The Catholic Work of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America
: A Contribution to the Cause of the Memorial.
By a Presbyter. [Attributed to E. A. Washburn]
New York: R. Craighead, 1855.
It is a most invaluable part of that blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, that in His worship, different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the faith be kept entire; ad that in every church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to doctrine, must be referred to discipline. Preface to “Common Prayer.”
A grave question has been offered to the mind of the Church in the late Memorial to the House of Bishops. It has been welcomed by some with hope, and to others it is the portent of worst evil. But, whatever our prepossessions, the character of the movement must compel the attention of thoughtful men. This Memorial is no work of individual fancy or party radicalism; it comes from many, nominally of different sides in our communion, and utters a common conviction. It has been their feeling that the Church has a mighty task to do for the cause of “One Lord, one faith, one baptism," in this confused America, and that to this end it needs an enlargement of its working powers. That feeling has wrought silently until it could be hidden no longer. Their appeal has been answered, and it is the happiest pledge of its worth, that the Church in its ready appointment of a commission has acknowledged its own sense of the urgent want. Meantime, then, the question should have a calm discussion. It is natural and just that all should look with doubt on any untried change in an established system; and it is the first duty of those who will enter on such a plan of church extension to show that it rests on true principles. Our conviction is that all opposition will be from the misconception of these principles, and that our chief need at this day is to ascertain what we mean by the church system, its laws of life, and processes of growth, in their bearing on such a movement. With such a feeling this essay is contributed to the cause. Its author is not one of the original signers of the [3/4] Memorial, but has been won to it by sober study of its claims, and he hopes therefore to be heard, not as a pledged champion, but as an impartial thinker by impartial men.
We propose in these pages to consider the work of a church calling itself a branch of the Catholic Church of Christ in America. We shall compare with this the position of the Protestant Episcopal body, and seek to prove thence our want and our duty.
It is the essential principle of the Holy Catholic Church that it is builded on no fragment of doctrine or institution, but embraces in its largest fellowship all who are receivers of the simple Catholic faith and baptized into its body. To this Divine reality, amidst the unhappy strifes of Christendom, our communion bears witness, alike against the various systems which have rent the Body of Christ and the false Catholicity which kills its Spirit. Its Episcopate, its primitive creeds, its authoritative word and sacraments are no peculiarities of a denomination, but Catholic insignia of its rank, as a branch of the universal church. If, in the modern fashionable phrase, the Protestant Episcopal Church have a "genius and mission," it is this; to be the representative of no Anglican system, no Roman system, of no party in religion or state, but the pillar and ground of a Catholic truth.
As such a church, complete in theory, it ought to be, therefore, above all bodies of men called Christian, most complete in its action. It should have here in our America, as throughout all the world, an organic growth; as a communion not for one class of men, not for one section of the country, but for all; it should be in its spirit and methods, as well as in its claims, the Church of Jesus Christ in this continent. To do this asks a full knowledge of the conditions of so grand a problem. The labor of implanting the Church in any country is always a peculiar one, but yet more so here. We have, first of all, a broad continent, not a little kingdom; the gathering of the most heterogeneous elements, not yet fused into a national oneness. Our government, again, creates, as nowhere in Europe, instead of an aristocracy on one hand and a fixed order of the common [4/5] people on the other, a vast middle class, in which all social influence is centred. There must be, in such a case, differences unknown elsewhere, of social structure, of education, of habits secular and religious, which must enter into our inquiry, as statesmen in the polity of men or of God. It is plain, then, that it can be no simple, but a very complex problem, how such a country shall be christianized. But it is certain, that such a want is felt now as it has never been before. It is a time when irreligion has reached such a height amidst the natural growth of a corrupt civilization and the discords of contending sects, that some power is needed to create unity of Christian faith and fellowship. The continent lies open. A century more, and the crisis will be past for good or evil. It is no less sure that such a work can only be done by a church, which, through its large and living activities, shall be able to meet and master these elements of national character. If such a church exist and act, it may conquer; if not, America must remain, as now, surrendered to unbelief on one side and a myriad of swarming sects on the other.
We might here, accordingly, enter at once into the question;—Is such a want answered in our own communion? But, before this, we wish more fully to unfold our leading idea, since it is only by understanding how it bears on the methods of church extension, that we can measure our own position. Let no one be impatient at these preliminaries, for preliminaries here are half the battle. We must study the science of the architect before we rear the vast walls of a cathedral, though it may need little art to build a narrow chapel. We have said that the Church must have an organic growth; we must ask, therefore, what constitutes such a growth? What is its principle? Such a growth, we affirm, involves a certain changeless unity, and again a certain manifoldness of action. As we hold both, and know the relation of each to the other, we are severed on one side from a false conservatism, and on the other from a false radicalism.
