Archive for the ‘Samuel Savage Lewis’ Tag

Feast of James Rendel Harris, Robert Lubbock Bensly, Agnes Smith Lewis, Samuel Savage Lewis, Margaret Smith Gibson, and James Young Gibson (March 26)   1 comment

Above:  St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Desert, Egypt, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-09674

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JAMES RENDEL HARRIS (JANUARY 27, 1852-MARCH 1, 1941)

Anglo-American Congregationalist then Quaker Biblical Scholar and Orientalist

Also known as J. Rendel Harris

worked with

ROBERT LUBBOCK BENSLY (AUGUST 24, 1831-APRIL 23, 1893)

English Biblical Translator and Orientalist

worked with

AGNES SMITH LEWIS (JANUARY 11, 1843-MARCH 26, 1926)

English Biblical Scholar and Linguist

wife of

SAMUEL SAVAGE LEWIS (JULY 13, 1836-MARCH 31, 1891)

Anglican Priest and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England

brother-in-law of

MARGARET DUNLOP SMITH GIBSON (JANUARY 11, 1843-JANUARY 11, 1920)

English Biblical Scholar and Linguist

wife of

JAMES YOUNG GIBSON (FEBRUARY 19, 1826-OCTOBER 2, 1886)

Scottish Literary Translator and United Presbyterian Minister

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INTRODUCTION

Ecclesiastical history–especially early ecclesiastical history–is a topic of little or no interest to many Low Church Protestants.  Common gaps in knowledge and interest include the time between the Apostles and the Crusades, as well as the centuries between the Crusades and the Reformation.  I recall, as a youth in rural United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the 1980s, hearing elders refer to “old songs.”  I also remember checking the dates of those “old songs” and frequently learning that they were from the early twentieth century.  Sixty or seventy years are nothing compared to two millennia.  Historical perspective is useful.

This cluster of six saints had a firm grasp of historical perspective, however.

They come to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via their connection to F. Crawford Burkitt (1864-1935), an Anglican scholar, theologian, hymn writer, and hymn translator.

THE WESTMINSTER SISTERS AND THEIR HUSBANDS

The central figures were twin sisters, Agnes Smith and Margaret Dunlop Smith, born in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, on January 11, 1843.  Our saints never knew their mother, who died two weeks after their birth.  The father was John Smith, a solicitor who studied languages.  He raised his daughters to be linguists and sent them to private schools.  The family also traveled throughout England.  The sisters eventually settled in London and joined the Presbyterian Church at Clapham Road.  They traveled in Europe and the Middle East, and expanded their linguistic range.  Eventually the two sisters mastered at least twelve languages, including German, Italian, Greek, Arabic, and Syraic.

Agnes and Margaret, known as the Westminster Sisters, had a positive relationship with Greek Orthodoxy.  This relationship helped them to complete the main work that has brought them to this Ecumenical Calendar, in the 1890s.

Margaret married James Young Gibson on September 11, 1883, in Germany.  He, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, was a son of merchant William Gibson.  James, educated at the University of Edinburgh (1842-1846), pursued divinity studies (1847-1852) for the United Presbyterian Church.  After working for the Henry Birkbeck family as a tutor at Keswick Hall, Gibson served as a parish minister at Melrose (1853-1859).  Failing health forced him to leave that post.  Gibson traveled and studied in Europe and the Middle East.  He also translated Spanish masterworks, including Don Quixote, into English.  The marriage to Margaret was brief; he died at Ramsgate on October 2, 1886.  He was 60 years old.

Agnes married Samuel Savage Lewis on December 12, 1887.  Lewis, born in Bishopsgate, London, on July 13, 1836, was a son of surgeon William Jonas Lewis.  Poor eyesight complicated and delayed Samuel’s education at St. John’s College, Cambridge.  Surgeries improved his eyesight, however, so Lewis completed his formal education.  He, ordained a deacon (1872) then a priest (1873) in The Church of England, was the Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from 1870 to 1891, when he died.  Lewis, a classicist, traveled in Europe and the Middle East, mastered many languages, and collected ancient seals and coins.  He, Agnes, and Margaret formed a household.  Lewis died of heart failure on a train near Oxford on March 31, 1891.  He was 54 years old.

JAMES RENDEL HARRIS

The twin sisters, widows living in Cambridge, read J. Rendel Harris‘s account of his discovery of the Syraic text of the Apology of Aristides at St. Catherine’s Monastery, in the Sinai Desert, Egypt.  This inspired them them to visit the monastery in 1892.

