The Council of the American Church Union, in making their Report to the meeting of the Union, assembled so soon after the adjournment of the General Convention of the Church, feel that they are called upon to enter upon a review of the proceedings of that body, especially with reference to the bearing of its action upon the principles and interests which the Union is established to maintain and defend.
Before proceeding to remark upon the action of the Convention with respect to matters of controversy within the Church, the Council would advert to the practical work accomplished in the amendment of the Constitution and Canons. So far as the Council are able to discover, these amendments are all of them such as may under GOD'S blessing tend to increase the efficiency of the Church's organization, and to promote the dissemination of her principles. A Constitutional amendment, nor finally adopted, removes some of the restrictions which formerly hindered the increase of the Episcopate and the division of Dioceses, substituting for those restrictions the requirement of some provision for the support of the Bishop. Though the Council would not be understood as giving their entire approval to this latter clause of the amendment, which seems to bring into undue prominence the merely financial considerations pertaining to the division of the Dioceses, they feel that the Union is to be heartily congratulated upon the prospect of a wise development of the Episcopate. The condition just referred to may possibly embarrass some project for the division of a Diocese, under circumstances which make such a division really necessary; but its ordinary effect will be the prevention of ill-considered action, to be followed by unavailing regrets. Nor can the Council fail to remark that Diocese unprovided with funds for the support of their necessary institutions, the Episcopate, Missions, Schools, etc., are peculiarly liable to become the prey of persons, who, refusing to expend their money in sustaining the regular work of the Church, are ever ready to use it in the interest of a party. The increasing opportunities for Church extension are constantly calling for new means of Missionary work; and it is most gratifying to see that the General Convention is ever ready to devise such means. The Dioceses of Texas and California, each finding its field entirely too large for the supervision of one Bishop, applied to have their boundaries reduced, so that the district set off might become distinctly Missionary ground; and though this could not be accomplished, under the present Constitution, an amendment to legalize it is proposed for adoption in 1874, and meanwhile, obviously as a temporary measure, Assistant-Bishops are to be authorized to supply the pressing needs of the Episcopal ministry and supervision. In connection with this, the Council call attention to the great development of the Missionary spirit in the Church, as shown at the late meetings of the Board of Missions and of the General Convention, more especially in regard to the Indian tribes and to the colored people at the South.
The importance of lay co-operation, through organizations for special work, whether in the education of the young, or in charitable ministrations to the poor, the sick and the erring, or in the more ordinary routine of the Church's duty to her children, seems now, more than ever before, to be recognized. Not only have Sisterhoods to a great extent overcome the suspicion with which at one time they were regarded, but there are signs that men also are to have their services accepted, even if not called by God to the sacred Ministry; and the Council are informed that, chiefly through the influence of the Rev. Dr. Craik, provision is now made by Canon for the employment of Readers, somewhat was in the Church of England during the past few years, to supplement the Ministry of the Clergy, and make up to some extent for the lamentable deficiency in their numbers.
But the work for which, probably more than for any other, the Convention of 1871 will be remembered, is the thorough revision of the Canons upon Theological Education. Without entering into greater detail than would be possible in this Report, the Council can only state that the effect of the new system must be not only to raise the ordinary standard of requirement for admission to the Ministry, but to render it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for unqualified persons, even in exceptional cases, to be advanced to the Priesthood. The Council are persuaded that the Union have cause to rejoice in this, independently of the general considerations which must be at once apparent--the greater dignity and efficiency in all departments of Church work of a trained and educated Ministry must give the Church in her continual controversies with the ablest minds, whether on the side of Rationalism or of Romanism, and the edification of our people in the faith once delivered to the Saints. Beside these, the Council apprehend that sound Theological Education is one of the most powerful friends of those principles which the Union is more especially organized to maintain. No earnest Churchman, familiar with the controversies of the day, can, it is thought, have omitted to notice that ignorance, and its twin-brother, prejudice, are the chief opponents which obstruct the progress of Church principles on every side. Were it not for these, it would seem hardly possible for doctrines held and taught by a long series of honoured divines in our own and our Mother Church ever since the Reformation, to be confounded with those against which that Reformation was a protest--or for practice that can be traced to the Primitive Church to be charged with symbolizing doctrines, the conclusive proof of whose falsity is to be found in their having been first heard of in later times. The Council firmly believe that the greater number who now oppose the Church's distinctive principles would be converted into earnest advocates of them, if they were thoroughly learned in theology and Church history; and they would therefore impress upon the members of the Union the duty of doing everything in their power to promote the cause of education for the Holy Ministry.
