REV. W. W. LORD, D.D.
VICKSBURG, MISS. June 1st, 1872.
REV. W. W. LORD, D.D.,--Dear Sir:
The undersigned have the honor, respectfully, to request, for publication, a copy of the lecture delivered by you in the Church of the Holy Trinity, on Sunday evening the 26th ult., upon the subject of "Ritualism in the Episcopal Church."
Your obedient servants,
H. H. MILLER,
E. S. BUTTS,
E. D. CLARK,
S. B. FAIRCHILD,
E. T. HENRY,
R. V. BOOTH.
Messrs. H. H. Miller, E. S. Butts, E. D. Clark and others:
DEAR SIRS--As members of the Protestant Episcopal Church, or as its supporters, I know each of you personally, and disclaiming for you as I do for myself, any allusion to particular persons or churches, I gladly consent to the publication of my lecture upon the "Limits of Ritualism." It is my conviction that the time has come when, in the failure of the General Convention to pass an act of uniformity in worship, particular churches and their individual members are called upon to choose between the "spoiled Mass" of the Ritualists and the ancient "Common Prayer" of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
Respectfully and truly yours,
W. W. LORD.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. 1 Chr. xvi. 29.
THE subject of my lecture is Ritualism--that is to say, the postures of the body, modes of the voice, and, in general, all outward expression of religious feeling by sounds and gestures interpreting the attitudes and emotions of the mind during the public performance of divine worship. The verbal form, always the most essential part of public worship, will not here be considered, nor, however intimate its relations with the ritual, could be discussed without trenching upon the field of doctrinal controversy.
The word Ritualism, in its present popular use, and as understood in the discussion of the subject by the members of our Church, does not refer so much even to the ritual itself as to certain novel or ancient--if novel, too novel--if ancient, too ancient--modes of rendering or interpreting, and representing to the eye and ear the spirit of our liturgy; thus seeking to heighten sometimes the doctrinal expression, sometimes the artistic affect of that ancient, and, in parts, very ancient formulary of devotion, the verbal integrity of which all parties to the controversy are as yet agreed to preserve.
A ritual is essential to public worship; which, however sincere and spiritual, must, from its very nature, have also its outward and ceremonial part, requiring the aid and attention of the senses.
 There is something real, I doubt not, expressed by the quaint phrase, "the worship of the body." A human being is not the soul only, but the soul and body. The best definition of man (embracing all difference of sex and age) is that theological one by the Westminster divines: "A proper human body and a reasonable soul." It cannot be overlooked also that the body is the outward and visible expression of the soul--visible, I say, just as the voice is the audible expression. There should then be a correspondence between the posture of the body and the supposed posture of the mind, in worship. This is illustrated even in our intercourse with each other. We accompany the verbal greeting to a friend with the bending of the head, or a gesture, or a grasp of the hand. In more intimate relations, the embrace of affection, and the kiss of human love, or of Christian peace, have an acknowledged significance, deeper even than the most expressive words, and, in addition, possess a certain reflective power, not only as re-acting upon the feeling that prompted them, but upon the mind itself and its sense of relation to others. Conceive, if you can, a mother who never kissed her child! And that bending of the head on meeting a friend--the familiar street bow, or the bow of meeting and parting, bestowed, in wood and desert and solitary road, even upon a stranger, is a recognition of the Divine in man. In the imaginative language of Novalis, "When we bow to a man, we bend the head before a revelation of God in the flesh." If we thus testify respect for our fellow creatures, if we bow the head when we meet them, if we rise when a stranger or one whom we respect enters the room where we are sitting, how can we look on and make no sign during the service which represents the entrance of God into His Holy Temple--the coming of God to man and of Christ into the world for our salvation? What sense can they have of the reality of such [6/7] things, who sit, as at a dramatic spectacle, in the presence of those services and of that altar, "only less tremendous," says Chrysostom, "than the altar of a man's own soul when he stands before it devoutly sending up prayers and alms to God?"
