In his Convention address in 1861, the Bishop of Mississippi thus sets forth his conception of the relationship between Churchmen North and South, and the brotherly spirit which they would preserve, even amid civil and political dissensions: "But whilst the State is thus passing through the fires of a painful revolution, how thankful should we be that the Church is at peace, and that though our political relations toward our brethren, with whom we have hitherto so lovingly associated, have been severed, no change of name, of government, or national interest, will be able to lessen our affection for them as fellow members of the One Holy and Apostolic Communion which is in Christ our Lord. If a separate and independent ecclesiastical organization shall be demanded by the change in our political relations, it will exhibit to the world a division without dissension, a separation without injury to the respective parts, a parting of brothers amid tears of affection, and with mutual commending of each other to God. In what a beautiful light will such action exhibit the Catholic spirit of the Church! Unmoved by the changes and chances of the political world, she pursues the even tenor of her way, holding forth to every age and nation the bread of God, untainted by the leaven of party strife, and rich in all the blessings of a purchased salvation."
Similar expressions may be found in the recorded utterances of other Bishops, and of Diocesan Conventions in the South) in the opening days of the struggle. So satisfied were both clergy and people of the permanent character of the political separation between the sections, and of the necessity of a separate organization for the Church, as a consequence of political independence, that it did not occur to them that others could take a different view; and they seem to have felt quite sure that amid all civil and political trials the Church would manifest only the benign spirit of the Gospel, and the unbroken charity of Christian brethren.
These pleasing anticipations were not fulfilled in the experience of the years immediately following. And yet they had some justification in the real character and heart of our Churchmen, North and South, and in the true principles of the Church; and when the clouds of war began to lighten and roll away, and the blinding influences of the contest, with its heat and passion, began to abate, the Church of our love, first of all the great institutions of the reunited country, showed forth the spirit of Christian forbearance, mutual compliance, and godly union and concord.
And in order that we may have some faint conception of the difficulties of the situation, and of the wonderful development of self-conquest, patience, and magnanimity involved in the prompt reunion of the separated parts so soon after the close of war, it is necessary to refer briefly to some of the painful occurrences of the preceding years, and to some of the difficult questions raised by the events of that time.
The fact that in our prescribed formularies of public worship there is distinct mention made of both the executive and the legislative departments of the government, exposed the clergy of the Church to peculiar embarrassment, whenever any part of the territory of the Confederate States was occupied by the Federal forces. So far as appears, other Christian ministers were, as a rule, not interfered with, unless by some intemperate word or action they specially invited the attention of the Federal authorities. But the most cautious and prudent conduct did not secure the clergy of the Church from hostile animadversion; and in many cases they were treated with great injustice, cruelty, and outrage. For in their Sunday ministrations their sense of allegiance to their Diocese and Bishop, as well as to the Church in the Confederate States, laid upon them the duty of praying for the President of the Confederate States. In some cases they felt justified in omitting altogether the prayer for those in civil authority. In very few cases did they feel that they could use the prayer for the President or the Congress of the United States. To the credit of many of the officers of the United States army, occupying Southern towns and cities, they seemed anxious to avoid, as far as possible, any interference with the religious worship of the people; and where these prayers were passed over they did not concern themselves with the matter. Indeed there are instances in which they seem to have been anxious that the clergy should not be disturbed in their work, and to that end gave assurance that they should not be molested, or any way hindered, so long as all political questions were avoided. When in the spring of 1862 Newbern was occupied by the United States forces, the Rev. Wm. R. Wetmore, assistant to the Rev. Dr. Watson, was in charge of the church, the rector having become a chaplain in the Confederate army. In the address of Bishop Atkinson to the Convention of 1862, and in the report of the Rev. Dr. Watson to the same Convention, it is stated that the Rev. Mr. Wetmore had not been allowed to continue his ministrations, because he would not promise to use the prayer for the President of the United States. This, however, proved to be erroneous. When Mr. Wetmore was able to leave Newbern, and to come within the Confederate lines, he published a statement to the effect that the Bishop and Dr. Watson had been misinformed, and that the Federal authorities had proposed to him that he should continue his ministrations in the church, and simply omit the prayer for those in civil authority. A letter from New Orleans in February, 1863, mentions that St. Luke's Church had been reopened, and that the clergyman omitted the prayer for the President. In June, 1864, Bishop Green made a visitation to "Vicksburg, then in possession of the Federal authorities." He remained five days, and visited all the Church families remaining in the place, and preached Sunday, June 5. He says, "I feel bound to acknowledge here the courtesy with which I was treated during my stay, by the commanding General and his officers." In October following he writes in his journal, under the date Thursday, the 13th: "On the same day I entered Natchez, then garrisoned by a considerable force of the enemy. It was with difficulty that I gained admittance, but I must acknowledge the kind treatment which I received from the commanding General, after getting in. During the five days which I spent in the city, every facility was allowed me for the prosecution of my work." He preached there Sunday, October 16. Knowing what we do of Bishop Green, and of his conception of his duty, we cannot believe that in those services in Vicksburg and Natchez he used the prayer for the President of the United States; and it is equally impossible to believe that he thus thrust himself into the midst of the garrisoned posts of the enemy to pray for the President of the Confederate States; or that he could have done so without arousing feelings, and subjecting himself to treatment, very different from what is implied in his grateful acknowledgment of the courtesies and consideration which he had received in both cases from the Federal officers. We must conclude that there was mutual concession in omitting those parts of the service involving matters of difference, which, to a moderate and judicious mind, would seem most creditable to all parties. Many other instances of a like spirit of mutual compliance and accommodation might be given.