What, then, is the changeless unity of the church? If [5/6] we define the church in its essential meaning, it is the supernatural fact of a Kingdom of God in the world. As such, it has a spiritual principle; it is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;" and this is the soul of its Catholicity, as the gospel of redemption to the universal heart. But as such it has also a body, the organic form of its life—existing in certain authoritative, perpetual truths and institutions; its landmarks are, the Holy Sacraments, the two centres of all Christian communion; the Ministry, its living order; the Faith, as embodied in the holy scriptures, the statute-book of all time, and in those creeds of the Apostles and Nice, which are above all formularies the voice of the whole church. These are the conserving elements which make it one living faith, while theology is of necessity subjected to changes of opinion; one institution, while lesser forms of worship may be, and are, continually modified. Such is, we may say, the personal identity of the church, and its law of organic structure.
But while a Catholic Christianity is thus essentially the same in any and all ages, its unity of life is put forth according to the relations of the time and the social world in which it dwells. We affirm that manifoldness of action is necessary to the church. We do not use here the word development; for while the term is innocent and significant, yet in the hands of Newman on one aide, and Rationalists on the other, it has gotten an ill-omened and suspicious sound. Words are nothing if we can have things. The essential unity of the church, then, we affirm, can never imply uniformity of method; nay; such uniformity is the surest sign that no life exists, as a hundred stone pillars may be built the same in stature and proportion, but a hundred trees are each specifically unlike. A Christian worship is not a mechanism but a living outgrowth. Most minds will not see that this law of life in the church is at once conserving yet changing; but in confounding the two they destroy each. They deny any unity of faith and order, because of modifications in theology and worship. This is the error of the rationalist and Puritan. Or they so blend together the one Catholic truth with mere [6/7] formularies of opinion, the one Catholic order with the accretions of worship, as to make the church a petrifaction. This is the error of the Romanist and the ultra-Anglican. But if we grasp this principle of unity in manifoldness, we shall see how the original body of Christian truths and ordinances has gathered about it its various forms according to the natural conditions of growth. It is thus that the ministry, from its apostolic germ, becomes, according to the place and people where it labors, a ministry of varied type; of the settled parochial clergy, and again of the missionary order in every grade. We sometimes forget, in our zeal for preserving intact the apostolic, three-fold system, that the system had its origin in the wants of the church of that very time; we talk of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, as if these orders were a cast-iron mechanism; as if, because we keep them, we can therefore have no more. It is thus again, as history fully shows, that a cultus or liturgical worship arises as a natural outgrowth. At first Christian men worshipped with no written form, but only the interpreted word, and the sacraments with a few very simple formula; orally repeated; from these sprang the various liturgies, alike in essential unity of ideas and some common expressions, yet all differing in detail, and as such came from the mind and heart of believers, there grew a ritual of Alexandria, of Antioch, of Rome, of Gaul, and the rest. The character stamped on them was Christian, yet national; and such at this day they remain, various in type yet all harmonious witnesses, like the four gospels, of one lord, one faith, one baptism. We speak here of no doubtful matter, but we need only point to the remains of antiquity, gathered by the diligence of a Renaudot, a Muratori, a Bingham. Indeed Mr. Palmer, in his "Origines Liturgicae," has based his whole argument for the primitive antiquity of these forms on this general difference, yet occasional likeness in certain passages. Such, therefore, if there be any who seek things primitive and Ante-Nicene, or any who can see a reasonable truth apart from precedent, we claim as the principle of a Christian worship. It astounds us when we read in an Episcopal charge that the [7/8] liturgy of the church is of its Catholic essence. Certainly it is a very random style of dogmatizing. A church creates, of necessity, a liturgy, but that liturgy is not inspired, primitive, absolute, or unchangeable; it may be wise to keep it, dangerous to change it; it may be bound up with the affections and devotional wants of men, but it is very useless to rest it on a ground so unreasonable. Our only true position can be that such a system must have a living growth and a living adaptation to a people. Much may be found which, not essential, is yet valuable; for the changes of the church are like those of nature, which does not lop off a branch but puts forth an inward power, replacing the withered with the new; yet such changes must come, and the same oneness will no more produce the same worship for every land and age than the same tree will have entire uniformity in every climate and soil. It may be said that a liturgy is not only a growth, but a fixed bulwark of faith. This is an important truth. But if this secondary purpose make it a mechanical uniformity, incapable of any further necessary change, it becomes a principle fatal to itself; it preserves a dead not a living faith.
