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 XVI. The Church Seeking Fellowship

Looking to the East; Italian reform; Mexico; contradictory reports from Mexico; Mexican commission appointed; consecration of Bishop Riley; the Church unity movement; the Quadrilateral.

When the Church of England awoke at the middle of the century to a consciousness of her catholicity she was dismayed at her isolation. She began to draw back unconsciously from her Protestant friendships, but only then did she begin to realize the width and depth of the chasms which divided her from the other branches of the Catholic Church. The American Church was oppressed by the sense of loneliness still more. In Great Britain the Church was, and is, so great and strong, and touches the Christian world at so many points, that she is, to a great degree, sufficient unto herself. But the American Church is small and her life meagre. Unlike her English mother, she does not hold conspicuous place in the world of politics, education, or social order. The sense of ecclesiastical loneliness has led her into persistent effort to find fellowship and prove kinship with Churches remote in space and alien in history and temper. These wanderings in search of legitimate brethren have only been saved from grotesqueness by their pathos. The result has been but small. Not seldom the proffered recognition has been answered by a perfunctory courtesy which but thinly veiled indifference or doubt of her legitimacy.

In 1868 a Memorial was presented to the General Convention entreating that body "to take into immediate and prayerful consideration the question whether it is not alike your duty and your privilege to at once open up formal negotiations with the authorities of the Russian Church, and if it seems good to you, with the other orthodox Churches of the East." In response a joint Commission was appointed to go or send upon this quest. In 1871 the Commission reports that they had joined with those of the English Church interested in the same end, and that by their endeavors the Archbishop of Canterbury had been moved to send a brotherly epistle to the Patriarch of Constantinople, enclosing with it a copy of the Prayer Book, and praying the good offices of the Orthodox Clergy to baptize the children, minister to the sick, and bury the dead of such members of the Anglican Communion as might be travelling or sojourning in the Orient. To this missive the Patriarch replied, after the complimentary style of the East, that he "had received with the greatest joy the highly esteemed letter sent by your Holiness to our humility, and are rejoiced to the bottom of our heart," and saying that the Clergy of the East are always ready, "even if not expressly exhorted by any of the Venerable British Bishops to offer any facility to bury English strangers who die here." As to baptizing their children, he remains politely silent. As to the Prayer Book, he says that he has examined it with care to see how far it bears out the statement of its Preface that it "contains nothing contrary to the Word of God and to sound doctrine." The result of such examination shows a condition of things which "throws us into suspense." These things are the teaching of the Prayer Book concerning the eternal existence of the Holy Spirit; the number of the Sacraments; concerning Apostolic Tradition; concerning the Divine Eucharist; the discourteous assertion that "the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch have erred"; and the essentials generally of "the distinguished Confession of the XXXIX Articles." The final judgment of the Patriarch is that "we will therefore pray with our soul to the Author and Finisher of our salvation to enlighten the understanding of all with the light of His knowledge, and to make all nations of one speech, of the one faith, and of the one love, and of the one hope of the gospel; that with one mouth and with one heart, as children of one and the same mother, the Church--the first born and Catholic Church--we may glorify the Triune God." [Gen. Con. Journal, 1871, Appendix vi.]

With this devout aspiration, in which all parties concerned could join, even though it was not quite what some had asked for, the negotiations with the Oriental Church came to rest. At that point they still stand.

The ecclesiastical Japhet in search of a brother next turned his steps towards the "Italian Reform Movement." In this case, as there were no bishops likely to be open to negotiation, the Commission appointed consisted of Clergy and laity, with the Bishop of Western New York as its honorary president. [Gen. Con. Journal, 1874, Appendix v.]

The promulgation of the Papal Infallibility dogma and the overthrow of the Papal States was the occasion of a widespread commotion within the Roman Church. It was hoped and believed that the agitation and dissatisfaction among some of her bishops and many of her priests and laymen might be brought to a head and guided to an open revolt. It presently became evident, however, that this was not to be. The centre of agitation moved from Italy and passed to Switzerland, Holland, and the Rhine. When it took the form of the "Old Katholik Movement," it found the Bishops of Maryland and Pittsburg to meet and fraternize with it at Bonn and Cologne. The movement never possessed vitality or hope. Once again the American Church was disappointed in the comradeship she hoped from it.

