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 18. Conclusion.

IN APPRAISING the importance of McGarvey's interpretation of the Open Pulpit legislation, I am not so unreasonable as to suggest that the departure of a score of, clergymen to Rome was sufficient to create a turning-point in the history of Episcopalianism in America. It was rather the recognition of there being a turning-point that caused the conversions which were incidental and relatively unimportant. His immediate recognition of the significance of the Richmond convention of 1907 is the proof of McGarvey's genius. After the lapse of nearly thirty years this fact has become increasingly clear. In 1907 there was a parting of the ways. At that time the Episcopal Church deliberately chose, through its highest representative assembly, the path which led away from historical Christianity, and it has been walking in the same direction ever since. Almost alone McGarvey undertook to make a prophecy which was then received with scorn. His prophecy has been abundantly fulfilled.

The parting of the ways was the final stage in a long series of hesitations. In the outburst of Modernism which preceded the world war, and which cannot be disassociated from it, the danger facing Christianity was revealed. Tyrrell spoke of the situation as "Christianity at the crossroads." He was correct. A decision was imperative. The Catholic Church dealt with the problem effectively. It was far otherwise with the Protestant sects, because they had always been encumbered with a dogmatism which had no logical basis. None of them had ever fully subscribed to the principle that the Bible was the sufficient and final authority in matters of faith. They had all attempted to build ecclesiastical structures out of the debris of a demolished Catholicism. The question that they had to face in the early years of this century was this: Is Christianity a definitely revealed religion with fundamental laws, or is it the mass-experience of reli-. gious yearnings and emotions?

This question was only new in as far as it was made clear. For one hundred years, at least, it was at the back of all the so-called Liberalism of the nineteenth century. Dr. Arnold would not have offered it so bluntly, yet Newman sensed the danger when the former proposed that Protestantism should be united on a non-dogmatic basis. The proposal returned again and again. It was popularized by the supposed approval of science and philosophy in the form of reverent agnosticism. It was said that ultimate truth was unknowable; that dogmas had little to do with real religion; that the apprehension of God must be through instincts and intuitions rather than through reason, still less through any external authority. Indeed it was by this deviation from traditional Christianity that the Oxford Movement itself was provoked.

The average Episcopalian did not see the danger, although it lay at the root of all the confusions which were to follow. McGarvey did see it, because, like Newman, he could not conceive of a Christianity that was not dogmatic and authoritative. Bishop Gore saw it partly and attempted to make a synthesis. He added to the idea of Christianity as a mass-experience, which appealed to him as a Socialist, the necessity of a universally accepted hierarchy. Here McGarvey showed the keener insight. If truth is intuitional, there is really no need of a clergy. The laity may be prophets and therefore the ministers of the Word. This is precisely what the 'defenders of the Open Pulpit maintained. They declared that ordination was not necessary for a preacher, although public order might demand some sort of priesthood for the administration of ceremonial rites. The discovery of truth was to be expected in the mutual exchange of experiences. Messages must be shared; heart must speak to heart. The Church must spring from regenerated souls and be the expression of genuine feelings. In this way alone could the unity of Christendom be effected.

McGarvey saw the fallacy. Unity had never been secured in this way, except momentarily in the enthusiasm of large gatherings. Modernism was only Protestantism in its elementary form, and stripped of its local disguises. Protestantism had always been disruptive. The mere union of hearts had never led to anything but the destruction of principles. Love may be made to justify anything, if it is separated from truth. Moreover, there was in all this a denial of the Incarnation. Our Lord came to teach, and to found a Church which would teach. No Protestant sect had been able to avoid some form of ecclesiasticism, although verbally denying it. Each one had only been effective as long as it was dogmatic. The wandering prophets had produced nothing but confusion. What McGarvey saw clearly was this: the Open Pulpit was a definite denial of the unique right of the Catholic Church to preach the Gospel.