Such are the two principles of a Catholic system, and such their harmonious action. We are sure that this view cannot be confounded with that of a destructive radicalism; but if rightly understood will be seen to be the only ground of a wise conservatism. If we apply to it the grand analogies of nature, it is thus the church, like the planetary system, holds in itself its opposite but combined forces; its centripetal power lies in its faith, sacraments, ministry, and in the settled unity of feeling which these create; and its motions are thus in a sure yet a vast orbit. Action is its law. If we yet more apply the analogies of social order, we here recognise its Catholic grandeur as distinct from a sect, based on some theological opinion and cramped within the limits of some narrow method. The church of Christ is a kingdom; and as that embraces all offices from the monarch to the humblest agent of the law, so has the kingdom of God its ranks and complex activities; it is not a theology, but holds in itself varied forms of theological opinion; it is not one practical method, but large as the wants of all, high and lowly, lettered and unlettered, who are citizens of its universal state.
If, then, we have settled these principles, we may at once apply them to the work of the church in America. It is indeed altogether a new phenomenon in Christendom; for as there was from the first no national church, like those of England and France, born with the dawn and growing with the growth of civilization, so this country has no established Christianity. All sects and systems are left to work in their own way. That worship which we hold dear is an exotic, transplanted from English soil, but never thoroughly grafted into the wild stock of American character. But if any Christian faith gain a national power, it must have a national growth; it must so far admit the action of a living principle as to give it a proper adaptation to American needs; and to this end it must, in its early stages, amidst a population wholly indifferent to the forms of England, or Rome, or any other, fall back as far as possible on essentials, and make its methods flexible. We can as soon build a York Minster in a western clearing as make the mass of American society accept a finished Anglican worship. There should be, first, an adaptation of the ministry to the people. A settled parochial clergy must be, of course, the chief reliance; but there should be, besides these, an order fitted by a proper culture to minister to the multitude, not trained in the church system. It is wanted directly around us for labor in half organized parishes, or among the ignorant and poor who cannot be now reached. It is wanted for missionary work; and when we say this we do not mean, as too many imagine, some little suburban province of church action. For a century to come our main labor in this continent is emphatically of the missionary character; our country is the valley of the West, and the broad fields now opening before us to the Pacific. Such a class may be created without detriment to learning or regular order; and to suppose otherwise is as absurd as to say [9/10] that an army is spoiled by the organization of a corps of light infantry. We want both a highly educated clergy and a clergy for the people; and instead of lowering the standard we exalt it by a right division of labor. Its influence will be a living one, to carry the church into the heart of society. Thus Wesley preached, and began a work which the Mother Church, in her cold narrowness, would not appreciate, but hardened her heart against him, and forced thousands who might have been loving children, into separatists. But, next, there should be an adaptation of worship to the same necessity. The very notion of one rigid ritual for every class, drilled in its use from infancy, or utterly unaccustomed to it, is an absurdity. Such modifications should be, and may be, consistent with the keeping always of the essential features of the liturgy, with soberness and good taste; the self same service will remain for the trained churchman; but the vast class without the church, from whom she must have her recruits, should see and hear her in her Catholicity. She must show her willingness and capacity to meet their wants, to use every mode consistent with essential unity she must make manifest her living, active, and generous spirit.
We come now to the second topic of our essay. Is the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States such a body, and so fitted to Christianize this continent?
We answer, that it is so in its theory, but not in its practical workings, and we shall here seek to unfold the fact and its causes.
It has already been said that our distinctive character lies in this, that we hold in their integrity the elements of a Catholic system. We stand among many powerful sects, but none of them can do the work we have spoken of, because the principle of each is false or imperfect. Presbyterianism can never be more than a theological party; its Calvinism is its life, and its doctrinal system is embodied in its practice. Congregationalism is and must be always another New England type of the same Calvinism while it remains a unity; and its principle of independency, severed from that narrow stand-point, must resolve it [10/11] into conflicting orthodox and heterodox atoms. The Methodist and Baptist reach the middle class, but by their popular character, not by any Catholic completeness. Romanism, last of all, while it adapts itself, as always a miracle of adaptive genius, to its new American work, and wins by its manifold activities, is only Catholic on the surface; its theology, its spirit, and its claim are most thoroughly anti-catholic and sectarian. We have, then, in comparison with these, a system at once steadfast, yet simple, large, and flexible; built on the great creeds of the faith, the Word of God, the sacraments unmarred, the apostolic ministry; we have an essential unity with all parts of the Church of Christendom which have retained the undivided truth; and we are thus, in our full capacity, ready to do the work of moulding the American mind. No sect can battle in such a phalanx of concentred strength; none can so extend itself; with at once an organized centre, yet a manifold method. This is no vain-glorying, for, alas! we shall have little cause to feel any self conceit when we consider our distance from our own theory. It is simply the statement of a fact, and that fact is the confession of many among the honest of Christian sects, who would gladly stand on an Apostles' and Nicene creed instead of a Saybrook platform, a Westminster confession; or on no creed at all.
