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History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part Second. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

Chapter IX. The Catholic Renaissance

Emergence of Church Idea; trial of Bishops; agencies at work; increasing activity; change of manners; corporate religion; the "Oxford Movement"; the "Tractactarians"; the Via Media; Newman's purpose; the Via Media in America; American Churchmen; Anglo-Catholics; a time of strife; perverts and converts; good and evil of the Movement.

Between 1835 and the War of the Rebellion, the Church adjusted its manner of life to its changed conception of its constitution. When it had determined to send missionary bishops to the unappropriated West, it abandoned the attitude of a federation waiting for new units to propose themselves for membership. For the future it intended to act as a National Church. When it divided one of the old integers, and made a second diocese in New York, the old conception of State churches became no longer possible.

"The change was fundamental. The analogy between 'States' and 'dioceses' was thereby broken down. Not only did the idea of diocesan sovereignty thus receive a serious shock, but in proportion to the weakening of the dioceses by subdivision was the power of the General Church increased." [Dr. Francis Wharton, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 401.] The change was made, so far as can be seen, without a dissenting voice. It only recorded a change which had already occurred in people's way of thinking. The Church was becoming less an abstraction and more an entity. From many directions influences were converging to bring out this idea into distinct consciousness. The nation was becoming consolidated, and the Church centralized. One of the capital powers originally reserved to the States was assumed by the General Church, without challenge, when it provided for the trial and deposition of a diocesan bishop. [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 278.] Possibly the grotesque result of a diocesan trial, just had, may have influenced this change. The Bishop of Kentucky had been presented under an accusation of falsehood. There were three charges against him, of one hundred and ninety-eight specifications. [The Churchman, vol. vii. No. 38.] The astounding verdict of the court chosen by the diocese had been: "Guilty; but without the least criminality!" ["Sentence of the Court in the case of the Diocese of Kentucky vs. the Right Rev. B. B. Smith."] Under the changed law the Bishop of Pennsylvania was tried and suspended for drunkenness. His brother, the Bishop of New York, was tried and suspended for lasciviousness. The Bishop of New Jersey was three times presented, and twice brought before a court, but without trial, upon charges affecting his integrity. All these trials, which at the time occupied the general attention, served to fix the popular mind upon the General Church, which was the party prosecuting. It came to be looked to as the sole source of authority in matters of discipline. It was but a step to thinking likewise of its authority in doctrine and life. The religion of Church people was unconsciously taking a deeper ecclesiastical tinge. The Church was becoming more sharply differentiated, not only from the world, but from the current forms of American Christianity. Prayer Book societies were actively sustained in Pennsylvania and New York. Their purpose was not solely to teach men how to pray. A second purpose, which soon stepped up beside the primary one, was to propagate the Church. Tract societies which had this for their avowed object began to be popular. [The Churchman: vol. v. p. 835.] "Nova Anglicana" wrote long articles against the Puritans. Dr. Muhlenberg's broad, catholic spirit began to make itself felt upon his pupils. The elder Bishop Doane and Dr. Croswell struck the same note in their hymns and sonnets that Keble did in his "Christian Year." [Rev. Julius H. Ward, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 615.] Professor Doane of Trinity College was the first to welcome Keble in America. He had anticipated his motive. Dr. Coxe soon carried the theme to its highest note and sweetest harmony, in his "Christian Ballads." Professor Whittingham at the General Seminary marshalled the facts of Church history to the same end. Bishop Hopkins, the keenest of controversialists, wrote the "Primitive Creed" and the "Primitive Church." Dr. Francis L. Hawks gathered up the Church record of colonial times. Bishop Onderdonk carried on a pamphlet war with Presbyterians about the divine right of episcopacy. [The Churchman, vol. v. p. 816.] Books of sacramental devotion began to come in. Bishop Griswold's and Bishop Meade's Family Prayers continued to sell, but Bishop Hobart's "Companion for the Altar" outsold them both. [Ib., vol. v., advertisements, passim.] The great Temperance enthusiasm which was agitating the world, preaching total abstinence as a duty and denouncing the use of fermented wine at the Holy Communion, called public attention to the Church's different way of dealing with this and kindred subjects. [The Churchman, vol. ii. p. 906.] A new collection of Hymns, chiefly the selection [Ayres: Life of Dr. Muhlenberg, p. 84.] of Dr. Muhlenberg and Bishop Onderdonk, had now been long enough in use to infuse a more distinctive churchly sentiment among the people. Church schools were springing up on every hand. Dr. Muhlenberg was fixing the type of them at Flushing Institute. Bristol College advertised that it was so full that no more students could be accommodated. [The Churchman, vol. v. p. 835.]