The next move was towards Mexico. Although the final outcome of this venture was about equally disappointing, the outlook was far more encouraging and the reasons for intervention were nobler.

The same social and political forces which overthrew the Papal rule in Italy broke down the authority of the Church in Mexico. A reform movement had set in there after the overthrow of Santa Anna in 1855. How widespread and powerful it became it is not easy to know. It is a fact, at any rate, that as many as seventy-four priests ventured to sign a protest and memorial against the abuses and corruptions of the Romish Church. When Juarez came into power he took the malcontents under his protection, and gave them two churches in the City of Mexico. Upon his fall, brought about by the combined French, English, and Spanish influences, the "Reformed Church" disappeared from sight. Two intrepid priests, Martinez and Dominguez, after two years of exile in the United States, returned to Matamoras at the mouth of the Rio Grande, and tried to recollect their scattered flocks. Farther south Aguillar, another priest of high character and noble repute, stood fast by the cause of reform. Notwithstanding that guarantees of religious liberty had been repealed, a considerable body of Mexicans, how many is not known, maintained a loose and precarious organization against the tyrannies of the Roman Church. In 1866 the Presiding Bishop, Hopkins, was notified that the "New Christian Church in Mexico" had nominated the presbyter Rafael Diaz Martinez for Bishop, and asked for his consecration at the hands of the American Bishops. Bishop Hopkins was obliged to reply that there were canonical hindrances in the way, and that their request could not be entertained. Two years later a commission from the Mexican reformers came to New York in the same cause, and, by accident, made the acquaintance of the Rev. Henry C. Riley, an American priest who had been reared in Chili, and whose mother tongue was Spanish. Dr. Riley being possessed of private fortune, not being bound by parochial ties in the United States, and being practically a South American Spaniard in temperament, took up the case of the Mexican priests with ardor and returned with them to Mexico. Just how successful were the labors of himself and his confreres is impossible to be learned. In 1874 they write of twenty-seven regular congregations, five of these being in the capital city. But both before and after that time returns of the most discrepant character were forthcoming. Sometimes it would appear that a wave of reform was sweeping abroad which this Church had only to guide in order to constitute a new national Church. But almost by the next mail would come the report that the reform had practically died out. The truth seems to have been that the conditions necessary to the creating of a reformed Church were never present. No Latin people have ever conducted to a successful issue a revolt against Rome. The Teuton sharply separates in thought between his religious and his political life, and arranges the machinery of the one without reference to the other. The Latin steadily confuses them. Thus the "New Christian Church in Mexico" felt every shifting current of political air. It dissolved and recombined in a way which first bewildered and then exasperated the American Church, who tried to make businesslike terms with it. Concerning no portion of the Church's missionary work have there been such contradictory reports as concerning the Church in Mexico. It is possible that all the reports were true, for the reason that they were made about a contradictory body.

In August, 1874, a council was held in the City of Mexico and a memorial adopted to the Bishops of the American Church:

"We, members of the Synod of the Church of Jesus in Mexico--a branch of the Christian Church that desires to preserve in all its purity the primitive faith, and in all their integrity the order and ministry of the Church, solicit the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States to take such measures as may lead to the granting us the Episcopate, we being ready to give the necessary guarantees for the maintenance of the faith and the due order in the ministry of the Church."

