THE GENERAL CONVENTION OF 1865
St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity Parish
OCTOBER 29th, 1865.
REV. MORGAN DIX, S. T. D.,
PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE VESTRY.
PSALM 46: 5.--"God is in the midst of her: therefore shall she not be removed."
THESE words were uttered through the influence of that spirit of prophecy which dwelt in holy men of old; so that, although they seemed, to those who first sang them or heard them sung, to apply to the ancient Church in the land of Judah, they referred, with equal clearness and directness, albeit so distantly, to the Catholic Church which was to succeed it. When we say them, or sing them, we think of her, the great Mother of many nations; and since every greater contains the lesser, we may apply them to any family of that Universal House of the Faithful, and express, in doing so, our gratitude for mercies shown to it, and our faith in the purpose and the promise of the Lord, as special providences seem to make them clear.
It will probably cause no surprise, if I speak to you to-day upon a subject on which, for three or four weeks past, our hearts and minds have felt much and thought much. The Triennial Council of our branch of the Church has closed its sessions since we last looked each other in the face. The work is completed, the task is done; the duty has been fulfilled, and the record is closed. Its acts have passed into history; and time shall show us whether they were wisely wrought. But this is, happily, a case in which a man may so far anticipate the verdict, as to allow himself to rejoice greatly in the things which he has seen, and thank Almighty GOD, and take courage. There are certain great principles of the doctrine of Christ, [3/4] about which we can entertain no doubt, certain truths concerning the Kingdom of GOD, as to which we feel assurance; and when we hear those truths asserted, and observe those principles in active development as vital and energetic forces, we feel that GOD is in the midst of us, and are sure that greater glory is coming to Him, and that new salvation and deliverance are visiting His people. Among those truths and principles the following may be enumerated: that the Church should be one; that her law is the law of love; that her creed must be sound, and her ministry duly commissioned; that her light must be held up to the nations a clear, a warm, a steady flame; that her people must be reverent, humble, devout, zealous of good works. It is not premature to bless the Lord, when, having passed through a very trying crisis, we find no one of those principles impaired or weakened, but on the contrary every one, in a marvellous order, declared, enforced, and illustrated anew, as has been the case, thank GOD, during the sessions of that Council, henceforth to rank as one of the most memorable in the history of our beloved branch of Christ's Church, the General Convention of 1865.
Men looked forward to the assembling of that convention with great anxiety; they accompanied it with prayers that never ceased. The Reverend President of the House of Deputies said, in his address on the morning of the 5th day, "Most of us came in fear and apprehension." There was cause. The storm of war is over, but the great waves have not yet subsided; no one could tell what damage they might do. The leading religious denominations of this country had failed to resume their interrupted relations; political bitterness had proved more powerful than sectarian affinity, and discord, still wearing the bloody garments of the past, and uttering the cries of party, ran between the divided ranks and drove them further and wider asunder. Were the scenes, the sounds, presented in and heard from those completely secularized bodies, to be reproduced among us? Could the North and the South meet together in peace? the North without offensive condescension, the South without the consciousness of humiliation? Could every thing be forgotten save this, that we are all one in Christ [4/5] Jesus? Could subjects foreign to the Church be excluded from her Councils? Could men come together, and, still retaining their self-respect, say, in their official acts, not one word of the past? Could that spirit, which glories in the triumph of the warrior, and courts popularity by deliverances on themes extraneous to the Catholic Creeds and cognate to the order of the State, be quieted and stilled, if it should once arise in the midst? Could the temper of individualism, which plunges all things into confusion, be made to submit to that moral and intellectual habit by which the man is lost in the society which has formed him? Such were the questions which arose in many minds, which, unanswered, were referred to GOD in many a holy prayer. "I have looked," says the same Reverend person who was mentioned before, "to the present session of this Convention with intense anxiety." What he said of himself, was not less true of multitudes besides; they thought that the time had come in which many points would be settled, and among them this: whether the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States is merely one of the loose denominations of the day, driven of the wind like them and tossed, or whether she is henceforth to wear, as hers beyond dispute, the venerable garments of a true and real member of the Catholic Church, whose voice is not as the voices of this world, and whose business is with men only so far as their citizenship is in heaven. Did ever questions more momentous hang in the balance of uncertainty?
