Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. . . . Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.
Ecclesiasticus xliv. I, 13, 14.
Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihif—'What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that He hath rendered to me?'
This question is asked in the Psalmist's words by an eminent bishop of DurhamTM more than five centuries ago, the most learned man of his country and age. The answer, as might be expected, is a scholar's answer. He had asked himself again and again, he writes60, what pious service would best please the Most High God and confer the greatest benefit on the Church Militant; and lo, a troop of poor scholars presented themselves to the eye of his mind. These were they who might have grown up into strong pillars of the Church; but, though thirsting for knowledge after the first taste, and apt students of the liberal arts, yet for the sake of a livelihood, they were forced, by a sort of apostasy, to return to mechanic pursuits, to the great loss of the Church and to the degradation of the whole clergy. So, he adds, his compassionate affection took the special form of providing poor scholars not only with the exigencies of life but also with a supply of useful books.
Here breathes the noblest spirit of the munificent benefactors in the past. What shall be the spirit of our response, who are the recipients of such benefactions? For this same question, which Richard of Bury asked himself many centuries ago, must be asked and answered to ourselves by us on this our Jubilee Celebration, 'What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits?'
The words of the text will be familiar to not a few here, as forming part of the special lesson in the Commemoration Service in many of our older collegiate and academic foundations. They will suggest an answer to our question, though only a partial answer. If we can do nothing else, we will at least pour out our hearts in thanksgiving this day; we will praise famous men of old, our ancient benefactors, our spiritual and intellectual forefathers, that through our praises their good deeds may redound to the honour and glory of God.
But how can we appropriate such language to ourselves? Our University is the child of yesterday. It cannot trace its pedigree back through a long line of illustrious ancestry. This day's gathering places the fact beyond the reach of concealment or selfdeception. We have among us the first proctor61, the earliest fellow, one, perhaps more than one, of the original undergraduates of Durham, still active and vigorous with a prospect of some years of usefulness before God shall call them to their account. All this reminds us that we are still young, very young.
Very young, yes; but very old at the same time. It has been the special privilege of this University, that, though so recently created, it inherits traditions and associations, not less ancient and not less sacred than those which cluster about the walls of the most venerable colleges in Oxford or Cambridge. Is it a small thing that you are housed in the Norman keep of the Conqueror and the unique gallery of Pudsey and the lofty and spacious hall of Hatfield and Fox88, that, together with these relics of a splendid past, there are stamped on your walls the arms of Tonstall, of Cosin, of Crewe, of Butler, of Barrington—of the wise, gentle, loving, learned pastor, of the diligent, precise, aesthetic, loyal, ecclesiastical ruler, of the munificent, openhanded donor, of the profound, reverential, modest Christian philosopher, of the large-hearted, kindly philanthropist and patron of education—thus holding ever before your eyes the memorials of all that is truest and best, all that is most instructive and most inspiring, in the later history of the Durham Episcopate, all those several elements which combined make up the ideal of the Christian scholar and the Christian minister, the man of God made perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works? And again I ask, is it an insignificant privilege that your University has grown up beneath the shelter of this venerable Cathedral, with all its rich historic associations, with all its glories of architectural genius and skill, with that singularly happy combination of human art and natural feature which renders Durham unique among the cathedrals of England—I might almost say, of Christendom? And last of all, as you meet morning after morning amidst the architectural monuments of Pudsey and Langley in the Galilee, do you not reflect with reverence and thanksgiving—you teachers and you students—that, kneeling there in prayer, you have in your midst a far more impressive memorial than these in the simple tomb of a great man68 of the remoter past, pious, gentle, affectionate, studious, learned—a true pattern for all scholars and all masters to the end of time?
Have you eyes to see? Here then is your historical inheritance; and what fairer estate could you desire? Here is your ancient lineage; and what more illustrious ancestry could any student boast? Yours are the associations which inspire; yours is the nobility which obliges. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. On you a necessity, a strong necessity, is laid.
I. I bid you bear me company, first of all, while I journey far back into the remote past, and I will show you the cradle of your race. The time is the middle of the sixth century. The scene is a lonely island off the western coast, beaten by the Atlantic surge. This Iona—this bleak, barren patch of land —is the spiritual and intellectual metropolis of Western Christendom. Here is the centre of civilisation, of learning, of light and truth for the nations. Here is the simple home, which dependent seats of study and evangelistic work recognise as their mother. Here lives the simple presbyter to whom bishops and Churches in far distant lands bow as their acknowledged chief and guide. From Columba's monastery Aidan goes forth on his mission to Northumbria. The Holy Island on the eastern coast answers to the Holy Island on the western. The beacon fire of Lindisfarne flashes on the glorious light signalled from the beacon fire of Iona. Aidan, settled in his new home, gathers about him twelve pupils—true image of the apostolic College. This little band of scholars is the foreshadowing, the forerunner, the true inauguration of your University of Durham. Ah, fellow-students, is it not an inspiring thought for you and for me, that through the long darkness of the ages these streamers of our northern aurora shot their glories glowing and quivering athwart the midnight sky, and gladdened the souls of men?
