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Impressions and Opinions: An Autobiography
By J.G.H. Barry, D.D.
Rector Emeritus, Church of S. Mary the Virgin, New York.

New York: E.S. Gorham, 1931.

Chapter VI. Religion

I have hitherto said nothing of religion because I wished to treat of the subject continuously. In view of my future, my religious experience or lack of it in my childhood and boyhood seems to me the most important matter I have to deal with. There was very little religious background in my family. My father's family, I was told, were Quakers: I do not know whether they were practicing Quakers or merely of Quaker descent. In any case my father, leaving home at an early age, had evidently no religious training. In some way, however, he had gained strong moral principles in the ordinary relations of life. Later on, when he came to live in Middle Haddam and came into contact with definite church influences he was baptised and confirmed. I remember quite well the Sunday on which this took place. My uncle Ben was confirmed at the same time. Father remained a very faithful communicant till the end of his life.

My grandfather Hurd would have had a background of Congregationalism, but I do not think that he had anything that could be described as religion. Going to sea as a boy and spending his life on the water would have made it almost impossible that he should have acquired any religious convictions. My grandmother must have had the same sort of background; but was described to me as being a Universalist. There was no Universalist place of worship anywhere about, and I cannot understand what her Universalism could have meant. She never went to church in my experience of her, but used to sit at home on Sunday mornings, reading her New Testament. Her daughters with two exceptions were members of the Episcopal Church--the two exceptions followed their mother and were at least nominally Universalist.

There were in Middle Haddam two places of worship--a Congregational and an Episcopal church. Christ Church was built in the latter part of the eighteenth century and was a simple Colonial church of the type that abounds throughout New England. To me, it is a very attractive type of village church and much to be preferred to the various attempts at Gothic that have displaced it in the last century. It had a square tower and long windows with small panes of glass and fan-shaped tops. Within there were two rows of square fluted pillars, a gallery at the west end, where the choir and organ were placed, and at the east end a shallow recessed sanctuary.

Unfortunately, in the sixties and seventies the craze for decoration and improvement set in, with the result that the beautiful simplicity of the church was ruined. This was what was going on all over New England and is a disaster that must be laid to the "Oxford Movement." It is today heart-breaking to go into one New England church after another and see the artistic desolation that has been created. Artistic barbarism has accomplished its very worst with its most awful instrument, stained glass. Opposition to "High Church practices" which so effectively prevented the introduction of proper ceremonial was never aroused to block the artistic ruin of churches by the introduction of improper decoration. Christ Church suffered with the rest.

The beautiful old windows were taken out and cheap stained glass introduced--I am sorry to say that our family paid for one. Later the organ was taken down from the gallery and installed at the side of the sanctuary--3 most horrible arrangement.

My mother was confirmed here at sometime before her marriage, I fancy. There was, of course, no real preparation for confirmation at that time. I have heard her tell of one interview with the then rector, in which she was accepted as a candidate without any hint as to the need of knowing anything about the church she was "joining"--for that is what she conceived she was doing. Much of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the church in this country has been and is still due to this neglect of preparation of confirmation candidates. If one were a Protestant, in those days, at least, one was converted, had acquired some sort of religious experience as a basis of action. But "conversion" was looked upon by all proper "Episcopalians" as being a mere Protestant phenomenon; but nothing was put in its place. One "joined," so far as I can see, because one wanted to belong to some sort of religious organisation, and the Episcopal Church was quite the proper social institution to join under the circumstances. The Protestant was not altogether wrong in his reproach of the Church that it was deficient in religion. Apropos of which, I remember hearing an amusing story of an old Connecticut clergyman. He was talking with a Congregational brother who said, "There is not much religion in the Episcopal Church, is there?" The old clergyman replied, "None to brag of, none to brag of."

This lack of preparation has not been wholly overcome today. In one of my parishes in the Middle West I there was a family that I came to know through a boy who was in my choir. I never succeeded in converting the other members of the family, and they moved from the city after a little to a near-by town. Some time after I met the woman, and asked her if she went to church where she now was. It appeared that she did when "she went anywhere." "That priest is a queer I man," she said. I questioned in what respect. "Why," she replied, "I met him on the street the other day and he said, 'The bishop is coming out Sunday to confirm; come up and join. You used to teach people something before they were confirmed, didn't you?"