Unfortunately all the Federal authorities were not thus tolerant. In many cases the military officer, who found himself temporarily in command in a Southern town, somehow managed to persuade himself that he was vested with Episcopal, or even Papal, authority, and that it was his duty to regulate the worship of the Church, and to exact of the local clergyman obedience to his idea of what the canons of the Church and the rubrics of the Prayer Book require. "At Pine Bluff [Ark.], as the Rev. Mr. Trimble was reading the service on Tuesday, as he passed from the Collect for Grace to the Litany, omitting the Prayer for the President, Col. Clayton, the Federal commander, cried out in a loud voice, 'Stop, sir!' and marched into the desk by Mr. Trimble's side, and read the Prayer for the President of the United States, and then resumed his place in the congregation. At the close of the service, Mr. Trimble gave notice that he should not officiate again for the present." It was reported in the Church papers that at Nashville, Tenn., after that city had been occupied by the Federals, General McCook told the Rev. Mr. Harris to "use the prayers just as they are printed in the Prayer Book, or be punished."
One of the most violent outrages committed upon a clergyman of the Church took place in St. Paul's Church, Alexandria, Va., February 9, 1862, when the Rev. Dr. Stewart, rector of the church, during the Litany, was ordered by an agent of the government to say the Prayer for the President of the United States. Dr. Stewart proceeded without paying any attention to the scandalous interruption; but a captain and his soldiers, who were present in the congregation for the purpose, drew their swords and pistols, intruded into the chancel, seized the clergyman as he knelt and was about to begin the petition to be delivered from all evil and mischief, etc., held pistols to his head, and forced him out of the church, and through the streets, just as he was, in his surplice and stole, and committed him to the guard-house of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. He was soon released, but was not allowed to continue to officiate; and by the same requirement, that prayers should be said for the President of the United States, all the clergy of Alexandria were forced to cease officiating, and their churches were closed.
Upon the occupation of New Orleans by the Federals, the clergy of the Church endeavored to meet the difficulty, and to avoid giving offence to the United States authorities, by omitting Morning and Evening Prayer, using only the Litany and the Office of the Holy Communion. This served for some months, but in September, 1862, the military governor issued an order that "the omission, in the service of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New Orleans, of the prayer for the President of the United States, would be regarded as evidence of hostility to the government of the United States." To this the clergy replied, that in omitting the prayer for those in civil authority they had endeavored to avoid all occasion of offence, and they denied the right of the civil or military authorities to prescribe in matters ecclesiastical, or to demand of them more than that care to avoid occasion of offence which they had already been diligent in observing. Dr. Fulton says that "Shepley, the military governor, who was a Churchman, admitted that he could not punish men who were acting on such principles, and the matter dropped for a few weeks, until the return of the commanding general, Butler. Then, without previous notice, the service at St. Paul's Church was interrupted by the entrance of an officer, followed by a squad of soldiers with fixed bayonets. The rector Dr. Goodrich, was ordered to desist, and he at once quietly dismissed his congregation with the blessing of peace. The rectors of Calvary Church and Christ Church were also arrested, and a week later the three were sent as prisoners to New York." There they were released on parole, but not allowed to return.
Still more inexcusable was the treatment of the Rev. John H. D. Wingfield, of Trinity Church, Portsmouth, Va., afterwards Missionary Bishop of Northern California. In spite of the most prudent, judicious and inoffensive conduct, in which malice itself can point to no flaw, when he had quietly submitted to the military order forbidding him to officiate in public or in private, and was habitually worshipping in a church whose rector had taken the oath of allegiance, and was using the prayer for the President of the United States, upon the charge that within the screened choir-gallery, where he worshipped, he had raised his head during the Prayer for the President, Dr. Wing-field was arrested, taken to prison, required to assume the uniform of a criminal, and sentenced to the work of cleaning the streets of Norfolk, "to atone for his disloyalty and treason." So much of the sentence as related to working upon the public streets was remitted, upon a petition numerously signed by the people of Norfolk and Portsmouth, but the order published by General Butler, in granting this partial remission of the sentence, was so grossly false and malicious in the terms applied to the prisoner, that it only added to the infamy of its author and of the whole transaction.
