a powerful magnet. He was one of the best-known men in America; people pointed him out to strangers in his own city as they pointed out the Common and the Bunker Hill monument. When he went to England, where he preached before the Queen, men and women of all classes greeted him as a friend. They thronged the churches where he preached, not only to hear him but to see him. Many stories are told of him; some true, some more or less apocryphal, all proving the affectionate sympathy existing between him and his kind. It was said of him that as soon as he entered a pulpit he was absolutely impersonal. There was no trace of individual experience or theological conflict by which he might be labeled. He was simply a messenger of the truth as he held it, a mouthpiece of the gospel as he believed it had been delivered to him.  7
  Although in his seminary days his sermons were described as vague and unpractical, Phillips Brooks was as great a preacher when under thirty years of age as he was at any later time. His early sermons, delivered to his first charge in Philadelphia, displayed the same individuality, the same force and completeness and clearness of construction, the same deep, strong undertone of religious thought, as his great discourses preached in Westminster Abbey six months before his death. His sentences are sonorous; his style was characterized by a noble simplicity, impressive, but without a touch showing that dramatic effect was strained for.  8
  He passionately loved nature in all her aspects, and traveled widely in search of the picturesque; but he used his experience with reserve, and his illustrations are used to explain human life. His power of painting a picture in a few bold strokes appears strikingly in the great sermon on the ‘Lesson of the Life of Saul,’ where he contrasts early promise and final failure; and in that other not less remarkable presentation of the vision of Saint Peter. His treatment of Bible narratives is not a translation into the modern manner, nor is it an adaptation, but a poetical rendering, in which the flavor of the original is not lost though the lesson is made contemporary. And while he did not transcribe nature upon his pages, his sermons are not lacking in decoration. He used figures of speech and drew freely on history and art for illustrations, but not so much to elucidate his subject as to ornament it. His essays on social and literary subjects are written with the aim of directness of statement, pure and simple; but the stuff of which his sermons are woven is of royal purple.  9
  The conviction that religious sentiment should penetrate the whole life showed itself in Phillips Brooks’s relation to literature. “Truth bathed in light and uttered in love makes the new unit of power,” he says in his essay on literature. It was his task to mediate between literature and theology, and restore theology to the place it lost through the abstractions of the schoolmen. What he would have done if he had devoted himself to literature alone, we can only conjecture by the excellence of his style in essays and sermons. They show his poetical temperament; and his little lyric ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ will be sung as long as Christmas is celebrated. His essays show more clearly even than his sermons his opinions on society, literature, and religion. They place him where he belongs, in that “small transfigured band the world cannot tame,”—the world of Cranmer, Jeremy Taylor, Robertson, Arnold, Maurice. His paper on Dean Stanley discloses his theological views as openly as do his addresses on ‘Heresies and Orthodoxy.’  10
  As might be expected of one who, in the word’s best sense, was so thoroughly a man, he had great influence with young men and was one of the most popular of Harvard preachers. It was his custom for thirty alternate years to go abroad in the summer, and there, as in America, he was regarded as a great pulpit orator. He took a large view of social questions and was in sympathy with all great popular movements. His advancement to the episcopate was warmly welcomed by all parties, except one branch of his own church with which his principles were at variance, and every denomination delighted in his elevation as if he were the peculiar property of each.  11
  He published several volumes of sermons. His works include ‘Lectures on Preaching’ (New York, 1877), ‘Sermons’ (1878–81), ‘Bohlen Lectures’ (1879), ‘Baptism and Confirmation’ (1880), ‘Sermons Preached in English Churches’ (1883), ‘The Oldest Schools in America’ (Boston, 1885), ‘Twenty Sermons’ (New York, 1886), ‘Tolerance’ (1887), ‘The Light of the World, and Other Sermons’ (1890), and ‘Essays and Addresses’ (1894). His ‘Letters of Travel’ show him to be an accurate observer, with a large fund of spontaneous humor. No letters to children are so delightful as those in this volume.  12
 
 
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