Bishop of Vermont
PUDNEY & RUSSELL, PRINTERS
No. 79 JOHN-STREET.
GENTLEMEN:--The last number of your paper, under the date of January 7th, aims a vigorous blow at the Diocese of Vermont, on the subject of what the writer calls "The Episcopal Veto," which calls on her Bishop for some notice. And as it appears that the late editor, in the same paper, has announced the termination of his duties, and the publication hereafter is to be under your immediate direction, I must rely on your justice to insert, in your next, the present communication. We have been honored by several assaults from the same quarter, to which I have made no reply, as I have always thought it best through my whole ministerial life to take no notice of personal censure. Nor should I deviate from my general rule on this occasion, if the question were not likely to assume an important aspect in the anticipated synodal organization of the English Colonial Churches.
I am aware, indeed, that your correspondent directs his attack against the Diocese rather than against myself. But I am bound in candor to say, that if the Diocese of Vermont has been misled in this matter, I am the responsible party. It was my hand which prepared the report of the large Committee to whom the new Constitution and Canons of 1836 had been intrusted. The alterations proposed during a long and thorough discussion with that committee were few, and did not touch the point in question. [3/4] The report was unanimously adopted, and as unanimously passed by the Convention. After a satisfactory experience of fifteen years under our system, the revision of the whole was proposed by myself in A. D. 1851, in order that a new edition might be published for the use of the Diocese. And the committee appointed to act with the Bishop concurred in his opinion that there was to be no change of principles. The report was adopted, and after the constitutional interval of a year, the same system was ratified again by the Convention with the same perfect unanimity.
This proves conclusively that the former attacks of the Episcopal Recorder, and my eloquent brother, the Rev. Dr. Hawks, upon the inordinate power of the Bishop, had not produced the slightest effect upon the judgment of the Diocese. And, assuredly, I have no reason to fear that your late assault will be more likely to "disturb our peace." With respect to ourselves, therefore, I may truly say that your argument, in the words of the poet, is imbelle telum, sine ictu. But a fair understanding of the subject is due to truth, and may be of use to others.
In the first place, then, I shall show that the phrase, "Episcopal Veto," is grossly improper, and gives a false view of the whole question. Every man of common sense and information must know that the veto (according to the very meaning of the word) signifies the power by which some functionary, as a King, or a President, or the Mayor of a city, forbids an act previously adopted by a Parliament, or a Congress, or Corporation of Aldermen. The King does not sit with either house of Parliament, nor the President with either house of Congress, nor the Mayor with the City Corporation. And the action of the Parliament, or the Congress, or the Corporation, must be [4/5] perfect and complete in itself, before the King, or the President, or the Mayor, can be asked for his consent, or can announce his formal disapprobation. Such is, properly, the veto power.
Now the system of our Convention has no affinity with this, but rests on the divine law of CHURCH UNITY. According to our established theory, the church, in her true organization, consists of the Bishop, the clergy, and the laity, of whom the Bishop, ecclesiastically, is under Christ, the chief. True, he is one of the Clergy, just as the Governor of a State or the President is one of the public functionaries. But he is as distinct from the clergy, in his proper office, as the Governor or the President is distinct from the other agents in our political system. Hence the Church depends on the Bishop for the Apostolic work of ordination, discipline, and government, in which she is plainly justified by St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, the first Bishop of Ephesus, and Titus, the first Bishop of Crete. Hence, too, the Church requires the solemn vow of obedience to the godly judgment of the bishop from every clergyman at the time of his ordination. And hence, by reason of the high importance which is justly attached to the Episcopal element, we have our distinctive title from it as the Protestant EPISCOPAL Church in these United States.
When the Diocese of Vermont, therefore, assembles in Convention, the Bishop presides, not as chairman, nor as moderator, but as the chief and indispensable head of the assembly, by virtue of his Apostolic function. Along with him are the clergy and the laity, elected by the several parishes. All the proper constituents of the Church are present, under Christ, the Supreme Bishop of souls. And when they proceed to act they must act in unity, because [5/6] the Bishop, the clergy, and the laity, are all distinct and important parts of the same body, and therefore must CONCUR, or nothing can be done. But the Bishop has no more power over the clergy than they have over him. And the laity have the very same power against Bishop and clergy together. By what logic, then, can my worthy friend, the Rev. Dr. Hawks, prove his assertion that such a constitution makes the Bishop "absolute?" For if the fact that the Bishop's concurrence is necessary makes him absolute, it is evident that the clergy and the laity must each be equally absolute for the very same reason. So that here we should have three absolute powers in the same government! My respect for Dr. Hawks will not permit me to call this Nonsense. But I must take the liberty of saying that no one ever laid down such a theory of absolutism before; and therefore he is at least entitled to the merit of perfect originality.
