Project Canterbury

Francis J. Hall to the Rev. Dr. Newman Smyth
January 9, 1911

[A bound manuscript from the Papers of the Rev. Canon Edward Nason West,
held in the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.]

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

2731 Park Avenue,
Chicago, Jan. 9, 1911.

The Rev. Dr. Newman Smyth,
New Haven, Conn.

Dear Dr. Smyth:--

Your favour of the 7th inst. has come to hand. I shall, of course, be very pleased to have the help of the Rev. Raymond Calkins in our discussion of Federation, and you are at perfect liberty to invite his participation.

My inability, without practice (which I gain little opportunity to resort to) in the use of type-writer, to compose rapidly--added to the correspondence which the business of the Commission has brought me--may make me a slower correspondent than might be desired. But the questions before us are too weighty to suffer from deliberate and time-consuming care in their consideration, I am sure.

What communication has taken place between us already gives me much encouragement. It shows, I think, that we are in position to find a common basis of discussion and to understand one another. I shall, however, seek to avoid writing from an individualistic standpoint, for the agreements at which we may arrive will have value for the cause of unity, only if they are such as can be accepted by those who are behind us. I shall write from the standpoint, or with the design of explaining the position, of that considerable section of Episcopalians who are called "high Churchmen", and who maintain the so-called doctrine of "Apostolic Succession" and of Sacerdotal ministry. In assuming this task I shall also (in my own way) be concerned to represent a position which in various forms is maintained by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. My motive in referring to this last fact is not to appeal to numbers to support the position taken, but merely to accentuate the consideration that I am seeking to represent a point of view which is so widely maintained [1/2] that it must be a somewhat irreducible practical factor in determining the value and possibility of any unifying scheme that we may be discussing. Whether the Catholic position is true or not it cannot be changed in the near future and therefore has to be reckoned with in all our plans for unity. I think you would accept my point, though I do not suppose you would agree with me in my estimate of the soundness of the Catholic view of the ministry and its functions. We do not need to discuss that subject.

For your convenience in referring to the contents of this letter I am putting sectional numbers in my margins. Having my own pencil copy, it will be sufficient to refer to such numbers in order to identify the passages on which you comment. [Transcribers note: I have omitted these sectional numbers from this transcription.]

I venture to suggest the following procedure: (a) I will herein submit my ideas on Federation in a preliminary and informal way; (b) you, I trust, will review my statements candidly and critically; (c) when this kind of correspondence has sufficiently prepared the way, I will submit a revised and more formal draft of what I hope we can agree upon; (d) you will perhaps then either accept my draft (subject of course to preliminary suggestions of modification) or produce one of your own, both drafts seeking to approximate each other so far as our convictions will permit.                               If you submit a separate draft, both can be reported to the Episcopal Commission and I shall seek to have their publication authorized in our series of publications. If you desire a different procedure, I shall be pleased to meet your wishes.



I trust that it may be taken for granted that--

(a) In all our labours we desire to find points of practical concurrence; but not at the cost of any lack of mutual candor, or of burking of difficulties, or of unfaithfulness to [2/3] convictions.

(b) We believe that no price is too great to pay for genuine Christian unity which does not involve unfaithfulness to unaltered conviction as to what is essential to the Faith and Order established by Christ and His Holy Spirit.

(c) The value and limits of federation must be determined to some degree by its bearing on the problem of full Christian unity.

(d) The world-wide aspects of unity have to be reckoned with, and our estimate of the value and limits of Federation will be controlled to a degree by that thought.

(e) Full unity--the unity for which we ought to labour--is one that will stultify or compromise no genuine sense of stewardship among believers in Jesus Christ; which will remove all rivalry of ministries; and which will foster such fulness and unity of faith and of significant practice as can be obtained in a world wherein temperaments and congenital habits differ as they unavoidably do in this world. If I fail to mention charity it is because that is the potential principle of unity rather than its form. It is presupposed as fundamental. Uniformity is not implied.


I define sacerdotal claims and the term validity in order to facilitate understanding of all that follows.

(a) Roman Catholics, Orientals, Old Catholics and "high" Anglicans maintain that they have a priesthood, ordained and empowered by the Holy Spirit to administer and perform the earthly and visible priesthood of Christ--that is, to administer sacramental means of sanctifying grace instituted by Christ, and in the Holy Communion both to administer the invisible (except to faith) Body and Blood of Christ, and to make a covenant and availing memorial (before God as well as before man) of the death of [3/4] Christ. They claim in short as ministers of Christ to perpetuate under earthly conditions the oblation which they hold to have been made and once for all constituted by the death of the Cross.

