Charles Henry Brent
27 March 1929
From the Satucket Lectionary (from the Episcopal Calendar)
During the Spanish-American War (1898), arising from a dispute over Cuba and Puerto Rico, the United States also acquired Guam and the Philippines. (For a brief note on the subsequent history of these territories, see Kamehameha, 28 November.) In 1902, the Episcopal Church appointed Charles Brent (at that time serving as priest in charge of a slum parish in Boston) as Missionary Bishop of the Philippines. He arrived on the same ship with the American Governor, William H. Taft, and carried with him the unofficial but very real prestige of the American establishment.
Brent could easily have confined himself to providing a kind of ecclesiastical “home away from home” for American officials and others stationed in the Islands. Equally, he could have devoted himself chiefly to efforts to convert the Roman Catholics, both of Spanish and of Filipino ancestry, whom the previous government had left behind. Instead, he directed his efforts toward the non-Christians of his diocese: the pagan Igorots of the mountains of Luzon, the Muslims of the southern islands, the Chinese settlements in Manila, all areas in which he made considerable inroads and established thriving Christian communities.
He began a campaign against the opium traffic, and served on several international commissions devoted to stamping out international traffic in narcotics. During World War I, he was the Senior Chaplain for the American Armed Forces in Europe. He declined three elections to bishoprics in the United States in order to continue his work in the Philippines, but in 1918, he accepted the position of Bishop of Western New York. His experiences in the Philippines had aroused in him a strong concern for the cause of visible Christian unity. He wrote:
- The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The world will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.
He helped to organize the first World Conference on Faith and Order, which met in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927. He died there in 1929, being 67 years minus 12 days old. The following prayer, written by him, is widely used today:
- , who didst stretch out thine arms of love upon the hard wood of the Cross, that all men everywhere might come within the reach of thy saving embrace: So clothe us with thy Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know thee to the knowledge and love of thee; for the honor of thy Name.
The writer James Thayer Addison called him “a saint of disciplined mental vigor, one whom soldiers were proud to salute and whom children were happy to play with, who could dominate a parliament and minister to an invalid, a priest and bishop who gloried in the heritage of his Church, yet who stood among all Christian brothers as one who served.”
by James Kiefer