But when we pass from the church in posse to the church in esse, we have unfortunately a very different fact. Instead of a Church Catholic it is not to be mistaken that we are in position a sect. It is true that we are among the most respectable of Christian bodies in education, refinement, wealth, and piety. Our growth has been considerable; our moderate, doctrine, free from theological heat; our broad communion; our attractive ritual, Protestant, yet without the bareness of New England worship; our dignified and sober character; our conservative tone amidst the whirl of religious and social reforms, have given us great influence. But our growth has been and is of a special character, mainly by secession from radical bodies, of men affrighted by the influx [11/12] of unchecked opinion or wild piety; men of conservative feelings and good taste. This is all well, and to a certain degree may be said to show the influence of the truths we possess over onesided sectarianism. But in another and much more frequent sense we have won those who care not a rush for the church, but who find in her liturgy and sober ways a comfortable refuge. It is for them a pleasant Hotel des Invalides. Our system does not reach the mass of the American middle class. We do not mean, of course, that it excludes them altogether, but that a comparatively small portion of them enter its communion. Methodist and Baptist take-hold of such classes, but we do not. Can the fact be denied? We challenge the proofs; we challenge any to go through the parishes of our communion in city and country, and reckon the proportion. Where we have become a church for such classes, it is because certain new features, the first fruits of the harvest which we would more fully reap, e. g. the free-church system, have been introduced. To the vast multitude of the people we are a church of England, not of America; an exotic, not an indigenous and native Christianity; a church of rigid and foreign ceremonies. But even if it be allowed that our influence is equal to that of the sects about us, which we by no means grant, the very allowance is the most feeble argument. If we be a Catholic church we should not be content with this; we should "do more than others;" we should meet every class. As it is, we stand virtually on the same platform with the Presbyterian, a church for the upper ranks; wealthy, decent, with our peculiar, exclusive distinctions, not Catholic attractions; a little less rigid than they in theology and social habits, a little more so in worship; in fact, held by the world as in a kind of unstable equilibrium between Calvinist and Unitarian. There are enough who talk of "the church," but to call it so in any practical sense, as having such a position or influence over American character, is simply absurd. Even in comparison with Rome we have far less practical efficiency; her system acts with a vigor we cannot have on the poor and half educated, and men begin to fear that she may be "the church" of America [12/13] while they have no fear whatever about us. Here indeed in the east and middle states we do not so fully feel the want, since our long establishment, our wealth and social resources, satisfy us; but in the valley of the west and the larger part of our vast continent it is a patent fact. It is very easy for our complacent churchmen to shut their eyes, and say, “we are going on very fairly as we are; we need nothing better." The signs of the times cannot be mistaken; the Memorial does not fabricate, but speaks a profound conviction of many of every party; the movements in convention for a new order of deacons, the confessed dearth of clergy, the demand for special missionary work, are proofs that the need exists and is felt. It cannot be laughed down, or frowned down, or put out of sight by any who, like the old Aristotelian, will not look into the telescope for fear he may see.