This memorial was presented to the house of Bishops in 1874, and occasioned a lively interest in the Church generally. By Article X of the Constitution the power to consecrate Bishops "for foreign countries on due application therefor" is lodged in the house of Bishops. The power to grant the petition of the memorial was unquestioned. But two preliminary questions were to be answered. Can this Church, without violating Catholic custom and law, intrude her Episcopate within the borders of territory where there already is a branch of the Catholic Church? It was brought to mind that when Bishop Southgate had been sent to Constantinople, thirty years earlier, it had only been done after every precaution had been taken to guard against even the semblance of intrusion within a Church quite as corrupt as the Roman Church in Mexico; that no one had even so much as ventured to suggest the consecration of a bishop for our mission in Greece; and that the failure of the Constantinople project might well be regarded as a penalty for the violation of Catholic rule. To this it was replied that giving the Episcopate to a church already organized was quite a different matter from going "bishoping in another man's diocese"; that in any case it was too late in the day to raise the objection, inasmuch as more than one-half the territory of our own Church had possessed another Episcopate and had had within it a Catholic Church when it became part of the United States; that the same academic argument which would preclude an entrance into Mexico would have shut us out from the whole "Louisiana Purchase," from Texas, and from California. Not a few sympathized with the Bishop of Connecticut, who roundly maintained that the Church of Rome, by her enormities in doctrine and practice, had forfeited her place in the Catholic sisterhood, so that no terms of comity were bounden as towards her. But a second and more practical question took precedence of the academic one: Was there a Reformed Church in Mexico? Whom and how many did the memorialists represent?

As is the custom in such affairs, a Commission was appointed for the business. [Bishops Whittingham, Lee of Delaware, Bedell, Coxe, Kerfoot, and Littlejohn.] Whether this Commission was created "with power to act," or only to examine and report, afterwards gave rise to much dispute. In 1875 Bishop Lee proceeded to Mexico to look into the situation. He found and visited in the City of Mexico one congregation of four or five hundred people, "largely of the humbler class, and with the prevailing type of feature and complexion strongly Indian." At the same time there was handed to him a list of about thirty other congregations throughout the country. His search for facts does not appear to have been either very thorough or very intelligent, but he plainly was convinced of the existence of a Reformed Church in Mexico. On strength of that conviction he confirmed upward of a hundred persons, and ordained seven candidates who were presented, to the Diaconate and Priesthood. When he returned to the United States he brought with him a proposed form of concordat between the House of Bishops and the "Junta Central of the Church of Jesus in Mexico." By the terms of this agreement the party of the first part was to consecrate one or more persons as bishops; and by a Commission or otherwise, to administer the affairs of the new Church until it should possess at least three bishops of its own. The party of the second part pledges itself to hold to the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds as its doctrinal formula; to maintain the Episcopal ministry and regimen; and not to receive or establish any doctrines or articles of belief contrary to the formularies of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

All looked promising. It appeared as though, if not a nation, at any rate a Church had been born in a day. But, as months went on, uneasiness spread. Bishop Whittingham was disturbed at the looseness of doctrine arid the indifference to truth displayed by the new Church. [Brand: Life of Whittingham, vol. ii. p. 258. "For myself I feel bound to say that without a disavowment of such a production no Iglesia calling itself de Jesus, however loud in its profession of holiness, catholicity, apostolicity and Christianity could obtain my consent to any such recognition as is proposed."] A copy of the liturgy in use had fallen into his hands, which he pronounced monstrous. Bishop Kerfoot, with his plain sense, declared that he had "been grievously disappointed as to the evidence of the existence of any Mexican Church, properly speaking, or in the sense of Article X of our Constitution." [Brand: Life of Whittingham, p. 260.] The situation was difficult. Bishop Lee had recognized the Church and ordained ministers for it. Two Candidates for Bishops were ready and waiting. If nothing were done the new organization would either be reabsorbed by Rome or would drift into the Presbyterian or Methodist Churches, both of whom were present and active in the field. After five years of hesitation the Commission were fain to be content with such assurances and guarantees of doctrinal soundness as they could get, and in April, 1879, they consecrated the Rev. Dr. Riley Bishop of the Valley of Mexico. It soon became apparent to all candid observers both that there really was no national organization which could be called a Mexican Church within the intent of Article of the Constitution, and that Bishop Riley was as far as possible from being the proper head of such a society as did exist. The promised Prayer Book was not forthcoming; debts were contracted without authority, and were not paid; property which was supposed to belong to the Church was found to be in the personal name of the Bishop. After five years of inconsequential work, Bishop Riley resigned his jurisdiction into the hands of the Commission which had consecrated him, and the "Mexican Church" lapsed into its present status of a mission carried on under the general oversight and authority of the Presiding Bishop.