Even the Bishops did not wholly escape. May 2, 1862, Bishop Lay, being for the time at his old home in Huntsville, Alabama, was, with eleven citizens of that community, arrested by General Mitchell, the Federal commander, and imprisoned under guard in one of the rooms of the Court House. No charge whatever was made against them; and upon being brought before General Mitchell the next day, Bishop Lay and two others, chosen to represent the prisoners, were informed by that officer that "against them personally he had no charges. He had arrested them in a time of some excitement, in order to show that no one in the community was beyond arrest, that the innocent must often suffer with the guilty," etc. He then required them, as the condition of being released, to sign a paper denouncing certain acts of guerrilla warfare, and attacks upon Federal soldiers, which he said had been committed, and to declare that the perpetrators "deserve, and should receive, the punishment of death." These gentlemen naturally objected to being required to denounce, in such terms, persons of whom and of whose deeds they were wholly ignorant, and with whom they were not even charged with having any kind of connection or sympathy. The Bishop and his fellow prisoners were much more than a match for the General in the discussions which followed, maintaining, by citations from Vattel, Kent, and other authorities on international law, their right to refuse to sign the papers submitted to them by General Mitchell. But it is an old saying, Inter arma leges silent, and, after an imprisonment of twelve days, they consented to purchase their release, by signing a paper condemning all acts of irregular warfare by citizens not enlisted in the army. May 14, they were released on parole.
These are only a few of the many cases which might be cited. Bishop Lay was again arrested and imprisoned at the end of the war; and Bishop Atkinson was robbed by Sherman's soldiers, and a cocked pistol held to his head, in vain attempt to compel him to comply with their base demands. [It is worth noting that the two Southern Bishops, Atkinson and Lay, who seem to have suffered the greatest personal outrage and indignity at the hands of the Federal forces, were the two who alone attended the General Convention of 1865, and were thus chiefly instrumental in securing the prompt reunion of the separated Dioceses.] These things are not here remembered for the purpose of recalling the bitter anger and resentment which at that time they could not fail to arouse in the breasts of Southern Churchmen. They are mentioned simply because they are part of the history of the time, and because, without taking them into account, no just estimate can be formed of the men who endured such treatment, and yet could possess their souls in patience.
It can easily be imagined how difficult was the position of a clergyman who found himself the rector of a parish within the lines of the Federal occupation. Loyalty to his Bishop, and to his convictions of patriotic duty, required him to pray for the President of the Confederate States. If he should omit to do so, in order that he might not seem to offer an open affront to the military authority, he was still liable to the incalculable annoyances of an irresponsible authority, unless he would consent to use the public prayers for the President of the United States. It was, of course, no question of praying for the President as an act of Christian charity. It was enforced as an open act of penitence and submission to the Federal government, and repudiation of allegiance to the Southern cause. [In Bishop Lay's MS. journal of his experience within the Federal lines, in the fall of 1864, is the following passage, giving a conversation between the Bishop and General Sherman: "He [General Sherman] branched off here to say that he was for letting people pray as they chose, but could not see why people could not pray for Lincoln, or 'even for me.' I replied that there was no objection to praying for any individual, but the use of the prayer in question was the acknowledgment of a political fact."]
Understood in that way no honorable man attached to the Southern cause could consent to use the prayer. And underlying all other considerations was the fundamental one, that it was one of the accepted principles of government, both North and South, that the civil authority should not interfere with the freedom of religious worship. A military or civil officer might, perhaps, prohibit the use of a prayer which would be commonly understood as defying the authority of government, and appealing in aid of the public enemy. Freedom of worship might well be understood as limited by the duty of submission to the powers that be. But certainly the powers that be have no authority to command men to pray for them. And the civil authority has nothing to do with enforcing the canons or rubrics of the Church.
This subject very early attracted the attention of the Southern clergy and Bishops. In 1862 the Bishop of Alabama advised his clergy, in case their parishes should at any time lie within the Federal lines, to apply to the officer in command, to know if the clergy would be required to use the prayer for the President of the United States, or forbidden to use the prayer for the President of the Confederate States; and upon his reply that he should require the one or forbid the other, the Bishop says, "I counsel that the church should be closed." This was an extreme position, and Bishop Wilmer's instructions in this case gave rise to much controversy. It was urged against him that, while the secular power has no authority to prescribe in spiritual matters, the Church, rather than abandon her proper function and public ministrations, may well submit so far as to refrain from public prayers in open defiance and contempt of the powers that be; that de facto governments may demand at least this measure of respect; and that where the clergyman, by omitting the prayers for civil rulers altogether, could secure the liberty of serving his people, and maintaining the public offices of the Church, he should do so, and not sacrifice his work, and deprive his people of his ministrations;--that he should to that extent submit to the power of the existing government, civil or military, since he could gain nothing by resisting it. Another difficulty of somewhat the same nature was encountered by those who found themselves within the Federal lines. The oath of allegiance was tendered to the people, and enforced by various forms of penalty, disability, and threatening. In some cases doubtless it was taken honestly and with a sincere purpose of keeping it. In too many cases, however, it is to be feared that it was taken merely for purposes of advantage, or under the influence of fear, with no honest purpose or desire to observe its terms, any longer than it might be profitable or convenient to do so. (The growing temptation to disregard the solemn sanctions of an oath called forth a strong and just rebuke from the Bishop of Alabama: "It is not for me," he says, "in this presence, and acting in my official capacity, to touch upon any question of a purely political nature. It is not for me to say to which of two warring governments a man should give his adhesion, nor to indicate under what circumstances he may properly transfer his allegiance. It is, however, incumbent upon me to premonish the clergy and laity upon a great question of morals, and to urge them to take heed unto themselves, lest through an unworthy timidity, or an unholy greediness of gain, they make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and do dishonor to the name of the great God.')
