Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 6),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 377-386


GOD is a Ritualist. Nature is only God thinking out loud. He speaks in the truthful precision of mathematics, as, according to the inverse square of their distances, the stellar bodies courtesy and bow to one another. He, Who is not only Beautiful but Beauty Itself, can but join in marriage together the useful and the beautiful. The same laws which make for health and life paint the sky in its sunset colors and clothe the bending grain in ripples of light.

As the All-Mighty, He loves to hide His power. Verily said the prophet: "Thou art a God that hidest Thyself." The material universe is but a valamen Domini. As Power hidden as Love, He makes Himself known. So all nature is but a symbol of Himself. If we could understand its inner meaning, the universe would be seen to be an expression of the Christian creed. He Who is the Eternal and the Ancient of Days is yet also Eternal Youth; and so all nature is full of the song of an ever enduring life. "Red in tooth and claw," her pessimistic poetic interpreter may see no sign of love in the blood stains that rest upon her; but nature cries out: "Only by pain and death do all things enter into higher life." Truth, beauty, symbolism—these are the elements of ritualism, and so God is a Ritualist.

It is a bad name, we must grant. And some of the holy orthodox may put us down as profane. For if any term has been a handy brick to throw against any newcomer, it is that of "ritualism."


"You see, sir, this dressing up of the ministers, and having candles, and marchings to and fro, and ceremonial, is entirely puerile and un-American."

"Is it, dear friend? Then how do you account for the fact that so large a number of our best business men, lawyers, and statesmen belong to the lodge or chapter or commandery, and are Knights Templars, or Odd Fellows, or Knights of Pythias, or members of some other secret order where vestments and lights and ceremonial prevail?"

The fact is that ritual is what keeps these orders alive, and is what American men very much like. This objection may be labeled the hypocritical one.

But then comes the little voice of the little man in the narrow-minded pulpit.

"My brethren, dear brethren, beware of ritualism! Whatever temptations may assail you in the midst of this naughty world, or by whatever blandishment the world with its theaters and cards and saloons and tobacco may seek to seduce you, keep away from the little church around the corner, for there they practise this deadly ritualism. It is, I grieve to say, a retrogression into medievalism."

"Is it?" was the reply made by a member of the theatrical profession. "In its work among the poor, and in its devotion, it is thunderingly like practical Christianity, and it looks more like an advance into the light."

Bishop Whipple, whose praise as a great Indian missionary is in all the churches, related that when in England he asked a Bishop who was very far from being in agreement with the Ritualists how he permitted the ceremonial of these men.

"Bishop Whipple," he replied, "those men are the only men that seem to have found out that those poor people in the slums where they live with them have souls to be saved."

It was the Ritualists who started this special work in England among the poor. Before the Salvation Army was in existence, men like Fathers Lowder and Mackonochie and others had begun this work. Since then other Ritualists, some in the garb of the Cowley Fathers, some as Sisters of charity, have gone forth from England into every foreign mission field. Persons among the highest ranks of society, both men and women, have given themselves up to this evangelizing work. Said Bishop Whipple:

"When I went to England I was as much prejudiced against these men [the Ritualists] as any one of Puritan ancestry and training could be, but their self-denying devotion in giving up wealth, social position, and life itself, with nothing to reward them in this world but sneers, rebuffs, and persecutions, led me to change my mind."

The argument against Ritualism which has had weight with some more thoughtful Christians has been that there seems to be so little of it in the Divine Master’s life. He is wrapped in such beautiful simplicity. He is one among men, and one of them. He needs no ornament of dress, no church surroundings, for the delivery of His message. He preaches from the hillside or the tossing boat, in the house as well as in the synagogue. Where do we find aught in His life of the pomp of ceremonial, the adornment of ritual, the priestly vestments, the use of lights and incense, and the glory which the Church in these ages has gathered about herself? We think the objection a fair and reasonable one, and one that should be met if possible.