If we concede the propriety of conforming the body, in its movements and postures, to the condition of the mind, when engaged in the high services of a public and authoritative worship, with a manner not less marked than the respect we show to men, and to a degree certainly not less than the very instinct of religion claims from us in our private devotions, it becomes a question as to how far the sentiment of reverence, and the proprieties of public prayer and praise and religious rites, with their necessary Ritual, should carry us beyond the requisitions of a self-respecting, God-revering manner and habit in the closet, or at the household altar, in order to constitute that "decent observance" which is not only required by our liturgy, but belongs to the every idea of a liturgy, or public and solemn and formal service; for, however little formal in one sense of the word--however full of life, spirit, feeling, and power the form, it is still a formal, as distinguishes from an informal and familiar manner of approaching the Deity. But the necessity of forms in worship, is not liberty, or rather license of forms; nor does it open the repertory of antiquity to the weak, fantastic, and vain. To put on the exuviae of the Sixteenth Century, to go back and pick up the cast-off finery of another age--dead men's clothes that once seemed pretty--is the meanest kind of relic-worship that we know.
When the Church used the words 'decent observance,' she used the word 'decent' in the same sense as when she requires the minister to be 'decently habited,' that is, in the true old English and the original Latin sense of [7/8] 'becoming' or indeed 'beautiful.' But how to secure that desired end, and not go beyond it into the region of scenic display, pharasaic ostentation, and religious vanity? The means to my mind are simple, and the customs of our Church for three centuries make her rule obvious to every mind that is not diseased with sickly fancies, or has not caught the infection of imitative superstition and mingled the manners of the Mass with the grand and simple ceremonies of our reformed, but not less truly catholic worship. The rule is this: In interpreting the directions of the liturgy and offices, let us not go beyond their literal language; and in the usages, and there are some, which are not embodied in the rubrics, let us recognize only those that survived the Reformation an transplanting into our American church by the hands of its founders. Whatever forms survived those two processes of reformation, discrimination, selection and rejection, we may be sure will survive. They have proved their vitality. They have lived through two great revolutions, and they will live on. Such, for instance, are the standing and kneeling postures in prayer and praise and the sacraments--such the sign of the Cross in baptism--such the bowing of the head at the name of Jesus in the creed--such the use of sacerdotal vestments. And if still the exactions of change, which are called, and possibly may in some things be progress should demand additions or modifications, there is one simple rule that will save us from all error and ridicule. It is to consider whether the new feature of worship grows out of any new-discovered propriety in the mode of expressing the relations which exist between man and God, or the Church and Christ, the saint and his Saviour, the sinner and his Redeemer? In other words, whether it is meant for the eyes and ears of men, or the eye and ear of God? We shall then be in no danger of affectation, ostentation, or imitation--no [8/9] danger of going beyond our real feelings and belief in the assumed expression of them--no danger of viola ting good taste and outraging common sense and natural feeling. However desirous that the accessories of worship shall be worthy of its object, we shall know how to stop short of dramatic show and theatrical manipulations, or military drill and processional spectacle, introduced into so grand a subject--a thing so affecting and solemn--a ceremony so august and awful as the public homage paid, the religious service rendered, the transcendent praise, and the humble, trembling, simple, and majestic prayer addressed to Almighty God. It would be well could men always remember that the object of public worship is not men, but God. It is certain that He approved of that high service of the Jewish temple, of whose ritual some part or feature has in all Christian countries been grafted into Christianity, and has richly flowered (I say nothing of fruit) upon that somewhat rude but grand and simple stock of the Synagogue Service, that with us three great branches, Reading, Singing, and Prayer, came to us from the primitive Christians. He approved, I say, in that remote and semi-barbarous age, of that temple and its service; but it was not for its pomp of gold and clouds of incense; it was not for the robed and mitred priests chanting the Tehilim, so that the cherubim themselves knew not whether the strains went up from earth or came down from heaven; it was not for heads bent low and suppliant hands stretched forth in morning or evening sacrifice; but because "His name was there," and "His honor dwelt there," and His holiness made it beautiful, and the hands that were outstretched reached forth, as it were, the heart to Him, and to Him the incense went up like a cloud of praise; and because the songs that still mounted above the incense were for His ear, and because the gold that made the temple [9/10] like the shining streets of heaven was but a faint and feeble image of His glory. If instead of that majestic prayer of Solomon, which breathes nothing hut the purest