Project Canterbury







The Sacred Name



The REV. F. C. EWER, S. T. D.





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



NEW YORK, December, 1873.

My DEAR RECTOR: While dining with a few friends last Thursday evening, among whom were a number of Low Churchmen, I was drawn into a discussion on the general subject of the Catholic movement in our Church. During the discussion, I happened to speak of the propriety of bowing on entering or leaving a Church and whenever the Sacred Name of our Blessed LORD is spoken; and I stated that my impression was that there was authority for it. One of my friends, who in an excited manner declared that he had been forty years a Churchman, took issue with me on the points both of propriety and of authority.

The result was, that we stood at locked wheels on the question of propriety; neither of us being able to convince the other. On the question of authority he challenged me to produce canon or rubric commanding such outward reverence. This I could not do on the spot, and there the matter ended for the time, with Low-Church in apparent possession of the field.

I need not tell you that I am fully persuaded myself. But what shall I say to my friend?
Very affectionately yours,



MY DEAR FRIEND: I have received your letter of yesterday in which you describe your dilemma.

The main difficulty in the way of a settlement of the question between you and your opponent, arises from the fact that one of you is arguing from one standpoint and the other from another. The fact is, though you are both Churchmen, one is a Catholic and the other a Sectarian. A man who has lived all his life in a village cannot understand the thoughts or enter into the views of a man who has been all over the world.

When a person has once risen out from the influences—the narrow horizon and resultant prejudices of Sectarianism, and has caught a glimpse of something broader in space and far longer in time, when he finds himself one with the great eighteen hundred years' old Catholic Body, when he feels himself bound up as an atom into its large, unified and continuous life, it is not easy for him to have patience with the narrowness and bigotry of the mere Sectarian spirit. [1/2]  On the other hand, it is quite impossible for a mere Sectarian to feel the force with which the consensus of the Catholic ages and generations, from the Apostles' time to the present day, comes bearing down upon the Catholic Churchman.

Alas, a person may be a Churchman all his days, either High or Low, and yet still remain all his days a mere Sectarian. That is to say, he may regard the so-called "P. E. Church" not as an organic part of the Catholic Body of the ages, but as severed from It, and quite as much severed practically, as are the Baptist, Presbyterian or Unitarian Communions. The Catholic Churchman and the Sectarian Churchman look upon the habits and customs that may happen to obtain in the Anglican Communion in any one decade or half century with very different feelings. When from his lofty stand-point the Catholic Churchman takes into the compass of his vision the whole expanse of the Catholic Church, stretching over all national types of man, past and present, from the times of the Apostolic Fathers, through Nicene times, through medieval days, through the period of the "Reformation," and down to to-day, even if he does see certain spots in that expanse (for instance the Anglican), where the surface of the Church is depressed from its general normal level, he is not alarmed. He knows just how to class such fluctuations. He knows that they are mere temporary and abnormal exceptions, which the life-action and general health of the whole continuous and living Body will bring out all right again in the end. If he sees alterations in habits and customs stealing over that depressed spot, he knows just how to class those alterations; for he perceives that inevitable processes of Catholic life are going on. He knows that "Georgian Eras" and periods of "Deformation" on the one hand, and that, on the other hand, Superstitious and Jansenist troubles and Papal Infallibilities, though they may make their appearance here and there in the vast and long-lived Body (from the fact that it comprises a human as well as a Divine element), can never spread through the whole Catholic Church, nor last forever in any part it. He can be patient with them, knowing how patient GOD is. He may try to cure them, or help to do so, as far as he can in his day and generation, by example and pen, and word and prayer; but he does not get provoked with them. He does not "lose his head," as the phrase goes, and become dissatisfied with his own Communion because some of these local diseases happen to be in that part of the Church where GOD has placed him by Holy Baptism. He knows and understands that they are temporary troubles, aches and pains at given spots of the Body, but by no means mortal diseases of the whole Body of which he is a member; that they are mere exceptions to the great general rule. But the Sectarian Churchman set by his habit of thought down low, and peering round himself with narrow vision, sees and feels only his own local part of the great Church. That little part is to him the whole Church. He has been accustomed all his days to consider the life-action and play of the exception rather than of the rule, and he grows at last to love the exception. If he sees that exception at all disturbed by what he calls innovations, he thinks it is the Rule of Christian truth which is disturbed. He is alarmed, imagines that the earth is about to break up, the heavens to fall, and his sect to pass out of existence. Well, no wonder he is alarmed.

