Project Canterbury


The Holy Trinity:





Diocese of Connecticut,


















ST. JAMES' CHURCH, New London, is one of the finest specimens of the Decorated or Middle Pointed style, which this country affords. It is cruciform, with a detached spire at the northwest angle of the nave. This is of stone to the very summit, and by its beautiful proportions and details, adds much to the massiveness of the general effect of the Church. Indeed from whatever point the pile is viewed externally, there is received an idea of vastness and solidity that is most impressive. Nor is this feeling at all diminished upon entering. The absence of galleries, the height of the edifice, the deep "valley" of the roof, where the dark open work of the rafters stands in bold relief against the beautiful ground-work of blue, the spacious Chancel with its side screens and gorgeous window, all unite to awaken a strong feeling that "this is none other than the House of God." A useful adaptation of open work above the columns of the nave, produces, without sham or artifice, somewhat of the effect of a clerestory. The division of the Chancel into a Chancel proper and side aisles, by the screens mentioned above, is peculiarly worthy of commendation.

In the northernmost of these divisions, stands the monument of BISHOP SEABURY, whose remains repose in a vault of mason-work, in the crypt beneath. To this place they were removed, from their former place of burial, on the 11th of September, 1849. For a full account of this impressive ceremonial, the reader is referred to the Calendar newspaper, of the week following the event.

On the 11th of June, 1850, the Feast of St. Barnabas, the Right Rev. BISHOP BROWNELL consecrated the Church to the service of the Adorable TRINITY, in the presence of a vast concourse of clergymen and laymen. On this occasion also, Mr. James Rankine, M. A., of Trinity College, was admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons. These prefatory statements have seemed needful, on account of certain allusions made in the Sermon.

J. W.

TRINITY COLLEGE, June 17th, 1850.




THREE solemn services are joined together here, on this auspicious day. A "holy and beautiful house" has just been duly consecrated, to the sole service of the GOD of Hosts. A Council of His Holy Church have here assembled in His name and presence, to break together the bread of unity, before they enter on their wonted labors. The Apostolical Commission in its inferior degree, is to be derived upon a new member of the threefold Ministry.

It is not often that such services are so united; and it renders the preacher's task in selecting his topic, a difficult one. For what may appear to be adapted to the one occasion, may not seem to be so to the others. Still, if I mistake not, there is one great "Mystery of the Faith," to which all such services recall us, the sum and substance of all Divine truth, the foundation and the source of all Christian Theology. For to whose high service is this glorious temple now forever given up? In whom have we, as members--in our several positions as ministers and people--of an integral [5/6] portion of the Church of God, professed our firm belief?--Whose name is this soldier of the Lord, who will to-day go forth in his Master's service,--whose name is he to bear about with him, in all his labors, uttering it, as the warrant of admission to the Saviour's kingdom, and the brief expression of the Gospel Faith? No man can miss the answer.--The service, the belief, the name, is that of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Trinity in Unity.

There are some other reasons, also, why our thoughts should, at this time, and in this place, recur to this ancient doctrine; and to these it may not be improper to allude. It has been recorded of that great Prelate, whose remains await the resurrection and the judgment beneath this holy place, that as years gathered on his head, and he drew nearer and nearer to the conclusion of his faithful ministry, he often spoke to his clergy and his people of that mighty mystery of the Faith, which every true believer is bound to keep "whole and undefiled." When asked why this was so, and why he thought it needful to insist so much upon a Doctrine, which, however important it might be, was nowhere in New England questioned or denied, his reply was memorable, and I might almost say, prophetic. "I seem to see," said he, "that a time will come when, in New England, this very Doctrine, which now appears so safe, will be extensively corrupted and denied; and I would have it remembered that to the last I raised my voice in its behalf." The words were not forgotten, and sooner, it may be, than he could have imagined, their fulfilment came. He finished his course of sufferings and of labors, and was gathered to his fathers, and time went on. More than half a century rolled by, full of strange events in worldly history, and fraught with the most stupendous issues for the Church. "The little one [6/7] became a thousand, and the small one a strong nation"; and here in the place which his living presence blessed, and which his memory adorns, the humbler house in which he ministered before the Lord, gave way to this goodly fabric, whose stately walls, and towering spire, crowned with the symbol of redemption, are an abiding witness to the Gospel Faith.

