A PLEA FOR TOLERATION,
THE SERMON PREACHED BY THE
REV. MORGAN DIX, S.T.D.,
In Trinity Church, on Ascension Day, 1874.
AS PRINTED IN
THE SAINT CHRYSOSTOM’S MAGAZINE
Vol. II JUNE No. 4
New York and Boston
WE meet once again, beloved brethren, to keep holy a great day in the Christian year—one of the greatest of all. This feast has a special character; it teaches in a wonderful manner. First, it declares to faith that literal fact, that sublime, miraculous event, the local and corporeal ascent of JESUS CHRIST to the right hand of GOD. Secondly, it tells us things never to be forgotten concerning the life and inner spirit of the Church. As one ascends into the air, his field of view expands; the earth below him looks like a flat, even plain; minor boundaries and artificial divisions are lost to the eye; adjacent regions merge into one; every valley is filled, and every mountain and hill made low; lakes are but little mirrors reflecting the sky, and rivers are silver threads. Even so, when following Christ in thought, men ascend in heart and mind into a purer realm; they obtain a wider prospect from above; their views of truth, the Church, religion, and life are more comprehensive; they look on those things, not as once, when all was strait and shut in, but from a point at which sect lines vanish, and the Catholic kingdom of CHRIST is seen. Let us follow the suggestions of the HOLY GHOST, as made to the faithful, on a feast like this. Let us look down upon what was and what is; let us compare the former with the latter days; the first and the second; the "worldly sanctuary" of the Jew, with the glorious things which it prefigured; the old Church in the land of Judea with the new Church, One, Holy, and universal throughout all the world. Let us try to look on these things, as it were, from above, whence the LORD ascended, views them, and us, and his whole family.
In the ancient Church, GOD, in power and light divine, was localized and centralized, at one point, and that point was on the surface of this globe on which we live. It was as if the Eternal had shrunk into a little room thirty feet square. What a wonderful religion that was! First, limited to one land, then to one city, then to one building, and finally, to one apartment in that building in the midst of the earth, Palestine; in the midst of Palestine, Judea; in the midst of Judea, Jerusalem; in the midst of Jerusalem that temple, which men travelled from the ends of the earth to see. In that temple also, there were divisions; courts within courts, all drawing closer and yet closer around the veiled and awful shrine which only one living man was permitted to enter, nor he save on one only day of the year. Palestine was a frame to Jerusalem; Jerusalem a frame to the stately, splendid temple; the temple, a frame to the Holy of Holies; and there, in that innermost place was GOD Himself; localized and visible, in a luminous glory, on a shrine made with hands. Such a Presence was nowhere else on earth, before or since. It seemed as if the Almighty had suffered Himself to be contracted, condensed, concentrated at that one point, most sacred of all spots on the surface of the globe. There is no breadth in this; it is a shrinkage into a curtained room where the Glory is revealed, steadily burning in unearthly fire.
With the passing away of the Old, and the coming of the New, all this is changed: "the glorious LORD is unto us a place of broad rivers and streams." (Isaiah xxxiii. 21). The system of the latter days begins, indeed, with a local presence of GOD Incarnate—the Word [149/150] made Flesh; but after the Incarnate Saviour had worked out our redemption, the signs of a new dispensation at once appeared. The visible and local Presence is withdrawn from the earth; the Head of the Church ascends to Heaven; He passes upward, through those clouds which are spread abroad over the whole globe, and thenceforth there is no visible manifestation, no one centre of the Church, here on earth, no one See, no one human lord or king, because we are come to a Church of all nations, all places, and all times. Jerusalem, holding in its arms the venerable shrine of the first covenant, stood at one point on the surface of the globe, ever in the same place, and so stood for hundreds of years; a type worth considering and clear to the wise. Whereas, those clouds of heaven, which received the LORD, have no fixed seat, nor relation to the lands below; they sail far up over the globe; it rolls from under, as they move, drawn on the mighty currents of the air, whithersoever the Breath of the Almighty bids them go, and casting their shadows and soft influences on coast after coast, on sea after sea, as the round world turns its successive faces toward the light and the darkness. Thus, also, does the new dispensation extend, like an atmosphere, above and around all places, all men, and all times, stretched forth from side to side, wide and free. It is a marvellous contrast, that between the old and the new; between the Church of one race and age, and the Church of all races and of all ages; between the visible, burning Presence localized in the hidden, secret recesses of a house made with hands, and the invisible and spiritual Presence felt everywhere; between that "mountain at Jerusalem," where they worshipped the FATHER (St. John iv. 21), and the wide heaven of a universal religion; between the fixed point on this terrestrial ball at which the power and the glory of the LORD were condensed into a flame, lambent above a little gold-banded coffer, and the vast, all-enfolding firmament of a system which should wrap men about, and make them one, as heirs of the same promise, and as living one and the same life.