The truth, however, is, that no Diocesan Constitution can be more just and equal to its three co-ordinate elements than ours. There is no more veto power in the Bishop than in the clergy and the laity, and hence the manifest result that there is really no veto power at all. The whole resolves itself into the simple principle of CHURCH UNITY. We are one body in Christ, and therefore, when we act, we must act together.
Suppose it otherwise--as, I am sorry to say, it might be, according to the Constitution of the older Dioceses--that the clergy and the laity could enact a canon against the consent of the Bishop. I ask any man of common sense whether this could properly be called Episcopal legislation? For where is the Episcopal character of the act when you have turned the Bishop adrift and consummated your work without him! Such legislation would plainly [6/7] be not Episcopal, but Presbyterian; consistent, indeed with the notions of those who abjure Episcopacy as a limb of anti-Christ, but totally absurd in a Church which venerates the Episcopate as an essential element of the Apostolic system, and believes that Christ has promised to be present with it "even to the end of the world."
To this principle of Episcopal concurrence, however, there is an obvious class of exceptions, as when there is no Bishop, or when he is himself the subject of Conventional action. Both of these arise out of the necessity of the case, and may not be extended beyond that necessity. And for both, our Constitution has made ample provision, by requiring the Bishop's consent to acts of legislation only.
Let me now proceed to the other points of my learned friend's objurgation, as quoted by your correspondent, and endorsed on several occasions by the Episcopal Recorder. Our Constitution is treated as "an innovation," because we presumed to differ from the older Dioceses, who had seen fit to ignore the Episcopal element in its proper legislative function, by reducing the Bishop in Convention to the place of a mere moderator, or rather chairman, allowing him to vote with the rest of the clergy, but giving him no higher authority over the ultimate decision than that of the youngest deacon on the floor.
Here, however, our censor must have forgotten that the system thus adopted was itself an innovation upon all true Church government, which never saw the light until the year 1788, being not quite fifty years older than our Constitution. It is well known that our first Bishops had to encounter the peculiar difficulties of our own infant Church, just after the war of Independence, at a time when the very name of Bishop was an object of general apprehension and [7/8] hatred from one end of the country to the other, through the popular prejudice, which associated it with lordly assumption, and aristocratic rank, and monarchical principles. This was the cause why Episcopacy was put down so low, at the beginning of our American organization, that it has ever since been compelled to struggle for its proper claims in the face of a very inconsistent and thoughtless opposition. This was the cause why the Constitution of the General Convention, in A. D. 1789, only gave the Bishops a seat and a vote along with the other clergy. This was the cause why nine years elapsed before that Constitution could be so amended as to allow the Bishops to exercise the co-ordinate powers of a distinct House in our great ecclesiastical legislature. It would amuse one, if such reasoning could yield amusement, to see the Diocesan Constitution of Vermont rebuked as an innovation, when the General Convention had thus set the wise example of changing its first Presbyterian plan in favor of the only true Episcopal system. For it is evident that if a single Bishop in his own Diocese has no rights in legislation beyond the casting of his vote with the other clergy, there could be no good ground for making the Bishops a separate coordinate body in the Convention of the whole Church throughout the United States.
