Project Canterbury

The Unity of the Church: The Ministry: The Apostolical Succession:
Three Discourses

By James Hervey Otey.

New York: Daniel Dana, Jr., 1845.

Sermon I.



ST. PAUL, the apostle, in his epistle to the Colossians after the salutations with which he commonly begins his letters, proceeds to speak of the great power and dignity of the Redeemer. He enlarges on this topic for the purpose, probably, of strengthening the confidence and hope of the christians at Colosse in the Lord Jesus Christ, and of encouraging them to "fight the good fight of faith." By declaring in the most ample terms Christ's exalted power and dignity, he would raise them above the fear of trial and persecution in this life, to which they were constantly exposed, and would inspire them with a trust in the Saviour, that would disarm even death of his terrors. For, whom could they reasonably dread, when so much power was engaged in their behalf and for their protection? "For by him," says the apostle, "were all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him; And, he is before all things, and by him all things consist; and he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things, he might have the pre-eminence.

Under the guidance and safe-guard of such a friend, the saints at Colosse, might well rise superior to all the discouragements and difficulties which encompassed them in their journey through this weary world, and look forward with composure to the approach of that inevitable hour, when they must sink into the grave under the stroke of death.

We would do well, brethren, to remember that the same mercy embraces us, that the same power is engaged for our protection, that the same gracious Redeemer is our unfailing friend, and [5/6] that in reliance upon him we are authorized to cherish the same blessed hopes for time and for eternity.

The first thing that strikes us, as worthy of observation in the text, is the singular terms in which the apostle speaks of the Church. It is called a body--a body of which Christ is the head.

The head is the seat of all those mental perceptions which enable us to exercise our judgment, and by which the actions of the body are controlled and directed. So the Lord Jesus Christ being head of the church is the source of all wisdom, power and dignity in it. The meaning of the Apostle's metaphor, we conceive, to be fully cleared by this brief and simple explanation. Perhaps many points of resemblance might be sought out, yet they would probably be of a fanciful character and tend little to edification.

As the church is here and elsewhere in Scripture expressly called a body, we are at once and necessarily reminded of the unity which should distinguish it in faith and practice. [1 Cor. x. 17. Eph. i. 23: iv. 16.] As the members of the natural body are united together and to the head, by the veins, arteries, and nerves, so the members of the church are united with one another and to Christ the head, by the spirit, faith, love, sacraments, word and ministry. "There is one faith, and one baptism," saith the apostle, in the very same connexion, in which he declares that, "there is one body." [Eph. iv. 4, 5.]

It must be clear even to slight reflection, that in the first promulgation of the gospel and in the gathering together of the church, believers were perfectly united in the profession of the same faith and in submission to the same ordinances. The circumstances by which the first converts to christianity were surrounded, measurably compelled them to union: and that they were so united is manifestly set forth in the declaration that "they continued steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers." [Acts ii. 42.] It was the prayer of our blessed Saviour, and among the last which he, as man, addressed to the Father concerning his disciples, that "they all might be one." [St. John xvii. 20, 21.] And it adds to the affecting interest of this prayer, to consider, that the divine Redeemer seems to [6/7] regard the unity of his church, as a necessary evidence to the world that the Father had sent him. "Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

"That they all may be one"--one in love--one in faith--one in practice--one in hope. This oneness of the christian church continued with but little interruption, until the perilous and purifying times of persecution ceased and believers began to exercise themselves about questions, which in their discussion, instead of ministering grace to those who heard, tended rather to strifes and divisions, and the evil works which usually attend upon contentions.

Divisions of the christian name have at length so multiplied that, in our day, it seems that the question is rarely made, whether such things are allowable under the law of Christ. It appears to be taken for granted, that men will differ in their religious views--that differences are inevitable from the very constitution of men--that they will have their preferences, and that these preferences, no matter upon what grounds they may be entertained, may be safely indulged to the extent of attaching oneself to any society whatever that professes to he christian. In short, there seems to be a very widely diffused persuasion in the public mind, that one denomination of professed christianity is, as to authority, about as good as another. Hence we hear of many different associations styled churches--the deluded followers of Joe Smith, the Mormon prophet, and others equally ignorant and fanatical--appropriating to themselves this venerable and once venerated appellation. Hence it has come to pass that the exercise of a salutary discipline has almost ceased among the professed followers of Christ, it being found impossible to prevent the reception, to what are called church privileges, of those repelled, rejected or expelled by some association calling itself christian, and hence the chief aim of the various sects of the age, seems to be, to gain influence and power, by adding to their numerical strength, rather than to promote true piety and godliness among men.

Can any serious and reflecting person, however, really think [7/8] that the various bodies of men, who are known under the name of churches of Christ, are verily authorized to act in his name, and impart to others authority to administer the sacraments of his religion? Especially can they so think, when they perceive the practical results to which such opinions lead in the countless divisions in which the professed followers of Christ are now scattered? in the bitterness and rancour which opposing sects exhibit towards each other?

Without the introduction of some restraining principle to counteract this general disposition among men of the present day to separate into parties, it must be too evident to need proof, that every thing like unity among christians will be at an end. The only bond to draw men together in ecclesiastical associations will then be inclination and interest or accidental circumstances growing out of the intercourse of social life. And when these cease to operate or to have influence, new divisions must ensue from a change of circumstances or of relations in an ever varying and changing world, until every distinctive feature of the christian system and of the church, one after another, shall pass away and the whole be divested of that divine authority which alone can and ought to give it sanction and weight with men. Indeed if these separations into distinct bodies or communities be allowable, there seems to be good reason why every man should not act for himself and family in the affairs of religion, without the intervention or aid of any ministry whatever. And certainly those who at this day have discarded all authority in the church, act consistently in administering the rites of religion at all times, in all places, and to all persons who ask for them, without reference to any rule, law or custom upon the subject. They act consistently, we say, with their avowed principles. Whether these principles be in accordance with the revealed will of God, as interpreted by the practice of the primitive church, is another and very different matter.

