Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp.
343-354

Christian and Catholic

Transcribed by Dr. Elizabeth G. Melillo
AD 2000


Chapter XIX
Secessions

THE great revival of Catholicity in the Anglican communion stimulated theological investigation in every department and every direction. It opened the long-closed storehouse of patristic learning. It studied anew the great Anglican divines. It gave a new zest to biblical research and exegesis. It reread with the aid of new discoveries the history of the Reformation. It came to a deeper realization of the mystery of the incarnation and its extension in the sacraments. The whole range of Catholic theology came out in more vivid colors and was grasped with a new and more intense appreciation. The movement developed higher ideals of sanctity and a personal self-sacrificing devotion in clergy and laity. The spiritual poverty of the Church’s ministrations to the people came to be keenly realized. Lives, talents, means were lavishly poured out at the feet of Christ. Perhaps never since the day of Pentecost has there been a spiritual movement so learned, so real, so intense. Great hopes were kindled for the Church’s progress. Men looked, with holy desire, to a reunion of Christendom. They desired, believing in Christ’s prayer, to think it possible. But so great a movement was sure to arouse, to the utmost, the animosity of Satan and all his malefic cunning. In every conceivable way the movement was harassed and attacked. No misrepresentation was too gross, no weapon too vulgar. The odium theologicum was aroused to an exasperating degree. The air was thick with the dust of controversy and contention. The university tribunals were appealed to in Oxford, the mobs, in the east of London. Bishops charged against it, the Times and other newspapers denounced it, the judges of the privy council soiled their ermine by the displacement of law in behalf of policy.

We may look back over fifty years and see how the cause has prospered, for it was of the Lord. Neither the ofttimes folly of adherents nor the blindness of adversaries could stop it. But like some great battle, it has cost untold sacrifice and agonies of soul. It has, however, by its furnace fires formed and purified many to a high degree of sanctity, who are now resting with God. In the time of prosperity men may attain salvation, but in times of suffering and adversity they are made saints.

It could not also but be that under the exasperating and depressing temptations some were found who could not bear the strain and in time of temptation fell away. They laid down their arms. They turned back in the day of battle. They became victims of their doubts and gears. They began in their recovery of old truths to lose sight of the proportion of the faith, to question their position, or, attracted by Rome’s external appearance of unity, to contrast unfavorably some aspects of the Anglican Church with that of Rome. The latter church took on, to their imagination, the character of an ideal one. They confounded the decisions of the civil courts with that of the Church herself. They lost faith in the possibility of England’s Church every regaining its Catholic heritage. They said in their despondency "Can these dry bones live?" And so from one ostensible cause or another they sought relief from responsibility by surrender to Rome. Some, mostly women, were beguiled by the fascinating personality and artful arguments of certain skilled proselyters. Comparatively few went from conviction after a candid and full investigation of Scripture and history. It was remarked in the early days of the movement that the ’verts were not found among the great students of Holy Scripture, and believers in the Church’s authority, like Pusey, Keble, Marriott, Isaac Williams, Neale, and others, but came from a class of restless, speculating minds like Newman, Ward, or poetical and imaginative ones like Faber, Caswell, or ecclesiastical politicians like Manning.

Looking at the Anglican Church as she is to-day, we see her extending throughout the world. She is becoming rehabilitated. She is rising again in her strength. If trials exist and difficulties confront her they are diminishing forces. The Catholic churchmen in England have learned not to be affected by decisions of State courts. They have learned something by their own mistakes, how to wait on God and to tarry His leisure. It is His Church and He is working out plans, not our plans but His own. We can only read His providences as they accomplish themselves, and by learning to conform ourselves to them. Better than all by their conferences churchmen are learning to trust one another more, and to recognize the good in all schools of thought. Union within the Church, it is being felt, must first be won and established as in the foundation of any union with those without or with sister churches. There are great grounds of encouragement and the skies are bright with hopefulness. Only let churchmen trust God, get together, bear with one another, and the Church will reap her joyful harvest.

It is true that Rome is busy with her proselyting efforts, endeavouring to unsettle individuals, especially those in the early and unripe stage of piety. There are those who make this work of proselyting a business and study the art of injecting doubt into susceptible minds. And it is one of their common stock arguments to refer to the number of persons who have joined the Roman Church. Now during the past thirty years there have been in England no secessions of any great scholars, and in America secessions have always been few. There are some points, however, it would be well to consider.