I grant, indeed, that this important amendment of our General Convention has not been followed by the older Dioceses, and so they still remain in their first unfortunate shape, as if it never had occurred to them that on such a plan they were depriving their Bishop of his proper place, and making the Episcopate look as much as possible like Presbyterianism. But what authority have they for this? Is there anything like it in the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy and Titus? Or in the history of the primitive [8/9] Church? Or in the system of any Episcopal Church since the beginning? If those Dioceses were influenced at first by the strong pressure of peculiar difficulties to adopt a new invention, in the face of Scripture, precedent, and history, it may be a very good reason why we should excuse, but it is certainly no reason why we should imitate them. No new Diocese can have any apology for following their error in total contempt of all that is really authoritative in the government of the Church. Is the Diocese of Vermont, then, to be branded as an innovator, because she has faithfully resolved to reject innovation, and to be guided by the true light of Scripture and antiquity, according to the example set by the wisdom of our own General Convention? Nay, assuredly, though a score of greater divines than my friend Dr. Hawks should unite in chanting the praise of your older Diocesan Constitutions. It is not from these that any man can learn the complete principles of Episcopacy. Even Calvin himself, when he describes the office of a Bishop in the primitive Church, might teach us better.
The third topic of your rebuke takes us to task, because we call our Standing Committee "a Council of Advice." But why? They are so, beyond controversy. True it is that the appointment of such committees was also a novelty. But the system is recognized and established by the General Convention. It has worked well. It has no injurious effect on the rights of Bishop, clergy, or laity; and, therefore, our Diocese adopts it to the full extent, and pays as much regard to its functions as any other.
We are censured, next, because our Constitution makes the Bishop the judge in all ecclesiastical trials. But who else has the right? Does not the Apostle expressly put this office on Timothy and Titus? Was it not exercised [9/10] by every Bishop in the primitive Church for at least five centuries? Do not the ecclesiastical judges introduced by the Church of Rome, and still employed by our mother Church of England, exercise their authority by commission from the Bishops and Archbishops, as their deputies, which is a plain proof that the original power was in the Bishops themselves? And therefore I contend, that in this point also the older Dioceses are the innovators. I maintain that the Bishops are the lawful judges in the Church by the positive evidence of Scripture and all antiquity. And as it is an admitted maxim of secular law that a judge has no right to delegate his functions, I question the authority of our Bishops to delegate their judicial power to presbyters. They have just as much right, on strict principles, to delegate the power of ordination.
But our learned censor asserts that this makes the Bishops "absolute." How so, I pray you? Is the judge in our secular courts absolute? Must he not be governed by the law? Or has he any power to acquit or condemn until the grand jury have found the bill of indictment, and the petit jury have given in their verdict? Such is precisely the power of the Bishop in the Diocese of Vermont. The Standing Committee must first present the offender. A certain number of presbyters, in the case of a clergyman, selected by the accused, and of laymen in the case of the laity, then act as a jury on the facts, and the Bishop presides as judge, to secure the conducting of the trial according to law and order. What man of common sense would not think himself more safe under the eyes of the highest officer of the Church, who is bound by the most sacred obligations to administer justice impartially, without respect of persons, than he could possibly feel in the hands of his brethren alone? And how can our Bishops ever be expected [10/11] to make themselves familiar with those legal principles, which they are all called to administer when one of themselves is put upon trial, if they be excluded from the judicial branch of their ordinary Apostolic functions, on the strange pretext that no Bishop can act as a judge in his own Diocese without becoming an irresponsible and absolute dictator?
Our ingenious castigator finds fault, in the next place, with the canon of Vermont, which declares that "the Bishop is expected to express his opinion on every subject" with entire freedom. But truly, this seems to be a very ungracious kind of objection. For every member of the Convention has the same liberty of speech, and why should the Bishop be silent, if it be in his power to shed the light of his knowledge and experience on the question? This appears so obvious, that such a canon would not have been passed if the preposterous custom established in the older Dioceses had not reduced the Bishop to the position of a mere chairman at a public meeting, whose duty it is to enforce the rules of order, and appoint committees, and announce the votes, and leave all the thinking and speaking to others. No Christian man, however, can seriously imagine that such a system was the true exponent of the Episcopal office in the contemplation of the Apostle or the practice of the primitive Church. The clergy and the laity of the Diocese select their Bishop, in the belief, at least, that he is the best whom they are able to obtain for his high and responsible station. And hence, it must be supposed, that the great majority of the members of Convention desire to know his opinion, and are disposed to attach far more confidence to it than to that of any other. The sons of the family, grown to mature age, may be wiser, and more learned, and more eloquent than the father; but yet, [11/12] when that family meet together to confer on those matters which most nearly concern them all, his judgment and his counsel ought to be freely declared, and to have their proper influence. The lawyer and the jury in court may include many who are superior to the judge in personal and intellectual endowment; yet when a serious question of fact or law is to be determined, his opinion is listened to with respect and deference for his office' sake. And the Bishop, in his Convention, bears to the clergy the double relation, ecclesiastically, of father and judge. Why should he not speak, who has been selected for the very purpose of being a guide, a teacher, and a governor in the Church of his Diocese? Why must the custom of a worldly town meeting ride over the simple and sound principles which should regulate the House of God?