The work of our Lord’s ministry was a preparatory one. He was only laying foundations. He did not declare explicitly, even to the Apostles, the fullness of His Gospel. Just when leaving them He said: "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when the Spirit of Truth shall come, He shall lead you in all truth." They are to learn of the organization of the church and its form of worship later.

So as when God of old had delivered Israel from Egypt He took Moses up into the Mount, and showed him the pattern of the heavenly worship, and it became the directory for the Jewish church, so, too, after Christ had prepared the way and His people had been led out of Judaism, God took St. John up into heaven and showed again the pattern of the heavenly worship. In this way Christ completed His teaching. This was the vision the Church had ever before her eyes, and when she was exempt from persecution, and able to act freely, she took it for her model. There upon the altar throne filled with living light, arched by the protecting rainbow of the Covenant, St. John saw the Lamb as It had been slain. He saw Christ as the high priest standing in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, clothed with His shining priestly vestment, and girt about with a golden girdle.

John saw the crowned elders of the heavenly hierarchy prostrate themselves, and cast their crowns in mystic adoration amidst the harpings and hymnings of the white-robed choirs, as they accompanied the divine liturgy with their hallelujah anthem. Such is the worship of heaven, where God is worshipped "in spirit and truth." The Christian Church led by the Spirit sought to conform her worship to it, and so it became liturgical, choral, magnifical, and ritualistic.

It was not till the convulsion of the Reformation, and the advent of the Puritan, that for our people the art of divine worship was lost. We need not cease to do justice to that movement or those noble men, while admitting that in that great convulsive struggle for what they deemed truth and freedom something of loss befell us. "We buy," said the great philosopher-statesman Burke, "our blessings at a price."

But the resurrection power that is inherent in Christianity brings on slowly but surely its promised spring. Surely we may say, as we mark the revival in all religious bodies, "the winter is over and gone, the singing of the birds has come." No true principles can die. And so to-day, not within one Christian body only, but in all, we see the stir of this new life.

The great principles of worship which God revealed in the old Testament, and which had their origin in His own nature, can never pass away. It was a worship, we know, liturgical, ceremonial, ritualistic, made glorious and beautiful with lights and incense and song. When the Divine Master came, He gave it His sanction by His own participation in it, and by no word or act did He command its repeal.


As religion is the response of man to God, and God is truth and beauty, religion has again clothed herself in her shining garments and has tried to worship God not only in holiness but in its beauty also. The dark and dour aspect of the Puritans' religion is passing away. Christians are again learning how to make their places of worship glorious temples of praise.

Our old Puritan forefathers built their meetinghouses, and so did the early Methodists and Scottish Covenanters, with studied plainness. Steeples were forbidden. Organs were regarded with displeasure. Interior decoration was out of place, as savoring of vanity. The senses were not to be gratified, that the spirit might be the more free to worship God.

But the Divine Goodness has given man a dual nature. We have bodies as well as souls. Both come from His hand who pronounced all good that He made, and we shall not worship less with the spirit in worshiping with the body also.

Those who have not studied the condition of the Church in England have scarcely any idea of the condition into which the services and church buildings had sunk in the Georgian period. No better object lesson of the wonderful transformation can be found than in the restoration of the great Cathedral of St. Paul, in London, with its glorious mosaics and great altar, with its cross, its lights, and its magnificent reredos, whereon is displayed our Lord in His triumphant offering of Himself for us on Calvary's Cross.

Every part of a ritualistic service, as it is called, is full of meaning—the altar adornments, the vestments of the clergy, the positions during the service. Nothing is done for show. We cannot now enter into these details.

One thoughtful inquiry we deem it wise to answer. Is there not danger that if we emphasize the outward too much, we may lose the inward? Is there not a danger that the soul may be so occupied with the form of worship as to forget the Blessed Being to whom it is due?

We think this objection well taken. There is this danger. There is danger in everything, for that matter; no Garden of Eden but has somewhere its serpent of temptation lurking beneath its flowers. But the answer that Gladstone made is, we think, the right one. So long as the ritual does not come in between the soul and its Maker, detain it in itself, it is not harmful, but performs its true office in aiding the soul in its communion with God.

return to Project Canterbury