The churches, left vacant by the enforcement of regulations to which the local clergy could not conform, were in many cases supplied with services by Federal chaplains, or other clergymen from the North. The circumstances of the particular case sometimes justified the feeling that such services were an unwarranted intrusion, an outrage upon the rights of both the rector and the parish. In other instances they seem to have been rendered to the mutual credit and edification of all parties concerned. We read, in a communication from Arkansas in The Church Intelligencer of March 4, 1864: "The church at Little Rock, I understand, is occupied by the Rev. Mr. Peake, a chaplain in the Federal army, a graduate of Nashota, and formerly Missionary at Crow Wing, Minnesota. He is said to be a kind gentleman, and a good reader and preacher." It seems that he had been recommended to the vestry by the Federal commander, and was officiating with their approval. The writer continues: "A lady who came out soon after the occupation, told me that one Sunday the officiating clergyman gave notice that Bishop Lay had been heard from (I presume from some letter written before the occupation), and that he expected to make a visitation of the parish early in the spring."
It is perhaps strange that there was not more trouble than there seems to have been, from cases of intrusion, and we may believe that it does indicate a substratum of brotherly feeling in the hearts of Churchmen on both sides, when they were brought into personal contact. Bishop McIlvaine and Bishop Bedell both officiated in Virginia, on the southern bank of the Ohio river, during 1863, upon request of the local clergyman; and young Virginia students, graduating during the war at Gambier, seem to have been ordained and put to work in the same section by the Bishop of Ohio. In 1864 the Rev. Dr. Addison, of Wheeling, sent to Bishop Johns a request to be allowed to invite some neighboring Bishop to administer Confirmation in his parish, promising in the selection "to conform as closely as practicable to his known wishes on the subject." Bishop Johns declined to give the permission asked for, but offered "to go himself, on his parole of honor, to perform the service, if the Federal authorities would give him a safe-conduct. The 'safe-conduct' was never given."
And so at last the end came! Lee surrendered his handful of worn and wearied, but undaunted, followers; Johnston and Kirby-Smith followed the same inevitable necessity; and the dream of the Southern Confederacy was over. But how did this affect the ecclesiastical organization which had taken for its name, "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America?"
The name was certainly gone. According to the theory, "The Church must follow nationality," the whole question was settled. And one Diocese in the South, and, so far as appears, one only, accepted promptly and courageously the logical consequences of that principle first advanced by Bishop Polk. Though Bishop Gregg in 1861 seemed to take a different view of the effect of the secession of the State, and spoke of the Church going on with its unity unbroken, and the communion of saints undisturbed, by all the strifes and mutations of the world, yet, apparently under the spell of Bishop Polk's strong character, or else infected by the contagion of national feeling around him, he and his Diocese in 1862 had declared it to be a principle, essential in the external order of the Church, that the Church must be organized so as to be conterminous with the nation. And in the Convention of the Diocese held June 15, 1865, the Bishop of Texas manfully and consistently stood to the principles which he had professed in 1862.
There was no truer man nor a more godly, and no more loyal Churchman, than Alexander Gregg. He said to his Convention, when the war in the trans-Mississippi had hardly well closed: "Our civil and spiritual work and relations, as I have heretofore urged upon you, are closely and inseparably blended, and there is a Unity pervading the whole, which cannot be ignored or disturbed, without endangering that harmony in both, which it is one of the cherished objects of Christianity to foster and perpetuate. I suggest therefore, for your consideration, in order to the further promotion of objects so important, and in accordance with the principles upon which we have hitherto acted, the propriety of taking such steps as may bring about, in due time, a return to our former ecclesiastical relations."
Thereupon the Diocesan Convention at once adopted a preamble and resolutions, setting forth in substance that, whereas they had acted in 1862 "in accordance with the practice of the Church in all ages, in yielding allegiance to the government of the Nation, in which the Providence of God had placed her," so now it was resolved, that the action of 1862 be rescinded; and the Constitution of the Church in the United States was acceded to and recognized, and its authority acknowledged. Deputies were elected to the General Convention, and the Bishop was urged to use his efforts to have the General Council of the Church in the Confederate States take similar action. One can but admire the brave simplicity and logical consistency of the course taken by the Bishop of Texas and his Convention.
While the minds of the Southern Bishops were thus turning towards a reunion of the separated Dioceses, an unfortunate complication arose in Alabama, which greatly exasperated the Churchmen of that Diocese, and threatened to interrupt the growing harmony between Northern and Southern brethren. Bishop Wilmer had been much exercised in mind over the question of the prayers for those in civil authority, and in his Diocesan Convention of 1864 had proposed to memorialize the General Council of the Church in the Confederate States, with a view of having the phraseology of those prayers so altered that they might not be a trap to catch the officiating clergyman, upon every change in the political world. He thought that the terms employed should be so framed as to apply to the existing civil authority, without a too specific determination of the particular officers or government. It is but fair to the Bishop of Alabama, that we should remember that he had urged such alterations in these prayers, during the existence of the Church in the Confederate States.
