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A Letter to the Hon. and Rev. George Spencer on the Oxford Movement in the United States

By Americo-Catholicus
Formerly a Member of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

New York: Casserley and Sons, 1842.

My Dear Sir,

You must know that hospitality is not given to here as at Alton Towers, or Althorp, without its sacrifices on the score, at least, of houseroom, and when I sit down to write to you, after dinner, and the more serious duties of the day over, I do so in the parlour, in the midst of a set of the sweetest children, but the noisiest! where blind-man's-buff gives place to Pont d'Avig-non, and Pont d'Avignon to Puss-in-a-corner, and fifty chances to one but their dear mother lends music to the rioters, and sends them all dancing, or rather scampering round and round the piano, till the youngest gentleman's screams for assistance to be further active, fairly force mine papa to be an involuntary sharer in the disturbance, not indeed of the King's peace or the Commonwealth's, but his own.

Not without a sigh to think how little this looks like the Royal Road, our Master and his Blessed Mother, set us the example of walking in;--in the midst of just such a scene as this, do I sit down to say to you and some others, who will feel interested in it, why I think that if there were the same religious atmosphere in the United States, that there is in England, the movement that has been begun at Oxford, would go on much faster here than there.

In the first place, in England, as an able writer in the British Critic, supposed to be Mr. Newman, says, "if he (the Episcopalian) be schismatical at present, he is so by the act of Providence." [British Critic, LIX. 124] Now in this country, perhaps, more than one-third of those who frequent the worship of that Church, have no such plea [3/4] to set up. They were not born in that communion, and they have never by any solemn act, professed their adhesion to it. They have done nothing more--they never meant to do any thing more--than make it their place of Sunday resort, paying their pew rent or their subscription, just as they would pay their portion of the salary of a Professor of Rhetoric or Philosophy for their children. And yet, these men, from the great truths, which we joyfully acknowledge, are generally taught in their pulpits, as well as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer,--these men may, by God's grace, have imbibed, like the lamented Froude, a profound admiration of the holy virtues of humility and self-denial, and learned to practice, out of true charity, some of the good works that sometimes go before prayers up to Heaven, and bring down back in mercy the faith that is THE GIFT OF GOD. Now, supposing such persons to have looked into the question of a Church or no Church, Sacraments or no Sacraments, as it seems strange any serious persons should not have done; supposing them to be convinced, as it is hard to suppose they should not be, of the necessity of Unity and Catholic Communion, what is there to keep them from choosing, since they really have their choice yet to make, what is there to keep them from choosing the Old Way instead of a New one? God in his Providence has left them free. Why should they not frankly put themselves where they would have been, but for, what the best men of the English Church themselves call, "the deplorable schism?" [British Critic, LIX. 2.] Why should they not fling from them the dictation of such men as Henry the "Caliph," and Cranmer his pander, and all the canting and recanting, sliding and backsliding tribe of Jewels and Chillingworths, and seek counsel with men, whom all call great and holy, on the other side with Pole, Fisher, and Sir Thomas More, and with the hundreds of England's worthies, who died true martyrs, because they died of goodwill, in charity and for the Truth 1 Why should they, in mere absence of mind and reason throw themselves, at this day, into a divided household and multiply the numbers of at least "apparent" schism? [4/5] Why should they by their own act, renew as it were, or even countenance the "sacrilege that assailed" every thing which was venerable and Catholic and Holy, three hundred years ago? [British Critic, LIX. 2.]