The ways and general customs, and consenting canons, and general ruling instincts of the whole Catholic past, press upon us with cumulating force. They are great laws to us. We live the Catholic life, and feel the Catholic feeling, and act the Catholic actions, and worship in the Catholic worship in harmony with them. You cannot expect a Sectarian Churchman to understand all this; [2/3] it is too broad for his vision. He will listen to nothing except what his little sect says. He has no ear to hearken down the ages and all over Catholic Christendom. He has no feeling of unity with all the Saints and Martyrs. To use the old saying: He believes in the Catholic Church, Oh yes; that is to say, he believes in the Catholic Church of the first seventy years entirely (although, by the way, his information regarding it be somewhat hazy). He believes in the Catholic Church from the year 100 to the year 500—well, to a certain extent. He believes in the Catholic Church from the year 500 to the year 1500, not at all—oh not at all! He believes in the Catholic Church from the year 1500 to the year 1873—that is to say, in his own particular portion of It, namely, the "Protestant-Episcopal-Church-of-the United-States-of-America." To him, our own dear National Church is not a part of the Catholic present and past, dear because of that; but it is merely one of the "Churches"; it is the Church of his "persuasion." And he will listen to nothing, to no canon, except what his little sect has passed; to no custom except what his little sect knows now. The great life-action of the Catholic Church in all the past is nothing to him. With him, it is not CHRIST'S Body, the Church Catholic, that is infallible; but it is his sect only which is endowed with plenal authority. And if his sect has happened to remain silent as to a custom, then that custom is forbidden. If his sect does not speak, then CHRIST has not spoken.

But the Catholic Churchman is not a member of a mere little, self-governing, independent coterie, or religious clique, which is cut of and totally severed from the past of Christendom, and totally severed also from the vast body of Catholic Christendom's present; which obeys and sympathizes with nothing but its own little transitory rules, canons and will. He is not in the attitude of one, who, if his own little sect has happened to remain silent in its canons about a certain point, can find no broader canon in universal past use which appeals to him with force as a perennial canon that has ruled in Christendom.

The Catholic Churchman in dealing with a Sectarian Churchman has to leave his own standpoint and fish for an argument in the miserable mill-pond of the little sect; and unless the local sect itself has spoken definitely by law, all goes for nought. To the Catholic Churchman, his own local and national part of the Church is bound, to greater or less degree, by the general law and habit of the whole Body of which it is but an integral part. To the Sectarian Churchman, whether he be High Church or Low (for mere "High Churchmanship," as it runs, is unmitigated Sectarianism), his own sect is an integral part of nothing, without sympathy, without a past, without a future; and (if it once, while acting locally, has the misfortune to make a mistake or get wrong,) without connections and surrounding influences gradually to bring it back to a normal and correct attitude again. Besides, if logic happens to go against the sect, so much the worse for logic.

But pardon me for this long introductory talk. It was suggested by your question. Very well, let us come to the point. What, you ask, ought you to say to your opponent?

I. Suppose, for instance, you make a statement something like the following, viz:

The Christian's GOD is an embodied and visible GOD; He is GOD Incarnate.

The Christian Church is correspondingly an embodied and visible Church; It is a Church Incarnate.

[4] The Christian man is correspondingly an embodied and visible man; he is a spirit incarnate.

The Christian worship is correspondingly an embodied and visible worship; it is a spiritual worship incarnate.

The Christian reverence, as part of that worship, is correspondingly an embodied and visible reverence; it is a spiritual reverence, incarnate.

