Project Canterbury

The Cathedral System in Rural Dioceses
The Regular Quarterly Paper, Read at the Meeting in April, 1855.

By the Rev. John H. Hopkins, Jr., M. A.

Transactions of the New-York Ecclesiological Society
New-York: D. Dana, Jr., 1857.

WE have shown, in a previous paper, what the Cathedral System may be in large cities, and what it might easily be made in the city of New-York. But many may suppose that--except in a large city--the system is useless, or overcumbrous, or impracticable. This is far from being the case. The system is inseparable from the full, permanent efficiency of the Episcopate: and wherever it is right that a Bishop should be, there it is also right that the Cathedral system should aid him in the performance of those functions which are indispensable to the full and vigorous health of the Diocese under his jurisdiction.

As we have already stated, the old adage that The Church is in the Bishop, is dear to every true Catholic Christian; and is one from which, in theory and in solemn form, no branch of the Catholic Church has ever for a moment departed. But in process of time, and under changes of circumstances, this unalterable principle sometimes comes to exercise very little weight in the practical working of the Church system for generations together. The invariable consequence is, that the partial paralysis of the head produces, sooner or later, paralysis in the members, or something akin thereto:--deadness, inactivity, development of life only in those directions which are more or less hostile to the true spirit of the Church, rigidity and want of vital flexibility in what is left of the old regime, and a general feeling among all men of true earnestness of soul, that something is out of order with the machinery; though, for the most part, the screw loose is thought to be in about as many different places as there are different thinkers on the subject. If "the whole heart is faint," it is because, as the prophet tells us first,--"the whole head is sick." The Church will never recover her full vitality until the Bishops--who are her earthly head--are once more in their right places, as of old,--each Bishop having a Diocese no larger than he can attend to, and being the centre of power, life and growth to everything within its bounds. This is, in reality, what is meant by the Cathedral System, though few persons dream of it when they use the words.

How is it now? A Bishop is consecrated over a small Diocese--say one of from ten to fifty parishes. He is not a man of private fortune. His Diocese is a dowerless bride, and has no Episcopal Fund. There is no mode of providing for his support but by his taking a parish, and serving, like an ordinary priest, on the call and under the pay of an ordinary vestry. The time needed for the visitation of the other parishes must be taken from his own; and he is therefore compelled to be in haste about it, and get back to his post as soon as he can. His visits consequently are likely to be, and naturally will be, as official as possible. He becomes personally acquainted with but few of his laity. He learns but little more than the show face of things--the holiday dress--in each place. His personal intercourse with, and knowledge of, his clergy is very slight, and he has scarcely any chance to make it greater. When parishes are vacant, even when application is made to him by the vestry to recommend a priest--which is seldom the case in a wealthy parish,--he has no constant opportunity of being able to speak confidently, for he cannot become well acquainted with the clergy. The consequence of which is, that the parishes are left to their own judgment--and all who have much experience in that line, know what an uncertain, unreliable piece of business that judgment is. How often is a committee empowered to go and hear Mr. So-and-so preach, and off they start, with a blank call in their pocket, and if they happen to be struck with a flashy or a brilliant sermon, the blank is filled, and the call given on the spot! And yet how much more is required for a faithful pastor--a good shepherd--than merely occasional brilliance in the pulpit! And in regard to clergy received by a Bishop from other Dioceses,--unless they be men who have formed a reputation sufficiently strong to have gone before them,--there is too little known to produce cordiality; and the intercourse with the Bishop is more than ever likely to begin and end in mere official routine.

Take our present working system, and examine it apart from its wonderful history, and without considering the interpretation to be placed upon certain parts of still existing forms and formularies, and how is it best described? What is the normal element, apparently? Certainly the parishes and parish priests. Where there is a parish, we understand that the Church is: and a parish is not full or complete without its parish priest; nor is the parish priest safe, or well taken care of, or well looked after and kept in due order, without a vestry. The Bishop is a man who comes now and then, on a very great occasion in the parish, such as a Consecration or Institution, and also comes to confirm, staying a few hours, perhaps preaching or delivering an address to those confirmed, and then off again for another year or two; but with little or no active influence felt, as coming from him, in the parish itself. He is, as it were, merely the dignified functionary, and nothing more.