While the Church was waiting in humble attitude before the Patriarch of Constantinople, coquetting ponderously with the Old Catholics and dreaming of an Episcopal Church in Mexico, an incomprehensible perversity led her to call in question and then suspend her fraternal relations with the two Episcopal Churches at her door. For half a century Moravian and Swedish Orders had been acknowledged without question. The Moravians were a small body, and their path rarely crossed that of this Church, but the validity of their Episcopate had always been recognized, and was in fact beyond question. [Ritter: Moravian Church in Philadelphia, p. 223. De Schweinitz : History of the Unitas Fratrem, p. 647.] With the Church of Sweden Anglican relations had been most intimate in the past, and the immigration of thousands of Swedes made it all the more important that those relations should be maintained. In Colonial times the Bishop of London had commissioned priests in Swedish orders to officiate in American Churches, [Past and Present: G. Hammerskold, p. 7.] and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had paid them their stipends. [Records of Holy Trinity: Old Swedes Church, p. 26.] In 1837 the Bishop of London had officially requested a bishop of the Swedish Church to confirm for him. In 1861 the punctilious Bishop of Illinois accepted the Rev. Jacob Bredberg "on his letters of orders from the Bishop of Skara," and the same year Bishop Whitehouse celebrated the Holy Communion in the royal chapel of Stockholm. Notwithstanding all this, the Church began twenty years ago to feel, or at least to affect, a doubt of the validity of the Moravian and Swedish pedigree. Commissions were appointed upon both questions. The offence to both was great, and would seem to have been gratuitous. Those whom the Church had heretofore treated as sisters suddenly had the legitimacy of their birth called in question. Thus far neither Commission has seen its way to report yes or no.

Meanwhile the Church's isolation weighed upon her more and more. In the midst of a Christian nation she was without companionship. Realizing more intensely than any other section of American Christianity the imperativeness of organic unity, she appeared of all others to be most entirely outside the sphere of practical friendship. She had been led by ecclesiastical doctrinaires into a false position. Her natural and historical relations were with the Protestant world in the midst of which she lived. That this was her own conviction when permitted to speak her real mind appeared at the General Convention of 1886. From the Diocese of Indiana came a memorial praying the Church in this General Convention assembled "to issue to the Christian world an open letter embodying her principles, her suggestions, and her prayers for Christian unity." The Diocese of Kentucky presented a similar petition, and reminded the Convention that Central Pennsylvania had adopted a like resolution. The Diocese of Louisiana sent up a memorial begging the Convention to instruct its Committee on Ecclesiastical Relationship to "abandon the passive policy hithertofore followed in respect to those bodies of Christians generally recognized as Evangelicals; and to send overtures in writing to the governing bodies of the said several denominations, inviting them to conference on the matter of Church Unity." Petitions also came up from Texas, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. But the unmistakable temper of the Church was shown by a General Memorial, signed by thirty-two bishops and eleven hundred clergy and more than three thousand laymen, praying the General Convention to take "such action as it may deem expedient to further the Organic unity of Christians in this land." The memorialists urged this action on the statesmanlike grounds that in this new land denominational dissensions have not yet crystallized into hardness as in older lands; that a desire for unity is plainly growing; that a more lively interest is being shown by those without in the doings of the Church; that Churchmen have become more ready to acknowledge the vast amount of truth which other Christian bodies hold in common with them; that party lines are vanishing within the Church; that the Church Idea and the desire for liturgical expression are spreading everywhere; that there is a universal discontent with long and metaphysical Confessions, and the desire to be content with the simple and primitive Creeds.

All these memorials were referred to the "Committee on the State of the Church." A "Committee on Ecclesiastical Relations" had been in existence since 1874, but it had thus far manifested neither the ability nor the wish to discover any relations, except in some far country. The temper of the Church now demanded that something be done. It was therefore resolved to create a joint Commission on Christian Unity, whose policy should be to move out into the open and bear to the divided Christian world a definite message of goodwill and a proposal for union. Meanwhile the House of Bishops had been considering the same matter, and now announced the following:

"Declaration to whom it may concern, and especially to our fellow Christians of the different Communions in our land who, in their several spheres, have contended for the religion of Christ.

