Carter, Dr. Thomas

5/9/1934

DR. THOMAS CARTER
April 26, 1870 - May 9, 1934
 
Thomas Carter, son of Charles W. and Clara Pentecost Carter, was born in Bastrop, La., on April 26, 1870. These may be but names to the younger members of the Conference, but to those whose memory runs farther back the former is a symbol of scholarly eloquence that was un-equaled among us and the latter connotes tile graces of an aristocracy of piety and social life that were notable in north Louisiana.
I know of nothing outstanding in Thomas Carters boyhood. His father became pastor of Felicity Street Church, New Orleans, in 1880, and, except during tile period of his presidency of Centenary College, and a period subsequent to his retirement, resided in New Orleans until his death in 1912. In New Orleans Prof. Carter received the larger part of his education, in Dyer’s Preparatory School, and in Tulane University, which he entered in 1889. Having entered the ministry ill the Methodist Church, following his graduation, he matriculated in the theological department of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., in 1891, and there graduated in 1894. While at Vanderbilt he availed himself of the opportunity of further study of the Greek language, in which he was already proficient.
Prof. Carter traveled in Europe, adding to his general culture and knowledge, but did not undertake work in the schools, although always a close observer of educational processes. He had already earned his degrees at two great universities and his reputation as a scholar came early.
Though Prof. Carter had no other purpose for a life calling than to follow the congenial course of the Christian ministry, in the atmosphere of which he had been reared, and in which his brother Briscoe had preceded him, his ability and unusual furnishing brought calls from the schools of his Church that he did not feel free to disregard. He joined the Louisiana Conference in 1895, and in the following year became a teacher in Centenary College of Louisiana and pastor of the local church in Jackson. His ministry at Jackson was highly acceptable and fruitful in the conversion of many students and others. He combined instruction with evangelistic effectiveness and won the admiration of a cultured and conservative congregation as well as of the students.
From Centenary College Prof. Carter went to Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1898, to occupy the chair of Greek. His achievements as a scholar and his genius as a teacher immediately justified the confidence of his alma mater. Here his social and platform talents also brought him into prominence. Few were the important campus and public occasions to which, in one way or another, he made no contribution.
Prof. Carter wedded Miss Burt Sandige, a gifted student of Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, on August 6, 1902. They bad known each other in the relation of teacher and pupil, and their essential unity of ideal resulted in a beautiful married life.
In the same year Prof. Carter became a member of the theological faculty of Vanderbilt University. Thus, for the second time, he became professor in the institution in which he had been a pupil and found his life work in association with men who had been his teachers.
Mrs. L. C. McVoy, professor of English in Louisiana State Univer-sity, thus describes her talented brother:
“Be was the fulfillment of my father’s dream of a scholar. In his boyhood Tom’s desire was for an education along scientific and mechanical lines, but in deference to the wish of his father, he went into languages and scholarship. He would have shone in anything he attempted. To me he was a man of great charm. He made learning attractive and religion beautiful.”
As an amateur machinist Prof. Carter proved the correctness of Mrs. McVoy’s estimate of his talent. He always had his home-contrived machine shop within easy access, and, from repairing his own automobile to making beautiful and useful presents for his friends, he reveled in the hobby that might have made him famous as an inventor. How much this useful recreation meant cannot ‘be told, he indulged in little else.
Dr. Carter’s skill as a teacher may be inferred from his writings, it has direct testimony from his students, from one of whom, Dr. Costen J. Harrell, pastor of West End Church, Nashville, I quote:
“As the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and brought light out of darkness and order out of chaos, so does the spirit of the worthy teacher move upon the mind of youth. During my student days upon this campus I sat at the feet of Dr. Thomas Carter. (These words were spoken in the Neely Memorial Auditorium. The recollections of this friend and Christian gentleman have remained with me during the intervening years, and the influences of his vigorous mind and noble spirit have been my spiritual possession. A teacher’s richest reward is to be honored and loved by those who have sat under his tutelage. BY this standard of measurement Dr. Carter is a rich man. He was a man of brilliant mind. Those of us who were privileged to sit in his classroom often wondered at his mental resilience. The Greek tongue WSS his chosen field, but his interests were as wide and as diversified as human life. So skillfully did he lead us across the divide that separates the old day from the new day that in the passage we lost naught of our faith in God or hope for man. . . . He spoke on all occasions with prophetic power against pious shams and entrenched wrong. There was in him none of the coward’s spirit of compromise. This knightly man Stood four-square to every wind that blows and took the storm and sunshine with a cheer.”