Parish machinery for Church work was set up everywhere,--female sewing societies, missionary societies, aid societies, benevolent societies,--until an English Church paper ridicules the movement by declaring that a church in Boston had started a "Ladies' Anti-young-man-standing-at-the-church-door Society." [Ib., vol. v. p. 858.] The Bishop of New York issued a plea for free churches in the interest of church extension, and his plea was opposed from Philadelphia on the ground that not propagation but edification was the pressing need. [Ib., vol. vi. pp. 1070, 1174.] The attention of the whole Church was kept fixed by the General Missionary Society upon the needs of the West. It cries out with shame that while the town of St. Louis is ready and anxious to have a minister, there is not one in the whole State of Missouri; [Ib., vol. v. p.898.] that there is but one in the State of Mississippi. It announces with enthusiasm that a strong parish has been organized in Mobile and another hopeful one in Memphis; and that the Rev. Mr. Salmon has just started from Western New York, with a little company of fifteen families, to found a Church colony in Texas. [The Churchman vol. vi. p. 1046.]

Four-legged Communion tables were going out, and solid oaken ones were coming in. In a few churches stone altars began to appear. The black academic gown began to give place to the white priestly robe as the dress of the officiating minister. The surplice, which had been split down the front a century before, so that it might be put on without deranging the befloured wigs, was now sewed up again, and on its breast began to show some churchly emblem. Memorials began to come up to have its use made obligatory. [Johns: Life of Bishop Meade, p. 240.] Bishop Hobart criticises the Virginians for their neglect of ornaments, and Bishop Meade defends them. He urges that de minimis non curat lex; that Bishop Hobart himself sometimes dispensed not only with his robes but with his gown as well; that he had the high example of the Archbishop of Canterbury for ordaining deacons in their everyday dress; and that Bishop Moore had never worn any uniform, save when performing distinctively episcopal acts. [Ib., pp. 240, 241.] Both the criticism and the defence show the drift.

The emergence of the idea of corporate religion as distinguished from individual salvation directed attention both to the ministry and to the machinery of the Church. Nor was this drift toward corporate action in religion confined to the Episcopal Church. It was moving in the Christian world. The Methodists were gathering their scattered forces into an ecclesiastical empire, [Stevens: History of Methodism, pp. 520, 582.] and lamenting the decadence of the personal enthusiasm which had marked the men of the previous generation. In 1832 a General Synod had taken up into itself the particular synods of the Reformed Church. [Manual of the Reformed Church in America, third edition, p. 73.] Ten years earlier the Reformed Presbyterians had organized their Presbyteries into a General Synod. [Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia, p. 1908.] The question of constitutional right, which in 1837 split it asunder, was agitating the Presbyterian General Assembly. [Schaff-Herzog, p. 1908.] The last step in the centralization of the Roman Church was coming within the range of practical politics, in the dogma of Papal Infallibility. The old churches of Sir Christopher Wren were being replaced by a higher ecclesiastical architecture. The current of religious feeling was setting steadily away from the sharp individualism of Edwards and Whitefield and Wesley and the Great Awakening, and the Evangelicals, toward the thought of solidarity among those who are being saved.

The set was already evident, when the " Oxford Movement" came. It changed the current into a flood. Its effect upon Church life has been so enormous that it should be traced from its origin.

In 1825 the Church of England was dominated by a devout but meagre Calvinism. Its political life was tossed and threatened by the wave of liberalism which had broken over France a generation earlier. Many sagacious men feared that forces were moving in society which were hostile to religion itself. They believed that the current mode of presenting Christianity could not prevail against them. They believed the Church to be in special danger. They had no confidence in its recognized champions. All sorts of Church "Reforms" were afloat. One proposed the abolition of church rates. Another offered to expel the bishops from Parliament. Another proposed entire separation of Church and State. Another offered to unite all sects with the Church by act of Parliament, and give them the use of church buildings conjointly. [Stephens: Life of Dean Hook, p. 106, et seq.] A Roman Catholic Relief Bill and a Reform Bill were pending. In 1833 ten Irish bishoprics were suppressed. The same year a little group of men met in the Common Room of Oriel College, Oxford, to form an "Association for vindicating the Rights of the Church and restoring the Knowledge of Sound Principles." [Ib., p. 107.]