2. Now again retrace your steps and travel forward through a century. What do you then find? The central light of Christendom is no longer on that lonely western island. It must be sought now between the banks of the Tyne and the Wear. In his twin monasteries Benedict Biscop84 collects together all the best learning and all the best art of his time. A great traveller himself, he accumulates in these his homes the appliances of civilisation and instruction acquired on his many travels. Whatever lessons Ireland or Gaul or Rome were able to teach are gathered into a focus there. S. Peter at Wearmouth and S. Paul at Jarrow are the two eyes of religion and education. The learning of Benedict Biscop's foundations culminates in Bede. He was diligent beyond the common diligence of the student. He was versed in all the knowledge accessible in his day. He wrote largely and on divers subjects. He lived writing, and he died writing. And his position too in the transmission of learning through the dark ages was unique. The torch which had been passed from Iona through Lindisfarne to Jarrow was transmitted by Bede's hands from Jarrow to York. Through Alcuin's school at York65 the light of learning was diffused over Western Christendom, and gleamed through the midnight till the dawn of a brighter day. Again, I say, what a thought is this for you, you worshippers round the tomb of Bede.
3. An interval of several hundred years elapses. We have now reached the middle of the thirteenth century, a marvellous age of precocious literary, artistic, and political activity, in which England held a foremost place—the era of Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste and Simon de Montfort—the dawn of scientific invention, the birth-time of our parliamentary institutions, the zenith of scholastic philosophy, an age of architectural genius and fertility to which the history of mankind offers no parallel. It was likewise the age of great academic developments. Then it is that we trace the first beginnings of a collegiate system, which, though not confined to English universities, has in them struck deeper roots, and attained a fuller and fairer growth, than elsewhere. Of this magnificent tree Durham claims the honour of sowing the seed. The earliest of our existing colleges owes its origin to the munificence of William of Durham68, the founder of University College, Oxford. His example was rapidly followed by Walter of Merton in Oxford, and Hugh of Balsham in Cambridge. From that time forward colleges grew and multiplied, till they became, as they continue to this day, the pride and glory, the distinctive characteristic, of our old English academic institutions. Thus when a later William of Durham67, fifty years ago, taking counsel with the Dean and Chapter of his day, resolved with them to found a university here, which should not only be an examining body, like the coeval University of London, should not only maintain a professorial staff for the education of students, like the universities of foreign lands, but should likewise embody in itself, as an integral part of its system, the collegiate life of the older universities, and when for this purpose he resigned the old palace-fortress of his princedom to be the home of such a college, he did but tread in the footsteps of his namesake, the father of the colleges of England. University College, Durham, founded by the liberality of an Oxford man in the nineteenth century, was the just recognition and return for University College, Oxford, founded by the munificence of a Durham man in the thirteenth.
4. We pass over another century. The character of the age is changed. The hopes of the thirteenth century were not realised by the fourteenth. The promise of a rich harvest had been cruelly blighted. The religious orders had fallen away from their first love, equally in their spiritual aspirations and in their intellectual earnestness. There was a general decay of learning. The age of feudalism was gone; the age of chivalry was waning. Old things were fast passing away; and yet the new order had not taken their place. Troubles within and without were multiplying. There were fierce internal struggles, the forerunners of the still more terrible civil conflicts of the Roses. The brilliant but ruinous continental wars had begun—destined for some generations by their phantom glory to lure England aside from the path of true progress. There was much splendour still, but it was the splendour of the full-blown flower which the first breath of wind scatters in desolation. In this age of growing gloom, the bishop's manorhouse at Auckland shone like a bright star in the darkness. Richard of Bury would have been remarkable in any age. He was 'a man,' writes Petrarch68, 'of fervid genius.' In an age when books were scarce, his rooms were strewn with books. He had gathered D. s. 8
them together from far and near, at home and abroad. They were his cherished companions, his bosom friends. But it is not as the devoted student and the widelyread scholar that he deserves our attention to-day. He was also the patron of academic learning in a novel way. His rich library—rich at least according to the ideas of the time—he left to Oxford. The poor scholars of William of Durham, the nucleus of University College, were not the only Durham foundation at Oxford. There was also a Durham College— developed at a later date into Trinity College—an offshoot and dependency of the Benedictine monastery of this cathedral—endowed and consolidated, if not founded, by this Richard of Bury. And we reflect with pleasure to-day, that this foundation, which traces its origin to Durham, has repaid the debt thus incurred by giving to your University the present heads of your two colleges. But it was another act of reciprocation which I had chiefly in view when I named Durham College in Oxford. To this college Bishop Richard left his rich collection of books for the use of the University at large, giving very minute directions how they should be preserved, and under what cautions they should be lent69. This, so far as we know, was the first beginning of a university or college library in England on any considerable scale—the true progenitor of the Bodleian. Thus here again, as in the case of collegiate foundations, the honour of the prerogative act rests with Durham; and when some thirty years ago Martin Routh, the venerable head of Magdalen College, bequeathed his excellent library to you, he only followed the precedent, and reciprocated the benefaction, of a bishop of Durham five centuries earlier.