For some reason I cannot explain I was not baptised until nearly a year after I was born--on the twenty-sixth of March, 1859. I am sorry that I just missed the Annunciation. I suppose the twenty-sixth must have fallen on Sunday, and as we had no resident rector I would have been baptised then--not that anyone would have been keeping the Annunciation! I was baptised by the Reverend Thomas Davies who was subsequently bishop of Michigan.

Our parish was served at that time and for some years later by professors of the Berkeley Divinity School at Middletown. For some unknown reason we always had the professor of Hebrew. As Middle Haddam was only five miles from Middletown our priest drove down to on Sunday morning. There was, of course, no early Mass, only the usual late Mass after Morning Prayer on the first Sunday of the month. The routine of services Was Morning Prayer and sermon at ten-thirty, followed by Sunday School. A short interval was allowed for lunch, and then followed Evening Prayer and another sermon. This was pushing things a good deal, but the priest had to drive back to Middletown. People who came from a distance brought their lunch, if they were going to stay to Evening Prayer. As our house was quite near the church, the priest most often took his lunch with us. Thus I came into rather close contact with the clergy.

I was too young, of course, to know anything of Dr. Davies. I can just remember him--remember, in particular, his coming in after morning service when I was too young to be taken to church, and finding me seated on the floor playing with a pack of cards--mother, of course, was properly shocked that cards should be in evidence at such a time. He was very young when he came to us, and was considered "High Church," which remained his reputation to the end: I never knew that it amounted to much in practice. Mother was tremendously fond of him, more fond, I think, than of any other priest we ever had. He preached on one occasion a sermon, I think on the divine character of the Church, which aroused the Protestant ire of a maiden lady of the congregation. She approached him after the service before he had removed his surplice. "How," she questioned, "dare a boy like you talk to us in that way?" Davies drew himself up and replied with crushing dignity: "Madam, when I have this on, I am nineteen hundred years old." Speaking of the surplice, he the first to wear it to preach in in our parish. I can still remember a photograph that mother had of him taken in his black gown, and therefore before he had made the change which then was regarded as quite radical.

Dr. Davies was succeeded for a short time by the Reverend Henry DeKoven, a wealthy priest better known in Newport and Paris than in the work of the Church. I do not remember him, as he filled in but a short time in Middle Haddam while he was engaged at Berkeley. Amusing stories were told of him and his ways, which at least reflected the impression that he made. It was said that visiting a poor family and wishing to have prayers, he looked about for a suitable place to kneel down where his immaculate trousers would not be soiled and finding none suitable he spread his handkerchief on the seat of a chair and knelt there. It was reported that making a call of sympathy on a lady who had lost her husband, he said in the way of consolation: "We all have our troubles; at present my coachman is giving me a great deal of trouble." His characteristics won him a place in a contemporary work of fiction under the name of the Reverend Doctor Creamcheese.

His successor was the Reverend William H. Vibbert, of whom I shall have later a good deal to say, as I began my ministry as his curate. He was very young when he was appointed professor of Hebrew in the Berkeley Divinity School and took over the rectorship of our parish. He soon married a Miss Welch of Philadelphia and they both were frequent visitors at our house.

Dr. Vibbert was a very able man and a very attractive personality. j-je must have remained our rector for nearly ten years. It was during these years that I began to attend Morning Prayer. My participation was at first not very active as I commonly cuddled down in the end of the pew and went to sleep, in which state I was even permitted at times to remain through the Communion Service on the first Sunday of the month.

Dr. Vibbert was considered a very high churchman, but his churchmanship did not include anything that we should consider high today, nor did it ever. Such ordinary teachings as fasting Communion and Confession, I never to the very end heard from him. Nor did he in Middle Haddam introduce any ceremonial. There his high churchmanship was shown in the introduction of the horrible stained glass that I have already spoken of, and in very elaborate decoration on such festivals as Christmas and Easter. On the latter day, the church was ablaze with flowers--even the font being filled! It was during this time that I got my first notion of ecclesiastical colors, because the colors of the flowers followed the colors of the ecclesiastical year. We also blossomed out with colored bookmarks and antependia on desk and altar.