What is otherwise may be reverence, but it is not Christian reverence. It may be all sufficient in Natural Religion, and for the infidel who looks only to the diffused GOD of Nature; but it is not all-sufficient in Revealed Religion, and for the followers of Him who has issued forth from His diffused invisibility and become Incarnate. If the Christian man feels a reverence for GOD'S Sanctuary on entering it which he does not feel on entering a popular lecture-room, or a barn, then, as a Christian, it is right that his reverence should be an embodied reverence, and that he should bow on entering a Church where stands the Altar—the Throne of the Special Presence of Him, who, having "veiled His Godhead in Flesh and Blood, veils These again in Bread and Wine."

Your friend, doubtless, wishes to be logical. Let him run the line back. Ask him if he does not see that a reverence which is not embodied implies a worship which is not embodied; and that the latter implies a Church that is not embodied; and that this implies a GOD that never was and is not now embodied; and that a GOD that is not now embodied is not the GOD-Man, CHRIST. In short, that he has struck a blow at the fundamental Truth of Christianity, namely, The Incarnation?

II. Again. Your friend demands a canon. Very well. We will, for the time being, suppose that the P. E. Church of the U. S. A., has passed no canon. Nevertheless, She is one with the Mother Church of England. The habits and instincts and ways of the Mother are of course those of the Daughter. It is not and never has been necessary for the Daughter to define to herself, and to specify by positive law, every minute thing that She should do. The fact is, the Church, as a living being, has Her ways and customs that run along down from the past without definition in rubric and canon. The American Church has never, for instance, defined by canon that the Psalter shall be said antiphonally, either by Priest and people, or by decanis and cantoris sides of the Choir; or that there should be Sunday-schools; or that the stole should be used at Matins Prayer; or that people should say a silent prayer on entering Church for service; or that the preacher should say a gloria at the end of his sermon. She has never defined by canon many other things. The fact is, She has inherited ways and customs from Her Mother Church. Some of these ways and customs are defined by canon and some are not. Canons and rubrics have never in the whole Catholic past been minutely exhaustive; nor is it possible to make them so. The Catholic Church has never attempted to transform Herself into a machine with precise mechanical action. The American Church, as a Daughter, moves, by reason of Her descent from and unity with Her Mother, in the same general ways with Her Mother. Now, if Her Mother has found it necessary at any period of Her career, because some Catholic custom was falling into desuetude, to set that custom into a canon of obligation, the Daughter naturally continues the habit of following the custom, and obeying the canon, even though She, Herself, may have made no local canon in reference to it.

In fact, She feels the influence and carries in Her mien the general air of the Anglican family of which She is a member; and, furthermore, the Anglican family feels the influence and carries the general air of the Catholic community in past and present of which It is an integral part.

[5] And they who oppose outward reverence in us, are not only logically denying the Incarnation of GOD, but are also logically striking a blow at that unity between the different parts of the Anglican Communion which is or at least ought to be, dear to every true Anglican Churchman; and, moreover, they are striking a blow against the unity of the Anglican Communion with the whole Catholic Church from the first, which every true Churchman feels by instinct. We do not, my dear friend, accept the Catholic Church simply because we have accepted the Protestant Episcopal Church, and because the great Catholic Church of the ages is a sort of addendum to the Protestant Episcopal Church; but, on the other hand, we love and accept the American Church because it presents to us the Catholic Church, and makes us members of the latter.

