Project Canterbury

The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers

Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927

Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.

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

Loyalty to the Church
Rector of the Church of S. James the Less, Philadelphia, Pa.

IT IS well that we are to think first of Loyalty to the Church. It puts us at once in the right attitude to renew and vow our fealty, to bear witness to our love. One consideration makes it particularly timely. Like it little as we may, our loyalty has been called in question. More, our guilt seems by some to be taken for granted—a fact so self-evident as to need no proof. Remember last year when Church officials accepted invitations to meet with us? For this they were attacked in the press. This Congress was improper. To be present was to condone, if not to approve; to make one partaker of other men's sins by silence and consent. What was wrong with this Congress? The answers all came to the same thing. We misrepresented the Church. We were detrimental to her. We were not loyal.

Now, no honest man enjoys arguing his own good faith. When it is impugned, the first instinct of a man of fine feeling is to be silent. But silence may not always serve. The time may come when he must speak. His obligations to others may require it. Lest silence be supposed a confession, he must at last maintain his own integrity. But does he not first examine himself anew? Does he not pass his conduct in review? He will scrutinize his actions, his words, his inmost thoughts. He [36/37] will call upon God, "Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me."

Is not our situation analogous to such a man's? Are not we the subject of distrust? It seems by some to be believed that we could be brought to book for our supposed violations of the Church's laws; and that it is only through official laxity, or perhaps because of a wish to avoid the appearance of persecution, that we owe our immunity hitherto. Threats have been made that in certain contingencies this supposed clemency, having been abused, would be withdrawn. To borrow some expressions of the Tractarians in a somewhat similar case, if in any quarter it is supposed that persons like ourselves will silently concur with those of very opposite sentiments in furthering a relaxation of obligations, which it is imagined are galling to both parties, ought not someone to raise one voice in protest against any such anticipation? Have not the open-minded a right to hear a defense if any be possible? Do not the Catholic rank and file deserve that some articulate expression be given to their cause if anything creditable can be said? Then let us examine ourselves. If we are right, well. If we are wrong let us say so like men—repent, confess and amend.

Our accusers say we are disloyal. On what grounds? The first is change. We introduce novelties, they say. Our teachings sound strange in many ears. Our ways are different. We use, and worse yet, teach the children, prayers they never heard. But, of course, it is not merely that these things are new. Change in itself may be well enough, but on examination it appears that these things are not new—they are revived. That again might be all right in itself. Old ways are often brought back with profit and amid applause. But these, it is said, were given up or put down in pursuance of reform. These [37/38] doctrines, being false, were banished and driven out; these empty forms abandoned; these superstitious practices suppressed. To revive them is to retrogress; to go back to old errors; to re-establish abuses painfully put down; and give up gains our fathers won. It is change, change for the worse, subversive change. For it is making us more like the Roman Catholics. That is the real objection, and the fact cannot be denied. Doctrines, ritual, devotions—they are strange to many Episcopalians, and all the time more like those of Roman Catholics. We are supposed to be members of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but we do not act like honest Protestants. On the contrary, we act like Catholics. Is not that disloyal?

There is a possible alternative. We might conceivably be misled. Attracted in one way or another, we might have drifted, rather than steered our course; be overtaken in folly to be sure, but innocent of wrong intent. But that defense we decline. The accused is fully conscious of the nature of his acts. He seems even to glory in his shame. He openly calls himself by the hated name. "Christian is my name and Catholic is my surname." The defendant being obdurate, there is no choice. He must stand trial for disloyalty.

Such is the case against us. What is our reply? Must we admit in our hearts that the charge is just? Certainly not! We know it is not true. The charge is not new. The answer has been repeatedly made. It shall be made again.

We believe and do these things, not because they are Roman, but because they are right. They are more than Roman. They are Catholic and the Episcopal Church is Catholic. This runs counter to the general acceptation, which is a difficulty; but it is true and important and [38/39] therefore worth the trouble to understand and to maintain. The Episcopal Church is Catholic—not Roman, but Catholic.