Several other matters connected with the legislation of the Church might worthily occupy the attention of the Union, such as that Canon which opens the door of hope to erring brethren who have been deposed from the Ministry, and that which provides a regular and judicial tribunal for determining differences between Ministers and Congregations; but the Council will not do more than mention these as the most important. The adoption by the Convention of a new Hymnal for the use of the Church, and the withdrawal of the authority formerly given to the Bishops to license in their respective Dioceses hymns from the collections known as Hymns Ancient and Modern and Hymns for Church and Home, seem to demand more extended remark; and the Council regret to say that there seems to have been in this action a departure from the policy for which the Convention was otherwise distinguished, of giving increased facilities for the practical work of the Church. It is certainly very difficult to see why, except upon the most narrow principles hymns used during the past few years by tens of thousands of our people in hundreds of churches, and found to promote true devotion and the heartiness of our worship, should not be retained in the new Hymnal. This, the Council regret to say, is the fact; and they cannot find that in the hymns now for the first time introduced there is any compensation for the loss, while some of them are wholly unsuited to be used in our churches under the sanction of the General Convention. At the same time, the Council gratefully recognize the advance made in the new Hymnal over that which has been for many years ordinarily used; and they would not be understood as expressing any opinion as to the lawfulness or expediency of continuing to use Hymns Ancient and Modern. No action upon the subject is recommended to the Union; but the Council are satisfied that individual members may be most usefully employed in preparing, before the next General Convention, suggestions for the improvement of the Hymnal, and educating the mind of the Church to adopt them.
The Council have now to refer to the movements, so carefully prepared before the late Convention, to secure changes in the Prayer Book and in the system of the Church, such as the Union would have been bound to resist with all its power, if they had been at all likely to succeed. It will be remembered that, about two years ago, nine Bishops united in an appeal to their brethren in the Episcopate for the liberty to use "alternative phrases" in the Office for Infant Baptism. Disaffected persons were thus encouraged to hope that the Convention of 1871 would so far yield to their demands as to weaken the witness of the Church to her faith in the "One Baptism for the Remission of sins." Certain newspapers have for three years kept us a continual cry for changes in the Prayer Book and in the Canons, to favour the views of that section in the Church which repudiates her plain principles; and several Memorials--some of them asking plainly for radical changes in the Prayer Book or in the Canon regulating its use, and for the removal of the barriers which keep dissenting ministers from officiating in our churches, and some of them, while really intended to accomplish the same object, so carefully drawn as to tempt conservative but unwary Churchmen to sign them--have recently been circulated far and wide throughout the Church. In the presence of this apparently formidable organization to subvert Church principles, the Council felt that the true strength of the American Church Union was in quietness and confidence. They have, therefore, presented no counter-petitions or remonstrances, and sanctioned no publications to counteract the influence of the movement. They felt that the mind of the Church was too firmly settled in regard to these matters for any danger of radical change, and that active opposition would only give an undue importance to a party, whose impotence could best be demonstrated by the result of its labors. As the Council look back to the Convention now past, they find the policy of the Union abundantly justified. A declaration has, indeed, been put forth by the Bishops; but it may at least be doubted whether the proposition which it denies has ever been affirmed--the Council will not say by any theologian of our communion, but by any person whatever, with the exception of those who have at the same time assailed the Church's teaching. The unanimity of the declaration, securing the assent of Bishops known to hold the highest views of the Sacramental teaching of the Church, is the answer to any possible charge that it involves a surrender or compromise of the truth. Such a charge, the