MEDLEY, JOHN, Church of England clergyman, author, and bishop; b. 19 Dec. 1804, son of George Medley of London, England, and Henrietta ––; m. first 10 July 1826 Christiana Bacon in Salcombe Regis, England, and they had five sons and two daughters; m. secondly 16 June 1863 Margaret Hudson on Campobello Island, N.B.; d. 9 Sept. 1892 in Fredericton.
From his earliest years John Medley was dedicated to the Anglican priesthood by his widowed mother. He attended schools in Bristol, Bewdley, Hammersmith (London), and Chobham and mastered Hebrew, Latin, and Greek before entering Wadham College, Oxford, in 1822; he graduated with honours in 1826. Ordained a deacon in 1828, priested in 1829, he served from 1828 to 1845 in the diocese of Exeter, becoming vicar of St Thomas the Apostle, near Exeter, in 1838 and prebendary of the Exeter cathedral in 1842. He was appointed bishop of Fredericton on 25 April 1845, consecrated at Lambeth Palace on 4 May, and enthroned in Fredericton on 11 June.
Medley was the first Tractarian to become a bishop in the Church of England. It is believed that his elevation was on the recommendation of his friends William Ewart Gladstone and John Taylor Coleridge, both of whom were treasurers of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund. While still at Exeter, Medley had contributed to the Tractarian “Library of the Fathers” by collaborating with Hubert Kestell Cornish in a translation of St John Chrysostom’s homilies on 1 Corinthians. As an active participant in the Gothic Revival initiated by the Cambridge Camden Society, he published in 1841 Elementary remarks on church architecture. His early essay The episcopal form of church government (1835) and his volume Sermons (1845) reveal a Tractarian and anti-Erastian view of the church as a sacred and autonomous society jealous of its independence. In these Exeter writings there is an insistence on the doctrine of apostolic succession and a Catholic reverence for the two great sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.
Medley arrived in Fredericton in the year of John Henry Newman’s secession to Rome. His reputation as a high churchman of the Catholic stamp had preceded him and he soon encountered the suspicion of those who had come to fear a Romeward tendency in the English church. The Anglicans of New Brunswick, at a remove from the bishop of Nova Scotia in whose diocese they were before 1845, had inherited the Congregational traditions of the American colonial church, in which there had been no episcopacy. Medley’s outspoken claims for the episcopal office as “the superintending authority of a single person over a company of priests and deacons and over the whole church” seemed popish and alien. The evangelicals, led by the Reverend John William Dering Gray*, rector of Trinity Church, Saint John, opposed Medley’s authority and influence with an appeal to Protestant sentiments. Medley, however, had the support of Archdeacon George Coster* of Fredericton, a high churchman of the pre-Tractarian school, and of a considerable body of Anglican priests in the old loyalist tradition who, although bereft of local bishops, had retained a high-church reverence for the sacraments.
It was one of Medley’s major tasks (and one in which he largely succeeded) to heal the divisions in the New Brunswick church and to proclaim a comprehensiveness wide enough to embrace low churchman, high churchman, or ritualist. “We must banish that frightful party spirit, that minute exclusiveness, which refuses the hand of fellowship to those who have signed the same articles, own the same creeds, and are built on the same foundation with ourselves. The odious cries of High-Churchman and Low-Churchman, with other more offensive names, must not be heard in our mouths, lest our own weapons be turned against us.” He sought to heal division by a spirit of coexistence rather than by compromise, yet he did not attempt to conceal his disapproval of a low-church laxity in worship and of a low-church and, he believed, un-Anglican drift in sacramental doctrine “as false in principle as it is vicious in taste,” a deviation in theology that “pervades and leavens the religion of whole masses of our people.”
With annual visitations, which he began shortly after his arrival in Fredericton, he met clergy and people in even the remotest corners of New Brunswick, refining and invigorating the thought and practice of the clergy, founding new parishes, evangelizing more widely and more vigorously than anyone of the evangelical party of the church had ever done. Medley had come to a province of scattered settlements and villages, two-thirds of which were without priests and in many of which baptism and Christian burial were unknown. Even where the church did have some presence in outlying areas, Holy Communion was celebrated no more than four times a year, church buildings resembled New England meeting-houses (Medley called them “barns”), and church music, at best, was confined to hymn-singing. The bishop set out at once to build new churches, train ordinands, and reclaim the lapsed and the lax not only through the preaching of the Word but also through the sacraments administered in the full dignity and beauty of the Anglican liturgy.