But, it is objected, its very name is the Protestant Episcopal Church. True! But Protestant is a word of various and shifting meaning. Originally given to those who objected to a particular political act, it came to have a wider use. It was applied to quite divergent tendencies. In Continental Europe it meant those who broke with the Church and formed voluntary associations of their own. In Great Britain it was used to describe the ancient Church of England, asserting her rightful degree of autonomy against unwarranted pretensions from without. In that sense she was Protestant, but she was not something new like the Continental bodies. She was what she had always been. It was a change of outward relations, not a change of nature. She was not made new, but made free. To the jibe, "Where was your Church before the Reformation?" the retort was, "Where was your face before it was washed." The unbroken continuity of the Church of England was maintained without the slightest doubt. Those who valued other principles to the disregard of that continuity, formed the various dissenting churches, most of which were also brought to this country. The Episcopal Church in America was indebted under God, our Prayer Book says, to the Church of England for her first foundation and a long continuance of nursing care; and was far from intending to depart from her in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship, or further than local circumstances required. In all parts of the British Empire, and wherever English-speaking people have gone all over the world, Churches have sprung up in communion with Canterbury. With the Church of England and ourselves they constitute the Anglican Communion or Church. There is a sense in [39/40] which it may be called Protestant. There is a deeper and more important sense in which it is Catholic.

What do you mean by Protestant? If you mean disowning papal obedience; if you mean having a share in the movement for freedom, education and the development of the individual; if you mean public worship in a tongue understanded of the people, and the Holy Bible in their hands—if that is what you mean, we are Protestant. That is what our forefathers meant when they named the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

But what do you mean by Protestant? If you mean anti-Catholic, especially in the spirit of the sheet and hood, if you mean churches to suit all tastes, all to be accounted equally good, and every man to choose his own, or stay outside; if you mean a break with the past so complete that Church history stops with Saint John the Divine and only begins again with Martin Luther; if you mean basing doctrines and morals on a literally inerrant Bible, interpreted by each individual in his own more than papal infallibility, or questioning everything and answering nothing, an endless search with no reliable findings—facing, that is, the dilemma of fundamentalism or modernism—in short, if by Protestant you mean what the vast majority of the Protestants seem to mean, then we are not Protestant and God forbid that we ever should be.

The men who named the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America were not all of one mind in details. But they meant to keep to the historic Church. They could no longer call themselves the Church of England, and they took a name that expressed to themselves and to their contemporaries the nature of the Church. They were Episcopal, in retaining the ancient polity maintained from the Apostles' time; but Protestant [40/41] in doing so apart from the papal system which also existed here. They were Protestant in the English sense, but successors to the established Episcopacy, not to dissent. They showed their intent by the adoption of the American Book of Common Prayer, which is demonstrably a Catholic document, in spite of Protestant glosses. They did nothing to invalidate their position as part of the historic Church. Now that the time has come when the name is misleading, it can be altered without being repudiated. "Episcopal" has come to be the name by which we are commonly known. Without being exhaustive, it sufficiently defines our position. The word Protestant, applied to so many kinds of religion connotes what they have in common, describes so well what we are not, that it is barely honest for us to continue its use. The suggestion to drop it out of our official name without putting anything in its place, is one of those statesmanlike proposals that have elevated to his present position of leadership him whose absence we feel tonight, the Chairman of the Catholic Congress Committee. For it brings out the essential point at issue.