devotion, suggests nothing but the greatness of God and the wants and weakness of man, he had so discoursed to God, or to the people, as we hear and see church structures and services discoursed of to-day--if he had said how effective will be this temple and these ceremonies in attracting the people in crowds to the place where the treasury of the temple ever-open to receive their contributions! or how will all this magnificence draw hither the strangers that are in Jerusalem, and make even Hiram of Tyre see that the old Sidonian religion old catholic worship of Baal and the Queen of Heaven is not excelled by our somewhat reformed ritual, still very rich in the forms of the old idolatry, and on the whole, very striking and effective form of worship--think you that when Solomon had made an end, the fire would have come down from heaven and consumed the offering and the sacrifice? Think you the glory of the Lord would have filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not enter it by reason of the glory, but with the people bowed themselves upon the pavement with their faces to the ground and worshipped and praised the Lord saying, "For he is good (for he is God), for his mercy endureth forever!" Let us pray God that when near this place, we shall enter a new and beautiful temple erected to the same God and dedicated to the Holy Trinity, we may bring with us the spirit of Solomon when he dedicated the great temple to the God of Israel, who was no less God in the Tabernacle, within whose humble curtains he had till then been worshipped and may we not enter it with that later and perverted spirit which, in the same Solomon, having become perhaps sunk and dwarfed before the pomp and splendor of his own creation, went [10/11] out after that older and more gorgeous religion, with its vaster temples, and more numerous and more kingly priesthood--went back (as we would now say) to the ancient ceremonies, still flourishing in the ancient realm, the old Nile-Land, out of which his ancestors came--a spirit that bowed the silvered head t the wisest man on earth before the mummied relics, and the stone images, and the musical statues, and the vermilion pictures, and those old gray moss-grown divinities--the gods of Egypt.
To return for a brief and last time to the postures of worship. A posture need not necessarily be imposture, in order to be useless and even injurious to the dignity of religion. The tendency of too frequent a repetition of a beautiful and significant action is to destroy its impressiveness and obscure its meaning. Bowing the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed, where it becomes an assent to the doctrine of his Divinity, is striking and solemn. Bowing the head every time His name is mentioned--becomes a formality to which no degree of possible devotion and concentration of the mind upon the service can give spiritual life and meaning. Bows that become nods--kneelings that become genuflexions, and so numerous as to fritter away the very sentiment that prompted them--must in the end break down all grandeur, belittle all magnificence, and dissipate all true solemnity. The ancient church rose when she praised God in song--stood or knelt, by what seems a variable custom, when she prayed. Both attitudes express reverence. When reverence was combined with penitence, as upon days of fasting and humiliation, she knelt. On feast-days she assumed the position which she still enjoins upon her minister in the consecrating prayer at the altar. Doing as she to-day and for more than three hundred years has done, "ye will do well." Only let the soul stand, and bend, and kneel with the body, and, [11/12] oh! in whatever posture, may we feel with him who longed
At Jesus' feet to lay it down,
To lay his soul at Jesus' feet.
One word upon the musical feature of our Service, and I have done. In general terms, High Mass is sung, and the Common Prayer is said. Some things are said in the Mass and some parts of our Service are sung. But that is in this respect the general distinction: Common Prayer is said--the Mass is sung. The reason why the Mass is sung is to be found perhaps not so much in its being in a dead tongue, or in anything peculiar to the Roman Catholic religion, of which it is the great central rite and act, as in the genius of the people of Southern Europe, to whom it owes its characteristic musical expression.
Admitting that the highest devotion may be ex pressed in music, some regard doubtless was had by the Church of England to the fact that the English-speaking race is not, like the Italian, a race of singers and musicians;--and some sense of this fact must be allowed to have its weight in estimating the amount of musical performance that should enter into our Service. Some parts of that S may be said or sung. The Creed is to be said. The Litany is called "A supplication to be used after the Morning Service," and is of course a prayer. The Psalter may be said or sung.
Had the Church never indicated that parts of the Service were to be said or sung, it might be an open question as to whether a minister and congregation have a right to violate her general custom, in order to give what they think a higher devotional feeling, or a more artistic expression to her worship. But to any fair mind it is clear that her permission to sing parts of the Service is and was meant to be a prohibition against singing [12/13] any and every other part of it. I can only say for my own part that the Common Prayer does not seem to me any longer to be common prayer when it is taken entirely out of the months of the congregation, and performed and executed by the Chancel and the Choir.