The climax of decoration was reached, however, on Christmas. It was a joyous time for all concerned, though I fancy few of us attached any religious significance to it. The decoration of the church lasted through a week. There was the day spent in the woods gathering the greens--hemlock and laurel and a kind of running vine the name of which I cannot recall. All these were brought by the cartload. In the evenings all the boys and girls met in the church itself and tied the greens long ropes of laurel and running vine which were wound about the pillars of the nave, wreaths which were hung all about the church. One of Dr. Vibbert's innovations consisted of huge banners decorated with texts appropriate to the season, which were hung on the wall. Our behaviour was not in the least reverent during this green-tying process. For certain couples it meant the progress of love affairs, for the small fry it meant more or less hilarious running about the church and playing games; but it was all very innocent and we had never been taught the elements of reverence. I look back over the years to these nights of the week before Christmas and can still smell the acrid odour of the hemlock and laurel. It is an odour that still rouses in me the feeling of homesickness that comes with visions of a happy childhood.

Christmas was ushered in with a service on Christmas Eve, the religious nature of which has escaped me. I only recall the huge Christmas tree erected in the chancel of the church, with its blaze of little candles and the presents tied on the branches. I suppose that there was a talk about Christmas, but all that has faded into the past.

It was during these years that I began to go to Sunday School and thus began my religious education. I suppose at some time my mother had taught me to say certain prayers, as I have said prayers at night ever since I can remember. "Why it is that in the ordinary child's education" it is rarely thought necessary that he should say prayers in the morning, I have never understood; I have had very few children come under my instruction who had been taught morning prayers. I certainly was not. My mother, of course, like most other members of the church, really knew nothing about religion. She had been brought up in a certain moral routine, and had acquired certain habits peculiar to the Episcopal Church when she "joined" it, notably, that of making her communion on the first Sunday of the month. The consequence was that she had nothing else to teach me except the rules of a negative morality--there were certain things that I was not to do. It was never explained to me, that I can remember, why I was not to do them. I was never talked to about God or our Lord. Hell or the future were never mentioned. I suppose that the other boys with whom I associated had much the same teaching--that they were not to do certain things. Naturally that teaching made small impression, and what we did or did not do was governed by other considerations. We were taught nothing positive, no duties or ideals of any sort.

When it came time to go to Sunday School I found myself in a class taught by my mother! What the teaching consisted in was the learning of certain questions and answers out of a book; there was no enlargement on the lesson. I fancy Dr. Vibbert did give a general instruction, and catechise us from time to time; but nothing that I ever learned or heard in Sunday School stuck in my head. I suppose I went on in Sunday School till I was thirteen or fourteen; boys usually dropped out at about that age. I fancy that I should have done so except that I took over the job of blowing the organ for a small compensation, and that kept me within the church walls for a year or two more. It is a little difficult for me to look back over my childhood without a feeling of irritation toward those whose business it was to see that I was taught the Christian religion. Poor mother could not teach me, for no one had ever taught her.

Dr. Vibbert was succeeded in the rectorship of Christ Church by the Reverend Doctor Binney, with whom I was in intimate relations for many years in the parish and in the Seminary. As my rector I recall him as most kind and helpful in every way except in religion. I was out of Sunday School when he came, but I still went to church in the morning most of the time. Dr. Binney was at our house a great deal as was his wife, to whom I was greatly attached. I was now plunged in the study of history and Dr. Binney helped me by lending me books that I could not otherwise have had access to. A little later Mrs. Binney helped me by giving me a few lessons in French--enough to start me off and prepare me to make more of my college French than I would otherwise have done. Dr. Binney's helpfulness in religion came later.

Dr. Binney was succeeded by a resident rector, Father Taylor, of whom I have already spoken. He was the first pronounced Catholic that the church in Middle Haddam had had. Dr. Vibbert had attempted some mild "innovations," but they had not met with favor. He had requested the people to stand at the presentation of the alms at Matins, and I remember one family which quite flamboyantly sat down, not to be led the first step in the direction of Puseyism! He also requested that in the Gloria at the end of psalms and canticles, the priest should always say the first part; and I remember a very distinguished gentleman with side-whiskers and ve-ehss (whom my brother used irreverently to call Captain Ragg) who insisted on saying "Glory be to the Father" along with the rector. So, too, Dr. Vibbert turned to the east in the Creed and Glorias--no one could stop that. Fr. Taylor went further, though he could not go very far. What he did was to introduce an early Mass on Sundays. His attempt to introduce into the Sunday School Library the life of some Roman Catholic saint was prevented by the threatened withdrawal of the most wealthy lady of the parish. Poor Fr. Taylor had a hard time, I fancy. I was not much interested as I now went to church very little. Taylor complained to mother that I stayed at home and read Gibbon. That, no doubt, was true, but then he never did anything to prevent.

