Phillips Brooks

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Phillips Brooks.

Phillips Brooks (December 13, 1835 – January 23, 1893) was an American clergyman and author, who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s. In the Episcopal liturgical calendar he is remembered on January 23. He is known for being the lyricist of "O Little Town of Bethlehem".

Background[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Brooks was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1835. Through his father, William Gray Brooks, he was descended from the Rev. John Cotton; through his mother, Mary Ann Phillips, a very devout woman, he was a great-grandson of Samuel Phillips, Jr., the founder of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. Four of the couple's six sons – Phillips, Frederic, Arthur and John Cotton – were ordained in the Episcopal Church.

Phillips Brooks prepared for college at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard University in 1855 at the age of 20, where he was elected to the A.D. Club. He worked briefly as a school teacher at Boston Latin, but, upon being fired, felt that he had failed miserably. He wrote, "I do not know what will become of me and I do not care much.… I wish I were fifteen years old again. I believe I might become a stunning man: but somehow or other I do not seem in the way to come to much now."[1] In 1856 he began to study for ordination in the Episcopal Church in the Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. While a seminarian there, he preached at Sharon Chapel (now All Saints Episcopal Church, Sharon Chapel) in nearby Fairfax County.

Pastoral career[edit]

Statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Trinity Church, Boston
Memorial to Phillips Brooks in Trinity Church, Boston

In 1859 he graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary, was ordained deacon by Bishop William Meade of Virginia, and became rector of the Church of the Advent, Philadelphia. In 1860 he was ordained priest, and in 1862 became rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia, where he remained seven years, gaining an increasing name as preacher and patriot. In addition to his moral stature, he was a man of great physical bearing as well, standing six feet four inches tall.

During the American Civil War he upheld the cause of the North and opposed slavery, and his sermon on the death of Abraham Lincoln was an eloquent expression of the character of both men. In 1869 he became rector of Trinity Church, Boston; today, his statue is located on the left exterior of the church.

"{My only ambition}", Brooks once wrote "is to be a parish priest and, though not much of one, would as a college president be still less". Under his inspiration, architect Henry Hobson Richardson, muralist John LaFarge, and stained glass artists William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones created an architectural masterpiece in Trinity Church, Boston, among the notable features of which was the first free standing liturgical altar in the United States in an overall chancel design that attracted attention for its Liturgical Movement influence even in British architectural magazines. Behind the free standing altar there was another revival from the early church chancel, a great synthranon for priests which surrounded the apse. Because Massachusetts had two bishops then the bishops chairs were placed within the altar rail to either side of the holy table. There were no choir stalls to distract from the central altar, which was hardly recognized as an altar in a period when most altars were backed up on to elaborate carved screens. There was also, until 1888, no pulpit. Brooks preferred to preach his legendary sermons from a modest lectern near the rector's stall on the south side of the chancel. There was also an eagle lectern on a balustraded ambo in the center at the chancel steps.

Such was the magnificence of Trinity Church that, in his chapter on Phillips Brooks' chancel in Ralph Adams Cram: An Architect's Four Quests, Douglass Shand-Tucci calls it "an American Hagia Sophia", a reflection of Brooks' architectural and liturgical tastes, disclosed in his travel writings, where in Germany for instance he referred to "thrilling music" and "thrilling incense" in respect to a liturgy he attended there in the Roman Catholic cathedral. Holy Week in Rome also greatly moved him, especially the papal high mass on Easter. Although he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, he championed many aspects of the liturgical movement including congregational singing at the liturgy. At the eucharist, for instance, he would preach, not from the pulpit, but from the chancel steps, and although he liked to preach in a black academic gown he never failed to appear in a comodious white surplice and priests stole when he officiated at the office or eucharist.

In 1877 the building of Trinity was completed, but the Venetian mosaics Brooks and Richardson wanted they could not then afford. It was not until the magnificent new altar and sanctuary of Maginnis & Walsh in 1938 that Trinity's chancel reflected that aspect of their dreams for Trinity, which Brooks called "America's glory forever". Here Phillips Brooks preached Sunday after Sunday to great congregations, until he was consecrated Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891. In 1886 he had declined an election as assistant bishop of Pennsylvania. He was for many years an overseer and preacher of Harvard University. In 1881 he declined an invitation to be the sole preacher to the university and professor of Christian ethics. On April 30, 1891 he was elected sixth Bishop of Massachusetts, and on the 14 October was consecrated to that office in Trinity Church.