An idea seems to prevail quite extensively that christianity in its doctrines and forms is susceptible of improvement like the arts and sciences, and that new discoveries are to reward investigation into it, as in other things. Hence old fashioned views of religion--such as teaching children the catechism, and training them to the [8/9] habitual practice of devotion and other christian duties, are not only rejected but actually ridiculed as savouring of earthliness, and the self-constituted reformers of the age set forth their own peculiar sentiments with all the positive confidence and directness of assertion which attach to the claim of infallibility. There is truth in the maxim which says that extremes meet, and those who first set out with a denial of all authority are presently found claiming all authority for themselves.

This is strikingly shown in the movements of a modern sect called by themselves Reformers, but better known among us under the appellation of Campbellites. And here I beg to be understood not as mentioning names reproachfully, but simply for the sake of illustration. Among those, as well as among others to whom I shall have occasion to refer in this discourse, I am free to declare, and I take pleasure in saying, that I believe there are many humble, pious and sincere believers, "who through faith and patience are striving to inherit the promises."

One of the characteristics of the sect, already named, is the rejection of all creeds and the avowed adoption of the New Testament in their place, as the only and all-sufficient standard of faith and practice. If, say they, Creeds are contrary to, the New Testament, they are wrong and ought to be rejected. If they are in accordance with it, they are at least unnecessary and may be injurious. There is plausibility in this reasoning--full as much as that which decided the fate of the famous library of Alexandria,--but far more sophistry concealed under an exterior of much candor and fairness. The word creed, means what? undoubtedly, belief. And it matters not in principle whether it consist of one article or twenty. Now when we come to ask these people who have undertaken to reform christianity, or rather the church, what they believe to be meant by christian baptism, they unhesitatingly declare, that it is immersion in water, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost: [The form of words in baptizing is not the same with all the preachers or proclaimers among these people. Some use the common form, "I baptize thee, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Others of them say "By the authority of the Messiah I baptize thee for the remission of sins"--and some here add, "In the name of the Father, &c." Others again "I baptize thee into the name of Jesus for the remission of sins."] [9/10] and that no affusion, pouring or sprinkling of water, can be properly regarded as baptism. Consequently all persons who have been baptized in any other way than by immersion, they consider as yet without the pale of the church and strangers to the covenants of promise. And their practice accords herewith; for no person can or will be received into what they are pleased to style the kingdom of Heaven or of Christ, without submitting to be immersed.

Thus we see then, that while they profess to reject all creeds, they nevertheless strenuously maintain--and right they are for doing this--that interpretation of the language of scripture which they believe to be the truth of God: and, consequently do, in practice, uphold the very thing which they condemn in others. For a creed was never intended to express any thing more than what was conceived to be the meaning of holy scripture. It is the purpose of the creed to express in as brief a form as possible the leading facts and main doctrines of the christian religion, and so far from having the effect, as is alledged, of separating men into parties, just the contrary object is aimed at, and just the opposite result, for the most part, obtained by their use. No man, who believes in the divine authority of the New Testament, will object to a single article of what is called the Apostles' Creed. Much of it is in the very language of scripture, and that which is not, is nevertheless so plainly deducible from it, that no intelligent person will deny that it is built upon the express authority of God's holy word. [See 1 Cor. xv.] No really sound objection therefore can be urged against its use. On the other hand, the many valuable purposes which it serves by presenting a concise summary of the Christian faith, and forming a bond of union among the followers of Christ, will always vindicate the wisdom of retaining it among our forms of public worship. The precise period of time at which this creed; venerable for its antiquity, was composed, is not known with certainty. No doubt it was very near to the apostles' times, though we cannot assert that it belongs to the very age in which they lived and preached. It is as near a transcript of what they taught, very briefly expressed, as can well be conceived. Indeed some learned men have given it as their [10/11] opinion that this creed was formed as an abstract from the apostolic writings, and intended as far as possible to supply the want of the sacred books among people who had not the opportunity to read them, as likewise to furnish an outline, to ignorant people, incapable of reading, of what things they were required to believe in order to their becoming christians. Purposes which the creed is admirably adapted to answer, as any one may be easily convinced of, who undertakes to teach the unlearned the main doctrines of revelation and their own corresponding duties.

But one of the chief and among the most excellent purposes which the creed answers, especially by its introduction into the worship of the congregation is the preservation of unity, among the members of the body. It is thus that we are all enabled to "speak the same thing," and "be perfectly joined together," as the apostle enjoins, "in the same mind and the same judgment." It is thus we confess Christ "before men," profess "the faith once delivered to the saints," and preclude all just occasion for divisions.

It is thus too, that liberty of conscience is secured. Not that sort of liberty, which amounts to free thinking, which spurns all restrictions and limitations upon the reason and judgment, which puts at defiance all law and authority, and sets up its own dictum as the infallible truth of God. This is licentiousness and not liberty. This is that wild spirit of insubordination, which under the name of freedom has never failed to exercise an iron despotism over the minds of men, wherever and whenever an opportunity was presented. Of this, the past history of the world has furnished abundant and striking examples, and it is in truth the real foundation of nearly all the systems which Sectarianism has introduced, defended and established.

