Monday, December 14, 2015

Modesty, prudence, piety

’I never knew a man of a more universal and generous spirit, with so much modesty, prudence, and piety.’ This is the diarist John Evelyn writing about his friend, Thomas Tenison, who died 300 years ago today. Indeed, Tenison was an industrious cleric, rising rapidly through the church’s hierarchy, bringing order and renewal to his successive parishes. He was particularly active as rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields (now in Trafalgar Square) developing charity schools, a library, and the building of chapels. He won the favour of King William III with his firm stance against the Church of Rome, and served as Archbishop of Canterbury for the last 20 years of his life.

Tenison was born in 1636 into a clerical family in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire. He attended Norwich School, going on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, as a so-called Parker scholar (Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1579 who instituted financial reforms at Corpus Christi and endowed various scholarships). Tenison graduated in 1657, but his prospect in the church looked uncertain so he turned, briefly, to medicine. He was ordained privately (Anglican ordinations being still forbidden) in 1659; and was briefly rector at Bracon Ash. In 1662, he was made fellow of Corpus Christi, while Francis Wilford, the college master and new dean of Ely, presented him to the prestigious parish of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge. There he became highly regarded during the plague for being the only college fellow to remain in residence.

In 1667, Tenison married Anne, daughter of a former dean of Ely, and he was presented to the living of Holywell-cum-Needingworth, Huntingdonshire. Three years later he added the living of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich. By this time, Tenison was starting to make a name for himself as a writer with The Creed of Mr Hobbes examin’d, A Discourse on Idolatry and Baconia. Also, he became chaplain to the king. Further advancement followed when he was recommended for the living at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1680 (the same year, in fact, that he was made Doctorate of Divinity). He became well known as a staunch opponent of the Church of Rome, but also a man of liberal religious views - he preached at the actress Nell Gwyn’s funeral representing her as truly penitent.

While at St Martin-in-the-Fields, during a time of rapid population expansion, Tenison oversaw many parish changes, and the building of new chapels; he pioneered the development of charity schools; and he built the first public library in London. He was recommended to King William III for early preferment, and was appointed archdeacon of London, then to the large see of Lincoln. However, in 1695, having been in constant attendance at the bedside of Queen Mary prior to her death in December 1694, and preaching at her funeral, he was elected archbishop of Canterbury. Subsequently, he attended the King on his deathbed, and crowned William’s successor, Queen Anne. But his influence declined as he fell out of favour with the new queen, who preferred John Sharp, Archbishop of York.

Tenison is considered to have been the first archbishop to take sustained personal interest in the church’s mission overseas, 
especially in the American colonies, encouraging, in 1701, Thomas Bray to found the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Much afflicted by gout in his later years, Tenison was still able to perform the coronation service for George I. He died, not long after, on 14 December 1715. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (requires log-in) quotes James II as calling Tenison ‘that dull man’ with ‘languid oration’, and Jonathan Swift as describing him as ‘the dullest good for nothing man I ever knew.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

There is no evidence that Tenison left behind diaries, but he is mentioned frequently in the diary of his friend, John Evelyn, who had an altogether better opinion of the man. There have been various editions of Evelyn’s diaries, many of which can be found online at Internet Archive. The following entries about Tenison all come from the second volume of a 1901 printing of The Diary of John Evelyn, as edited by William Bray. (See more on Evelyn’s diaries in an earlier Diary Review article - Virtues and imperfections - about the death of Charles II.)

21 March 1683
‘Dr. Tenison preached at Whitehall on 1 Cor., vi. 12; I esteem him to be one of the most profitable preachers in the Church of England, being also of a most holy conversation, very learned and ingenious. The pains he takes and care of his parish will, I fear, wear him out, which would be an inexpressible loss.’

15 February 1684
‘Dr. Tenison communicated to me his intention of erecting a library in St. Martin’s parish, for the public use, and desired my assistance, with Sir Christopher Wren, about the placing and structure thereof, a worthy and laudable design. He told me there were thirty or forty young men in Orders in his parish, either governors to young gentlemen or chaplains to noblemen, who being reproved by him on occasion for frequenting taverns or coffee-houses, told him they would study or employ their time better, if they had books. This put the pious Doctor on this design; and indeed a great reproach it is that so great a City as London should not have a public library becoming it. There ought to be one at St. Paul’s: the west end of that church (if ever finished) would be a convenient place.’

23 February 1684
‘I went to Sir John Chardin [. . .] Afterwards, I went with Sir Christopher Wren to Dr. Tenison, where we made the drawing and estimate of the expense of the library, to be begun this next spring near the Mews.’