Upon the collapse of the Confederate government, and the occupation of the entire South by the Federal armies, Bishop Wilmer, May 30, 1865, issued a brief Pastoral to his Diocese, and June 20 followed it with a more elaborate exposition of his judgment upon the situation, as affecting the duty of the clergy and people of his Diocese. He urged entire submission and obedience to the authority of the United States, and loyal compliance with such tests of civil obedience--taking the oath of allegiance when required, and the like--as should be prescribed by the authority of the government. He himself set the example by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. As there was no longer any Confederate States, prayers for the President and Congress of the Confederate States must cease. But the Church, as organized within the States of the late Confederacy, had not, in his judgment, been essentially affected, and was still the ecclesiastical organization to which they owed their allegiance. That Church had prescribed a prayer for those in Civil Authority: "The language of that prayer was selected with careful reference to the subject of the prayer--'All in Civil Authority'; and she desires for that authority prosperity and long continuance. No one can reasonably be expected to desire a long continuance of military rule. Therefore, the prayer is altogether inappropriate and inapplicable to the present condition of things, when no civil authority exists in the exercise of its functions. We may yield a true allegiance to, and sincerely pray for grace, wisdom and understanding in behalf of, a government founded upon force, while at the same time we could not in good conscience ask for its continuance, prosperity," etc.
"When the civil authority shall be restored, it will be eminently proper for the Church to resume the use of that prayer," etc. He adds, at the end of his next paragraph: "It is not for me, in my individual capacity, to introduce into the Liturgy any other form of words than that which the Church, in her collective and legislative capacity, has already, established."
"My conclusion is, therefore, and my direction, which I hereby give, that when Civil Authority shall be restored in the State of Alabama, the Clergy shall use the form entitled 'A Prayer for the President of the United States, and all in Civil Authority,' as it stands I in the Book of Common Prayer."
'Dr. Fulton says that in a private conversation with a United States officer, seeming to imply that he was an officer in high command in Alabama, Bishop Wilmer so justified the position taken in his Pastoral, that the officer was satisfied, and that thus present trouble was averted. But towards the latter part of September, General Thomas, who commanded in that Military Department, had an order issued through his subordinate, General Woods, charging the Bishop with having a heart filled with malice, hatred, and uncharitableness, with violating the canons of the Church, and exhibiting a factious and disloyal spirit. He pronounced the Bishop to be an unsafe public teacher, and therefore ordered that "the said Richard Wilmer, Bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, and the Protestant Episcopal Clergy of the said Diocese, be, and they are hereby, suspended from their functions, and forbidden to preach or perform divine service, and that their places of worship be closed, until such time as said Bishop and Clergy show a sincere return to their allegiance, and give evidence of a loyal and patriotic spirit, by offering to resume the use of the Prayer for the President and all in civil authority, and by taking that amnesty oath." Upon such return to "a loyal spirit, the order further required, that "application for permission to preach and perform divine service" must be made "through the military channels to these headquarters," etc.
Even at this late day it is difficult to restrain one's indignation at the insolence and utter lawlessness of such an order. [A secular paper, the New York Daily News, gave editorial expression to the feelings excited by this order, in the following words: "Could arrogance or assumption go further? We await with anxiety the action which the President shall take upon this most grave assault upon the holiest and dearest of our Constitutional rights. We cannot believe that he will fail to rebuke it with all the energy he can command. Unless he do this, the praises which good people have been showering upon him will no longer gladden his heart or strengthen his hands." Yet it was three months and more before anything was done to relieve the Church in Alabama, and nothing was ever done to rebuke this arrogance of tyranny and lawlessness. The Bishops in Philadelphia expressed their "fraternal regrets" for Bishop Wilmer's manly and unanswerable Protest, but no one dared to criticise the "General in Command."] Bishop Wilmer read this military order in the public newspapers, and immediately addressed a courteous note to General Woods, protesting against the order, as in violation of the Constitution of the United States, and of the rights of the Church, and inquiring if it was his purpose to suppress by force the services of the Church. "In reply the General Commanding stated that he would, if necessary, use military force in closing the churches."
Upon receipt of this reply the Bishop issued his Pastoral Letter of September 28, 1865, reiterating his former arguments, and declaring his determination to maintain the authority of the Church in the ordering of its services. He thus ably and effectively sums up the case:
"In the exercise of my Episcopal discretion, to which I am left by the absence of any authoritative church legislation, I have decided that 'The Prayer' is inapplicable to the existing condition of things. On the other hand, the Military Authorities issue 'Orders' that it shall be used at once, and that all the churches shall be closed until we accede to the demand. Thus the real issue before us is this:--Shall the secular or the Ecclesiastical power regulate the worship of the Church? In this conflict of powers--both 'ordained of God' in their respective spheres--the Church labors, for the moment, under serious disadvantages; for we have neither the wish nor the power to oppose force by force. But we must be careful to make it evident that, whilst we yield to military force, in the matter of closing our houses of worship, we concede nothing of Church Prerogative to Secular Authority, Civil or Military. . . .
