VERY DEAR BRETHREN:
It is with something like a feeling of humiliation that I step out of my habitual reserve (reserve so far, at least, as ephemeral excitements are concerned), to address to you this Pastoral Letter. The occasion of my doing so will be seen in the following printed note, which I found on my desk night before last, on my return from a distant duty. You will observe that it is without date as to time or place, and that it is signed by nine out of our fifty Bishops:
TO OUR BRETHREN:
In consequence of very serious indications of a state of mind among many of the Clergy and Laity of our Church--having regard to alleged difficulties in the Prayer-Book, and contemplating action most earnestly to be deprecated--some of the Bishops requested a meeting, in New York, of several Clergymen and Laymen from various parts of the country, whose knowledge of the facts and whose opinions as to needed measures would be valuable. The object was to get such information and comparison of views as might assist the Bishops in forming a right judgment of their duty to God, and to the Church, and to their brethren in the state of mind alluded to.
It became painfully evident that many in our Church are so burdened and distressed in the use of certain expressions in our Formularies, that the inquiry is obligatory as to what ought to be done, in brotherly kindness and charity, for their relief.
 The result is the conviction that, if alternate phrases or some equivalent modification in the Office for the Ministration of Baptism of Infants were allowed, the pressing necessity would be met, and a measure of relief would be afforded of great importance to the peace and unity of the Church.
We have always been fully persuaded that our Formularies of faith and worship, in their just interpretation, embody the truth of Christ, are warranted by the teaching of Holy Scripture, and are a faithful following of the doctrines professed and defended by our Anglican Reformers.
The difficulties referred to, we ascribe in a great measure to the bold innovations in doctrine and usage, which at the present time so unhappily agitate our communion, and expose the Protestant and Scriptural character of our Church to distrust and reproach.
The conscientious scruples of men of godly conversation and usefulness deserve the most respectful and affectionate consideration of their brethren. We hope they will be so regarded by the next General Convention. We will not allow ourselves to doubt that there will be found in that Body such large-heartedness, brotherly kindness, and fervent desire to promote the peace and prosperity of our Church, as will consent to the relief already indicated.
In this confidence we address ourselves affectionately and respectfully to our brother Bishops, and request their kind and fraternal co-operation in our effort to accomplish the desired result, for the glory of our blessed Lord, and the harmony of our beloved Church.
C. P. McILVAINE,
HENRY W. LEE,
G. T. BEDELL,
WILLIAM BACON STEVENS,
THOMAS H. VAIL,
OZI W. WHITTAKER.
You will not wonder that I read such a document, so signed, with astonishment and with grief. But, my dear brethren, let me say to you in the outset, and before all other words, that if from the reading of that document I turn so promptly to you to address to you this Pastoral Letter, it is, be assured, with no feeling of alarm save for the character and well-being of a certain number of individuals. I am too entirely assured of what the judgment [4/5] of the General Convention must be, should any such questions be proposed to it, to feel the smallest concern for the security of the Prayer-Book, as it is, or for the unity and stability of the Church at large. This movement will end in a mortifying discomfiture, and very nearly the whole Church will stand amazed that any responsible body of Churchmen, not to say Bishops, could have been found to give their countenance to such propositions. It is, indeed, astonishing that these respected and beloved brethren did not see at a glance that the thing to which they were urged to give their countenance, was an absolute impossibility, that there were a hundred reasons lying upon the very surface of the subject why the Supreme Council of our branch of the Church must return a prompt, if not an indignant, denial to any such application.
How comes it that these dear Bishops did not pause, before putting their names to such a document, to think of the long line of worthies, saintly men, in the Anglican Church and in our own Church, some of whom sympathised with these signers in many things--men of pre-eminent faith, devotion, holiness; who not only never clamoured against the Prayer-Book, never threatened or thought of leaving the Church unless they could have the Prayer-Book changed so as to suit themselves, but who united as with one heart in loving that Prayer-Book, the whole of it--every part of it, as they loved their spiritual life; the Simeons, the Venns, the Cecils; such men as William Wilberforce, and Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta; our own Bishops White, Moore of Virginia, and Griswold--men of Evangelical spirit all (if one must use a much-abused word)--what would they have thought of propositions to insert "alternate phrases" in the Prayer-Book, for the relief of tender consciences? Or, to refer to men in our Mother Church, of a still higher type of intellect and piety: Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Bishop Wilson of the Sacra Privata, Bishop Ken, author of the Morning and Evening [5/6] Hymns, Bishop Bull, Bishop Pearson, Bishop Hall, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, of the Holy Living and Dying, Bishop Andrews! For hundreds of years all these godly and well-learned men, and thousands of others like them, have lived and died expressing the intensest love and admiration for the devotions and offices of the Prayer-Book in all its parts. Why! what new wisdom is it which has just come into the world, to discover for the first time that the Prayer-Book has something in it which tender consciences cannot bear! We of this generation are miserable pigmies in sanctity as well as in learning, compared with the holy men of past ages, some of whose names I have mentioned.