In connection with this, our erudite assailant makes a great mistake by supposing, that when our clergy and laity vote in a way that does not please the Bishop, he exercises the power of veto, thereby "depriving them of their constitutional right to legislate." But such a course would indeed be an absurdity. The fact, however, is, that the working of our system is quite otherwise. If the proposition under debate be so obnoxious to the Bishop's judgment that he cannot accede to it, he says so, and there is no vote taken at all. The ground we stand on is, that we cannot act, unless we act together. It is very true that in such a case the Convention does not legislate. But what is the Convention The clergy and the laity without their Bishop? Nay, verily; but the clergy and the laity with their Bishop. And therefore, as the Bishop is a distinct constitutional element of the body, just as the clergy and the laity are, it results, of necessity, that the Convention, being the Church assembled in its integrity, cannot perform [12/13] any act of a legislative character unless these three elements concur in the decision.
But when our eloquent accuser calls this "depriving the clergy and the laity of their constitutional right to legislate," he only shows the natural results of the erroneous plan which the older Dioceses have adopted. Their constitutions have indeed given the clergy and the laity power to legislate without, and even against, the Bishop; but right they could not give, because in the Episcopal Church there are no rights except those which flow from Apostolic authority. On scriptural and primitive ground, therefore, the clergy and the laity have no right to legislate without their Bishop, just as he has no right to legislate without them. And when the clergy and the laity are so ignorant of true Church principles as to desire to act without their ecclesiastical head, I should say to them, very kindly, but very plainly, that it is high time they should learn the true Constitution of their Church before they undertake to meddle with the serious and responsible work of her legislation.
Our persevering and ingenious censor sums up his charges by saying that the Bishop of Vermont may exercise "all power, legislative, judicial, and executive," so as to "dictate to the shape of a gown or the fashion of a surplice." I am really sorry to see a man of acknowledged talents and acquirements so far above the average descend to such cavilling as this. For as to the legislative power of the Bishop, I have shown that he is as dependent on the clergy and the laity as they are on him, and therefore he can make no change without their full consent and approbation. With respect to his judicial power, I have shown that it cannot be exercised until the Standing Committee have made a presentment, and a jury of presbyters [13/14] or laymen has decided upon a verdict, which is in precise analogy with the administration of secular justice. And as regards the Bishop's executive power, our rhetorical friend must have thrown in the phrase ad captandum, or possibly to frighten his readers with a phantom. For it is evident to common sense that the Church, being a spiritual kingdom, has no executive power at all under the present dispensation; and therefore the sentence of her officers can only be executed by the conscience of her members. The President has executive power, because he commands the army and navy. The Governor has executive power, because he can order out the militia of the State. The judge has executive power, because the sheriff is bound to enforce his judgment by the strong arm of the law; but the Bishop has no instrument of coercion connected with his office, and the application of such a phrase to him looks very like a pure absurdity.
I believe that I have now disposed of the catalogue of my good brother, the Rev. Dr. Hawks, and therefore I shall next advert to a statement of your anonymous correspondent which demands some attention. Our system, as he regards it, must deprive our Conventions of all attraction, and produce "a feeling of indifference and servility in both clergy and laity." And he introduces "distinguished layman of Vermont," saying that "he had no interest in them, because he could not consent to be made an automaton."
Here we have three substantial allegations: 1st, the want of attractiveness; 2dly, the production of servility in the clergy and laity; and 3dly, the danger of transforming a "distinguished layman" into a mere machine. Let me consider them with fairness and with candor, although I cannot help thinking that our accuser has ventured [14/15] upon the grave responsibility of publicly censuring what he has taken very little pains to understand.