All hearts instinctively felt, that the remains of our first Bishop should repose at last, and for their final resting place, within the sacred courts which must be in all time associated with his memory, and which, in some sense, should form his enduring monument. Who that was present when that purpose was effected, will ever forget the memorable scene? What heart will not throb, what eye will not moisten again, as memory recalls the solemn procession from yonder burial ground, the stirring anthem, the subduing prayers, the impressive lesson, and the stilled and awed assembly that gathered round that honored sepulchre, when voices grew broken and eyes were dim? Above all, who can forget that as we stood there, priests and people, around that tomb sealed for the resurrection, we repeated in solemn tones that ancient Creed, which he defended to the last?

The time which he foresaw had come. In many places where it was once professed, the Doctrine was denied; in many more it was questioned; and almost every where it was debated. There, by that Bishop's grave, it was undoubtingly professed; and could his pure spirit, from its rest in Paradise, have seen his sons as thus they stood, would it not have recurred, as they did, to his warning words, and have blessed God, as they could hardly fail to do, for the priceless boon of a Doctrine, "whole and undefiled"?--Whether, then, we regard the sacred services of this day of [7/8] festival, or the associations of this place on which I have been dwelling, or the presence of our Chief Shepherd, whose warning voice has often sounded in our ears, in defence of our Holy Faith, or the state of the theological arena immediately around us; whether we consider the memories of the past, or the questionings of the present time, it certainly cannot be unmeet that our thoughts should be called to dwell for a season upon the Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity, and the present aspect of views and controversies in relation to it. For strange as it may seem, the old questions of the second, third, and fourth centuries, seem to be reviving, under new forms indeed, but still in all essential points the same. Insomuch that the great contest in which we--externally--seem likely in New England to be involved, will, to all appearance, be, to preserve inviolate that verity of the Trinity in Unity, the profession of which constitutes us Christians.

I propose, therefore, by GOD'S good blessing, after first stating in terms the Doctrine of the Trinity, as it has been received from the Primitive, and is now professed in the Anglican Church; to consider secondly the general forms of error, with which in our day we are likely to be concerned; and thirdly, to speak of the modes in which the Church guards us from all error, in reference to this essential Doctrine, which underlies all parts and portions of the Faith. And may GOD, who has given us "grace by the confession of a true Faith, to acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity," so bless our meditations, as that they may help "to keep us steadfast in this Faith," adoring that awful Mystery, which we presume not to attempt to fathom.

[9] I. The statement of the Doctrine, with which it seems desirable to begin, cannot be better made, than in the words of Bishop Bull, our Athanasius. Says that godly Prelate: [Discourse on the Trinity; Works, vol. ii. p. 1.] "The unanimous sense of the Catholic Doctors of the Church for the first three ages of Christianity, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, is, in short, this:

I. That there are in the Godhead, three (not mere names or modes, but) really distinct Hypostases or Persons; the Father, the Son or Word of God, and the Holy Ghost.

II. That these three Persons are one GOD: which they thus explain;

1. There is but one fountain or principle of divinity, GOD the Father, who only is AIM hog, GOD of and from himself: the Son and Holy Ghost deriving their divinity from Him; the Son immediately from the Father, the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, or from the Father by the Son.

2. The Son and Holy Ghost are so derived from the fountain of Divinity, as that they are not separate or separable from it, but do still exist in it, and are inseparably united to it."

This derivation, as the Bishop terms it, is expressed in the Nicene Creed and Articles I. and II., by the words which state the eternal generation of the Son, and the eternal procession of the Holy Ghost.

II. In proceeding now to speak of errors in reference to this Doctrine, it should be premised, that our view will be limited entirely to the present time. We are concerned with the denials, and corruptions, not of early periods alone, but of this nineteenth century; and if our labors for the [9/10] truth are to be of any value, we must understand, not more nor so much, the forms which error wore in other days, as those in which it is re-appearing, in our own. I speak, therefore, of the present, with its immediate demands, and instant issues.