Council are aware, is likely to be made by two parties, not for the first time united in an attack upon the true principles of the Church; but the Council, while not called upon to consider the policy of making such declarations, are confident that the position of the Church, with respect to the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, is as secure as ever before against the attack of Romanists or other opponents. The concession, if it may be so called--this denial of that which was never affirmed--is the sum total of the result of all the agitation for revision and liberty during the last three years. The Memorials which had been so laboriously circulated were indeed presented; but the Council are informed that the venerable Prelate to whom they were intrusted in the House of Bishops did not even cause them to be read or deferred, but moved that they should be laid upon the table. In the Lower House, the Committee on the Prayer Book reported that it was inexpedient to grant their prayer; and so without debate, and it would seem without regret, they were consigned to their tomb in the archives of the Convention. They are not even to be printed in the Journal. Thus ends the story of the great agitation to break down the principles of the Church's Ministry and Liturgy. The Council feel that there is in it abundant cause to thank GOD and take courage. For the future they are of opinion that the Union will find it necessary to keep a careful watch upon those whose efforts have thus been met; and they are confirmed in their conviction of the importance of the organization, which, even by the fact of its existence, ready to act at any critical moment, exercises no inconsiderable influence for good. The policy of the Union is not to keep itself before the public by unnecessary protestations, but quietly to watch for the time when it may be necessary to act.
The next subject to which the Council would refer is that of Ritual, and they feel that the Church may heartily congratulate herself upon the failure of all attempts to restrain her liberty in this respect. The Council do not wish to be understood as opposed to well-considered, liberal and fair legislation to produce greater uniformity; but, on the one hand, they conceive that the present is by no means a fit time for permanent and decisive action, and, on the other, they are admonished, by the history of the English Church, of the danger which attends any Act of Uniformity. The view which the Council hold is one in the correctness of which they are confirmed by the expressions used in the Resolution finally adopted by both Houses and in the Pastoral Letter. "Ritualism is mainly a question of taste, temperament and constitution, until it becomes an expression of doctrine." As such, since the tastes, temperaments and constitutions of men cannot be reduced to uniformity by any known process (though, as in the Roman Church, which the Council do not regard as a model to be imitated, they may be rigidly expressed), Ritual is only to be condemned when it expresses a false doctrine; and this the Convention, in common, the Council are assured, with every member of the Union, "decidedly condemns."
The Council proceed in conclusion to remark upon the Pastoral Letter; and they do so with profound reverence and submission. As connected with what has just been said, they would first direct the attention of the Union to the passage of which the first words have already been quoted. It is there said that the objectionable doctrine expressed by certain Ritualism is that of the adoration of the elements in the Holy Eucharist. The Council are quite aware that the passage in question may be claimed (on both sides, as they have already remarked in regard to the declaration on the force of the word regenerate) as a condemnation of the adoration of our Blessed LORD as spiritually present in the Eucharist; but the Council, after carefully perusing the paragraph in question consider themselves amply justified in re-assuring the members of the Union upon this point. The "awful error" spoken of is the adoration of "the elements themselves;" and Ritual acts intended to set forth the doctrine of Eucharistic adoration, in the sense which implies no such error, are only discouraged on account of their being liable to misconstruction. Otherwise the Bishops would, to adopt the language of Sir R. J. Phillimore in pronouncing the judgment of the highest Ecclesiastical Court in England, have "passed sentence upon a long roll of illustrious divines, from Ridley to Keble--from the divine whose martyrdom the Cross at Oxford commemorates, to the divine in whose honour that University has just founded her latest College."