A priest is much more than the celebrant of sacrificial worship. He is the authorized messenger of the Church. The faith was delivered once for all to the saints; it was not delivered to irresponsible preachers. The sermon is a sacred thing; the pulpit is a sacred place. They can be desecrated by false doctrine; and their rights are violated by the unauthorized preaching of true doctrine. The Word must be delivered with power; not the power of eloquence, nor even of persuasive enthusiasm, valuable as these are--but the power of lawful jurisdiction. Behind the pulpit must be the majesty of the Catholic Church. To answer that the pulpits might be opened to lay preachers with the permission of individual bishops is only admissible if these bishops are to be held responsible for what is taught. So far from this being the case, the bishops who welcomed the Open Pulpit desired it to be an open forum where messages might be delivered which would lead to new ideas and mutual agreements. It is absurd to suppose that they would have been anxious to use non-Episcopal ministers to deliver Episcopalian doctrine. The pulpits were to be opened for the express purpose of hearing what was not Episcopalian doctrine, or there was no sense in opening them.

It is necessary to stress this point. There were those who thought, and amongst them were Anglo-Catholics, that the objection of McGarvey was unreasonable, and even unreal. They suggested that he was trying to cover his retreat by a fabricated excuse. It seemed to them that no harm could come from an occasional sermon by a preacher who was acceptable to the bishop. If any unpleasant results came from it, the invitation need not be repeated. At the most it was a gesture of good will and a sign of Christian fellowship. To object was to make a vast trouble out of almost nothing. There had been plenty of instances of unauthorized invitations being given to non-Anglican preachers. No harm had resulted except the defiance of canon law. Such invitations would undoubtedly continue and it would be better to limit them by episcopal supervision. Looking at the matter in this light, the amendment to Canon XIX might be regarded as a restriction rather than an extenuation. All this is to misunderstand the position that McGarvey took.

It was not the opening of the pulpits so much as the purpose for which they were opened, and the fact that they could now be opened legally, that alarmed him. He regarded the legislation as a practical denial of the belief in an infallible church. The mere thought of a Unitarian minister being invited, as many were, to address a body of orthodox Christians, with the permission of the bishop, was something contradictory to Catholic truth. When, however, he knew that such a possibility was made legal for the express purpose of propitiating those who were determined to destroy the dogmatic structure of Christianity, he was unable to remain silent. He saw in the new legislation, and he saw quite rightly, that it was a triumph for those who, at a turning-point in the history of Christianity, were leading the Episcopal Church away from the path into which the fathers of the Oxford Movement had been endeavoring to guide it.

This did not, however, fill up the bitter cup which he was forced to drink. The Open Pulpit amendment would never have had the least chance of becoming law had it not received the support of Anglo-Catholic bishops and delegates. It was hardly possible for him to believe that such a thing could have taken place. That it was possible was a revelation to him of the hopelessness of the situation. There had been no sense of anything but individual interest. There had been no coherence, despite the months of plain warning of approaching danger. The Anglo-Catholics had gone to the Richmond convention knowing quite well that an assault was to be made on their position. The enemy was open in its hostility. Its tactics were laid bare. Instead of closing up their ranks, the Anglo-Catholics had allowed themselves to be routed, and were now pretending that they had made a strategic retreat. To have been overwhelmed by numbers and to have held their ground to the last man might have been tolerable. To return home protesting that they had saved their own lives by an equivocal treaty of peace was outrageous.

There was still more. After the publication of McGarvey's first tract there was opportunity for protest. Instead of this the Anglo-Catholic delegates, episcopal, clerical and lay, were only anxious to justify themselves. The Open Pulpit which was now in existence throughout the country was said to be a misunderstanding of the legislation. Bishops who had voted for it announced that it would not be permitted in their dioceses. This was Congregationalism. If they were opposed to it in their own diocese, they should at once have opposed it in other dioceses. They preferred to abandon McGarvey. Not a single member of the whole Episcopalian hierarchy sent him one word of encouragement. Their only immediate fear was that he might go to Rome, and as such an event seemed possible it was wiser to disassociate themselves from him. With this ominous silence the truth began to make itself plain. He realized that he had been defending what Bishop Grafton delicately called "a Philadelphia-little-back-alley-view" of the Episcopal Church. Perhaps this was true in spite of its crude definition. The school of Dr. Percival had been somewhat exclusive. Perhaps its idea of the Episcopal Church was quite different from that of Anglo-Catholics generally?