"I counsel you, beloved brethren of the Clergy and Laity, in the name of God, and for the Honor of His Church, to stand up for and to maintain, at whatever cost, the real issue now before us. Be assured that man has no nobler mission than to defend, and if need be to suffer for, the right. Remember that the communications with God's mercy-seat cannot be obstructed by any created power, and that the compensations of Divine Goodness will supply all our needs, through the riches of His Grace in Christ Jesus, our only Lord and Master."
Within a month of the date of this letter the Provisional Governor, appointed by the President, assumed office, and issued a proclamation declaring the re-establishment of the civil authority. Thereupon the Bishop of Alabama addressed to him a letter, calling his attention to the fact that he and his clergy, in plain violation of the Constitution of the United States, and of a fundamental principle of all our American institutions, were prevented by military force from the performance of their religious function. The very limited character of the civil authority represented by the Governor only allowed of his sending to the Bishop a courteous response, and promising to lay the matter before the President. In due course? Bishop Wilmer was informed that the matter had been laid before President Johnson, "and that there was no prospect of the order being rescinded."--
Thinking that the whole Church must needs be interested in so flagrant a violation of the principles of religious liberty, and that it would become the National Council of the Church, the General Convention which met in Philadelphia the first week in October, 1865, to interpose at least a protest against this arbitrary act of a military officer in time of peace, the Bishop of Alabama, in a brief letter to several of the Northern Bishops, informed them of the situation of the Church in his Diocese. He did not ask or expect aid in his own behalf. He writes: "Not that I personally solicit your help. By God's grace I trust to maintain my stand. But the time is propitious, and the opportunity offers, to affirm and maintain a great principle."
This appeal met with no adequate response. It is said that some of the Bishops were disposed to enter a protest against the wrong done to the Bishop and Diocese of Alabama, but, if so, nothing came of it more than a futile visit of one or two of the Bishops to Washington. Military power still defied the Constitution and laws of the country, and suppressed the worship of the Church.
November 27, Bishop Wilmer addressed a letter to the President, saying that, being informed that the order complained of had been communicated to the President of the United States, he could no longer consider it the mere act of a subordinate, but, not being rescinded, "it is virtually sustained by the President." He therefore feels justified in calling the attention of the President to the true nature of the act as a violation of the Constitution, and an interference with the rights of the Church, and with his rights as an individual citizen accused of no violation of the law of the land:
"For all which reasons, and chiefly for the high reason that the secular power has no authority in the Church of God, either in framing her creed, or in prescribing her worship, or in any way interfering with her functions, the undersigned, in behalf as aforesaid, makes his solemn protest to your Excellency against said 'General Orders,' acknowledges no authority in them, and claims in equity and Constitutional law that they be rescinded."
Dr. Fulton seems to imply that the letter to the President eventually produced the revocation of the "Order." But it was not until January 1, 1866, that the Bishop had received assurance that the order would be revoked, and a few days later he received notice of its actual revocation. [Dr. McConnell, in his "History of the Church" (page 373), makes this curious misstatement: "A letter from the Bishop to President Lincoln [sic] produced an immediate revocation of the Order."] He thereupon, January 13, notified his clergy to use the prayer for the President of the United States. But for the unjustifiable interference of the military power he would have given that direction two months earlier, as soon as he had been able to confer with his brethren at the final Council of the Church in the Confederate States, held in Augusta, November 8-10, 1865. Thus Bishop Wilmer had faithfully maintained his position, and "the Diocese of Alabama had not been frightened from her propriety by the dictate or menace of any secular power, civil or military."
In his final statement of this whole affair to the Diocesan Convention of January 17, 1866, Bishop Wilmer said: "Some day, when the present excitement of feeling has passed away, the point which I have taken, and the issue which I have made, will be vindicated before men, as it is now, I verily believe, before God."
Unquestionably he was right in the position which he took, and in the issue which he made, as to the right of the Church and of the individual to resist the attempt of the secular power to interfere in a matter of religious worship. Bishop Wilmer, shut out of his churches, and all his clergy silenced, and yet manfully contending for his rights under the Constitution and laws of the country, and for the proper liberties of the Church of God, contrasts most favorably with the House of Bishops in Philadelphia, expressing their "fraternal regrets" that he should have asserted and maintained those rights and liberties. But it is not at all clear that his original position as to the impropriety of using the prayer for the civil authority was well taken. Indeed, it seems to have been a most mistaken conclusion, into which he was betrayed by the excitement of those trying times. No other Bishop in the South felt the same way about it, which of itself raises a strong presumption against its correctness; and a calm consideration of the principles involved seems to sustain the course approved by all but the Bishop of Alabama.
