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 11. The Summer of 1907

McGARVEY and I returned from Fond-du-Lac early in June. We travelled together as far as Milwaukee. During this journey we felt a sudden jar and the train came to a quick stop. From the window we saw a man's body hurled into a swamp near the railway track. Some of us jumped off the train and found that life was apparently extinct. Remembering the opinion taught us at Nashotah I repeated the form of absolution, conditionally, in the hope that death had not yet taken place. On resuming my seat with McGarvey, who had not left the train, and who was much alarmed and shocked by the accident, I told him what had been done. It is a testimony to our belief in Anglican orders that we should have spoken of the matter as something that any priest would do. Neither of us had the least suspicion at the time that the difficulties of our situation would result in an abandonment of the Anglican ministry.

We parted at Milwaukee; he to go East whilst I changed trains for Nashotah. We were not to be long separated for he had arranged to come back in September to conduct the annual retreat of the C. S. S. S.; and to preside over the general chapter. In my own case the summer was spent at Nashotah and Hartland with a short holiday in Montreal which will be described later.

McGarvey had reason to be encouraged by his trip to Nashotah and Fond-du-Lac. The reception of Barry, Fay and Delany into the C. S. S. S. was certainly a notable result of his visit. It is most important to emphasize this matter. Up to June 1907 there was not the least thought in anyone's mind that any serious difficulties were to rise. Nashotah House and the clergy at Milwaukee were now strongly allied with McGarvey; there was even a possibility that during the next year a number of the students would be urged to adopt the rule of the Companions. Whatever irritation might have arisen over the discussion of Modernism was quite allayed. Everyone was happy.

McGarvey returned to Philadelphia in good spirits, despite the growing agitation which was being carried on in the church newspapers. The Community at St. Elizabeth's was composed at this time of himself, Cowl, Hayward, Lobdell, McClellan and some students for the ministry. Lobdell was not in good health. As he left the others soon afterward when the Community was legally dissolved, and did not enter the Catholic Church, he hardly enters into the narrative. He was a gentle and pious man, beloved by all who knew him and devoted to his work. He retired to the South in search of a milder climate and died many years ago. With the exception of McClellan the others have already been mentioned.

McClellan had known William McGarvey since 1895, and in 1897 had become a Companion, keeping the rule prescribed for a candidate for ordination. It was his determination to enter the Community as soon as his studies were completed. He had some difficulty in doing this as he was at the time very closely associated with Dr. Mortimer, at St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, for whom he did a great deal of secretarial work. McClellan was by birth a Philadelphian, and a kinsman of the famous general of the same name. He had been educated at Quaker and Presbyterian boarding-schools, but his Anglican status was maintained throughout. He was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1899, and the General Theological Seminary, New York, in 1902. He was then ordained to the Anglican diaconate and at once came to St. Elizabeth's to enter the Community, in which he remained until its end. It is from him and Hayward that much of the information contained in this chapter was derived.

It has been said that the conversions at St. Elizabeth's were due to causes operative long before the Open Pulpit legislation was enacted. This was one of those truths which can be stated in the form of falsehood. In the summer of 1907 there were very few Anglican clergymen of the Anglo-Catholic party who were not conscious of being in a difficult position. They were being challenged by the alliance of "Broads," "Lows" and "Highs". They were already threatened by the Open Pulpit proposal. They were embarrassed by the "priest and prophet" theory. They had, with small knowledge of the issue involved, to take a position in regard to Modernism, which was being summarily dealt with by the Pope. Those who did not have difficulties and searchings of heart must have been few in number. A difficulty may grow into a doubt, and a doubt may grow into a decision. The whole process is part of the final decision and it is true in a sense that a conversion may be traced to causes hidden far back. But difficulties are often dissipated; doubts are met and overcome. Had there been no Open Pulpit legislation it is humanly possible to assert that no conversions would have taken place.

There were also practical difficulties in the case of members of the Community of St. Saviour's House which had nothing to do with the material condition of the parish. To say, as some have not scrupled to say, that the parish was being overwhelmed by a foreign population, and that the clergy were discouraged by this, and saw the complete destruction of their work, is not true. Statistics show that the parish had never been larger, nor its membership more loyal. If the movement of the population had begun, it had not yet assumed dangerous proportions. A new residential district was growing up only a few blocks to the South of the church, peopled by Americans. It is American to this day. Even if the allegation were true it would not have offered any great difficulty. The Community would have been welcomed elsewhere. It might have moved to Wisconsin, where it stood in the highest favor. It might have taken over the direction of Nashotah House. There were many other fields in which it could have exercised its influence.