In the appendix will be found three tracts that McGarvey wrote under the stress of painful mental conflict. The first was written before the general convention, the second at the beginning of the Lent following and the third at the time of resigning his ministry. I have already referred to them. I call attention to them again because they are the best index of his gradual change of position. The first was reprinted from an anonymous article in The Lamp? then, of course, an Anglican publication. Its subject was the celibacy of the clergy. There is not the least hint in it that he had any intention of leaving the Episcopal Church. Moreover, three months before writing it, he had defended the validity of Anglican Orders in the same magazine. The second tract was provoked by the widespread use of the Open Pulpit amendment and the silence of the Anglo-Catholics in regard to it. We have seen how it was received. Dr. Mortimer hastened to disassociate himself from the protest. When we remember that he had been the author of a dozen or more theological works, all attributable to Catholic sources, this rebuff alone was enough to set McGarvey thinking. The Living Church described his tract as being "an unbalanced utterance." It went so far as to defend the new legislation as being based "in theory" upon the soundest Catholic principles in so far as it represented the kingly authority of the bishops and their power as ordinaries in every parish. The inference that McGarvey did not fail to draw from the reception of his tract was that the whole matter was becoming one of expediency. The interests which had secured the amendment were too powerful to be opposed and no one was going to do anything. Meanwihle the Broad Church party and its allies, the Low Church and High Church opportunists, were boasting that they had changed the constitution of the Episcopal Church.

The third tract was published when McGarvey resigned his parish. It is utterly untrue to say that he resigned merely because the Open Pulpit had become a reality. He had experienced a change of conviction. A comparison of the text of this tract with its predecessor will show that this is so. Heretofore he had tried to rouse opposition to the new legislation. Now he takes that legislation as being inevitable. It was nothing more than a revelation of Anglicanism as a reality. The Oxford Movement was therefore parasitic. As far as it had a purpose it was directed toward the Catholic Church, but incapable of making a Protestant sect Catholic. McGarvey had now come to believe that the Anglican Church was a Protestant body trying to rid itself of an Anglo-Catholic incubus, and not a branch of the true Church trying to free itself from alien Protestantism. He had been forced to this conclusion by a personal experience.

It was a conclusion that he had done his best to avoid, and one that he had only reached with apprehension. The Open Pulpit was no longer an embarrassment, it was a means of enlightenment. It made the course of Anglicanism quite plain to him. Protestantism had revealed itself stark naked under the name of Modernism. Other sects had already made terms with it, after a period of conflict. The Episcopal Church had done the same in its own characteristic manner. It had sought refuge in equivocal expressions. It had resigned itself to its destiny whilst still pretending to remain distinctive. The appearance of ecclesiastical continuity would be preserved; the words of the creeds would be unchanged; yet both might be treated as antiquarian heirlooms. The changes could be rung on "sermons" and "addresses;" on "special occasions" and "episcopal permissions." The fact was that the Liberals had won their case, and had become the logical masters of the Episcopal Church.