They began to be answered the first day. When the Convention assembled in St. Luke's Church, for the opening service, one of the southern Bishops was there. He came alone, and took a seat among the congregation: he looked like a stranger. That was a sight which his brethren in the Apostolic Episcopate could not bear. They saw him; they became uneasy. At last they sent a dignified messenger to tell him that he must come to them. Then he hesitated no longer; he arose, and just as he was, with no vestment or robe of office, passed up to the chancel and went to his brethren. I was told that there was not a dry eye in that august company at that moment. Men felt that GOD was giving answer to the question whether this Church could be one again.
 When the Convention assembled for business, the diocese of Texas, with a representation of both orders, answered to the roll-call. Before it adjourned, several other dioceses of the South had their delegates there.
Thus the breach, as the world of the ungodly called it, was fast closing up. Then came two of those test questions, which in the mode of their answer, sweep off at once a hundred side-issues and settle a thousand minor difficulties forever. The first was the question about the Bishopric of Tennessee. That Diocese had sent a priest to Philadelphia as its Bishop Elect; a godly and learned man, but one who had been most intimately connected with the revolted States, and with their military operations, as a chaplain in their army. How many points would be settled in his acceptance, or his rejection? Rejected he could not be, he was not. Accepted, and welcomed as few have ever been, he was consecrated on the 6th day of the session, in presence of an overwhelming congregation of clergy and laity, and with circumstances designed to show the significance of the act. Then, the next day, when the hearts of men were softened as by the dew of Hermon which fell upon the hill of Zion, came the second question and the last; that of the reception of the Bishop of Alabama. He was consecrated some two years ago, in the midst of the war, by Southern Bishops, by men who thought the disruption of the Nation a final one, and the rebellion a success. He was consecrated a Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the "Confederate States;" he belonged to us no more than a Bishop of the Church of England, or Scotland. Should he be received? If so, on what terms? Must not this man be required to make some act of abjuration, to sign some pledge of allegiance to the Government, to speak some confession of penitence acknowledging the error of his ways? Must he not, in the popular phrase of the day, "give evidence that he had repented him of his sins"? Not so thought the Council of the Church. Their idea was, "Let Caesar look to the things that are Caesar's; we legislate only for the Church of God." It was my privilege to be at the place where that tremendous question was brought up, and present when it was answered. [6/7] The scene can never be forgotten by any who viewed it. After two days of earnest debate, they knelt in silent prayer; the stillness seemed almost supernatural. Then they arose, and, by their vote, said: "Let the Bishop of Alabama send full evidence that he has been duly consecrated into the office which we doubt not that he possesses; and let him send, in writing, and properly certified, that promise of conformity to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church, which every Bishop takes among us, and we ask no more." It seemed as though the Lord had arisen and said, "Peace be to this house and to all that are therein." If any man had previously doubted concerning the reunion of the Church, he cast, at that moment, every doubt away.
Brethren, our Church has never been divided. Our enemies said that it was, but they were wrong. The storm of war deranged for a time our means of intercourse, and thereby necessarily suspended our rules of canonical action; but the life and the heart were one. If it had been GOD'S will that the rebellion had passed into a successful revolution, and that the Confederate States had become a nation, the Church would still have been one; no human power could have kept us apart. We should have been more closely allied with each other than we are with the Church of England; somehow we should have come together. How much more must it be so now? The Confederate States have ceased to exist; the causes of interruption to our intercourse are removed; we are one again. After what has occurred, no one can with truth affirm that the Episcopal Church has known a schism. We trust in the Lord for the future, as we trusted in him in the past. The Church has never been divided. Let those who long for Catholic Unity bear that in mind.