As to Deacons, they have been dropped out altogether as a distinct element of the practical working system of the Church, longs ago.

Instead, therefore, of a Diocese being composed of Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Laity, all working together in harmonious order, we have priests and parishes: with a Bishop occasionally going the rounds to confirm; and Deacons--no-where. As to the Laity--apart from their forming parishes--few of them seem, to realize that they can do anything at all.

Now let us see how all this would be changed, in a rural Diocese, under a proper carrying out of the Cathedral System.

This system may briefly be defined as follows:--The Bishop of each diocese should have, in the chief city of the territory covered by his jurisdiction, a Church of his own, free from the ordinary embarrassments of parochial vestries, and around which shall be congregated all the aids and helps which he needs for the feeding and governing of the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made him overseer.

In the first place, as the Bishop is the Pastor pastorum, or Shepherd of shepherds, he must not, cannot properly be expected to, abandon the pastoral work himself. He must be an example to all the priests of his Diocese; and they cannot follow an example which he never holds up before them. His Church, its arrangements, its mode of celebrating divine service, should be the highest and best, and therefore the model to all others, in his Diocese. If the Diocese be poor, the Cathedral Church may be poor likewise. If the Diocese be small, the Cathedral may be small also. All things may be, and ought to be, in due proportion, according to the circumstances of the case.

As the Bishop's Church should be in the largest town or city, and the largest in that town, it would of course be entirely too large for any one man to take care of by himself, even if he were not, in virtue of his office, compelled to be absent during a large portion of the year. He should have several assistants, therefore, both Priests and Deacons, not only to help in the strictly pastoral work of the city or town, but also to aid in the several other works to be enumerated hereafter. The seats should of course be free in the Bishop's Church, because it is not only the Church of a particular locality and congregation, but in a manner of the whole Diocese; and no Priest, Deacon or Layman should ever come up to the Cathedral town, without a feeling that he was coming home to his father's house. And the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church should be constantly maintained here, even if in no other Church in the Diocese, that all whose business brings them up to the chief town may have an opportunity of worshipping with their Bishop, and in their own Bishop's Church, before their departure.

But besides being a Pastor himself, the Bishop is chiefly responsible for the supply of clergy needed in the work of his Diocese, and for pushing on her aggressive missionary operations against the Prince of this world. Now one thing is very certain. A clergy trained in a great city, such as New-York, for instance, is not likely, as a general rule, to be efficient in the rural districts, and at the West and South. There are peculiarities of the work to be done in great cities, and of the way in which alone it can be done efficiently, that nothing can teach, except long experience, and an education on the spot and in the midst of the work itself. And there are other peculiarities connected with country work, which none but a countryman can be expected to understand: besides which, nothing is more fatal to the usefulness of a clergyman in a country place, than the idea that he is city-bred, a "fine gentleman," &c.,--prejudices which, in particular cases, may be very groundless, but which are nevertheless serious obstacles in the way of Church growth among a rustic population. To be able to depend, therefore, upon a steady supply of the right sort of clergy for country work, they must be trained in the country. That they may know their Bishop, and that their Bishop may know them, they must be trained immediately under his own eye, and in the system which prevails at his Cathedral, and which ought to be the model, if not the law, to his Diocese. The Theological school of the Diocese, therefore, should be attached to the Cathedral, and never under any circumstances separated from it. To have the clergy trained away from the Bishop, in another Diocese and under another system, may indeed be the best mode for extending a particular school of theology, and giving general coherency to certain doctrinal parties in the Church: but for the homogeneous development of the full vitality of each Diocese as a unit within itself, this distant, disjointed, haphazard system--or rather want of system is the worst thing possible. It would seem that, with an astonishing amount of perverse ingenuity, the direct influence of the Bishop--which ought to be the strongest element of our working system--is about the only possibility which is utterly excluded.