Bearing this contrast in mind, let us turn to some of the controversies of the present hour, wherein there is a strife between the narrowness of the old and the breadth of the new. Reflect on the two systems; that of exclusiveness and that of comprehension; the old, reduced to the straitest of all limits within which a church can be compressed, its laity the men of one race, its clergy the members of one house and family; the new, thrown open to all who choose to come, without distinction of blood or name. With which of those two systems ought we to be in sympathy? with the old and narrow, or with the new and wide? with the Jerusalem on earth, which is in bondage, or with the Jerusalem above, which is free and the mother of us all? It is certain where we ought to stand; it is not certain where we do stand. The narrow spirit of the past rules many who ought to be exulting in the liberty wherewith CHRIST has made us free.
We all perceive that changes are taking place in the Church, and in the thoughts and policy of men. It is remarked, for instance, and correctly, that some names have much less significance than they once had. Take, for example, the old party names of High Church and Low Church; they mean less than they did once; the men who bore them did not differ, after all, so very much in their ultimate position and fundamental principles; the terms are not adequate to describe the greater distinctions which the thoughtful perceive, and about which so much anxiety is felt at this hour. Other terms, more philosophical, more true, more significant, were demanded, and have come into use, supplanting the old. High Church and Low Church partisans were both [150/151] sectarian at their best; each school took the Church for something narrower than she is. In each school pure Christianity was confounded with Reformed Anglicanism; in the eyes of each school, the Anglican Reformation was made the starting-point, and thence, as it seemed to them, all good things be come to us. They did not begin with the age of the General Councils, much less with that whole period during which the Catholic Church was one, ere yet the schism between East and West occurred. I say they did not begin at either of those dates, when engaged in determining what things shall be held to be true, honest, pure, lovely, right, edifying, and legal; but they began with Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth. It was very much like the old Jewish theory—the truth, the promises, the saving Presence, seemed to be substantially localized at one spot, and bound up with the acts of some few reformers and with the dubious interpretation of some thirty-nine or forty articles containing their opinions.
High Church and Low Church divines were like commentators of one great school, differing as to the meaning of their text-book, but agreed as to its incomparable value. Whatever those differences were, on points of doctrine or practice, whatever vain strife may have occurred about some word or some rite; whatever childish and all but absurd statements may have been made on mooted questions of theology, with what tenacity soever men may have clung, one to a white gown, another to a black, still there was general agreement on certain points, and chiefly on these: that the Anglican Reformation was very nearly a perfect thing of its kind; that Anglican types are the best; that the system as a whole, deserves the imitation of all the rest of the Church. They limited things after a truly Jewish fashion; in substance, they said: ''If you wish to know the exact truth, come to us. If you wish to see a perfect liturgy, accept our Book of Common Prayer, now purged of all errors, or of nearly all. If you desire to behold the model of ritual, enter our churches where you shall find no cross, no lighted candle, nor sacrificial altar, nor mummeries and superstitions but such performance of holy rites as never was seen or heard of for fifteen hundred years before its happy invention by our reforming fathers, and is as near to perfection as anything can be this side of heaven. This is our law of doctrine and ritual forever; and let it stand, unaltered, till the end of the world, whatever may be thought or done elsewhere, for no improvement can be made." Such was, in substance, what they said, and what is still said, in some quarters, with complacency and contentment, and in the true spirit of the Jew of old.
