The Late Presiding Bishop: A Sermon Preached in St. Stephen’s Church, Providence, R.I., Wednesday, October 7th, 1903, at 10:45 A.M., at a Solemn Service of Requiem for the Repose of the Soul of Thomas March Clark, Bishop and Primate.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1903.
He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of Faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.—Acts xi: 24.
THE service here today is not of a diocesan character. Such a service it pertains to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the diocese to appoint. We are here as one congregation of mourners in this parish church, to offer a parochial tribute of priests and people to the memory of their Father in God.
There is especial reason for our doing this. The Bishop was a near neighbor for many years. In a certain literal sense he was a parishioner. One of the pews in this church during all the years I have ministered here, and I know not how long before—perhaps from the consecration of the church—bore his name; was set apart for his use; and his family, or some members of it, have been worshippers here until this day. Bishop Clark laid the cornerstone of this edifice, and consecrated it to the Triune God. He admired its architecture, and not long ago, in an address, which he sent to be read on the occasion of the Thanksgiving for the completion of the Tower, he spoke of the deep interest with which he watched the rearing of the building. And I may say that I am certain that in no parish of his diocese was the Bishop more beloved and in which he was more welcome than in St. Stephen’s, Providence.
The dates and facts of Bishop Clark’s life and career have been made so familiar to you all, that I need not rehearse them now. We have come together to think and speak to one another of the Bishop as we knew and saw him—as he presented himself to us. My knowledge of Bishop Clark dates from my earliest childhood, wherein I heard him constantly spoken of. It was an event cherished in the annals of our household, and of which I learned almost as soon as I was able to understand what was going on around me, that Dr. Clark, when rector of Christ Church, Hartford, had been once entertained in my father’s house.
From that time on, I was aware that the Bishop of Rhode Island was one of the Church’s greatest sons. The first time that I ever saw him was during my student days at Trinity College, when he came there to deliver one of the addresses at the unveiling of a statue of Bishop Brownell, the founder. The occasion was one which called out a number of distinguished orators, Bishop Williams of Connecticut, Bishop Horatio Potter of New York, Governor Hawley of Connecticut, and others. I remember that to me, Bishop Clark, and what he said, were the memorable features of the day. I was deeply impressed by his appearance, and his address was one which appealed to my youthful imagination. I recognized in him the true orator. Pathos, hallowed sentiment, delicate humor, and cultured reflection were combined in his words, and I could at this moment repeat much of what he said. Fifteen years after, here in Providence, as the rector-elect of this parish, I met him for the first time.
The shadow of that unspeakable bereavement, which sharply divided his life into two distinct periods, had just fallen upon him. He gave me a cordial welcome to his diocese, and spoke in terms of affectionate encouragement. I knelt and received his benediction, which I believe has followed me for the nineteen years past, and I went out from his presence carrying a recollection of paternal benignity which was only strengthened by all our subsequent relations and intercourse. From that day on, I have seen much of the Bishop and have had ample opportunity of seeing what he was in the near approach of man to man. I can truly say that in all my life I have never met one whom I more thoroughly revered. I have seen him ripening for the harvest of a holy, happy, and glorious Eternity. Let others speak as they will, and as they can, and as they ought to speak, of those days when he was more fully in the eye of the world, of those summer days of meridian manhood—as the sun shineth in his strength, when the Bishop of Rhode Island was a great and splendid figure in American public life—when thousands were fired by his moving eloquence, when pulpit and platform rang with the clear notes of his rich voice, giving forth to the world lofty thoughts of light and leading. Let them speak of the sparkling wit which vitalized his discourse of almost every kind, as naturally as the sunshine strikes the sober drops of water and makes them blossom into gorgeous rainbows—let them speak of the eminent positions from one to another of which the young priest stepped in rapid succession during eighteen years, when in the forty-third year of his age he ascended the episcopal throne, to occupy it almost half a century, and die as one of the great Metropolitans of Christendom.
I will concern myself with, and confine myself to these last nineteen years—solemn and mysterious—the autumn of a fruitful year—the evening, clouded though it seemed, of what had been a cloudless day. Those years of tragic sorrow—pathetic, heroic, apostolic—grown plainer in Christian significance now that they are over. It was the shadow of the Cross. The disciple was being conformed to his Lord and Master. He was receiving the imprint of thorns that he might wear the crown of Amaranth hereafter. Those who have stood around him during these years can bear witness how meekly he bowed beneath the rod, and how adoringly he embraced the Cross. The great depths of his nature were broken up, and the fragrance and beauty and sweetness of the abundance of tenderness, truth, and holiness were poured out. It was the breaking of the alabaster vase to anoint the feet of Christ, and the perfume filled the house. Yes, those who were near him all those years saw how the Saints are made. They beheld the process of sanctification. The formal lives of the canonized saints contain no instances of the wonderful power of God’s grace, that are more real than that instance which we are now considering. When we are passing through an actual experience of this kind, we do not, we cannot adequately realize its import. But we do realize it afterwards. And as times goes on and we think over what has taken place and what we have seen, we understand it better and its true character comes out.