5. I will ask you again to travel with me two centuries further down the highway of time. The death-warrant of the old order is issued. Not England only, but all Europe, is convulsed with the birth-throes of a new age. The great Reformation has swept away the monastic houses. The cathedral foundations have been reconstituted. Dean and Canons have taken the place of Prior and Monks. So far Durham did not fare differently from any other cathedral. But the academic traditions specially connected with Durham were not forgotten in the general change. The obligations imposed by the connexion with Durham College, Oxford, were recognised; and in the charter it was stated as one main intention of the foundation that youth should be instructed in liberal studies. But beyond the boys of the Grammar School, the idea recognised in the charter found no realisation in fact.
6. Again another century elapses. It is once more a season of upheaval and convulsion. A political revolution has taken the place of a religious. At this crisis the project of an academic foundation at Durham is definitely revived. The Lord Protector70 is petitioned to found a college here. The petition is granted on the ground that it may conduce to 'the promoting of learning and piety in these poor, rude, and ignorant parts '; and so an institution is created, bearing the title of 'the Master or Provost, Fellows and Scholars of the College of Durham, of the foundation of Oliver, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.' But the deathstroke of the Protector was the death-stroke of this institution. In the words of a contemporary complaint it was by his decease ' left an orphan, scarce bound up in its swaddling clothes.' The University of Durham was not destined to have such a beginning.
7. Once again there is a lapse of two centuries; and the hope so long deferred is at length fulfilled. The institution which had been foreshadowed amidst the agonies of the great Reformation, which had been prematurely attempted amidst the troubles of the great Revolution, was born into life with the birththroes of the Reform Bill. The college, which Cromwell had designed to build upon the ruins of the Chapter and the episcopate, was at length founded by the joint action of the bishop and the capitular body. The Palatine jurisdiction had had its day. Its glories passed away, not without many regrets. But it stood condemned as an anachronism. A more appropriate, though less dazzling, environment was henceforward to encircle the see of S. Cuthbert. The distinctive coronet of the Durham mitre" assumed a new meaning. There is a crown of knowledge, as well as a diadem of sovereignty. The last Lord of the Palatinate became the first Visitor of the University. Van Mildert72 was the fit link of transition between the old and the new —at once the prince of lordly hospitality and munificence, and the scholar of student tastes and feeble health and simple abstemious habits of life. The foundation of the University was a matter of anxious and absorbing care to him. 'The excitement,' he writes, 'occasioned by the intense interest of the subject now constantly occupying my thoughts is more than a broken constitution like mine will bear; and before our projects can have taken root I fear my feeble energies will have withered away; but if the cause thrives, the sacrifice of the remainder of a brief existence here will have been well made.' Touching words these, which should secure for him a large place in your heart, as you had a large place in his.
Of others your founders and benefactors the time would fail me to tell. Of those rulers and instructors —early and late—to whose wise supervision and patient teaching and energetic labours this University is hardly, if at all, less indebted than to its benefactors in a narrower sense, this is not the place to speak. But these will not be forgotten by you, as you lift up your hearts in thanksgiving to God in praise of your spiritual and intellectual fathers,' by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions75.' Heirs of the traditions of Iona and Lindisfarne, of Jarrow and Wearmouth! Sons of Columba and Aidan and Bede! Latest born of a long line of illustrious forefathers, remember what is due to this ancestry, what is due to your own generation, what is due to yourselves. Above all and before all, remember what is due to God, the giver of all. Fundamenta vestra super montihus sanctis7\ 'Your foundations are on the holy mountains.' 'Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid.' Forget not this. Then in the far-off ages to come, as they sing the praises of their fathers which begat them, remote generations will say of you, as you say of those your forerunners and benefactors in the distant past, 'The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through His great power75.' Then the ruthless storms of circumstance will beat against your house, and the devastating flood of time will sweep over it, in vain; for it is founded upon a rock—the Rock of Zion, the Rock of Ages.
From Richard of Bury I started; with Richard of Bury let me end. When Bishop Richard's soul migrated hence, his four seals, we are told, were delivered to the Chapter and broken up; and from the precious metal thus obtained was fashioned a chalice78 for the sanctuary of this Cathedral. These things are an allegory, are they not? All our characteristic gifts, all our inherited privileges, all our official opportunities and powers, all that bears the impress of the man, all that is typified by the seals— what nobler destination for these, than that, melted and fused in the Great Refiner's fire, they should be remoulded into a vessel of the Spirit, meet for the House of God, fulfilled with the graces and benedictions which flow from the crucified Christ, that they may be poured out thence and dispensed for the strength and solace and refreshment of the souls of men?