The Writer deems it proper, on account of others, to state, that although he hap reason to believe the views presented in the following pages will coincide with the feelings of a large number of those who have heretofore supported the Bishop, yet that none but himself and one or two friends among the laity, with whom he has consulted, are in any degree responsible, directly or indirectly, for those views, or for the publication of them.
WHAT OUGHT THE DIOCESE TO DO!
The excitement growing out of the conviction and sentence of our Bishop is at length beginning to subside; and as we recover from the shock occasioned by that event, and begin to contemplate the consequences resulting from it, the question, what action, if, any, ought our Diocese to take in the case? forces itself upon the attention of every Churchman.
The practical answer we shall give to this question, involves such momentous consequences to the welfare of our Church, that it becomes us, not only to give it our most serious and dispassionate consideration, but to implore that Divine guidance which alone can lead us in the path of true wisdom. The course we shall take, will go far to decide the practical worth and influence of the Church principles, for which our diocese has long been honourably distinguished. Thus far our path has been free from serious difficulties. Our Church has hitherto gone steadily on, strengthening and expanding itself--and so comparatively peaceful have been her courts, that numbers who heeded little her apostolic ministry and sacramental privileges, have gladly sought retreat within the fallowed precincts of her stable and well-ordered system, from the dissensions that raged around her. But times have changed: and we have now a sadder, but a not less imperative duty to [3/4] perform, in showing forth the working of our principles in times of trouble and humiliation: in showing, how we, who in times past have striven so earnestly and successfully to inculcate reverence and submission to constituted authority, will demean ourselves, when that authority has laid the heavy hand of discipline upon us. Our bearing and conduct in the present crisis will be looked to, not only by those without, but by numbers within our Church, as showing the legitimate operation of her principles, and may thus tell, for weal or for wo, upon her interests, long after we shall have been called from her visible communion.
The question which our course will determine, is of far greater magnitude than that, of how or by whom the episcopal functions shall, for a time, be administered in our diocese: it will determine whether our principles are to be relied upon in times of difficulty and peril; or whether they are only fair weather guides who disappear and desert us when storms and dangers thicken around us.
Divesting ourselves then, as much as we can, of all personal and party sympathies, it seems fitting, that we should look at the subject simply in reference to our duty as Churchmen, seeking only, with a reverent and filial spirit, to know and to do, that which duty to our spiritual mother demands at our hands.
Our first and most obvious duty in this respect, is to submit ourselves implicitly to her authority. To what good end are her tribunals appointed, if, when, they have decided, each one of us is to raise his voice in approval or censure, alike presumptuous, of their decision. If such a spirit be subversive of good order and of the supremacy of law in civil society, much more is it inconsistent with the duty we owe to that divinely-appointed polity--that holy catholic Church of which we are members, and in which we are accustomed solemnly to profess our beliefs.
 In view then of the case of our Bishop, we think that for all purposes of ecclesiastical action we have no judgment to form--no opinion to express. Our Church has not committed to us this duty, and we may well be thankful that so weighty a responsibility has been withheld from us. She has entrusted it to a tribunal which in her wisdom she deemed best fitted to discharge it. Whether that tribunal has judged rightly in the matter--whether it has so ministered discipline, as not to have forgotten mercy, it is not for us to say. It is and should be enough for us, that our Church through her appointed organ has spoken: and it is our part reverently to receive and submit to her judgment. But it has been said, that the publication of the proceedings, by the authority of the court, necessarily implied that we should examine and form our own judgments in relation to the case. If by this is meant, a judgment which is to form the basis of any ecclesiastical action, we cannot concur in this opinion. We cannot believe, that the publication of a case necessarily constitutes each one who may read it, a tribunal to re-judge the matter for himself. Whether upon the whole, it was expedient for so grave and venerable a tribunal to subject its proceedings and its solemn judgments to popular examination and discussion, was questioned by many of its wisest and purest members; but that it has seen fit to do so, can certainly take from its decision no whit of its binding force and obligation on the consciences of Churchmen, any more than the publicity of the proceedings of our civil courts and the regular publication of their judgments, detract from the respect and submission which they exact from every good citizen. As individuals, we may read the case and rightfully say, that we would or would not have come to the same conclusion as did the court, but in the discharge of all such duties as may devolve upon us in relation to the affairs of our Church, the case is [5/6] decided for us--it is res adjudicata--and it is our duty to receive and faithfully carry out the decision, as one coming to us with the most solemn sanctions of the Church.