They claim this power by virtue of uninterrupted transmission through the historic episcopate from Christ Himself. But they claim no more than a ministerial priesthood. That is, they acknowledge but one priesthood--that of Christ--and conceive of their ministry as merely Christ's means and method of executing His priesthood on earth. Therefore, whatever forgetfulness and self-assertion may occur on the part of individual ministers--who magnify themselves instead of Christ's ministry,--genuine Catholic theology does not conceive of human "priests" as separate from Christ or as intervening between God and man.

As Bp. Ingram rightly described the real Catholic position, being ministers of Christ's priesthood and not their own, it is their part to bring men to the one Mediator--"to get out of the way from between the soul and God." I do not guarantee the exactitude of my quotation, but I give the substance. It may be added as a truism, that the personality of Catholic "priests"--their merit--is in no sense either the basis of their ministerial functions, or to be regarded as established and made higher than that of--say--ministers of non-catholic successions. (If I inadvertently use names that have invidious meaning with your people, kindly point out the fact). This is Sacerdotalism as it is held by multitudes. I conceive it differs from Protestant conceptions of the ministry--not in erecting a mediatorial caste, but in the specific ministerial service which Christ is thought to ordain His servants to perform in His name. I suppose every Protestant minister would claim Christ's authority to serve, Catholics would say the widening of the service which
is claimed thus to be appointed does not convert it into a separate [4/5] caste or mediatorial status, properly so-called. However much or however little Christ's ministers are constituted to do, they do it officially, with some sort of delegated prerogative, but in His name. In short it is His condescension to use human instruments to reach human beings, not the elevation of any man to a level above his fellows. I am, you observe, trying to set forth the Catholic view extricated from certain implications which I believe to be mistakenly read into it, and so widely read into it that the term "sacerdotalism" is apt to denote a thoroughly pagan system.

(b) Catholics (I use the term here as a brief notation for all who hold to a sacerdotal ministry) speak of a ministry which has uninterrupted apostolic succession as valid, and of other ministries as invalid or null and void (the latter clause is usually avoided). Similarly they call sacraments administered by Catholic ministers valid and other forms of administration invalid; except that Baptism is said to be valid by whomsoever performed, if the proper form is used. Does such language--I mean of itself--signify that Protestant ministers have no ministerial power from God at all? Or does it mean that Protestant sacramental ministrations have no spiritual value or effect imparted by the Holy Spirit? I think I can say no to both of these questions. A valid ministry or sacrament means simply this, that the covenant terms which are appointed for its perpetuation and administration have certainly been fulfilled, so that it can be accepted with assurance--covenant assurance--that the promises of God involved will be redeemed. An invalid ministry or sacrament means one in the perpetuation or administration of which some element in the covenanted conditions of its institution--at least believed to be among such conditions--is absent; so that, failing the covenanted conditions, the covenant assurance [5/6] is wanting.       That is, there is no covenanted certainty that the effects appointed to follow will follow. There is not involved in such a terminology any answer whatever to the question, Does God, in view of men's faith and intention to fulfil their part in His covenant, use the so-called invalid ministries and impart His grace through their ministry to those who with faith and contrition receive it?

No doubt many individual Catholics would answer no; and a larger number would say, Protestants may receive divine help because of their sincere faith, but they do not receive all the abounding grace which is obtainable through a divinely guaranteed--.i.e. valid--ministry and sacramental ministration. But, and this is my point, there is no official teaching that precludes Catholics from believing that God gives to Protestants all the grace, and in all the forms thereof, which they believe in and devoutly seek to obtain. The fact is that a vast array of Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit is visibly blessing Protestant ministrations. In brief, their divergence from Protestant views in re amounts to this simply: They regard God as ever ready to superabound in grace, and to give all that men can receive; but they say those who have learned of, or think they have learned of, covenanted methods of dispensing grace cannot count on the grace therein promised, if they wittingly disregard those methods.                         It follows, of course, that they feel responsible     for preserving the conditions and the ministry under which all the covenant conditions, as they understand them, shall continue to be fulfilled.

I am conscious of undertaking a risk in dealing ad limine with such troublesome issues. But I have great confidence in your penetration, and felt that the stating of these points--I am not engaged in any argument pro or contra--was necessary to make clear the considerations which we have to reckon with later on. If I have not made the matters clear--as I understand the Catholic view, I [6/7] mean--kindly raise whatever questions may be called for.