He died unmarried in 1893, after an episcopate of only 15 months. His death was a major event in the history of Boston. One observer reported: "They buried him like a king. Harvard students carried his body on their shoulders. All barriers of denomination were down. Roman Catholics and Unitarians felt that a great man had fallen in Israel."[2]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Publications[edit]

In 1877 Brooks published a course of lectures upon preaching, which he had delivered at the theological school of Yale University, and which are an expression of his own experience. In 1879 appeared the Bohlen Lectures on The Influence of Jesus. In 1878 he published his first volume of sermons, and from time to time issued other volumes, including Sermons Preached in English Churches (1883) and "The Candle of the Lord" and Other Sermons (1895).

Today, he is probably best known for authoring the Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem". Another notable influence, was Brook's introduction to Helen Keller when she was young, by Anne Sullivan. Brooks has been given credit for introducing Helen to Christianity.

Awards and historical monuments[edit]

He is remembered in the Episcopal Church with a feast day on 23 January.

Brooks's understanding of individuals of other ways and thought, and of other religious traditions, gained a following across a broad segment of society, and was thus a great factor in gaining increasing support for the Episcopal Church. His influence as a religious leader was unique. The degree of STD had been conferred upon him by Harvard (1877) and Columbia (1887), and the Doctor of Divinity degree by the University of Oxford, England (1885).

The Rev. A.V.G. Allen, an Episcopal clergyman and professor of ecclesiastical history at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, published several biographical works on Brooks. These included Phillips Brooks, Life and Letters (1901), a two-volume biography published at New York; and the one-volume Phillips Brooks (1907), also published at New York, an abbreviation and revision of the earlier work. Another and excellent biography of Brooks was written in 1961 by Raymond W. Albright and published by Macmillan: Focus on Infinity. The latest work on Brooks is the chapter on the Ecumenical Quest in Douglass Shand-Tucci's Ralph Adams Cram: an Architects Four Quests, published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2005. In 2009 Shand-Tucci's "Saint Phillips Brooks" was published on the website of Back Bay Historical/The Global Boston Perspective (visit www.backbayhistorical.org/Blog), from which derived Shand-Tucci's "The Saint Bishop and the American Hagia Sophia", one of adick series of lectures given in October 2009 at the New England Historical Genealogical Society in Boston as part of "The Gods of Copley Square."

In addition, Brooks's close ties with Harvard University led to the creation of Phillips Brooks House in Harvard Yard, built 7 years after his death. On January 23, 1900, it was dedicated to serve "the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality." The Phillips Brooks House originally housed a Social Service Committee, which became the Phillips Brooks House Association in 1904. It ceased formal religious affiliation in the 1920s, but to this day remains in operation as a student-run consortium of volunteer organizations.

A private elementary school in Menlo Park, CA—Phillips Brooks School—is named for him. So is Brooks School in his hometown of North Andover, Massachusetts, named for him by Endicott Peabody, founder of both Brooks School and Groton School. The Brooks family founded a Brooks Memorial School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874 in memory of Phillips' brother, the Rev. Frederic Brooks, who died in an accident in Cambridge. That school was sponsored in part by John D. Rockefeller and operated under the Brooks name until 1891 and exists to this day under the name of the Hathaway Brown School. John S. White, first headmaster of the school in Cleveland, also founded a Phillips Brooks School in Philadelphia in 1904 that operated there until 1919.

Brooks has been canonized; his feast day in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church is January 23.[3] For a discussion of Brooks from this perspective, and particularly of the sculpture and stained glass which document the development of his cult, see Douglass Shand-Tucci, "Saint Phillips Brooks", published in 2009 on the website of the Back Bay Historical Society, www.backbayhistorical.org, which enlarges on Shand-Tucci's last published work on Brooks in the second volume of his biographical study of the work of Ralph Adams Cram, cited in this article.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Clyde E. Fant and William M. Pinson, Jr., Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, Volume 6 (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), p. 114
  2. ^ Mrs. Edward S. Drown, in The Witness, March 21, 1940
  3. ^ Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Weber, "Celebrating the Saints" (Harrisburg, PA. Morehouse Publishing, 2001).

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Episcopal Church (USA) titles
Preceded by
Benjamin Henry Paddock
6th Bishop of Massachusetts
1891 – 1893
Succeeded by
William Lawrence