"1. Our earnest desire that the Saviour's prayer that we all may be one, may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;

"2. That we believe that all who have been duly baptised with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost are members of the Holy Catholic Church;

"3. That in all things of human ordering or of human choice relating to modes of worship and discipline, and to traditional customs, this Church is ready, in the spirit of love and humility, to forego all preferences of her own;

"4. That this Church does not seek to absorb other communions, but rather, cooperating with them on the basis of common faith and order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the body of Christ, and to promote the Charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ in the world.

"But furthermore we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity now so earnestly desired can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principle of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence, which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian faith and rule committed by Christ and His Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world.

"As inherent parts of the sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided brandies of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:

"I. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed word of God;

"II. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith;

"III. The two Sacraments, baptism and the Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words and of the elements ordained by Him;

"IV. The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the method of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

"Furthermore, deeply grieved by the sad divisions which afflict the Christian Church in our own land, we hereby declare our desire and readiness, so soon as there shall be any authorized response to this Declaration, to enter into brotherly conference with all or any Christian bodies seeking the restoration of the organic unity of the Church."

This declaration was adopted by the Lower House, and the joint Commission appointed and instructed to enter into negotiations in any directions which might open. No action of so great moment and so pregnant of possibilities had been taken by the American Church since its organization. There were but few who discerned its wide implications. When they began to appear, not a few stood aghast at what had been done and what it might involve. Was the declaration an ultimatum upon which the Church was willing to coalesce with any organization who might accept it? If so, did it, in its enumeration of things necessary, mean what it said? In that case, it was contended, the reunited Church might be found not only without the Prayer Book, but without any liturgy; without any provision for Confirmation; without the Athanasian Creed or the XXXIX Articles; without any of those valued and endeared Ecclesiastical customs and arrangements which Churchmen had been accustomed to think of as part of the very Church herself. It was nothing less than a proposal to commit suicide in the hope of a vague and uncertain metempsychosis. It offered to abandon all distinctive Churchmanship in the interest of an iridescent dream. Even the President of the House of Deputies, upon whom devolved the duty of naming the men who were to execute it, disapproved of the scheme utterly.

As a matter of fact, it was suicidal in the sense that it proposed to the Church to lose her life that she might find it again. That suggestion has always seemed a hard saying to practical men. The more the proposition was discussed the more doubtful it became whether the Church either would or could stand to her offer in case it should be accepted by any large denomination.

Debate quickly concentrated itself on one unfortunate and ambiguous phrase. When the Church spoke of the "Historic Episcopate" it had in its mind that threefold historic ministry of unbroken Catholic custom--bishops, priests, and deacons. Protestant writers and speakers, on the other hand, not being familiar with that connotation, took the words for the face of them, and saw in the "Quadrilateral" nothing but an impudent proposal by the bishops to lord it over the rest of God's heritage. The Baptists responded to the overture with fraternal greeting, courteous but noncommittal. The Methodists replied by reminding us that they possessed an Episcopate already quite good enough for their purposes. The Presbyterian General Assembly appointed a Committee of great dignity and character to confer with the Joint Commission. After several years of negotiation, sometimes hopeful and sometimes otherwise, the Committees came to a deadlock upon the demand that, as a condition of further correspondence, the Church must acknowledge practically the validity of Presbyterian orders, and their Committee was discharged. In the Convention of 1892 the Rev. Dr. Huntington offered an amendment to the Constitution which would have enabled any bishop without further ado to act in the spirit of the Declaration by receiving under his care any congregation which might be willing to accept its terms, even though it did not choose to conform to the ritual and custom of the Church or to become a component part of the organization. The amendment was lost by the failure of four dioceses to agree, and thus preventing a majority vote. [Gen. Con. Journal, 1892, p. 329.] In 1895 substantially the same proposition was offered again in a modified form, and met a more decided rejection.

The Joint Commission still continues. The logic of events seems to be drawing the Church towards a point where she must either take practical measures to make good her proposal to the Protestant world or definitely withdraw her proffer. Meanwhile her action has had the effect to bring the question of Church unity out of the region of pious speculation and compel a place for it in practical ecclesiastical politics.

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