With respect to the first charge--the want of attractive interest in our Conventions--the only proper way to test it would have been to compare the lists of the clergy and the laity who attend them with similar lists in other Dioceses. If your correspondent had done this, he would have found that in no Diocese of the same size throughout the land was there a more regular, faithful, and steady attendance, or a more cordial reception and entertainment of the delegates, than in ours. If he means, however, that our Conventions are not attractive to the public, that is undoubtedly true. But it is not true in Vermont only, since the same fact might be alleged of every other Diocese, with the single exception of Virginia. And there, he must be perfectly conscious, that it is not so much the proper business of the Convention which attracts the crowd as the excitement of a great religious festival, kept up throughout the week with a zealous effort of preparation. I do not mean to make the slightest objection to this peculiarity in the custom of our Southern friends. On the contrary, I rejoice with them that they are able to render their annual assembly so interesting. But we of the North are accustomed to distinguish a little more exactly between the Convention, which meets to transact the business of the Church, and the Convocation of the Clergy and the Laity, who come together to a special feast of preaching, in connection with the proverbial warmth of Virginian feeling and hospitality.
There are two theories of what the Annual Convention of a Diocese should be. That which your correspondent, doubtless, prefers would make it an occasion of display, intended for the public ear and eye. That which we prefer [15/16] agrees better with the idea of a private family meeting, assembled once a year to confer, quietly and confidentially, about our own progress and condition, without any interruption from strangers, or any solicitude about the comments of a gazing crowd. Hence it is that our canon declares our Annual Convention to be "not public." Hence, also, is derived the natural consequence that it affords no field for any man who might be tempted to come only to play the orator and make confusion. And hence, too, is the happy result, under God, that we meet, without the slightest apprehension of party strife or angry discussion, to strengthen the bonds of mutual regard by the cordial intercourse of unity and kindness, to learn the doings of the past year, and consult on the course required to promote the advancement and prosperity of the spiritual field intrusted to our care.
I speak here, however, of the CONVENTION, properly considered. Of course there is no injunction of secrecy. A private meeting is one thing, and a secret meeting is another. Of course, likewise, we have religious services, to which the public are invited. A Missionary sermon is preached the evening before. A Convention sermon, with the Communion, marks the opening of the assembly. The Convocation of the Clergy, which holds one of its quarterly meetings at the same place and season, appoints such other public services as may be deemed useful. But the Convention itself is a family conference of its own members only. And I doubt not that in this very peculiarity we enjoy an important advantage over the ordinary system, notwithstanding the morbid appetite for publicity, which is so strongly characteristic of our age and country. The sum of the matter, therefore, amounts to this: Our Conventions are as attractive as any others, on the true [16/17] grounds of duty and principle. All attractiveness beyond this we leave to the admirers of the other theory.
The imputation of servility in the clergy and the laity of our Diocese comes next to be considered, and here I can only compassionate the ignorance of your correspondent, on the one hand, and his boldness on the other. I refrain from those expressions of strong rebuke which such boldness deserves. For it is a very serious charge to make, on no better evidence than his own idle conjecture. And you must allow me to say, gentlemen, that it is a very serious charge for you to publish and scatter abroad on the wings of the wind, in a thousand quarters, without knowing whether it was founded on facts, or whether you would have the means afforded of contradicting it, if it were an error. Happily, however, it is a charge which carries on its face its own refutation. Every man of common intelligence throughout the United States must know that Vermont is perhaps the very last place in the world for the practice of servility. There is not a spot upon the broad earth where true liberty, in its widest extent, is more universally understood, or more manfully defended. And as to the Churchmen of Vermont, I might challenge your correspondent to name a Diocese where the Bishop, the clergy, and the laity live together on a more thorough system of fraternal equality. But we claim the capacity of distinguishing between freedom and licentiousness; and we respect the just rights of one another as carefully as we guard our own. I have already shown that the peculiar features of our Diocesan Constitution are derived from Scripture and the primitive Church, to which all Episcopalians profess to render their allegiance. Is our faithfulness to these worthy to be branded as servility? I have shown that the Bishop is as dependent on the clergy and [17/18] the laity as they are upon him. Is this servility? I have shown that our system is the true exponent of the unity of the body of Christ, in which there can be no authoritative action unless the whole of its constituent elements concur together. Is that servility? If your correspondent's idea of Christian liberty be such that he supposes it impossible to enjoy it under a just and Apostolic theory of the Episcopate, I can only lament his ignorance of true Church principles. And I would advise him, in all kindness and sobriety, before he again assumes the office of censor over the clergy of Vermont, to study our standard writers on Ecclesiastical polity--Hooker, Potter, and the rest--whom it is very evident that he has either never read or has quite forgotten.