The bishop arrived in Fredericton with £20,000 for the establishment of a new diocese voted by the Colonial Bishoprics Fund (to which the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was a large contributor). He also had a gift of £1,500 from the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society towards the cost of building a cathedral. Medley regarded the construction of the cathedral as essential to his mission, as a symbol of episcopal authority and the model of worship for the whole diocese. In 1846 he brought to Fredericton the young architect Frank Wills*, who, at Medley’s suggestion, had, while still in England, planned the Fredericton cathedral after St Mary’s Church, Snettisham, Norfolk, a Gothic church of the Decorated period. Variations on the original plan to accord with special needs of a cathedral and the climate were made by the eminent Victorian Gothicist William Butterfield, who also designed the tower, the sanctuary, and the furnishings. On 15 Oct. 1845 the cornerstone was laid by the lieutenant governor, Sir William MacBean George Colebrooke*. Christ Church Cathedral was consecrated on 31 Aug. 1853 and, together with the bishop’s chapel of ease, St Anne’s (also designed by Wills), ushered in an era of Gothic church building throughout the diocese. In this enterprise the leader was the Reverend Edward Shuttleworth Medley, the bishop’s son, who had been trained in England by Butterfield. Like the cathedral, these churches were to ring with music appropriate to the liturgy. The bishop composed introits, anthems, and hymns, conducted the cathedral choir, and was the first president of the Fredericton Choral Society of 100 voices. His influence on the cultural life of Fredericton and the whole diocese is incalculable. The bishop proclaimed the holiness of beauty: “For let us consider to what end did God vouchsafe us form, colour, number, and harmony . . . . If the tongue praise Him, why not the heart, the feet, and the hands? What difference is there in principle between reading or singing the praises of God with the lips, and engraving those praises on wood, or stone, or glass?”
George Robert Parkin*, who taught William Bliss Carman* and Charles George Douglas Roberts* in the Fredericton Collegiate School, was a disciple of Medley’s. Encouraged by the bishop to enter the University of Oxford in 1873, he heard John Ruskin lecture, met Medley’s friend Edward Bouverie Pusey, and returned to Fredericton to transmit his enthusiasm for Gothicism, Pre-Raphaelitism, and aestheticism to his young charges. Carman, who years later remembered Bishop Medley as “my best friend,” had served at the bishop’s cathedral altar. Roberts, the son of Canon George Goodridge Roberts*, from 1873 rector of Fredericton under Medley, taught in his father’s Sunday school. There can be no doubt that without the presence and influence of Medley there could not have been that “strange aesthetic ferment” which Charles G. D. Roberts experienced in the Fredericton of the last quarter of the 19th century.
However, Medley’s “Gothic dream,” his profound sense of the beauty of nature, akin to Ruskin’s, and his love of art did not bespeak a self-enclosed aestheticism. The enormous task of building the cathedral – a task interrupted several times by lack of funds and completed mainly because of the bishop’s zeal and skill in fund-raising at home and abroad – never deterred or delayed him in his pastoral and diocesan duties. His annual visitations, begun in 1845, continued until 1881 when a coadjutor was appointed. In his strenuous travels around the province by sleigh, sled, canoe, and river-boat he not only demanded proper forms of worship in proper church buildings. He not only instructed in the faith. He also insisted, against stubborn opposition, on the elimination of the sale and rental of church pews and of all forms of class discrimination in parish life. St Peter’s Church in Upham even resisted consecration for five years because of the bishop’s intransigence on pew-rent. In the early years in Fredericton he re-established a school for the daughters of poorer families, with the help of volunteer teachers from the ladies of the cathedral.