But it is not only serious persons, who are in the Episcopal Church, but not of it, that have little reason to fight against those "natural affections which would guide them to an union with Rome, the mother by whom their (father's) Spiritual infancy was nursed, the Church from which they have been most violently severed." [Ib. 142] It is not only among nominal Episcopalians, that "the persons whom they would least like to lose," [A Letter to the Rev. R. W. Jelf, D.D. &c, by G. H. Newman, B. D.] have but to yearn after the mysterious something of deep and true, towards which the age is moving, to be led to seek it where only it exists, in the HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH. [The age is moving towards something; and most unhappily the one religious communion among us, which has of late years been practically in possession of this something, is THE CHURCH OF ROME. She alone, amid all the errors and evils of her practical system, has given free scope to the feelings of awe, mystery, tenderness, reverence, devotedness, and other feelings which may be especially called Catholic."--Letter to Dr. Jelf, 27.] Persons of "Catholic minds" and "Catholic hearts" who may have been born in the American branch of the English Church, have only to listen to the able writer first quoted, to be satisfied how little sanction they have from the men of Oxford, for remaining where they are." IF our own communion were to own itself PROTESTANT,--THEN, doubtless, for a season, Catholic minds AMONG US would be unable to see their way.--Brit. Crit., LIX. 134. That communion in this country has owned itself Protestant in every public act it ever authorized. It is not here the "apparent," but the real "representative" of Protestantism,--"Protestantism IN ITS ESSENCE, and IN ALL ITS BEARINGS, CHARACTERISTICALLY THE RELIGION OF CORRUPT HUMAN NATURE."---Brit. Crit. LIX. 27. Its very title "Protestant Episcopal" is not only the hateful badge of its Un-Holy and Un-Catholic origin, but binds it up in one common cause with all that is Anti-Catholic and Anti-Christian in the civilized world. If in England that [5/6] communion's "separation from the rest of Christendom," is only a "circumstance," here it is an attribute. [Brit. Crit. LIX., 121.] If in England it is only "in fact, cut off from the whole of the Christian world," here it "glories in that excommunication" and the schism is established and proclaimed by the irrevocable decree not of the civil power, but of its own legitimate and unshackled councils. And if "the time is come in England, when so great an evil" (as actual though unauthorized and accidental isolation) "cannot stand its ground against the good feeling and common sense of religious persons," ["What can be said to explain away the note of forfeiture attaching to us from an isolated State? We are in fact, it may be objected, cut off from the whole of the Christian world; nay far from denying, in a certain sense, we glory in that excommunication, and that under a notion that we are so very pure that it must soil our fingers to touch any other Church whatever upon the earth, in north, east, or south. How is this reconcileable with St. Paul's clear announcement that there is but One Body as well as One Spirit: or our Lord's, that' by this shall ALL MEN know' as by a note obvious to the intelligence even of the illiterate and unreasoning, 'that ye are my disciples if ye have love, one to another:' or again,' his prayer that his disciples might all be one, that the world may know, that Thou, hast sent me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved me?" Visible Unity, then would seem to be both the main evidence of our religion, and the sign of our spiritual adoption; whereas we English despise the Greeks and hate the Romans, and turn our backs on the Scotch, and do but smile distantly upon the Americans. We call ourselves the Catholics, and the local Church, our Catholic Church; as if, forsooth, by thus confining it all to ourselves, we did not ipso facto forfeit for it all claim to be considered Catholic at all. "What increases the force of this argument is, that St. Augustine seems, at least at first sight, virtually to urge it against us in his controversy with the Donatists, whom he represents as condemned, simply because separate from the 'orbis terrarum,' and styles the point in question, 'quaestio facillima.' "Flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant; and we are sanguine the time is come when so great an evil as this is, cannot stand its ground against the good feeling and common sense of religious persons. ***** In a word, this isolation and our awakened claims to be Catholic and Apostolic cannot long stand together-"--Brit. Crit. LIX. 120.] surely it would look as if religious persons of that persuasion in the United States were far behind their English brethren in these two great requisites, if a communion [6/7] "rendered schismatical by formal acts," be able to stand its ground in this country. ["If, nefas dictu, our Church is by any formal acts rendered schismatical, while Greek and Roman idolatry remains not of the Church, but in it merely, denounced by councils, though admitted by authorities of the day--if our own communion were to own itself Protestant, while foreign communions still disclaimed the superstitions of which they are too tolerant,--if the profession of ancient truth were to be persecuted in our Church and its teaching forbidden,--then.doubtless, for a season Catholic minds among us would be unable to see their way. Thanks be to God, it need only be for a short season, they have only to seek it somewhere else than among themselves to be enabled to set it, at any moment. I studied that I might know this thing: it is a labour in my sight; until I go into the Sanctuary of God: * * * * As the dream of them that awake, O Lord; so is it in thy city.'"--Ps. LXXII.] It is not to be doubted, however, that there are many of them no whit behind the best even of illustrious Oxford either "in good feeling or common sense," but they are here in a double isolation: they are not only cut off from the communion of the Catholic Church, but they are without individual Christian sympathy, and it is asking too much of men in general, to ask them singly and alone to take a step which, however they see it to be right, they themselves, and all around them, have been in the habit of thinking wrong, or rather, to speak more truly, of thinking that they thought it wrong. This habit like any habit was only to be got rid of by another's taking its place, and thanks to the better spirit, which has every where grown up in religious matters, and of which Oxford seems to be the organ, it has been got rid of. The habit of thinking or speaking all manner of evil against the Catholic Church, falsely, has given place, in a manner altogether wonderful, to enquiring about the truth and acknowledging it. So the first step is already taken, and, as I have said the road to Rome for men of "Catholic minds" is greatly shortened here from what it yet is in England; that is at least for individuals, for of course the re-union of the Anglican Church with Catholic Christendom is far easier than that of the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States."