Thus was the law of Divine Charity obeyed, and thus was that good and joyful thing granted to us, the reunion of the brethren under the motive power of Christian love. Next, observe what a noble work was done there for Catholic Unity; or, at least, how unmistakably was shown the sympathy of this Church with that "one thing needful" above all others in the present day. Directly or indirectly, there was contact [7/8] with every portion of the Holy Church throughout the world. The Metropolitan of Canada was present at the opening session, and united in the consecration of the Bishop of Tennessee; the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Provincial Synod of Canada appeared, the bearer of an address from the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity of the United Church of England and Ireland in Canada, assembled in council at Montreal, expressing their fraternal unity, and rejoicing with us at the restoration of peace. The Bishop of Honolulu was present, during the session, a representative of the islands of the sea. To the Bishop of Capetown and Metropolitan of South Africa, that noble-hearted defender of the faith against the impious Colenso, the Convention sent, with unanimous voice, a letter, expressing their admiration, thanks, and trust, and concurring in the action of the Archbishop, Bishops, and Clergy of the Province of Canterbury to the same effect. The report of the Russo-Greek Committee, a document of great ability containing a narrative of the steps in progress, here and elsewhere, toward reunion with the Holy Orthodox Oriental Church, was listened to with deep interest, and the committee was continued, with a large addition to its numbers. A strong expression of sympathy went forth, officially, for the comfort of that portion of the Italian priesthood and people who aim at a true reformation on Catholic principles, desiring to rid themselves of the incubus of the Papacy, and yet to retain all that belongs to the ancient order and discipline of historic Christianity. Thus has our branch of the Church been brought in actual, practical contact with the Church of England, with the Colonial Churches in America, Africa, and Oceanica, with the whole Oriental portion of the Body of Christ, and with the sounder portion of the Roman Communion in Italy; in other words, as one has well expressed it, "with every leading branch of the Catholic Church throughout the world." What hopefulness in this position! How much to make us think, and work, and pray, and trust! Surely the coming of the Lord cannot be far off. "When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; for the day of your redemption draweth nigh."
 But while all this was in process, the needs of our own household were not forgotten. The meetings of the Board of Missions, held from time to time during the session of the Convention, were fully worthy of the occasion; it was like light answering to light on lofty but adjacent headlands. In that board, the whole Domestic and Foreign Missionary work of the Church was exhibited; and at the third of their sessions I listened to the fullest and most complete account that I ever heard of that great region, heretofore comprehended in the "Northwest Missionary District," and including Nebraska, Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The story of that vast region was told by Bishop Talbot; a story which, though it took an hour, and was prolonged by the questions put to him from time to time by the eager listeners, seemed at the last as though but just begun. Upon that broad, and as yet thinly peopled expanse, hitherto the scene of the exhausting pilgrimages of one solitary Bishop, the Convention have now placed three; and, brethren, the Church must help, with offerings and prayers, the earnest and devoted men who are to go out there; the men whose mitres none of their brethren would envy; mitres which shall prove to them, perhaps, like crowns of thorn, or bands of iron about their brows. Again, they chose another Bishop for far-off China, a faithful laborer, long approved by work under the late lamented Bishop Boone; and they resolved to send forth fresh workers into Greece, to carry on in that classic and Christian field the system so admirably defended in the Board by the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Western New York, which has approved itself best to the mind of the Church, and to which, thanks be to God, we are now more solemnly pledged than ever before. We should not be ignorant, brethren, of the principles on which our work is done there. The Protestant denominations around us have established and tried to carry on missions in Greece; but they have proceeded on their own crude theory, that the ancient Churches of that land are thoroughly corrupt, idolatrous, and abandoned of the Lord; acting on which hypothesis they have compassed heaven and earth to make proselytes, and have endeavored to allure the people by the beauties and the charms of [9/10] the formless, creedless, nerveless religion of American Sectarianism. In such proceedings we have utterly refused to have part or lot. We recognize, and have from the very first recognized, that to the Apostolic Churches of the East belongs the right to teach and minister to that people; we have disowned the design of making proselytes among them, and we have honorably kept our faith, drawing none away from their priests, their churches, their rites and ways. But we have established schools there, in which it is estimated that we have already educated some 40,000 of their young girls; teaching them our catechism, instructing them in the Holy Scriptures, and quietly bringing them in contact with the ideas of a reformed Catholicity which are held by us and by the Anglican Communion. Thus, while the Sectarians have incurred the disgust and provoked the opposition which their characteristically contemptuous course is sure to awaken, our work has gone on quietly, and with the approval even of the clergy themselves; and we have been not only leavening the old mass with new life, but also preparing the way for the reunion which is sure to come. That work is to be henceforth carried on with more fulness; and its opposite, the sectarian proselyting scheme, has met with new and overwhelming reprobation.