Since 1907 this trend toward Liberalism has gone on without serious opposition. It is true that no one is any longer interested in the Open Pulpit. It is taken as a matter of course. It did not bring the various Protestant sects any nearer to Anglicanism than they were already by identity of origin. The non-Episcopalian ministers were not hoodwinked by the "priest and prophet" theory. For them "prophet" and "priest" were identical terms, as they have always been to all true Protestants, and as they were intended to be by those who were responsible for the Anglican formularies. To be invited to preach an occasional sermon without being given the privilege of the communion table, whether as ministers or communicants, was almost an insult. Until the Episcopal Church accepts all ordinations as valid, there will not be any corporate reunion. In view of this the Anglicans are as ready to juggle with the word "valid" as they were with the word "sermon." The way is prepared for the "open communion table." Indeed, under certain conditions the Lambeth Conference has already established it. It has been the same story in every practical question that arises. The Episcopal Church allows divorce so long as it is not asked to marry divorced people with the same ritual as is ordinarily used. It allows birth prevention under the term "eugenics." The terms "heresy" and "schism" have passed out of the vocabulary of her theologians. There are no longer any disturbances between ritualists and anti-ritualists, for the externals of worship no longer symbolize any distinctive doctrine. If Bishop Manning preaches a sermon in defence of sacerdotalism, he is contradicted by the most prominent clergy in his diocese as a matter of course; but no one is disturbed. The Church Times in England and The Living Church in America sometimes remind their readers that there are principles at stake which were once the subject of bitter conflicts. Since 1907 these conflicts have been losing their force, because the idea of the Church as the pillar of dogmatic truth has lost its ancient appeal. The principles of the Oxford Movement are still powerful amongst a small body of pro-Roman Anglo-Catholics, who have no influence on the Episcopal Church, no organ of expression, and no hope of representation. How long they will be able to maintain their strange position is a matter of conjecture. The Anglican Church as a whole has ceased to regard them as a danger. It has found that the best way to avoid unpleasant conflicts is to tolerate everything. The bishop who wishes to counteract the influence of Anglo-Catholic congresses finds that it is best to be present at them in cope and mitre.

As to the Anglo-Catholics who are not pro-Roman, they have secured toleration. They can hope for nothing more. This toleration has been secured at the cost of uniformity and unity. One hundred years ago the Anglican Church was intelligible. It was loyal to certain fundamental principles. This can be said no longer. There are those who profess to see in this "comprehensiveness" the hopeful sign of a future federation of the sects. They may be right. In the same measure as they are right, the Anglo-Catholics are deprived of reasons for being separated from the unity of faith which is guaranteed by the Holy See.

As I read over what I have written I see how hopeless it is to describe the utter sincerity and devotion of the men with whom I have been associated for so many years. In these days of publicity-seeking and selfishness it is hard to reconstruct the situation as I remember it so clearly. There was a seriousness about living which is hardly known now. There was then a sense of duty which has almost vanished. The romance of self-sacrifice was then a reality; it did make its appeal to young hearts. A life that would now be thought cramped and sordid was then embraced with eagerness. I think of the meagre salaries paid to the Anglo-Catholic clergymen; their inability to travel; their almost total lack of diversion; their loyalty to the essential laws of the spiritual life; their contempt for expediency; their suspicion of material success; their constant evaluation of human life in the terms of eternity. Since the days when Dr. Percival drew his disciples together, the world has changed. We have all become besmirched with a detestable vulgarity which is not, as it professes to be, a broadening of the mind and a widening of our sympathies. It is rather a passion for what is obtained without effort, and for what is cast quickly aside as one superficial interest succeeds another. Humanity is an intensely vulgar thing when deprived of its spiritual ideals. Every kind of human excellence is inseparable from the sense of permanence. It must have its roots deep in the past and send its branches far out into the future. The attempt to live in the "now" is utterly futile, for what is the "now" but a fleeting moment whose only worth lies in its fruit of past labor and in its seeding for futurity. One cannot live, for the moment as a human being: such a course is only fitted to the brutes. The moment is momentous truly, but only as it weaves the fabric of abiding history, and unending destiny.

The present situation of social and moral bankruptcy was not unforeseen. Our forefathers of the Catholic movement anticipated all we are experiencing. Newman prophesied the results of Liberalism which had no constructive principles, because it was not based upon dogmas. The Oxford Movement, which was clearly a movement toward Rome, has ended in a movement away from Rome. Liberalism has been brought to bear against it at an angle, and has swept its onward course into an endless circle.

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