Project Canterbury

William McGarvey and the Open Pulpit
An Intimate History of a Celibate Movement in the Episcopal Church,
and of Its Collapse, 1870-1908.

By Edward Hawks
Priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Philadelphia: The Dolphin Press, 1935.

Chapter 1. The Anglo-Catholic Movement in Philadelphia

THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA has always been conscious of her distinction. She has been much more than the birthplace of the Republic. It is not the things which began here so much as the things which have continued here since they began, that assure her title to respect. Above all else she has been the alert guardian of national ideals. Neither her unsurpassed industrial development, nor her absorption of a vast number of immigrants, both of which have wrought changes, has been able to disturb her sense of possession. She preserves a tradition of sober Americanism free from exaggeration or stagnation. She has not been too proud to work, nor too busy to think. If she holds herself somewhat aloof from North and South, it is because she has what is best in each. If she is less cosmopolitan than New York or Chicago, it is because she is more native than either, and therefore a truer metropolis. The history of Philadelphia is the history of America. She is the key city of a key State. This is as true in regard to religion as to other things. It is here that all forms of Christianity have found their best national expression, be they Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist or Lutheran. Each of them has become Americanized in Philadelphia. It is not strange therefore that the Movement which was called "Tractarian" or "Oxford" but is now called "Anglo-Catholic," should have received in Philadelphia a distinctive form. That this is so is in a large measure due to the genius and influence of a Philadelphian, the Reverend Henry R. Percival.

Strange as it may seem, the greatest obstacle to the spread of the Oxford Movement in America was the existence of a well-established and powerful High Church tradition. It had grown up as a means of defence. In its struggle to survive at the beginning of the Republic, Episcopalianism was forced to emphasize its distinctive features. Nothing less than a claim to Apostolic institution could have made episcopacy palatable to Republican tastes. Episcopacy was therefore defended, not merely as the most ancient, but rather as the only divinely instituted form of church government. Similiarly, liturgical worship was vindicated by an appeal to antiquity when assailed by those who were accustomed to the ways of the meeting-house. Church of England customs were exonerated of Toryism by the plea that they were universal Christian traditions. This tendency to conservatism might be thought favorable to the spread of Tractarian principles which were also reactionary. It would have been so had it not been for the defection of Newman and the collapse of the first phase of his Movement. There were a number of conversions in America soon afterward: they frightened the High Church Party. [Notably at the General Seminary in New York; also the conversion of Bishop Ives of North Carolina.] It had no Pusey to reassure it, and it preferred its own secure position. To it the Oxford Movement was revealed in the true nature of a Romeward movement; and therefore as something to be resisted with unrelenting hostility.

In Philadelphia no such High Church Party existed. It was more or less confined to New England, and, in the minds of Philadelphians, represented a certain intransigency that had always distinguished that part of the Republic. Moreover, it was quite unnecessary. In this city Anglicans still called themselves "Churchmen" and they felt no rivalry, but rather a sense of superiority, in their contacts with other Protestants. They were too numerous to need any apology for their existence. Like their brethren in England and elsewhere, they inclined, when religiously enthusiastic (which was seldom), toward the Calvinistic Low Church or Evangelical ways of thinking. When Tractarianism arrived it was treated not as a dangerous competitor, but as something altogether alien.

Dr. Percival had been brought up under the influence of the Rector of old St. Peter's Church. He had never been a High Churchman (in the Connecticut sense) and he hated the thought of being one. As a youth he must have been aware of the incessant fight which was being waged by Bishop Stevens against the clergy of St. Clement's Church, where Anglo-Catholic teaching had already been introduced. When he became attracted to this teaching he did not wrench himself free from his Evangelical environment. His solid and sober Philadelphian Episcopalianism provided a better stock on which to graft the new opinions than did the "High and Dry" Anglicanism of New England and elsewhere.

