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The Second Annual Catholic Congress: Essays and Papers

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 12, 13, 14, 1926

New York: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1926.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

Tuesday Evening, October 12th

The American Catholic

[50] The American Catholic Revival:
Its History
Editor, The Living Church

THE House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, having at the last Convention requested the House of Bishops to express their opinion as to the proper postures to be used in the Communion office, with a view of effecting uniformity in that respect during its celebration, and the request having been then ordered to lie on the table for future consideration, the House of Bishops now communicates to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies the opinion thus requested of them as follows:

"First, with regard to the officiating priest, they are of opinion that as the Holy Communion is of a spiritually sacrificial character, the standing posture should be observed by him, whenever that of kneeling is not expressly prescribed."

So reads the Journal of General Convention. Was this declaration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice as constituting the fundamental principle which should govern the postures of priest and people the result of a violent clash between parties and partisans at New Orleans last year in which Catholics won triumphantly over a loudly protesting minority? It was not. This is an extract from the Journal of the General Convention of 1832 (Perry's Reprints, Vol. 2, page 451); a year before Keble's Assize Sermon [50/51] sent the Oxford Movement on its way. Nothing in the Journal indicates a contest over the terms of the declaration. It appears to represent the careful thought of the nine prelates who constituted the House of Bishops—presumably their unanimous thought. These bishops were the already venerable William White, together with Alexander Viets Griswold, Nathaniel Bowen, Thomas C. Brownell, the two Bishops Onderdonk, Meade of Virginia, Stone of Maryland and Ives of North Carolina. Let any one who believes the stress laid by twentieth-century Catholics of the American Church upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice to be something new and a departure from the original conception of the fathers of the American Church review that record, upon the strength of which White and Griswold and their associates, were they living, would undoubtedly be welcomed as a matter of course to seats in this Catholic Congress, as being in principle one of us.

It has always been a question whether the Oxford Movement was not in fact a New York Movement. Bishop Hobart's staunch High Churchmanship—we would call it Catholic Churchmanship today—is well known. Bishop Hobart had spent some time in England in 1823 and it is by no means impossible that his clear vision of Churchmanship may then have sown seeds that blossomed ten years and more afterward in the flower of the Oxford Movement. In any event, the condition of the Church in America began with Hobart's consecration in 1811 to take on that new and vigorous life which was delayed in the mother Church until another generation.

Indeed, the earlier effects of the Oxford Movement in this country seem rather adverse to the development of Catholic thought in the American Church. Too little was known of it in this country before the beginning of the secessions to Rome in England had created consternation, [51/52] to admit of its careful examination. By 1844, only twelve years later than that episcopal declaration on the Eucharistic Sacrifice, a body of bishops acting as visitors of the General Theological Seminary were acting as inquisitors of each of the faculty of that institution in regard to their teaching on mooted questions. Forty-three "catch" questions were gravely propounded to each of the unhappy professors, each of whom was obliged to reply in writing to each question; and when the professor of ecclesiastical history, Dr. John D. Ogilby, did not altogether satisfy his inquisitors in his replies, twenty-four more difficult questions were propounded to him, to which he was required to make written replies between five o'clock of one evening and ten the following morning. The entire report of this formidable investigation covers 23 pages of small print in the Journal of General Convention of 1844.

Yet there had been great provocation. It appears from the evidence here gathered that on Christmas Eve in 1843 certain students of the seminary had attached a Cross, "ornamented in part with artificial flowers," reads the charge against them, "to the front railing of the chancel." "In my opinion," says the dean of the faculty in a severe censure addressed to the students, "such an exhibition is in itself improper, and under present circumstances particularly objectionable here. As Dean of the Faculty for the present year, therefore, I am compelled to require that it be removed and not erected anywhere within the Seminary buildings used by the students. I cannot but hope," continued the solemn censure, "that the propriety of this requisition will, on reflection, be evident to all" (Journal 1844, p. 249).

