Project Canterbury

Conversations on Ritualism
Anonymous [Charles Woodruff Rankin]

New-York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867.

Conversation IV.

Parishioner.—I have come to the Rectory this evening, Mr. Wilson, to return the volume you kindly lent me, and to thank you for the very great pleasure you have given me. I have rarely enjoyed a sermon so much as this on "The Liturgy of Heaven," by Bishop Coxe.

Rector.—I knew you would be pleased with it, and I think it must have satisfied you that Ritualism is not necessarily unspiritual.

Par.—Not only that, but it has thrown light upon another subject which you have alluded to, namely, the identity in spirit between the Jewish and Christian systems. He shows that there has been an organic unity in the various dispensations of Christ's Church, and that the same principles obtain throughout the whole, while the full and glorious consummation of these preparatory systems await us in the Church in glory.

Rec.—Yes, this is an important truth. St. Paul speaks of the Jewish system as the "shadow of good things to come," but not "the very image of the things;" this is in the Christian Church. There is the same difference between the law and the gospel that there is between a shadow, or more properly an outline, and an exact image or representation of any thing. The great reality to which all the dispensations point is the heavenly worship of "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" this is revealed in the Apocalypse. The Mosaic Ritual was a shadow or an outline of that great reality, for Moses was expressly commanded "to make all things according to the pattern showed him in the mount." This preparatory system gave way in time to the Christian Church, which brings us closer to that Divine Reality; it is "the image" of it. As has been truly said, "the shadow was in the law, the image in the gospel, and the reality in heaven."

Par.—Yes; and this seems to bind all together in a harmonious unity, showing that there is an organic oneness in all God's dealings with His Church; and it would seem that the whole Ritual of the Temple and the Tabernacle was but the forecast shadow of the Ritual in heaven.

Rec.—I believe it to be true, and I reason thus: If the Ritual solemnities of that which was confessedly dim, imperfect, shadowy, were so glorious, how much more should those which belong to a more perfect dispensation surpass them in beauty and splendor.

Par.—Why, St. Paul has placed this matter beyond all question; he says, "If the ministration of condemnation [that is the Jewish Church] be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness [that is the Christian Church] exceed in glory."

Rec.—If this agitation of Ritualism does no other good, it will at least make people study their Bible more, and lead them to some deeper appreciation of its wonderful teachings. But you seem so much interested in this aspect of the question that I would like to call your attention to another book easily accessible, which I think will interest you.

Par.—What is it?

Rec.—It is Bishop Coxe's "Thoughts on the Services."

Par.—Oh yes! I have it, and have used it with much pleasure.

Rec.—Do you remember his remarks on "The Paschal System?"

Par.—Not very clearly.

Rec.—I advise you to read them again. You will find that he brings out this thought of the unity of the Jewish and the Christian Churches very beautifully. He says that "the Paschal season was given to the Hebrews as the mere shadow of that which the Christian Church perpetuates till the sun and moon shall cease to shine;” that "it was not given to the Jews as a temporary and carnal ordinance, but father as the germ of a perpetual and spiritual one," with more to the same purpose.

Par.—Why, then, Bishop Coxe seems to take the same view that Bishop Hopkins does.

Rec.—Yes, they have the same leading ideas, the same great principles, only one presents them in connection with the subject of Ritual in general, the other confines himself to one feature of Ritualism, namely, the Holy Seasons of the Church.

Par.—Would it not be well to have "The Paschal System" published as a kind of complement to Bishop Hopkins's work?

Rec.—I think that two such contributions to Ritualistic literature from two of our bishops would be very valuable; but if such a publication were made, I would like to enlarge it by adding what Bishop Coxe says in his introduction to his book.

Par.—You mean his essay, if I may so call it, on the Daily Sacrifice?

Rec.—I do; it is a very thoughtful and admirable vindication of some things which Ritualists believe in and anti-Ritualists oppose.

