Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Charles Henry Brent, Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines and Witness for Ecumenism

Bishop Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929) was the first Episcopal bishop of the Philippines. Just a few years after American sovereignty was established in the country, he arrived on the same ship with Governor-General William H Taft as a missionary bishop. Thus the Episcopal mission in the Philippines from the start carried the prestige of American rule.

However Brent who prior to his consecration ministered to slums in Boston, was acutely aware of the poverty situation in the Philippines. He noted that Filipinos were not food secure and this was compounded that the majority of Filipinos did not have access to technical education. Brent also was a firm supporter of the University of the Philippines which was established in 1908. He believed the University will be an excellent institution for the nation.

Brent broke from the Protestant approach of dividing the archipelago for their missions in order to convert the Filipinos. He recognized that the Roman Catholic Church (which commanded the religious affiliation of the majority) was a Christian church. Thus he desisted in building "an altar over another". The Episcopal Church thus focused its missionary work on non-Christians and the expatriate community.

For this Brent is remembered as one of the first witnesses of ecumenism. He supported the work of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila and was ready to cooperate with him. He promoted harmony among the Protestant missions.

He declined to be named to any American see until 1918 when he assumed the bishopric of Western New York. He helped organize the World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne, Switzerland. This organization later became the World Council of Churches. Also he campaigned against substance abuse and asked the British government to stop the production of opium. In this he was unsuccessful as the British made money from the trade. But he continued to protest until his death on March 27, 1929.

Filipinos today know Brent as the man who gave the name to Brent School. But little do they know that  the good bishop was far ahead of his time in addressing social issues and in his ecumenism. What Brent rallied against are still our problems in the 21st century; poverty, an insensitive elite class, substance abuse, access to quality education and most of all corruption in government. In a New York Times interview published on December 4, 1910 he noted that the Philippine government "was practically free from graft". But that was the government run by Americans like Taft and like heaven according to upcoming politician Manuel Quezon, which later on became first President of the Philippine Commonwealth. These Americans like Brent were progressive.

Brent noted too the hostility showed by the elite class to the Americans and their reforms in government.  But the elite were hostile because the Americans conquered the Philippines.

The Episcopal Church in the United States commemorates Bishop Brent on March 27 while the Episcopal Church in the Philippines commemorates him on August 25.

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