The errors and corruptions, then, with which it is purposed now to deal, may well be classed under two general heads, on each of which some observations must be offered. They are either direct or indirect. They touch the Doctrine, that is, immediately and at once, or they reach it and affect it by the medium of other doctrines.

The most obvious forms of direct error, are evidently those which consist in mere denial. At the same time, it may be safely said, they are by far the least dangerous. There is, and must be, something coarse and repulsive about them; something which is uncongenial to a tone of mind--and such a tone I believe is becoming prevalent in our communities--which cannot be satisfied with negations, and demands something positive to rest upon, however little it may be inclined reverently to accept the truth. Such forms may therefore be dismissed with a mere passing notice of their existence; and I proceed to those more subtle and dangerous ones, which nominally have admitted, and do admit, a Trinity in Unity; while yet they corrupt the truth, and therefore practically deny and reject it. On all accounts, these forms of error demand the closest scrutiny.

Now the experience of all time proves, that when men have professedly accepted the Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, and then endeavored, departing from that Primitive view which has just been stated, to set it forth after the forms of a corrupt tradition, or of a conceited and erroneous invention, their errors have run in one or the other of two [10/11] lines, and generally in each consecutively. They have either neglected and overlooked the mutual interdependence and connexion of the Persons, and have thus divided the one Godhead into three separate and self-existent Deities; or they have put to one side the distinction of the three Persons, and thus have confounded them into one Person, who manifests Himself according to the work in which He is engaged, under the names and attributes of Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. Thus on the one hand, the Substance is divided, and on the other the Persons are confounded. The one line is Tritheism, and the other is Sabellianism.

And here, not to extend our view further, and in accordance with the plan already suggested, let us call to mind, how completely these views are illustrated in the religious history of New England. The Doctrine of the Trinity could hardly on the whole be stated in more Catholic terms, than it was in the Boston Confession of 1680. Yet it stood there as an isolated and disconnected thing. It was divided from all its proper adjuncts, and above all it was never presented to, or impressed upon, the hearts of the people, by incorporating its profession--as a solemn and essential part--into the worship of Almighty GOD. There was therefore afforded every possible facility for its corruption, while the principle had been openly avowed, that discoveries in doctrinal truth ought to be looked for, and adopted. [By Mr. Robinson, to his Farewell Address at Leyden.] The issue was precisely what these things would lead us to anticipate. Step by step the ancient ground was deserted, and the first of the two lines of error, the Tritheistic line, was taken up; till many, a majority indeed, it is presumed, believed not in three Persons mutually united in one Godhead, but in three [11/12] independent, self-existent Gods. [A late number of the Independent newspaper, distinctly makes this same statement; and fixes upon Dr. Bellamy as the Coryphaeus of Tritheism.] Such a doctrine is, however, a monstrosity with which no well constituted mind can long content itself. Its very profession necessarily implies a revulsion from it. The revulsion came, and what was the result? Some flew to the denial of the Divinity of the Son and Holy Ghost; while others contented themselves with denying the distinct personality of each, and professing a Trinity which was no Trinity at all; consisting as it did of only one Person, who according as He manifested Himself, in the several offices of Creator, Redeemer, or Sanctifier, was called the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost.

Such, then, has been the fate of this Doctrine, externally to our own Communion, in New England; and such are the forms of direct error, that now all around us assail the truth, which thus seems--awful and overwhelming responsibility that it is!--to be handed over to our more especial guardianship. There are plain denials, and there are Tritheistic and Sabellian corruptions. The contests of the early ages are renewed, only under different forms; and it would seem, as has been before remarked, that the long battle of the second and third centuries, is once more to be gone through. Blessed be GOD, there are in the Church's glorious armory, spiritual weapons, that will suffice for all our needs!

