OUR belief in and loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ. It came into existence, not by man's devising or as a development of the social conditions of the times, but was formed by our Lord during His visible ministry, and made vital by the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. It was born on that day, complete in its organization. It had Christ for its head, the Apostolate for its ministry, the Sacraments as its means of grace, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost for its vivifying principle. Its Apostolic ministry unfolded itself into the three Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. The Holy Spirit led and guided it into all the truth which Christ had revealed. It went through the world finding its way into all nations, and gathering out of them a people chosen of God. It survived the ten persecutions of the Roman Emperors, the dissolvents of intellectual speculations and heresies; the flood of barbarism that swept away the Roman civilization; the seeming death-blow afflicted by fanatic Mohammedanism; the worse evils even, of worldliness and sensuality, in which the Western Church was sunk in the tenth century; the more injurious, but less recognized evil of centralization, which culminated in the papacy of Popes Innocent and Hildebrand in the Middle Ages; the unsettlement in men's minds caused by the discoveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the marvels of science; the boldness of modern philosophical inquiry; the intoxicating influence of the time-spirit of to-day, which forgets God in an idolatrous worship of itself. This Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Church has survived all this opposition, and is as fresh and living to-day as when it sprang into being. This is the Church which Christ loved, and for which He died, of which we are members, and to which we are loyal. What may be the condition in other religious bodies we know not. But our Clergy believe with all their hearts the creed they profess. They not only believe, but by experimental knowledge know it in every article to be true. They are prophets of the Lord. They are living organs of the Truth with which they are possessed.
Another cause of success has been, our devotion to that branch of the Catholic Church in which, by God's Providence, we have been placed. No one who knows its history can but see how God's loving Providence has watched over her. No one who has given any serious thought to the great movements in the world but can realize the great destiny and duty that lies before her. She passed through a great reformatory convulsion in the sixteenth century, and broke with the Papacy. She cast off some superstitions and reformed her discipline, but she retained her continuity. She was the same Church after the Reformation as she was before. She preserved her ancient Orders, Sacraments of Grace, and the Faith of undivided Christendom. To her, and the great principles of her reformation, we are most loyal. We have no wish to place ourselves again under the control of the Papacy. Catholic, Reformed, and Free, we have a great duty before us and especially in our own land.
As we study the history of our Church in England, we can but regret the numbers which formed themselves into sects, and went out from her. The evils of which they complained, have in the American Church been done away with. In our American Church government the Bishop is no lordly Prelate appointed by a Prime Minister, but is elected by the Clergy and the people. Her Bishops govern not autocratically but with the advice of counselors chosen by Clergy and Laity. Here the Priests, by virtue of their office, sit in Council along with the Bishop, and the Laity have their own recognized place in Conventions and Vestries. The American Catholic Church thus combines the advantages of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational systems.
In respect of its doctrine it is at once conservative and liberal. It is conservative in that it has preserved the Faith held from the beginning and is one with the undivided Church of Christendom. It is liberal, in that it leaves what does not contradict this Faith, to be matters of personal opinion. It is practical, in that it has preserved all the means of grace left by our Lord or given us by the Apostles, to make men holy. In its worship it takes for its model the worship of Heaven, where God is said to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
The Sects which once denounced her Liturgy and Christian year are now adopting it; their faces, if not their hearts, are turned to their Mother. She is large-hearted and composite in membership, knowing that all cannot receive the truth in its highest expressions, but must be led on like little children, from stage to stage. She seems to the world to be divided. But there are no factions within her threatening disruption. We are divided only as the waves are separated while one as the sea. We can but believe that God, who has so guided her and protected her, has yet a greater work for her to do. As men learn what she really stands for, they will seek her membership. In the midst of the great unsettlement of our day, and the desire for certainty and light, the cry of earnest men is "back to Jesus." But we do not have to go back to find Jesus. Jesus is with us. He dwells in His Church. What the age needs is what we have, a Living Lord in a Living Church. The Church, with its unshaken faith and its Sacramental means of holiness, is thus a city of refuge and harbor of peace.
The third and last great cause of our success, we believe, dear brethren, is your devotion to Christ as manifested in the great Sacrament of His love. Jesus visible to the Saints in Glory, is manifest to us on earth veiled in His Sacrament. Just as truly as He walked the streets of Jerusalem, or stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, so He is with us, in our midst, and on our altars. Christ with us, and Christ in us, is our battle-cry of victory.
We thank God that on so many of our altars the daily Sacrifice is offered.
To you, dear brethren, many of whom are struggling in lonely places, subject to all the trials and temptations of loneliness and desolation, Christ with you has been your strength and joy. Let none of us be faint-hearted. Let each Council time be to us a time of increasing and renewed consecration. May He who has ever been the strength of His Saints be with you, in all your labors, and crown them finally with His reward.
Under God, the three great causes of Diocesan Success, as we venture to think, have been these.