The nine Bishops take care to tell us in their circular letter that they themselves "have always been fully persuaded that our Formularies of Faith and Worship, in their just interpretation, embody the truth of Christ, are warranted by the teaching of Holy Scripture, and are a faithful following of the doctrines professed and defended by our Anglican Reformers." But their sympathies are excited for others in our Church who "are so burdened and distressed in the use of certain expressions in our Formularies"--(formularies which Hooker, Herbert, Wilson, and Ken, and Bull, and Pearson, and Hall, and Jeremy Taylor, and Andrews, used for hundreds of years, not only without complaint, but with fervent approval and love); their sympathies are so excited by these "burdened and distressed consciences," that they are moved to propose--what? why, changes in the Prayer-Book, so that two sets of phrases may be provided, conveying different tones of doctrine, in order that fastidious brethren may be accommodated with one phrase or another--with one doctrine or another, according to their fancy!
What scenes of strife and bitterness in parishes would "alternate phrases" in the Baptismal Office give rise to! The parents preferring one of these alternate phrases: the minister bound by his conscience perhaps to use the other. [6/7] The public Office heard by the people sometimes in one phrase, sometimes in the other!
These nine excellent Bishops (and if I speak plainly, they must excuse it, for they have forced the necessity of so speaking upon every Bishop who cares for the stability of the Church, or for the protection of his diocese), they speak in their circular letter as if only one single particular in the way of change in the Baptismal Office were needed to relieve the "distress" of the discontented. They declare their "conviction that, if alternate phrases or some equivalent modification in the Office for the Ministration of Baptism of Infants were allowed, the pressing necessity would be met, and a measure of relief would be afforded of great importance to the peace and unity of the Church." This one change is vital; it touches the very spring of the Christian life; it involves other changes, and is itself utterly impossible to be granted. But further: Who does not know that the idea of this one change being satisfactory--being all that is or will be demanded, is illusory? Books and newspapers sent forth from the press within the last two years, and the proceedings of recent meetings, make it only too plain that nothing less than numerous and sweeping changes, altering the whole tone and meaning of the Prayer-Book--in other words, nothing less than such changes as would strip the Prayer-Book of its catholic character, and make it conform to the shallow, semi-Calvinistic systems of the sects, would meet the wishes and designs of those who insult and repudiate the devotions of the Holy Dead. If we can be so foolish as to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage--if the great majority of the Church in this country will change its Prayer-Book so as to suit a small minority, putting this Church in harmony with sects, but out of harmony with our Mother Church and out of harmony with the primitive Church--we may possibly make an ignoble peace; but not otherwise. For look, my dear brethren, once again and more narrowly at the [7/8] well-considered words of the nine Bishops. They say, if the one modification in the Baptismal Office were allowed, "the pressing necessity would be met, and a measure of relief would be afforded," i.e., there would be a "measure of relief," but not entire relief! "The pressing necessity" would be met, but not all needs would be satisfied. The scarcely hidden meaning would be plain enough from the words themselves; but the clamours of newspapers and of public and private meetings make it abundantly clear that the one change suggested in the circular (could we be unwise enough and unfaithful enough to allow it) would be but the entering wedge opening the way for higher demands--if indeed any demands can be higher than that which exacts, as a condition of peace, that the scriptural and primitive language applied in the Prayer-Book to the baptized--to those born of water and of the Spirit, shall give place to terms more agreeable to modern systems of religion.
The terms employed in the circular note of the nine Bishops are gentle, tender, sympathetic. Their language might lead us to suppose that those for whom they invoke our affectionate consideration were meek and patient sufferers, whose burdened and distressed consciences ought all the more to move us to make efforts for their relief, because they are so delicate and so slow to complain! But the writings and speeches of the discontented themselves are in a very different tone. They breathe only threats, and denunciations, and vehement accusations of their brethren. We hear loud talk of violent measures, whose appropriate and ill-omened name ought not to find place in this Pastoral Letter! We see ideas propounded and plans discussed, which are as chimerical as they are unchurchlike. The misrepresentations daily put forth in regard to the opinions and designs of those who differ from them, are so flagrant, that no Christian man would be able to believe the writers and speakers to be capable of them, if he did not continually see them in print, or hear of them.
 Is this the way to appeal to our sympathy? Or is it expected that these threats of a comparatively small number of people will so alarm the great body of the Church, that the radical changes they demand will be easily yielded to them? Do they flatter themselves that they can so work upon the fears and prejudices of the laity as to secure a large following from them? They are grievously mistaken. The great body of the laity of this Church are thoroughly loyal. They are warmly and unalterably attached to the Prayer-Book, as it is. They love the worship and order of the Church, as they are and ever have been. Within reasonable limits they will not refuse to sanction efforts to make the worship of the Church more reverent, more decent, more glowing; but the whole spirit and faith of the Church they mean to keep sacred from innovation--free from Romish glitter and superstition on the one side, and from sectarian narrowness on the other. They who enter upon revolutionary measures in this Church will have but a poor following from the laity.