If, moreover, serious men among Episcopalians here, any more than their brethren with you, have not yet agreed, or perhaps [7/8] discovered "quae erga Deum homines agere et dicere deceat, perspicuum est et apud Deum, et apud homines sanse mentis, justitiam et prudentiam preccipue honorari. Prudentes autem et justi sunt qui sciunt, quae erga Deum et homines, agere et dicere deceat." Plato, Alc. II. (translation of Ficinus). At least they are beginning to feel it is time to make up their minds. They are quite satisfied that something more is wanted than human laws, or human respects, or "religious institutions" both for individuals and for the public in an age like this, when men whose daily bread is an accident, or perhaps an alms, affect waste and luxury, and when the intellectual, and the cultivated and the high in place and fortune, are among the foremost in vice and profligacy, and even the low crimes of forgery and theft. These men, all of them, feel the necessity for themselves, and often still more for others, of a yoke other than material or political or ad arbitrium alicujus. And no man of any mark amongst them but is ashamed of the absurdity of Private Judgment's going along with Creeds and Articles, or even moral codes; and sees, with honest indignation, the fruits of what people have been pleased to call "Evangelical doctrine." [The following honest account of what he calls, "the fatal abuse of Evangelical doctrine," is from the pen of Robert Hall, a man who in his hatred of "popery" and "all other monopolies," and his zeal for "generous competition" in religion and politics, (he calls it "the animating spirit in every profession!") thought "the battle of Waterloo had put back the clock of the world six degrees." Surely he is a fair witness of the character of the subjects of "competition" preaching--at least of that sort which is called "Evangelical" and which, be it acknowledged, is the best of all the "competition" varieties. "They are net unfrequently found to acquire a distaste for the practical parts of Scripture,--an impatience of reproof,--a dislike, in short, of every thing but what flatters them with a favourable opinion of their character and their slate. Proud, bigoted, disputatious, careless of virtue, tenacious of subtleties, their religion evaporates in opinion, and their supposed conversion is nothing more than an exchange of the vices of the brute for those of the speculator in theological difficulties."--Frag. on Village Preaching.] They may have let their wives or daughters "play the spider and weave meshes" round their outward man, but their intellect or their heart has never been "captivated" in the ill-woven web of [8/9] Protestantism; not even their honour or their pride is entangled in it. They are uncommitted, in general at least, by any act of their own, and often take little trouble to conceal even from Catholics their most reasonable want of reverence for a system of negations, a visible body, without a visible Head; Sovereignty without Unity; authority in spirituals (that is, to bind mens' consciences) with the claim even to Infallibility or indefectibility. How many a time have you and I, in our days, of what we rejoiced to call "Churchmanship," heard from men, who never doubted they were staunch Protestants, sober acknowledgments of the utter inefficiency and insufficiency of their Church, and frank, if not cordial admiration of the Sacred Majesty of the Catholic rite; of the sublime charity of the Catholic religion; of the never ending triumph of Catholic martyrs, and of the every where parent authority of the Catholic Priesthood, with its consolations and its counsels, its indulgences and its restraints! Such men, with you, may be kept where they are by hopes for their church, but there are no such hopes here, nor does the deceitfulness of such hopes blind them. Nor is it the future struggle, the horror difficultatis, the labor certaminis, that holds them back, but their spiritual as well as religious isolation, the stare super seipsum; and I verily believe there are hundreds and thousands of Episcopalians that would be glad to hear it said by all around them, "we will go into the house of the Lord." Could the religious atmosphere of Oxford be created in any Protestant community here; could the religious dispositions, which, thank God, have always existed among the female portion of the Anglo-American race, begin to exist among the male; could the men of that communion here, be led to seek the grace of devotion and to practise acts of Christianity, they would not wait for the civil power nor for their church to "return to the reverential faith of other ages--to that high, and holy, and self-denying spirit of devotion and charity, which visibly embodied itself of old in our Cathedrals and our abbeys"[Brit. Crit. LIX. 160.] of England, and to the Church which only is ever and forever [9/10] practically in possession of it," the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church of Rome. The Anglo-Americans are eminently a straightforward people;--in right or wrong, en avant is their motto, and just as soon as they become animated by Catholic feelings will they cease to be satisfied with Protestant Communions. And so far as we are concerned on this side of the Atlantic, I, for one, care not if no new work of controversy be written from this day forever. Episcopalians may use their own editions of our sweet Thomas a Kempis, (alas! that they should be so different from the true one!) they may use their own beautiful Oxford prayers for unity--and even read their own " Catholic minded" authors; I have no fear but that those, who are really ready to take up their cross and follow the Redeemer, will be led by Him to the Holy City.

