An Address to the Sisters of St. Peter's Home, Brompton

An Address to the Sisters of St. Peter's Home, Brompton
Title: An Address to the Sisters of St. Peter's Home, Brompton
Release Date: 2017-02-18
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Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, An Address to the Sisters of St. Peter'sHome, Brompton, by Edward Meyrick GoulburnThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at  If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: An Address to the Sisters of St. Peter's Home, BromptonAuthor: Edward Meyrick GoulburnRelease Date: February 18, 2017  [eBook #54191]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK AN ADDRESS TO THE SISTERS OF ST.PETER'S HOME, BROMPTON***

Transcribed from the 1864 Rivingtons edition by David Price,email [email protected]

Pamphlet cover



JUNE 30, 1864.







p. 3TO


Among the many signs of thevitality of the English Church, which every dutiful son of herswill hail with joy, are the various organizations of the Work ofWomen which have recently sprung up amongst us, the Institutionof Deaconesses, the employment of Parochial Mission Women, andthe foundation of Sisterhoods.  It is a mistake surely tolook coldly upon such movements, because they assume (what to ourgeneration is) a somewhat novel form.  There ought to be inevery living Church a plastic power, which adapts its machineryto the wants of the age, and to the ever-varying shapes whichSociety is taking; and we rejoice to find in our own Churchevidences of this power.  Enthusiasms many and fervent arerising up in her, and driving her members to these new agencies,which should not be regarded with suspicion because they are new,but rather tried fairly, and guided discreetly, and watchedvigilantly.

Watching and guidance they will doubtless all p. 6of them want;and most of all, Communities of women banded together under aSuperior for devotion and for acts of mercy.  The very firststep of joining such a community may easily be taken in violationof the principle (if not of the letter) of the FifthCommandment.  It may be an act of will-worship deliberatelycommitted by one who slights God’s Ordinance of the Family,and prefers ties and sympathies of her own creation to those withwhich it has pleased Him in His Providence to surround her. But supposing the community composed exclusively of those whohave a moral right to join it (of those who have no ties, or nonewhich they cannot perfectly satisfy while living in thecomparative seclusion of a Sisterhood), the perils to which theirlife exposes them are not few, and all the more dangerous becausethey are subtle.  First; there is a constant tendency toerect a false standard of spirituality in the mind, and toimagine a higher degree of perfection to attach to the life of aSister than to that of an equally devoted Christian woman livingin the world.  This tendency culminates in the Romanphraseology “Religious,” as applied to the members ofMonastic Orders, a phraseology which I for one earnestlydeprecate, and greatly regret to see adopted by some of myclerical Brethren in speaking of these Communities. “Words,” says Bacon, “are like theTartar’s arrows; they shoot backwards;” and if weallow ourselves to call the members of our p. 7Sisterhoods“Religious,” or to speak of them as being “inReligion,” we shall soon come to regard their vocation asmore spiritual than that of the Christian wife andmother,—a notion most unspiritual and unscriptural in themind of the writer of this Address.  Possibly the life of aSister may present fewer difficulties to the attainment of a highstandard of sanctity than life (under its ordinary conditions) inSociety; but even if this be granted, which must we rate higher,the faith and zeal which evades difficulties, or the faithand zeal which meets and triumphs over them?  Ibelieve it might be shown that many of the most eminent doctorsof the Church, previously to the Reformation, have decided thatlife in the World may be altogether as spiritual, and exemplify astandard of holiness at least as high, as life in aConvent.  Then, again, it must be remembered that therelations which the members of a religious Community contract areartificial.  These Communities are a kind of hotbed forrearing devotional feeling and piety of a high caste.  It isnot at all necessary to deny that very beautiful forms of pietyare often reared there, as very beautiful flowers are underglass.  But we may reasonably expect the beauty of form tobe somewhat compensated by want of vigour.  And of coursethis is especially likely to be the case with Communities ofWomen.  Without denying to the piety of Women very great andpeculiar excellences, beyond p. 8those which characterize the religiousfeelings of men,—while fully appreciating all the sympathyand power of heroic endurance manifested by Christian Women, andfully recognizing the general truth, that Religion thrives farbetter in the soil of a susceptible heart than in that of apowerful understanding,—we must yet grant that the femaletype of piety has a weak side,—the side, namely, of amorbid sentimentalism.  Now this side may be expected toexhibit itself in high relief in our Sisterhoods, where thesentiments of devout Women constitute the religious atmosphere ofthe place.  And as the tone of the disciple insensiblyreacts upon the tone of the teacher, and what the first is eagerto receive the second is usually prompt to supply, it is likelyenough that the spiritual pastors and guides of such communitieswill (with perfectly pure intention and without dreaming of evil)pander to a style of religion very much out of keeping (to saythe least of it) with the sobriety of Holy Scripture, and withthe staid and dignified tone of the Book of Common Prayer. Those who have read the Spiritual Letters of St. Francis deSales, and have observed the difference of tone between thegenerality of them which are addressed to women, and the few inwhich his correspondents are men, will immediately recognize whatI mean.  Souls should be dealt with on the same principles,whatever souls they be; the same fervour, the same unction, p. 9should bemanifested in the guidance of either sex; but in the direction ofhis female disciples, this saintly man displays now and then atincture of sentimentalism which can hardly be calledhealthy.  Madame de Chantal and the others craved forsomething of that sort, and he, as their director, with theutmost artlessness, supplied it.  There may be the truestunction in religion without unctuousness.  Our Litany is aninstance of this.