There is another point--and one of great delicacy--which needs to be mentioned, however, for the full discussion of this part of the question. The full and thorough knowledge and affection which ought to exist between Bishop and clergy--especially the young men, for the Bishop who carries the young men heartily with him is the master of his Diocese-require that the Bishop and his clergy should keep a common table, and live a common life. The influence which this would have is incalculable for the vigor and unity of the Diocese. No man can be sure that he fully knows the character and powers of any other, whether man or woman, until they have for a long while lived under the same roof, and eaten and drunk at the same board. Our highest and dearest union with Christ, our clearest and most heart-riveting knowledge of Him, is by our being admitted to eat and drink at His table and in His house, and where He himself is always present with us. And as the Bishop represents Christ in the Diocese, he should ever, except when retiring apart for his private devotions--be surrounded by the company of his disciples. We know of but one objection to this plan--and that is, the customary marriage of the clergy, and especially of the Bishops. And affectionate wives prefer to have their husbands more to themselves, and to be able to bring up their children quietly at home, without the embarrassment of so many "boarders" in the family. But as there are many notable housewives in the world, willing to keep boarding house for their own sake, I have no hesitation in declaring that my conviction of the religious devotion of woman is too high to permit me to doubt, that many a daughter of the heavenly Jerusalem could be found willing to take all the trouble, and submit patiently to all the inconvenience, for the sake of the Lord and His Church. If the Bishop be a single man, and will only thus remain,--so much the better; for this difficulty will then be out of his way. He will thus be able to do the best thing for his Diocese--his spiritual wife--without doing the worst thing for his connubial wife. And some Bishops can testify that it is not much easier to serve two mistresses, than two masters. The Eastern Church, which requires the local parish priests to be married men (and as a general rule it is better that such resident clergy should be married--in self-defence if for nothing else)--yet the Eastern Church makes no man a Bishop who has a wife to distract his attention from his Diocese. And the distinction has much of practical convenience to recommend it, unless the Bishop's wife be willing to do her part towards making the Bishop's household, as well as himself, an essential element of the working system of the Church in his Diocese.

But with the true system carried out, how close and endearing, how wondrously powerful, would be the bond between the Bishop and his clergy, especially when his Episcopate had been for some years in operation! How many hours of delightful converse, how many seasons of joint devotion, how many incidents of fatherly interest or of filial love, how deep the impression made by personal character, how abundant the streams of sound learning given, as of old, by word of mouth of the living teacher--the best mode of instruction after all! All these would bind the Bishop and his clergy together like one family. Their visits to the Cathedral would be seasons of delight, ever repeated with glowing pleasure, and ever keeping bright the golden chain that would forever bind them all together in one. Each youth when finally sent out to his distant field of labor, would know, and still feel, that his Bishop loved him like a son; and that not only he, but all his younger brethren yet at the old Cathedral homestead, were watching his doings with interest, and would gladly listen and learn, from something better than the dry printing of a parochial report in a Convention Journal, the simple story of his experience in the pastoral life, or sympathize with his difficulties, or advise with him in his troubles. Or perchance some of them would now and then go with him on a missionary foray into some unexplored village, some Churchless valley, where the ensign of the Cross might be raised for the first time, never again to be levelled with the ground. All this beautiful system of the Common Life will come much more naturally with unmarried Bishops, for another reason. It is not good for man to be alone. The Bishop would need help meet for him. And if such a family of young men, training up under him, would not be precisely the help most meet for him in the work which a Bishop ought to do for his Diocese, I should like to know where to find it.

But the Theological School is not all that is required. Every Diocese ought to have at least one school for boys, and one for girls, if not more. These are needed, so far as the boys are concerned, to supply the best material for theological students: and so far as the girls are concerned, to train up good ministers' wives: for, do what we will, or argue as powerfully as we may, instinct is too strong for political expediency; and we may rely upon it that the large majority of our clergy will marry. It is, therefore, highly important that they should be able to marry women who will make good ministers' wives, rather than bad ones. Boys' voices are also the only sopranos proper for strictly ecclesiastical music, and special regard should be had to this important part of the Cathedral system, in selecting the pupils for the Cathedral school. Several others of the clergy would thus find employment in the noble field of Christian education, and that within the very circle of associations where the impressions of early youth would necessarily be the deepest, the most abiding, and the most powerful in incorporating the heart into the full, free life of the Church. These schools should be in close contiguity to the Cathedral building, so that the daily worship of all should ascend morning and evening in the Cathedral choir. Parsons and Parsons' wives, trained in such an atmosphere, and afterwards sending one or more of their children to be brought up under the same glorious system which had thus given the stamp to their own character, would form a nucleus of Church-life, which, in two or three generations, would twist the interlacings of its veins and nerves throughout the whole community, binding that whole into such a unit of organic life, as would rapidly absorb and assimilate every other variety of religion, destitute of so wonderful an apparatus of digestive power.