Nevertheless there were difficulties. The Anglo-Catholic position was a very delicate one. To live as a Catholic priest in a church which is essentially Protestant is not easy. Each one of the Companions had his own trials. The state of unrest which had communicated itself to the laity made these trials all the harder to face. I offer, as an example, a characteristic difficulty. One of the Companions was approached by a lay person who wished to "join the church." At the moment this inquirer did not belong to any "church." The question was this: Should he become an Anglican or a Catholic? How could an honest clergyman, who believed that the Pope was the visible head of the Church, explain the intricacies of his position to one who might avoid them by being received directly into the Pope's communion? It was useless to try to avoid the issue. The questioner was well informed. At last the crucial inquiries were made: t( Do you believe in the Pope?" "If you do, why don't you join his Church?" To answer that one was born in a branch of the Church might satisfy the questioned, but it did not satisfy the questioner, who promptly entered the Catholic Church. Since St. Elizabeth's Church had always flourished by conversions from other forms of Protestantism, this difficulty was a very real one. It was directly caused by the acceptance of The Lamp position.

There was another difficulty. If anyone moved out of the parish he could find no other church where the same character of service was obtainable. Some, in good faith, attended Catholic churches, and even received the sacraments, supposing that there was no real difference between the two religions. Others, and these were the majority, to the great injury to their souls, gave up the practice of all religion, when they discovered that Anglicanism was not everywhere the same. This was a great trial of faith to McGarvey. He could see no solution of the problem, unless celibacy of the clergy were more widely practised; for in America there could be no churches like St. Elizabeth's, unless they were served by unmarried clergymen.

The proposal to open the pulpits of the Episcopal Church was itself a contradiction of everything that was taught at St. Elizabeth's Church. Long before the General Convention it had been the main topic of interest in every church publication. Its possibility was itself a difficulty in the eyes of the parishioners, who had been instructed in Catholic principles concerning heresy and schism. The only thing that could reassure them was the belief that no such legislation could possibly be taken seriously. The one hope lay in the strength of the Anglo-Catholic party and its sympathizers. This might frighten the Convention and prevent it from taking any action. It was thought that few Anglicans of any party, despite their assertions, would be anxious to drive members out of their Church. To suggest that the Open Pulpit legislation was not a difficulty until it was finally enacted is to misunderstand the whole situation.

The Companions confided in one another. McGarvey was able to reassure them. They all realized the consequences of individual submission to Rome, and its injury to the Anglo-Catholic party. The Community decided to hold together and make the matter one of common prayer. Almost unconsciously, the action of the coming General Convention was anticipated as a crucial factor in their future decision. If the Episcopal Church were to open the pulpits, as was threatened, they knew that it would be difficult for them to remain in communion with it. It was felt, nevertheless, that so radical a measure would be defeated by the traditional loyalty to Anglican standards. McGarvey used an illustration to encourage the brethren which they remembered. He compared the Catholic life in the Anglican Church to a second "growth which replaces a deforested area. The tree-life seems to have been destroyed, but the new timber which springs up has a real continuity with the old. They had evidence of this life in their ministry and it must be their encouragement in the hour of trial. It was not noticed then that this argument is a subjective one that might be used by the clergy of any denomination.

Meanwhile The Lamp offered a city of refuge. It took the position that individual submissions to Rome would postpone the eventual "Corporate Reunion". At first the editors spoke as though there were a possibility of the reunion of all Anglicans. Later it was maintained that this was unlikely,-but rather that a faithful remnant might expect an invitation from the Holy Father to form a Uniate body. It was the thought of this Uniate body which reassured those who were inclined to submit as individuals. In a sense The Lamp was really preventing conversions; and in view of this it was tolerated by many who were otherwise hostile to it. It was very ably edited by Father Paul, with the assistance of the Rev. Spencer Jones and a missionary in China named Andrews.