The Apostles' and Nicene creeds contain an outline of the main facts and doctrines of the Gospel. They deal with general principles; they set forth not a single peculiarity, except as it may distinguish christianity from all other religions; nor do they enunciate a single fact, or declare a single doctrine in which the vast majority, if not all christians, do not agree. [These as applied in practice are extended and explained in the worship, offices, &c. of the church.] And here is a leading point of difference between the Protestant Episcopal [11/12] Church and the various dissenting bodies around her. She requires the reception only of that which was confessedly acknowledged in the primitive church as the christian faith--as of universal belief and no less universal practice. The Nicene creed was put forth as embodying the sense and judgment of the church of Christ, as early as the year 325 (A. D.) and in condemnation of the Arian heresy which then began to disturb the unity of the body. Whatever can be shown to be of endoubted belief and practice, among the whole body of believers previous to that time, we hold to be obligatory upon us at this day, as members of the Catholic church of Christ. We call on no man to subscribe to any thing peculiar and distinct from what was thus believed and practised, in order to his becoming a christian. The demand made is, "dost thou believe all the articles of the christian faith as contained in the apostle's creed?" and upon the affirmative profession thus made, we baptize in the name of the blessed and adorable Trinity, and receive the subject into the visible church, as a member of Christ's body. Not so with the self-styled Reformers of this age, who insist upon immersion as indispensable to admission into the visible fold of Christ. Not so with Presbyterians, who set forth in their "Confession of Faith," that "angels and men, predestinated and foreordained are particularly and unchangeably designed--that the righteous are chosen in Christ into everlasting glory, out of God's mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace "--and that it hath pleased God, "for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by the rest of mankind, and ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sins to the praise of his glorious justice" [Confession of Faith; article or ch. iii. of God's eternal decrees--Phila. Ed. 1821.]--Not so with Methodists, who substitute internal persuasions, which they call the assurance of faith, or the witness of God's spirit, for that holiness of life, that inward purity and moral rectitude, which are the proper evidence of conversion--of renovation--of an acceptable state with God. Not so with Papists, who demand unqualified submission to the decrees of [12/13] the council of Trent in the 16th century, as an indispensable condition of salvation. Thus the theological opinions of men are attempted to be bound on the consciences of mankind as dogmas of faith, and the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, virtually destroyed.

Contrary to all these and many others too numerous to be named, the Holy Catholic Church of Christ teaches as articles of faith those things only which are plainly delivered in the written word of Christ and his apostles, and about the truth of which there never was any doubt among the faithful. And now let me ask, is not this reasonable? is not this safe? is it not consistent with the charity of the gospel? If my fellow man professes his conviction of the truth of what the apostles taught, why must I impose on him new and additional terms of communion or fellowship which they never required? Why must my interpretation of scripture be taken as correct and his condemned? or why his received, and mine rejected? Who is to decide between us, if we chance to disagree? a thing very likely to happen. We both appeal to the written word, who is to be umpire between us? There is no decision to be had in such a case, without an appeal to the authority of the church; without reverting to primitive christianity, and that which has received the sanction of all, every where and from the beginning to the council of Nice, A. D. 325--(down to which period it is acknowledged on all hands, the faith was kept pure and unadulterated by the great body of believers in every part of the world--) and which must be regarded as of apostolical authority. Further than this we need not go, to be assured of our fellowship with the apostles, and through the sacraments of the Church which they established, of our union to Christ, the living head.

I have thought it the more necessary to dwell on this part of the subject, because of the misapprehension and prejudice, not to say, misrepresentation, which I know to abound in the community, respecting the church, and the position which she occupies towards the various religious professions around us. The church utters no denunciations against others, who through faith and repentance, are striving, however misguidedly in some things, after the crown of life. She takes her stand on general principles, which may be known and read of all men and in the setting forth of these, [13/14] the plainness and simplicity of her language are equalled only by its modesty--by the carefulness with which she has guarded her formularies from the expression of a harsh and uncharitable judgment on the faith and practice of others.

Are we asked what is the church? The xix article replies: "The visible Church of Christ, is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

Is the demand made, who are authorized to minister the word and sacraments of Christ's religion? The preface to the ordinal furnishes the answer--thus: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time, there have been these orders of ministers, in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons: which offices were evermore had in such reverend estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried and examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by public prayer, with imposition of hands, was approved and admitted thereunto by lawful authority. And therefore to the intent that these orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in this Church, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon in this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said functions, except he be called, tried, examined and admitted thereunto, according to the form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal consecration or ordination." It will be perceived from the foregoing that the Church undertakes to declare who shall be accounted lawful ministers in her own communion. She raises not the question, nor does she say one word about the authority of those who execute the functions of religion among others. She judges them not; to their own master they stand or fall and to him they must give account. If others think their authority called in question by the declaration which she sets forth that "it is evident to all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests and Deacons," she is not to blame for it. It [14/15] is their own fault that they have not sought for that authority from the source and in the way which she declares to be lawful. It is her business to see that the application of the general principle which she asserts, be made to those who seek to minister in her congregations. And this is all that she undertakes to do, leaving others to pursue the course which they believe to be warranted by the word of God and the practice of the Church of Christ. It is however not a little remarkable that the correctness of the general principle stated by the church, is admitted by the large majority of those who have left her pale and set up separate communions for themselves.

Thus Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism says, "If they will give us such an hierarchy, in which the Bishops have such a pre-eminence as that they do not refuse to be subject unto Christ, I will confess that they are worthy of all anathemas, if any such there be, who will not reverence it, and submit themselves to it with the utmost obedience." [Word for the church p. 51, Joanne Calvin Trac. Theo. omnes p. 69.]

Thus Martin Luther: "I allow that each state ought to have one Bishop of its own by divine right; which I show from Paul, saying 'for this cause left I thee in Crete.'" [Ibid. Resolutions.]