And now I turn to the last charge, of converting "a distinguished layman into an automaton" by the magic of our Conventional system. It is the first time that I have heard this anecdote. The accuser is anonymous, and the witness is anonymous. But yet I think it very possible that the story is true, because it would be quite unreasonable to doubt that "distinguished laymen" may talk a little nonsense now and then, so long as there are distinguished clergymen to set them the example. It must be perfectly obvious, however, that if the speech thus reported meant anything at all, it could only mean that the gentleman found himself disappointed of his desire to display his oratory, or "make a sensation," for which I have already stated that our Vermont Convention is by no means a favorable field. Certain it is, indeed, that every member of that body has an equal liberty of thought and speech, subject only to the usual rules of order. Certain also it is, that in its proper place none can honor eloquence more than we do. But in the Convention of our Diocese the [18/19] forensic orator soon feels himself reduced to the general level, because there is no public auditory, and no theatre of display, and we are accustomed to listen, not to flights of rhetoric, but to plain, straightforward sense, directed by piety, and governed by kindness. I have lived long, and have had as much to do as most men in Conventional proceedings; and truth compels me to say that I have never known a Convention of the Church to be interesting on account of its oratorical debates, unless when there was a sharp contention of opposing parties, often dangerous, always hostile to religious influence in the community, and not seldom discreditable to the speakers themselves. If, therefore, I had the honor of being acquainted with your correspondent's "distinguished layman," I should say to him that, although his eloquence might have been good, fraternal peace and unity were better. I am far from wishing any man to be an automaton, but yet, for myself, if I must make a choice between them, I would infinitely rather be an automaton in the Church of God than run the risk of being an incendiary.
You will remember, gentlemen, I trust, that I am not a volunteer on this occasion. I have been so long accustomed to bear the assaults of the press with quiet good humor, that this kind of patience with me has become a habit rather than a virtue, and I should not have given myself the trouble of repelling this last attack upon my Diocese if the welfare of the Church, beyond the limits of Vermont, had not impelled me. I grant, indeed, that my official sphere is small. I admit that we are not a numerous or a wealthy people, and that we have neither large salaries nor large churches to attract the stars of the ecclesiastical firmament. But I do not admit that our system involves any principle which shrinks from fair investigation. [19/20] Nor have we any reason to refuse to judge it "by its fruits," although it must be acknowledged that there is no Diocese in our land which presents a harder soil for the growth of Episcopacy.
Under that system, our clergy have increased in twenty-one years from eleven to twenty-five, without a dollar of missionary aid beyond our own borders. Our Church edifices have grown from sixteen to twenty-eight, besides two rebuilt, one much enlarged, and many others improved and adorned, with no debts of any serious consequence. While our parsonages, from none, have reached the number of seven, with several more in a train towards consummation.
Under that system, our ministers, who, when I entered upon my office, in A. D. 1832, bore the proportion of one to every 25,000 of the population in the State of Vermont, now bear the proportion of one to every 12,000. This is a larger proportion than that of your own Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, and other older Dioceses; and it is considerably beyond the general average throughout the Union.
Under that system, the Diocese, which was at first nearly divided between High and Low Church differences, with a large amount of irregularity, and a plentiful supply of the elements of contention, and which afterwards passed through a period of partial trouble from Tractarianism, has been marked, for many years, by uniform propriety and order, freed from all dissension, and taught to appreciate the solid advantages of brotherly concord and peace. There is not at this moment a single root of bitterness or strife from one end of it to the other. The lines of party-spirit are all merged in the UNITY OF THE CHURCH.