No sign of the times is more marked than that of a strong reaction from those cramped ideas. Men, who do not, and perhaps will not, understand us, insist that the reaction is toward Rome, and that it leads inevitably to Rome. The charge is groundless; it is made in the interests of ecclesiastical repression; it is the idea of minds full of earnestness and anxiety, but without knowledge of the real thoughts of other men, and without the power to comprehend the movements of the day. We do not love Rome; we do not wish to go to her; we have no desire for aught that is distinctively hers. Why will not our fathers and brethren hear us, believe us, and do justice to us? We are disposed to drop the old party names, High Church, and Low Church, considering them to be alike narrow and exclusive. Neither school will recognize the great universal Church of history as in any way a law to it, or even as a safe guide to follow; each seeks to impale as many as it can upon the sharpened spikes of its little ring-fence. Let both go. We feel our need of something older than [151/152] Queen Elizabeth's day, and wider than the Kingdom of Great Britain, including the colonies and off-shoots thereof. In doctrine, we ask for something more savory and nutritious than a rechauffe of Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Calvinistic opinions concerning justification, regeneration, and bare signs and empty symbols of absent things. In ritual we ask for something more worthy of the majesty of that LORD Whom we worship, than what is provided in the Canons of 1603, or has survived the years of indifference and neglect which have elapsed since that date. There are other religions about us as old as ours, nay older; in them also are truth and beauty as well as in ours; there are things in them which we may fairly be challenged to admire. But above us all, back of all modern schools and systems, lies that great field of history, that great firmament of a Catholic religion, that authentic record of things that have been held and believed and done five times longer than the Church of England, in her present national form, has existed, and more than fifteen times longer than we, in these United States Of America, have been organized under our unfortunate name. One cannot help thinking of all this. It is a hopeful sign of the times, that so many in our own Church are asking for nobler things and for a more free life; that they value more and more the term ''Catholic," not as a party-nickname, but as the most truly and profoundly philosophical term ever used as descriptive of our religion; that they hold in high honour whatsoever has the sign of long use, and in the highest honour whatsoever dates the farthest back; that they feel a growing sympathy with the majority of believers, wheresoever spread over the whole earth, throughout all time. Men seem to be trying to ascend, if it were possible; to rise a little above the low valleys of their blind, straitened life to get higher up; to get far enough up to see the world on a larger scale; to reach a more favorable point of observation, in time as well as in place. It is a true inspiration; it must be blessed of the LORD.
But there is another side to this subject; there is cause for great anxiety also. Never did the old yield to the new without fierce struggle. Even so is it now. Men who would fain rejoice in a more free life, must prepare their souls for adversity. Against them is much dead weight, and such as may easily topple over and kill them, if they be not wary, or if the LORD does not interfere. Straightway there are resolves to crush down and stamp out; agitation begins; it is kept up lustily and with a good courage; all kinds of machinery, but particularly canonical, must be invented and applied to hinder and coerce, to narrow down and restrict; the zealous and the timid rush in with measuring-tape, with hammers and axes, with store of small cords, resolved to hew down the emblems of "idolatry;" to provide good and sufficient regulation garments, which everybody shall use; to bind last, hand and foot, whoever ventures to resist. We must prepare to be told that we have nothing to do with the venerable laws, rites and customs of the Catholic Church; that all of these have been superseded for us, by the many laxities, disuses, neglects, indifferences of some few years last past; that whereas, "this Church," by divers departures from the old ways, by sundry innovations, or by mere forgetfulness and sheer ignorance, has lost much that was formerly lawful and is always desirable, this present and actual state of depression and poverty shall, notwithstanding, be the rule to us even till the end of time. What are ancient precedents? What matters it how old, how simple, how pure and untainted a rite or a use may be? We have a higher law: it is that of Non-Use, Obsoleteness, Neglect; these shall be our guides, these must we follow, and look no more, as now with fond, loving, lingering eyes, toward [152/153] the ancient origins and fountains of doctrinal and liturgical life. Some pious and narrow-minded bishop shall, by his own word of mouth, express this; he shall put into terms the spirit of this passing hour, as, for the time being, its exponent; armed with such power as resides in that vague phrase "godly admonition," he shall confront his humble brother in the priesthood and address him in this wise: "My son, you have yonder what looks to me and to all men like an altar; of stone; immovable. You must take it down and put a plain four-legged table in its place. I know, of course, that stone altars were in use before the Council of Nice; never mind; take away that structure. I see that you stand in front of the LORD's Table; you must not do that; you must go round the corner. It is true, that the Prayer Book says that you are to stand at the 'right side' or 'before' it; but never mind, do as I bid you; for in my judgment by the side of a table is meant the end of it, and besides we are sorely afraid of the Pope, and it helps him if you turn your back to the sovereign people, so you must stop this at once. I see that you have ventured to light a candle or two yonder. What, my son! Will you lead us all back into mediaeval darkness? Put out those lights, and take them away. I know, of course, that their use in CHRIST'S Holy Catholic Church is so ancient that the memory of man runneth not contrary to it; and I remember what Saint Jerome said, that in his time lights were used very generally both in the East and in the West, but such facts must not govern us; we have no rights in the old Catholic heritage; our higher and better authority is drawn from the confusion of the Sixteenth Century, the spiritual deadness and indifference of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth, and the prejudices and pride of the Nineteenth. Such shall be your law, my son; what things were lost to us, through sloth, ignorance, fear, and perverse opposition, you must not ask for, and you shall not have. If it be necessary, we shall legislate on ritual, and make an end, forever, of the feeble connection between ourselves and the bulk of Christendom, in these respects." Though I speak in a parable, brethren, I do not speak ignorantly. Much has been heard, like this; much is now heard, to this effect, by unfortunate brethren. It is hard to bear. The result of attempts to override us by casting that spirit into the shape of rough laws and threatening us with suspension or degradation if we resist, is uncertain. Some things are not uncertain, however; as, for example, that human nature demands certain things, will have them, will find the means of expressing itself, in spite of swathings and mummy cerements, were such to be wrapped about it by the hand of power; it will tear itself loose in spite of the embalmers and physicians, unless indeed they extinguish the vital spark in process of their unhappy work.