What then, we ask, is the cause of the fact? We shall not fear, whatever the distaste of any to the statement, to say that the chief cause is the uncatholic practical working of our church. We freely acknowledge all other partial and possible causes. True, America is a vast country, and Christian work hard and slow; nor can we "put a girdle round the globe in forty minutes;" true, there is a spirit of lawless unbelief abroad at this day; true, there is a false prejudice against our church from the surrounding bodies. But with all this we affirm that the largest share of the evil lies with ourselves; and a glance at our history will show the ground of our charge. We were a colonial daughter of England when as yet no American nation was born; and that original type has never changed; but while Presbyterian and Puritan have adapted themselves to the nation, we have been, and are, a stereotype copy of England still. Let us not be misconceived in this remark. We have no ultra-American prejudice against England; with her we are bound by tics that can never be broken; we love her faith and communion, and most unfilial were the heart that would not honor such a mother; but we are not the church of England; we are the church of Christ in America. Our fault has been that we [13/14] have forgotten this. We have been an English establishment merely; we have repeated her imperfections as well as her excellencies, her habits, her local characteristics, her parties. Many are content to be a high and dry church of very respectable Christians, distinguished from the Presbyterian by the absence of extempore prayers, of revivals, and lamps for evening service; from Methodists by a sober liturgy that regulates the “Amen," and the fashion of written discourses. Or, on the other side, they are a wealthier class of Evangelical Christians, abominating Tractarianism, and preaching "justification by faith," but not soiling their skirts by descending to their vulgar brethren, who hold the same "doctrines of grace," but not "our scriptural and venerable liturgy," our "chaste and dignified worship." This feeling is embalmed in our practical system. We have a noble clergy of scholars and gentlemen, and we want them; but we have none save of one training; here and there a Wesley, but no class of Wesleys. They are all honorable men at their sermon manufacture and parochial routine, but all scholarly gospellers. We have a diaconate, but it does not deacon's work; it aims only to "purchase to itself a good degree" in a twelvemonth. We want the preachers and priests of the people. Nay it is one of the most striking facts in this connexion, that little fruit has come of the late canon for an order of working deacons; scarce any will join the number. It has been alleged, as proof, by our stiff conservatives of the extreme right, that they are not wanted; but to us it proves the very opposite, that there is a lethargic feeling prevalent which makes void even wise means. Our worship, again, repeats the same monotone. We cannot too highly reverence the liturgy as a monument of English devotion, free from Roman follies, and a bulwark against sectarian license; but we affirm plainly, that as a system for all occasions and for every congregation, it is far too rigid and inflexible. We are fully aware that we risk the censure of those who call themselves loyal; we too are loyal, "not a whit behind the chiefest;" but a true loyalty is not blindness. It were an ungracious task, indeed, to dwell on the [14/15] imperfections of the liturgy; to show by historic proof that our morning service, as used on the Lord's day, is an ill-adjusted pile of several distinct offices; to point out the unfitness of the calendar for weekly occasions, the meagreness of our collection of chants and hymns, and the rest. We should prefer to bring forward its rich beauties. As the standard of Liturgical services, the general norm of practice, it is unequalled; it has, in the phrase of Hooker, “a sensible excellency, correspondent to the majesty of Him whom we worship;" unity and harmony pervade it; confession, absolution, chant, lesson, and prayer move onward in one swelling chorus; its collects are the utterance of the Christian heart in its devoutest ages; its seasons of festival and fast bear us from mystery to mystery of His Divine Life, who is the Type of His church; its baptismal and communion offices are witnesses of Catholic faith and devotion. But we may surely say all this, and yet, without fear of being called blasphemers, hold that our system demands some modification. The difficulty lies not so much in the liturgy itself as in our too rigid use of it; it is absolutely imperative in every detail amidst all the changing circumstances of ministerial work. We are so far from conservative in this that we have lost its original method; we have not at all the varied hours and varied offices of those who framed the liturgy. It was never meant to be the same routine for all occasions; we have made it such and deadened it by our own stiffness. Devotion wearies with the repetition morning and evening, not only the Lord's day, but in every daily prayer and special service, of the same form of "linked sweetness long drawn out." But the defect is felt far more with the missionary among those who have not the trained habit of worship. Imagine St. Paul in cassock and surplice haranguing the crowd of Athens or Lystra; in every discourse, at every fresh station, beginning with his "dearly beloved brethren;" reading Venite and To Deum when he found no music; making his own responses, and so through Litany and Ante-Communion, service on service, Ossa on Pelion, before he could speak one hearty word of the Kingdom of God. It is no caricature. Not [15/16] a missionary meeting in Western wilds, not a handful of countrymen untrained in liturgies, but hungering after truth, can listen without these preliminaries. It may be said that there is all necessary license allowed for special occasions. We answer, that if such modifications are made, it is in very few cases, by very few persons, almost always with fear of some impending rebuke. The common law and the spirit of the church oppose any such freedom as radical; there is no allowance that in any sense generously meets the want; no recognition of the principle of adaptation as true. Were it not for some preconceived notion of a necessary uniformity, the very idea of imposing one imperative, rigid condition of worship, would be seen to be at first glance absurd. Is such a system Catholic? Why should we not have a greater variety? What principle is attacked by it? Are we not making our worship a dull monotony, a hindrance to its own aims instead of a living devotion? We do not speak to churchmen by rote, who dread any assault on their drowsy self complacency, but to churchmen of principle.