Thus Melancthon: "I would to God it lay in me to restore the government of Bishops. For I see what manner of church we shall have, the ecclesiastical polity being dissolved. I do see that hereafter will grow up in the church a greater tyranny than there ever was before." [Ibid. Apology, &c. p. 395.]

Thus Beza, the successor of Calvin: "In my writings touching church government, I ever impugned the Romish hierarchy but never intended to touch or impugn the ecclesiastical polity of the Church of England." [Ibid. p. 52, Letter to Archp. Whitgift]

The plea urged for establishing a government of Presbyters contrary to what was the known order of the church was necessity. The reformation on the continent was carried forward by the lower orders of the clergy; that is by the Presbyters and Deacons, in conjunction with the people. The Bishops refused to unite with them except in a very few instances. In England on [15/16] the contrary, the ministry, including Bishops, Priests and Deacons, reformed with the people; and hence there existed no necessity and no reason to change the order of government by Bishops, and consequently no alteration was then, or for a long time after, attempted.

But what does this plea of necessity unavoidably suppose? Unquestionably, a departure from some established rule and order, otherwise there could be no reason or sense at all, in such plea. It must be evident then beyond cavil, that when the necessity ceases, the practice which the plea of necessity is introduced to justify, ought to cease also. And it is on this ground precisely that we urge all those who practise Presbyterian ordination, to cease an irregularity, (to use the softest term,) which the state of the Christian world no longer renders necessary, if it ever did, and return to the application of the rule which, beyond all doubt, prevailed in the primitive and apostolic church. [The Methodists of course included, for they have nothing but presbyterial ordination to plead, if they can make good their claim even to that. Neither Wesley nor Coke was a Bishop.]

But to justify this separation and uphold the Presbyterial form of Church government, it is sometimes asserted that the orders of the Episcopal Church are defective or vitiated because derived through a corrupt channel--that is, the Romish Church. If this objection avails any thing, it is as destructive of the validity of Presbyterian orders, as it is of Episcopal ordination. For from whom did the Presbyters that founded the Presbyterian form of church government in the 16th century, derive their authority? Undoubtedly from the Church of Rome, and whatever authority they claimed and exercised, without question flowed through that channel. And can it be that this same fountain sent forth waters both sweet and bitter at the same time--that more mysterious than Elisha's salt at Jericho, Presbyterian orders came forth from it pure and unadulterated, while Episcopacy was tainted and corrupted? You perceive then that the objection, if of any weight, is fatal to those who make it. But it is alledged that the Episcopacy of the English Church, and of course that of the American-branch, comes through the Roman pontiffs or popes--and the Pope being the man of sin, [16/17] he can of course transmit no power or authority in the Church of Christ. We see not that this shifting of ground, helps along with the difficulty. For it is not to be conceived how, if the connexion which Bishops maintained with the Roman Pope vitiated or abrogated their authority, the power of Presbyters was not annulled, because of the same connexion.

That the popes of Rome, aided by the secular power, did usurp and exercise an ecclesiastical domination in Great Britain, we are not so ignorant of history as to deny. That that domination vitiated or destroyed the orders of the English Church we do most emphatically deny; and to sustain that denial we appeal both to facts and argument. Much of the misapprehension and consequent misrepresentation which abound upon this subject, are referable to the ignorance which prevails respecting the original establishment of. Christianity in the British Islands, and the subsequent introduction of Romanism. We deem the subject of importance and interest enough, to merit particular attention; and although our observations must at present be restricted to the limits usually appropriated to a single discourse, yet will they be, we trust, amply sufficient to lead to a correct understanding of the question beforetus.

It is matter of history, well authenticated, that Augustin the monk came to Britain from Gregory of Rome, on a mission to the Anglo Saxons in the year 590. It is equally well known that some time after his arrival he met in conference seven Bishops already established in their sees in Britain and exercising Episcopal authority over the churches under their care. The question at once arises, by whom was christianity planted in Britain, and whence did these Bishops derive consecration? The answer to these questions will show what connexion the ancient British Church had with the Roman see.

And first we have witnesses as to the fact that christianity existed in Britain long before the arrival of Augustin.

Tertullian (A..D. 193-220,) says, "some countries of the [17/18] Britons which proved inaccessible to the Romans are subject to Christ." [Adversus Judaeos c. 7. Hispaniarum omnes termini, et Galliarum diverse nationes, et Britannorum inaccessa Romanis loca, Christo vero subdita." Orat. Tom 1. p. 575.]

Origen (A. D. 230) says, "When did Britain before the coming of Christ unite in the worship of one God."

Chrysostom (A. D. 400) "The British Islands, situated beyond our sea, and lying in the very ocean have felt the power of the word, for even there churches are built and altars erected."

You will remember that Augustin came to England A. D. 590. These testimonies show conclusively that christianity was preached and churches erected there long before he was born.

2. We have a witness as to the time, when christianity was introduced into "Britain. Gildas a Britain by birth A. D. 546, says it was in the year of our Lord 61--viz: in and about the date of St. Paul's travels to the west. Gildas after mentioning the defeat of Boadicea, A. D. 61, adds, "in the meanwhile the sun of the Gospel first enlightened this island."

3. We have a witness as to the persons by whom the gospel was there preached. Eusebius (A. D. 270--340) speaking of the travels of the Apostles to propagate the faith, says some of them, "passed over the ocean to the British isles"--"epi taV kaloumenaV BretanikaV nesouV"--Dem: Ev. L. 3, c. 7.

