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Letter to the Rev. Dr. Milnor.

By John Henry Hobart.

From The Gospel Messenger July 10, 1830.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


NEW-YORK, June 20, 1830.

Rev. and dear Sir: A report of a speech which you delivered in the city of London, on the 5th of May last, at the meeting of the Prayer Book and Homily Society, has been published in several of our newspapers. In that speech, as reported, the following paragraph occurs:

"The Rev. Dr. Milnor of New-York, who after adverting to the benefits which would result from the present institution, observed, that in America it was proposed by one of the Prelates of the American Episcopal Church to make an alteration respecting the lessons which were used, by having a smaller portion read than at present, and this proposal was no less than three years before the Conference, and was discussed by those who had been sent to the Conference from the different states.--Upon its coming on for a decision he was gratified in saying that there was not a single person in favor of the proposed alteration or the venerable Prelate who brought forward the measure, and he rejoiced in saying that throughout America they now used the same Prayer Book and Homilies which were used by the Church of England, with the exceptions of some slight alterations that took place upon the declaration of independence in the United States. He certainly considered it was dangerous to touch and alter that which contained such sacred writings."

This paragraph, and indeed the entire speech are calculated to produce the impression that "one of the Prelates of the American Episcopal Church," (I am the individual meant) stood alone in a rash and presumptous attempt to 'touch and alter' the liturgy--and that you and the entire American Bishops and Clergy, actuated by a sincere and devoted reverence for this hallowed ritual, marshalled yourselves against this daring innovator, and saved this "delightful service" from the rude hand that would have marred its beauty.

I am unwilling to believe that it was your deliberate design to produce the impressions. For they are not warranted by facts known to you. You and I, too, under all variety of circumstances, and under no very unimportant differences in matters of policy, and I am afraid of principle, have been friends from early life. On your recent departure for England, I took leave of you as a friend; and our mutual expressions of feeling on this occasion were, I am satisfied, perfectly sincere. I was not prepared, therefore, to find that on one of your first publick appearances in England, you had held up your Bishop and your friend in a light certainly not calculated to raise him in the good opinion of those whom you addressed.

I have reason to thank God that I have never been much tempted to consider, in the determinations of duty, what might or might not be popular; and the older I become, the more convinced am I that "it is a small matter to be judged of man's judgement." But I am not indifferent to that "good report" which, both from personal and official considerations, it is my duty to endeavour to preserve. My visit to England made me somewhat known there, and I am willing to think that I enjoy the good opinion of some distinguished individuals, whose friendship is as honourable as it is gratifying. A principal claim to that good opinion arises from the conviction of my consistent attachment to the Church, and especially its liturgy. It is the tendency of your remarks to deprive me of this claim. I must be permitted to prove that they are not warranted by facts.

In the Journal of the General Convention of our Church, of 1826, at page 76, is the following record on the proceedings of the House of Bishops:

"On motion of the Right Rev. Bishop Hobart, resolved, that the House of Bishops propose the following preambles and resolutions to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies:--

"The House of Bishops, deeply solicitous to preserve unimpaired the Liturgy of the Church, and yet desirous to remove the reasons alleged, from the supposed length of the service, for the omission of some of its parts, and particularly for the omission of that part of the communion office, which is commonly called the ante-communion, do unanimously propose to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, the following resolutions, to be submitted to the several State Conventions, in order to be acted upon at the next General Convention, agreeably to the eighth article of the Constitution."

Then follow the resolutions.

It appears from page 65 of the same journal, in the proceedings of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies that this House, 39 ayes, 19 noes, concurred in the resolutions of the House of Bishops.
Thus then the propositions which I am represented by you as alone sustaining, were unanimously adopted by the House of Bishops, and by a very large majority of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies of the General Convention of 1826.

It is true, the motion which introduced these propositions was made by me--but not until I had consulted all my brethren of the House of Bishops, several members of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, and others not members, and among them yourself, and received their and your approbation of them.

You observe that these "propositions were no less than three years before the Convention, and were discussed there; and on their coming to a decision, you are gratified in saying, that there was not a single person in favour of the proposed alteration of the venerable prelate"--(meaning me.) I am confident, that individuals not acquainted with the real state of the case, would suppose from the above statement, that I was, after the lapse of three years, the advocate of the adoption of the proposed alterations, and in this sentiment stood alone. What is the fact? In the Journal of the General Convention of 1829, in the proceedings of the House of Bishops, page 79, is the following record.

"On motion of the Right Rev. Bishop Hobart, seconded by the Right Rev. Bishop Brownell, Resolved, That, under existing circumstances it is not expedient to adopt the proposed resolutions relative to the Liturgy and office of Confirmation, and they are therefore hereby dismissed from the consideration of the Convention. And, the resolution was sent to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies for concurrence.

A message was afterwards received from that House with information that they concurred in that resolution."

Thus, then, there was, in fact, no decision on the abstract propriety of the proposed alterations. Under "existing circumstances," it was judged not expedient to adopt them, and they were dismissed from consideration, in consequence of a motion by me to that effect. What circumstances led to this determination, and what reasons induced the measure of bringing forward these propositions, may be inferred from the following extract from an address by me to the New-York diocesan Convention of 1827.

"What are the alterations proposed? On this subject I would adopt the language of a Right Rev. Brother, and say, that strictly speaking, there are no alterations of the Liturgy contemplated; that is, there are to be no omissions of any parts of the Liturgy, nor a different arrangement of them. As a whole the Liturgy remains as it now is. There is no omission, or alteration, or different arrangement of the Prayers of the Morning and Evening Service: they are to remain as they now are. The alterations respect merely the Psalms, and the Lessons, and the proportions of them which are to be read.