So it will be with anyone who shall survey this remarkable life from a supernatural standpoint. The standpoint of eulogy after the natural man would be to dwell upon what the Bishop was, as men would say, “in his best years,” “in his prime.” These last years of his life would, according to this natural view, be treated as less important, as the years of his decline. Not so, from the point of view, transcending nature. There was no decline. As the days of his youth, so was his old age. His last years were the greatest years of his life. His life was one that gathered power. He went from strength to strength—Why? How?—because as he advanced in age, it became more and more evidently and splendidly true of him that “he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and much people was added unto the Lord.” Could there be any better description of our Bishop’s character, any completer enumeration of the results of his work? He was a holy man—a disciple of the Holy Ghost—and he brought many souls to God. This is true greatness. The Bishop was orator, poet, philosopher, and wit. All these aspects of him will be duly and rightly dwelt on by others. Let it be the burden of our parable, of us who lived beside him for so long, and saw him in the light of every day—let it be ours to dwell upon his goodness. This is the true, the real greatness. As his strength failed; as his voice grew feeble; as his step became infirm; as he withdrew from public functions and society; as the world saw him no more—the outline of his spiritual stature was cast upon the troubled waters of human life around him, and a mighty and commanding outline it was. All who sought him were impressed by his goodness. They saw and felt that he lived only to warn sinners from the error of their ways, to love God, and to lead sinful souls to the fountain opened for sin and for all uncleanness.
The pastoral letters and other writings of the Bishop during the last nineteen years form a collection unique among Episcopal writings. Probably no other Bishop has spoken with more apostolic simplicity and directness, in such a practical, personal manner, so calculated to arrest the attention and turn the hearts of people in general. He was a man of unceasing prayer. He lived in colloquy with God. He conversed with the Saviour as a man talketh with his friend at his side. He lived momently in the presence of God. He had but one thought—to please God. He burned with the desire to do something, to say something to rescue, to heal, and to help. It was this flame of divine love for souls which led him to espouse the cause of hapless infants and to give the best energies of his very last few years to the establishment of the infant ward in St. Mary’s Orphanage, assuming the entire responsibility for its support, and pleading for it day by day, to his latest breath. It was his sense of duty to reach out a hand to pluck the brand from the burning, that led him to address to his Convention, at its last session in June of this year, the intense cry of entreaty to stem the tide of secret vice among young men and boys.
Full of the Holy Ghost and faith, he stood faithful unto death, a watchman on the walls of Zion. We shall hear his voice no more. The sentinel has died at his post in the discharge of his trust after protracted and patient fidelity. How beautiful to think that this great dignitary of the Kingdom of God so forcibly showed us that “Christ came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” He consecrated his old age to the purifying, hallowing, defending, and cherishing infancy and youth. No wonder that all loved this man of God. He created an atmosphere of love and sympathy and succor. A vestryman of this parish, one who had known Bishop Clark for many years, and who had also served as a vestryman in Grace Church under the Bishop’s rectorship, said, in speaking of the Bishop’s death: “Wherever the Bishop was, there was sunshine.” Bishop Clark was not only admirable—he was also lovable; few men so lovable. He was a man greatly beloved. Few men of such distinct personality are so universally loved as he was. A person, on hearing of his death, wrote to me: “I do not believe he had an enemy in the world.” Said of some, this might seem trite and exaggerated—a cheap tribute to a negative and commonplace character. But said of Bishop Clark, it sounded wholly true, a deserved eulogy, and a remarkable thing to be said of one who, for several generations, had towered above his fellows without exciting envy, jealousy, animosity, or ill-will. Such a record testified of a great man—great-hearted, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
And Bishop Clark was a great man. He seemed made for great things, for great dealings with men and with affairs. He was born to command. His superb presence, his sonorous voice, his simple, dignified manners, at ease everywhere, fitly framed and expressed his many-sided mind. His touch with men of all sorts and conditions, his faculty for adaptation and sympathy, and his intense reality were the very spirit of power. Full of the Holy Ghost, he seemed animated indeed with the very oil of gladness. None could meet Bishop Clark without at once feeling that he was true as steel, and as sincere as sincerity itself. He was utterly devoid of arts and affectations. He had no tricks or mannerisms to raise a suspicion of their being cultivated. There was no pretense about him. It was impossible to associate with him the idea of anything artificial or assumed. He was one of nature’s noblemen, at home equally with lords and ladies, and with the plainest of the people and poorest of the poor. Few men have moved as freely as he did in the company of the rich, the learned and the great, in America and Europe, and been unspotted and unspoiled by it all. He was above the pomp and vanity of the world, and the world looked up to him, conscious of his superiority. He was instinctively recognized as chieftain. His career was a kind of triumphal progress—Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford have never forgotten his gifts as pastor and preacher. I think him as great a man as Phillips Brooks, whom he, as a preacher, surpassed in manner, while his matter, if as well known, would be found to be quite as full of originality and power. Bishop Clark’s work was much more constructive than that of Bishop Brooks, and therefore likely to be more permanent.