But this is by no means all. The schools might be made somewhat remunerative, and thus help to keep up the expense of so numerous an establishment. And the living should be of the plainest--no extra dishes or desserts, except on high festivals; and the fasts all faithfully kept, in a manner perceptible not only in the Church service, but in the larder also. And all the single men in such an establishment must be content with the scriptural allowance of food and raiment, and look for nothing more until they get married,--and be thankful if they continue to get as much even then. If the Bishop's See be yet an open village,--an outpost in purely missionary ground--let him get as much land in one parcel as he can; and the young men must give their labour in its cultivation, raising more or less produce for the supply of the physical man. They will thus reduce expenses, and cultivate habits of industry and economy, which will not only smooth many a rough path in after time, but ensure vigorous personal health besides. Indeed, an establishment of this sort might be made to bear no small resemblance to those assemblies of holy men, whose common life under the rule of S. Basil forms so attractive a feature in the history of the early Eastern Church. They lived together, their time divided between their united worship of God, their devout study of holy things, and the labours of husbandry for their own frugal support:--no bad model for supplying the needs of a rural Diocese.

A Bishop's residence thus surrounded, would be a grand missionary centre. It would be hard to tell now where our missionary centre is, or whether we have any such centre at all. Is it in the Bishop of the Diocese? Hardly. All he can do is to recommend action to the Domestic Committee in New-York, if he have no Diocesan missionary organization of his own. And even if he have, he is not so much the centre, as the central functionary only. He does not map out the work, and select the men, and watch their progress, and keep an eye on them, and send them help, and change their field when he thinks it for the benefit of the work: but, if a clergyman is out of place, and wants the Bishop to sanction his trying his hand in such or such a village, the Bishop is generally willing to nominate him. When he wishes to go elsewhere, he asks the Bishop, and the Bishop as a matter of course is sorry that he is going, but lets him do as he pleases: What he does, or how he fares, is made known perhaps in the parochial report printed in the next Convention Journal, or in a letter in the Spirit of Missions. If the people want him to stay, and are willing to give him a support, he stays--until he receives a call to "a more eligible field of usefulness" elsewhere. This sort of centre is not sufficiently definite to have much influence upon the circumference.

But on the other plan, the Bishop would be like the heart in the midst of the body. He would have men about him whom he could send, two and two, to every village and destitute hamlet in his Diocese. They could remain, a longer or a shorter time, according to circumstances. They would then return and give account of their progress: or, if their success were sufficient, the Bishop would follow after; and, joining them before their return, would confirm their converts, as did the Apostles at Samaria.

Another field of great usefulness would be in a modified itinerancy. Our parochial system, especially in quiet country places, is apt to subside into a sort of semi-stagnation. The system of the Methodists and others is built too wholly on the other theory--that of occasional excitement; and dwindles from debility, owing to a deficiency of pastoral oversight and care, in the intervals. Now with a body of clergy such as we have spoken of, all most intimately and confidentially known to the Bishop, and who, towards each other, were all very much like a band of brothers: a system of periodic itinerancy might easily be arranged, which would quicken wonderfully the aggressive power of the Church everywhere, while yet sufficiently guarded and tempered to weaken its pastoral and conservative powers nowhere. Even now, all who are familiar with the monotonous life of a priest in a small country parish, know what a refreshment of spirit it is to the solitary clergyman (solitary even although he happen to have a wife and a large family) to receive a visit from a brother priest; what a relief to him to hear somebody else's voice than his own; and how the pleasure and the profit are increased when there are two or three instead of one. It is human nature. And the Church will get along faster over the road that leads her to final victory, if she will only pay such reasonable toll to the peculiarities of human nature, as is harmless in itself. To do this forms an indispensable part of that wisdom of the serpent, which is the first and greatest personal qualification for the office of a Bishop; but of which some good people seem to have as great a horror as if it savored of a connexion with the Old Serpent, and had therefore been forbidden, instead of being most emphatically commanded. Stirring waters are more healthy than stagnant. And where the tone of the whole Diocese would be such as to render unlikely any great jealousies, heart-burnings, fears of interference with parishes, or any similar ground of trouble: a well-regulated itinerancy would add wonderfully to the power of the Church in every quarter. Thus in missionary and itinerating excursions, in the sending out of well-trained clergy and children, and their periodic return on great occasions, or in the persons of their children again of the second generation: the pulsations of the great heart of the Diocese would be perpetually felt;--the living streams would at every throb go forth to the utmost extremities, and thence return to feed afresh the earthly sources of its life, and strength, and joy.