Such are the causes of our partial growth. We have not sought to upbuild the Kingdom of Christ in its large, living principles, but an English system; and as we are not, and can never be in our position, the Church of England, we have only a poor imitation of our model without its own grandeur, not a living original. The work of the Church Catholic is committed to us. What have we done to accomplish it? Somewhat, doubtless. But we have been mainly occupied with our own peculiar differences, our rival interests borrowed from the mother church. Two great parties have divided us, and thus far our history has been their conflict. Each has had its godly men and its earnest aims, but each has given up to party what was meant for the church. The Evangelical side has been battling against the errors of Rome and Oxford; it has preached justification by faith, and in many cases it has uttered needful rebuke: but it has been chiefly an opposition, and in its one-sidedness has severed the church from the gospel. What has it done positively, [16/17] practically, for the carrying forth of this work of God's kingdom? It would change the Prayer-book, but not to make it the living vehicle of truth to every class of men; all it seeks is to clip the offices of baptism and communion, and get rid of the obnoxious words, “regeneration," "sacrifice," "oblation;" it has sworn by certain theological leaders and certain favorite articles; its strife has been for a theological opinion. The English church of Wilberforce, and Romaine, and Simeon, is its Catholicity. The Anglo-catholic party, on the other side, has grasped the idea of the church, but has narrowed and petrified it. Much, we readily and gratefully acknowledge, has been the good fruit of this movement; it has shown us the distinctive principles of the church; it has placed the creeds, the sacraments, the ministry in their high position; it has revived devotion and holy art; it has built free chapels for the poor; it has breathed a spirit into the dry bones of old churchmanship. But, instead of a true Catholicity, it has hoped to regenerate the world by the exact reproduction of an early Anglican type; it has shown itself an Ecclesiastical, not a living movement. We have talk enough of the church and the apostolic ministry; we have theories of a threefold order; we have reprints of every ancient liturgy; but have they given us bishops like St. Paul, and deacons like St. Stephen? have they shown apostolic order by the "signs following" of living tongues, and spiritual healing? Their aim was true, but partial, and the movement is dying in the embers. We believe that both Evangelical and Anglican represent past, dead theological issues, and will soon be buried in the grave of all theories. What of real work they have done will survive, and peace be to their sleeping dust! We speak what we feel; we do not hold up these parties in derision, but we are in sad, strong earnest, and we believe that in so speaking we utter the experience of many among us. Amidst the divisions of an unhappy Christendom men have looked at our communion standing in the majesty of its faith and order, and it has seemed to them as if at last that vision of a kingdom of [17/18] Christ on earth, so long a troubled and vanishing dream, might be indeed a reality; as they read its venerable creeds, the voice of the Christian truth for all ages, as they saw in its divine forms the witnesses of a religion, whose fellowship was to embrace all, rich and poor, high and lowly, baptized into Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, they have felt that here they might find indeed a church, not of narrow tradition, but where the Spirit, who came down in tongues of fire at the Pentecost, still dwelt in living fulness. But the vision has been "as when an hungry man dreameth, and behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty." They have entered, and instead of a Church Catholic they have found only a sect divided against itself. We do not here confound the church with its parties; we rejoice to believe, apart from these, that there is a unity of earnest minds who hold its truth. But we would see that unity more manifest. The Church asks to-day reality, not theory it wants men to come out of these old one-sided positions and unite in its principles; to hold, to teach, to toil for the Church,. not ignore it; but 'the Church in' its living Catholic meaning, in its broad Catholic activities.
