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General Convention at Cincinnati.

By Arthur Cleveland Coxe.

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV (January, 1851) pages 259-262.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


College Green, Hartford, Nov. 9, 1850.

MY DEAR SIR,--It gives me great pleasure to comply with your desire by furnishing you with some account of our General Convention, which has just adjourned at Cincinnati, after a brief session of less than a fortnight. It has been a very satisfactory council, and has demonstrated the growth of sound and Catholic principles, beyond our most sanguine anticipations. Indeed, it was feared by many that the Convention of 1850 would breed some scandal to the Church. [259/260] The experiment of a meeting west of the Alleghanies was tried for the sake of giving encouragement and strength to the vast field of Domestic Missions, to which Cincinnati is central: but it was feared that it might afford some advantages to parties disposed to agitate the Church, and that, what with the embarrassments arising from the New York case, and with the recent vexed questions with regard to Romanizing, and the like, there would be little to gratify the lovers of truth or peace, and quite as little to encourage our British brethren in their desire to see their own Synod once more permitted to legislate for their Church. However, there was much practical trust in the great Head of the Church; and I am sure there were never so many prayers, private and public, offered in behalf of any of our conventions heretofore. In many places such. prayers were offered, in churches, twice a day, where such a practice was before unknown; and richly have those prayers been heard and answered, so that it would be faithless not to recognise their effectual and prevailing utility. To all appearance our greatest difficulties have been quietly removed, and something gained in the way of positive and aggressive action.

The opening services, though conducted with great simplicity, seem to have produced a strong impression upon the western people, among whom no such sight had ever been seen before. Twenty-nine Bishops, in their robes, headed by the venerable Bishop of Illinois, now in his 76th year, and representing all parts of a country which stretches from New Brunswick to Mexico, were an apostolic company which might be expected to inspire any spectator with awe and reverence. In addition to these, there were assembled clerical delegates from twenty-nine dioceses, and lay delegates from all but three of them. One Presbyter was present from California, though not as a member of the Convention; and one of the Bishops was Bishop Southgate, lately returned from Turkey. The clerical and lay delegates constitute one House, which sits with open doors: but the House of Bishops hold strictly private sessions.

It must be confessed that our Convention, however novel its constitution, has worked admirably well. The lay element proves itself, more and more, an element of strength, of influence, and of safety. The position of Laymen in our councils has tended to produce a class of well-read, sound, and practical lay churchmen, who are always found on the side of conservatism, order, and law. Hence, when ignorant and fanatical laymen obtain a seat in Convention, they soon find their level, and are kept in check by members of their own order; while the practical and popular views of purely practical matters which the laity sometimes suggest, in connexion with sound doctrinal principles, have often been found of great benefit, and have been readily accepted by the clergy, in very embarrassing junctures. And here I would remark, in passing, that a treatise on the Canon Law of the American Church, which has just been published, and which is the work of Judge Hoffman, of New York, affords a happy testimony to the research and interest which have been inspired in many of our [260/261] laymen, by a sense of their responsible position, as liable, at any time, to be called upon to sit in council for the holy interest of the Church of GOD. It is a book which must attract the attention of the legal profession generally, and command their respect for a Church in which law is enshrined as a part of religion.