Ill. If, however, the above considerations do not weigh with your friend, suppose, thirdly, you suggest to Him something like the following, viz:

Public worship consists of definite acts; supplication, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, etc. Each is naturally expressed by the attitude we assume. Now, when we are ascribing to the Divine Being any particular attribute, as, for instance, Holiness, or when we ascribe to Him Glory, what posture is appropriate? If we were in condition to assume no bodily attitude whatever, the case would be different. But we cannot escape assuming some attitude or other. Now the question is, what? Shall it be one that is forgetful of, wilfully regardless of, or positively adverse to the spirit of reverence? If we kneel at prayer, and stand at praise, and sit at meditation during the Lesson and sermon, the whole principle of bowing at reverence is admitted. "Come, good brother," you might say, "be consistent, at least. Either give up your kneeling or take to bowing. When you, a sinner, stained all over with imperfections, stand before GOD, and ascribe to Him—the Infinitely Spotless One, the Dazzlingly Pure—His Holiness and Glory, for shame and in humility bend your head. St. John says that even the Angels, who are not pure in His sight, fall down as they cry 'Holy, Holy, Holy, LORD GOD of Hosts.' You Churchmen who object to bowing, pause; you are criticising and objecting to the worship of Heaven. You are saying that the Holy Angels are setting us all a bad and Popish example."

IV. And now as for the matter of the canon, and whether there is any authority "for bowing on entering a Church, and for bowing at the Sacred Name."

Let us, to satisfy your friend, leave our Catholicity, and go over and seat ourselves with him beside his millpond of sectarianism and see what it produces.

1. Whatever changes the American Church made from the English standards, She takes pains to warn us positively in the Preface to Her Prayer Book, that She "is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship; or further than local circumstances require." [Preface to American Prayer-Book.]

Bowing, either at the Sacred Name or on entering a Church, was surely not required to be changed by any local circumstances arising from the fact that the Colonies had become independent of England. Hence, what is law in England about this matter of bowing, what was considered, at least, as so essential a point of worship that it was made by the Mother Church a matter of positive canon, must be binding as a proper custom at least in the Daughter Church, which is far from intending to depart from the Mother in any essential point of worship. At any rate, such a custom cannot be Popish, unless it be admitted that the American Church is Popish.

[6] Where are we to look, then, for the mind of the English Church as to this matter of outward reverence? Surely not to the habits of Her recusant children, even though those habits may be a hundred years old; but to Her own voice as expressed in Her authorized and unrepealed documents. The American part of the Church—that is to say, your friend's Protestant Episcopal sect—declares to him that the two Books of Homilies "do contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary to these times." See Article XXXV of the Prayer Book. Very well, then, your friend is led by his own sect square up to the Homilies. Let us read him some choice bits from "The Second Part" of the "Homily of the Right use of the Church," in order that he may learn what is the mind of his "sect" in the matter.

"It may teach us sufficiently," saith the Homily, "how well it does become us Christian men reverently to use the Church and Holy House of our prayers, by considering how great reverence and veneration the Jews in the old law held their temples, which appeareth by sundry places, whereof I will note unto you certain . . . . But you will say that they honored it superstitiously and a great deal too much, crying out 'The Temple of the LORD—the Temple of the LORD!' being notwithstanding most wicked in life . . . . Truth it is that they were superstitiously given to the honoring of their temple. But I would that we were not so far too short from the due reverence of the LORD'S House, as they overshot themselves therein. And if the Prophet justly reprehended them, hearken also what the LORD requireth at our hands, that we may know whether we be blameworthy or no. It is written in Ecclesiastes 'When thou dost enter into the House of GOD, take heed to thy feet; draw near that thou mayest hear,' etc. Note well, beloved, what quietness in gesture and behaviour, what silence in talk and words is required in the House of GOD."

Let me ask en passant what those gentleman (vestrymen, too, sometimes) would say to the above, whom we not infrequently find in our Churches talking aloud, with their hats on, smoking a cigar, perhaps, and telling most laughter-provoking jokes to each other?

But to proceed; how, in harmony with the above extract from the Homily, is the following, which is the VII. Canon of 1640, on Bowing. The long Catholic habit of bowing, was, it seems, dying out, owing to Puritan and Congregational influence; and so the Anglican Church passed this canon to stem the tide, and She has never repealed it, or expressed any contrary mind.