Anglo-Catholicism did not show itself in Philadelphia until after the Civil War. Its first manifestation was the introduction of surpliced choirs. When Dr. Batterson placed a small wooden cross and two wooden candlesticks on the Communion Table of St. Clement's Church in 1870 he precipitated a conflict between himself and the vestry of his church, with the latter strongly supported by the bishop. [Vide, The Early Days at St. Clement's, Philadelphia. Reprinted in pamphlet form from February, March and April, 1934 issues of American Church Monthly, by Franklin Joiner, Rector of St. Clement's Church.] The battle waged for six years and ended in the defeat of the vestry, and in the coming from Oxford itself of the Cowley Fathers as pastors of the congregation. Bishop Stevens found it still harder to deal with Englishmen, who had learnt all the methods of ecclesiastical combat in their own country, then in the throes of the Ritualistic struggle. St. Clement's congregation eventually won a victory, but at a heavy cost. It became exotic. It gained toleration for itself, and also isolation. It demonstrated the parasitic nature of Anglo-Catholicism. Without wishing to detract in any wise from its right to be considered the first champion in Philadelphia of principles defended by the Tractarians, it must be admitted that it has not been able to spread its influence beyond its parochial limits. This was to be the work of Dr. Percival. He was not merely desirous of obtaining toleration: he wished to demonstrate the inherent Catholicity of Anglicanism.

He was a Philadelphian and an American; the pastors of St. Clement's for fifteen years were Englishmen. I understood the difference that this made in speaking with Father Maturin, the outstanding figure at St. Clement's, at a much later date. He admitted to me that he had never been able to consider the Episcopal Church anything otherwise than a provisional arrangement for bringing the sacraments to those who were not in communion with Rome. For him the Catholic Church was the native church of the country, and Episcopalianism had no more right here than it had in France. St. Clement's was therefore regarded as in some sense an English chaplaincy. It is interesting to note, with this in mind, that at the very time that "Father" Maturin was carrying on a war with Bishop Stevens, Dr. Percival, teaching the same doctrines and observing the same practices, lived in complete amiability with the same bishop. He was, however, in frequent contact with the Cowley Fathers, who often assisted at his services. They had this in common: and it was something that was to become distinctive of Philadelphian Anglo-Catholicism: they believed that celibacy was the most important requirement demanded of the ministers of God.

Dr. Percival was a reactionary. He was a young man with very old-fashioned opinions. When he became known in 1880 as an enthusiast who had accepted the rectorship of a dying parish, he had already formed strong prejudices not only against the High Church Party, but also against the trend of Anglo-Catholic development. He hated the Ritualism which was becoming the supreme interest of the latter, but he detested most of all the growing Liberalism in its ranks which was to take definite form ten years later in the Lux Mundi Papers. [The Lux Mundi Papers appeared in 1890. They were edited by the Rev. Charles Gore, afterward Bishop of Oxford.] He tried to revive the early Tractarianism of Oxford and to reestablish the Via Media. His interests were patristic and theological and in these subjects he was well read. When he exchanged his life of study for that of debt-raising and church-building, his purpose was to bring the Anglo-Catholic movement back to its earlier moorings and to demonstrate its practical possibilities.

In the Church of the Evangelists which was situated near the centre of colonial Philadelphia, Dr. Percival found a suitable pulpit easily accessible to those who represented the best traditions of the city. The congregation was of his own making; for, until his coming, few cared to attach themselves to a parish whose crumbling church had never been paid for, and whose creditors were unable, even under threats of levying distraint, to collect the ever-increasing interest on their mortgages. It was an opportunity that Henry Percival purchased dearly. Within a few years the unstable foundations and weakening walls of his church gave evidence of approaching disaster. His studious life was therefore interrupted by financial anxieties; but these tended to increase the circle of his friends through whose aid he was able within ten years to build a beautiful new structure and to free it entirely of debt. By this time he had become an unquestioned leader of Anglo-Catholic thought, and his books were as well-known in England as in his own country.