But some say they conscientiously believe that judgment to be an erroneous one, and our Bishop guiltless of the offences of which he has been convicted; and sincerely believing so, they cannot submit to seeing him wrongfully sacrificed. We answer, that our duty to the Church, to the maintenance of her lawful authority, is paramount to the claims of our suffering Bishop, and that even now in his affliction, it is not the least of his many claims upon the sympathy of Churchmen, that the great principle of respect and submission to authority ever found in him a fearless and efficient supporter. Be his condemnation right or wrong, the responsibility of it rests not upon us. Happily for us, it has been placed elsewhere, and where our Church has placed it, there let it remain. If it be a wrong judgment, God in his good providence can overrule all to the good of his suffering servants and the welfare of his Church. At all events, let us not be tempted aside from the path of our own duty, remembering always that to submit patiently, even to what we may think wrong, may not only be the bounden duty, but is often the best service a Christian can be called to perform. Earnestly then do we call upon all those who value the great conservative and catholic principles of our Church, to remember how much the cause of those principles may be jeoparded, by any inconsiderate or unworthy step on the part of those who profess them. Now is the time, when we may show with what reality we hold and with what faithfulness we can practise them--and how far our love and submission to them can exalt us above the influence of private sympathies and other special attachments; and thus perhaps, even in our sorrow and humiliation, we maybe the [6/7] humble instruments of bringing new strength and honour to our afflicted Church--and what we sow in tears we may yet reap in joy.
It may however be well to consider more explicitly, what we mean by submitting ourselves to the authority and judgment of our Church, and what is practically involved in so doing. We mean in the first place, that we should receive and carry out its judgment according to its fair scope and intent, and that too, from a spirit of Christian obedience merely, and without reference to our own notions of its propriety. To do otherwise--to carry it out so far only as it happens to coincide with our own views, is, as much as in us lies, to nullify it, and to fail in due support of its authority. It is for courts and similar bodies only to construe it in the light of the technical rules and limitations; but for us to seek to evade its broad, obvious meaning and effect, or by nice distinctions to cripple and limit its operation, is to manifest an un-filial and unsubmissive, spirit, that needs only the power, to rise in open defiance and rebellion. This then we mean by submitting ourselves to the judgment our of Church,--that we should as a matter of conscience, receive and construe its decisions, when they conflict with our own judgment and1 wishes, in the same respectful and obedient spirit as if they met our approval.
Another thing implied in submission to our Church is, that we abstain from all uncharitable judgments and harsh censures of the motives and conduct of those who are set over us as spiritual fathers. Differing as many of us do, most widely from the theological views of some of the members of that right reverend body, let us remember, that if it is always a perilous thing for a Christian to judge the hearts of his fellow-men, much more so is it for him to impute corrupt or unworthy motives-of official action to those whom his Church has placed in the highest [7/8] and most solemn trusts. All the calamities which have befallen us would be light compared with the ruinous one of having public confidence in the integrity of our bench of Bishops impaired.
But still the question recurs:--What shall we do? Shall we suffer our Diocese to remain indefinitely in its present state, deprived as it is of episcopal supervision and ministrations? We answer, that duty is ever before privilege. Important as we esteem the privileges of which we are deprived, better, far better, would it be to remain as we are, than that in an effort to regain them, we should at once violate our own principles and assail the authority of our Church.
Much of the embarrassment which has attended this subject, results from indistinct conceptions of the nature and extent of our responsibility. It seems to be assumed that whenever an evil exists, the duty of endeavouring to remedy it is immediately imposed upon those who may be affected by it. Now there may be grievous evils which we may be called to endure, but for the existence and for the removal of which we are in nowise answerable: and such we think is the deprivation of episcopal services, which our diocese now suffers. The responsibility of the sentence which has withdrawn these privileges from us, rests with the court, not with us--and it is quite as much as we can do to discharge the duties which God in his good providence has imposed upon us, without assuming the responsibility of those which have been committed to others. It may seem ruinous to the hopes and prosperity of the Church in our Diocese that things should continue as they now are. Be it so. We are not answerable for the consequences of events over which we have had no control. But we are answerable for our own conduct; and if these consequences were tenfold more disastrous than they are, it would be no reason why we should break through a single principle of duty to prevent them. No good [8/9] is so important, and no evil so pernicious, as to warrant us in trampling down the intervening barriers of clear and well-ascertained principles in order to attain the one or avert the other. Let us only be content to do our own immediate duties in a right spirit, and we may trust that in good time a way of relief will be opened to us.