As a Churchman, Bishop Clark has generally been counted “Broad,” so-called, and considered, if any man could be so considered, the founder of the Broad Church school of thought in the American Church. Yet he would most likely have declaimed such an ascription. I scarcely think that he would have liked to be thought of as the founder of a party. There was about him very little of the partisan as generally understood. He was one whom all could claim. His mind was naturally, I should judge, somewhat speculative and adventurous. It was explorative, on the lookout for fresh fields, and eager to make and appropriate new discoveries. He had what our Cambridge friends, in their favorite phrase, call “hospitality to truth.” At the same time he was a thorough Evangelical in his firm hold on the verities of “the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints.” On the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Divinity of Christ, the Resurrection of the Body, and the other articles of the Faith, his voice rang true, and his trumpet gave no uncertain sound. He was as far as possible from that peculiar treatment of the Church’s Faith, so aptly designated as “Unitarian-Episcopalism,” which apparently regards the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Atonement as open questions of opinion and seems to hesitate to call Jesus Christ Almighty God. Such an attitude toward the “certain Faith” of the Gospel was a shock and a grief to the Bishop.
Once again, Bishop Clark had an unmistakable Catholic instinct, though he realized, as I have heard him admit, that, from the circumstances of his education, and habits, such instinct was not fully developed. We must remember that he was born and reared, I believe, a Presbyterian, and it is not surprising that a mind like his reacted and revolted from under the dark shadow of Calvinism. But when he entered the Church he was not brought under the influence of the historical school of Churchmen. His associations and training as a Churchman were of the Griswold and Eastburn type, rather than of that which, could he have been brought in contact with it at that time, would have proved more congenial and attractive to a mind like his, the Churchmanship of Seabury and of Hobart. As it was, he was susceptible to the power of spiritual authors like Pusey, and to the charm of ecclesiastical poets like Coxe and Keble. He appreciated the grandeur of the Church as an Institution. He loved gothic architecture, and good Church music. He understood the fascination of the long-drawn aisle, the choral song floating through vaulted arches, the “dim religious light,” and all the accompanying sentiments native to the Catholic heart. He was not at all adverse to a comely ritual, such as that which, while not intricate nor unintelligible, has come to be common in our day. I never saw him, in celebrating at the altar, take any other than the Eastward Position. The proper vesture of clergy and choristers, the lights upon the altar, he approved of. In fact, the full traditional ceremonial of the Anglican Church found in him no proscriptive censor, provided it did not alienate or antagonize the people. While, as I suppose, he probably never held strong sacramental views, he grew to recognize in many ways the legitimate position of those who did. He came to see, from the conviction of his own penitence and from his deep yearning to cure sin in others, the practical value and utility of Sacramental Confession. A good many years ago now, he was asked if the belief in and practice of Sacramental Confession constituted an objection to a priest proposed as rector for a certain parish. His reply was, “Not in the least. There are many people whom it would do good to go to confession.”
Under the terms of the Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops of 1895, he granted permission for the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament for the sick, in this parish. With his most hearty sanction and consent, the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity located in Providence in 1888. He ever hailed their unobtrusive work with gratitude. He appreciated their ministrations, and bade them godspeed. The Sisters have ever felt that in Bishop Clark they had a true friend and father. None mourn more sincerely for him than their Community, a delegation from which attended his funeral at Newport. I can truthfully and confidently say that what are known as the “Catholic” clergy of our Church were among the warmest friends and most loyal supporters that the Bishop ever had. His relations with them were always of the most cordial and affectionate character. At this point as an illustration of the feelings toward Bishop Clark entertained by clergy of this stamp, I should like to quote some words of a distinguished priest, the Rev. Lucius Waterman, D.D.—words written and printed some twenty years ago. Dr. Waterman, in speaking of the days, happily now long past, when there was some display of partisanship in the diocese, hastens to bear witness that partisanship was never displayed on the part of the Bishop. He said: “I trust that no one will think it an impertinence if I add here my graceful testimony to the large-hearted and large-minded tolerance of the Bishop of the diocese. In this noble character of the episcopal office, he is indeed ‘not a novice.’ He began to manifest it twenty-nine years ago (the date of his consecration), when it was a rarer grace than it is today. Now it is in almost every man’s mouth. I would that he might live to see it, as he would help us to see it, in every man’s life.” The cause of Catholic Churchmanship owes a great debt of thankfulness to Bishop Clark for giving it a fair hearing and free course. In short, the Bishop was the Bishop of all. All schools could claim him partially, none wholly. He belonged to and he represented the comprehensiveness of the Church.
