Phillips Brooks was a 19th century poet and writer of hymns. His most famous composition was the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem, a favourite that is still sung around the world today every Christmas. He enjoyed a long career as a minister in Boston, MA, eventually rising to the position of Bishop.
He was born on the 13th December 1835 in Boston and his ancestors included great-grandfather Samuel Phillips, the founder of the prestigious private school in Andover, Massachusetts still known as the Phillips Academy. Another descendent was John Cotton, generally believed to be the most important minister of his day when the Massachusetts Bay Colony was in its infancy. The young Phillips was sent to Latin School to begin his education and he went on to Harvard, graduating from there in 1855.
He moved into teaching Latin for a time before losing that position and, as a result, losing heart regarding his future career prospects. It was far too early to give in though and he began his ordination studies in 1856 at Alexandria, Virginia. After three years he became a deacon and obtained the rector’s post at Philadelphia’s Church of the Advent. He was a priest within a year before moving on once more to the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. He stayed here for seven years, enhancing his reputation as he went along.
Although Brooks had fairly limited ambitions, only wishing
his name became well known, both for his preaching and also for his writing. He remained a modest and undemonstrative man in the pulpit and, indeed, would sometimes remove even that barrier between him and his flock by preaching from the chancel steps instead. The summit of his ecclesiastical career was reached on the 30th April 1891 when he was elected sixth Bishop of Massachusetts.
Brooks was a highly competent writer of sermons and he had a number of collections of such work published from the year 1878 which was when his first collection was seen. Sermons Preached in English Churches followed in 1883 while The Candle of the Lord and Other Sermons was published in1895, two years after his death.
He wrote a number of poems which were set to music and here are the first two verses of his iconic piece of work, now known as many people’s favourite Christmas Carol,
Phillips Brooks died on the 23rd January 1893 at the relatively young age of 57. His funeral was quite an event in Boston and it was reported that
Students of his alma mater, Harvard University, were nominated to bear his coffin on their shoulders. All faiths came together to pay homage to a popular minister and it was said that