It is not easy to describe Henry Percival's theological position. Indeed, one doubts whether he ever completely understood it himself. He died at a comparatively young age before he had fully developed his judgments. This does not mean that he did not have very strong opinions. What is difficult to see is how he was able to justify them and remain an Anglican. This is a difficulty that a Catholic will always feel in his effort to establish the good faith of those who accept so much of the teaching of the Church whilst remaining so hostile to it. It is important for the sake of this narrative, however, to attempt to understand the practical methods by which Dr. Percival moulded into a distinctive group a number of devoted disciples. His antipathies, his convictions, and, if you will, his idiosyncrasies became those of his circle; so also did his enthusiasms. We must think of him as an Evangelical who held fast to everything that he had received from his early training, except in so far as he came to think it positively false. He was determined above all else to prove that the Episcopal Church had a right to his allegiance, despite anything she had done in the past; and, as to the future, he anticipated that she would increasingly demonstrate what he thought she really was, a vital continuation of the pre-Reformation Church in England. He was somewhat of a Puritan in his attitude toward the accepted standards of society. He was almost a Calvinist in regard to the doctrine of Predestination. He felt more at home with the Low Church clergy on questions concerning the Atonement of Christ than he did with those of his own party. People wondered at his friendship for Dr. Goodwin, the unrelenting foe of St. Clement's Church. It was because he considered Dr. Goodwin to be a tower of strength against the attacks of the Liberals. Dr. Percival, on the other hand, did not hesitate to oppose Dr. Pusey, when this famous leader of the Anglo-Catholics expressed a dislike for the practice of invoking the Saints. His treatise in defence of this Catholic practice may be considered an Anglican classic. He suspected that the Greek Church was schismatic, and was not attracted by the thought of reunion with a body which was so completely subservient to the civil authority. It is almost certain that he suspected the Anglican Church to be also in schism. I have the personal assurance of at least three persons that he admitted this was so. On being asked to justify schism, he was understood to excuse it by reason of the exceptional circumstances in which Anglicanism was placed. If this were really his opinion, and I can only give second-hand information, his position in regard to Rome must have been in some respects that of the present so-called pro-Roman Party. Dr. Percival had, unfortunately, a great ingenuity for disguising uncomfortable facts. Many felt toward him, as others had once felt toward Newman, after the publication of Tract XC. There was a sense of uncertainty. It happens that both men thought it necessary to defend the XXXIX Articles of Religion which few Anglicans ever read to-day. There was this difference in their defence. Newman disliked the Articles and admitted that the intention of their authors was suspect. He tried to show that they might be interpreted in a verbally orthodox sense. Percival on the other hand gives the reader the impression that he regarded them as bulwarks of the Faith. He fought for their retention in the Prayer-Book because he knew that the Liberals hated them more than the High Churchmen dreaded them. He took a joy, indeed, in being an enigma, and in shocking Low and High Churchmen alike, by the dexterity of his reasoning. He loved paradox. He liked to prove that his own conservatism was alive; and that a reactionary was more radical than a revolutionary. Unfortunately he could not sustain the part completely. To do so one must have one's feet on a rock such as the Anglican Church could not provide. What he would have done had he lived until the year 1907 cannot be conjectured, for his temperamental dislike for Rome was very strong and his attachment to Episcopalian traditions, social and religious, was very deep. It is characteristic of him that he arranged for his own funeral, and that he refused to allow it to be made the occasion for a Ritualistic demonstration. He desired to be buried in the graveyard of St. Peter's Church with his body clad in the surplice and black scarf of an old-fashioned Episcopal minister. Catholic theology had been the absorbing interest of his life, but he could not forget Philadelphia traditions, let theology lead where it might. If there were inconsistencies in his life, there was also a genuine devotion to solid scholarship. Moreover he had a power of attracting to himself those who hung upon his words and carried out plans that he did not have the health to execute.

All these things I came to know much later and indeed after Dr. PercivaFs death in 1903. Nevertheless as a callow youth with clerical aspirations I often heard his name mentioned with reverence in England. His authority became a sheet-anchor in the days of distress. It was a time when the Pope was denying the validity of the Anglican Ordinations and the papers were filled with controversy. We had our own troubles at All Saints', Clifton. The bishop was trying to prune the exuberance of our ritualism; our Lenten preacher, the Rev. Basil Maturin, late of St. Clement's, Philadelphia, had made his submission to Rome on the eve of his coming to us; there were many doubts and searchings of heart. When we were looking for support, Henry Percival seemed like a tower of strength. There was something authoritative in his assertions, for he never minced matters. Little did I then suspect that my lot would be thrown with his followers. I did not even know that a cousin of mine, the Rev. William H. Longridge, also a Cowley Father, had been the first to celebrate the Anglican Communion service in Dr. Percival's new church. How welcome would such a knowledge have been then to one who secretly aspired to be a Cowley Father himself!