And what, then, is our aim? It has been told already. It is to be what we profess to be, to make our theory a reality. We hail this memorial as a sign of the times; as, in the words of a Bishop lately, alas! too soon taken from us, "the noblest movement of the American church since its formation." It is not merely as a scheme of church extension that we regard it; it shows that principles are at work, that men are feeling a want; it carries in it aims and noble promises greater than any rubrical changes, But it is a step in the direction of practical action, and as such we now turn to it. Our design is not to dwell on the details of such a plan; on the contrary, we may well say that there is no unity of settled opinion in these matters, but great differences among even those who have signed the Memorial. The movement is a tentative not a dogmatic one. It has been intrusted to the wisdom of those who, by their office and character, can best judge and [18/19] advise others. Theirs must be indeed a task of discrimination. We want our large-minded but "judicious" Hookers. We should not imitate those reformers of architecture who would cover a noble Gothic roof with a flat plaster ceiling; or those modern painters who daub over a Perugino or a Giotto to replace it with some vile caricature of their own. A conservative spirit is needed in reforming as well as in maintaining. We have shown the general direction of the modifications proposed. Two objects embrace the whole, the creation of a clerical order for extra-parochial and. missionary work, and the allowance of a greater variety in our worship. This may be accomplished by an increase of forms of service, of more stately harmonies for solemn seasons, of simpler modes for simpler uses. Or it may be done by the admission of a power, duly limited, of preaching the word and ministering the sacraments with less rigid enforcement of the rubric. These modifications will not break down the barriers of order. No material changes need be made in the ordinary service of our parishes; and in every case, while greater freedom is allowed for special. occasions, we should preserve the essential features of our liturgy, e. g. the creeds, the absolution, the Lord's prayer, the necessary formula; of the baptismal and eucharistic offices. Psalter, lessons, and collects may be left open for selection. Very far are we from those who would surrender our worship for random extemporizing; we want "a well regulated liberty." There will be those who doubt the practicability of some plans proposed, by certain of the Memorialists, as the admission of ministers from the Christian bodies around us to orders with but few liturgical restrictions. Such a scheme may, indeed, have a wrong as well as a right side; yet we can conceive no difficulty in making, such restrictions, though few, sufficient to preserve the faith and principles of the church. Certainly at present our Episcopate has more the aspect of a denominational peculiarity than a, Catholic institution; and we shall do well to consider in what practical way we may restore its Catholic function. But whatever our opinion of this or that .particular, we may surely, if we [19/20] desire heartily some improvement, find some way to accomplish it. It were poor evidence of our wisdom, if, for doubt of any individual scheme, we give up altogether all aim after better things. There is ground enough to unite on if there be the spirit of unity. It is this we wish to awaken, this common feeling of the want, confident that it will overcome every seeming hindrance; and to this end we have written. We have therefore sought to place the movement on its right ground; to prove that it is no radical effort but a sound one to uphold the church. That claim we urge, not on the plea of worldly expediency; God forbid that we prostitute His cause to the base level of modern competition! but as a wisdom based on truth and justice. We affirm it false to the divine character of the church to stand before the world in any other than this Catholic position; we deny emphatically our right to enforce on every man, as the essential condition of entering our communion, conformity to our whole prescribed ritual. It matters not if it approve itself to a cultivated taste; it matters not if men should accept it for essentials although they love not its secondary forms. The church cannot compel assent, but she does so virtually, so far as lies in her power, by imposing on all alike these restrictions. Her duty is to provide largely for all. We do not speak here as reformers, but as churchmen to churchmen. If we be a sect, if we want only a sectarian system for a class of certain tastes and habits, we are justified. The Presbyterian is right in demanding subscription to his catechism and covenant; the Baptist is right in enforcing immersion and close communion; for each is and claims to be only a sect. If we be like them we may follow them, but if we be a branch of the church Catholic we must show our catholicity.
Let this view of the movement be fully grasped, and we have no fears about its success. No selfish questions of expediency will prevent us when the path of duty is plain; no feeling that it is a theory, or a novel and dangerous enterprise, will disturb us, because we shall see it to be, as all duty is, the simplest and most practicable of things. It is not the true churchmanship [20/21] which would maintain the faith and order of Christ in their integrity that we fear; that spirit we honor, and we call on men to test and know the character of this movement. We address ourselves calmly to all such minds, and ask them what there is in ideas like these which they may not accept? Is it so monstrous a change that is here proposed? Is it so wild a dream, that for the sake of the church and her grand interests we cannot afford to make these modifications? It is the honest feeling of wise and good men that the church should retain her steadfast character. Most true. But is our principle that our system is absolutely unchangeable? is not rather our security in the settled, constitutional law, which assures us that all will be done soberly, advisedly, and in the fear of God? Our question, then, should be, is this a necessary, a just change? It is said that the church is going on at its natural pace, and that what we need is not any other system, but to use more earnestly what we have. Be it so. This is the very argument we claim, that we should use our own Catholic capabilities, each and all of them; we quarrel not with daily prayers, and free chapels, and parish schools; we want them, and we want, besides them, all which the theory and principles of the church allow. We deny not the work which has been and can be done; so far from it we affirm that we have reached the very point where the work enlarges; and to stay its progress is not to keep the church in her established course, but to dwarf her growth. Outward reforms are nothing without inward principle; but outward reforms that spring from inward principle are needful; and such is this, not a novel experiment, but eminently a churchly movement. Surely the sincere churchman cannot fail to see that our argument is a fair conclusion from his own premises; and if he earnestly feel those living principles which he asserts, if he wish to make that system in which he works a reality, he will recognise in those rubrics and offices a spirit deeper than the outward letter; he will seek to give that spirit its own dimensions. What is our rule? To make the communion of Christ in very deed the fellowship of all men, baptized into the faith of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. [21/22] Where is our limit? Just where the essentials of a Catholic system limit us, no more, no less.