I should say that he was a “Broad Churchman” in the wholesome sense. He was broad-minded and sweet-tempered. He sympathized, it seems to me, with the “Broad” school more in its ideal spirit than in its actual conclusions. Bishop Clark was made to be a peacemaker. He was an irenic personage. He had gifts ample enough for the very highest positions in Christendom. He would have made a great and beneficent Pope, or Patriarch, or Archbishop of Canterbury. And how different the history of the Church would be—how much less sad, had Popes and Archbishops been just like Bishop Clark. In reading early English Church history, I have always been fond of comparing and contrasting Bishop Clark with some of the formative leaders of those days. He was something like Theodore, who really unified the Church in Britain, because he was of the eclectic, irenic tone and disposition of our Bishop of later days. And I have often thought, and indeed I said so several years ago in this very pulpit, that if Augustine of Canterbury had been a broad-minded man like Bishop Clark, how much more extensive and pacific would have been his achievements! Bishop Clark was a wise man. He took a large outlook. He was not afraid to change his mind and opinion. And he was not hasty in condemnation. The addresses and charges of a great many bishops are, after the lapse of a few years, very sad reading. You see how mistaken they were in their prognostications of evil. Take the charges of the English Bishops, covering the Wesley period and the Oxford Movement, and their error in judgment and their short-sightedness are deplorable. Bishop Clark’s addresses are free from such blemishes, because he was not given to panic. He took a long look ahead and all around. He had no iron rigidity. He had no invincible prejudices. He was no ultra Protestant, though his sympathies were naturally very much with the modern bodies which march under that name. He knew that “Protestant” however was only an incidental sign—and that it stood for disintegration and division, rather than for unity. He knew that Catholic, on the other hand, was historic—of the ages—a watchword of the Faith—the language of the Creed—and he could foresee the possibility of the word “Protestant” as an appellation of the Church, outgrowing its significance, outliving its usefulness, and retarding rather than furthering the progress of Christian Unity and Truth. Therefore he could advise, as he did, that if a change in the name of the Church should be inevitable, to drop the word “Protestant,” as this his own diocese had done nearly seventy years ago. It was the counsel of a statesman and a man of common sense.
The Bishop looked longingly for all Christians to be one. But he took no narrow view of Christian Unity. He was as ready and as solicitous to hasten intercommunion between us and the great historic Catholic bodies as he was for us to absorb our spiritual brethren of the various names about us. I am told that his last official act was the preparation of a letter to the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Russian Church, introducing the Bishop of Fond du Lac, with a view to friendly conference on the relations of the two great bodies, and I am told that the letter said just what was most desirable. So, on every side, our Father in God bestowed a blessing. You may remember how, a few years ago, a Pastoral Letter of Bishop Clark’s was read under the direction of the Roman Bishop of Providence, in the Roman parochial schools. It was an unusual, perhaps an unprecedented, act. But our Roman brethren always seemed to recognize in Bishop Clark a true apostolic quality. Many years ago, the late Bishop Hendricken, Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, told a friend of mine that Bishop Clark was just the man for a bishop.
A great man has gone from us. We are not likely to look upon his like again. We rejoiced in his light. He was spared to us so long, and so serene and unimpaired were the powers of his hallowed mind that we almost forgot,
“That though the day be never so long,
At last the belles ryngeth for Evensonge.”
Literally at the vesper hour, his soul was sped into that unfading brightness, of which it is said, “At evening time it shall be light.”
As his life and works and spirit and example come back to us, we shall see more and more clearly how great he was; how he magnified his office by the truest signs of an Apostle, by the purity of his life, by his singleness of eye to the Glory of God. I have served under many different bishops, but under none whose fatherhood in God has been truer, more grateful, and more instructive. He has left us a goodly heritage. Let us cherish it worthily and sustain its luster by following in his steps, who so carefully followed the footsteps of the Saviour.
“By the love I bear
Be glad with me.
For the peace that is and the perils passed;
For the hope that is and the rest at last.”