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Laying of the Corner-Stone



In the City and Diocese of New-York










Address by The Right Rev. The Bishop of Albany.

COMPARING spiritual things with material after the manner of a parable, one may say that the speaker to-day is set like a telephone to hear from afar, and to speak to a long distance, the message of this Corner-stone. And there are two apparent difficulties about the getting and the giving of the message. First, that we count the stone dead, inanimate and dumb; and secondly, that the old prophet denounces a woe to the man who shall "say to the dumb stone, Arise, and it shall teach." But science and Holy Scripture come to rescue us from either danger. I do not know the a, b, c, of science myself, but I have the b, c, d, of scientists behind me (Brown, Carpenter and Delsaulx), in saying that things are not lifeless and soulless as they seem, and least of all stones. "There is motion in the particles of all substances; so rapid in certain stones that under the microscope they seem to leap and swarm with an incessant quivering movement, each particle changing its direction of motion so fast, that it is impossible to follow their direction." If stones are not lifeless, neither are they dumb. If they can move, surely they can speak. If we have singing [1/2] sands, we can have speaking stones. And certainly if any stone can speak it must be a corner-stone.

As to the spiritual difficulty, I am very sure, on good warrant of the Holy Scriptures, that the prophet's "woe" is not for us to heed. For this is no dumb stone of an idol, to which we say, "Arise and teach." It is a speaking stone, to which we say, "Lie still; other foundation can no man lay than that which lieth." It is a sacred stone, offered in worship, and set apart by worship, to the glory of the Almighty Triune God, and as it 1 ies still, and we listen, it shall teach.

And its first word shall be of Christ. No corner-stone can teach that does not speak first of Him; the stone on which the Holy Spirit lavishes the choicest words of praise; "The tried Stone," the Chief," "the Head-stone of the corner," "Elect," "Precious," "the Stone cut out of the Mountain without hands," aye, the very Rock petra"; not petroV," not cephas"; and yet petra involves petroi; for the stones which underlie these Houses of God, whose greater glory is His promised Presence, are petroi of the petra; stones of the Rock. And their story is not unlike His.

Think of the sadness of that story as it is sung to us first in the minor key of the Psalms; as our dear Lord applies it with such pitiful pathos to Himself; as St. Peter pressed home the prophecy to its fulfilment in his great preaching, and then wrote it down for positive dogma in his catholic Epistle; "the Stone which the builders 'refused,' disallowed, 'rejected.'" But it does not end so. The song of the Psalmist soars to an Easter [2/3] carol, to a hymn of the Ascension Day, to a Pentecost. Tried, elect, precious, refused, rejected, disallowed, this Stone "has become the Head of the Corner."

Signally it seems to me there is a likeness to Him in the corner-stone of a Cathedral, where the Kingship of Christ is to be set forth in ruling through the office of a Bishop. Here is the disallowed stone, which, in the early days of our great country's story, men would have nought of; which was refused as tainted with the awful name of prelacy; which was rejected as part of the royalty that refugees of Quaker stock, or Puritan, had left behind.

And yet, the Episcopate, call it Apostolic, as I was brought up to, or call it historic, rather let us call it Catholic and primitive, is fast becoming, in the hopes and thoughts of men, the head stone of the corner of the great longed-for and prayed-for temple of Christian Unity, one day, please God, to be. Already out of a population of eighty-one millions of English speaking people, thirty-four millions are under the government of Bishops, and of those thirty-four millions, more than twenty-one millions are in communion with us.