The movement has now gone on for some seventy years, and during this time it would be safe to say there have been about seventy thousand clergy in the Anglican communion. These clergy are brought up, not like Roman priests, who have not so unrestricted access to our books, but with the opportunity and with a felt duty to examine fully both sides of the controversy between the Anglican Church and Rome. We have never known an Anglican clergyman who has not, sometime in his life, honestly and sincerely tried to do so. Considering the idiosyncrasies of minds, the trials in the English Church, the harsh treatment of Catholic churchmen, the despondency that ofttimes overtakes a priest, the allurements of Rome, the wonder is that so few have gone over. Yet out of these seventy thousand clergy, most of whom have conscientiously examined the controversy, in spite of all the trials to which the Catholic clergy are exposed, only a fraction of one per cent has decided in favor of Rome’s claims. When, therefore, the convert-maker without or the mischief-maker within points out that some one of the clergy has gone to Rome, tell him there that have been in the last seventy years nigh seventy thousand who on their knees have examined the question and who have stayed.

Another point it is well to keep in mind is this: More have left Rome and come to the Catholic position than have left and taken up with that of Rome. In estimating the men and numbers on each side we must take into account the fact that the influence of the movement was not confined to England but spread throughout Europe. Pusey, Liddon, Bishop Forbes, and others, came into communication with a number of leading Roman Catholic doctors and professors on the continent, among whom was the great Dr. Dšllinger. Anglican books were read, and the Catholic position regarding the papacy was cordially recognized by these great scholars. So that when the Roman Curia sprang on the Western Church its scheme for decreeing the papal infallibility in 1870 there was a revolt in Germany, and Reinkens and Weber and Schźltz and Herzog, and others, with nigh a hundred thousand followers, broke with Rome and established the old Catholic communion. When, therefore, any one talks about Newman’s secession, we can tell him it was more than offset by Dr. Dšllinger’s. No group of English Roman converts can surpass in devotion or learning the great divines who have left Rome on the continent. If ten thousand of the laity or more have joined Rome in England, ten times as many on the continent have left her. So let us hold up the scales, and while there is a small pile of grains of sand on the Roman side, there are many iron pound weights on the other. For more under the influence of this Oxford movement have left Rome than have joined her.

But it is asked, what takes the few, who do go, over to Rome? What are the reasons for their ’verting?

So far as our knowledge goes, a change of faith is usually preceded by a period of spiritual or mental depression. For some cause, and a clergyman is especially liable to such an attack, a mist of despondency has settled on his soul. He has allowed himself to become more and more critical of the failings of his own church, and has gazed at them until they have assumed exaggerated proportions. he has met with parochial or other oppositions, and not with the success he expected. He has had an ideal of a perfect church such as is not to be found in Holy Scripture. He has made certain ceremonies, of which he is fond, tests of orthodoxy. He has allowed himself

to dwell on the attractive features of Rome until his imagination has made her an ideal church. As the elder Pugin said, who awoke with a great shock after his ’version, he had previously thought Rome was a church filled with holy clergy, holy churches, holy monks, holy nuns, holy everything. He has been disturbed by the untheological, perhaps misunderstood, utterances of a few very broad churchmen. He complains of the laxity of discipline, though not unfrequently he has in his independence disregard of it himself. He censures the bishops for not condemning heretical utterances, forgetting that only a very few years ago the American bishops put forth a special pastoral in the strongest terms doing that very thing. He regards the clergy and bishops as sadly in error, not realizing that the Church’s formal utterance is to be found in her Prayer-book, and that the failing of individual teachers is no reason why one should stay there. It is often difficult to get at real reasons. The reasons men subsequently assign are apt to be manufacture explanations. The papers announce with great flourish that a priest has joined Rome, and those acquainted with his inner life may know that it is because of some secret sin, disappointed ambition, or spiritual pride. For the most part the unsettlement is occasioned by some unfaithfulness, increased by disappointments, and not unfrequently accompanied by obvious self-deceptions and deceit. Comparatively few go, after a full examination of the question, with the determination of God’s grace to go or stay as God might show the way.

Secession suggests a further question. What has been the effect on the spiritual life of those who have left the Church for Rome? Have they as a rule shown by their lives that they have been improved by it? We know that thousands have come to us in this country from the sects. More than a thousand of our American clergy and bishops are converts. Coming from religious motives and because they sought Christ’s Church, we find that after a while there is a perceptible advance in spirituality. This is the usual testimony. However good Presbyterians or Congregationalists or Methodists they may have been, after their union with the Church there is an obvious increase in spiritual illumination and growth in holiness. Now if the Roman Church is the only true church, and is alone possessed of sacramental grace, the same mark of improvement ought to be as obvious on the bulk of her converts from us. But what is the case? According to the account of some who have tried the experiment, they have frankly stated that they were no better after than before. Some, a small class, become apostates and give up the faith entirely. Being men of a critically intellectual turn of mind, they found that they and others fell into the same sins as they did when Anglicans, and that the Roman sacraments gave no other aid than that they had previously received. The devil then had them in a logical vise. They had denied the Anglican sacraments to be channels of grace, and now it was proved the Roman were no better, and so nothing was to be believed. There were others who grew spiritually, but no more so than did those whom they had left behind. No one would say that Rome had any holier men than Pusey or Keble or Carter.