The subject of the Priesthood was another one of those considered, and steps were taken to make access to it hereafter more difficult, and to exclude from it incompetent men, more carefully than they are at present shut out. Another point to which your attention should be called, and on which it is proposed at some future day to speak more particularly, was that of the home training and education of our children, the boys and girls who are growing up to be the men and women of the next age. The resolutions presented and adopted on that most important subject, demand a fuller consideration than I am able at present to give: they are cited, in order to show the comprehensiveness of the mind of that Council, which, while binding up the wounds which civil war has made, smoothing the face of distant wildernesses for the feet of them that preach the Gospel of Peace, and feeling through all the world for points of contact with the members of the Holy Catholic Church, did [10/11] not forget the babes and sucklings, the children of the house, but took thought how best to train them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and how to fit them to carry on the work which He is putting into our hands.
Here also may reference be made to that old traditional conservatism which received new illustrations in the course of our Right Reverend Fathers, in resisting all propositions to change or alter the Book of Common Prayer, and in their determination to preserve as it is that world-pervading Liturgy, as a bond of union among men of Anglo-Saxon blood.
But, beloved brethren, I may well cry out with the Apostle, "What shall I more say? For the time would fail to tell it all." Our history shows, thus far, no more memorable Council than that which has thus closed. By the conservative tone of its members, by the thorough churchmanship of almost the whole body, by the wisdom, learning, and piety, the practical good sense, the burning zeal, the forward love, the prudence, the frankness of speech, the brotherly kindness, the good taste, the forecasting sagacity, the Christian courtesy, the tenderness of mutual consideration, which were there, for the most part, displayed, we estimate the advance of our branch of the Church Catholic, and feel the force of her influence. Contrast that Council with others which have recently met, and you will see what the Church is, by the fruits which she brings forth. We breathe a different air; we see by another light; we appear to be in a different world. Men were there from the North, from the South; men who had, on either side, suffered every thing for their convictions; men of intensest loyalty to the Government of this nation, [* See note at the end.] and men of equally intense devotion to the cause of the late rebellion; men as widely separated politically as men could be; and yet these men came together, knelt together, communed together, looked steadily into each other's eyes, and grasped each other's hands, asking reciprocally nothing but the privilege to enjoy together the blessing of peace. Must not the system be a real one, a powerful one, which could bring about such results? Does it not deserve the glorious name which we have always claimed for it of a Catholic [11/12] system? To win such triumphs is worth to us more than words can declare. The good, the wise, the lovers of unity, peace, and concord, far and wide, have been looking on; they have seen all this; and, unless signs deceive us, we shall see many of them among us ere long.