I, who say this, can hear the Mass with devotion, separating its truth and reality from its errors and delusions, and on the other hand am profoundly touched by the simple and deeply spiritual melodies of the Reformed churches, and of that tender-hearted daughter of our own church, born long since the Reformation; and I know that, though nature denied in me the faculty of music, she has not denied me the sense of its beauty and power as a means of devotion. But I know also that there are things in religion that are too high and too deep for it. We cannot conceive that Moses, for instance, sang the commandments to the people. We almost shrink from the suggestion that our Lord sang the first Communion Service to his disciples. After the Service we are told they sang a hymn and went out. Can you suppose Him to have sung the prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven?" There are some chords in our nature that vibrate inaudibly--there are some things that make music in our hearts--such music that all attempt at outward, expression becomes a discord in that divine and secret harmony, which represents its deepest communion with itself, its highest converse with its Maker.
Of another feature of advanced Ritualism, its processions and recessions, its pomp of banners, and cross-bearers, and all that which constitutes spectacular, as distinguished from spiritual worship, I will only say that it is the most wonderful part of the Mediaeval Revival. While in the more enlightened Roman Catholic countries, as France and Italy, such appeals to the senses are left to the Hippodrome and the Theatre, while the more enlightened may in [13/14] fact be distinguished from the more barbarous Christian countries everywhere, by this very distinction--while in Paris, in Vienna, and in Rome, such spectacles are disused, or comparatively unfrequent, and in Mexico and South America almost no religious service can be had without them--truly astonishing, to me, it is to see in some Protestant countries banners and crosses carried in procession, and all the features of a spectacular worship borne in a sort of triumph over the common custom and the common sense of the Protestant Episcopal Church and an enlightened community. One argument I have heard in its favor, that, through some sympathies of my own, touches me nearly--it pleases children! Well; does it benefit children? That is the main consideration. Is it well to blend the pure and humble religion of Jesus with the feeling of emulation and pride, and love of scenic display that necessarily accompany all such exhibitions, whether in church or in Sunday-school? Before God and the Church, with its eighteen centuries, to not one century of Sunday-school existence, I think not. Children, educated in religious frivolity, must make frivolous Christians.
And here I may remark that consistently; and for a similar reason, Ritualism is both the effect and cause of ignorance in the clergy. It takes but a few months or even weeks to make an accomplished ritualist: it takes years to make a good divine. Postures, processions, inflexion and genuflexion, do not require for their performance either learning or mental abilities. Where the leading idea of Christian association is Ceremonial and not Instruction, we need not wonder if we occasionally find the Mass-priest of the middle ages with the name and orders of a Protestant Episcopal divine. Oxford may have associated the appearance of learning with the Ritualistic movement. But in this country, since the General Convention threw down the barrier against pulpit [14/15] ignorance, and permitted Bishops and Standing Committees to dispense, when it should seem to them expedient, with the canonical requirements in regard to learning in the clergy, it is certain that there has been a great increase in the number of those who, if I may quote myself upon another occasion, "seeking to be Catholics without ceasing to be Protestants, present to the world the remarkable anomaly of Protestants without the Bible and Catholics without the Mass;" the Bible, of course I mean to say, as the foundation of the Christian religion, and in the sense of Chillingworth when he said, "the Bible is the Religion of Protestants;" and the Mass as the great central fact of Catholicism--a true propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead.
Catholic Rome is a great Power, and exercises an influence far beyond her own ecclesiastical boundaries, and even upon those who do not suspect it. The Gospel in its purity is greater, and will yet prevail in Rome, as in all Christendom, over the base elements, which, to a greater or less degree are everywhere found associated with it. And looking at the manifest tendencies to the practical reformation of religion in the great Catholic States of Europe--tendencies which exist in spite (or perhaps as the cause) of recent high dogmatic decisions--I shall be understood when I say, better that our church had never left Rome than that she should go back to Rome through the influence of that degrading sentiment which addresses to God the pomps and vanities, the tasteless decorations and ostentations of idolatrous religions, or a semi-idolatrous Christianity better that we had retained the Mass than that we should be drawn back to it--not by the doctrine of the Mass, but by its accidents, by postures, and music, and colors, and incense, and lights, like the moth to the flame, like the foolish bird to the magnetic eye and fascinating involutions of the serpent.