"Whereas the Church is the House of GOD, dedicated to His Holy Worship, and therefore ought to mind us both of the Greatness and Goodness of His Divine Majesty, certain it is, that the acknowledgment thereof, not only inwardly in our hearts, but also outwardly with our bodies, must needs be pious in itself—"

"It is nothing but Popery," quoth our opponents.

"Needs be pious in itself, profitable unto us, and edifying unto others. We therefore think it very meet and behoveful, and heartily commend it to all—"

"You need'nt commend it to us," quoth our adversaries.

To all good and well-affected people, members of this Church, that they be ready to tender unto the LORD the said acknowledgement, by doing reverence and obeisance, both at coming in and going out of the said Churches, [6/7] Chancels or Chapels, according to the most antient custom of the Primitive Church in the purest time, and of this Church also for many years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth."

Well, if your friend wishes to cut himself off from a custom "of the Primitive Church in the purest times, and of this Church also," I do not know my dear—, that he has any right to insist that you and I shall cut ourselves off also with him. Perhaps he thinks that the "Primitive Church in the purest times" was Popish.

The statutes of Durham also enjoined bowing towards the Altar. It was practiced down to the last half of the last century, and, indeed, was never discontinued, I believe, in Christ Church, Oxford.

2. And now let us come to—


The root of this reverential practice is in the Third Commandment; the spirit of which is, that we shall not name the LORD'S Holy Name as we mention any other. But perhaps your Low Church friend prefers the letter to the spirit. Very well then, we have no objection. But instead of bowing, let him go down on one knee every time the Sacred Name is named; for at the Name of JESUS every knee shall bow."

For ourselves, however, not being partial to the mere letter, but rather to the spirit, we think it sufficient (or rather not we, but our Mother the Church) to obey the spirit of the Apostle's injunction; considering that St. Paul refers, not perhaps so much to our Low Church friend's genuflection, as to that sense of inferiority and humility which we should all feel at the mention of so glorious a Name, together with a befitting outward attitude corresponding to such feeling, such as a bending of the head with the eyes cast down to the ground.

As, too, this ancient Catholic custom of bowing at the Sacred Name, begun to be more and more discontinued, owing to the growing Puritan and anti-Church influence, the Anglican Church felt it to be necessary at last to express Her mind upon this point of worship which it had not been necessary to order in a formal canon before; and to take solemn act against the tide of irreverence with which our Low Church friend so heartily sympathizes, and which in Cromwell's time (forty years after) actually overwhelmed our Church, making it a penal offence even to say "Dearly Beloved Brethren."

And so, in 1603, She passed the following canon still in force, viz:

"And likewise when in time of Divine Service, the Lord JESUS shall be mentioned, due and lowly reverence shall be done by all persons present, as it has been accustomed; testifying by these outward ceremonies and gestures, their inward humility, Christian resolution and due acknowledgement that the Lord JESUS CHRIST, the true and eternal Son of GOD, is the only Saviour of the world, in Whom alone all the mercies, graces and promises of GOD to mankind for this life and the life to come are fully and wholly comprised."

Now we are either a part of the Anglican Communion or not. If we are, then here is the deliberately expressed mind of that communion. You may call it law, homily, canon, custom or not; at any rate Her wish is that we all bow.

The American Church has either departed from her Mother in worship or not. If she has, then in the absence of any canon we are all of us free to act our own wild wills. And while our opponents may stand bolt upright and defiantly, where Holy Angels bend and fall down, and so while they may never learn to worship in Christian and Heavenly manner until they get to [7/8] heaven, we at least can claim the same liberty which they enjoy. And will not they play the part of the Puritans if they seek to deprive us, who bow, of the liberty, which they exercise in not bowing?

The American Church has passed no canon against bowing. She has intimated no change in Her mind from the English Church. She implies, therefore, that Her mind is the same. Nay, She positively asserts that She "is far from intending to depart" from the Mother "in any essential point of Doctrine, Discipline or Worship." And the Mother considered bowing sufficiently essential as an act in worship, to make it the subject of a positive canon; thus rearing it to an equality with kneeling and standing.

Your sincere Friend and Rector,

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