4. We have witnesses as to the specific man. Clemens Romanus (A. D. 70) the intimate friend and fellow laborer of St. Paul, says of him, that in preaching the gospel he went to the utmost bounds of the West, "epi to terma thV dusewV," an expression denoting Spain, Gaul and Britain, but more particularly the last named region.

Jerome (A. D. 329-420) speaking of St. Paul's imprisonment and subsequent journey into Spain, says, he went from ocean to ocean and preached the gospel in the Western parts. That in the Western parts he included Britain is evident from his letter to Marcella. Theodoret (A. D. 423-460) mentions the Britons among the nations converted by the apostles, and says that St. Paul, after his release from imprisonment went to Spain, and from thence carried the light of the gospel to other nations and brought salvation to the Islands that lie in the ocean. All writers whom I have consulted understand by this [18/19] expression, as used by the Fathers, the British Isles. [It will be perceived that the foregoing quotations are very brief, and in some instances the substance of the witness' testimony given without his precise words--which would have, if so furnished, to be arrayed in the dress of the ancient Greek or Latin. For the satisfaction of those who desire to settle the question of St. Paul's preaching the gospel in Great Britain, I would refer for full information to the Letters of Bishop Burgess of St. David's to his clergy, published in the 2d vol. of "the Churchman Armed against the errors of the Time." The point is there settled, it seems to me, beyond controversy.] Theodoret calls the British christians "disciples of the Tentmaker" (St. Paul.) These authorities are decisive as to the establishment of christianity in Britain before the coming of Augustin in A. D. 590. The conclusion is irresistible from the testimony that the church was there planted by the Apostles, and most probably by St. Paul. "The Bishop whom St. Paul is recorded to have appointed, was Aristobulus, who is mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans. By the appointment of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, the form of church government was complete, and the British church, therefore, in a spiritual sense, was fully established. And what results from this establishment of the British church by St. Paul? This very interesting consequence, that the church of Britain was fully established before the church of Rome. For Linus, the first Bishop of Rome, was appointed by the joint authority of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the year of their martyrdom, and therefore after St. Paul's return from Britain." [Bishop Burgess.]

"The British church" continues the same writer, was never theirs (the Romanists) but by usurpation. For though our Saxon ancestors were converted to christianity by Popish missionaries, yet at that very period, the British church maintaining herself in the unconquered parts of the island, had subsisted from the days of her first founder, St. Paul, and distinguished herself not only by her opposition to the heresy of Pelagius, but to the corruptions of Popery." [The following passage from a letter of Bishop Davies to Archbishop Parker, contains a very interesting record of the sentiments of the British church. "One notable story was in the chronicle; Bowe, after the Saxons conquered, contynewall marre remayned bytwixt the Brittayns (then inhabitauntes of the realme) and the Saxons, the Brittayns beyng christians, and the Saxons pagan. As occasion served, they sometymes treated of peace, and then mette together, and communed together, and dyd eate and drynk together, but after that by the meanes of Austen the Saxons became christians in such sort, as Austen had taught them, the Brittayns weld not after that nether eate nor drynk wyth them, nor yet salute them, bycause they corrupted wyth superstition, ymages and ydolatrie, the true religion of Christ." Churchman Armed, 3cc. p. 350.] She had every thing necessary or essential to the being and perfection of a church--doctrine, discipline and worship--dioceses, bishops, clergy, [19/20] sacraments, rites, customs, church edifices and schools for the instruction of her children. Nor let it be supposed that there existed, in what may be called a rude and barbarous age, the mere "form of godliness" in these arrangements, without the manifestation of its power in the principles and practice of the members of the British Church. The following extract from a treatise still extant, of Fastidius, bishop of London, more than a hundred years before the arrival of Augustin, will show that the clergy of Britain not only understood the genuine principles of the gospel, but that they also knew how to inculcate them, in practice.

"It is the will of God, that his people should be holy, and apart from all stain of unrighteousness: so righteous, so merciful, so pure, so unspotted by the world, so single-hearted, that the heathen should find no fault in them, but say with wonder, blessed 'is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance. We read in the Evangelist that one came to our Saviour, and asked him what he should do to gain eternal life. The answer he received was, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Our Lord did not say, keep faith only. For if faith is all that is required, it is overmuch to say that the commandments must be kept. But far be it from me that I should suppose my Lord to have taught any thing overmuch. Let this be said only by those whose sins have numbered them with the children of perdition.

"Let no man then deceive or mislead his brother: except a man is righteous, he hath not life; except he keep the commandments of Christ, he hath no part with him. A christian is one who shows mercy to all; who is provoked by no wrong; who suffers not the poor in this world to be oppressed; who relieves the wretched, succours the needy; who mourns with mourners, and feels the pain of another as his own; who is [20/21] moved to tears by the sight of another's tears; whose house is open to all; whose table are spread for all the poor; whose good deeds all men know; whose wrongful dealing no man feels; who serves God day and night and ever meditates upon his precepts; who is made poor to the world, that he may be rich towards God; who is content to be inglorious among men, that he may appear glorious before God and his angels; who has no deceit in his heart; whose soul is simple and undefiled and his conscience faithful and pure; whose whole mind rests on God; whose whole hope is fixed on Christ, desiring heavenly things rather than earthly, and leaving human things to lay hold on things divine." [Churton's Early English Church p. 29, 30.]