The great receipt for keeping the tone of piety sound andhealthy doubtless lies in one word, Work,—work in the cause of oursuffering fellow-men.  And it seems to me to be a proof ofthe reality of the danger which I have just been pointing out,that in some of these Communities the Sisters have begun toaffect a life of entire seclusion from works of mercy, underpretence of a higher devotion.  Does not this show thatthere is something in the moral atmosphere of these communities,to which the healthy, practical, sobering tendencies of work areuncongenial?  I have spoken strongly in the Address on thegreat danger and mischief likely to accrue from making the purelycontemplative or devotional life the ideal of high sanctity; andindeed I have desired to make the whole Address a protest againstthis false theory by assuming (what I know to be the case) thatthe Sisters of St. Peter’s Home are all busied in works ofmercy, and giving them p. 10plain, practical counsels, such aswould be equally applicable to all the work which has to be doneby Christians in active life.  These counsels are socommonplace that those who care to read them will probably askfor the reasons which justify me in publishing them.

My only reason is, that the Founder of the Home pressed theirpublication, under the idea that it might be of some use inmaking the Institution known.  As he is one of thosemunificent Benefactors of the Church, occasionally found amongthe wealthy Laity of this great City, to whom the Clergy at allevents are bound to hold out the right hand of fellowship, I didnot feel at liberty to decline his request when it was pressedupon me.  In the vigilant superintendence of our Diocesan(who kindly permits me to inscribe these pages to him) we haveevery guarantee that reasonable people can desire for St.Peter’s Home being conducted on the soundest principles,for its members being kept in faithful allegiance to the Churchof their Baptism, warned against and secured from those dangersto which the experience of the Church teaches that ReligiousCommunities are exposed, and made a great blessing to those whoare sheltered and tended in their quiet retreat, and to the poorand sick people in their neighbourhood.

p. 11ANADDRESS, &c.

My Sisters in Christ,

I READ in your PrimaryConstitution and Statutes that “the whole work carried onin this place is dedicated to St. Peter, who, more than any otherApostle, ministered to the sick.”  I suppose thatthere is in these words a reference to that passage of the Actsof the Apostles, in which we are told that the people ofJerusalem “brought forth the sick into the streets, andlaid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow ofPeter passing by might overshadow some of them.”  Itis in every way a remarkable passage.  Though the notice ofthese cures wrought by the Apostle’s shadow is soincidental, it is full of instruction.  A shadow is aninfluence cast by a man’s body, and may usefully remind usof the influence cast p. 12by his mind.  As all bodies mustcast a shadow in the sunlight, so every rational soul must, bythe law of our nature, exert an influence in its walk throughlife on every other rational soul with which it comes incontact.  However narrow and however humble be the circle inwhich we move, our character, habits, tone, certainly tell in it;each action, each word, nay, each gesture and glance, is an itemin the sum total of our moral weight.—Then again, as wecast our shadow on the pavement unconsciously, without deliberateintention, so the moral influence, of which I am speaking, isexercised when we least think of it.  Words thrown out whenwe are off our guard, ways of acting which have become more orless instinctive, are all full charged with this moral influence,and have in fact a much more powerful (though a more subtle)efficacy than the things we say and do of set purpose.—Thenagain, the shadow is always a correct outline of the body ofwhich it is a shadow.  And the moral influence which weexert without being conscious of it is always exactly true to ourcharacter, which cannot be said of our voluntary influence. A man may preach, and exhort, and throw himself into Christianenterprises, and thus gain a reputation for piety, and yet be aself-seeker, actuated by ambition, or a desire to stand well withothers.  Many will say to Our Lord at the last day,“Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and p. 13in Thy namehave cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderfulworks?” to whom He will have to profess, “I neverknew you.”  In this case the deliberate and voluntaryinfluence exerted by the man misrepresents him; we gather oneimpression from his efforts, and another from his realcharacter.  But the influence which he exerts unconsciouslynever deceives us.  Live side by side with him for a month;watch him when he is not on parade before society, but with hisfamily, with his children, with his servants; listen to hiscasual

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