And my dear Brethren of the Laity, it is painful to me to speak to you as I now feel constrained to speak. But I could not feel that I was doing my duty to God and to this Church, in times like the present, if I did not solemnly and earnestly warn you against the attempts incessantly made in certain quarters to work upon your prejudices and passions, by inflammatory appeals and grossly exaggerated statements of evil and terror, which it is alleged exist among a large portion of the clergy of this Church. I do not hesitate to pronounce those statements most unfair and almost wholly unfounded. The eccentricities of half-a-dozen individuals--a few unguarded expressions, or, what is more common, expressions taken out of their proper connection, and so perverted--certain doings, which, by a plausible, but unfair representation, can be made to bear the appearance of grievous error--these are the things which 9/10] are continually seized upon to make out a charge which, as I have said, is all but wholly false.
With regard to a very few things in this diocese, I have not concealed my opinion. In my annual address to the Convention of this Diocese in 1868, and again in my recent address last September, I plainly intimated that in a very few instances there had been irregularities introduced into the Services of the Church, which were to be deprecated, and which could not receive the sanction of the Bishop of this diocese. They will be dealt with as the Law of the Church, and as the needs of each case, shall seem in reason and fairness to demand. But to found upon these few exceptional irregularities a general charge of unsound doctrine and disloyal designs against the great body of the conservative clergy of this diocese and of this country, is something so monstrous that one is at a loss to understand how any clergyman or any Christian layman can for a moment give it his countenance.
And how these few extreme statements of doctrines to which I have referred, and these few extreme practices, had they been much more numerous and more flagrant than they are--how they could make it right or reasonable to begin the work of changing the Offices of the Book of Common Prayer, or to unsettle and confuse everything by introducing "alternate phrases" into those Offices, must ever be a mystery to calm, unbiased minds. And yet, as will be seen from their printed circular, this is the reason assigned by the nine Bishops why difficulties respecting the Prayer-Book have arisen in the minds of certain of their brethren, and why they themselves give their countenance to the proposed changes! They say, "the difficulties referred to we ascribe in great measure to the bold innovations," etc. This looks like an attempt to charge the blame of these revolutionary attempts in one direction upon alleged innovations in the opposite direction. One would have thought that the offending irregularities of [10/11] their brethren would have made them only the more anxious to maintain the order of the Church, by holding fast themselves to every iota of the letter and spirit of the form of prayer and order of service as prescribed by the Church in her "Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments." Tendencies to disorder in the Church, in one direction, can never be cured, can never be obviated, by rushing into violent disorder in the opposite direction.
I have spoken of the inflammatory appeals and exaggerated statements continually employed to work upon the prejudices and passions of the laity. I am very far from saying, or believing, that these exciting exaggerations are deliberately employed in a sinister spirit for the attainment of mere party ends. But of one thing I am quite certain--and I believe that most candid and well-informed persons will concur in the view--that if the authors of these attempts at agitation had been animated only by narrow party passions, and had been little scrupulous in regard to the perfect truth and fairness of the assertions they were making, they could have done little more than has been done, and they could scarcely have written and spoken in a way more calculated to excite in every intelligent and upright mind a feeling of moral disapprobation.
It is the nature of violent and inflammatory language to lead on to violent action. It is doubtful whether the mind of any considerable portion of our Southern brethren could have been at all prepared for the revolutionary measures into which they were at last hurried, but for the extreme violence and exaggeration of their journals and orators for several years preceding the final crisis. Happily, the Constitution of the Church, and the settled habits of thought and feeling of the great body of the clergy and laity, are, with the blessing of God, amply sufficient to preserve us from serious divisions. The danger is to a few unhappy individuals, and not to the body; and the peril to those few individuals is just in proportion to the vehemence [11/12] of the blind excitements which are kept up in certain quarters, and to the degree in which such individuals allow themselves to fall into the vortex of partial and passionate influences.
If we ask how it comes to pass that some good men--men whom we highly respect and esteem--are ever brought to give their countenance to such doings, and much more, even to take an active part in them, I fear we shall be constrained to acknowledge that the evil is to be attributed to the narrowing and perverting influence of extreme party associations. In political affairs we have been taught to recognize the evil which ensues, when a lofty character
"Gives up to party
What was meant for mankind."
And when a good man consents to be shut up, or is insensibly drawn on until he becomes enclosed within the narrow confines of a party, so that day by day he lives and moves and has his being in that stifling atmosphere, seeing all things in a portentous lurid light, his ear open to only one kind of partial teaching; his thoughts occupied with always the same distorted representations of the character, principles, doings, designs of those to whom he is opposed; his daily associations with men all of one class, who nurse his prejudices and excite his resentments; his rising up early in the morning being only that he may misinform himself; his views of the brethren who differ from him, only such as he can take with a prejudiced eye from a distance--a distance which allows him to see some peculiarity which is strange and disagreeable to him, but prevents him from perceiving the real excellence and truth which are best discovered in intimate personal intercourse; I say when a good man allows himself to be drawn insensibly into such a circle, and subordinated wholly to such narrowing and perverting influences, we need not be surprised if we sometimes find his feelings, his judgments, his actions, [12/13] such as are hard to be reconciled with what we have believed, and still maintain, as to the real worth and excellence of his character.