Before closing this chapter, a short survey of the Catholic Movement in America, found amongst the unpublished fragments written by William McGarvey, is added:

For fifty years after the War of Independence the Episcopal Church remained a small decadent body. It was only gradually that it recovered from the popular odium and distrust which its identification with the cause of England brought upon it. It did, however, in time recover not only its former prestige, but began to draw to itself some of the best elements from other Protestant denominations. From 1836 until 1870 it grew by such leaps and bounds, that it gave promise to be soon the leading Protestant body both in point of numbers and the social standing of its members. There was a variety of causes which contributed to the marvellous recovery and rapid growth.

In the first place, its founders in 1789 had wisely eliminated from its government every semblance of hierarchial pomp, privilege and authority. The laity were given not only equal authority with the bishop in originating and enacting legislation, but they were given an absolute veto upon all legislation. So that no measure could be enacted without its consent; no action of the clergy or bishop had any force whatever without the endorsement of the laity. In a word the laity were constituted masters of the Episcopal Church and have continued to be so until the present day. The inauguration of such a principle of government demonstrated the thoroughly Protestant character of the Episcopal Church and commended her.

In the second place, the Episcopal Church had expunged from her Prayer-Book every doctrinal statement which had been objected to by Protestants, or which had been unambiguously Catholic. She, among other changes, removed the Athanasian Creed, she also removed a clause of the Apostles' Creed (the descent into hell), also the form of Absolution and the exhortation to confession; the sign of the cross in baptism was made optional, the prohibition of church burial to unbaptized children was omitted, and an alternative form of ordination provided in cases where the older form might seem to smack of sacerdotalism. And then to leave no doubles to her real character and spirit she took as her name before the world the title "The Protestant Episcopal Church."

Although thoroughly democratic and Protestant she wisely retained a liturgical service, and so much ceremonial as gave order and dignity to her worship without associating it in the public eye with the worship of Catholicism. She thus provided for the esthetic sense and for the educated and cultivated.
These three elements, a thoroughly democratic government, a distinctly Protestant character, and a dignified ritual, added to the further consideration that she left her members free to believe as little or as much as they would and to order their lives according to the standard of individual judgment, gave the Episcopal Church an advantage over all other Protestant bodies. It was an advantage which she made full use of for a while, and which in all human probability would have in time placed her in the very first place among the Protestant bodies.

But her career was to be checked by a force which had not been foreseen and against which there was no safeguard. That force was the Catholic Movement. Athough it was inaugurated in England in 1834, it did not perceptibly affect the general current of life in the Episcopal Church in this country until after the Civil War. There were, indeed, spasmodic attempts on the part of the Movement before this time, but they came to nothing, and with the exception of the efforts of Bishop Ives in North Carolina, and the Carey ordination case, they excited no attention. But in the year 1868 the principles of the Tracts for the Times were actively aggressive and the ceremonial expression of their principles sufficiently pronounced here and there to arouse the Episcopal Church to a sense of the danger which beset its existence should the Catholic Movement gain a foothold within her borders.

Now let us set before us clearly just what was the object that the Catholic Movement had before it. It is totally false to suppose that the aim of the leading men identified with the Movement in England and this country was simply to introduce Ritualism into Anglicanism. Ceremonial occupied but a secondary place in their thoughts, and some of them gave no attention to it whatever and even deprecated its introduction. They had before them a purely spiritual object, and the object was no less than the rehabilitation of the Church of England. They assumed that the Church of England possessed a valid ministry and having this that she was still an integral part of the Catholic Church, although halt, maimed and half-dead. They conceived that it was their work to restore her to the full exercise of her spiritual functions; to bring out in her all the features of a Catholic Church, so that she might be recognized by the East and West as a true part of historic Christendom. Accordingly they set to work to bring back the sacerdotal life with all that it implied; to secure for the Anglican bishops the authority and prestige of Catholic bishops; to belittle the power of the laity; to accentuate every statement in the Anglican formularies which made for Catholicism; and to dress up the offices of the prayer-book with the outward clothing of Catholic worship.

Few of them had any distinct thought that the terminus of such a Movement if successful must be the destruction of the raison d'ĂȘtre of Anglicanism, and that the principles and practices which they were advocating must logically lead to Rome. Their eyes were blinded to the final outcome of the work that they had inaugurated which everyone else foresaw.