I take this as the first teaching of this stone; the first lesson of the Cathedral that is to sit here as the King's Daughter, all glorious within," with "the garment of praise." The Bishop's church is to be witness and magnet to the great city which it will crown. Three steps of splendid progress the Church has made here up its great avenue of travel; the grand old Mother Church of Trinity, guarding the entrance way; [3/4] Grace Church, well named, for she is "plena gratia," midway; and, soon, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the Apostle of truth and light and love, at the apex now, at the centre that is to be. Witness, I say, and magnet! It is the witness to an Episcopate pure and primitive in descent, in dignity, in doctrine, in independence, in manner of making; pure and primitive in descent because it claims and proves kinship through Seabury and White and Prevoost with Aidan and the Celtic Church, and so through Arles to Ephesus, to Irenaeus and St. John. It is pure and primitive in dignity, denying the subordination or inferiority of the youngest bishop or the smallest diocese to any other bishop, on either side of any range of mountains or of any sea. It is pure and primitive in doctrine, with no new name and no new articles in its old Catholic Creed. It is pure and primitive in independence of control from the State or interference with it. It is pure and primitive in the manner of its making, with the wool of no papal pallium pulled over its eyes; its Bishop being in touch with the clergy and people at every point and chosen by them, to be consecrated by com-provincial bishops of adjoining sees. This is the Episcopacy that men sought for in the days of the great ecclesiastical revolt, which the English Reformation brought out into the light,--the old treasure stripped of incrustations papal, monastic, mediaeval; the Episcopate, which if Luther and Calvin could have found they would have accepted, and which, if it had not hid itself for a little while again in Wesley's day, would have saved his great following to the English Church. [4/5] It is an Episcopacy which would prove its descent through tactual succession by actual similarity to the spirit of the great missionaries St. Paul and St. Aidan and St. Patrick; of the great cathedral builders St. Dunstan and St. Cuthbert and Mellitus. And I believe this is the Episcopacy which, more and more, from the tyranny of self-will in a single individual, and from the more tiresome tyranny of too many individuals, American Christianity in this latter day is looking for, and will find. It is for this that this Cathedral shall be set like a city on a hill! and the hill of this Zion is a fair place to win men up to.

It is like a dream and a vision to look on to the coming day when, with the old college, which recalls the days of the Revolution and the patriot scholars of those times, and with the hospital which enshrines the sweet name of Muhlenberg, this Cathedral, the material seal to Bishop Potter's Episcopate, shall lift its beauty from corner-stone to cross-tipped spire, and with a Christian science and philosophy, with Christian works of healing and of mercy, with a Christian ministry of worship and teaching, with the continual offering of the Christian sacrifice, shall help on even the fulfilment of our dear Lord's splendid prophecy of His kingship,--"reigning from the Tree," I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." I believe it is a stone of witness that we set here, and a magnet of mighty attraction.

Remember, too, my friends, the thought that inheres in a corner-stone, the angulare fundamentum, that it means a binding-stone. Like the two staves of the prophet, one beauty and [5/6] the other bands, this shall find its beauty as it becomes bond and band to draw and hold men together. This is the essential purpose and power of the Bishop's office. For this the promise that was given to the eleven, was made to St. Peter. For this the Lord set forth the figure of the Church, thrust out a little from the land, in the one ship which was Simon's. Unity, the drawing and the binding together of men, is set forth and sig nified, illustrated and exercised in the office of the Bishop. What a mission lies before this Cathedral as a building, as an institution, as a centre of spiritual life; first, to enhance and deepen the oneness of those that are in name at one. I know no more cheering fact in the story of this beginning, than that the great parishes of this city and the rectors and people of them have taken hold to help on that which, in the narrower thought of priest and people--both belittled in the thinking--might seem their rival; when really it is the common centre, from which shall flow out life and strength and blessing to them all.

Still more may it become, according to the promise, a bond of unity among all Christian people in the city. Among the first great gifts to it is one from a Christian gentleman, not of our own particular household; given with no thought of any departure from the established usages of this Church, in the principles of order and worship which a Bishop is set to maintain; but given because of what is, besides these things, in common among us all. It is a most hopeful sign of the recognition of what this Church shall come to be, dominating the great central city of America, as a focal point of gathering and [6/7] growing oneness among its Christian citizens of every name; as something that is here to stay; as something that protests, in both senses of that word; in its real sense witnessing for the pure and primitive faith of the Gospel, so much of which those who profess and call themselves Protestants hold in common with us; and in its secondary sense, witnessing against the encroachments of assumed authority, and the addition of unlawful terms of communion, on the part of those who profess and call themselves Romans, with whom also we hold in common all that they have which is ancient and true.