It is too commonly assumed that all Christians are either Roman Catholics or Protestants. The fallacy of this is sufficiently shown by the existence of one hundred and twenty millions of Eastern Orthodox. Like the Roman Catholics and ourselves, they understand the Church to be the organic continuous Christian community from the earliest times, historic, visible, divine. Orthodox and Romans alike each claim sole right to the name. The Orthodox calls Rome's title invalidated by false doctrine and schism. Rome says Christ made Peter head of His Church; that the Bishop of Rome is his successor; and the Church consists solely of his subjects. Both Rome and Orthodox positions have the controversial advantages that go with a clear-cut exclusive claim. The Anglican [41/42] position is that all three are separated parts of one whole. We recognize, that is, the positive claim of each of the other two that it is within the Church; but cannot admit the exclusive claim of either to be the whole. This Anglican position is embarrassing to the controversial temper, because it is not exclusive; but it is not without its advantages. It agrees with the New Testament, and with later history; it explains contemporary facts; nor is it uncharitable. It makes demands on faith, without doing violence to reason. It is consonant with what has been meant historically by Catholic, apart from the attempt to identify the word with the papal system.

The issue between Roman Catholics and ourselves is that we seem to them to be infringing their copyright and they seem to us to be attempting to monopolize a joint heritage. Is Catholic short for Roman Catholic or, are Romans one kind of Catholic? A present Roman fashion is to speak of Catholics and non-Catholics. They reckon us among the latter; we claim our place among the former. The great Eastern bodies stand as a witness that one may be no Roman and yet be Catholic. No one can fairly deny them a share in a word which has stood since the beginning in their creed for which their martyrs have died. But if the Greek Church is Catholic, so is the Church of England. This argument has gained new force now that every Eastern Patriarchate has formally recognized the validity of our orders; a long step in the inevitable return to unity between the East and our part of the West.

For, of course, we are Western Christians. Our forefathers shared in the life of the Church, not as it persisted in the Eastern Empire, but as it developed in western Europe. We cannot account all its form of features as of divine right; yet our genius is clearly out of the West. The East expresses Orthodoxy; the West [42/43] Catholicity. While we value both, the latter is more prominent in our thought.

As Catholics we hold and teach the whole faith, the truth as it is in Jesus, the faith once delivered, the fruit of His promise that the Holy Ghost should guide us into all truth. If any part of it is strange to the ears of any of our people, the more need we should not shun to declare unto them the whole counsel of God. If any part of it is known to them only as Roman Catholic teaching, the blame be on those who have denied the truth, or failed to make it known. The truth is more than any man or group of men, however large. It may be obscured, forgotten or denied. It cannot be altered nor pass away. "I am the Truth," said our dear Redeemer, as well as, "I am the Way and the Life." There can be no peculiarly Anglican truth, no distinctive Episcopalian doctrine as to essentials. It may be evermore fully understood; its interrelations and implications may be made more plain; but in its essentials God's truth unchanged hath ever stood. This is the faith of the Creeds and the Councils and the Fathers; the faith of the undivided Church; that truth which is mighty and will prevail. It is known to history as the Catholic faith; and as it cannot be copyrighted or monopolized by any lesser group, neither can it nor any essential part of it be denied or neglected without enormous loss.

Nor has our portion of the One Church ever denied the faith. The so-called Episcopal Church, full daughter of the Church of England, has, like her parent, held it unimpaired. In spite of carelessness and neglect, in the face of attack and through persecution she has been steadfast. Her popular teaching has often left much to be desired; but her official teaching, her liturgy and her formularies have always been Catholic. She has not lacked champions steadily to maintain the historic faith. [43/44] The Thirty-nine Articles, to take a crucial case, while couched sometimes in terms of ambiguous sound, are patient of a Catholic interpretation—as they were meant to be. This was for a time almost forgotten, but the leaders of the Oxford Movement had only to revive a memory, not to begin from the beginning. The main contention of Tract Ninety stands unassailable today. The faith of the Church is one, and to that faith our Church is true.

So it is in the realm of ethics. A Catholic may learn facts about moral conditions in an age of change from the priest, the novel, the stage, the juvenile court or a Church Congress paper. But his standards are derived from a higher source. The moral standards in an age of change or any other age are for many, those set up by Jesus Christ. That is part of what it means to call Him Lord and confess Him before men. The ideal standard, that which one should set for himself, is given in the words, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Developing that standard and applying it to the diverse conditions of many lives, is the work of ascetic theology. The minimum standard, so to speak, that must be demanded of others on pain, for example, of forfeiture of privileges, is the task of moral theology. In both, the Catholic accepts from the past, examines indeed with a view to defects and advancing in refinements, but he does not discard and start afresh. The Church is the natural guide in right and wrong, as well as in true and false. The Holy Spirit works in and through her to that end.