7 March 1684
‘Dr. Meggot, Dean of Winchester, preached an incomparable sermon [. . .] Afterwards, I went to visit Dr. Tenison at Kensington, whither he was retired to refresh, after he had been sick of the small-pox.’

30 March 1684
‘Easter day. The Bishop of Rochester preached before the King; [. . .] I had received the sacrament at Whitehall early with the Lords and Household, the Bishop of London officiating. Then went to St. Martin’s, where Dr. Tenison preached (recovered from the small-pox); then went again to Whitehall as above. In the afternoon, went to St. Martin’s again.’

15 February 1685
‘Dr. Tenison preached to the Household. The second sermon should have been before the King; but he, to the great grief of his subjects, did now, for the first time, go to mass publicly in the little Oratory at the Duke’s lodgings, the doors being set wide open.’

17 March 1686
‘In the morning, Dr. Tenison preached an incomparable discourse at Whitehall, on Timothy ii. 3, 4.’

25 March 1687
‘Good Friday. Dr. Tenison preached at St. Martin’s, on 1 Peter ii. 24. During the service, a man came into near the middle of the church, with his sword drawn, with several others in that posture; in this jealous time it put the congregation into great confusion; but it appeared to be one who fled for sanctuary being pursued by bailiffs.’

10 August 1688
‘Dr. Tenison now told me there would suddenly be some great thing discovered. This was the Prince of Orange intending to come over.’

7 October 1688
‘Dr. Tenison preached at St. Martin’s, on 2 Tim. iii. 16, showing the Scriptures to be our only rule of faith, and its perfection above all traditions. After which, near 1,000 devout persons partook of the Communion. This sermon was chiefly occasioned by a Jesuit, who in the Masshouse on the Sunday before had disparaged the Scripture and railed at our translation, which some present contradicting, they pulled him out of the pulpit, and treated him very coarsely, insomuch that it was like to create a great disturbance in the City.’

18 July 1691
‘To London to hear Mr. Stringfellow preach his first sermon in the new-erected church of Trinity, in Conduit Street; to which I did recommend him to Dr. Tenison for the constant preacher and lecturer. This church, formerly built of timber on Hounslow-Heath by King James for the mass-priests, being begged by Dr. Tenison, rector of St. Martin’s, was set up by that public-minded, charitable and pious man near my son’s dwelling in Dover Street, chiefly at the charge of the Doctor. I know him to be an excellent preacher and a fit person. This church, though erected in St. Martin’s, which is the Doctor’s parish, he was not only content, but was the sole industrious mover, that it should be made a separate parish, in regard of the neighbourhood having become so populous. Wherefore to countenance and introduce the new minister, and take possession of a gallery designed for my son’s family, I went to London, where . . .’

19 July 1691
‘. . . in the morning Dr. Tenison preached the first sermon, taking his text from Psalm xxvi. 8. “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” In concluding, he gave that this should be made a parish-church so soon as the Parliament sat, and was to be dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in honour of the three undivided Persons in the Deity; and he minded them to attend to that faith of the Church, now especially that Arianism, Socinianism, and Atheism began to spread amongst us.  In the afternoon, Mr. Stringfellow preached on Luke vii. 5, “The centurion who had built a synagogue.” He proceeded to the due praise of persons of such public spirit, and thence to such a character of pious benefactors in the person of the generous centurion, as was comprehensive of all the virtues of an accomplished Christian, in a style so full, eloquent and moving, that I never heard a sermon more apposite to the occasion. He modestly insinuated the obligation they had to that person who should be the author and promoter of such public works for the benefit of mankind, especially to the advantage of religion, such as building and endowing churches, hospitals, libraries, schools, procuring the best editions of useful books, by which he handsomely intimated who it was that had been so exemplary for his benefaction to that place. Indeed, that excellent person. Dr. Tenison, had also erected and furnished a public library [in St. Martin’s]; and set up two or three free-schools at his own charges. Besides this, he was of an exemplary holy life, took great pains in constantly preaching, and incessantly employing himself to promote the service of God both in public and private. I never knew a man of a more universal and generous spirit, with so much modesty, prudence, and piety.’

12 January 1691
‘My grand-daughter was christened by Dr. Tenison, now Bishop of Lincoln, in Trinity Church, being the first that was christened there. She was named Jane.’

27 April 1693
‘My daughter Susanna was married to William Draper, Esq., in the chapel of Ely House, by Dr. Tenison, Bishop of Lincoln.’

9 December 1695
‘I had news that my dear and worthy friend. Dr. Tenison, Bishop of Lincoln, was made Archbishop of Canterbury, for which I thank God and rejoice, he being most worthy of it, for his learning, piety, and prudence.’

The Diary Junction

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