In reporting on this awful proceeding to the episcopal inquisitors who, apparently, had been suitably shocked by the affair, the dean of faculty observes: "I thought it highly inexpedient to suffer a novelty like this to pass unnoticed" (ibid.; p. 248).

[53] This is the background from which must be studied the history of the Catholic Revival. Popular Churchmanship in America in the first half of the nineteenth century was a picture of both popular and official Churchmanship in England, which had been carried to these shores by the successive waves of immigrants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The seventeenth-century Puritans in England, inveighing against the Book of Common Prayer as "Romish" and intolerable, had banished it from the land during the period of their brief ascendancy in the Commonwealth (1649-1660), and had largely supplanted the clergy in the parish churches by ministers of Presbyterian convictions. With the fall of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy and the old Church, a policy of conciliation was adopted by old-time Churchmen, whereby such of these ministers as would consent to receive episcopal ordination and to use the Prayer Book by a certain date in 1662 were permitted to retain their parishes, notwithstanding their avowed abhorrence of the doctrine set forth in the Prayer Book. The stricter and more conscientious of these refused, left their parishes and emoluments, declared themselves non-conformists, and established what is now the Presbyterian Church in England. All honor to them for so maintaining their principles at so great a cost. For these conscientious objectors and their descendants I have the profoundest respect.

A larger number conformed, accepted the conditions, were ordained by bishops, and began the use of the Prayer Book with the principles of which they violently disagreed. The next turn of the political wheel in England put these conformists and their immediate descendants in control of the Church, through the importation of the foreign house of Hanover and the loss of the best flower of the Church to the Non-Juring movement. Hanover [53/54] sovereigns, wholly out of sympathy with the traditional position of the Church of England, took care that only the descendants of the Conformists and those in sympathy with them, by this time called Low Churchmen, found high preferment. When Convocation was restive over this usurpation, Convocation itself was prorogued. Old-time Churchmanship survived, though to a less and less extent, in the humbler places of the Church, but German Protestantism of a Calvinistic tinge was intruded into the bishoprics and other high places.

A century and more of this and the Church, under this sort of tutelage, thought of itself largely as Protestant, not in the sense that the term had been used by Laud and his associates, but in the eighteenth-century German sense, which meant anti-Catholic. This was the sort of Churchmanship, for the most part, that England sent to America in pre-Revolutionary days. In New England it repudiated the Church itself and became the Congregationalist body. In Virginia and the South it constituted Low Churchmanship and obtained an ascendancy over the Church, in fierce opposition to the Churchly renaissance of Connecticut and New York.

Why could not William Meade, Bishop of Virginia, consecrated in 1829, have appraised the true worth of the Oxford Movement when it came to America in the early forties, and thrown himself into it and become its leader, as he had the ability to be? He clearly saw what eighteenth-century Low Churchmanship had done for Virginia. He found the Church in despair and almost dead. He was one of the most brilliant men of his day. His is yet one of the most revered names in our nineteenth-century annals. He was a member of the House of Bishops when that declaration as to the Eucharistic Sacrifice was set forth, although truth compels me to add that, according to the record, Bishop Meade was absent from his seat that [54/55] morning "on account of indisposition" (page 449). If only, if only, Meade had accepted the Oxford Movement and become its leader! No one can tell what would have been the condition of the Church today had he done so. Perhaps he might, if he had been ten years younger. But he did not. Rather, he became the leader of its opposition, and under that leadership the miserable story of the fierce onslaughts against the revival of traditional Anglican Churchmanship makes sorry reading of American Church history in the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century. It was one of his successors in the episcopate of the same diocese who peremptorily forbade the use of flowers upon the Communion table, while his school of thought, beaten at every step, contested with the utmost violence every detail in which the Oxford Movement gradually changed the face of the Church. Its spirit was shown in its personal attacks upon the probity of our strongest bishops, when the brothers Onderdonk were expelled from their episcopate, the great Bishop of New Jersey, the elder Doane, one of the holiest of men, was scarcely able to protect himself from the attacks of his enemies; when Prescott at St. Clement's, Philadelphia, was presented for trial, the Advent in Boston was the subject of grave ecclesiastical censure, when Ferdinand Ewer was an object of suspicion in New York, and James DeKoven was assailed in Wisconsin and was refused confirmation as Bishop of Illinois. That is the record that partisan Low Churchmanship has written indelibly in the history of the American Church; though side by side with it there has been also a survival of the sweetness and piety and missionary fervor of Evangelical Churchmanship that puts us to shame who claim to have a larger, deeper, broader conception of the beauty of character that the sacramental life can produce. God have mercy upon us, that with our high professions and our more frequent [55/56] use of the sacraments, we have not developed into a fellowship of saints!