In doctrine he held resolutely to the via media. “Unlike Rome we are never, for the attainment of unity, to sacrifice truth; unlike Geneva, we are never to seek for truth to the neglect of unity; lest, as she has done, we let go both.” Anglicanism, he believed, shared with Rome and the East the central doctrines of the undivided church of the great early councils. In his view, stated in a sermon on the Reformation given in the cathedral in 1847, Rome had erred in her additions to the deposit of faith. Papal supremacy and “prayers . . . to the Blessed Virgin as our great mediatrix and intercessor with Christ” were given as such unwarranted and unscriptural additions, as were transubstantiation, purgatory, the treasury of merit, and the practice of compulsory celibacy among the clergy. Medley repudiated Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine and stood firm on the faith once delivered to the Saints and articulated with finality in the creeds and pronouncements of the great councils. In their different ways, he believed, both Rome and Geneva had been guilty of the error of innovation.
Nevertheless, in spite of the static mould of his beliefs, Medley conceded (in a sermon on Phil. 2:4) that “our controversies and our convictions must not blind our eyes to the fact that there are other Christians equally sincere with ourselves, many in the field before us, many who have come in after us, and all eager to fulfil the Apostle’s precept.” Deploring the bigotry of the Orange order (a powerful body in the New Brunswick of his time), he frequently stressed the agreement of Anglicans and Roman Catholics on fundamental doctrine. Nor was he reluctant to praise and indeed envy the zeal of Methodists and Baptists.
The suspicion that Medley was a “semi-papist” if not a “secret Jesuit” died hard despite the unequivocal Reformation sermon and the bishop’s consistent affirmation of the principle of the via media. Had he not refused to discipline the Reverend James Hudson of the Miramichi parish for distributing Tractarian pamphlets and preaching Puseyite sermons? Had he not introduced the chanting of canticles, frequent communion, and other Romish “abominations”? Had he not approved the ritualistic practices of the Mission Chapel in Portland, hard by the evangelical, city of Saint John? Had he not in a charge to his clergy openly defended ritualism with these words: “I think we have far more to fear from the dead level of cold worldliness, which eschews all reverence, and sees no reality in the Church and its Sacraments, and reduces the whole act of worship to a meagre performance by a minister, than we have from any excesses of ritualism.” Nor was it unknown that the bishop had eloquently defended the “advanced” ritualist Church of the Advent in Boston and had appealed to W. E. Gladstone to block and later to rescind the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874, which had led to the prosecution of ritualists in the English church. As late as 1878, at the second Lambeth conference, Medley called for the repeal of this measure. Despite the support of the American and most of the colonial bishops, his motion was defeated.
It escaped his evangelical critics that the defence of ritualism was in terms of a comprehensiveness that tolerated all forms of Anglican worship, whether high or low, which were reverent and not slovenly. And while Medley advocated frequent communion and affirmed the real presence of Christ in the action of the Eucharist, he rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and worshipped Christ “not so much in the Sacrament, as at the Sacrament.” Doctrinal disputes as to the “how, where, when and what” of the presence, dogmatic definitions such as the Roman transubstantiation, did violence to a mystery that should be approached in meditation rather than by argument. “The Church of England advises us to lay all such curious questions aside, to receive the mystery . . . faithfully, to teach it plainly, but to leave the manner unexplained.” For Medley, the real presence was not confined to the bread and the wine but was manifested in the total Eucharistic action and in the worthy reception of the consecrated elements. It says much for Medley’s indomitable energy, for his theological consistency, for the clarity and charity of his preaching and instruction, and above all for the personal bond he maintained with the people of his parishes that he was able gradually to still suspicion.
As an ecclesiastical statesman with pronounced anti-Erastian views, Medley sought to strengthen the corporate and independent character of his diocese. To this end the creation of a synod with power to legislate was imperative. The Church Society of the Archdeaconry of New-Brunswick established by George Coster in 1836 brought clergy and laity together for consultation, but Medley pressed for a body able to draft a code of laws. In 1852 and 1853 Gladstone attempted to win approval in the British parliament for a bill that would permit the establishment of synods in the colonial churches, and as early as 1852 Medley, who was in regular correspondence with Gladstone, began open advocacy of synodical government for his own diocese. He met with strong opposition from the evangelicals, who distrusted Gladstone as an Anglo-Catholic and who feared that a synod would not only strengthen the authority of the bishop but also give voting power to the poorer parishes of the diocese. In 1856, in his charge to the clergy, Medley made an irresistible case for the formation of a diocesan synod, but it was not until 1867 that the synod was finally organized. Annual meetings began the following year and in 1871 a charter was granted by the provincial legislature. The British parliament, in refusing to approve Gladstone’s bill, had conceded the right of colonial legislatures to act. In 1874 the diocese of Fredericton joined the synod of the ecclesiastical province of Canada and in 1879 Bishop Medley was elected to succeed Ashton Oxenden as metropolitan of Canada, then the highest office in the Canadian church.