"There is no accounting for the different views which individuals of equally sound judgement and honest minds will take, of the same subject--but, really the objects to be accomplished by these proposed alterations appear to me to be so desirable; and the alterations so reasonable and judicious that I have felt great and increasing surprise at the opposition to them. I hope and pray that this opposition may in no respect be influenced by a desire to retain the plea of necessity for altering the Liturgy in consequence of its length, that thus 'individual license may have no bounds.' But, without doubt, the opposition is dictated in many by considerations entitled to the highest respect--their attachment to the Liturgy, and their fears of innovation. Of my devoted attachment to that Liturgy, I think I have given the fullest evidence; and so far from desiring for my own gratification to shorten, I rarely avail myself of the discretionary rubrics. To secure it from hasty and injudicious alterations, unless my memory deceives me, I proposed the present article of the Constitution, which requires that no alterations shall be made in it, which have not been adopted in one General Convention, made known to the different Diocesan Conventions, and finally adopted in a subsequent General Convention. Here, surely, is full security for our invaluable Liturgy. This provision of the Constitution cannot be altered but by the same process of the alteration being proposed in one General Convention, made known to the Diocesan Conventions, and adopted in a subsequent General Convention. Without such a provision, the Liturgy might be endangered by hasty and injudicious alterations. With this provision, its most solicitous friends need not fear for it. There will be, with such a provision, extreme difficulty in altering the Liturgy under any circumstances. Their fears, I humbly conceive, should arise from a different source--from the unlicensed alterations in the Liturgy which are now practised; which mar its beauty and effect; which must diminish the sacred veneration with which it should be cherished; and which thus most seriously endangers it.

"How are these alarming innovations to be arrested? By remonstrances and admonition? These have been tried in vain. By the strong arm of authority? But is this an easy or a wise course? When the service is felt and admitted by so many persons to be too long, publick sentiment and general practice will, more or less, sanction abbreviations in it. Under such circumstances the exercise of discipline, if not impudent, would at least be difficult. Would it not be wiser to remove, as far as possible, the reasons, real or feigned, for these violations of law, and then to enforce it? Would not such a course be pursued in a civil government? Is it not eminently proper in an ecclesiastical one?

"It may be said, that they who now alter the service will continue to do it, even after the proposed abbreviations are adopted--if they do not respect law at one time, they will not at another. But let it be remembered, law can be enforced with more salutary effect, and with less odium, when it has been accommodated, as far as possible, without departure from essential principles, to those circumstances which are urged as a plea for violating it. Those who now omit parts of the service, on account of its length, will have no reason to do so when it is by law abbreviated. And those who will still be lawless, may then be most reasonably subjected to ecclesiastical discipline.

"Will it be said, that the proposed abbreviations are so short that they will not satisfy those who now object to the length of the service? In many cases, doubtless, the Lessons are short; but in many others they are long, that by judiciously abridging them and the Psalms, a portion of time will be gained nearly equal to that which would be occupied in the use of the Ante-Communion Service. By the abbreviations now allowed, by the omission of the Gloria Patri in certain cases, and of a part of the Lessons, but little time is saved; and yet it seems generally to be deemed of importance to save that time.

"It ought to be a strong recommendation of these proposed alterations, as far as the Morning and Evening Prayer are concerned, that these services will not appear to our congregations in a different form from what they now do. The Psalms will still be read, but the portion need not be so long--the Lessons will still be read, but in some cases abbreviated, and on week days changed from those appointed in the calendar--a circumstance which will not be apt to be noticed by the congregation. And all this is discretional; for those who prefer using the whole portion of Psalms, and the entire Lessons, may do so.

"Is this discretion objected to, as destroying the uniformity of the service? But who alleges that the discretion which now exists, as to the omission in certain cases of the Gloria Patri, and a part of the Liturgy, seriously destroys the uniformity of the Liturgy? And yet these variations are more striking than those in the contemplated alterations.

"Uniformity is, indeed, most seriously destroyed in the present state of things.--The liberty is taken, in many cases, to alter the Liturgy, to omit parts of it, and especially the Ante-Communion Service.--Such a state of things must endanger not only the Liturgy, but the authority and integrity of the Church. It is not one of its least evils, that it increases the causes of disunion, and leads to criminations and recriminations of a most painful description. The evil of this state of things was deeply felt by those, who, in the last General Convention, advocated the proposed alterations of the Liturgy, as the best mode of remedying it."

The address from which the above extract is taken was delivered in your hearing, and as well as the Journals from which the other extracts are made, printed and published. I now beg leave to call your attention to these documents, because I think if they had not escaped your recollection, you would not have made the statements in your published speech. In that speech, you appear, I think at my expense, the high panegyrist of the Liturgy. I doubt not your attachment to it. But who most consistently displays a sacred regard for this invaluable ritual? The use of the book of Common Prayer before all sermons and lectures, and of nothing but that book is bound upon us by our ordination vows and by the canons. You use this Liturgy, as it is prescribed, in your Church edifice; but when you assemble your congregation in what is called your lecture room, before your sermon or lecture, you abbreviate the Liturgy ad libitum, and use extemporaneous prayer. I judge not your conscience in this matter. But the individual who addresses you, uses before all sermons and lectures the Liturgy, the whole Liturgy and nothing but the Liturgy. May I not ask, who evidences the most consistent attachment to it? The length of the service with you is no difficulty, for you think yourself at liberty when you judge proper to abridge it.

I think you have not done me justice before the English publick, and that portion of the American community who may not be in possession of all the facts of the case. But, Reverend and Dear Sir, it will require stronger acts than these, and often repeated, to extinguish the feelings of esteem and regard with which I am your friend and brother.


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