Bishop Wilmer was an able man and a godly man; he was also a man of very strong feelings. Under the difficulties of his situation he was led to approach the subject more as an advocate than as a judge. To his Diocesan Convention of 1864 he had complained, that the phraseology of the prayer for those in civil authority was unsatisfactory, and not properly expressive of what we should ask for in behalf of our rulers. And this criticism was fully justified. The words of that prayer, as they stand, and as use has made them familiar to us, and has made them sound appropriate in our ears, have really no proper application to the civil authorities under our system of government. In fact, the prayer is taken from the English Prayer Book. Several clauses of the English prayer are omitted, and the language of so much as is retained has been slightly altered to amend certain archaisms of the original, but the essential character of the prayer has not been destroyed or changed. Its whole thought and spirit have relation to loyalty to a personal ruler whose authority is inherent and life-long. It breathes the love and allegiance of the subject to the person of the sovereign. It is not impossible to believe that the personal character of our first President, Washington, may unconsciously have influenced the minds of those who, during his presidency, were settling the forms of our public services, and may have caused them to retain so much of this purely personal element in the prayers for those in civil authority, by naming only the President of the United States specifically, and including all others in one brief phrase. The "Proposed Book" of 1785, by simply referring to "all in authority, legislative, judicial, and executive in these United States," gives a turn to the meaning much more impersonal, and really more in accordance with the altered conditions of modern, and especially of republican, government. However that may be, in our use of the prayer, as it stands in our Prayer Book, we employ the words out of their true literal meaning, and adapt them to our purpose as best we can, largely eliminating their personal element, and making them expressive of quite different thoughts and feelings from those naturally and primarily belonging to them. So we cannot allow the correctness of Bishop Wilmer's premise, that "the words of that prayer were selected with careful reference to the subject of the prayer--'All in Civil Authority.'" The words were taken, practically as they stand, from an English prayer framed upon theories of government, and expressing feelings and ideas, quite different from what our situation in America calls for; and they could never have been used in the United States, except by such an accommodation of the language as has been above suggested. Bishop Wilmer himself felt this when in the very Pastoral under consideration he says: "The Church uses the 'Prayer for the President' not so much as a person, as an impersonation of the Civil Authority."
But the fallacy in the argument does not lie in the exact or inexact meaning or use of words. The question is: Shall the Church refuse to pray for the Civil Authority because that particular territory in which the Church is situated is held under military rule? In June and September, 1865, Alabama had again become a part of the United States. In recognition of this fact Bishop Wilmer had himself taken the oath of allegiance, and in this very Pastoral advises his people to do the same. The United States was a country under civil government; "the President of the United States and all others in authority" were exercising the functions of civil government. Grant that a particular part of its territory, Alabama, for instance, was, under some abnormal conditions, denied the benefits of civil government; grant that it was wrongfully and unconstitutionally denied those benefits. But, because of this, shall the Church in Alabama, the Bishop and clergy, retaliate and say: "We will not pray for the civil authority until the civil authority is reestablished here"? The President of the United States was the head of a civil government, though at that particular time he was governing Alabama by his military authority. There was all the more need that the Church everywhere should pray for the civil authority, that it might be strengthened and restored to its proper exercise in all parts of the land. As in every other Southern Diocese, so in Alabama, the Church, upon its own principles, should have prayed for the powers that be. Much as the Bishop of Alabama is to be revered and loved for his noble qualities of mind and of heart, much as he is to be respected for his brave and determined assertion and maintenance of the proper liberties of the Church, we cannot say that all the other Southern Bishops were wrong, and that he was right, in this point on which he and they differed.
And in conclusion, as to this painful but, in some respects, interesting, question, Bishop Wilmer, in saying that it was not for him in his "individual capacity to introduce into the Liturgy any other form of words than that which the Church, in her collective and legislative capacity, has already established," seems to have forgotten that in his Episcopal capacity it was quite within his power to provide a prayer to be used in any emergency for which provision is not made in the Prayer Book. He had put out special prayers to be used during the War. If he now found the prayers for all in Civil Authority unsuitable, he might have put out prayers to be used in the churches of his Diocese, for the President of the United States, in such form as seemed to him most fit. Even if such prayers had not satisfied the ecclesiastico-military potentates of the Military District of Alabama, they would at least have been more consistent with Bishop Wilmer's declared position, than to have omitted all public prayers for those in authority at a time when they had special need of the prayers of all good people.
It has been asserted by some that the course of the Bishop of Alabama was strictly in accordance with his understanding of the canons and rubrics of the Church, which he felt bound to obey; and that, while he might have issued special prayers for the authorities of the United States, he was under no obligation to do so. To sustain this position it is pointed out that, though the Confederate States no longer existed, the Church in the Confederate States retained its organization, and in the summer of 1865 no one could certainly know that it would not continue as a separate and independent Church. That Church had imposed a prayer for the President of the Confederate States and had not provided for any other; and, until that Church should authorize another prayer, the Bishop of Alabama might well feel that he could not allow the President of the United States to be prayed for by his clergy.