If the foregoing be a fair specimen of the teaching of the ancient British church, we may well conclude that the foundation of their ecclesiastical establishment was laid by a wise master builder--that "in doctrine they were incorrupt and held the mystery of faith in a pure conscience." It was while the christians of Britain were "living in all godly quietness," and animated doubtless by the constraining love of Christ, were pushing their missions into the northern parts of the island for the conversion of the Picts and Scots, and into Ireland, that that terrible invasion of the Saxons took place, which resulted in the conquests of the country, and well nigh the ruin of the British Church. The Britons abandoned by the Romans, presented but a feeble resistance to the veteran and disciplined battalions of the Saxons led on by daring spirits and animated by the hope of plunder. All the Eastern, Southern and midland districts were in a short time over-run and in possession of the invaders, and the unhappy Britons driven from their homes were forced to seek refuge in France or in the mountainous and inaccessible parts of Wales and Cornwall. Here history represents them as sternly maintaining for a long time their independence, and what is equally honourable to their character, as faithfully adhering to the principles and practice of the faith which they had received from the founders of their church. It was in this condition about the year 590, that Augustin found them. He had come on a mission from Gregory, Bishop of Rome, to attempt the conversion of the Saxons, [21/22] and well indeed had it been if he had confined his views and efforts to this single object, instead of attempting as he did subsequently, to establish a spiritual supremacy alike unknown and repugnant to the practice and feelings of the British christians. Augustin and his company came first to the court of king Ethelbert at Canterbury, whose queen, Bertha, was a christian, who had brought with her from France a Bishop by name Liudhard or Lithardus, as her instructor in the faith of the Gospel. He had for many years previous to the arrival of Augustin, preached and administered the rites of our holy religion in the church of St. Martin's near to Canterbury, a venerable pile which yet survives, sacred alike for its antiquity and for its associations with the early establishment of christianity in Britain. To the piety and hospitality of Liudhard, Augustin was indebted for his first night's entertainment at Canterbury. Within a little more than a year after this time, Augustin received consecration at the hands of Vigil, Archbishop of Arles, and Etherius, bishop of Lyons in France, and returning to Canterbury, was invested with the pall from Gregory of Rome, as an Archbishop. [The pall (pallium) was sent by the Bishops of Rome to the Metropolitans and other chief Bishops of the west, at or after their consecration, in token of their recognition of them, as lawfully invested with their office. Though it was for several ages only a sign of fraternal regard, and a pledge of intercommunion; it came at length, (when the honorary Primacy of the Bishop of Rome had gradually honorary been changed into a Supremacy of power,) to be regarded as a. necessary preliminary to the exercise of jurisdiction by a newly consecrated Bishop.] Here was the beginning of that assumption of authority which the successors of Gregory, the Popes of Rome, have since claimed to exercise over the British church. It has never been pretended even, that Augustin received his spiritual authority as a Bishop, by consecration at the hands of Gregory. All history testifies that he was consecrated by the Archbishop of Arles, a see at that time independent of Rome, and consequently the line of succession among the English bishops if traced through the Archbishop of Canterbury conducts not to Rome, but to Arles, and thence to Lyons--thence to Smyrna, where Polycarp presided as Bishop and from him to St. John at Ephesus. [The Churches in Asia, (of which Ephesus and Smyrna, the sees of St. John and St. Polycarp, were the chief,) sent a mission to Gaul, about the middle of the second century, under Photinus, who became Bishop of Lyons, and was succeeded by St. Irenaeus. This mission established, if it did not found the Church in Gaul; and perpetuated in that country, not only the Apostolic succession in the time of St. John, but also the Asiatic Liturgy and usages; until the intimate connexion between Rome and Gaul, which was cemented by the Carlovingian dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries, enabled the Popes to substitute gradually the Roman Liturgy and customs for the Gallican.]

[23] Even the public forms of religion, as then introduced and established, were not taken from the Mass-book, as the Romanists boast, and dissenters ignorantly believe, but in the portions yet retained in the book of Common prayer, were older than the beginning of the corrupt doctrine of the mass. Gregory, so far from requiring Augustin to observe the service used at Rome, expressly charges him to search diligently for what might be more edifying in other churches, referring him especially to the old church of Gaul which was closely united in faith and practice with the old British or Welsh church. "We are not to love customs," said he, "on account of the places from which they come; but let us love all places where good customs are observed, choose therefore from every church whatever is pious, religious and. well-ordered; and when you have made a bundle of good rules, leave them for your best legacy to the English." Neither did Gregory claim to exercise the powers which have been so arrogantly and without right or reason contended for as the prerogative of his successors. For in opposition to the pretensions of the Bishop of Constantinople, he asserted that, "whosoever claims the universal Episcopate, is the fore-runner of Anti-Christ." Aid he little imagined that he was then uttering a sentiment, which in after ages would apply with marvellous directness to his successors. For the popes of Rome to this day claim the universal Episcopate, and so fall under the heavy condemnation and withering rebuke of their illustrious predecessor.