If the Council are correct in the view which they have taken of this part of the Pastoral Letter, we have in this only one of those cautions which it seems to be the peculiar province of the Bishops to address to the Church, and which should certainly be reverently heeded, even if the danger to which they are directed be not apparently very formidable. The same remark applies to what is said in the Pastoral of the supposed tendency to Saint-worship and to the undue use of Confession. While the Council are not advised of any Ritual or teaching by any of the members of the Union, which would have been interfered with by the passage of either of the Canons adopted by the House of Bishops, or which would be condemned by the Pastoral Letter, they deem it their duty to call upon all whom they may influence to consider, whether, at least, they may not have caused their good to be evil spoken by unwise acts or words, and they appeal most strongly to all their members to avoid such for the future. The Council might be considered as exceeding their office if they were to express any opinion on controverted questions of doctrine; but they cannot refrain from the suggestion that since the kneeling prescribed by the Rubric, and recommended by the House of Bishops to be the posture of those not necessarily occupied during the Communion of the people, it is a sufficient expression of adoration to our dear Lord, more pronounced devotion, if liable to be misinterpreted to His dishonour, may well be refrained from. And as regards all matters of Ritual, the Council confidently hope that such a prudent and conciliatory course may be adopted as to disarm those who would attack Church principles through their outward expression, "to cut off occasion from such as seek occasion," "that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of us."
But in conclusion, the Council feel that they and the Union have abundant cause for thankfulness and satisfaction in the positive teaching of the Pastoral, reaffirming the teaching of our Book of Common Prayer, upon points where some have attempted to obscure it. We are taught indeed no new doctrine, but in times of conflict there is need that the trumpet be blown, and with no uncertain sound. If there be, perhaps, some appearance of weakness on the side where the Bishops conceive that there is danger of attack, there is certainly no such appearance on that side where they lead forth the Church to battle. We are taught to regard baptized children as taken up into the arms of CHRIST, and made GOD'S own children by adoption and grace, and heirs of GOD, to be trained and educated as such. "The spiritual Presence of our dear LORD in the Holy Communion" is fully recognized, and the objects of that Sacrament are declared to be "first, the memorial before God of the One Sacrifice for sins forever; and secondly, the strengthening and refreshing the souls of the faithful." The very inadequate conception of the Eucharist, simply as a means of keeping the sufferings and death of Christ in remembrance among His people, is thus put entirely out of view.
Nor do the Council fail to observe a similar distinctness of positive teaching in regard to private Confession; and they hope that the teaching of the Pastoral Letter may have the effect of quieting the minds of those good people, who have been afraid of the very name. We are taught that "whenever a human soul is possessed of a searching and sincere repentance, and a longing after a deeper spiritual life, there come also with these things a keener sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and a desire for an authoritative assurance of forgiveness." The Church, we are further told, "permits and offers to her children the opening of their griefs n private to some Minister of GOD'S word." She "offers and commends this privilege to those of her children who cannot quiet their own consciences by self-examination, and immediate confession to GOD, with faith in CHRIST, repentance and restitution." Though such words are much the same as those contained in the Prayer Book, the Council trust that they may fall upon some ears with renewed force; and they feel themselves fully justified, while they urge dutiful submission to the warnings of our Fathers in GOD, in dwelling with peculiar emphasis upon their positive teaching, which proves that they and the body of Churchmen belonging to our Union are one in all great principles of Christian doctrine.
Such godly union and concord as the Council feel that it is the duty of all Churchmen, as it is also a great object of our Society, to strive for, by the firm, uncompromising and yet kind and conciliatory assertion of the distinctive principles of the Church;' and the Convention just closed, notwithstanding all the warmth of its debates, and the wide differences of opinions which existed in it, cannot, the Council think, but strengthen our faith in its final attainment. The meeting together in one Council and round one Altar of the all the Bishop from every part of our land, with the Bishops of Lichfield and of Nassau, worthy representatives of the English and of the Colonial Episcopate, with so many of the Clergy of the same Church, and the clerical and lay deputies from all the forty Dioceses of our whole country, including not a few of the members of this Union, is the visible demonstration of the greatness and unity of our Church, and the assurance that by faith and charity, by each one doing his part in the great work committed to us by GOD, firmly maintaining the truth, manfully battling against sin, denying self for CHRIST, forbearing one another in love, and submitting ourselves to the law of the Church, and to the wise counsels of those set over us in the Lord, we may prosper as we have not before, and eventually secure the triumph, in the Church and Nation, of those principles which we believe to be Scriptural, Primitive and Catholic.
By Order of the Council,
S. R. JOHNSON, D.D.
NEW YORK, November 9th, 1871.