But it may be objected, that our Dioceses are nearly all much too large to render it possible that they should ever become such units,--such families. True:--and that is the very reason why our large Dioceses should be broken up. They render the full realization of the original idea of Diocesan Episcopacy, absolutely impossible. They must be broken up, before our Episcopate can ever become the vigorous element of practical life which it was intended to be. As things are now, a Bishop has such a vast extent of country to travel over, such a multiplicity of parishes to keep the run of, such an endless succession of indispensable routine duties to perform, that his being the true Head of the Family--the Father in God--Is reduced to a very empty figure of speech--a mere phrase of formal courtesy. These huge overgrown Dioceses are the greatest obstacles at present existing to the practical development of the Church. Their very size ties their Bishops, hand and foot, to incessant routine duty, while it incapacitates them from filling that place in the heart and soul, the training and the daily life, the going in and out, and the forming the essential character, of their clergy and their people at large. A Diocese forty miles long in any direction ought to be regarded, as in the days of S. Augustine, a very large Diocese; so large indeed as to need, by and by, to be itself divided. Large Dioceses may cause more of respect and consequence to attach to a certain small number of individual Bishops: but the influence of the Order, as the integrating power of the Church life, is incomparably less.

We are gradually, but very slowly as yet, drifting towards a subdivision of our Dioceses, and that in a manner the significance of which seems to be very little understood. To me, it is one of the most hopeful symptoms of our present condition. I refer now to the subsidiary plan of Convocations, which are rapidly spreading throughout all our Dioceses. The Church is unconsciously yearning after all the absent parts of her own original Cathedral system, and is slowly and gradually groping after them in the dark, if perchance she may thus once more regain her lost jewels. Now the Convocation system begins at the beginning, by cutting down its dimensions to a somewhat more manageable area. The general tendency seems to be, in the more thickly populated parts of the country, to take one county as the normal size; though in many cases the clergy of two or three counties unite. They thus get themselves down to something of a family size, and immediately begin to experience more of the family feeling. Their meetings--which they always enjoy most highly--act a little like the itinerating system; only they never come often enough to the same place to please either the local priest or his people. They have a wholesome, stirring, refreshing effect upon all concerned, without any of the uproarious fever, or the fearful collapse, of the Revival system. They find that they can organize and carry out, far more vigorously than any committee in a city hundreds of miles off, just that precise kind of missionary operation which will be the most successful; and they can apply it just where it is most needed. These Convocations, however, are as yet like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet left out. They give the place of honor to the Bishop, indeed, when he happens to be there; but in reality they want him there all the time. They want him to be their own. They are gradually, but admirably, marking out the bounds of the future Dioceses into which our present enormities shall hereafter be divided; and these boundaries are made, as those of Dioceses ought to be, by the instinct of practical convenience. The only danger is, that many of them are yet quite too large. But put a Bishop in each existing Convocation; give him his Free Church--the largest Church in the chief town; surround him gradually with his assistant priests and deacons; his boys' school and girls' school; his Theological students in his own house, and with him daily in the choir of his Cathedral and at his own table; give him his itinerating corps of sound and zealous preachers, his mission force--the flying artillery of his division of the Church militant:--and what portion of the great field of the world is there, which would not soon brine forth thirty, sixty, an hundred fold more than that which is now, by some, looked upon as "great things!"