The company were bound together only by the bond of a common purpose. That was declared in the title of the association. To reach their end each man was free to walk in his own road. Some gave their adhesion to the association after it was founded; some never formally joined it at all. Their names have become known the world over:--Froude, Keble, Palmer, Rose, Pusey, and, greatest of all, Newman. Their object was to restore the Church's true doctrine. They held that, at present at least, emphasis was laid upon doubtful or untenable dogmas, while the abiding truths, the truths which belonged to the Church pre-eminently, had been allowed to fall into obscurity. These last were the ones, they maintained, about which must be fought the battle against infidelity. They set about to restate them, in a series of "Tracts for the Times." What the doctrines were may be seen from the titles of the Tracts. They were such as these: Thoughts on the Ministerial Commission; The Catholic Church; Archbishop Ussher on Prayers for the Dead; On Baptismal Regeneration; On Apostolical Succession; On the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist; On Purgatory; On Reserve in communicating Religious Knowledge; On Fasting; On Holy Baptism. [Tracts for the Times: 6 vols., Rivingtons, 1834.]

The Tracts were for the most part from Newman's pen. [Stephens: Life of Dean Hook, p. 111.] When they first began to appear, they were hailed with welcome by the men who, throughout the kingdom, were dissatisfied with the existent life. But they presently became disturbing. The fear arose that if the English Church should be rehabilitated by these men, her children would not be able to recognize her in her new dress. This apprehension became a certainty when Newman put out Tract No. XC. In it he sustained the thesis that the teachings of the Thirty-nine Articles, "though the offspring of an uncatholic age, are, to say the least, not uncatholic, and may be subscribed to by those who aim at being catholic in heart and doctrine." [Introduction to Tract No. XC.] What he meant by "catholic" became evident from the text. It meant something which plain men could not distinguish from Romish. This had been steadfastly denied by the Tractarians. They had maintained that there was a Via Media, a middle path, between Rome and Protestantism,--that this middle term was Catholicity. But to the Tractarians this middle ground could not be satisfactory. They sought a position for the Church from which it could beat back the forces of liberalism. They found that Liberalism and Protestantism were the same in essence. The heart of each was private judgment as against authority. Newman came to see this before his fellows did. His quarrel was not with the current doctrine or practice of the Church, but with what he conceived to be a fatal tendency in society itself. "My battle was with Liberalism. By Liberalism I mean the anti-dogmatic spirit and its development. It is scarcely now a party; it is the educated lay world. It is nothing else than that deep, plausible skepticism which is the development of human reason as practically exercised by the natural man." [Apologia: New York, Catholic Publishing House, p. 285.]

His was a profound distrust of the spirit of the age. Against the incoming of this spirit he could see no barrier which he thought to be sufficient. He appealed therefore from the world to the Church, and from the Church of the present to the Church of the past. Under his leadership a company of choice spirits set out upon a voyage of discovery through the centuries in search of a church which would be true enough to teach men, and strong enough to govern them. A deep interest had lately been awakened in the middle ages by the romances of Sir Walter Scott. [Fisher: History of Christian Church, p. 630.] The wizard had cast a glamour over the pre-Reformation Church. With a profound disbelief in present inspiration, the Tractarians adventured hopefully to find a pure and perfect church at some point in the past.

It is a common belief that a wish to reform glaring abuses then existent in the Church was a cooperative motive. There is little evidence of the existence of such abuses, and none of any attempt to reform them. It was not a beautiful age, but the Church in England and America seems to have been discharging her practical duties relatively as well as in any age. [Mozley: Reminniscences, ch. li. Newman's account of his own religious life, Apologia: p. 66, "... Thomas Scott, to whom, humanly speaking, I owe my soul." Froude: Short Studies, Scribners, 1883, p. 156. Dean Hook: Life, pp. 99, 103. 2 Beardsley: History of the Church in Connecticut, vol. ii. p. 244.] The leaders of the "Oxford Movement" did not burden themselves with reform of evil manners. They had a different aim. Men could only be safe in thought and conduct when led by a visible Divine Authority. No trustworthy authority was extant; they would find one in a restored and reconstructed Church. They gathered the materials for such a church painfully from various places and dates, and put them together in an ideal which they called a Via Media between liberalism and papalism, between Protestantism and Romanism as they then were. This ideal was abandoned with scorn by its constructors, who went away by opposite roads, Newman and his friends to Rome, Froude and his friends to infidelity, Hook and his friends to the work they had been doing before the movement began.

Before his departure Newman made a present of his Via Media: "Whether the ideas of the coming age upon religion be true or false, they will be real. In the present day mistiness is the mother of wisdom. A man who can set down half a dozen general propositions, which escape from destroying one another only by being diluted into truisms; who can hold the balance between opposite sides so skillfully as to do without fulcrum or beam; who never enunciates a truth without guarding himself against being supposed to exclude its contradictory; who holds that Scripture is the only authority, yet that the Church is to be deferred to; that faith only justifies, yet that it does not justify without works; that grace does not depend on the sacraments, yet is not given without them; that bishops are a divine ordinance, yet those who have them not are in the same religious condition as those who have;--this state of things cannot go on if men are to read and think. They cannot go on forever standing on one leg, or sitting without a chair, or walking with their feet tied, or grazing like Tityrus' stags in the air. They will take one view or other, but it will be a consistent view." [Apologia, p. 144.]