And what after all is the obstacle--it would now seem the great obstacle--which excuses even the Anglican clergy from themselves leading their flocks to Rome? "Because if the note (or mark) of schism on the one hand lies against England, an antagonist disgrace lies upon Rome, the note of idolatry." [Brit. Crit. LIX. 163.] And wherein consists this idolatry? In "the modern honours" paid to the Blessed Virgin. Will you forgive me, my dear sir, if I think your learned and respected brethren of Oxford deceive themselves, if they imagine this is really all that keeps them from the Church of Rome? Idolatry is giving to creatures the worship that is due to God. Is there a Catechism to be found in the farthest corner of her Universal Empire, orbis terrarum, from that of Trent down to the humblest Bishops of our day, which does not deny and reject it with anathema? And for any honour short of what is due to God, will Mr. Newman himself refuse it to THE VIRGIN? I hardly can believe he will. As for me, O Mary, Mother of pure love, Mother of Him who only is pure Love, let my memory be torn forever from its seat when I think of JESUS and cease to think of thee; when I remember His advent, and forget the inviolate cloister that did hide Him; when I remember His nativity, and forget the Sacred [10/11] breasts that gave Him milk or the Blessed arms that folded Him; when I think of His words of life eternal, and forget her who first formed the lisping accents of that Voice Divine. Let my tongue cleave forever to my jaws, when I find words of less than adoration too high to utter in her praises, who, lovely one, was exalted, so far above the rest of all God's creatures, to the spousals of the Holy Ghost. Let my knees be frozen stiff in death, when they love not to bend in reverence and worship to the Queen Mother of my Saviour and my God.

Here is my letter, begun two evenings ago in noise and merriment and a crowd, ended in silence and solemness and alone. Our humble household have all knelt together, (not without fervent prayers for England and all where mother tongue is English,) in the little oratory, at the little altar, before our purer copy of Blessed Angelico's heavenly picture of the Annunciation. The litanies have been said and the sweet Ave, maris stella sung, and all have scattered to their quiet little chambers.--Respicit humilia--may He look down upon us all and upon this humble letter and upon those who may take the pains to read it, and if it lead one of them to say a daily prayer for Unity, or to any single act of self-denial, in imitation of our Saviour, I shall be satisfied and grateful with my reward. Commending all around me and myself who have most need, to your pious prayers,

I am with the greatest respect, my dear Sir,

most sincerely and affectionately yours,


Rure, Feast of St. Chad, 1842.

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