But this tendency to fall into a narrow circle of thought and association, and to take up unreasonable prejudices respecting those who differ from us, is, I fear, confined to no one class, to no one type of religious character. It is a danger to which we are all more or less exposed, and against which we should be on our guard. We may adhere inflexibly to what we believe to be the Truth of God, and yet we may open our hearts to such large and kindly associations with men of other convictions and other habits of thought as will bring within our cognizance whatever of truth and excellence may, through God's goodness, be in them.
Of course, this is not an appropriate occasion for entering upon an extended exposition of the nature and tendencies of parties, or of schools of thought when they become animated with the spirit of party. Shades of difference in doctrinal views are matters of course in every great ecclesiastical body. No such body has ever been without them; none ever will be. It is only when a school of thought runs into views so extreme that they become altogether incongruous with the spirit of the body as a whole--and when as a natural consequence that school becomes infested with narrow party passions, and with a factious temper, that its influence over individuals becomes a subject of serious concern.
In thus pointing out briefly and very imperfectly the unhappy results that ensue to individual Christians when they are drawn into the vortex of narrow party passions, I have desired in all sincerity and in all seriousness to turn attention strongly to a two-fold lesson of duty; first, the duty of exercising earnest religious care in watching over our own hearts and minds; care to see that, whatever may be our doctrinal position, however steadfast our devotion to principles which we hold to be the vital authoritative Truth of [13/14] God, we do not push those principles beyond their just limits, do not put them to any false use, do not hold them to the exclusion of any other principles which may be equally a part of the Truth of God; and second, the duty of exercising Christian charity in our judgments of others who differ from us, that we be willing to consider and understand that very exceptionable speeches and doings, in those who occupy a position different from our own, may originate, not in conscious insincerity, not in deliberate injustice, but in the narrow and prejudiced views and associations which unhappily have obtained the mastery over them.
But to return for a few moments to the main purpose of this Pastoral Letter--the consideration of proposed changes in the Book of Common Prayer. No one denies, it is presumed, that as the American Branch of the Church, at the time of its independent organization, made certain changes in the Prayer-Book, to adapt it to our altered political circumstances, and availed itself of the occasion "to establish such other alterations and amendments as were deemed expedient," yet with the express and pointed declaration "that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship: or further than local (i.e., political) circumstances require," so of course the Church has now, and will always have, the power to modify within certain limits her Service Book, provided there be urgent necessity for so doing, and provided also that "no necessary point of Doctrine, Discipline or Worship" be touched.
Now, as there can be no further occasion to introduce changes into our Prayer-Book for political reasons, all future modifications that may be proposed must have some reference to Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship. We have professed our determination not to depart from the Church of England in any essential point touching either of those particulars. And of course we ought not to and must not separate ourselves from the great Anglican Communion by [14/15] any tampering with critical expressions in our Offices, especially when those expressions, as in the case of the Baptismal Office, are Scriptural, are sanctioned by general use in the Primitive Church, and are interwoven with fundamental truths.
Consider, my dear brethren, the immense importance of our position in Christendom. We are a part of the great Anglican Communion, as it was represented at Lambeth, in September, 1867. That Communion includes, of course, not only the Home Church of England and all its affiliated branches in Canada, in the East and West Indies, in South Africa, in New Zealand--in a word, in all her colonies and islands of the sea, all round the globe, but also the Church in the United States, in Scotland, and in Ireland. This great Communion, as we all know, occupies a middle position between the Papal Communion on the one side, and various religious systems of modern origin on the other. It is Scriptural, primitive, catholic. It has a fully constituted ministry derived in unbroken succession from Christ and the Apostles, and it has the pure Gospel as preached by them. It stands opposed to the novel inventions and corrupt practices brought upon the Church in the middle ages; and, in the witness it bears to primitive truth and order, it stands equally opposed to the imperfect and variable systems, and to the sceptical, rationalistic tendencies of these later centuries.