Par.—Can you specify any of these particulars?

Rec.—Yes. He gives especial prominence to the Liturgy Proper—showing that this is, strictly speaking, the Service of the Eucharist. He places the metrical Psalter and Hymnal in their true position, having only "a tolerated position in our worship,"—the Church being unwilling to match "cloth of frieze with cloth of gold;" he tells us that "the Psalms were inspired to be chanted in public worship;" that "rhymed psalms and hymns were unknown to the Apostles, and chanting the only singing they taught the Church." He points out the meaning and use of the Introits. He tells us of the apostolic character of the Weekly Eucharist. He shows how the Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany, and Holy Communion are so many distinct services, and may be used entirely apart. He argues that forms of prayer, like vocal and instrumental music, were not part of the ceremonial law which the gospel abolished, and points out that our whole service in these and other particulars is strictly evangelical.

Par.—No one can doubt that; but are not some of these things objected to by the opponents of Ritual?

Rec.—They are, and it only goes to show how difficult it would be to bring all our bishops, to say nothing of the inferior clergy and laity, to agree upon any uniform standard of Ritual observance.

Par.—Well, I hope that these papers will be published in a tract form, for there is so much interest felt in the subject, that any thing which will throw light upon it will be acceptable; but I have been diverted from the main point which I had in view, and with your permission will mention it.

Rec.—Do so, without reserve.

Par.—I have heard so much about Ritualism being Popish, that, although you have touched upon this aspect of the question, I would like to have your views more fully.

Rec.—I confess, Mr. Brown, that there are few things with which I have so little patience as this silly, weak, unmeaning cry about Popery. It argues, in my judgment, weakness in one's own position, ignorance of the true character of the Church, and a silly and childish dread of some terrible bugbear ever ready to destroy the Church. I have always found that they who use the term most freely, and most opprobriously, are just the ones who know least about the subject, and just the ones who fall the readiest victims to the delusions of the Papacy. It is worth remembering, that the large proportion of those who have been seduced from Catholic Christianity to the Papal system have been brought up in that school which is always ready to decry every thing with which it could not harmonize, as Popery. When people begin to understand what Catholicism is, that the peculiarities of the Roman system are departures therefrom, there will be less of this childish talk.

Par.—Yes, I believe it. I have seen it stated that "just in proportion as good old English Scriptural and truly Catholic principles are carried out in a place, the leakage to Rome always ceases; whereas Rome most flourishes where Puritanism most prevails."

Rec.—Yes; you remember how the Papists encouraged Puritanism in England just for this purpose, and that their emissaries were blessed and applauded by the Pope, for the good service they had done in this way for his Church.

Par.—It would be amusing, if it were not painful, to observe the ignorant remarks which people make upon this subject. Do you remember when Dr. Thompson, a clergyman of the Church of England, officiated in our church and wore his academic hood? Why, for weeks afterwards I heard of little else but Popery. When Mr. Williams wore a long cassock, and a surplice somewhat shorter than the cassock, he was taken for a Romish priest, and one poor woman was terribly disturbed to think that she had received the Communion at his hands. A few days before this, Mr. Carter (you know he measures about six feet two inches) had on a surplice which showed his legs half-way up to his knees; when he sat down he drew aside the surplice, displaying his nether extremities in all their voluminous length, crossed them comfortably, and I can assure you that the effect was ludicrous, but I did not hear that that was Popery; nor have I ever found that carelessness and irreverence in the Divine offices were called by such a hard name, though I have repeatedly heard the slightest attention to reverence and propriety so stigmatized.