We have thus indicated the leading principles by which we think our course should be governed. It may now be proper to consider some of the specific modes of relief which have been proposed. One mode suggested is, that proper steps should be taken to bring about the restoration of the Bishop; the other, to obtain his resignation. To both of these propositions, so far as they are to be the result of any action for the purpose, on the part of this Diocese, there are grave objections.
As to the former proposition, the objections to it are manifold, and, we think, insurmountable. In the first place, the Bishop has never admitted his guilt, and so long as he maintains this attitude, unless the Church become satisfied that her judgment was erroneous and reverses it, he must be regarded in her sight as an impenitent offender. If he be conscious of no guilt, far be it from us to say that he ought to make such an admission: but we do say, that the Church cannot, without forfeiture of all claims to self-respect, restore one who refuses to acknowledge the justice of her decision. No true Churchman, whatever might be his regard for the Bishop, would wish to see him rise by the humiliation of the Church.
The standing committee of the Diocese, having come to the conclusion, in accordance with the very learned and able report made to them by a committee of their body, that the sentence of the Bishop is voidable by reason of its indeterminateness, a suggestion has been made, that, "should our next Diocesan Convention, by a strong vote declare the sentence null and void, [9/10] there can be little doubt that the declaration would be approved by the next General Convention." We hope no such measure will be proposed in our Diocesan Convention. It is not claimed that it has any judicial or legislative power to construe or modify the judgment of a court constituted and acting exclusively under the canons of the General Convention. Why then should it assume to declare its judgment of a case which does not properly come within its jurisdiction. Such a declaration, uttered two years in advance of the meeting of the body which it was intended to influence, would place us in the very questionable position of volunteering a solemn judgment in a case, where we were not prepared to assert our light to judge; and where at all events,' we did not propose to act in accordance with our judgment when given. Powerless as it would be for any immediate good, it would not be so for evil. It would be regarded as an assumption on the part of our Diocesan Convention of powers which did not belong to it and inconsistent with the respect due to the court which pronounced the sentence, and to the General Convention, upon whom, in the absence of any other authorized body, it is presumed, the power of giving a construction in cases arising under its own canons, must devolve.
But our main objection to any step on the part of the Diocese to reinstate the Bishop is, that we believe the true interests of the Diocese will not permit it. We say this with unaffected reluctance. If we know our own heart, we would not willingly add a feather to the weight which is already pressing him to the very dust. Stricken and suffering as he is, it is as far from our duty as it is from our inclination, to utter a word which would swell the tide of condemnation against which he is struggling. In saying then, that we believe the interests of our Diocese will not permit us to make any effort for his restoration, we speak of [10/11] a fact which we would fain doubt, if we could. Whatever we may individually think of the case, we cannot conceal from ourselves the fact of the generally unfavourable impression in relation to the Bishop which the trial and conviction have produced; and in considering what the welfare of our Diocese demands at our hands, we are bound, whatever may be our private opinion of the case, not to lose sight of so important an element, as the state of the public mind. The Question whether we shall use our best efforts to save him from conviction, is one thing--the question whether, having been convicted, we should endeavour to restore to him his official functions, is another--a very different thing. It is our undoubted duty to any friend, and much more to one who to personal adds the highest official claims upon our regard and confidence--that we should do all in our power to save him from the consequences of charges which we believe unjust; but when our exertions have proved unavailing, it by no means follows, even if we adhere to our private opinion of his innocence, that we are called upon to take active measures to reinstate him in the office of which conviction has deprived him. However he may still stand in the eye of friendship, his position is essentially and irretrievably altered in the eye of the world. Be he in truth guilty or innocent, so long as his conviction remains unreversed upon the merits and by authority as high as that which pronounced it, he cannot bring back to the office that weight of character upon which his usefulness in it must depend. Public confidence is essential to the beneficial exercise, of his official functions, and when this confidence has once been impaired, it is not easy to restore it. Indeed, if we mistake not the heart of the man, it would be little kindness to the Bishop himself to recal him to the exercise of his episcopal duties, if we could not bring back to him the old confidence and affection which [11/12] in times past ever greeted his appearance among his people.