The Anglican Communion as a whole is a great witness to the Truth, a great bulwark of the Faith, against error on the one side, and against opposite error on the other side. Its value to the cause of God in the world--its value as a witness and as a bulwark, depends in large measure upon its greatness and its unity. Much of our importance and influence, as a branch of the Holy Catholic Church, comes from our being one with the great Anglican Communion, which we can continue to be only so long as we preserve intact the essential Formularies of that Communion. We have [15/16] only to recall to mind the history of the Anglican Church for the last twenty-five years, showing among other things, the sensitiveness of a large portion of that Church to all attacks upon the truths contained in the Baptismal Office, to see what would be the effect of the proposed changes in that Office upon the character and position of our branch of the Church. The adoption of such unscriptural and uncatholic changes would be on our part an act of self-exclusion from the only reformed Catholic Communion in Christendom. Have we never heard, or have we forgotten the acknowledgments made by learned and thoughtful men in the Roman Church, and by equally learned and thoughtful men from among the non-Episcopal bodies, that, if there is ever to be any complete re-union of Christendom, it must necessarily be upon something like the basis of the Anglican Communion? And if Divine Providence has placed us upon so lofty a vantage-ground, in the mean between two opposite extremes of error, enabling us from that vantage-ground to bear a glorious double witness to the Truth of God, and to offer to the whole Christian world a basis on which all may re-unite, a temple in which dissevered and estranged believers may come together, and find joy and rest in the midst of Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order, if such are the present blessedness and the future promise of the position which a gracious Providence has assigned to us, what must be our blindness and folly to degrade ourselves from that position, to forego at once the dignity and the hope of our great inheritance, by substituting the base metal of modern systems for the pure gold of primitive Truth!
It will require but a little reflection to carry any intelligent and impartial mind to the conclusion that if, for any reason, it shall ever become expedient to enter upon the work of revising the Book of Common Prayer, it is a work which must be undertaken unitedly by the whole Anglican Communion. It would be a work in which we ought to do [16/17] nothing without the counsel, the consent, and concurrence of the Fathers and Brethren of our Mother Church and of all the affiliated branches. It is a thing not likely to be undertaken in our day. The reasons for it must be very different from any now offered. But whenever a task so very critical and momentous is to be taken in hand, it must be with the united counsels and authority of all the branches of the one body. We cannot afford to separate ourselves from our brethren. If a book, which in its main features has stood the test of ages, is to be touched at all, it ought not to be done with only the narrow views and partial judgments of one country and one period of ephemeral excitement.
The revision to which the Book of Common Prayer was subjected, when the Church was fully organized in this country, should serve us quite as much for warning as for encouragement. For political reasons, some revision was then necessary. No such reason applies now. I beg to quote some words which I addressed to the Convention of this Diocese in 1868: "When we began our career, in our very first year, we took some liberties with the Prayer-Book of our Mother Church, which we found in our hands. Nothing vital was changed. No article of the Faith, no essential point of order was touched. In some things the work of revision was fortunate; in others not so very happy. Our changes, slight as they were, excited the anxiety of the Mother Church; and abundant and satisfactory as have been the testimonies of sympathy and regard received by us from that Church since, I am afraid it must be confessed that those feelings of solicitude--of distrust, if you please--have never yet been entirely removed from the mind of all her members." The changes made at that time in the Te Deum and in the Litany were not in the best taste, and they tended to obscure the expression of the great truths involved in them. The omission made in the "Order for the Visitation of the Sick" is much to be regretted. [17/18] Opinions, no doubt, will differ concerning the omission of the Athanasian Creed; but it is believed that most persons whose acquaintance with the history of Christianity and with the Office of the Church makes them at all competent to judge in such a matter, will concur in the view that a change so very serious ought not to have been made at such a time and in such a manner.
Two other modifications were sanctioned which very probably will be pleaded as precedents for the proposed introduction of alternate phrases into the Baptismal Office. But by most considerate persons those modifications will be regarded rather as mistakes to be guarded against than as examples to be followed. Reference is here made of course to the permission given to omit the sign of the cross in Baptism, together with the significant and important sentence accompanying it, when those who present the infant, or who come as adults to Baptism, shall desire it; and also to the permission given to the minister to omit altogether or to change the language of the article in the Creed declaring the "descent into Hell." The Church is the teacher and the guide of her children. It is her office to relieve their perplexities and to lead them in the right way. Objections to the use of the sign of the cross in Baptism can only spring from gross ignorance and prejudice. It is a monstrous absurdity. Instead of yielding to such prejudice, or leaving such a question to the hap-hazard fancies of any narrow-minded candidate for her privileges, the Church should make it the duty of her ministers to instruct the people, and so to render them less unfit to be numbered among her children. To receive into her household those who will not conform to her ways, nor submit their ignorant judgments to her authority, is merely to take into her arms rebellious wills that upon the first fair occasion will rise up against her. So with regard to the article in the Creed. It rests upon the authority of Holy Scripture and of catholic consent, or it does not. It should be in the [18/19] Creed without qualification, or wholly out of it. It is the office and duty of the Church, not to offer a choice of beliefs to the capricious unenlightened preferences of her children, but upon sufficient grounds to teach them positively what they are to believe. In two of the Ancient Creeds used by our Mother Church, and as used in the ages all along, the article in question stood without qualification, as much enjoined upon the conscience of the faithful as was any other article in those Creeds. Indeed, to deny that our blessed Lord "descended into Hell," in the true meaning of that clause, is to deny that He took upon Him in all things, except sin, the conditions of humanity in death as well as in life--a thing absolutely indispensable to the completion of the work of our redemption. It is therefore to be regretted that the venerated Fathers of our American branch of the Church did not take the Apostles' Creed simply as they found it, and as they had been accustomed to use it previous to the Revolution.
