On this day, January 23, l893, Christians throughout the world mourned the death of Phillips Brooks. Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks' life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: "A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds."
Descended from the earliest Puritans of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks studied at Harvard. After teaching for a short time in Virginia, he was ordained in the Episcopal Church about five years before the American Civil War began; then he threw himself with whole heart into the Union cause, although never losing sympathy for Southerners.
Because of his great oratorical skills, Phillips served in prominent churches in Philadelphia and Boston. It was appropriate that one of these was Trinity Church, Boston, because as one of the eloquent preachers of his day, he defended the idea of God in three Persons at a time when Unitarianism was a rising force in New England.
Two years before his death, Phillips was chosen bishop of the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts. By then, he had touched many lives by his preaching as well as his personal Christian walk.
As a boy, Phillips' parents had hymn-sings on Sunday evenings; and by the time Phillips went to college, he knew over two hundred hymns. Many of these came up again in his sermons, and Phillips wrote poems and hymns himself.
Today Phillips is probably best remembered for one of those hymns: "O Little Town of Bethlehem", written in l868. A Christmas Eve spent in Bethlehem some years before had left a lasting impression on his mind. Brooks loved children and wrote the song for the youngsters in his Sunday School when he was rector of Philadelphia's Holy Trinity Church. The organist and Sunday School superintendent, Mr. Lewis Redner, wrote the music.
Brooks loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, "Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be."
Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian's goal should be "To know in one's whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life."
- Based on an earlier Christian History Institute story.
- Bowie, Walter Russell. Men of Fire; Torchbearers of the Gospel. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961.
- "Brooks, Phillips." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- "Brooks, Phillips." Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: American Corp., 1956.
Last updated June, 2007