One would like to say that the old intolerant form of Protestant Churchmanship had ceased to exist; but how can we when we read the pitiful attacks upon our beloved Presiding Bishop in these very days? To preach tolerance and practice intolerance, to throw stones upon brother Churchmen who do but seek to take counsel among themselves on the things that pertain to the Kingdom of God, this is but a weak, puny survival of Mid-Victorianism, seventy-five years behind the times, that does not reflect the spirit of any considerable group in the Church, and must die out with the increase of that Christian sympathy that today so happily binds together our Churchmen of differing views, in a brotherly fellowship, in which each seeks to learn from the other. The Catholic Congress means no sort of assault upon brother Churchmen who do not see eye to eye with us. We are at least trying not to be partisans.

I do not mean to intimate that the Catholic Churchmanship of the twentieth century is in every way identical with the High Churchmanship of the nineteenth. In the latter we often find a coldness and a hardness and a stiffness that we are trying to avoid. We can detect two fundamental distinctions between the two.

One is the apathy of the High Churchman of a century ago and less to movements of social reform. In the midst of social oppression, of children working long hours in mines and in factories, of poverty, of tenements and slums, of slavery, High Churchmen were not greatly moved. That Pusey and Keble could not appreciate and join hands with Maurice and Kingsley is one of the great tragedies of history. That two currents instead of one flowed from the religious unrest of the later nineteenth century is, undoubtedly, a reflection upon the fathers of [56/57] both. The old-time High Churchmanship of England could not produce a Machonochie, a Lowder, an Ingram, or a Frank Weston. And in our own country, I hope it is not indelicate of me to say that the tremendous social work of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., far beyond anything else that has ever been attempted by a business organization, is the flower that has budded from the deep sacramental life that Catholic Churchmanship seeks to produce. You could not conceive of that work being attempted in the middle nineteenth century.

The other main distinction between High Churchmanship and Catholic Churchmanship is in their respective attitudes toward the Reformation. The High Churchman claimed to be, and was, the heir of the best thought of the England of Reformation days. He resented the Low Church domination as an usurpation, a foreign movement that had captured the English Church by force, an ingratitude that had turned the generosity of seventeenth-century Churchmen toward their Puritan antagonists into a weapon that had been relentlessly used by the descendants of these latter, to oust the children of the manor from their heritage which, in their generosity, the children had shared with men who had waged war upon them. But the High Churchman made his appeal to what is vaguely and ambiguously termed the Reformation Settlement as to a finality that must forever bind his conscience and the practice of the Church. To him not only the legality but the very desirability of every practice, every "ornament," every usage, was to be tested by the appeal to the authority of Parliament in the second year of King Edward VI.

This measure of Erastianism the Catholic Churchman, particularly in America, frankly repudiates. We do not take our religion from parliaments or kings. Our consciences are not within the keeping of Henry VIII or Edward VI or Queen Elizabeth. We demand and we [57/58] exercise the right to go behind them and their reigns and their royal injunctions and decrees, and to restore and assimilate and practice whatever we find in all the wealth of Church experience in any century, and in any reign and in any land. Nothing that the Church in any day or in any land has found or now finds to be helpful to souls is too foreign for us to take over and to use, if it survives the one test: Does it help souls in their progress toward eternity? Neither do we understand a practice to stand condemned because it helps some souls, but does not help others; nor do we demand that the source of any practice or any devotion be proved to be Nordic and its genius Protestant. We find about us a world of irreligion to be converted into a Christian civilization. We do not intend to limit our weapons to those that did good service four centuries ago.