Here the fragment ends. I have reproduced it without changes except of evident mistakes. The extract was written on loose sheets of paper, and had, with the exception of a few interlinear corrections, never been revised. Another fragment gives a more intimate picture of the Anglo-Catholic Movement in Philadelphia:

When I began my theological studies for the ministry of the Episcopal Church in 1883 enthusiasm for the Catholic Movement was at its height. The active opposition of the Low Churchmen had failed to check the Movement, and they had given over active warfare. This seemed to be a confession of defeat, and the Catholic Party boldly claimed that the principles for which they stood had triumphed all along the line, and they prophesied with confidence the absolute conversion of all Episcopalians to these principles. This apparent triumph quickened the pulse of the whole Catholic Party, and inspired it with aggressive energy. Those of the Party who entered the ministry did so with a definite ideal and with a very distinct object toward which the ministry was to be devoted. I myself thought of the Episcopal Church as a sphere in which I could exercise the undoubted Catholic priesthood and my conception of the life of a priest was formed by the reading of the spiritual books of the Catholic Church, such as Arvesenet's Memoriale and Manning's Eternal Priesthood. To be sure, the number of the Episcopal clergymen who in 1886 [the year of his ordination] had any such ideal was comparatively small. There were two or three in Philadelphia, one or two in New York and a few others scattered here and there. But although we were the merest handful we had great hopes.

Here the second fragment ends. These two extracts were written during 1907 or 1908. It is impossible to say now whether after or immediately before William McGarvey's conversion. His reference to the Anglo-Catholic clergy was confined to those who had chosen a life of celibacy and self-discipline and not to those who were then introducing surpliced choirs and wearing colored stoles. There were very few of the former in 1886. Most of them were in Philadelphia and they included the Cowley Fathers at St. Clement's Church.

An extract from the parish paper of the Evangelists' Church in 1894 gives us Dr. Percival's testimony to the early progress of the Movement. It is very characteristic of him:

St. Mark's Day this year was a most interesting anniversary, for on this feast day twenty-seven years ago, i. e. in 1867, the vested choir of men and boys was introduced into St. Mark's Church in this city. Before that time there had been one at Calvary Monumental for a brief space, and also at St. James-the-Less, Falls of Schuykill, if we are not mistaken. But these had passed away after a very short existence. The choir of St. Mark's seems to have come to stay. At first it was the only one in the city, but shortly afterward came St. Clement's. Then there was a long while before another was introduced, and, although we are not certain, we think the third was at Christ Church Chapel, on Pine Street, in 1877; that is, ten years later. From this time they have steadily increased in number and popularity. We little thought then that the indecency of putting women in men's clothes and mixing them with men and boys would ever take rise from so godly and churchly a beginning. We cannot understand how any modest and respectable girl can be willing to dress herself in so vulgar and unseemly a manner. It is not only contrary to the gospel code of morals, but also contrary to the law of the State, which forbids women appearing in public in men's attire. If there is one thing certain it is that the cassock and surplice have been part of the attire of men and boys ministering in the church for centuries, past all record, and a more flagrant breach of all law and comity cannot be conceived of than to allow them to be worn by women.

Taking the wearing of surplices by choirmen as the mark of Anglo-Catholic tendencies we can see that in 1880 there were only a few churches in Philadelphia which had in any way been affected by the Oxford Movement. It was only at St. Clement's Church that any serious trouble had developed. When Dr. Percival went to the Evangelists' as rector in 1880, this trouble was at its height; by 1886 it was over. The Episcopal Church enacted in 1874 in General Convention anti-ritualistic legislation to deal with the difficulty, but it became a dead-letter. The common sense of the bishops foresaw that persecution would strengthen the Movement. Even Bishop Stevens came to this conclusion before his death. The question was left to individual congregations to settle. The lay control was so absolute in America that no clergyman could possibly do anything without the support of his people; and when the people became aware of their rector's intentions they could easily starve him into submission, if they disapproved of them. There was no parallel to the situation in England, whose beneficed clergy were able to defy lay interference. In future when a church became ritualistic it was with the approval of the congregation. So important was this fact that some ritualistic churches established themselves as legal corporations whose trustees were self-perpetuating, and independent of the control of the laity. But such an arrangement could only be effected in rare and special cases. Dr. Percival had seen this and he realized that a married clergy was powerless; and that even a celibate clergy must win the love and support of its people before it could bring them to an acceptance of Catholic opinions.

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