It can hardly be needful for me to say that toward those venerable Fathers I cherish none but feelings of reverence and affection. They were able and godly men. I appreciate the great difficulties of the time in which they lived. I bless God for their labors. I am devoutly grateful for the rich inheritance which they left to us; but the merits of our American Prayer-Book do not consist in the exceptional discretion allowed to the minister in the two cases I have now referred to. The departures, in these two instances, from the Prayer-Book of our Mother Church, and from all antecedent use, were not examples of change which we ought to be ambitious to imitate. They did not proceed upon a principle which we can ever wish to see further applied to the ministrations of God's Church--especially in parts so vital as the Creed, and the Baptismal Office.
It is very true that the permission given to the Minister in these two instances in our American Prayer-Book, has [19/20] proved, in its effect upon the general use of the Church, almost wholly nugatory. Happily, the intelligence and right feeling of the clergy and of the people have been such, especially in these later years, as to exclude irregularities in these respects. A departure from the ordinary use is hardly ever heard of; but the introduction of such a novel feature into the Rubrics of our American Book is nevertheless erroneous in principle; and its influence, if it could ever come to be regarded as a precedent, would be pernicious and dangerous in the extreme.
We have not yet been informed what the proposed alternate phrase in the Baptismal Office is intended to be. To be satisfactory to those who are inclined to ask for it, the new phrase must of course convey a meaning distinctly different from that which lies upon the very surface of the Scriptural and primitive formula which is now in the Baptismal Office, and which has been used by the faithful in all ages. What are to be the terms of that new formula? Who will venture to propose them? When one phrase shall have been proposed by one, and another by another, how many will be found to agree in any one of them? Could the terms of any such alternate phrase ever be agreed upon by the proposers, and could it then, by some strange miracle, obtain approval and adoption by the Supreme Council of our branch of the Church, it would have to be inserted in the Confirmation Office and in other Collects. Would that be a change of little significance, or of little consequence? Would the allowance of that alternate phrase become a practical nullity like the permission to omit the sign of the Cross in Baptism? By no means. The class of persons who have been able to bring themselves to appear before the public, asking for such an alternate phrase, would be sure to use it, and not only to use it, but to plead for it, to make a party cry out of it, and to urge it as the one sign of true godliness upon the adoption of all whom they could reach and influence. They would [20/21] give no money to build a church, or to support a missionary, except upon the condition that that phrase, and no other, shall be used in that church or by that missionary? This may appear to be an extravagant supposition; but illustrations of this kind of conditional giving are even now abundant on all sides of us. The very permission to introduce such an alternate phrase; given with the whole weight of the Church's authority (were so absurd a thing supposable), would imply that there is reasonable ground of objection to the language which the Church has always hitherto employed, and it would cast discredit upon that language, and in so doing, would cast discredit upon Scriptural language and upon primitive truth, and at the same time give encouragement to the use of the "alternate phrase."
That the interpolated phrase would not prove to be a practical nullity, we may learn from what has happened in the case of the alternate phrase introduced into the Ordinal in our American Prayer-Book. In the English Book, as is well known, there is but one form used in the Ordination of Priests--the one form used by the Church for hundreds of years before and since the Reformation. The compilers of our American Prayer-Book, out of tenderness to the ignorance and prejudice that surrounded them, were induced to take the very serious step of introducing into the Ordinal an alternate form; and the result is, that at least one-quarter, or one-third part of our clergy have been ordained, not with that which is the only form in the Church of England, but with the alternate form newly introduced into our Prayer-Book! By many this will be regarded as a trivial matter, and the newly introduced phrase will be considered by them as an improvement; but by a large portion of our brethren of the Church of England, I am afraid it is not so regarded. It seems a remarkable circumstance that no alternate phrase was introduced into the form for consecrating Bishops, since the [21/22] critical words, "Receive the Holy Ghost"--which objectors wish to avoid using--occur, of course, there as well as in the form for ordaining Priests.
I am very far from intending to intimate any doubt as to the validity of the Orders of those Priests who were ordained with the use of this alternate form; but I believe there are a very great many others who will agree in a feeling of deep thankfulness that their case was different--that the words pronounced over them in the solemn moment of their elevation to the Priest's office were the words of our blessed LORD, which, for the momentous purposes of that awful function, had been in use and authority in the Church of GOD through long centuries.
Again, I beg to say that I appreciate the difficulties of the times in which our Prayer-Book had to be revised, and in which it was settled in its present form. I am not ignorant of the views of those venerable men who proposed and urged certain changes, nor of the views of those other venerable men who thought it their duty, under the circumstances in which they were placed, to yield their own preferences, and to concur in adopting the proposed alterations. It is no disparagement to those revered Fathers to express the opinion, that, had the necessity of discussing those questions been laid upon the American Church of the present day--upon the last General Convention, for example--the result would have been very different; not because the men in the last General Convention were wiser or better than the Fathers in our first Church Assemblies--far from it; but because the circumstances would have been more favorable to a wise and just conclusion. That alternate form, it is believed, would not have been admitted into the Ordinal.