Augustin had not long exercised his Episcopal authority in England, before he proposed and through Ethelbert succeeded in bringing the British Bishops to a conference. In this interview the Archbishop of Cambria (Wales,) seven bishops and a considerable number of other British clergy were present. Augustin proposed to them to acknowledge the authority of the [23/24] Bishop of Rome over their branch of the Catholic Church,--to conform to the Romish custom of keeping Easter--to use the Romish forms and ceremonies in celebrating the rite of baptism and to join the Roman missionaries in preaching the gospel to the Saxons. ["The British Church at this time kept their Easter-day on a Sunday, from the 14th to the 20th day of the paschal moon inclusive; whereas the Roman church kept it on the Sunday which fell between the 15th and 21st. The rule of the Church laid down at the Council of Nice, A. D. 325, mentioned in the preceding chapter, was that Easter should be kept on the first Sunday after the full moon next following the 21st day of March. Some old Churches of the East had kept it on the 14th day of the moon, which was the day of the Jews' Passover, on whatever day of the week it fell. The Britons seem to have had this custom, which they supposed to be observed in the churches founded by St. John in Asia; but after the Council of Nice, wishing to correct their practice, they had still begun one day too sober" CHURTON'S "Early English Church," p. 44. New York edition.] To these demands they returned a firm and decided negative, positively refusing to acknowledge Augustin as their Archbishop. The answer of Dunod the abbot of Bangor, clearly vindicates the independence of the British church, and shows that the idea of Roman supremacy was not tolerated for a moment. "We are bound," said he, "to serve the church of God, and the bishop of Rome, and every godly christian, as far as keeping them in offices of love and charity: this service we are ready to pay; but more than this I do not know to be due to him or any other. We have a primate of our own, who is to oversee us under God, and to keep us in the way of Spiritual life." This answer given in the genuine spirit of catholic independence, fully confirms the truth of Sir Wm. Blackstone's remark, that, "the ancient British church by whomsoever founded was a stranger to the Bishop of Rome and his pretended authority." "Britain knew not that the message from Rome was the fore-runner of forcing away that independence, of which the bare asking would not gain the surrender: and though from this time onward to the 16th century, the Holy Catholic church of Britain, fought inch by inch, for that liberty wherewith Christ had made her free, what could she do? The student of these times knows full well the feeble condition of the Britons invaded by the pagan Saxons." The slaughter of twelve hundred Ecclesiastics at one time on the borders of Wales by Ethilfrid, king of Northumberland, not without suspicion that Augustin himself was privy to the relentless massacre, furnishes melancholy evidence [24/25] of the hapless condition of the Britons. "The British church could not but be depressed when her sons suffered. What then COULD she do in this situation when, in addition to the attacks of the Saxon, the arm of the Italian church was stretched forth not to assist, but (as it finally turned out) to crush and enslave her. Does any one say the British church could at least protest? Aye! and so she did, most manfully and boldly. Her voice was heard, in the persons of her Bishops, her clergy and her laity, protesting against [25/26] the usurpation of Rome, from its commencement in the 6th century up to its close in the 16th.

[The following declaration and protest of the clergy of Berkshire, 1240, will prove that however the fire of christian liberty may have been smothered in that dark period of the world's history, it was very far from being extinct. "The rectors of churches in Berkshire, all and each, say thus: First, that it is not lawful to contribute money to support a man against the Emperor; for though the pope has excommunicated him, he has not been convicted or condemned as a heretic by any sentence of the church. And if he has seized or invaded the estates of the church of Rome, still it is not lawful for the church to resist force by force. Secondly, that as the Roman church has its own estates, the management of which belongs to the lord pope, so have other churches theirs, granted them by gift and allowance of pious kings, princes and noblemen; which in no respect are liable to pay tax or tribute to the church of Rome. Thirdly, although the law says, all things belong to the prince, this does not mean that they are part of his property and domain, but are under his care and charge; and in like manner the churches belong to the lord pope as to care and charge, not as to dominion and property. And when Christ said, "Thou art Peter, and on this rock will I build my church," he committed only the charge, and not the property, to Peter, as is plain from the following words, "Whatsoever thou shalt bind and loose upon earth, shall be bound or loosed in heaven:" not whatsoever thou shalt exact on earth shall be exacted in heaven. Fourthly, inasmuch as it is plain from the authority of the Fathers, that the income of churches is appointed for certain uses, as for the church, the ministers and the poor, it ought not to be turned to other uses but by the authority of the whole church. Least of all ought the goods of the church to be taken to maintain war against christians. Fifthly, that the king and nobles of England, by inheritance and good custom, have the right of patronage over the churches of England; and the rectors, holding livings under their patronage, cannot admit a custom hurtful to their property without their leave. Sixthly, that churches were endowed, that rectors might afford hospitality to rich and poor according to their means; and if the intention of patrons is thus frustrated, they will not in future build or found churches, or be willing to give away livings. Seventhly, that the pope promised, when he first asked for a contribution, never to repeat his demand: and that as a repeated act makes a custom, this second contribution will be drawn into an unusual and slavish precedent." Churton p. 319, 320.]

The British church produced a noble array of divines from Dinoth (Dunod) of Bangor, to Cranmer of Canterbury who from time to time did all they could to resist the uncanonical and anticatholic usurpation of her spiritual rights; but for centuries it was all in vain. They could only stave off the evil day for a time, and at length about the end of the Norman conquest, the catholic church of Britain, planted by apostolic hands, was completely forced beneath the feet of her unatural and ambitious sister, the church of Rome. With her religion went her political glory. And methinks, the hot blood of virtuous indignation must now crimson the cheek of England's sons, when they look back to those times that saw their soil, like their church, under the thraldom of an Italian Bishop! When their monarch's, the 2d Henry and his son (out upon such drivelling cowards!) disgraced their own and their country's name, the first by baring his back to he scourged by the meek and unassuming successor of the fisherman; and the last by humbly laying the crown of England at the footstool of the pope's legate.

There was not, however, this pusillanimous submission on the part of the Spiritual sons of England. [William of Corboil, a French priest, elevated to the see of Canterbury, contrary to law and custom, and by intrigue, was the first ecclesiastic that attempted to betray the independence of the English church. Up to this time (1125) the pope had no jurisdiction in England--The church was under a head of its own, governed by the king in temporal matters, and by the archbishop of Canterbury in spiritual. William of Corboil made the primacy of England consist in acting as the pope's deputy. The church and nation were far from quietly yielding to his measures. The writers of the time never speak of William of Corboil, without expressing contempt for his meanness; and his name became a standing jest in merry old England. He ought not to he called William of Corboil." says John Bromton, abbot of Jorval, "but William of Turmoil." "Truly I would speak his praises if I could," says Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon, "but they are beyond expression for no man has yet discovered them." Churton p. 266, 268.] They never, (no, not from the days of St. Paul up to his successors the English Bishops of this day) they never yet yielded up the mitre of catholic independence into the hands of the usurping Romans. The church of Britain was forced, it is true, to bow her head for a time, but her heart was as unbending as the gnarled oaks of her own native forests.