We have spoken to the true churchman. But there is a false conservatism which would oppose all change, which means by Catholic principle the acceptance of the mass of liturgy, articles, statutes, with no idea of their real character, save that we are members of a daughter-church of England and sworn to sustain it. A conservatism' like this, fastening itself to a system as the limpet to its rock by a blind instinct, calls itself churchmanship; it will have no enlargement even for the demands of a living growth. It will keep the oak in a flower-pot. There are two classes from whom such opposition may be looked for. One, on what are called High Church principles, holds the Common Prayer throughout, every formulary, every rubric, as an organic whole, and would part with nothing. The other, on Low Church ground, considers the liturgy as the only barrier between us and the surrounding sects, and will therefore part with nothing. One looks on the ritual as a skin gathered by natural growth, and would therefore preserve every wart and wen on the surface; the other looks on it as a handsome garment, and. would retain it lest it should discover its own nakedness. The former needs to discriminate between the essentials and accidents; the latter needs to learn that the Church, in her very being, apart from all liturgical formularies, stands steadfast and distinct. Both will conspire to put down any movement; and already their alarm is sounded. Our Church newspapers have issued their bulls of excommunication with all the authority of the Council of Nice; indeed, the decretals of an editor seem at this day to be the only recognised form of oecumenical law. Bishops in special charges, and venerable, affrighted presbyters have sought, instead of calm discussion, to extinguish the effort by an appeal to the prejudice of all against novelty. We dread not their arguments; we challenge them; we dread only their effort in paralysing all thought or activity. Their opposition, in whatever shape it appears, is reduced at last to the same old formula of a self complacent unchangeableness. Our essay will already [22/23] have anticipated their objections, and we need spend no more words on them. Is the Church to stand still because this or that man dreads any activity? Do our sagacious alarmists think to stop the march of the sun by putting the clock back? Is radicalism an overwhelming danger with us? Are we so poorly guarded by law that we cannot risk any discussion? This "let alone" policy is not the voice of the church. The bare notion that any scheme, even the wildest, submitted to the decision of a bench of bishops, the soberest chiefs of the soberest body in Christendom; a scheme held of necessity three years in suspense, then talked of, questioned, and at last acted on by the majority of all orders in general convention, can be forced on the Church against its judgment, is enough to move our laughter. Let our trembling churchmen "rejoice in their beds." But we will not dwell on these idle terrors; we expect them; we are not such unripe dreamers as to suppose such a movement will not have its enemies; we know all the selfishness, the blind prejudice, the timidity of men. They who choose the church from exclusive feeling; they who seek in it the satisfying of mere sentiment and taste; they who live in it as a home of cold indolence, will oppose. On them we hurl back the rebuke of unchurchly feeling. Let them choose their title; it will very soon be the only watchword; no longer Evangelical or Oxford, but Sectarian or Catholic. But they, who love the church for its principles, will be ready to prove all things and hold fast the good. The cry is "danger," but there is least danger when earnest men meet to confer of the common weal. In the narrow seas of the Eastern Archipelago there is a deep under-current which draws towards the shore, and while the ship sits with idle sails on the waters, she is drifting with unfelt but fatal power upon the coral reef. Our strength is in action; our death is in stagnation.
We embrace therefore this movement as the best omen of the future; not in the words of a western bishop, "a spectral finger," pointing to some unknown horrors, but the most practical and real of enterprises. We have no sanguine hopes. It is [23/24] modern Christendom; it will demand patient thought and cautious action. But it is begun; it has spoken, and the word will not return void; it has approved itself, as its noblest feature, to be no radical excitement of an individual or a clique, but the want of earnest men untrammelled by party bonds. If indeed it have only this fruit, to break up oumr long party quarrel, and bring men into the unity of action, it will do much. We have had enough of theories of faith on one hand, and the church on the other; let us strive if we can be as well as talk churchmen. If this be of men, it will die; if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it. We claim it as the work of the church to make America a Christian nation; we have an empire in our grasp if we have courage to put forth the hand; we must accept the task, or with its rejection reject also our Catholic profession. It is for us to decide if we will be the Church of Christ in this broad native land; or remain as we are now, Catholic in theory, but buried like the old Herculaneum embalmed in hard lava, a city under ground, and on its top the little village of Portici; grand in capacity, feeble in reality. But we have no fears. Whatever the immediate issue of the movement, it will awaken the heart of the church; it will teach a truth which they who follow us shall "not willingly let die;" its results, though partial now, will be sure at the last; and with such faith in principles, such faith in the living kingdom of Christ and in Him who abides in her, we commit the cause of Catholic unity to the brave soldiers and servants who "work together with God."