The plain fact is that from the time when my mother taught me to say my prayers till I left college, no human being of any sort, lay or clerical, mentioned the subject of religion to me, or in any wise hinted that I ought to have any religion. All the rectors we had presented confirmation classes, but no one ever mentioned the subject of confirmation to me. So far as any religious interest being taken in me, I might much better have been an African savage, for in that case there was a remote chance that some wandering missionary would have turned up to suggest that there was such a thing as the Christian religion. These priests that I have mentioned were at our house constantly, day and night, sometimes for a week at a time, Taylor for two years; but the subject of religion was never broached. As I do not suppose that they were other than representative --in fact, I think that they were in all respects quite above the average--one understands what is the matter with the Protestant Episcopal Church, and why it made so slow progress, if progress it made in fact. Nothing, I should judge, was so utterly incompetent spiritually, as "high and dry" churchmanship. It had none of the fervour of Evangelicalism, nor of the zeal of Anglo-Catholicism as it has developed--though the latter would not be injured as religious and spiritual force by a little more stress on personal religion and experience. I reached, then, the time of my entrance into college without any positive religion. If I had any goodness, it was negative. I had all along said my prayers after a fashion, not meaning very much by them. I had observed fairly well the negative moral rules on which I had been brought up. I was pretty regular in my attendance at Matins. But anything like a conception of a life of positive religious observance was lacking. I had separated from boys of my own age and was living an isolated social life, absorbed in my reading of history. One thing I was doing, I was reading the Bible. When I was thirteen or fourteen years old, I met with some sort of accident which injured my leg and laid me up on the lounge for some time. At a loss for something to read I asked for a Bible which was furnished me, and I began at the first chapter of Genesis and read on systematically. From that day on for many years I read the Bible every day, sometimes a chapter and sometimes many chapters--reading through the whole book and then beginning again. I have no notion how many times I read the Bible through in the next ten years, but very many times. I seem to have had some dim notion that I was performing a pious work and was in some way practicing religion. That was, however, only a part of my purpose; I was interested in the book itself and enjoyed reading it. One result was that I became utterly familiar with the text of the English Bible, and that familiarity has been of immense value to me in the years that have followed. I found when I entered the Seminary that I was the only man in my class who knew anything worth while of the contents of the Bible or could have passed any sort of examination on it. This experience was abundantly borne out in the future. In all the years I have spent in Seminaries I have never found a student who was at all familiar with the contents of the Bible. The inevitable conclusion is that the Bible is not read among Protestant Episcopalians, even of the pious type. No doubt a few old ladies read it, but even they do not teach it to their children. Even aside from the value of a knowledge of the contents of the Bible from a religious point of view, the value of a knowledge of the King James version is inestimable from the literary point of view. To know the English Bible is to know English at its best. I have no patience with the recent translations of the Bible into modern English. It would be much more to the point to teach the modern American child to understand English than to vulgarise the Bible into the dialect of the modern American.