Dr. Harrell Continues:
Dr. Carter was more than a university professor. lie was a friend of man. His friendliness radiated in the classroom. His sympathy and gentle banter were the delight of all who knew him. He believed in the eternal Cod and he lived by faith, in spiritual union with Jesus Christ” (The Christian Advocate, Nashville, Tenn., June S. 1934)
Prof. Carters fame as a scholar and teacher naturally brought calls by other universities; also the -suggestion by the Chancellor of Venderbilt that he transfer to a chair in the academic department. These he declined for his loved work. When the transition came with the Church’s rejection of a joint responsibility with tile Trustees for the government of the University he chose to adhere to the University. This decision brought on the alternatives of resigning his professorship or relinquishing his relation to the Conference. Deeming the dilemma unlawfully forced upon him, he chose as a righteous decision to abide by the consequences. Never was he greater than in this trial, never more eloquent than when defending his rights. Though for some years lie was actually in the local rank he never admitted the ‘rightness of the relation, and after some years the error was corrected by his readmission to the membership of this Conference.
In consequence of the change in the relations of the University to which I have alluded, a second and far-reaching decision faced Dr. Carter. Of this his gifted colleague, Dr. George B. Winton, dean of the School of Religion, writes:
“In more than thirty years of teaching and study Dr. Carter made for himself a place as one of the outstanding authorities on the Greek of the New Testament, as well as an inspiring interpreter of the spirit of the New Testament literature. Linguistic studies were not for him a separate science, but rather a tool for penetrating to the spiritual meaning of the inspired Scriptures. In his hands the written words became a sword for the soldier of the Cross. Within recent decades a tendency has become more general among seminary students to forsake language study for certain other supposedly more ‘practical’ subjects. Classes in both Greek and Hebrew have grown smaller, and smaller. In the Vanderbilt School of Religion this trend was, accentuated by the mixed character denominationally of the student body. Just about this time as the situation began to grow acute for Prof. Carter, the chair of Homiletics became vacant. He was obviously the man to fill it, and was entering joyously upon this field, by no means strange to him, when the hand of disease arrested his work. His fine spirit, quick wit and richly stored mind gave him a strong hold on the university community, both faculty and students. I need say nothing of his staunch loyalty to his convictions and his fine Christian character, known and read of all men.”
Though so clearly bound up with the scholarly aspects of ha calling, Dr. Carter early took a deep interest in social service and made of him-self an intelligent and enthusiastic Worker and writer for community betterment.
His pulpit ministry was original and popular. Had he chosen the pastorate instead of the professor’s chair, there can be no doubt that he would have attained parity with the greatest preachers of his day. Human interest, accurate knowledge, spiritual insight, linguistic talent were all baptized by the Spirit of God and applied to the preacher’s art. For extensive periods he was in demand as supply for the pulpits of the prominent churches of Nashville.
Personally Dr. Carter was a man of great charm. His conversation was discursive, his wit was radiant, “his banter was an unfailing source of pleasure.” He knew when to be grave as well as gay. Mrs. McVoy says: “I can think of him only as a man whose life was a light to all those about him—and now the light has gone out!”
In his home life he was at his best. Four children, each of whom is moving toward successful living, and his noble wife, remain to mourn his loss and bless his memory.
Toward the end of his life Dr. Carter was painfully ill and long confined to his hospital bed. He rallied, rose and resumed his duties, and we hoped that he was on the way to recovery. His intellectual processes were as accurate as ever, but his old resilience was absent. Something had gone out of our friend. He died on May 9, 1934. In his desk was found this poem, in the margin of which be had written in Greek scrip the one word “hupomones:”

“If but one single message I may leave behind,
One single word of courage for my kind,
It would be this—O brother, sister, friend,
Whatever life may bring—what God may send—
No matter whether clouds lift soon or late—
Take heart and wait.”

Source: Journal of the Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Pages 80-83, 1934, by Fitzgerald S. Parker