But while the foundations of Christianity are thus directly attacked and undermined at our very sides, they are indirectly attacked in other quarters, with quite as great a danger of destructive issues. To these, then, let us turn our thoughts. It is now more than two centuries since the [12/13] world was astonished at being informed by a learned Jesuit, that the Ante-Nicene Church knew little or nothing of the Doctrine of the Trinity; that the early Christians assimilated, in their belief, much more nearly to the Arian Heresy than to the Nicene Creed; and that, indeed, a profession of faith in the Adorable Trinity, did not become essential, until it had been ordered by the first General Council. [Petavius published his work on Dogmatical Theology in 1644-50.] The same great Prelate whose words I have already quoted, detected the secret purpose of this miserable slander, and promptly exposed it. While others wondered whether or no the Jesuit divine were secretly an Arian, or with what possible end in view he wrote, Bishop Bull declared that his purpose was solely to elevate the Roman Church. Since if a General Council could impose such a new Article of Faith as this, a plain and direct way was opened for the reception of all the decrees of Trent; and since if the Primitive Fathers were ignorant or in error as to this important Doctrine, they could not be safe persons to whom to look, in that appeal to Primitive Antiquity which our Church glories in, and which Rome shrinks from and fears. [See Bp. Bull's Introduction to his Defensio Fid. Nic.] In our day, this same assertion has again been most unblushingly put forth, and has received the sanction of the same Church from which it originally proceeded; [Dr. Wordsworth proves this in his Letters to M. Gondon. ] while it has also been adopted, and is absurdly boasted of, by many who suppose themselves most ardent champions against the Papal claims. [All Progress-in-Religion advocates, for instance.]

I need hardly say that its flagrant falsehood has been proved. But I must call attention to the fact, how for the sake of advancing the interests and the claims of the Papacy, [13/14] the early Doctors of the Church are slandered; the Primitive Church itself degraded to the level of a miserable Heresy; and that very Doctrine which is the sum of all doctrines, sacrificed and brought to nought. Surely the issues of all this are no less fatal than those of direct denial, or direct corruption.

And still, as if this were not enough, another and a more high-handed attack is made upon the honor and the Faith of the ever-blessed Trinity, by the same unhappy Churchif Church she can be called, whose position is removed by such small distance from Apostacy. For let me ask you, Brethren, does it make a difference that is worth the minding, that nominally and in terms, indeed, the Doctrine of the Trinity is professed, while yet the Triune GOD is virtually dragged down from his throne of glory, and the Virgin Mother virtually exalted to it; and accounted the centre of worship, and the source of blessings to the universe of the redeemed? And yet this has been done. Since the day when the last of the Fathers denounced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as a foolish fancy and a fond conceit, things have steadily been verging thitherward; [St. Bernard, in his well-known letter.] and at this very moment, when the Roman Pontiff says his mass in St. Peter's, guarded by foreign troops and bristling arms, and when the city which proud men have dared to call eternal, stands mortgaged to a Jew, it is, beyond all doubt, determined to erect the stupendous blasphemy into an Article of Faith, and to impose the foul idolatry as the binding worship of the Roman Obedience. And is not this the most daring of all destructions of GOD'S blessed truth? And can [14/15] we be surprised if His insulted majesty shall vindicate its outraged honor in some fearful wise?

I believe there have been now presented those forms of error, direct and indirect, which in our day assail the foundations of the Gospel Faith. That one which spreads itself most nearly to us, is that direct one, which, confounding the Persons into one, denying that the second Person was "begotten of His Father before all worlds," and is "GOD of GOD, Light of Light," and "very GOD of very GOD"; and denying, too, that the Holy Ghost "proceedeth from the Father and the Son," admits no more than a nominal Trinity, and nullifies the Doctrine, even while it professes to accept it. It becomes the more dangerous, and the more prevalent too, because, as we have seen, it is the natural revulsion from another form of error, more glaringly unscriptural and more immediately repulsive. Revived, too, as a novelty, urged as the newest discovery of deep and earnest thought, set forth with shew of argument, and assumption of authority, it serves as a present pausing point for those who as yet are unprepared to adventure further; and makes them ready for the final step--to which, by an unchanging law, it leads--of open and utter denial. In this direction, then, it would seem that the more immediate efforts of the Church should be put forth, "to strengthen," even beyond her pale, "the things which remain, and are ready to die."