With this experience of the results, you will not, I trust, [20/21] be greatly surprised that we are somewhat reluctant to go to school, or to take our knowledge of the true Constitution, principles, and history of the Church from my learned and eloquent friend, the Rev. Dr. Hawks, even though his notions are endorsed by the editors and correspondents of the Episcopal Recorder. Perhaps we may be mistaken in presuming to doubt that the largest cities must needs possess the wisest men. But I beg leave to assure you, that we shall require a much better display of authority and argument than we have yet seen to convince us of our error.
A few words more, and I have done. The Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont has no veto power. He does not vote at all in his Convention, he takes no part, direct or indirect, in the election of Church officers. He has no control of any funds, missionary or otherwise, to distribute among his supposed or real favorites. Nor is he under the slightest temptation to employ any management whatever, either to secure a Conventional triumph, or avoid a Conventional defeat. And why? Because THE CONSTITUTION OF THE DIOCESE fixes his just rights on their true basis, and he can afford to be perfectly impartial.
I do not say that any other Bishop takes a different course; but I do say that the defective and inconsistent position which the Constitutions of the older Dioceses assign to them, has a natural tendency to make them managers. And I say further, that the Church Papers on both sides (with a few honorable exceptions) have been very improperly and unhappily in the habit of imputing to many of those Bishops a large amount of management, and of exciting, on this very ground, no small measure of odium against them. If those accusations were true, which I trust they are not, the blame should be cast, not [21/22] so much on the Bishops themselves, as on an erroneous and unjust Conventional system, which deprives them of their official rights, and thus tempts them to secure, by management, what ought to be conceded to them by law. The inevitable consequence is, in but too many instances, that instead of being regarded with the same confidence and affection by all belonging to their Diocese, they are regarded as being, in sympathy and conduct, the Bishops of a party.
But what possible advantage to truth and piety can be gained by a state of things like this? How much more useful and happy would be the relation of Bishops to their Dioceses if their true place were universally declared and understood! For in no other way can the essential principles of our Church unity be realized effectually. In no other way can the clergy and the laity, joined heart and hand in one body with their ecclesiastical head, under Christ, go on, like a well-ordered army, to the warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These mutual dissensions--this carping and censorious work of strife--this tone of alarm about the despotic powers of the Episcopate--this everlasting spirit of opposition--what can be more injurious to the progress of the Gospel! What more sure to obstruct the march of truth! Nay, what so likely to force the Bishops into the ranks of partisans, however strongly they might deprecate such a position!
I am far from claiming, for myself or my brethren, any immunity from justice, where there is a real and substantial ground of complaint. If Bishops prove to be unsound in the faith, or unsound in the morals of religion, let them be presented, tried and condemned, with a severity proportioned to the importance of their office. But let this be done with the grave caution which belongs to [22/23] Christian discipline, on due inquiry, and credible evidence. And meanwhile, I pray you to remember that we are men, of like sympathies and feelings with our brethren. Remember that the clergy may do at least as much to influence the character of a Bishop, as he can do to influence theirs. Remember that it is their place and privilege to be the counsellers and advisers of their ecclesiastical Overseer; to warn him in season, with the affection and faithfulness of a younger brother, when they think him in error, instead of publishing his mistakes, under an anonymous signature, to the world, and making them the pretext of party opposition. The spirit of the Gospel is LOVE. And love produces love; confidence produces confidence; frankness produces frankness; all by the same strong impulse of generous sympathy. And the working of the contrary elements is just as sure. Distrust produces distrust; suspicion produces suspicion; enmity produces enmity. The ministers of Christ know full well, indeed, that His effectual grace should gain the victory over these temptations, and that it is their bounden duty to overcome evil with good. But sad experience proves how easy it is to cover the feelings of the natural heart with the convenient robe of theological fidelity, and then to indulge them with bitter intolerance, FOR THE SAKE OF GOD!