James Rendel Harris opened the floodgates for the Westminster Sisters.  His story was interesting in its own right.  Harris, born in Plymouth, Devon, England, on January 27, 1852, grew up with ten siblings.  The father, Henry Marmaduke Harris, decorated houses.  The mother, Elizabeth Corker (Harris), operated a shop selling baby clothes.  Harris, who grew up a Congregationalist, studied at Plymouth Grammar School then at Clare College, Cambridge.

Harris’s life changed in 1880, when he married Helen Balkwell (d. 1914), a Quaker from Plymouth.  She influenced him to convert in 1885, three years after he had come to the United States, where she was working as a missionary.  From 1882 to 1885 Harris was Professor of New Testament Greek at Johns Hopkins University.  His criticism of vivisection at the university created a backlash that prompted him to resign.  Then the couple spent some time in 1885-1886 in England.

Harris was Professor in Biblical Studies at Haverford College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1886 to 1891.  In 1888 and 1889 he bought 47 codices in various ancient languages in Egypt and Palestine.  He donated these codices to Haverford College.  One of these texts, which he discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery, was the Syraic text of the Apology of Aristides.

ST. CATHERINE’S MONASTERY, 1892 AND 1893

The Westminster Sisters visited St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1892.  They discovered the earliest Syraic version of the Gospels known to exist at the time.  The sisters were just getting started.  The following year they returned with F. Crawford Burkitt, Robert Lubbock Bensly, and J. Rendel Harris.  By then Harris had become Lecturer in Palaeography at Cambridge.

Robert Lubbock Bensly was an Orientalist and a Biblical translator.  He, born in Eaton, Norwich England, on August 24, 1831, was a son of Robert Bensly and Harriet Reeve (Bensly).  Young Robert studied at King’s College, London, then at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, as well as in Germany.  He was, in order, Lecturer in Hebrew and Syraic at Gonville and Caius College then, in 1887, Lord Almoner’s Professor of Arabic.  Bensly helped to translate the Old Testament (1885) of the Revised Version of the Bible.  On the personal side, Bensly married Agnes Dorothee von Blomberg in Halle on August 14, 1860.  She and their three children outlived him.

At St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1893 the Westminster Sisters et al transcribed the Syraic version of the Gospels.  Agnes and Margaret also cataloged the monastery’s collection of Arabic and Syraic texts.  They began to collect about 1,700 fragments of manuscripts, now called the Lewis-Gibson Collection.

Bensly died in Cambridge, England, on April 23, 1893.  He was 63 years old.

J. RENDEL HARRIS AND THE WESTMINSTER SISTERS

Harris became a mentor to Agnes and Margaret.  He, Lecturer in Palaeography at Cambridge (1893-1903), wrote about ancient texts, including the Didache, the Acts of Perpetua, the Odes of Solomon, the Psalms of Solomon, and the Gospel of Peter.  His course in palaeography helped Agnes to become an internationally-renowned Syraic scholar.

Agnes and Margaret, despite their accomplishments, held only honorary degrees.  The reason for this was sexism.  The University of Cambridge, for example, did not give degrees to women at the time.

Harris, also an author of devotional works, left Cambridge.  After teaching theology in Leiden (1903-1904), he became the first Principal and Director of Studies at the Friends’ Settlement for Social and Religious Study, Woodbrooke College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, England.  Then, from 1918 to 1925, Harris was the Curator of Eastern Manuscripts at the John Rylands Library, Manchester.  He, aged 89 years, died in Selly Oak, Birmingham, on March 1, 1941.

Agnes and Margaret remained active scholars into the 1910s.  One of their later achievements was to make possible the discovery of an ancient Hebrew manuscript of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus.  The sisters, members of St. Columba’s Presbyterian (now United Reformed) Church, Cambridge, constituted the core of a religious and intellectual circle.  The Westminster Sisters also endowed Westminster College, Cambridge, and assisted in the founding of the Presbyterian student chaplaincy at the University of Oxford.

Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson died on January 11, 1920., her seventy-seventh birthday.

Agnes Smith Lewis died on March 26, 1926.  She was 83 years old.

CONCLUSION

These six saints stood in the spiritual lineage of St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210/215) and his protégé, Origen (185-254).  St. Clement was the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship.  He and Origen wedded faith and intellect, not without controversy, then and subsequently.  Opponents and critics have included those infected with indifference or anti-intellectualism.

To honor God with one’s intellect is to act consistently with the commandment to love God fully with one’s being.

James Rendel Harris, Robert Lubbock Bensly, Agnes Smith Lewis, Samuel Savage Lewis, Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson, and James Young Gibson did that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TIMOTHY, TITUS, AND SILAS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of

[James Rendel Harris,

Robert Lubbock Bensly,

Agnes Smith Lewis,

Samuel Savage Lewis,

Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson

James young Gibson. and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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