Those who fell heir to this contemptuous gift brought it to America. Upon its arrival here it found, in rough, three classes of Churchmen, at whose hands it received a various reception. [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 192­4.]

There were, first, the Evangelicals, who had drawn their inspiration from the same pietistic revival which had originally revolted the Tractarians. These turned away from it with anger and contempt. To their minds the very principle of authority was abhorrent, and of all authorities, ecclesiastical was the worst.

There were, second, the Laudian, nonjuring, Seabury type, who gave it a guarded and cautious welcome. Its seeming reverence for antiquity appeared to them to be a desirable re-enforcement to their spirit of conservatism. But this class was small in numbers and in influence. The men who had once belonged to it had been succeeded by men of Hobart's school. Their vigorous Americanism, and their absorption in practical work, prevented the mass of high Churchmen from becoming either doctrinaires or ritualists.

In the third place were the distinctly American Churchmen. The principle of Authority, in the Oxford sense, was not grateful to them; but they were accustomed to a legally regulated liberty. This class embraced a large proportion of the clergy and most of the laity. They had been accustomed to think and speak of themselves as Protestants. They possessed to a marked degree that broad, practical, clear-sighted wisdom which had belonged to the first generation of English reformers. They differed widely from their contemporary English Churchmen. There was hardly any class there to which they corresponded. They had not been reared upon Evangelicalism; but no more were they Anglo-Catholics. They called themselves Episcopalians. It was rather the Church's present life than its past history which attracted and held them. Antiquity did not, to their minds, carry obligation with it. They compared the Church with the other forms which Christianity presented here in America, and it commended itself to their judgments and consciences. They neither hailed nor feared the Oxford Movement for themselves, but they were often disturbed by the phenomena which it produced in the Church which they loved. Chiefly they feared that if it prevailed it would set the Church in hopeless antagonism to their Protestant neighbors. For, while they did not declaim against the Pope, and thought it ill-bred to call Rome the scarlet whore, they did not shut their eyes to the fact that they were more akin to Protestantism than they were to her.

But from all of these groups the movement drew recruits. It drew as with a magnet a certain type of men. They who loved symmetry of doctrine so much that they could hold to a system in spite of the contradictory facts of human life; they who distrusted themselves and shrank from the labor of ordering their own religious conduct; they whose imagination was kindled by the thought of a visible, holy, dominant, spiritual mistress,--these were attracted by that method of living whose rationale had been stated in Dean Hook's sermon before the Queen, "Hear the Church." [Stephens: Life of Dean Hook, p. 251.] This principle being accepted, an importance and a value were attributed to the rules, rituals, ordinances, and offices of the Church, which these did not have before. They became obligatory, not only or chiefly because they were intrinsically fit or excellent, but because they were of authority. Possessing such wisdom and power, the "Church" should, through her ordinances and officials, touch each soul at every point and moment of its earthly history.

That no objective fact does now, or ever has, corresponded to this ideal of the "Church," did not disturb those who were under the domination of the idea. They chose from one century of the past one feature, and another from another, and combined them into their simulacrum. They were not in love, after all, with any outward mistress, but with an inward habit of prostration. Nor did the fact that Newman had declared the position indefensible, and abandoned it, disturb them. They were not logicians. They had not been drawn to their position by argument, nor would they be driven from it by a syllogism. Their instinct was wiser than their acts. The vitality of the movement lay in the fact that it was an honestly meant attempt to bring the Church of England out of its isolation, and into harmony with the Christian life of the ages. But they who joined in it became so engrossed with the task of re-establishing connection with the past that they fell out of sympathy with the Christian life of the present. They adopted an offensive cant. Terms so old that they had become new and strange found the place of honor in their vocabulary. The very term "catholic" upon their lips misled. Their whole speech was strange. Their peculiar distribution of emphasis among doctrines; their manner of conducting services; the way in which they set forth the Church's attitude to the Christian world, all these raised a storm of strife which lasted half a century. Bishops charged against them; [Beardsley: History of Church in Connecticut, vol. ii. p. 329. Johns: Life of Bishop Meade, p. 258. Green: Life of Bishop Otey, p. 66.] and bishops came to their rescue. [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 269.] Bishop McIlvaine controverted the new views in his "Oxford Theology." Dr. Sparrow dissected them in his classroom at the Virginia Seminary. Dr. John S. Stone, in his "Christian Sacraments," said the final word for the Evangelical side. The Evangelical Knowledge Society was founded as a counteracting propaganda.