So it is with rite and ceremony. As Shakespeare and the Authorized Version are the heritage of all English-speaking people, so is the Book of Common Prayer. Similarly, but on a broader scale, the liturgical treasures of the whole Church are available for all believers. If any [44/45] of them be adequate to express our adoration, our aspirations or our sense of need, they are ours, and may be used as such wherever found; and that involves no disloyalty. What could be the objection? Could it be any other than the false assumption that Rome is the enemy? It is disloyal to give aid and comfort to the enemy, but it is sound policy to learn from him, and to turn to advantage whatever we learn. But what if he is not an enemy but an ally? There have been breaches of charity in the past. There may be less than perfect magnanimity now, but our warfare is not against one another. It is against the common enemy, the devil, the world and the flesh. The Captain of our salvation is the Son of God. Only in Him are we Christians; only in Him have we life at all. In spite of our culpable divisions, we are one in Him. How is that unity which already exists, though incompletely, in Him, how is it to be made perfect and manifest; what steps must be taken and what stages passed through —who can say? But there is no disloyalty to the Church in seeing that it must be, nor in working for its consummation. It will not, it cannot, be brought about by any conceivable treachery or betrayal. A normal attitude toward Rome is equally free from phobia and infatuation. To act from hatred would be damnable. To value difference for its own sake is at best futile, and at worst breeds the schismatic.

So when it is fairly faced, we see that the charge that we betray our Church to Rome cannot be made to hold. Is there anything else to give rise to the idea that we are disloyal? Is it not this, that people do not like accustomed ways to be disturbed? The burden of proof is on him who makes the alteration. The presumption is in favor of carrying on unchanged. This is a natural condition, and the grounds of it lie deep in human nature, too deep to be readily reached by reason. It is of little [45/46] immediate avail to show that present conditions are obviously open to improvement; that many of them can be traced to abnormalities, like our lack in this land for one hundred and seventy-seven years of those very bishops from which we took the Episcopal name. These, and such like reasons, why the present ways are not necessarily the best are of interest to the student, but of small appeal to the plain man. Our best defense will be patience, slowly putting the better ways into practice, and waiting for the inevitable comparison to win a support that would never be accorded to argumentation. Then the conservative tendency will be gladly enlisted on behalf of the Catholic ways, and the Church will be restored to her professed standards. Our principle will be seen to be to interpret the local and the temporary always in the light of the permanent and the universal.

We conclude, therefore, that we can both hold ourselves guiltless of the charge of disloyalty, and yet see why it is preferred. If men should say all manner of evil against us falsely for Christ's sake, we can, for the most part, endure without reply; and yet let it be known when occasion offers that our silence does not give consent. Our dear Lord on His trial illustrated what the Preacher said, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to keep silence and a time to speak."

We set before ourselves no lower standard than the love of a David for a Jonathan, a bridegroom for his bride, a mother for her children, even Christ's love for us. Indeed, so many godly men have gone before us in perserverance that the doubt of us is less than it was. The Catholic revival in our Communion is all out in the open, God be praised; and how much gatherings like this have had to do with making that plain. It should be clearer than ever to us all, and to any who regard, after [46/47] the program we are promised here these next two days. Doubtless, we shall find that the keynote of it all is that our loyalty is not only to a cause, or an organism, but to a person, Jesus the Son of God. There are sure blessings promised for the steadfast in Him who is our Shield and our exceeding Great Reward. The Scottish people who have often known what it costs to be loyal call it leal; and for a Scotchman Heaven is the Land o' Leal.

Project Canterbury