Beloved brethren, these words are spoken in no boastful spirit: the Lord forbid! But they were prompted and dictated by a true, a deep, an absorbing love for our Church, our dear and gentle Mother in Christ, and they have been uttered under a sense of the responsibilities laid upon us at this hour. Those responsibilities have been made heavier by the transactions of the past three weeks. We are called now, as never before, to laborious and prayerful lives; because things have been so shaped under the providence of Almighty GOD as to set more clearly before our eyes the special work which He has given this Church to do. Setting our own Communion aside for the present, and looking about us, we see three powers at work in the religious field, the Church of Rome, Sectarian Protestantism, and Infidelity. I class them together, not invidiously, but for convenience of enumeration. The central one of those three powers is growing weaker every day as a spiritual force; and the wisest among us, in considering its history in Europe and here, have felt, and have not feared publicly to declare, the conviction, that its progress is rapid and sure toward complete secularization. We shall live to see the decay of that anti-Catholic Protestantism, whose decline we are now beholding; and when, as a religious and spiritual power, it has finally given up the ghost, there will remain two gigantic shapes each rejoicing over its grave, Romanism on the one side and Infidelity on the other. Now, brethren, if there is to be any escape from one or the other of those systems, it can be only in one which shall present to the people a sure refuge from both; and it must be a pure, primitive, and Apostolic Catholicism, sharply distinguished from the Papal system on the one hand, and from the Protestant system on the other. The elements of such a Catholicism we possess; we are not perfect, we are far from perfect as yet, we have much to recover, much to learn, much to develop, before we can talk to this nation as we [12/13] ought, and win it as we might; but we have the elements and the principles, and, better still, we see and feel that they are growing. Our duty is clear; to hold ourselves pure from the systems of error on all sides, and to present, incessantly, the truth in a spirit of courtesy, charity, and love, trusting to GOD to open the eyes that have need to see. Toward the Church of Rome let us be just, not descending to vulgar abuse of her, nor denying the many noble features of her system, yet calmly pointing out, as occasion demands, her departures from the traditional dogmas and practices of the Catholic Church. Toward Protestantism let us be more courteous than it is toward us, not rendering evil for evil or railing for railing, but urging upon it the weakness and inconsequence of its positions the defects in its ministerial lines, the hopelessness of its innumerable divisions, the secularization of its character; and above all, let us remember the words of the great, the wise, the kindhearted Bishop of New York (a man to whom we owe more, for his course in the Convention, than I can pause to tell), as addressed to us in that pastoral letter, one of the most influential and important documents ever yet put forth among us: "The Church, in her statement of principles and in her law, makes it as clear as any truth ever can be made, that she means to erect, and has erected, an effectual barrier between all within her fold, and the official action of ministers of non-Episcopal bodies:" and let us pledge ourselves to defend the Church and the congregations thereof from those perils which can arise only from defiance of her laws and infraction of her canons. Then, toward the skepticism and the infidelity of the day, we must be quiet and patient, answering its questions, resolving its doubts, and meeting it in the only way in which it can be met, by pointing to all those fruits of faith among ourselves which, by their fairness and freshness, make men happier, and life more honorable, and the earth brighter, and the whole world better, and so put objectors to the blush and shut the lips of accusation.
Dear brethren, it seems almost as if a new beginning had been made for us, by the prospective reunion of the Church, and by the reassertion of her true principles and character. But [13/14] O how much is required of them to whom so much has been given! And what a judgment must follow on unfaithfulness to our Master! In hope, in joy, in fear, and trembling, in doubt of self, in trust to GOD, let us depart hence, having it in mind to do all as much as in us lies to promote the best cause that ever was committed to men, that of leading GOD'S children to unity in faith, to holiness of life, and to perfect agreement in the blessed bond of peace.
The radical press, secular and religious, has not ceased to teem with articles aspersing the Church, and misrepresenting the action of her bishops, clergy, and laity; prating disgustingly of "liberty, patriotism, loyalty," &c., as though these things had been repudiated and denied by us. By way of answer to all such accusations, I reprint the letter written by the Rev. Dr. Kerfoot at the request of one of the clerical delegates from Pennsylvania; it is a clear and manly statement, and ought to shame into silence the class of agitators mentioned above.