And in this connection another thought will occur to every considerate person. The nine Bishops propose to open the Prayer-Book for revision; but they intimate that they contemplate no more than the single change, to consist [22/23] in the introduction of an alternate phrase into the Baptism Office. But if the work of revision be once entered upon, can they control it? Can they assure themselves, or their friends, that that revision would be confined to one solitary item, or that changes, if once begun, would move only in the direction they prefer, i. e., toward the doctrines of non-Episcopal bodies, rather than in the opposite direction? Let any one reflect upon the character of the last General Convention, and he may readily convince himself that if the Supreme Council of our Branch of the Church were once persuaded to enter upon the work of revising the Book of Common Prayer (which I trust it will not be for years to come), it would begin by reclaiming what it has lost, not by diluting and debasing what it has, through the mercy of GOD, retained. It would remit the short form of absolution, the absolution proper to the Communion Office, where it belongs, and never allow it to be used in a mixed congregation, consisting largely of non-communicants. It would strike out the alternate form in the Ordination of Priests. It would restore the lost parts of the Office for the Visitation of the Sick. It would bring back to the Te Deum and the Litany those pregnant words which express what was meant to be expressed by the Saints who composed them. It would replace in the Catechism the emphatic and positive "Verily and indeed." Probably it would insist upon the restoration of the Athanasian Creed. Certainly it would make all haste to re-insert among the Church's choicest treasures those exquisite, those seraphic pieces of inspired devotion--the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis. The present permission to omit an article of the Apostles' Creed, or in Baptism to refrain from the sign of the Cross before a captious objector, would be stricken out. In a word, the Supreme Council of this Church, if ever constrained from a sense of duty to undertake the revision of her Service-Book, would make it more primitive and catholic--not less so. She would assert [23/24] her title to all that she ought to have inherited from her Mother; she would not suffer to be lost or overlaid with dross one single one of the ancient precious things she has been enabled to retain. Multitudes of her counsellors are now wise enough to know that if she would prove impregnable--yea, irresistible--against mediaeval inventions on the one side, and against rationalistic pretensions and vagaries on the other, she must be true to her Catholic principles, and establish herself immovably upon her old Catholic foundations.
The few remarks just now made (and they might have been greatly extended) have been thrown out in order to show what would necessarily be the direction, the breadth, and extent of the work of revision, should any such work be seriously entered upon by our Church, and so to point out to our brethren, the nine Bishops, and to their friends, that, with their views and wishes, they can have no interest in asking our General Convention to undertake the task of revising the Prayer-Book! Whenever any such revision shall take place, it will not be to obscure the truth which has ever been in the Church, for the purpose of bringing in ideas and modes of thought derived from the sects. It will be to vindicate the ancient truth of our branch of the Church, and to establish it more thoroughly on its old foundations. If two-thirds of the Bishops and three-fourths of our dioceses may be expected to act according to their principles--which they hold to be the genuine principles of this Church--then may we be assured that their action--should they ever feel constrained to act in such a matter--would be neither toward Romanism nor toward sectarianism. It would be churchly action, tending to a fuller realization and a fuller expression (if that be possible) of the truth proper to the Church--the truth as held in the Primitive Church and re-asserted at the Reformation--the broad, genial Catholic truth of the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
 Few things in the history of the Church in this country within the last twenty-five years have seemed to me so remarkable as the rapid progress of opinion among her members. That progress has been neither toward Romanism nor toward sectarianism. It has been a rapid progress toward a clearer comprehension, a more distinct assertion, and a more general reception of her own proper principles--her principles as Catholic, but not Romish; as evangelical, but not sectarian. It has been a progress, in consequence of which she more correctly understands and asserts herself, and so more correctly understands and teaches the truth of the Gospel and Primitive Church. It is a progress in virtue of which she is stronger to-day against the errors on either side of her. Will she be likely to stoop from her high course now to take into her system spurious things gathered from the narrow religionisms of the day? Will she have anything to do with the pestilent doctrines which already in Germany, in Switzerland, in New England, have been busy for three hundred years, driving men into still direr heresy and into infidelity? Never! never!
But it may be asked, what then are they to do who threaten so violently as to what steps they will take if their extravagant demands are not complied with? I answer they who threaten would do well to return to a better mind. It will better become them to study more dispassionately the teaching of that Church of which they have sworn to be faithful ministers and obedient children; to recall to mind the vows they have made in accepting the trust committed to them; and to turn their thoughts to the humble and earnest discharge of their duties in that state of life to which it hath pleased God to call them. If there are any who are incorrigible--any who are "so burdened and distressed in the use of certain expressions in our Formularies" which have been fervently used by holy men before them, that they cannot remain in the Church [25/26] quietly and with a good conscience, then, by all means let them depart. Theirs is the loss and the peril. As for the Church, she is better without them, unless they can remain in her as dutiful and obedient children. The great distinguishing feature of the Church is her breadth and her moderation. They must be unreasonable indeed, who cannot dwell peaceably and comfortably within her courts. Within the last thirty years, very large numbers of people have been absorbed into the Church from surrounding bodies. In most cases, those who have been received by her have cordially adopted her principles, and conformed themselves to her ways and habits of thought. But the laws that apply to the Church are somewhat analogous to the laws that govern the human constitution. If the materials taken into the system cannot by any possibility be assimilated, they had better be thrown off? And this is equally true whether the incongruities have affinity for extremes on the one side, or for extremes on the other side!