To what conclusion do these reflections lead? To this, that the times demand not limitation but breadth, not proscriptive edicts but more freedom; a clearer view of the great historic Church from some point above the dead level of every-day life; a loving sympathy with those things which bear the mark of long use and reverent application among men of divers races and times. Surely the watchword for the hour should be TOLERATION; toleration to a great extent; toleration to the height and to the depth; toleration up to the very edge of mediaeval error if you will, and down to the very threshold of nineteenth century sectarianism. This will be better for us all in the end. Not because we love the errors on either side; not that we feel sympathy with the falsehoods, the puerilities, the absurdities of a corrupt mediaevalism, or with the not less offensive aberrations [153/154] of later days; but because, in times of agitation and controversy, men cannot legislate on certain matters without doing injustice, and because, if they legislate under the lash of panic and prejudice, they do a mischief greater than any that can come from the few extremists on either hand. The ''very advanced" on the one side, the very rampant independents on the other, do harm, no doubt; but, after all, it is only a fraying and ravelling at the edges, while the fabric remains as it was. But the narrow-minded legislator would fain reshape, or dye, to please himself, the whole material, making it look a new and monstrous thing. Toleration must be the rule, until men are in a mood to do justice to their subject; it were better to be without law for a time than to have laws enacted forbidding or discouraging things a thousand years old at the least, and now commonly accepted everywhere outside our own fold. It is not necessary to require these things; but it would be disastrous to forbid them; that would be to pour contempt on the rest of the Church, and to make ourselves a laughing stock and an example to be shunned of all men of intelligence. Two great principles we may both desire and pray to see established and settled from this time forth: 1st, that there shall be no interference until some law of the Church is broken and, 2dy, that there shall be no legislation against anything which can be shown to date from the time when the Catholic Church was yet undivided. Those principles, wisely and lovingly held and acted on, will help us toward the consummation of our desires in the Reunion of the Family of GOD.
O that we could come to this with one heart and mind! that we could ascend some little distance above the earth, at least far enough to take in a few miles of the extent of that vast field whereon our lot is cast, and of which so few consider the actual dimensions! But we are here, on the ground, fast rooted to its surface; we but a very little distance, an arm's-length or two, to the right and to the left, and straightway we think we know all. About us we have built a low wall of partition, we have daubed it with untempered mortar; it encloses all that we value, we care for nothing that is not there. The ways into which we have carelessly fallen; the habits we have acquired through indifference and ease; the very disuses, negligences, coldnesses as regards matters of faith and practice—these are become a law to us; they have acquired a sort of sublime importance in our eyes; our shortcomings seem to us a kind of religion; we talk gravely of uses of ours, which in fact are but disuses most reprehensible, the result of years of sloth and sin. Let us try to ascend somewhat above this little spot; to see with clearer vision, if the LORD, grant it to us; to shake ourselves free from the malign influences of the earth; and, above all, to drive away the phantoms and ghosts raised on every side by the excited imagination, and keeping us in fear where no fear was. Calm and unshaken is that shore whereon the LORD stood at the rising of the sun, and whence He spoke to His disciples, who were toiling on the barren waters. Still and pure is that firmament through which He passed away, and wherein He was last beheld ascending to the Right Hand of the Father. Would that the Church, in spite of all that is done to agitate, disquiet, and alarm, could keep, through her whole frame, more of that calmness, that stillness, that serenity, which we admire in our ideals and miss in ourselves. Days of trial may be at hand; threats, long since made, may be carried into execution. Let us hope not; or, if new attempts be made to de-catholize the Church, let us commend her cause to Him whose promises are hers forever; and let us pray Him to avert the evil, whatever it may be. Let us also, in heart and mind, ascend with Him thither where He is [154/155] gone, remembering that where He is there are peace and rest, and that, whatever may go wrong here on earth, amidst all these evil influences about us, everything is sure beyond to them that love Him and walk in the paths which were opened to us in the ages long since passed away.