One mark, however, was upon this last class of converts. They were not content with Rome as they found it. Faber developed, so old Romans said, a new Italian Mariolatry in England. He could not rest till the Immaculate Conception had been decreed. Manning, the great political ecclesiastic, must work to get the Roman system complete to his satisfaction by bringing about he decree of the "Papal Infallibility." While Newman, thwarted by Roman intrigues in all of his three plans, for a new translation of the Scriptures, a Catholic university, and a house for the Oratorians at Oxford, stripped of his former influence, lay, like a great stranded whale thrown up on the shore, in the provincial town of Birmingham. Those who knew well the lives of the converts have witnessed that on the whole it was not satisfactory.

We cannot conclude without pointing out the sin of secession. A churchman’s joining Rome is a very different act from that of a sectarian. In joining Rome, the churchman must submit to a conditional baptism. He must be confirmed, the repetition of which sacrament is a sacrilege. By receiving his so-called first communion he denies that he has before sacramentally received the body and blood of the Lord. If a priest, he denies his orders and the validity of his sacraments. In all these acts he turns against the Holy Ghost and his Lord, denying their gifts and presence. Moreover, he deserts his post. God has placed him in the Anglican Church there to be a witness, just as he placed Elijah in Israel amidst its worship. It was very trying to the prophet and so, heartsick, he fled away to the wilderness. But there the Word of the Lord searched him out and said, "What doest thou here, Elijah." It is just as much desertion for a soldier to go over to some other regiment or place on the battle-field as to run away. Having the faith and sacraments and free from schism we must stay where we are placed. Secession is thus a sin presumptuous and deadly.

It is the most presumptuous sin we believe a Christian man can commit. For in deciding on the claims of the papal supremacy against the Eastern and Anglican Churches in favor of Rome, he assumes to himself the powers of an Ecumenical council. It is an act full of spiritual danger. For if Rome were right in her claims, God could not condemn one who said that as a Catholic he had not ventured to assume an authority not given him; and as God had not so ordered it that a council of the whole Church had declared the papal supremacy, he could not, by his not submitting to it, be found guilty of disobeying Him.

It is also the most terrible spiritual sin we believe a Christian man can commit. For if Anglican orders and sacraments are valid, and there is no surer proof of the existence of God than there is of their validity, he denies having received Christ in the sacraments, and so perils his own soul. It is only very callow persons who are caught by the proselyter’s fallacy, "You Anglicans say we Romans can be saved, but we do not admit this about yourselves. As a matter of prudence, therefore, come with us." The answer is: Catholics believe that those born in the Roman communion and faithful to Christ can be saved, but assert that for a churchman to deny his sacraments, to desert his post, and to join Rome is to run a great risk of being lost.

Not a few who have joined Rome have felt it their duty to leave her and return. It is a hard and humiliating task to acknowledge they have made a mistake. It requires a high degree of Christian fortitude to resist the solicitations of friends and the threatenings of Roman clergy. But it is the way of duty and honor, and the only way to make reparation to our Blessed Lord.

Holding, as Anglican Catholics do, the most important position in the great conflict, they are exposed to special temptations, and none more subtle than to leave their posts. They become depressed with the outlook. They have an ideal of what the king’s daughter ought to be; and they freely criticise and find fault with their own communion as they would not that God should criticise themselves. They forget that as God bears with them, so He bears with His Church. Despondency when not occasioned by physical causes is a work of Satan. Nothing so helps it as for two sympathizing friends to talk over together the evils existing in the Church. It may be true that the general ignorance and prejudice is dismal and virulent, that the Agnostic and Erastian spirit is dominant, that Christianity is losing its hold, that the bishops are timid, that the progress of the Catholic cause is slow. There is some truth in all this, but the more of truth the more reasons for courage and hope. When Israel is in the brick kiln then cometh Moses. In the fourth watch of the night to the tired rowers cometh Jesus on the waters. "Our checks," said Dr. Pusey, "have always turned out to be our greatest blessings. Let us tarry the Lord’s leisure." Let us remember the martyrs and confessors. Let us offer the holy sacrifice and put our trust in the Lord.


Project Canterbury