Under all the circumstances, is not the question of restoration then, so far as respects the propriety of our adopting positive measures to bring it about, the same as if it were one of original selection? Are we not bound in the same degree, to take into view the probable acceptableness of the candidate to the people over whom he is to preside; whether he has been discreet in his walk and conversation; whether rumour has been busy with his character; and finally all those other numberless circumstances which may affect his usefulness in the station to which he is to be called. We wish to be distinctly understood that we are speaking only of the propriety of positive action on our part in the matter but we cannot see how we can consistently with our duty to the interests of our Diocese, call upon the authorities of the Church to restore powers to hands to which we could not have prudently advised them to commit them, if the commission were an original one.
As to the proposal that the Bishop should be requested by the convention to resign, we think it objectionable upon the same grounds as some of the other propositions above referred to: namely, that it is calling upon the Convention to transcend the line of its duty. There is no little danger in these days, of forgetting that although the candidate for the episcopate is designated by diocesan election, his episcopal powers are not derived from, nor are they held at the mere pleasure of the Convention. In our desire to free ourselves from our present embarrassments we must not forget what is due to the episcopal office. Nor should the Convention for its own sake put itself in the position of claiming what it has no right to enforce. If the Bishop be conscious of guilt and yet persists, as he does, in asserting his innocence, we could hardly expect that such a man would make so [12/13] great a personal sacrifice--one that must consign him to poverty and obscurity, out of mere regard to the welfare of his Diocese. If on the other hand, he be an innocent man, it is asking no slight thing to request him to aggravate his sentence by voluntarily adding the last and weightiest measure of severity, which even his judges saw fit to spare him.
It is not to be denied, that this voluntary resignation would under all circumstances, be highly desirable, as at once relieving the Diocese from the embarrassments of its present position. But it is a measure of relief, which must come, if it come at all, from the voluntary act of the Bishop himself. It must be for his judgment, to weigh all the considerations of the case, and for his conscience to determine whether the present state of things shall continue or whether they shall be terminated by such a personal sacrifice, on his part, for the good of his Diocese. One thing we may be permitted to say. To those who have hitherto sustained him, and whose confidence in him is still unimpaired, such an act would be additional assurance, that they had only deemed rightly of his disinterested and self-sacrificing devotion to the welfare of his Diocese. To those who have judged him more severely, it would at least show, that the spirit which could dictate such an offering to the peace of the Church, whatever may have been its frailties, must have been nourished by graces not of this world.
If we are right in the views we have thus submitted to the consideration of our fellow Churchmen, it would seem, that there is more danger of lasting prejudice to the interests of our Diocese, from our losing sight of the great principles which lie at the base of our whole Church system, than from a deprivation, which at worst can be but temporary, of our Episcopal privileges. We, therefore, submit, whether, if no resignation or other material change should take place, in relation to our Episcopate, before the [13/14] meeting of our next Diocesan Convention, it would not be the best policy, for that body to restrict its action simply to making such provisions as are indispensable for the administration of the current business of the Diocese? Much as the present state of things is to be lamented, still, as we had no power to prevent, and have rightfully none to remedy, does it not indicate that our course is patiently to endure it: content to do the duty that is before us, under the disabilities to which we have been subjected, until those disabilities can be rightfully removed, whenever and however that may be.
One measure has been suggested, to which we perceive no objection. It is, that our Diocesan Convention which will be held in September, 1847, immediately previous to the meeting of the General Convention, should, in case no previous disposition of the matter is made, respectfully submit the whole matter to that body, as to a council of the Church, for its advice and for such remedial action in the premises, as in its wisdom it may deem the case to require.
We are aware how large a demand the course we have thus indicated will make upon our patience and self-denial. But we must bear in mind, that we are members of a body whose principles and objects are of no temporary character--that while the trials under which we labour, are of necessity but for a season, and may be terminated, in some unforeseen way, at any moment, should such be the will of Providence; any inconsiderate step, any departure from duty or sound principle, may be a lasting blow to that catholic and apostolic Church which hath nurtured us in her bosom and has the best claims to our love and reverence, and if need be, to our services also. Whatever claims others may have upon us, our allegiance to her is paramount. Ever watchful should we be, to guard her interests--to serve her in such [14/15] way as to her, not to ourselves, may seem best-mindful, too, that the best services are not always active ones, and that
"God doth not need
Either man's work, or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve, who only stand and wait."