III. The third topic proposed for our consideration, was the mode in which the Church guards us from all these various forms of error, whether direct or indirect. It is obvious that the operations of these two classes of errors are precisely opposite to each other. For while the direct ones mar the true Doctrine by taking something from it, the [15/16] indirect practically attain to the same result by adding something to it. The one class do not leave it "whole"; the other do not leave it "undefiled"; and a failure in the one of these two conditions, is quite as fatal as a failure in the other. Our inquiries, then, at this point, must be, how does the Church preserve this Doctrine from subtractions which destroy, and additions which nullify? How does she keep it "whole and undefiled"?

She keeps it whole, by adhering to the settled doctrinal language of the Church, set forth in the Catholic Creeds, and rejecting new and individual terminology of every kind and form. The objection has been ever advanced against this doctrinal language, that it is not, in terms, found in Holy Scripture. This point was urged in the old times of the Arian controversy; it was urged again by the first Socinians of Europe; it was repeated by the early Unitarians of a neighboring state; and it may be now heard on every side around us. At first sight it may seem specious, but it will be found, upon examination, to amount to nothing. It was fully replied to at the time of its original promulgation, by that holy Bishop who was then the chief defender of Gospel truth, and we need do little more than to adopt his words. [St. Athanasius, in his Defence of the Nicene Definitions, c. v.; Library of the Fathers.] He points out the fact, that those who first used expressions not found in Scripture, were the errorists themselves, in setting forth their own unscriptural doctrines; that in this way, and to repel their attacks, the Church was fairly compelled to take a step which otherwise she would not have taken, that so she might meet these persons on their [16/17] own chosen ground, and in doing this, to use other words also not found in Scripture, in stating her own true Doctrine; and then he forcibly and pertinently puts the question, "Why, then, when they on their part have invented phrases not found in Scripture, for the purposes of irreligion, do they accuse those who are religious in their use of them P This presents us, my Brethren, with the plain history of the matter. The Church did not invent these words and terms, in a mere wanton exercise of her authority, and for the mere sake of imposing them upon her children. But when Doctrine was corrupted, and truth denied, and existing statements tortured, she was compelled, in self-defence, and in the due discharge of her office as a "Keeper and Witness" of Holy Writ, to set forth the truth in counter terms; which in one view indeed were new, though the ideas which they express, were demonstrably as old as her own existence.

These venerable terms, then, our Church adheres to. She adheres to them not in Confessions of Faith, rarely used and still more rarely appealed to; stored up and thrust away, in a dishonored and dusty oblivion; but she enshrines them as the very central points of all her solemn worship; points in which she sums a glorious succession of psalms and chants and lessons, and from which she advances through a wondrous round of broad, deep prayer and supplication. Thus she incorporates the truth of God, uttered in these venerable, consecrated forms, with the daily and continuous life of all her children; and it must be their fault, and theirs alone, if that truth does not live and bear its fruit within their souls. On the other hand, the course of those who, on whatever plea, reject this old dogmatic language of the Church, has been ably summed in this one impressive [17/18] sentence: "It began with an appeal from human creeds to the simple language of Inspiration; it ended with denying the Inspiration, and discarding the language." Thus we believe it will ever do, for it moves by an unfailing law; and "he who sees the flakes of snow gathering along the tide of the humblest Alpine brook, well knows, that though kingdoms lie between, they must descend until they reach the sea." [By the Bishop of Maine, in his "Pages from the Eccl. Hist. of N. England."]