This does not mean that we "repudiate the Reformation." We do nothing of the kind, any more than we repudiate Magna Charta when we write the Declaration of Independence from kings whose rights were maintained and defined by that earlier and glorious instrument, or when we write the Constitution of a kingless United States. In so far as the Reformation terminated a usurped overlordship of the Bishop of Rome over nations and governments, so that one be no longer bound to render unto the Pope the things that are Caesar's in defiance of our Lord's edict, every Catholic Churchman outside the Italian obedience would give his lifeblood to uphold it. On the religious side, one would read medieval history very superficially indeed did he not recognize that there were very grave evils existing in the Church in the sixteenth century which eminently demanded correction and reform. These evils grew chiefly from two particular causes: the fawning of high ecclesiastics upon the favor of a corrupt Roman court, and the lack of education [58/59] among the people and, to a less extent, among the lower clergy. Those two causes produced a condition in the Church that was disgraceful, though along with them there was a spiritual life which we gravely underestimate today. The sacraments worked in the fifteenth century, as they do in the twentieth.

The idea that Catholic Churchmen seek to restore pre-Reformation conditions or evils is preposterously absurd. But still more absurd is the fear that they could do it if they would. To "undo the Reformation," as the term is foolishly used by men who know not the genius of Catholic Churchmanship, it would be necessary, first, to repeal the Constitution of the United States; second, to tear down our American public school system and our colleges; third, to tear down our theological seminaries, and, fourth, to turn back the hands of an eternal clock, of which the mainspring and motive power is the Holy Spirit, who slowly, so slowly that the movement cannot be detected by the human eye, slowly but relentlessly moves the hands forward. When one finds any group of Churchmen who are trying to undo all this, it will be time to become panicky over what Catholic Churchmen propose to do to the Church; but if anybody supposes that these things could actually be done, even if any wild party should seek to do them, he would be a fit candidate for the insane asylum.

Time fails us to make appreciation of outstanding figures who have seen the genius of Catholic Churchmanship and have sought, with varying conceptions and ideals, to promote and extend it, often with obloquy and suffering as their part. One thinks of the founders of Nashotah; of bishops such as Edward Randolph Welles and Isaac Lea Nicholson, as John Henry Hobart Brown and Charles Chapman Grafton; of priests such as Ewer and Ritchie, Houghton, Calbraith Perry, John H. Knowles, [59/60] Erastus Spalding, James A. Bolles, Wm. B. Frisby, Morgan Dix, Charles W. Rankin, Henry R. Percival, George McClellan Fiske, Edward A. Larrabee, and many another, as of many figures among the laity who have been towers of strength to the Catholic Movement. Yet with perhaps one exception, and that for less than a decade of time, it cannot be said that the Movement has ever had a nationally recognized leader who towered above others. That exceptional figure was James DeKoven.

DeKoven's leadership extended from about 1871, when his magnificent oratory in General Convention showed his wonderful gifts and magnetic personality, until his untimely death in 1879 at the age of 48. Bear with me if, very briefly, I recall to you some of the circumstances of his life.

Dr. DeKoven first served as a deputy to General Convention in 1868. It was the time when ritualism was the chiefest subject of debate and antagonism in the Church. Various anti-ritualistic proposals were made, and DeKoven was largely influential in defeating them. It was at the General Convention of 1871, however, when DeKoven's great power was first recognized. It had been proposed to declare that the use of this Church was based exclusively upon the Book of Common Prayer, the canons of the Church of England agreed upon in 1603 and in use in the American provinces and states before 1789, and the canonical or other legislation of the American Church.

