25 April, 2020

Archbishop Polding writes on war

On this Anzac Day, we are pleased to post this letter which Archbishop Polding wrote to the Faithful of the Archdiocese of Sydney in 1856, noting and asking them to give thanks for the conclusion of the Crimean War.  Although few residents of Australia would ever have seen the Crimea, nevertheless a volunteer force of cavalry, artillery and infantry was formed in and around Sydney and travelled to the Crimea to fight as part of the British Army.  The Crimean War would largely be forgotten now, except for two things : the famous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava; and the heroic work of the English nurse Florence Nightingale "The Lady with the Lamp".  The Archbishop makes reference to the nurses working with Florence Nightingale in the following letter.

Officers and men of Her Majesty's 13th Light Dragoons.
These men were some of the survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Photographed in 1855 at Balaklava by Roger Fenton.

Dearly Beloved Children in Jesus Christ,

A mighty war has ceased! We have to speak to you of these good tidings. You have already heard and welcomed them – the most joyful news of restored peace. Already, from every worthy heart, the spontaneous outburst of gladness and gratitude has gone forth in congratulations to your fellow men, in thanksgiving before the throne of God. A mighty war, unexampled for its costliness in blood and in treasure, has come to and end. May it have accomplished what is the only legitimate end of war : the security of peace! At this distance from Europe, we have been spared the horrid spectacles of murderous contest; few of us have had to don the sad garb of mourning for the loss of friends and dear relations crushed to death in the miserable strife; but yet, in that United Kingdom which is our common fatherland, to which we still attach the endearing name of home and in the fair realm of noble France, how many hearths lie desolate! How many victims have been sacrificed! And with these sufferings, with these bereavements, we have been constrained to sympathy by the ordinary feelings of humanity, by the charity of the common heart of Christendom. 

Florence Nightingale c. 1858
 It is most true, that in the midst of great griefs springs up great consolations; this is God’s gift of compensation by which He deduces good from the dreariest evil. If we have witnessed carnage and mortal agony, we have also been called to honour the greatness of self-devotion and the heavenly endurance of charity. Young men – young solders – who may have taken up their profession, it is like enough, with very inadequate thoughts about it, have been ripened by the stern exigences of their service, into the deliberate martyrs of duty. Death-beds have been painful and sad enough; and yet, have they not been tended and lightened during this war by the assiduity of the priests of God, whose profession of self-sacrifice was gloriously realised? And by the gentle courage of those heroic women who, some of them marked and honoured in their generation (and many more un-noted in their work, and therefore the more like their Lord), passed from sufferer to sufferer in the busy offices of Christian pity and love? Thank God for these bright and grand spectacles, and thank God also that the necessity of them is over. May we be the men of good will from whose hearts and lives in this renewed peace on earth shall ascend glory to God in the highest.

But, Dearly Beloved, these natural emotions, allowable and even laudable, are simply the occasion which, we trust, will awaken graver thoughts in your minds. … War is the teacher which impresses on the minds of nations, faith in the presence of God. The discipline of our individual lives trains us in the conviction that God is the last end of our respective souls and the collective sufferings of warfare prove to nations that their final cause is not to be sought in any temporal object. Let us then now accept this lesson of Providence. If men in truth desire the salvation of their souls and peace upon earth, consider whether unrestrained indulgence in the sensuous comforts of peace, and the hard-hearted insensibility to the sufferings of fellow-men, which is its unfailing attendant; whether security and pride as the fancied architects of their own fortunes; whether their all-absorbing care for the temporal, and their little anxiety for the spiritual; whether their self-glorification in national prospects, and their few thoughts for the Church of Christ throughout the world, may not have been the last drops in that brimming cup of iniquity which the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth has been punishing by war. And if the same causes are at work amongst us, may not similar effects follow? 

The Village of Balaklava with the British Fleet at anchor in the harbour.
Photographed in 1855 by Roger Fenton.

But thank God the war is over … It is over and it is well, if we learn His lesson.  Bearing it in mind, rejoice, Dearly Beloved, but rejoice in the Lord always; let your gladness be tempered by a reverential filial fear.  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts.  He is merciful, but He is also holy, and holiness cannot forever spare the impenitent.  May the blessing of our dearest Lord, the Father of the world to come and the Prince of Peace, abide with you forever. Amen.

+John Bede Polding DD 
Archbishop of Sydney.


1. Extracts from Archbishop Polding's Pastoral Letter commemorating the conclusion of the Crimean War as contained in the anthology The Eye of Faith. The Eye of Faith was printed by the Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore Victoria in 1977.  

2. The Crimean War, which was waged in various theatres between 1853 and 1856, resulted in the deaths of a quarter-of-a-million soldiers. An alliance of British, French and Ottoman forces was arrayed against Russia over its attempt to enlarge its Empire and take control of the Black Sea.  A good summary of this bloody conflict can be read here

3. An extraordinary collection of photographs taken in 1855 at the Crimea by the English solicitor-turned-photographer Roger Fenton may be consulted at this website.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.