For Medley it was indeed the Canadian church. In his address to the provincial synod in 1883 he spoke of the Canadian church, “not for a moment forgetting that dear Church of England . . . but chiefly to call to your remembrance that no love for the old country, no union and communion with the Church of England in the Catholic faith, can absolve us from a sacred and solemn trust for the good of Canada.” From his earliest years in New Brunswick he had worked to make his diocese financially self-sustaining, and he was not dismayed by a drastic reduction in funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Any notion of an established church in Canada he thought absurd, nor should the Canadian church depend for its support on the English establishment. He never took the seat reserved for the bishop in the Legislative Council of New Brunswick and he resisted all attempts of lieutenant governors to make clerical appointments without his prior nomination. Medley envisaged a world-wide Anglican communion, united in the faith but autonomous in its several constituencies. His profound concern for the dignity and integrity of these constituent churches made him decide in 1867 to decline an invitation to attend the first Lambeth conference. In a charge to his clergy he explained, “It appeared to me that in consideration of the vast distance from England of many of the Colonial Dioceses, and the grave importance of the step contemplated, a longer time should have been allowed to give the matters selected for deliberation full consideration. . . . Above all, it appeared to me unwise to gather together from the ends of the earth Bishops of the Anglican communion . . . without distinctly stating the purpose for which we were called together, and the subjects to be considered.” Medley’s objections were heeded and he attended the second Lambeth conference in 1878. It was then that he made his plea for the repeal of the Public Worship Regulation Act. While he did not sway the English bishops, his address was given wide publicity and had an influence which was eventually to bear fruit.
In 1879 Medley requested the diocesan synod for the right to appoint a coadjutor of his own choice. The request was granted and on 12 Jan. 1881 Medley nominated the Reverend Hollingworth Tully Kingdon, vicar of Good Easter, Essex. Dr Kingdon was consecrated in Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, on 10 July 1881.
There was to be one more Lambeth conference. In July 1888 Medley, now in his 84th year, attended with his coadjutor. On this final visit to England he received the lld from the University of Cambridge and the dd from the University of Durham. Shortly after his return to Fredericton his son the Reverend Charles Steinkopff Medley died of cancer and the ageing bishop never recovered from the sorrow of this loss. He attended his last diocesan synod in Saint John on 6 July 1892 and gave his last sermon in St Paul’s Church, Saint John, on 17 July 1892. During these years, although his failing health and mental clarity made it impossible for him to give more than token attention to his duties, he was reluctant to resign. His coadjutor complained that Mrs Medley was running the diocese. Towards the end the bishop indicated an intention to resign, but he lingered in office until his death in September 1892.
Medley was small of stature, strong-minded and strong-willed, possessed of a temper that he did not, in his earlier years in Fredericton, easily master. Conscious of his own failings, he was contrite and always the penitent. He bequeathed to his successor a diocese transformed, invigorated, largely unified, and integrated with the wider Canadian church. It was Gladstone who said of him, “His was the wisest head that wore a mitre.”
Bishop Medley’s sermons and triennial charges are scattered through many libraries and archives. The major collections are in the Diocese of Fredericton Arch. (now at PANB, MC 223), and the library of the ACC, General Synod (Toronto); the New Brunswick Legislative Library (Fredericton); the UNBL; the libraries of Acadia and Dalhousie universities in Wolfville, N.S., and Halifax respectively; and the libraries of the PANS and the N.B. Museum.