He showed that the venerable custom of Eucharistic Adoration had prevailed in the Church long before the doctrine of Transubstantiation had ever been held. He showed the difference between the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence and what is termed the Romish doctrine of Transubstantiation. He said plainly, what were then strange, almost unheard of words:

[61] "I believe in the Real, Actual Presence of our Lord, under the form of bread and wine, upon the altars of our churches. I myself adore, and would, if it were necessary or my duty, teach my people to adore, Christ present in the elements under the form of bread and wine."

These were adjudicated words in England. Speaking of the reverential acts of the faithful in the Holy Eucharist, he said:

"They symbolize the Real, Spiritual Presence of Christ. The eloquent deputy from Massachusetts (Dr. A. Vinton) said that if he believed there was a material Presence of Christ upon our altars, there was no position too humble for him to occupy. If I believe in a spiritual Presence, is there any position too humble for me to occupy? Am I to be less humble in a spiritual Presence than he would be in a material Presence? Believe it, the difference between us is only this, that God gives to us who believe in the Spiritual Presence more faith. And if I prostrate myself—I do not do it—but were I to prostrate myself before the altar, it would only be because I see, hidden behind all material forms, Him, my own Saviour, whom I believe in, and love, and adore. And if I place upon head, upon lip, and upon breast, the sign of the Cross, it is only to remind me of Him and His crucifixion. And if I place upon the altar the lights that blaze and glow, it is only because they typify here on earth the seven lamps of fire which burn before the throne of God, which no Canons and no General Conventions can ever put out; for there, Mr. President, there is the worship of heaven: Strip this Church, if you will, of its glorious symbols; I will tell you what will remain. In that awful fire at Chicago the other day, the papers told us of one poor soul who, all blackened and scarred, was still found in the attitude of prayer. Blacken and scar this Church, if you will; still, with outstretched hands upreaching, she will [61/62] implore Him who lives amidst the eternal worship of Heaven, where angels bear the vials full of odors, which are the prayers of Saints!

"This question before us, believe me, is not a question of Ritualism or anti-Ritualism, but a question of the grand forward march and movement of the Church of God, which is meant to be, not a Church for today, but a Church forever—the American Catholic Church. Ah, as I see the triumphal march and swing with which I believe that Church will do her work in this country, my heart beats with a quicker throb, and the giddy blood goes coursing through my veins. I see her marching on across those broad, wide lands of the West, beyond those prairies of Iowa, beyond the plains of Nebraska, beyond the Sierra Nevada, until she stretches out her hands to the far-off East, where the world is waiting for conversion. And this Church of ours is to stretch out her hands on this side and on that, not in any narrow way. How our hearts thrilled when the Bishop of Lichfield spoke of the Anglo-Saxon race as destined to be the race which would give peace to the world: Why may not this Church of ours give peace to the divided branches of Christ's Church?"

The battle was fought. The House of Deputies refused to concur with the House of Bishops. The danger was over.

Can I do better than to close this too rambling discourse in the echo of his words?

Dr. DeKoven died in 1879 and is buried just outside the chapel of Racine College, which he loved. His grave is a shrine to which large numbers of American Churchmen make pilgrimages and his memory is that of one of the saints of God. I doubt whether we have since seen his equal in the American Church.

But men come and men go. So different from each other have been the men that we reverence in the earlier [62/63] days of the Catholic Movement, so different have been their views and their ideals, so often have they proved mistaken, so many have been the mistakes and the false emphases in the Movement, that it is not difficult to see that it is not a Movement of men, following some remarkable human leader. Reverently do we believe it to be the slow moving of the Holy Spirit. Men may misunderstand it; perhaps we ourselves too often fail to represent it adequately. Men may assail it; they cannot harm it if the Lord be its Captain. It may go off on false tacks and seem to put minor considerations against major; how unerringly has each of these false emphases been corrected, not by human leadership, in the past. Indeed, it is our comfort that though we make mistakes, and are petty when we ought to be great, and narrow when we ought to be splendidly sympathetic, and weak when we ought to be strong, and repellant when the halo of sanctity ought to irradiate our countenances, God speaks the last word. Our failures may make His success. The future of the Catholic Movement is in the hands that hold the spheres in their balance.

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