Rec.—Alas for poor human nature! I went through all this ordeal many years ago, and now I pay no attention to the silly clamor. I have lived long enough to see much improvement in the order of the Church's worship, and to see many things which twenty years since were rated at as Popish, now very generally accepted. I remember when a friend of mine was building a church, the good people begged him not to put a cross on it; he did it, however; and now almost every church has a cross within or without. Even St. George's Church, the pet of Dr. Tyng, has its two stone spires, surmounted with the symbol of Redemption. You remember what an outcry was made a few years ago about preaching in the surplice; now it is very common and excites no remark. Fifteen years since the introduction of flowers at Easter was horribly Popish; now it is a very general custom, and even Dr. Butler, in his "Ritualism of Law," "does not despise but relish God's own emblems of the flowers of Easter with the greenery of Christmas." I might go on and give you many instances of this kind, but some experience in this direction will teach one to be somewhat indifferent to this weak and contemptible cry. No! let people once understand that Popery does not consist in Ritual beauty and reverent solemnities in the worship of God, but that it has deep, dark, and damning characters which are its real marks, and we will not be troubled with this idle clamor.

Par.—What do you understand by Popery?

Rec.—I will read you a short paragraph which I have just met with which will answer your question (Reads): “'Popery,' or modern Romanism, really consists in certain modern departures from ancient Catholic practice; and those additions to the ancient faith, by synodically adopting which at the Council of Trent the Church of Rome has virtually separated itself from the rest of the Catholic Church, (which requires as necessary to be believed for salvation only the ancient creeds of the universal Church,) and has thereby involved itself in the sin of schism. These 'additions' to the faith and other errors are such as—The 'cultus' of the Blessed Virgin; adoration of the cross, images, and relics; forbidding its clergy to marry; doctrine of purgatory; that the Church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all churches; obedience due from all churches to the Patriarch of Rome, who of late centuries has styled himself 'the Pope' or 'Papa,' as though there were no other in Christendom,—the fact being that in early Christian days all Bishops were called, by a term of endearment, 'Papas'; denial of the cup to the laity, and Transubstantiation; the doctrine of supererogatory merits; the doctrines of Papal pardons, indulgences, and dispensations; affirming the Apocrypha to be inspired Scripture; the interdiction of the reading of the Bible, except by special permission. In such 'particular points' as these the Church of Rome 'is fallen from itself in its ancient purity,' as declares the 30th English Canon of 1603. Such errors as these we 'forsook and rejected' at the Reformation, but not the Church of Rome itself, or any other branch of the Catholic Church, as the same Canon emphatically declares. The present separation of the Roman from the English Church was the act of the then Roman Patriarch himself in the 11th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. I have thus explained what the English Church declares to be 'Popery,'—not from any unchristian feelings toward Roman Catholics, but in self-defense against misrepresentation."

Par.—You consider then that Popery consists in doctrinal and practical corruptions of Catholic Christianity, and not in the mere fact of a beautiful and seemly order of worship.

Rec.—Exactly so: of course there may be a Romish Ritual; there may be a Ritual which sets forth and symbolizes the peculiarities of the Papacy, just as there may be a Ritual which symbolizes and sets forth the peculiarities of Presbyterianism or Quakerism, and I should strenuously oppose the introduction of either into our Church. What we want is a Ritual which is appropriate to our position as a true branch of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, which enables us to worship God in "the beauty of holiness;" which symbolizes the great Catholic truths we hold in common with the rest of Catholic Christendom; but which rejects every addition, whether from Rome, Geneva, Oxford, Boston, New York, Baltimore, or Alexandria. In one word, we want a Ritual which will be the outward and visible manifestation of our faith as Catholic Christians.

Par.—I think I understand you; you would not exclude from such a Ritual those accessories which are common to our common Christianity, but only those which set forth false doctrine?

Rec.—I have no objection to this statement, only you will understand that I do not set myself up as a judge in this matter.

Par.—Well, there is St. Alban's; will not the services of that church comply with your conditions?