Were it possible, therefore, for my feeble voice to reach the clergy of the whole Church, I would say to them, "My Reverend brethren, you have the course of your Bishops, to a very large extent, in your own care and keeping. If you would have a faithful, affectionate, and impartial Overseer in the Lord, select him, in the first place, with a view to these qualities, and you will rarely, if ever, be disappointed in the result. And when he is consecrated to his arduous office, give him, in all respects, as the Diocese of Vermont [23/24] has done, his just rights in the Apostolic Constitution of the Church, and treat him with generous confidence and love. Believe that he cannot possibly have any interest in opposition to your own; that it is his earnest desire and prayer to see you all prosper in your labors, and that his highest earthly happiness must be found in your fraternal unity and concord. Advise and counsel him if you have occasion, and doubt not that he will receive it kindly, when it is done as it ought to be done, with the spirit of Christian tenderness. Strengthen his hands by your faithful support. Consult him as your best friend. Set your faces against all doctrines and practices which the Church has not sanctioned, lest you should trouble the peace and harmony of Zion. Give no encouragement to party spirit, nor to party movements. And you may rely on it, as the general rule, that your Bishop will respond with joy to your efforts; that in proportion as you desire to do nothing without his approbation, it will be his wish to do nothing without yours, and that you will realize in feeling and in fact the true design of that beautiful system, which is too often held, in our degenerate day, as an impracticable theory. Then may your Diocese hope for its full reward, in the absence of dissension, in the enlargement of Christian love, and in the increasing favor of God and man. Then you will see the fraternal spirit of the ministry shed a wholesome and kindly influence upon the people. And you will know, by a blessed experience, 'how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.'
I may not close, however, although I am sensible of the inordinate length of my communication, without a due acknowledgment of your late editor's intended compliment. After assailing, with zeal and ingenuity, the constitutional system of my Diocese, he is pleased to say, that in my [24/25] hands it "may not be very dangerous." But this is a species of laudation which I must entirely disclaim. If, instead of insinuating so kindly that I had capacity and wisdom enough to make a vicious system tolerable, he had said that I am far inferior to many of my brethren in the Episcopate, he would have come much nearer to the truth, and it would be neither my inclination nor my duty to contradict him. As it is, I am too well aware of my manifold deficiencies--too painfully conscious of how little I have done for the good of the Church--too deeply convinced that I have been "an unprofitable servant," to take any share of the praise which is due to God for His blessing on the plan which His own Word has dictated.
It is THE SYSTEM therefore, and nothing but the system which claims commendation. I maintain that it is superior to any other Diocese in its principles, because it is more Scriptural, more primitive, more consistent with the whole design of the Episcopate, and more in accordance with the two great rules of the Apostle--1st, That "WE ALL SPEAK THE SAME THING, AND THAT THERE MAY BE NO DIVISIONS AMONGST US, BUT THAT WE BE PERFECTLY JOINED TOGETHER IN THE SAME MIND AND IN THE SAME JUDGMENT;" and 2nd, That the Bishop "DO NOTHING BY PARTIALITY." It is no invention or discovery of mine. It is no novelty that should disturb any man's peace, but it is simply the old, original plan of the first inspired master builders, which no one, without the same authority of inspiration, has a right to alter. In offering it to the clergy and laity of Vermont, I deserve no credit beyond that of honestly acting on my own conviction of the truth. Far higher is the credit due to this Diocese for their ready and unanimous acceptance of a system which so many were disposed to condemn as obsolete and impracticable, and for the cordial and admirable [25/26] consistency with which they have gone forward, under its peaceful and harmonious administration, to the present day.
In conclusion, I have only to add that I raise no question as to the sincerity and good intentions of our accusers. I have shown how greatly they have erred in their views of fact as well as in their notions of theory. I have taken the liberty of an old man, now drawing near to the great final account, to utter plain and honest words against party strife, and in support of UNITY. But God forbid that I should doubt the purity of motive, or depreciate the piety and zeal of any of my brethren, merely because they are led away by the popular current of this disorganizing age. Still, if it were the last sentence I should be allowed to record, I would affectionately warn them to beware of party spirit, to flee from dissension, to cherish UNITY--unity in doctrine, unity in worship, unity in government, unity in discipline, unity in heart, unity in action. The Lord, in His mercy, has given them a goody heritage. Let it not be marred by family discord. The harmony of the Church is her most powerful instrument of influence upon a world that lieth in wickedness. For Christ Himself hath said: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." And the great Apostle has left to us the fearful admonition, on which the sad divisions of Christendom present such a mournful commentary: "If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." God grant us wisdom and grace to lay up His lesson in our souls, and practise it in our life and conversation!
Your faithful friend and servant in the Gospel,
JOHN H. HOPKINS,
Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont,
BURLINGTON, VT., Jan. 12, 1854.