As I understand it--

(a) Federation is some form of mutual concordat between different religious bodies, on equal terms, without corporate re-union--leaving each body in possession of its existing identity and organization.

(b) If it is to minister to unity in any effective way, it must involve some sort of mutually accepted division of labour --that is, a cessation of rivalry and competition in the field.

(c) It will also involve mutual recognition of ministerial status--a recognition which will be shorn of reality unless the amenities of interchange of pulpits and of our ministerial functions are given place. No doubt this interchange would be regulated by some understanding and rules of order.

(d) It will be strained to the breaking point, unless intercommunion--under regulations agreed upon--is permitted. If the field is divided, to illustrate, Congregationalists living in an Episcopal territory, will reasonably expect full privileges of Communion at Episcopal Altars.


(a) Successful Federation--unsuccessful Federation is obviously to be ruled out of court--would tend to satisfy the demand for unity, and therefore check the craving for corporate re-union in one body.

(I believe that nothing short of corporate re-union of some kind can answer to the idea of unity set forth in the New Testament. But it is clear that a general belief in its necessity does not yet exist.)

(b) Federation would imply a parity of ministries in [7/8] all the bodies that accepted the scheme.

(This means that it could not be had between Protestants and Catholics, unless either Catholics became convinced that they were wrong in their insistence upon "apostolic succession--not a possibility in the near future--or Protestants submitted to Episcopal ordination. The latter alternative would raise the question whether a Catholic Bishop could conscientiously (on a large scale and with formal allowance of diverse view) ordain to the priesthood those who reject the sacerdotal doctrine of the ministry. [Cf. Pars. 16-26, above (on pages 3-4)] It would also raise in a Protestant minister's mind the question, "Can I accept reordination, on any basis that Catholics will consent to accept in explicit terms, without appearing to surrender my contention that my existing ministry is "valid" [Cf. Par. 27-38, above (on pages 5-6)], and on par with the Episcopal Ministry? I fear the conditions do not now exist that permit a sufficient adjustment by Catholics in general to this scruple.

(c) It being assumed that Federation carries some amount of intercommunion with it [Cf. Par. 43, above (on page 7 section d)], it implies that Catholic bodies will consent to waive Confirmation as a condition of Communion, unless Protestants agree to accept this condition and receive that rite.

(The ultimate reason why Catholic bodies make this requirement is not--as is often assumed--merely to have some determinate form of admission to the communicant status. If that were all, and Catholics were not hindered by other causes from entering a Federation such as we are considering, no doubt they could without scruple accept the Communicant status of any one who had been regularly given that status in any body participating in the Federation. But Catholics believe--and this is the real difficulty--that Confirmation is a divinely ordered means for conferring a special gift of the Holy Spirit, without [8/9] which the recipient is not sufficiently qualified spiritually to receive rightly the Holy Communion.

To administer the Communion to persons neither Confirmed nor "ready and desirous" to be would, in Catholic eyes, be to disregard divine appointments and to run the risk of damaging instead of helping souls--at least of carelessness about what Catholics believe to be conditions necessary for reverent Communion).

(d) As is well known to you, many Episcopalians do not accept what I have described as the "Catholic" view of the ministry and sacraments, and would not feel the difficulties which I have mentioned (as liable to deter Catholics from Federation with Protestants). But the Episcopal Church is thought by many, both inside and outside its membership, to be in a unique position of advantage in the work of furthering Christian unity, because of its having important points of contact with both Protestant and Catholic positions. If, however, a Federation with Protestants was accepted by this Church which, on grounds such as I have hinted at, was rejected by Roman Catholics and Orientals, this Church would sacrifice the advantage referred to, because it would be regarded as wholly Protestant by the Catholic bodies mentioned. Beside this

(e) The entrance of the Episcopal Church into a Federation of the partial kind in question, would obviously be regarded by such Episcopalians as hold the Catholic views above defined as a betrayal of trust, a forfeiture of Catholic status and claim to their allegiance, and a just reason for abandoning the Episcopal Church. In short schism would be a very likely result. How numerous the Churchmen are who hold such views, I do not venture to assert, but they include a large fraction of our members and clergy, and of our Bishops. Of course, if Protestants came openly to accept Catholic views--and if, not possible to allow for here--this difficulty and the previous one would be non-existent.


(a) If what has been said, under the previous heads, is true to the actual conditions, the value and even the possibility of Federation is dependent to a large extent upon conditions which cannot be fulfilled without a greater measure of agreement touching Faith and Order than now exists.