This argument will not bear examination when it is alleged in behalf of Bishop Wilmer; and for this reason: In March, 1862, when the Rev. Richard H. Wilmer was consecrated Bishop of Alabama, he had been, up to his Consecration, a Priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. The State of Virginia, in May, 1861, had seceded from the Federal Union. But the Diocese of Virginia took no action to withdraw from the Church in the United States until May, 1862. Her delegates, appointed to confer with other Southern Dioceses, had agreed that a separate organization was necessary, and had agreed upon a new organization; but the proposed Constitution had not been adopted by the Diocese of Virginia, nor by any Southern Diocese, and no change had been made in the Prayer Book, nor was any change made until November, 1862. Yet from the spring of 1861 the Rev. Dr. Wilmer had not only ceased using the prayer for the President of the United States, but, from the time of the accession of the State of Virginia to the Confederate States, he and all the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia had used the prayer for the President of the Confederate States, upon the ground that it was their duty to pray for "the powers that be." Bishop Meade had authorized the use of the Prayer for the President of the Confederate States upon this principle, as had all the other Southern Bishops; and We do not understand that Dr. Wilmer had objected to it. Therefore, when in the summer of 1865 the Bishop of Alabama, by taking the oath of allegiance to the United States, and by recommending his people to do the same, had recognized the restored authority of the United States government, there was exactly the same reason for using the prayer for the President of the United States that there had been for praying for the President of the Confederate States in 1861. He did not think it necessary in 1861 to wait until the Church had legislated for the change of the Prayer Book; there can be no valid reason assigned why in 1865 it was necessary to wait for such change. In the first case the authority of the Bishop, acting under the necessity of the situation, had been sufficient; the same authority was quite sufficient in 1865. It was found to be so in all the other Southern Dioceses; there is no reason why it was not the same in Alabama. In most of the Southern Dioceses the prayer for the President of the United States was resumed without any special action, so soon as it was realized that all hope of Southern independence had departed. But the Bishop of Virginia has, in his Address to his Council, September 20, 1865, recorded his action in the case with his reasons for same. He says: "As soon as I received reliable intelligence of the entire failure of the painful and protracted struggle for the independence of the Confederate States, and the reestablishment of the Federal authority, I felt it incumbent upon me to prepare a brief circular, addressed to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Virginia, recognizing the duty of prompt and honest obedience to the existing government, and the obligation to pray for 'those in authority.' For this purpose, I had no hesitation in recommending the use of that form to which we had long been accustomed, and from which any deviation now might be liable to the suspicion of unbecoming subterfuge.
"Whatever be the character of the military agencies appointed in certain localities, there can be no doubt in reference to the President of the United States and other Civil officers of the General Government. They are unquestionably 'in authority.' To them the prayer is strictly applicable, and for them it should be offered, even by those who scruple to use it on behalf of others.
"It has been gravely asserted, that the order prohibiting the omission of that prayer in our public worship is an invasion of our religious liberty, and as such should not be regarded. I am happy to say that my own action, though delayed in its transmission to many of the parishes, by the interruption of all mail communication, antedated any extra-ecclesiastical order concerning the prayer. I was, therefore, at the time under no apprehension of even seeming to surrender religious liberty to what has been pronounced unlawful dictation. Truth and justice, however, require me now to say, that whether that requisition was advisable or not, I cannot see that it is justly liable to any such odious charge. The prayer, which includes nothing to which an enlightened conscience need take exception, is not a new form prepared and enjoined upon us by 'the powers that be,' but our own adopted form, which has been used by the Church for three quarters of a century. Its discontinuance at this particular juncture would inevitably be regarded as a public reflection on the civil authority. That it should insist, as it has done, that no such offensive change in the service of the Church shall now be made, but that those services shall in this respect and for this reason be conducted as heretofore, avoiding any omission which would be considered a formal slight and indignity offered to the government, appears to me rather an act of self-protection than officious and unlawful dictation.
"Even if the requisition were an unlawful interference, I see not how this could absolve us from that which is in itself, and independently of the action of others, a clear duty expressly enjoined in Scripture. It may be humiliating and painful in practice, but not more so than other mortifications of flesh and spirit, which are not, therefore, less obligatory--less salutary or less acceptable in the sight of God. I trust, then, we will not be disturbed by other opinions, which, however plausibly presented, I must disapprove as fallacious, or suffer ourselves to be deterred from a clear duty by the imputation of surrendering to military authority our precious heritage of religious liberty."
Such is the argument of Bishop Johns. To the present writer it seems most fallacious. If the civil or military authority can rightfully order a prayer to be used, it can enforce the order; and then General Thomas's action was justifiable in closing all the churches of the Diocese of Alabama, and suspending the Bishop and his clergy from the exercise of their function, and requiring them to apply at military headquarters, through the ordinary military channels, for permission to minister the Word and Sacraments of God! Bishop Wilmer was wrong in refusing to pray for "the powers that be," but he was right when he refused to regulate the services of his Diocese in accordance with a military order. Bishop Johns was right in requiring his clergy to pray for the President of the United States, just as soon as he felt certain of the permanent establishment of the authority of the Federal government; but he is clearly wrong when he reasons from the fact of his duty to the right of either the military or the civil authority to prescribe the performance of a purely spiritual act. Such an attempted prescription is in violation of a fundamental principle of our civil Constitution, and should not be tolerated by the Church.