"But," it may be said, "all this is very pretty in theory; but you ought not to press it so earnestly or so confidently until it has been tried. You young men talk too positively. You seem to think that you can set everything to rights at once. You ought to be more modest and cautious, and place less of implicit reliance upon your opinions." To all who are disposed thus to speak, I will venture to give the following reply. To sneer at us as "young men," is both untrue and unwise. It is untrue, for in this matter we express the views of not a few hoary-headed and venerable servants of the Church, and of many in their most vigorous middle age, as well as of those who, if young now, are every day growing older. And it is unwise, for if we are in the wrong, prove to us that we are in the wrong, and it will have more effect; upon us than to twit us with our fewness of years: while if we be in the right, our youth is more of an argument against our opponents than against ourselves; for it is a shame that those true and right things which our old men ought to teach us, we are compelled to teach them.

But, whether we be young men or old, we are not in the wrong. We have, indeed, worked out the problem, a priori. We have found that a Bishop must not cease to be himself a Pastor. We have found that he must have helpers in that work,- We have found that clergy trained in the kind of work which they are to do, and in that portion of the country where they are to labor, must be generally the most effective. We have found that, as it is the Bishop who is to ordain ministers, we ought to know first whether they are of the right sort of clerical stuff; and that he cannot have such thorough knowledge by any other mode, as by training them himself, in his own Church, and at his own table. We have found that preparatory schools are necessary likewise, and that of both sexes. We have found that mission and itinerating work is most useful, and may thus be best carried on with full benefit, and without drawback from evils in other directions. We have found that the Bishop is a Father: we have tried to show him how his Diocese may become a family. All this we have drawn forth on the soundest principles of reason and common sense. But this is not all. We "young men" have long been told by our spiritual Fathers to go to the Primitive Church for our notions as to what are the true essentials of faith and practice; and, like dutiful sons, we have gone. There we find that, in those ancient days of primeval vigor, when the spirit of the Apostles themselves yet lived and labored, and was the element of power in the hands of their more immediate successors--we find, I say, that every Bishop had his own church, in the chief city of his Diocese; that he had his priests and deacons in full force about him; that he had his clergy under his own eye, at his own table, trained and formed under his own hand; that the old Canons contemplated only a home-bred clergy, requiring every priest and deacon, as well as Bishop, to labor in the town or place for which he was originally ordained, and not to be wandering from city to city; that the Bishop was expected to exercise the largest hospitality, especially towards his clergy; that from his church, as the centre, went forth the clergy who supplied all the region round about the city where he dwelt; that in the precincts of his church, and taught by his clergy, were the schools, which were seminaries of godly learning to all his Diocese; and that the Daily Prayer,--yes, and Daily Communion, too--were the heavenly food provided for this family of power, and love, and a sound mind. We find, therefore, that the conclusions of our own reason are fortified by the example of that very antiquity to which we are sent as our model: and to which--apparently to the surprise of some of those who send us--we are honestly determined to go. If we had only the conclusions of our own reason to rely on, we should, of course, feel it our duty to be modest about it. But it is not so. The system has been tried, and with more astounding success than ever attended any other. Antiquity gives us precisely the same response as common sense. Authority and reason speak in perfect unison. We have cyphered the sum up and down, and the answer comes both ways the same. The only question now is,--how to carry out the change.

And here we are bidden in earnest whispers to "Be cautious!" Yes, we have been cautious. We have been very quiet about these things--only talked about them once in three months in this little corner. And there is no harm done yet--no! and no work done either! Our prudent advisers seem to forget that, under some conjunctures, he is in truth the most wisely cautious Bishop who strikes the boldest blow. Where the Cathedral System is to be struck for, in town or country, none but a Bishop can strike: and he who strikes rightly, and boldly, and with all his might, must win. And he will then gain such success in his Master's work,--he will find the Word of the Lord marching onward in such free course, and so abundantly glorified--that the happy contagion of his brave example shall soon spread from Diocese to Diocese, until it crown the Church with beauty and strength through all the land, from Arctic snows to tropic heats, and from sea to sea.

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