But while I say these things deliberately and firmly, let me, in conclusion, most affectionately remind my Brethren of the Clergy and of the Laity, that, during the more than fifteen years of my Episcopate, I have, in all my communications to you, maintained one uniform tone toward those different phases of opinion which we hold to be allowable within the Church: I have earnestly inculcated gentleness, tenderness, toleration, comprehensive sympathies. There are brethren on all sides of me, differing much among themselves in habits of thought, whom I love with a warmth of affection very little dependent on what may happen to be their peculiar views. I love them because they are true-hearted, Christian men, earnestly and honestly working for Christ and His Church. Certainly, I desire to see the Clergy and the Laity doing all things in a dutiful and loyal spirit toward the Church, working, as far as possible, according to her principles; but I have no ambition [26/27] to see the minds of all her children cast in precisely the same mould.
It can hardly be needful to add that toward Christian Brethren of the religious bodies around us, my endeavour has always been, so far as I have had occasion to speak, to encourage charitable thoughts. Among them much Christian earnestness and many beautiful examples of Christian character are to be seen. It is but a few weeks since I found myself seated by the side of a venerable and eminent minister of the Presbyterian Body. A quiet conversation of half an hour afforded me no common satisfaction. There was something peculiarly engaging in the gentleness, benignity, and simplicity of his bearing--in his pure spirit and admirable sense. I felt that I could be very content to take my place after him, if in God's mercy it might be so, in passing within the gates of the Heavenly City. But does this imply that I am obliged to embrace his doctrinal views, or to accept his ecclesiastical system? Surely, no. And much less can it imply that I am bound to encourage amalgamations with different religious bodies in undertakings where there can be no union without some direct or indirect suppression of the truth.
My dear brethren, I conclude as I began this Pastoral Letter, which has become much longer than I intended:--I have spoken with no feeling of alarm, and certainly with no feeling of unkindness. It was due to truth, and to the interests of the Church, that I should speak plainly. I have felt that a timely warning to the Diocese in regard to the nature and tendency of recent attacks upon the Prayer-Book, and especially of the propositions to introduce new matter into it, might be the means, under God, of preventing some excellent persons from hastily committing themselves to untenable positions--positions which they would soon perceive could not be maintained, and which they would deeply regret having ever assumed. My concern, as I said at first, is not for the Church at large, but [27/28] for the painful trials that may come upon individuals in consequence of impulsive, ill-considered action. May God in his great mercy preserve them from the peril by turning aside their feet from rash and violent counsels!
Toward the nine Bishops who have been induced to put their names to that most unfortunate circular, I cherish none but kind and respectful feelings. Toward one of them, the venerable Bishop of Virginia (I hope it may not be deemed invidious toward the others to say so), I have of late years felt myself drawn with especial feelings of affection and admiration. In every situation in which I have seen him there has been a delicacy and gentleness, an elevated Christian courtesy, which could not but touch the hearts of those who had occasion to communicate with him. Long may he be spared to his Diocese and to the Church at large. May he and his esteemed associates live to see how completely their fears could be disappointed, and how serenely and triumphantly the Church, under the guidance and protection of her Lord, could move on to the accomplishment of her great work.
It is believed that the number of those who are committed to extreme measures is in reality extremely small. Some of them will become convinced of their error. I scarcely know their names, and I have no wish to be informed. Believing that I shall not fail to be made acquainted with everything which it is really important for me to know, I systematically refrain from all reading which may bring before me painful details. Some things I am constrained to do, for the sake of truth and order; but beyond that I wish to hear of no word or act which can give me unfavorable impressions respecting any member of my diocese. I retain no memory of such things. One thing I have always resolved--that, God helping me, I would always be the Bishop of the Diocese, and not the Bishop of a party. There is not a clergyman in the Diocese in whom I do not feel a tender and affectionate interest. May the [28/29] blessed Spirit of Truth and Peace rest upon them more and more, and guide and animate them in the right way!
Beloved brethren! let us rise to the contemplation of higher things. Let us draw nearer to our adorable Lord, and amid the light and joy that come from His ineffable presence rekindle our souls for nobler sacrifices and efforts in His service.
Beseeching Almighty God to bestow His richest blessings upon you,
I remain always,
Your affectionate Friend and Bishop,
Bishop of New York.
NEW YORK, Nov. 12, 1869.