Project Canterbury

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 XII. The Reunited Church

Moving toward union; obstacles in the way; Arkansas; Bishop Wilmer; Bishop Polk; General Convention of 1865; reunion imperiled; Mr. Horace Binney's resolution; Dr. Kerfoot's plea; reunion; disbandment of the Confederate Church; religious effects of the war; new forces and new problems; task of the present generation.

In the spring of 1865 the Confederacy ceased to be. With its dissolution the reason for the Southern Church passed away. Their contention from the first had been that, being cut off from the United States by no act of their own, the dioceses in the seceded States simply conformed to existing facts in organizing a new church. Now, on their own principles, their Church's place was gone. Their Prayer Book was obsolete. There was no longer any "President of the Confederate States" to pray for if they had wished it. But it was not so clear that they had been borne back involuntarily into the Protestant Episcopal Church by the reflux of the tide. They might not be willing to resume their long vacant places; the Church might not be willing to receive them. They had gone out because a political chasm separated the two sections. That gulf was now closed, but not until it had been filled with human blood. Fortunately old friendships still held. The Presiding Bishop, Hopkins of Vermont, and Bishop Elliott of Georgia, the leader in the Southern Church, were more than brethren. Their old affection for each other was unbroken. Elliott clearly discerned the situation. "We appealed," he said, "to the God of battles, and He has given His decision against us. We accept the result as the work, not of man, but of God." [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 339.] In this temper he was ready to work for peace and unity. But all were not of his mind. Chagrin, humiliation, apprehension, and anger were common among his people. The unhappy "reconstruction" period had set in. Military governors were still in occupation of the late seceded States. Bishop Hopkins, with the knowledge and consent of his brethren, sent a circular letter to all the Southern Bishops, assuring them of a welcome if they would take their places in the approaching General Convention in October. Bishop Wilmer of Alabama expressed the sentiment both of his own State and Mississippi [Wilmer: The Recent Past, p. 166.] when he replied that it was by no means clear as yet that the Southern dioceses might not retain their separate position; that would depend upon circumstances not yet determined; [Ib., p. 155.] that they could not come back as supplicants for pardon; that human passions were facts which must be taken account of; that the best men in the South were yet under the ban as traitors; that their representative man might yet be hanged; that all would depend upon the spirit shown by the General Convention itself when it should meet; that they could abide the result of the war, but could not yet join in Te Deums over their own defeat.

Apart from the sore temper on the one hand, and the triumphant one on the other, there were grave difficulties to be adjusted. The Bishop of Alabama had been elected and consecrated outside of the Church's rules. Arkansas had been taken from the missionary jurisdiction of the Southwest, and erected into a diocese. Worst of all, Bishop Polk of Louisiana had broken Catholic rule and violated Christian sentiment by taking arms. But his name was dear in the South. A graduate of West Point, he had been almost forced into command at a time when competent leaders were hard to find. He had assumed the duty most reluctantly. [Fulton, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 581.] But he was urged on every hand. Even the old Bishop of Virginia had called to his mind, when he hesitated, that "the conduct of Phinehas was so praiseworthy that the inspired David says it was accounted to him for righteousness through all posterities for evermore; and did not Samuel, the minister of God from his infancy, lead forth the hosts of Israel to battle, and with his own hand slay the king of Amalek?" [Green: Life of Bishop Otey, p. 96.] He had taken up the sword against his will, and sought in vain to be allowed to lay it down. [Ib., p. 100.] At Pine Mountain he had fallen, and his blood had discolored the Prayer Book in his pocket, and half washed out of it the names, written by his own hand, of his three friends, Johnson, Hood, and Hardee. [Fulton, in Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 583.] Any suggestion of censure upon the conduct of the dead could not be borne.