In July McGarvey visited Peekskill. In this beautiful city on the Hudson river, the Sisters of St. Mary had built their mother-house. They had since 1903 placed their spiritual direction in the hands of the C. S. S. S.; and McGarvey was chaplain-general of the order. One of the Companions was always resident there as his representative; at this time McClellan was performing that duty. The Community had been founded in 1865 and was the oldest and largest of the American sisterhoods. It had numerous branches and activities. It conducted several high-class boarding schools, of which the best known were Mount St. Gabriel at Peekskill and Kemper Hall at Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Mother Superior, Sister Edith Pardee, was a woman of good birth and great intelligence. She had been superior for twenty-five years.

Whilst at Peekskill McGarvey met Father Paul, whose monastery is at Graymoor a few miles away. They discussed the possibility of an Anglican Uniate, but it was regarded as something that could only come at some later date. There was nothing unusual in this discussion, for it was a matter constantly referred to in The Lamp, and it was the dearest hope of Father Paul. To suppose, as was said many months afterward, that they had any immediate plans was quite untrue. McGarvey promised at this time to write for The Lamp on the two subjects of Anglican orders and clerical celibacy. His practical position was quite different from that of Father Paul, who had no parish duties. It was not difficult for the latter to hold what looked like an impossible position. The case was far otherwise with those who had to meet individual cases of doubt, and who had the direction of penitents looking to them for help.

During the summer McGarvey had a conversation with Dr. Mortimer which was to have very serious results. The Rector of St. Mark's was much discouraged. He was facing a revolt of some of his leading laymen. One of these was afterward to take a prominent part in the passage of the Open Pulpit canon at Richmond. These laymen had taken it upon themselves to canvass the parish with the purpose of finding out whether the people approved of the ritual which was practised in the church. This self-appointed committee decided that certain details of the worship must be changed. Dr. Mortimer was given what amounted to an ultimatum. He knew that he must obey or resign. It was a specific instance of the lay control which was so great a difficulty to McGarvey. Dr. Mortimer's distress drew a sympathetic response from McGarvey, who mentioned his own difficulties. His confidences, given under the guise of an old friendship, and to one who had in previous years been his penitent, were afterward betrayed. They supplied, by being presented in an exaggerated form, the alleged reasons for his conversion. He was a disappointed man, it was said, faced in middle age with the failure of a life's work. He went to Rome because his plans had miscarried; and because he hoped in a new environment to attain that prominence that was denied him in the Anglican Church. Those who are familiar with McGarvey know that this was a complete misrepresentation of his actions. A lie has great strength. It was only recently that this explanation was given to me in good faith.

This interference of the laity, so clearly illustrated in a parish that was reckoned "Catholic," gave McGarvey the needed impetus to write the promised articles on celibacy of the clergy for The Lamp. They are masterpieces of his clear style; and they made a very great impression on those who read them, and undoubtedly strengthened the determination of the opposition to assert itself at Richmond. They appeared in The Lamp of August and September. McGarvey builds his argument up from Holy Scripture and Tradition. He traces the history of clerical marriage and ends with a demonstration of its failure. A married clergy means a divided Church, whose broken parts are dependent either on the civil powers or the domination of the front pews. These articles prepared his mind for the contest at Richmond which now had a deeper significance than appeared at first sight. It was an attempt on the part of the laity, and those clergymen who were dependent upon the support of the laity, to dictate the policies of the Church. McGarvey was not able to preserve the anonymity that he desired his articles to have, for his style and well-known opinions were easily recognized. The writing of these articles were of very great importance in the development of his position, for they focussed all his practical difficulties into a single issue. A few extracts from these articles will make this clear:

The object of the following lines is to correct the assumption, oftentimes expressed, that in the event of our reunion with the Apostolic See, we Anglicans generally would expect the marriage of the clergy to be conceded as a sine qua non. Let me say at the start most distinctly, that it is an entire mistake to suppose that all Anglicans desire any such concession.

When we add to the consideration of the unscripturalness of our system of clerical marriage the further consideration of its violation of oecumenical law, of its hampering effect upon the Church's work, of its failure as a moral safeguard, and of all its belittling circumstances, how can any one of us ask, without blushing, that such a system should be legalized in the event of reunion? Most earnestly do I say, may God forbid.

