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Charles James Blomfield (1786-1857)

This article was written by Warwick William Wroth and was published in 1885.

BlomfieldCharles James Blomfield, bishop of London, was born on 29 May 1786 at Bury St. Edmunds, where his father, Charles Blomfield, kept a school. He was educated at the grammar school of Bury and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He took his degree of B.A. in 1808, and was elected fellow of his college after winning very high university honours, being complimented, it is said, by Porson as ‘a very pretty scholar.’ In 1810 he published an edition of the ‘Prometheus Vinctus,’ with notes and glossary, which was followed by the ‘Septem contra Thebas’ (1812); the ‘Persæ’ (1814); and the ‘Choephore’ (1821); an edition of Callimachus in 1815, and of Euripides in 1821. He edited fragments of Sappho, Alcæus, and Stesichorus in Gaisford's ‘Poetæ Minores Græci’ (1823). Blomfield also wrote on classical subjects for the ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Quarterly’ reviews, and for the ‘Museum Criticum,’ a journal established in 1813 by himself and his friend Monk, afterwards bishop of Gloucester. Beyond this he published but little except his ‘Manual of Family Prayers’ (1824), and sermons.

In 1810 Blomfield was ordained, and, after holding preferment in the country, was presented to the valuable London benefice of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate. In 1822 he became archdeacon of Colchester, and in 1824 was appointed to the see of Chester; as bishop of Chester he did much to raise the scale of clerical qualifications. In 1828 Blomfield was translated to the bishopric of London, the duties of which he performed with immense energy, and, on the whole, with sound common sense and moderation. He had many opportunities for displaying his remarkable powers as a man of business when member of the Poor Law Board and of the ecclesiastical commission (1836). Of the latter body he was the moving spirit; ‘the better distribution of ecclesiastical revenues and duties, the prevention or diminution of pluralities and non-residence, and the augmentation of poor benefices and endowment of new ones,’ being measures of church reform which he had much at heart. In the House of Lords he was always an effective speaker, especially upon ecclesiastical subjects.

In 1836 the Bishop of London issued ‘Proposals for the creation of a fund to be applied to the building and endowment of additional churches in the metropolis,’ and it is for his energetic and successful efforts in remedying the extremely inadequate provision of churches, schools, and clergymen for the rapidly increasing population of London, that his name is best remembered. He was said to be attempting too much when he insisted upon ‘expatiating over the whole metropolis by building fifty churches at once;’ but very considerable subscriptions flowed into the bishop's ‘metropolis churches fund,’ and a number of local associations for church extension were set on foot. Among the districts which especially profited by these efforts were Bethnal Green, Islington, St. Pancras, Paddington, and Westminster. The fund continued to exist till 1854, when it was merged in the ‘London Diocesan Church Building Society.’ To the colonial bishoprics fund, established for the much-needed increase of the colonial episcopate, Bishop Blomfield's influence also gave the first impulse. On the ‘tractarian’ movement becoming especially conspicuous in 1841, by the publication of the famous Tract 90, [Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles] the attitude of the Bishop of London was regarded with close attention. He was anxious, he said, ‘to keep things quiet as far as possible,’ for it would be most injurious to the Church that parties should be more distinctly separated and ranged against each other than they then were. In his important charge of 1842 he condemned the tractarian movement in so far as its supporters had endeavoured to give ‘a Tridentine colouring’ to the Articles of Religion of 1562, and had recommended ceremonies and forms not authorised by their own church; at the same time he admitted that ‘those learned and pious men’ had forcibly called the attention of the church to certain neglected duties; and if it was wrong to go beyond the directions of the rubrics, it was equally wrong to fall short of them. He therefore urged on his clergy the necessity of a more strict observance of certain rubrical directions, leaving it, to some extent, to their discretion to determine the exact period for introducing any changes in their parishes. These suggestions were at once adopted by some of the clergy of the diocese, but they were not generally approved of, and the clergy of Islington in particular declared that they could not read the prayer for the church militant or make collections through the offertory, as it would disgust the majority of their congregations. The bishop thereupon allowed to Islington a latitude which he had not yet granted to other parishes, and this concession was the beginning of endless dissension and turmoil. While some parishes began to claim the same immunity, others were anxious to carry out the suggestions of the bishop's charge in spite of the objections of their congregations. ‘Thus,’ says his biographer, ‘between those who refused to act up to, and those who persisted in going beyond, his injunctions; between his unwillingness to retract words advisedly and deliberately spoken in his official character, and his readiness to sacrifice everything which did not involve a principle, in order to secure the peace of the church,’ Bishop Blomfield was perplexed and harassed, and ‘the storms which in some parishes had been excited by the introduction of the disputed changes continued to rage with unabated violence.’

In order, if possible, to allay these storms, Archbishop Howley, in his pastoral on the rubrical controversy (1845), suggested that the disputants on both sides should suspend hostilities till some authoritative decision should be given on the points in controversy, and that matters should remain in every case in statu quo. The Bishop of London accordingly thought it best in the interests of peace to allow his clergy the option of relinquishing or continuing at their own discretion the practices which he had recommended. About 1847 Blomfield again came much into collision with the ‘tractarian’ clergy of his diocese; but with the temporary subsidence of the ritual controversy in 1851 his chief public labours may be said to have terminated.

In 1856 he was compelled by ill-health to resign his see. He died at Fulham on 5 August 1857. Blomfield was twice married (1810 and 1819); by his second wife, Dorothy, widow of Thomas Kent, barrister, he had a family of eleven children. His son and biographer, Alfred, was consecrated bishop suffragan of Colchester in 1882.

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