[27] Dinoth of Bangor is witness--Bishop Daganus is a later witness, for he would not eat at the same table, no, nor in the same house with these Roman schismatics. ["Nam Daganus Episcopus ad nos veniens non solum cibum nobiscum, sed nec in eodem hospitio, quo vescebamur, sumere voluit" Bede L. ii. c. 4.] The king and clergy of Northumberland are still later witnesses, for they treated with contempt, the papal mandate to restore his deposed Bishop, Wilfrid. And then was the giant arm of Wickliffe raised in later days, and noble was the blow he struck. And when he died in 1384, he bade by his example his followers, the old catholics of Britain, the members of this church of the living God, never to cease till their protestations terminated in action, and they had ejected that schismatic intruder who had placed his foot on their shores in 596. They never did cease. [GrostĂȘte, Bishop of Lincoln, and Sewel, archbishop of York, may be instanced among many other illustrious examples, of resistance to the claims of papal domination. The former, in the close of his letter to the Pope, employs the following strong and emphatic language: "Since the commands I have received are so contrary to the holiness of the Apostolic see, destructive to the souls of men, and against the catholic faith,--the very spirit of unity, the love of a son, and the obedience of a subject, command me to rebel." Churton p. 329.] Wickliffe's followers, known in history under the name of Lollards, kept up the protest which Dinoth of Bangor had raised, and which each succeeding age found bold and faithful spirits to prolong. The stake was prepared for them; but in vain, for they burnt at the stake, yet were true to the catholic faith. There is the bloody act of 1399, by which they were burnt, and the names of many of the noble sufferers on whom it took effect: but it all would not do. The flame lighted up Britain, it spread to Smithfield and added brightness to the death-light of Cranmer and his brother martyrs. It spread till it reached the continent, and Luther abroad, as well as the catholics in Britain (Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer) were nerved by the spirit of Wickliffe.

But now came the time when the old, and oppressed church of Britain was able, as she had all along been willing, to eject the intruding and hence schismatic church of Rome. Four centuries had witnessed her struggles in vindication of religious freedom, and now in the good providence of God the day came when the prophetic words of the dying Grostete, were to receive their fulfilment, and the church of England "was set [27/28] free from the Egyptian bondage" under which she groaned "by the edge of a blood-stained sword."

"The Bishop of Italy," continues the eloquent divine to whom I am indebted for many of the preceding observations, "the Bishop of Italy, called the Pope, had no more right in Great Britain than he had in these United States of America; and he has about as much right to spiritual supremacy in either, as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of Pennsylvania has in Italy." [Rev. Wm. H. Odenheimer, Rector of St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia.]

"When therefore the Bishop of Italy sent his messenger; Augustin, in the sixth century, to ask the catholic church in Britain to submit to him, and this being indignantly refused, he in after days forced that submission and by intrigue and treachery usurped her rights, there was no more than sheer justice returned, when the British church had the power, as she had in the 16th century, to eject the intruder, soul and body, and send the writ of ejectment by the hands of her lawful Bishops Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer. And this she did orderly, legally, canonically, completely. Ah! the British church, never forgot the year 596--no, not when her temples were over-run with foreign priests, her altars served by alien hands and her property devoured by alien mouths. She never forgot that year, though ten centuries had rolled round, during which she could only express her remembrance by strong protestations and ineffectual efforts. She never forgot that year; and when the 8th Henry, blotted out the pusillanimity of the 2d by proclaiming through the legal voice of the realm, the independence of our motherland of the Bishop of Rome, methinks the shades of Dinoth, with the other clergy who met the monk Augustin in the 6th century, the shades of Wickliffe and his martyred followers in the 14th century, clustered around Cranmer and his Brothers of the 16th century, and watched with an English churchman's interest, the royal signature which cancelled forever, (God grant-it be so!) the foulest blot that ever stained England's cross, political or religious. From that period (the Reformation in the 16th century) the church of the living God--the church of St. Paul--the old British church, in her purity, in her zeal, faith and charity [28/29] has been the boast and blessing of the land of our fathers. May the fires of Smithfield be again kindled and her children, to a man, burn and die at the stake, before they yield up the trust of catholic independence and suffer the disgrace of England's church to be told in her submission to a Bishop of Italy."

From the Church of England, thus rescued from the domination of Rome during the reign of Henry 8th, and again delivered after a temporary depression, under "the bloody Mary"--and purified and established in the days of Elizabeth--and once more restored from the desolations which swept like a flood over her under the iron rule of Cromwell the Protector, from this Church, like Israel of old, with Amalekites smiting her in the face and fiery serpents stinging at her feet, but still holding her onward way, ever looking to her glorious Head for guidance and protection--from this church, the uncompromising asserter of Catholic verity--the acknowledged bulwark of protestant principles--the dispenser, at this day, through her 18,000 clergymen, of the bread of life to the men of every clime and every complexion--from this church, upon the labors of whose missionaries the sun never sets--whose zeal the fire cannot destroy nor the floods quench--from this church, blessed, of God and blessing man, is derived the ministerial authority by which you have been brought into the visible fold of Christ, made members of his "one body" and united to the Ever-living Head. For such grace, mercy and privilege, God's holy name be ever blessed; and to Him, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, be ascribed all honour, praise and glory, world without end! Amen.

Project Canterbury