"REVEREND AND DEAR SIR: You ask me to put on paper for publication now my remarks offered in the convention on Tuesday, thinking that the real mind of the vast majority of our convention may thus be better apprehended by the public. I comply with great pleasure, though I can only give the substance of my address.
"The imputation of disloyalty was made against any who should vote to lay on the table certain resolutions which were meant to give expression to the sentiments of members on national topics. My point was that this vote to lay on the table need not touch any man's loyalty; that many who had so voted on Saturday, and might so vote to-day, were as loyal, in the most intense sense of the word, as any man in the house. I am such a man. I fought secessionism and rebellion in Maryland for four years, face to face; in the very teeth of the rebel armies who held me, my home, and my work in their grasp again and again. I maintained and declared my loyal convictions and principles when implored by secession friends to change or withhold them for the sake of interests and works most dear to me; and even when the rebel generals held me their prisoner, with the threat of a long absence in the South as a captive in their prisons. I defied any loyal man in or out of the convention to show a record of loyalty clearer or stronger than mine.
"Moreover, I believe in every word, as far as I could recall the words, of these and the earlier resolutions of like tendency. I rejoiced in the triumph of the national authority over the rebellion. I would lay down my life to secure that glorious result. I do thank, and I always had thanked God, publicly and privately, for this overthrow of the rebellion. No man could more honestly and heartily give such thanks. So do I rejoice from my soul in the destruction of African slavery, and I praise God for this great mercy. No man can do this more honestly or heartily. My whole soul goes out in praise for these great mercies to us as a nation and as individuals. I would not be mistaken on this point; and I desire the press to note it and publish it.
"But my point was that this church convention was not the place for declarations on these or on any distinctly national topics, nor on any topics, civil or social, except in direct and necessary connection with an ecclesiastical and religious work. Only mischief, confusion, grief, and distraction could ensue if such resolves and such discussions were brought in among us here. Our duty as a church legislature was limited to topics of religious doctrine and worship, and of the spread of the Gospel. This is a matter not of loyalty to the national government in any sense, but solely of adherence to the right rule as to the topics of our action here.
"Just here, moreover, there were among us delegates from the dioceses of the South, welcomed here by formal resolution, who cannot--and all know this--vote aye on these resolves, touching points of political opinion, &c. Why go beyond our duty as an ecclesiastical convention and pass declaratory resolves which must embarrass, perhaps expel these returned delegates?
"But still more, far more, did I care for my clerical brethren from several northern dioceses, who could not conscientiously consent to legislate here on any such extra ecclesiastical matter, and who had earnestly requested me to bring out this protest, that loyalty to our country was not in this question at all. It was untrue, ungenerous, and unjust to represent this as the point. This was not the point. The point was simply this: Is it right to legislate here, by way of political manifestations, on such topics of civil polity, history and duty? We say it is wrong and sinful, as well as unwise and hurtful. This is the conscience of us loyal clergymen. Many most loyal clerical brethren had urged me thus to speak for myself and for them.
* * * "Whatever other motives might prompt some men to this same vote, my motives and that of the very many brethren for whom I spoke, was this, and only this--to keep the Church to her own proper duty. We, they all with myself, loved our country, and rejoiced in its triumph over the rebellion, and in the overthrow of African slavery, heartily and fully; and we all praise God for these His great mercies. None could be more loyal on any of these points. Only we are now convinced and resolved that we must vote against such wrong and hurtful transgressions of the duty of this convention to keep its legislation strictly to things ecclesiastical. We hear of public opinion demanding such action; of the press and the telegraph spreading the news of our proceedings and awakening hostility to the Church, and to those who, on any ground, vote against such action being had here.
"JOHN B. KERFOOT, OF CONNECTICUT."
That the writer of this letter has the confidence of the Church may reasonably be inferred from the fact, that on the 16th of this present month of November he was, by a very large majority, elected to be bishop of the diocese in Western Pennsylvania, for which choice we humbly and heartily thank GOD.