There is another powerful appeal here which has already made itself felt and known, and it is a rightful appeal to civic pride. I do not mean merely the monumental and memorial idea, which the building will embody; an occidental Walhalla, an American Westminster--rather I mean the part it is to play in the stream of the city's current life. The keen-eyed and quick-witted men who control and represent the Metropolitan Press have seen this with unusual clearness. Their friendliness to this movement is proof that we have not undertaken here to transplant a fossil specimen of an antiquated foreign system. The Cathedral life is to be learned not by a study of the buildings, as they were in England fifty years ago, but from St. Paul's in London, with Liddon preaching there; from Canterbury, with a Lambeth Conference welcomed by either of the great Archbishops, Benson or Tait; from Lichfield, with Selwyn in it; from Durham, with Lightfoot there; or from the new life of the Church in Edinburgh since the Cathedral came; and [7/8] from the Cathedral of Truro informed with the saintly spirit of Wilkinson.

And this Cathedral life, old but ever new, proves its livingness by its adaptability. Hence the beautiful purpose in this building of the Chapels of the tongues; in which the one Pentecostal message shall be spoken in the many tongues that were confounded at Babel. "Pollai men qnhtoiV glwssai--mia d'aqanatoisi." And the one speaking of the immortal hope, the one utterance of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the one immortal word Jesus, the same in all the languages of earth, perpetually spoken here, shall make perpetual fulfilment so of the record of Pentecost, that men shall hear in their own tongue, in which they were born, the wonderful works of God. What a mission to this polyglot city! What a binding together of various races! What a solution of the vexing problem of our composite nationality, if the religion of the great English speaking race may Americanize, by Evangelizing, all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues!

I recognize most fully that we are to take to-day not the words of boastfulness, as of some great thing attained. The corner-stone is not the cap-stone, and between the two must come "many a blow and biting sculpture." My Right Reverend Brother has done me the honour to ask me to translate and interpret the message of the stone, as one to whom the rougher, pioneer work came in the Providence of God, and who has listened for, and learned the story, through many a patient and laborious year. The Albany experience is not like to be [8/9] repeated here, I know. But some other sort of toil and trial is sure to be. As in the days of Ezra, so in the days of every builder, the workman's tool mast be in one hand, and the watchman's weapon in the other.

Within and informing the Cathedral, as a building, is the deeper thing which the Cathedral sets forth and signifies. The Cathedral as an institution is bigger than the Cathedral as a building. It is undoubtedly the norm of all ecclesiastical life. If, as has been truly said, the first Cathedral was the Upper Room at Jerusalem, it may as truly be said that the next was the Catacombs of Rome. Here is to be the counsel chamber, the Bishop with his crown of Presbyters, busy with perpetual planning for the extension and establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Here, the overseeing place, whence the continual direction is to be given for carrying on the battle with unbelief and wrong belief and sin. Here, the great central place of teaching, where men shall speak, whose words go out unto the ends of the world. Here the signs of true Messiahship shall be manifested, in that the poor shall have the Gospel preached unto them. Here shall swing the central censer of perpetual intercession, in the constant presentation of the Pure Offering from the Christian Altar, and in the daily Matins and Evensong, wrapping in its ascending fragrance all the remotest parts and people in the Diocese. Here, in the dignity of a rich and reverent ritual, shall be set up the model of that chaste sobriety of worship suited to the tone and temper of the English character and thought. Here the Mother-heart shall throb [9/10] in prayer and plan and mutual counsel taken, in instant and incessant sympathy with every call and claim for mercy and relief. Here shall gather, as in a distributing reservoir, spiritual forces to flow out in quickening energy, to every quarter of the Diocese. This is what lies ahead. This is the thing signified. This is the end and outcome of to-day's beginning. It is an awful mirth with which we rejoice to-day with those who are facing the splendid risk of great responsibility, the danger of great opportunities, with all the stimulus to courage and exertion they involve. God gives them to you, my brother, and to those who are associated with you, in token of His acceptance of your wise and great administration of this difficult Diocese. What better words can I take to speak to you as "the free-will offering of my mouth" and out of the admiration and affection of my heart, speaking for the Bishops and Clergy and the lay people who are here to-day, than the words which the Jews of his time said to Ezra, as he faced the tremendous task of spiritual restoration and upbuilding, Arise, for this matter belongeth unto thee. We also will be with thee. Be of good courage and do it."

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