(b) If such conditions, however, were fulfilled--whether by one of the two great types of Christianity becoming converted to the view of the other, or by both growing into a mind comprehending and transcending both--Federation would help mightily to bring to an end the present waste of Christian resources through overlapping of spheres of ministerial labour. For instance, a village which now requires, say, six ministers--all poorly supported and reduced to undignified and impotent insignificance--would have one strong congregation with a well supported Pastor and assistant, able to face the world with dignity and power. The same principle would work in the mission field.

(c) Rivalry would also be to a great extent eliminated, and this would work mightily for charity, "the very bond of peace and of all virtues". This result, so far as realized, would alone justify successful Federation. Yet the question would remain, would not corporate unity be even more powerful for charity! I think it would.

(d) It would to some degree, if the conditions referred to in Par. (a) above were fulfilled, rob of force the obstacle to the Christian propaganda so often given expression in such a saying as, "When you Christians get together and agree on one Christianity, I will consider your message." To work in mutual concordat would go far to prove that we were preaching, substantially at least, the same Gospel. Yet here again corporate union would, in my judgment, achieve this result more effectually.


(a) Under existing conditions Federation could only be seriously thought of as between bodies exclusively Protestant, or as between exclusively Catholic bodies. That is, its range would be limited, and this would materially limit its value, as above described.

(b) If these limiting conditions were outgrown, so that a really World-wide Federation became possible, or a Federation within each nation which embraced all Christian organizations within the nation, then still its working success would be hampered by lack of adequate centralization of the machinery needed to distribute Christian workers and resources to the best advantage. That is, it would be limited in efficiency. Even if a central Board existed, so long as each denomination retained its integrity--the postulate of mere Federation--denominational conservatism would prevent giving to such Board sufficient power to prevent some overlappings and much waste of resources. There would be no common discipline.

(c) The most successful Federation would be limited in cohesion, and would be continually incurring manifold risks of destruction; and its destruction would tend to accentuate and embitter the evils sought to be remedied. The only unity that has real vitality is one that is in some sense organic; because no other unity brings its participants into the relations that preserve intimate mutual understanding. External gluing together at the edges feels the strain of every movement of the bodies thus glued together. Interior union, on the other hand, is disturbed only by some radical disturbance; and it involves its participants in relations and ties that are difficult comparatively speaking to break up. Cf. the federal idea of the Southern states before the war with the national conception before which it went down.


If what has been said is rightly said--

(a) A world Federation is out of question until important changes in conviction--whether by conversion or by growth into larger views--are brought to pass; and these changes must require considerable time.

(b) Even a Protestant Federation could not be embraced by the Episcopal Church, under present conditions of belief, without involving grave risk of schism within that body.

(c) A successful Federation would reduce waste of Christian resources, increase mutual charity, and increase the persuasive power of the Christian propaganda; but all these advantages appear more obvious and greater in some form of organic or corporate Christian union.

(d) Two important disadvantages have to be faced:--1. The probable tendency of Federation to dull the sense of need of that interior organic unity taught by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians and elsewhere; 2. The precariousness of Federative unity, and the baneful consequences of its destruction.

Summing up, it would seem that all which can be said in behalf of Federation can be said with even greater force in behalf of organic unity; and the conditions under which Federation on a wide scale could be brought about and made to work--growth of Christendom into greater unity of Faith--are conditions which would make the accomplishment of the higher and organic unity a practical question, requiring only a true charity and patience to achieve.

The line of really fruitful work for unity at present is one of securing better mutual understanding on all questions of Faith and Order; and I believe the less we allow ourselves to be diverted from that line by any immediate schemes of, or [12/13] substitutes for, unity, the more fruitful this line of work will become. Mutual understanding will no doubt bring disillusionment in some respects and for the moment. But cosmopolitanism in Christian scholarship has come to stay, and a new spirit is dawning which will relegate old war-cries and the partisan blindness which goes with them to the background. The present indifference to doctrinal questions is but the pause and recovery for a coming application of world-wide and cosmopolitan investigation to the questions that divide us. The Holy Spirit also is visibly brooding over the depths of ancient difficulties, and I believe--my being a Christian compels me to believe--that we are approaching an era in which the prevailing might of truth will operate on a revived charity to make us grow together into "the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Ephes. IV. 13 (Cf. vv. 14-16 on page 3). All this takes time and has stages. I believe the proposed World Conference is the chief available instrument (including incidental and informal conferences all along) for the present time. Therefore my heart is in it.

I remain with cordial respect,
Yours sincerely,
(Signed) Francis J. Hall

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