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A Love Surpassing Knowledge: The spirituality of Edward King by Michael Marshall

19 May 2023

Michael Wheeler looks at the lessons to learn from a Victorian bishop

BORN into a clerical family in 1829, Edward King was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, ordained in 1854, served as chaplain and then Principal of the new theological college at Cuddesdon, became Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford, and finally Bishop of Lincoln in 1885. He died in 1910.

Michael Marshall, a former Bishop of Woolwich, was educated at Lincoln Grammar School and repaid a lifelong debt to King in a fine biography, Edward King: Teacher, pastor, bishop, saint, published in 2021 (Books, 29 October 2021). Now, in what amounts to a sequel, Bishop Marshall seeks to demonstrate that “King’s immense transformative influence was resourced not only from his considerable scholarship, but also from a deep inner life of the Spirit, which influenced the lives of hundreds of clergy for the next generation.” Many of the quotations in the book are from those he influenced.

Himself shaped by the Tractarians, King helped to take the Oxford Movement forward by focusing on pastoralia. His theology was grounded in the paschal mystery, and his churchmanship in the sacramental principle and the apostolic succession. His Christology was Pauline, and his evangelical preaching owed much to Wesley’s call for “perfection”. (After hearing him preach, one person was reported as saying, in a strong Lincolnshire accent, “He’s nowt but an owd Methody.”) We must strive to be “Christ-like Christians”: a lesson that he passed on to younger clergy and to penitents with a gentle touch. We are to go on in the faith, “steadily and quietly”, keeping a “double grip” on both realism and idealism.

Marshall presents King as one of the guiding lights of what can loosely be described as the English school of spirituality, a tradition that can be traced back to St Anselm and was continued in Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, George Herbert, John Donne, and Nicholas Ferrar. Other resources for his pastoral understanding included Anglican divines such as Hooker, Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and Bishop Bull, and the great Tractarians of whom he was a declared disciple: Newman, Pusey, Keble, Marriott, Liddon, Neale.

Yet much of what he taught was grounded in personal experience as a pastor and teacher, and in a lifelong commitment to prayer. His friend Scott Holland said of him, “the whole man moved altogether, in every word and act. There were no separate compartments; and no disturbing reserves.” To a remarkable extent, heart and mind seem to have been in balance in King, one of the contemplatives who, in Marshall’s view, hold together “in the dynamic unity of the Holy Spirit what so often the world perceives as irreconcilable opposites”.

There are important lessons for today’s Church in King’s life and teaching. And, if ever there was an urgent message for those who now lead the Church of England, it is his observation that “organization does not produce life, though life may produce organization: the secret of the power is the life.” The collect for the commemoration of Edward King on 8 March includes these words: “Fill us, we pray, with tender sympathy and joyful faith, that we also may win others to know the love that passes knowledge.”

Dr Michael Wheeler is a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton and the author of The Year That Shaped the Victorian Age: Lives, loves and letters of 1845 (Books, 31 March).


A Love Surpassing Knowledge: The spirituality of Edward King
Michael Marshall
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