A manuscript record of Medley’s episcopacy, “Bishop Medley’s journal,” is in PANB, MC 223, as is William Odber Raymond*’s “Scrapbook on Bishop Medley and his sons.” A collection of Medley’s letters to Sir Edmund Walker Head* from 1851 to 1853 is in the New Brunswick Legislative Library. His correspondence with W. E. Gladstone is in the Gladstone papers at the British Library (London), Add. mss 44372: f.168; 44374: f.15; 44420: f.120; 44443: f.310; 44444: f.191; 44445: ff.206, 322; 44457: f.140; 44786: f.61. His personal correspondence was destroyed by his widow. The Colonial Office dispatches for New Brunswick, at PRO, CO 188, are available on microfilm at the UNBL.
Medley’s publications include: The episcopal form of church government; its antiquity, its expediency, and its conformity to the word of God (London, 1835; repr. Saint John, N.B., 1845); a translation, with H. K. Cornish, of The homilies of S. John Chrysostom on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Oxford, 1839); How the mighty are fallen; a sermon preached at the visitation of the Archdeacon M. Stevens . . . (Exeter, Eng., 1840); Elementary remarks on church architecture (Exeter, 1841); Sermons, published at the request of many of his late parishioners (Exeter and London, 1845); The Reformation, its nature, its necessity, and its benefits, a sermon preached in the cathedral of Christ Church, Fredericton, on Sunday, February 14, 1847 (Fredericton, 1847); The staff of beauty and the staff of bands: a sermon preached in St. Anne’s Chapel, Fredericton, on the day of its consecration, March 18, 1847 (Saint John, 1847); the prefaces to The canticles, arranged for chanting . . . ([Fredericton], 1851) and Hymns for public worship in the diocese of Fredericton . . . (Saint John, 1855); A lecture . . . before the Church of England Young Men’s Society, of the city of Saint John . . . 23d January, 1857; subject, “Good taste” (Saint John, 1857); The mission of the comforter: two sermons preached in the cathedral of Christ Church, Fredericton, New Brunswick, on Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday, 1867 (Fredericton, 1867); A charge to the clergy of the diocese of Fredericton, delivered at his eighth triennial visitation, in the Church of St. Paul’s, Portland, St. John, June 30th, 1868 (Fredericton, 1868); “Other little ships”: a sermon, preached . . . in the Cathedral Church of S. Peter, Exeter, on Tuesday, August 13th, 1878 . . . ([London, 1878]); and The Book of Job, translated from the Hebrew text . . . (Saint John, 1879).
Correspondence by Medley has been published in E. R. Fairweather, “A Tractarian patriarch: John Medley of Fredericton” and “John Medley as defender of ‘ritualism’: an unpublished correspondence,” Canadian Journal of Theology (Toronto), 6 (1960): 15–24, and 8 (1962): 208–11; “John Medley on Irish church disestablishment: an unpublished letter,” ed. E. R. Fairweather, Canadian Journal of Theology, 7 (1961): 198–200; and “An unpublished correspondence between John Medley and E. B. Pusey,” ed. C. [F.] Headon, Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal (Sudbury, Ont.), 16 (1974): 72–74.
Devon Record Office (Exeter), Salcombe Regis, reg. of marriages, 10 July 1827. J. H. [Gatty] Ewing, Canada home: Juliana Horatia Ewing’s Fredericton letters, 1867–1869, ed. Margaret Howard Blom and T. E. Blom (Vancouver, 1983). W. Q. Ketchum, The life and work of the Most Reverend John Medley, D.D., first bishop of Fredericton and metropolitan of Canada (Saint John, 1893). Church Witness (Saint John), 1860–63. New-Brunswick Courier, 1842–56. N.B. vital statistics, 1863–64 (Johnson). W. O. Raymond, “John Medley,” Leaders of the Canadian church, ed. W. B. Heeney (3 ser., Toronto, 1918–43), ser.1: 97–134. O. R. Rowley et al., The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (2v., Milwaukee, Wis., and Toronto, 1928–61), 1: 27.
T. E. Blom, “Bishop John Medley” (address delivered at Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, 27 May 1984; copy at Diocese of Fredericton Arch.). C. F. Headon, “The influence of the Oxford movement upon the Church of England in eastern and central Canada, 1840–1900”
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Cite This Article
Malcolm Ross, “MEDLEY, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/medley_john_12E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Malcolm Ross|
|Title of Article:||MEDLEY, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|