All these things made the Southern people hesitate. They needed not to have done so. When the General Convention met at Philadelphia in October, 1865, the clerk of the House of Deputies began with "Alabama" in calling the roll of dioceses. The roll had never been changed. Alabama and the other Confederate States had only been absent from one meeting, and their names had never been removed. To the general gratification of all, two Southern bishops, Atkinson of North Carolina, and Lay of Arkansas, were present at the opening service. They came, doubting both their right and their welcome. [Harrison: Life of Bishop Kerfoot, vol. ii. p. 391.] They were hospitably entreated and constrained to take their places. The Convention acted on the dreaded questions with good sense and generosity. It was resolved that the Bishop of Alabama should be received upon signing the ordinary declaration of conformity. [General Convention Jourual, 1865.] No question was raised about the regularity of his consecration. The case of Arkansas had settled itself. Its short life as a diocese had been destroyed by the ravages of war. The Church within it was practically extinct. Bishop Lay had been all the while, in spite of himself, the missionary bishop of the Southwest. In that capacity his place was still open. The career of Bishop Polk was not referred to. He was dead. But the harmony came near being destroyed by an unexpected means. The House of Bishops proposed a thanksgiving service for "the restoration of peace and the re-establishment of the National Government over the whole land." The Bishop of North Carolina protested that his people could not say that. They acquiesced in the result of the war, and would accommodate themselves to it like good citizens; but they were not thankful. They had prayed that the issue might have been different. They were ready to "return thanks for peace to the country, and unity to the Church"; but that was a different matter. Bishop Stevens of Pennsylvania moved to substitute the Southern man's words for the ones in the resolution offered. His motion was carried by sixteen to seven. [Perry: History, vol. ii. p. 592.] When the amended resolution was offered in the House of Deputies, Horace Binney of Pennsylvania moved to restore the original phrase giving thanks "for the re-establishment of the National Government over the whole land," and to add to it "and for the removal of the great occasion of national dissension and estrangement to which our late troubles were due " (referring to slavery). [General. Convention Journal, 1865.] A storm of discussion at once arose, both within and without the Convention. The secular press of the country took up the matter; declared that the loyalty of the Church itself was upon trial; that it dare not refuse to pass Mr. Binney's patriotic resolution; that too much tenderness had already been shown to "unreconstructed rebels." Dr. Kerfoot, President of Trinity College, came to the rescue. [Harrison: Life of Bishop Kerfoot, vol. ii. p. 393, et seq.] He had been, all through the war, a Union man in a place where his loyalty had cost him something. His college in Maryland had been well-nigh destroyed. He had tended the wounded at Antietam and South Mountain, battles fought at his very door. He had been seized a prisoner by General Early's order. His goods had been destroyed by the Confederate soldiery. He, if any one, had the right to speak. His own loyalty was beyond all question. He begged the Convention to remember that it had itself invited and urged the Southern delegates to come; that the place to celebrate the triumph of the Northern arms was outside of the Church; that not only the present but the future peace of the Church was at stake; that if the Church should be led by its passions now, future unity would be impossible; that "their thanksgiving for unity and peace should ascend to the throne of God in such a form that all could honestly join in it."

His wise and earnest argument prevailed. By a vote of twenty dioceses to six, Mr. Binney's amendment was defeated, [General Convention Journal, 1865. Brand: Life of Bishop Whittingham, vol. ii. p. 74.] and the House of Bishops' more generous terms were carried. This action settled the question of reunion. The Southern Church met once more at Augusta, closed out its affairs decently, and was no more.

The Protestant Episcopal Church in its integrity entered upon its modern life in an undivided nation. The generation now living had come upon the stage. But the war had done far more than to settle a political dispute. It had profoundly changed the conditions of American life. It introduced four millions of manumitted slaves to a new social, political, religious existence. The old methods of the Church for them were no longer applicable. The awful problem pressed to find new and efficient ones. The war had done much to break up sectarian isolation. When young men who had been taught in their country homes that Romanism was pure abomination had been gently nursed by Sisters of Charity in the military hospital, their prejudices were greatly shaken. When Churchmen had their wounds bound up and heard extemporaneous prayers offered at their side by Methodist and Presbyterian chaplains and Christian Commission agents, they changed their thought about the validity of a ministry which bore such fruits. When these in turn heard Churchmen openly recite the Creed and say their prayers, they were arrested and impressed. The end of the war was followed by a period of restless moving to and fro. Soldiers had learned to travel. They brought back with them to their quiet homes a broader habit of mind and a quickened consciousness of national life. They brought a wider thought to the congregations where they worshipped. A ferment was working in every province of life. It could be seen in commerce, art, and social habit. Religion felt it also.

The Church was in the presence of a new set of facts and forces. To understand them would require of her judgment and a sound mind, the spirit of wisdom and ghostly strength. The Doctrine of Evolution, just coming into notice, was to change her whole way of regarding life and man. The teaching of Robertson, Maurice, and the author of "Ecce Homo," with the new method in History and Criticism, was to become a solvent of many of her accepted dogmas. The revived movement of population westward was to tax her missionary spirit to its utmost. Her great work among the Indians in the Northwest, already begun, was to be carried to completion. She was to plant a church in Hayti, and to aid and foster one in Mexico. The wisdom and energy needed to adjust herself to the changed conditions of life was to be drawn off for a period into the long, dreary, barren contest over Ritual. The amazing spectacle of grave and learned theologians and jurists endeavoring to perform modistes' and dancing masters' [A committee of five bishops, among the greatest in learning and character, deliberated and reported concerning the washing of the priest's hands, bowings, genuflections, reverences, bowing down upon or kissing the holy table; a surplice reaching to the ankles for choristers; a surplice not reaching below the ankle for priests; stoles, bands, black gowns, and university caps. General Convention Journal, 1871.] work was to be displayed before the astonished eyes of an earnest generation which had just fought a mighty war over questions of the first rank. Bishop Cummins and his following of restless spirits were to add a superfluous sect to the divisions of Christendom. The Church Congress was to give outlet to surcharged thought, and to bring men to a better knowledge of each other's spirit. The "Church Idea" was to be infused into American Protestantism. The task of the memorialists was to be taken up again, and the Liturgy revised to fit the exigencies of common life. The idea of a mechanical uniformity was to be unconsciously forsaken. The Episcopate was to break from its trammels, and proclaim to the divided Christian world the Church's hope and plan for Unity.

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