Here I was, then, without any personal religion, facing the future with a vague notion of entering Holy Orders. What, possibly, did that mean to me? When I say that I had no personal religion, I do not mean that I had no conception of the Church or the ministry. I had not been reading history for so many years without arriving at some knowledge of these things. I had, in fact, found in history a Church which lived and worked through all the centuries of the Christian era, which manifested itself as a power of unrivalled influence over human life. Other institutions rose and fell; this institution went on its conquering way. I knew nothing of its theology, but I saw it in action through the centuries. I gained a vision of the Catholic Church. Now note: I had never read a book by a Roman Catholic; all my reading had been in books by unbelievers such as Gibbon and Hume, or in anti-Catholics such as D'Aubigne. Yet the Church that I saw and which fascinated me was the Catholic Church. I imagine that if at this period I had fallen in with an educated Roman Catholic I should have been a ready convert. Later, I succeeded in unraveling from history what I conceived and still conceive to be the true position of the Anglican Church. When I had got to that position I was fixed as an Anglican and orientated toward the Anglican ministry. That Anglican ministry was never to me the creation of the Reformation--the Reformation was but an episode, I saw, in the history of the Anglican Church; I saw myself in the future as a Catholic priest, and a Catholic priest meant to me what I saw it to mean all through the ages, a celibate priest. Celibacy and priesthood were equivalent terms to me; from the very beginning I could find no other priesthood in the histories, even the Protestant histories, I was reading. I never felt the temptation which has beset the "High Church" Anglican, to denounce the Reformation and all its works with the one exception of its tolerance of the marriage of the clergy. It seemed plain to me even as a youth that the marriage of the clergy had done more than any other thing to sterilise the Anglican Communion and prevent its conquest of English-speaking peoples. A married clergy will never, can never, be a missionary clergy. They have assumed responsibilities that are in direct conflict with the fulfilment of the obligations of their office as priests in the Church of God. They cannot in justice to their families give themselves utterly to their work. I am, of course, not saying that celibates always do: I am only saying that they always can.

When I left college at the end of the junior year I was thoroughly settled as to the nature of the Church and the validity of the Anglican position. I had a very clear conception of the priesthood and what was involved in it. I had faced certain intellectual difficulties which for a moment had inclined me to agnosticism, but the temptation had not been serious nor had it lasted long. The foundations of historic Christianity seemed to be secure, and though the evidence for them might not be a demonstration, neither was it for any other order of truth. One accepted the most probable hypothesis and went on. It was now incumbent on me to test my theories by life, by the Christian life, which I had not hitherto done. It seems now that I ought to have done that before I entered the Seminary to study for orders. I did not see this at the time, and no one interested himself to find out whether I had any religion or not. It has since seemed to me one of the most extraordinary things in the conduct of the Episcopal Church that the personal religion of candidates for orders is taken for granted, and the wish to study for orders is taken as evidence of fitness to enter upon that momentous course. I have since had sufficient experience of the life of seminarians to know that personal religion is not one of the requisites that bishops seek for in those they ordain. Perhaps this may be traced to that Anglo-Saxon shrinking from all conversation about the matters of the spiritual life that makes it so difficult to approach anyone with that racial background on spiritual matters. Whatever may be the cause, the consequence is that many enter the seminary who are spiritually unfit.

I had been going to Matins very faithfully during all my years in Middletown. The rector of the local parish, Trinity Church, one of the most hideous churches in existence, I should fancy, was then the Reverend S. D. MacConnell. He was not at that time the radical Broad Churchman he afterwards became: it was reported that he had abandoned his purpose to study for the Presbyterian ministry and entered the Episcopal Church on the question of orders. He was one of the most attractive preachers I have ever listened to. Tall, fine-looking, extremely graceful in his movements, he spoke with perfect ease with a fluent delivery. I delighted in listening to him. His sermons, as I remember them, were not theological: in fact, the ones I do remember were a series on the history of the Church which resulted in the entrance into the Church of a number of members of the local Universalist body.

Nothing he ever said had any spiritual effect on me. I knew all along that I ought to be moving in the direction of spiritual experience and a sacramental life. I cannot now imagine why I was not confirmed--it must have been pure sloth which was unmoved by any influence from the outside. I now at length had to act and went to Dr. Binney for a final conference on the matter of taking up the study for orders the next fall; and, that being satisfactorily settled, I said, "Now I have to be confirmed." Dr. Binney seemed surprised that I had not been, though why he should have been I am at a loss to know as he had been my rector at the time I ought to have been and had taken no interest in the matter.

Accordingly I went to Dr. Binney for private instruction for confirmation and was confirmed by Bishop Williams that spring. I suppose I was always a trial to Dr. Binney, who was not very "High Church," only "high and dry." We clashed once in the confirmation instruction in the matter of the Eucharist. He spoke of transubstantiation and remarked that the New Testament did not teach it. I replied that there was nothing in the New Testament against it, which annoyed him so visibly that I did not press the point. He was always delightful to me, and I owe him a good deal and am sorry that I had so often in the future to shock him.

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