Born in Canada in 1862, educated at Trinity College of the University of Toronto, and ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada, Charles Henry Brent came to the United States where, in 1901, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church elected him Missionary Bishop of the Philippines. Though he arrived in Manila with all the trappings of the new American establishment, Bishop Brent soon demonstrated that he would resist the nationalistic and cultural imperialist temptations that marked some Protestant missions. He refused to waste his time in criticism of the Roman Catholic faith of most Filipinos. He declined to serve as a mere chaplain to the wealthy American expatriate community in Manila. As a missionary bishop, he determined instead to go to the multitude of non-Christians in the islands and to see that American government of the islands was responsible.
Bishop Brent founded several schools and a charity hospital in Manila. He began a crusade against the opium trade, which he expanded to the Asian continent, becoming in 1909 a sort of early 20th century “drug czar” as President of the Opium Conference in Shanghai.
His evangelistic missions took him to the sophisticated Chinese community of Manila and to the pagan and uncivilized Igorots of Luzon. He initiated a Christian mission among the hostile Moros of the Sulu Archipelago. But by 1917 his health was such that he accepted election as Bishop of Western New York, having declined three previous elections to remain at his post in the Philippines.
As remarked in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), Bishop Brent
was the outstanding figure of the Episcopal Church on the world scene for two decades. The central focus of his life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity. After attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, he led the Episcopal Church in the movement that culminated in the first World Conference on Faith and Order, held in Lausanne in 1927, and over which he presided.
The historian James Thayer Addison described Brent as “a saint of disciplined vigor…a priest and bishop who gloried in the heritage of his Church, yet who stood among all Christian brothers as one who served…He was everywhere an ambassador of Christ.”
While serving as Bishop of Western New York, Brent preached a sermon at the consecration of Dr E. M. Stires as Bishop of Long Island, which sermon Brent entitled, “The Authority of Christ”. The concerns of the truly catholic bishop and ecumenist show in his admonition that
The unity of Christendom is no longer a beautiful dream. It is a pressing necessity for the arousing of that passion for Christ which will be the most flaming thing in the world…Nationalism began to eat into the body of Christendom four hundred years ago and has continued to work until Christianity has been nationalized instead of the nations being Christianized…Until the churches unite we shall have to move as men grievously wounded—haltingly, lamely, without a supernational and final guide in the moral and spiritual movements of the time. We shall be unable to invite the nations to walk in the light of the Kingdom of God and in this way bring their glory and honor, together with that of their rulers, into it.
One of Brent’s prayers for the mission of the Church was included in the American Book of Common Prayer (1979):
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Bishop Brent died in 1929.
Heavenly Father, whose Son prayed that we all might be one: Deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following your servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York, are published on the Lectionary Page website.