On the other side Dr. Hugh Davey Evans spoke the most potent words in "The True Catholic." Dr. Kip sent forth the " Double Witness of the Church." Dr. Wainwright defended the position that "There cannot be a Church without a Bishop." [Julius H. Ward, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 619.]

In all this the good providence, which had been working fifty years to cement the loose federation into a cornpaot whole, became evident. A generation earlier, the same strain would have rent the Church in pieces. Had the State autonomy, which once existed, still survived, the bond of union would have snapped. In 1844, the matter was brought formally before the General Convention. [Gen. Con. Journal, 1844.] The Church was asked to speak her mind upon "the serious errors in doctrine which have within a few years been introduced and extensively promulgated by means of tracts, the press, and the pulpit." After days of debate, with resolutions, amendments, amendments to amendments, substitutes and divisions, the Convention dismissed the subject with the declaration, in effect, that the Church's formularies show her doctrine clearly enough for any one to comprehend who wants to comprehend; and that "the Church is not responsible for the errors of individuals, whether they be members of this Church or not." [Ib.]

Whether the things in dispute were really "errors" in doctrine remained undecided. It remains undecided yet. But it seemed clear to most that their introduction imported grave danger to the Church. It was feared that they would make of her a training school for Rome. For some years, that seemed likely. For two centuries the Roman Church had been a feeble and insignificant factor in American life. With the decadence of Lord Baltimore's colony in the seventeenth century, it had well-nigh gone out. But its hierarchy had now been established for more than sixty years. During these years it had grown so slowly that it had attracted little attention. But when the tide of Irish immigration set in in 1848, Romanism began to flourish. Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism came in together. Many feared that there was a relationship between them. It began to seem so. [Brand: Life of Bishop Whittingham, vol. ii. p. 353, et seq.] In England, as a direct consequence of the revived ecclesiasticism, such great names as Newman, Manning, Oakley, Faber, Wilberforce, Palmer, and Ward passed from the Church's rolls to the lists of Rome. In America, Bishop Ives of North Carolina, and a group of men of lesser station but greater character, followed in the same path. But the general apostacy for which many looked did not occur. The facts seemed to point to a different outcome, as the event has shown. The sum total of the losses to the Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain up to 1888, including clergy and laity, men and women, falls below two thousand. That is to say, an average of thirty-five persons per year have left the Church of England for Rome during the last sixty years. One large parish church would hold them all, living and dead. The loss from the American Church has been much less, both absolutely and in proportion. Nor is it speaking beyond bounds to say that for every one thus lost, five have come from Rome to the Church. The defection was greatest at its beginning, both in numbers and still more in quality. Since then it has steadily fallen off. [Quarterly Review, No. 331, p. 31, et seq. Cf. Our Losses, a letter to the Rev. J. A. Canon Wenham, by Rev. G. Bampfield. Annals of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Scotland: by W. Maziere Brady. Converts to Rome: W. Gordon Gorman. The Present State of the Church in England : by Lord Bray. The Catholic Directory: London, 1888.]

How much of the revived ecclesiasticism which marks the century is to be referred to the Oxford Movement, and how much to the influences at work antecedently and outside of it, cannot be known. Nor can the goal to which it tends be clearly seen as yet. The process had not run its course within the period of this book. It has not done so yet. But it affected the Protestant Episcopal Church profoundly, both for good and ill. On the one hand, it recalled men from the selfish pursuit of salvation as isolated individuals, and warned them that even in religion "no man liveth unto himself alone." It brought into clear view the obscured truth of the community of the saints, semper, ubique, et ab omnibus. It imported a new reverence into divine worship and uncovered the meaning of Christ's Sacraments.

On the other hand, it segregated the Church Catholic too sharply from the common moral life of humanity. It placed the Episcopal Church in a false attitude towards its contemporaries. It produced a timid, ecclesiastical temper. It tempted men to say, "Master, we saw one casting out devils, and we forbade him because he followeth not with us." A century earlier, in Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Swedish clergy entered the Church without question asked on either side. While the Tractarians were students of divinity, the High Churchman Bishop Ravenscroft of North Carolina did not hesitate to join with the Moravian Bishop Benade in the Holy Eucharist. [Norton: Life of Bishop Ravenscroft, p. 126.] Without any change of law, this hospitable attitude was lost. The loss was great to all concerned.

Meanwhile the Church proceeded on her way sadly distracted with the strife of tongues.

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