Origins (Part IV - T. C. Hammond)


For most Irish Church people in the first half of the twentieth century T C Hammond (1877 – 1961) was the ICM and the ICM was T C Hammond. Such was the height of his profile and such was the amount of activity being carried on by the Mission during his time, that this was a natural assumption. But, of course, both T C Hammond and the Mission had a life before and after the years when he was Superintendent (1919 – 1936).

Hammond’s roots had been in Cork for generations and he grew up there. His father had been a missionary and a Royal Navy Captain and was well past middle age when T C was born. In Cork the YMCA was a lively social, sporting and spiritual centre and Hammond took a full part in all of that. There, as a teen-ager, he arrived at a firm conviction of saving faith in Christ. There is an indication that he only came into this knowledge after a period of tough reflection, not surprisingly then, his faith was always well thought out and this can be seen in all his subsequent work and books. He immediately took part in the evangelistic outreach of the YM. However, after some time he went to Dublin to the ICM’s Training School (so we are glad to see that current training programmes at ICM have honourable precedents). On this Training Course, among many other varied subjects, (e.g. Dictation, Euclid, Controversy) he studied the ‘The One Hundred Texts’. This shows us that this comprehensive work long predated Hammond’s revision of it in 1927 (eventually published 1939).

He married Margaret McNay, also of Cork in 1906, but before that he had entered Trinity College Dublin with a view to ordination in the Church of Ireland. He had a really great mind and has been described as a ‘polymath’. Well informed in a wide range of academic disciplines, T C Hammond was never likely to be ‘blown about by every wind of doctrine’. To knowledge he added that most precious of ingredients: the sense of humour that prevents us from becoming narrow, self-important or dry. On one occasion he told Mission workers to ‘either get a sense of humour or get out of Christian work’. All those who knew and heard him spoke of his humour; it was, as he used it, a great means of communicating eternal truth, or more simply as one Sydney teen-ager put it: ‘he was the first person who made me laugh in Church’. He read who-dunnits, no doubt as escapism but also as part of understanding human nature.

He was Curate and then Rector (1910 – 1919) of St Kevin’s on Dublin’s South Circular Road (now closed), but he was already being recognized as a strong, fair and clear speaker on a number of issues and even those who did not share his evangelical faith were often glad to have him on their side. He lived and worked through tumultuous years in Ireland; he had childhood memories of demonstrations over Davitt and the Land League; and he lived through Parnell’s time, the Great War, 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War. His children remembered once being barricaded in when the Rectory came under cross-fire. And, of course, he saw the Roman Catholic Church become the ‘New Ascendancy’. It was in the field of theological opposition to the claims of that Church that he made his name. People in today’s atmosphere of tolerance and indifference to any or all conviction cannot know how fierce the struggles and debates of those days were. Only the depth of his faith, the extent and agility of his memory and his sense of humour saw him through those grim years. He had a large staff in the Mission, over fifty at times, and the Mission, then situated in Townsend Street, south of the river, was a busy place. There was Open-Air evangelism on the streets of Dublin and much door to door visitation. There was a great need for Relief work in those days before our developed Social Welfare and Hammond was deeply involved in a number of Children’s Homes. There were, what was known as the ‘Contros’, organized public debates between Roman Catholic and Protestant speakers, both with their partisan followers. And sadly there were many cases where it was necessary for Hammond to go to Law to defend the family, marriage, burial or adoption rights of Church of Ireland people. In the course of this work Hammond travelled all over Ireland, often at the request of some country Rector with a difficult ‘case’.

But Hammond’s reputation was also growing outside Ireland. The worldwide evangelical community did not have many scholars in those days and he often was called to speak in England. In 1926 he was invited to Australia and Canada to speak against moves to bring in false doctrine ‘by the back door’ through liturgical reform. His fame also meant that he was invited to write what was to become the classic and basic text book of Christian doctrine for generations of evangelicals: ‘In understanding be men’ (1936 and still in print). It was said that when planning the book a committee of English concerned believers at various universities thought it wise to send someone (Douglas Johnston) over to Dublin to check that Hammond was ‘sound’. When Johnston returned to his committee he said ‘I’ve talked to Hammond… and now I just wonder if any of us are sound’.

The 1926 ‘Prayer Book Revision’ visit to Australia had consequences which few, if any, could have foreseen. Some years later the need for a new Principal for Moore Theological College in Sydney arose and after a search Hammond was invited to take the position. Before we look at the Australian dimension of this we need to say that this was great loss to Ireland; as one Churchman of the time put it ‘The Australian Church has done what we should have done’. What a difference if the Church of Ireland had had the vision to harness the ability of Hammond for the Divinity School in TCD. He was snatched from right under their nose.

Hammond sailed for Sydney in 1936. A firm clear hand was needed to safeguard the evangelical ethos of Sydney Diocese, and they had the right man. He came, then almost 60, and set about laying a base on which the College has continued to grow in size and influence. He lectured in almost every subject, he took a prominent place in Synod, and because of the College’s slender means he also served as Rector of St Philip’s in downtown Sydney. He saw to academic improvements and building extensions at the College. He was a welcome speaker at many Conferences in Australia and New Zealand, he could not resist the temptation to use his Irish impishness and claimed to be really a very light weight speaker because he was a Cork man! And he continued his writing, producing three further substantial books: ‘Perfect Freedom’ (1938) on Ethics, ‘Reasoning Faith’ (1943) on Apologetics and ‘The New Creation’ (1953) a mature work on the question of Justification and its implications; as well as smaller books. He paid one short visit to Ireland in 1947, continued as Principal of Moore until 1953 and was still Rector of St Philip’s when he died in 1961. Indeed he was once asked what he would do when he retired, and he replied ‘When I retire my widow will go to live with my daughter and son-in-law’. His anchor held in the storms of life.

Hammond’s strength was in his ‘believing scholarship’ and robust methodology. He was no gadfly fashionable innovator following the latest ‘sensation’ in theology. His well stocked mind and sure convictions about Biblical truth enabled him to stay on course and to stay the course from Victorian Cork to cosmopolitan Sydney. Leon Morris, the fine evangelical scholar, was happy to record his debt to Hammond. Morris, then a young Teacher, was trying to study theology after work in order to gain a Th.L. Hammond took him for what we would call ‘grinds’. Morris said that Hammond ignored the set syllabus but taught him to concentrate on the evidence rather than scholarly opinion and said that Hammond was merciless in exposing illogicality and bluster. That is why Hammond is missed in theological training today. As well as his major books Hammond left behind dozens of smaller works, pamphlets, and booklets. Most of his work in Ireland was forgotten with the generation that went though the disturbed political and theological changes of twentieth century Ireland but his work in Australia has a lasting effect on the evangelical character of Sydney Diocese, which in turn may yet lead to a revived Anglicanism in other countries.

Eddie Coulter