Rec.—I earnestly and absolutely protest against receiving the services of any church as the standard to which we should conform ourselves. I know no reason why I should follow "the use" of St. Alban's any more than "the use" of St. George's. Dr. Tyng is the rector of one, and Mr. Merrill the rector of the other; and as I do not pin my faith upon the sleeve of either of those priests, so I do not intend to accept the Ritual which embodies the faith of either as the standard to which I must conform my services. I think that much harm has been done by singling out churches which have been regarded as typical of truths or systems. I could easily mention a number of such churches, but I will not do it. I only say that our Ritual is at present in a formative and transitional state. It is incomplete, maimed, imperfect. I am willing to tolerate a very large liberty, but I am not willing to take any one church as the real and ultimate standard of our worship.

Par.—We seem to be wandering from the point I spoke of, namely, the Popery of Ritualism.

Rec.—Well; if you want any further proof that Ritualism is not necessarily Popish, I will mention a few facts. The Greek Church, to which I have already alluded, was a church protesting against the Papacy long before the Anglican Reformation. The Papacy is so obnoxious to the Oriental Christians that they would have little choice between the Sultan and the Pope, and yet their Ritual is more glorious than that of Rome. The Lutherans in Germany retain many rich and beautiful ritual observances. In Sweden the Lutheran Ritual is said to surpass that of Rome itself. I remember that Newland, in his "Tour in Norway," describes some services, which, if we were to see them in our churches, we should hear of nothing but Popery for six months to come. He tells us how after a baptism "the priest, kneeling on the altar-steps, was invested by the Candidatus and Kyrke Sanger (precentor) with the masse hacke, a crimson velvet chasuble embroidered in front with a gold glory surrounding the holy name, and behind with a gold floriated cross;" you will find the description in the 13th chapter of his book.

Par.—Indeed! imagine that in Trinity Church, or St. George's; would we not hear of Popery?

Rec.—I think it quite likely, and yet it would be just as reasonable to call it "Protestantism." I might give you many other instances to illustrate the truth that a rich Ritual is by no means Romish; indeed I think that we have been injuring our own Church, and playing into the hands of Rome, by allowing such ideas to have currency.

Par.—I would like to ask you a question suggested by this remark.

Rec.—Presently. I wish to finish this train of thought. So far as my observation goes, every branch of Catholic Christendom has a rich, glorious, and symbolic Ritual. Even those societies in Europe and the East which have separated from Catholic unity have retained a beautiful Ritual. Only those societies which have come under Calvinistic or Puritanical influences have discarded "the beauty of holiness." Our Mother Church in England was adorned, even after the Reformation, with her glorious apparel, and it was only when Puritanism got the upper-hand there that her vestments were torn from her, and she was left only not in nakedness.

Par.—What do you mean?

Rec.—I mean that the same men who tore down the altars of our Mother Church; who smashed the storied windows of her churches and cathedrals; "who broke down the carved work thereof with axes and hammers;" who called the organ "the Devil's box of whistles," and gave the pipes for boys to whistle in; who called the surplice a "Rag of Popery," and dragged it in the mire; who watered their horses in the fonts, and played and ate and drank upon the Holy Table; these are the men who robbed our Venerable Mother of her glorious apparel; and so fierce has been their anger, and so deadly their hatred, that every effort which has ever been made to recover what she lost has encountered from their descendants the bitterest opposition.

Par.—I fear that this is true—I fear that (I have no doubt unconsciously) the opponents of a Churchly Ritualism, have Puritanical or Calvinistic blood in their veins.

Rec.—It is a very subtle and persistent poison, this Puritanism; I have known it to crop out where least expected; I have even known of mitred heads which seem in some way to be turned by it. Ah, well! The Church has always had her battles to fight, and I do not think she can yet congratulate herself that her work is done. But you wished to ask me a question: what is it?

Par.—You said that you thought we had been injuring our Church, and playing into the hands of Rome, by setting ourselves against a rich and glorious service. You seemed in this remark to give shape to some ideas which have been floating through my mind, and I would like to hear your views more fully.

Rec.—I will cheerfully give them to you, but you must excuse me now. Call next Wednesday evening, and we will resume the subject.

Project Canterbury