The case of the suspended Bishop of New York has been finally settled. The House of' Bishops have refused, by an overwhelming vote, to terminate the suspension: but, to relieve the diocese, a canon has been passed, allowing it to elect a provisional Bishop, and another canon permitting a suspended Bishop to resign his jurisdiction, as if he were still exercising it, his suspension to the contrary notwithstanding. This special legislation is not in itself to be praised; but the case is peculiar, and requires extraordinary remedies. The New York delegates recorded their dissent, in order to have no direct responsibility for the measures designed for the relief of their constituents, and to leave them free in accepting what others should bestow: but "the Standing Committee" of the diocese has already called a Special Convention to act under the canon, and if no further impediments are found to lie in the way, the election of the Provisional Bishop will very probably be consummated ere this comes to your hand. The suspended Bishop of Pennsylvania was also left by the Bishops under his sentence, although a petition for his partial restoration had been sent up from the Convention of his former diocese: but it is due to the Right Reverend House to say that weighty reasons prevented the exercise of mercy in this case, and that in the case of the Bishop of New York, their action is very generally sanctioned by the judgment of the Church. Still, no one can but feel a deep sympathy with the fallen prelates who once exercised so great an influence in our Ecclesiastical affairs, but who now, long before the waning of their faculties, find themselves as it were buried alive, and almost hopelessly relegated to obscurity and sorrow. Far be it from any one to add to their afflictions by a single reproach, to diminish aught from their former well-deserved reputation, or to say that their history is anything more irreconcilable with original rectitude and pious zeal, than that of too many other men who have furnished melancholy proof of human infirmity and the tempter's power, but whose failings are not unforgiven here, nor supposed too grievous for the mercy of GOD hereafter.

The most exciting business of the Convention was that which arose from a complaint from certain parties in Maryland against their Bishop, for asserting the right to celebrate and administer the HOLY EUCHARIST, at his visitation of a parish church, against the wish of the rector. So extraordinary a complaint was the occasion of a very full expression of sound views as to the sacerdotal and apostolic powers of a Bishop, and resulted in the enactment of a declaratory canon, by which a Bishop will be relieved hereafter from all possibility of hindrance in the praiseworthy performance of so solemn and edifying a part of his sacred duties to his flock. It is but justice to those who supported the complaint to say that, with one or two absurd [261/262] exceptions, they pressed their opinions with courtesy, and submitted with good grace to their signal defeat. Indeed, they professed the warmest attachment to the Prayer Book, just as it is, throughout, and a not less hearty acquiescence in the law of the Church, when once settled and defined.

You will regret to hear, what I blush to record, that our Mission to Constantinople is at an end. Bishop Southgate has resigned, and will go to California, as our first Bishop on the Pacific coast. But I count it a great pity that his oriental attainments should be lost to the Missionary work, and that the Eastern Church should be abandoned to the assaults of Romish and Dissenting emissaries, without any substantial sympathy from Catholics of a pure faith, and a primitive worship. Either in founding this Mission there was a rash and faulty inconsiderateness, or its destruction is a sin for which somebody is to blame. It may be hard to say where the blame should be charged, but for one, I feel that the work undertaken was like that to which Paul and Barnabas were separated by the HOLY GHOST, and which, through many trials, they were enabled to perform.

Great efforts have been made to induce some competent Presbyter to undertake the apostolic work in Africa, as our Missionary Bishop of Liberia, or Cape Palmas; but those to whom the eyes of the Church have naturally turned have been unable or unwilling to encounter the climate, or to leave their present posts. I am happy to say that the present Convention have determined to defer no longer to give the African Mission a Bishop, and have designated the oldest resident Missionary for that office. The Rev. John Payne is therefore the Bishop-Designate, and will probably soon arrive in this country to receive consecration. As the government are about to establish a line of steamers between America and Liberia, and as the emigration of our coloured population will soon begin to be extensive, there is great probability that the new Bishop will find his Mission increasing every day in importance, and if it please GOD, in prosperity and success.

I rejoice to add that the House of Bishops, with only one dissenting voice, have appointed a Committee, consisting of five of their number, with the Bishop of Connecticut as chairman, to devise a plan, " by which, consistently with the principles of our reformed faith, the services of intelligent and pious persons, of both sexes, may be secured in the education of the young, the relief of the sick and destitute, the care of orphans and friendless immigrants, and the reformation of the vicious." An important step has also been taken towards the division of our immense dioceses, and for the increase of our Bishops, in some degree proportionate to the growth and the necessities of our vast country. In these latter movements I see the beginnings of a noble aggression, in the Missionary spirit which has too little characterised our councils heretofore. Remember in your prayers the Catholic and Apostolic Church in America, that her light may no longer be hid under a bushel by the unbelief and timidity of those who are commanded to let their light shine before men. A. C. C.

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