These extracts show that up to the eve of the General Convention there was no thought of any desertion of the Episcopal Church, but rather the hope that reunion with Rome might be possible. The Episcopal Church is still regarded as a "part of the Catholic Church," possibly in schism, certainly so in spirit.

The same conclusion may be reached from McGarvey's unpublished papers. I am unable to date them, but internal evidence shows that some of them, from which I shall give extracts, were written before the General Convention assembled:

The growth of this conviction [the need of visible union] is especially seen in the Church of England and in the churches in communion with her. From the standpoint of human probabilities it might be expected that the Bull Apostolicae Curae and the unbelieving jeers of the English Roman Catholics would have had the effect of widening the breach between England and Rome, of quenching all desire for unity in the hearts of those Anglicans who are strongly convinced of the validity of their orders, and of enkindling bitterness and hatred toward the Holy See when before there had been a growing reverence and love. And such, indeed, was the immediate effect, and men prophesied that the ultimate effect of the Bull would be set Anglicanism into one of organized opposition to Rome, and that therefore all hopes of unity were at an end. But these prophesies have come to naught. Eleven years have passed since the publication of the Bull, but so far is the Oxford Movement from being diverted from its course that it is evidently and with greater alacrity moving toward Rome more than ever.

Again another extract:

It has been demonstrated that if the will of the bishops, the clergy and the faithful of England, had been allowed to have its way, the spiritual relation with Rome would never have been disturbed; that as a matter of fact the Church of England as a body was simply throttled by a godless court, and that of all the acts which brought to pass the English Reformation, not one of them was the legitimate act of the Church of England.

The above extract was the basis of McGarvey's argument that the Anglican schism was created by the State and that it had never been the will of the English people. In a sense, then, England had never really been separated from Rome. It was his hope that the Pope would recognize this fact in the future when prejudices had been removed.

It is patent to all that she [the Church of England] has no distinctive doctrinal position of her own. Wherein does the distinction lie? It lies in the method of her practical administration, and it consists of two features which are intimately related the one to the other. These features are: the admission of the laity to an equal authority with the Bishops; and secondly the permission, widely made use of, for the clergy to contract marriage.

In this Church, called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, the laity possess the real authority, and this, not because of any action of the State constraining them (as in England) so to constitute the government of the Church, but because of the constraining force of the Anglican tradition, so that in 1789 every legislative action of the bishops is subject to the veto of a majority of the laity. In the diocesan conventions or synods, a measure may be passed unanimously by the clergy, but a bare majority of the lay delegates may nullify their action. In the general convention the same principle rules. ... I understand that the fundamental principles of government prevail in all the other churches in communion with Canterbury, except the Scotch Church, and even there efforts are made to give the laity a coordinate authority with the bishops.

It may be noted that since McGarvey wrote the above, the Scottish Episcopal Church has adopted a constitution which gives the laity the same authority as in other parts of the Anglican communion.

Another extract:

As a correlation to the domination of the laity is the marriage of the clergy after ordination. The statesmen of England in the XVI century were certainly long-headed when after the Act of Submission of the clergy they gave them permission to take wives. It made the Act of Submission effective and abiding, and forged the chains which were to bind the clergy to the will of the laity.

These extracts show a state of uneasiness, but they also show that there was no thought of deserting the Anglican Church. They do not contain strange or novel opinions, but those which have been held by men who lived and died in the Anglican Church. I have been assured by the associates of McGarvey many times, both in the preparation of this chapter, and in discussing the situation at St. Elizabeth's Church before the passing of the Open Pulpit legislation, that there was a common consent in the Community that individual secessions to Rome were not to be considered, but that there might in the future be a situation which would separate the Anglo-Catholic party in whole or in part from the Anglican Church, and that this remnant (as it was called) might become a Uniate church.

The rumor that was circulated a year later, and which was unfortunately reproduced in print on more than one occasion, to the effect that at this time, William McGarvey was actually planning to visit Europe and enlist the interest of Lord Halifax and other personages with regard to such a Uniate, or that he had thought of joining one of the Oriental schisms as a step toward the same end, is without the slightest possibility of truth. Such a procedure would have been so alien to the mind and feelings of McGarvey as to sound ridiculous to those who knew him. This rumor will be dealt with later, when it enters my narrative as a positive accusation.

This chapter has been somewhat of an anticipation of the next.

Project Canterbury