But if we are thus guarded on the one hand, how is it on the other? What safeguards have we against such additions as shall defile the Faith, and nullify the truth, while in the letter they permit it to remain? These safeguards, I reply, are found in those primitive and wise positions which the Anglican Church assumes, in reference to the relations of Holy Scripture and General Councils, and the province and authority of the latter; positions which are maintained in her Articles, and expounded by her greatest Doctors. In the first place, she distinctly, and in terms, asserts the paramount authority of Holy Scripture; so that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word"; [Art. XX.] neither may anything which "is not read therein nor may be proved thereby," "be required of any man that it should be believed as an Article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." [Art. VI.] In the next place, she as plainly holds--I use the words of Archbishop Bramhall--that it is "not in the power of any Council or of all the Councils in the world, to make that truth fundamental which was not fundamental; or to make that proposition heretical in itself, which was not heretical ever from the days of the Apostles; or to increase the necessary articles [18/19] of the Christian Faith in number or in substance." [Just Vindication; Chap. ii.] And finally, while as matter of fact she holds that the first four Councils did not err, she still asserts that General Councils are not infallible; [Art. XXII. It is omitted indeed in the American Articles, but its Doctrine is no more given up, than the Doctrine of the Athanasian Creed is, by its omission. Reasonings grounded on omissions of this kind, in the face of the declaration of the Preface to the Prayer Book, are more than deceptive, and cannot be too strongly condemned.] holding--I use the words of Archbishop Laud--"that a General Council may err, and is therefore inferior to the Scripture, which may neither be doubted not disputed where it affirms"; [In his Controversy with Fisher the Jesuit, where the whole matter is discussed at length; sections 31, 32 and 33.] holding also, that the consent and approbation of the Universal Church alone, can give authority to Conciliar decisions. [See Palmer on the Church, Part iv., Chap. vii.] The office, therefore, of a General Council, is not to originate or to develope new truth; but simply to declare what has in all places, and by all believers, and in all time, been held as truth; and even this must be done under submission to the approval or correction of the Universal Church--universal not in present apace alone, but in past time also--and under submission, too, to the paramount authority of Holy Scripture. If all this will not save us from those indirect attacks upon the Faith, which nullifying and destructive additions make, then we may be bold to say, that nothing can, short of a standing miracle, and a direct intervention of Omnipotence.

Such, then, it would seem, are the great forms of error, by which, in our day, the Doctrine of the Trinity is assailed; and such are the sufficient safeguards by which the Church protects her children from them. The first feeling which arises at the contemplation, is, beyond all doubt, one of [19/20] devout thankfulness to GOD, who has placed us where we are, and guards us thus from imminent and fearful dangers. But lest this attribution of thanks to Him shall run into a proud feeling of complacency toward ourselves--a course which it is net unlikely to take if it be too much dwelt upon--let it be modified, and chastened, and restrained, by a deep and awful sense of the responsibility which our position of privilege and blessing entails upon us. We have not assumed it of ourselves; it is not our wisdom, our strength, our forethought, which has secured it for us, but it is the gift of GOD. It is not given us to wonder at, to boast of, or to rest in, but to employ. It brings no honor by which we are to magnify our persons, for it brings a load of duty with its honors, which entirely occupies the rightly balanced mind, and weighs down with its responsibility the tender conscience and the loving soul. The light that is entrusted to our guardianship must neither be hidden, nor lifted up to be gazed upon in pride or pleasure merely. It must be raised, to cheer the wanderer, to guide the doubting, and to recall the lost. It is no empty pageant, no ceremonial show, that we, my Brethren, in this land, have laid upon us. No. It is an awful, earnest, life-long service of guarding and extending GOD'S own truth; that truth which all around us is in danger, and to which, therefore, not only our profound belief; but our earnest action also, become due. I do not know that it is too much to say that, under GOD, the issues for this portion of our country are in our hands; that as we are faithful or remiss, so shall the great essential Christian verity here in New England, be saved or lost. Oh, then, let it never be said that because of our carelessness and lukewarmness, because we did not warn and testify to those without the pale of our Communion, because we did not open to them [20/21] sheltering walls and safe retreats, therefore the Christian's GOD ceased to be worshipped through the land; and the Revelation of the Trinity was given up, for what natural religion could teach men of the Creator of the visible Universe. Rather let us labor and strive unweariedly, and meekly, and in the quiet confidence of an undoubting faith; trusting that a day will come, when from every hill top and from every valley in New England, from town and hamlet, from proudest seats of learning, and lowliest homes of humbler knowledge, there shall ascend that Apostolic Hymn, which sums all praise, and includes all adoration:



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