The Cathedral System
The Dean’s Sermon on All Saints Day in the Chapel of the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany.
Albany: Walter S. Allen, 1878.
This Sermon, containing only a few simple thoughts, which may seem scarcely to need expounding, and which give no complete view of Cathedral institutions, is printed, partly because those whose judgment in the matter I trust more than my own desire it; partly in the hope, that in the present stage of Cathedral life in the American Church even a small contribution will find a welcome.
Albany, Nov. 11th, 1878.
Rev. VII., 4, 9, 10. “And I heard the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed one hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
“After this I beheld and lo! a great multitude, which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.”
“And cried with a loud voice, Saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
These words of St. John lead our thoughts on to the great final day, when not only shall there be perfect rest and perfect joy to each redeemed soul, but the number of God’s elect shall be accomplished. I need enter into no elaborate argument to prove, that the tribes of Israel here mentioned stand, not for the literal Israel, but for the whole of God’s ransomed and saved people, Jews and Gentiles, the spiritual Zion. It is “that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,” whose wall, great and high, has twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are, indeed, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and yet of which we read presently, that the wall has twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and that the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of the Lamb. It is the spiritual Israel, the Church, the Body of Christ, perfected and glorified.
 Nor need I enter into an argument to prove, that these numbers, so far from expressing limitation, mean perfection and universality. Remember how all through the Bible, and, as we are learning ever more clearly, all through the East, numbers were used as signs of mystical and moral import. Great and precious truths were enshrined in arithmetical and geometrical numbers and proportions. In that glorious city to come, where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple, and the Lamb is the light, if the gates are twelve, and the foundations twelve, and the length twelve thousand furlongs, and the wall a hundred and forty and four cubits, i.e., a square of twelve, the city itself being four square, we understand very well, that the same square of twelve multiplied by ten times ten times ten, or 144,000, when aplied to the sealed ones in twelve divisions or tribes, can only mean the inifinted and perfected number, the hosts of the redeemed, the great multitude, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, whom no man indeed could number, but whom God will, calling them all by their names, and recognizing them as His own; all there, all gathered in.
This is only half the picture. Having shown us this immense host sealed and saved, the prophet at once puts them in life and movement before us, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, and crying, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.” So we should [4/5] wish it to be, brethren. Rest!
“Who would not be at rest and free,
Where love is never cold?”
and yet movement, occupation, life, worship.
I desire to take these two distinct thoughts, that of the great Multitude, the infinite and perfected number of the redeemed, and also the thought of their life of Worship, and give them special application, if possible, to ourselves as a congregation. It concerns us to do this, because All Saints Day is our Cathedral day. If the Feast of All Saints fits well the Cathedral thought and purpose, then we must be able easily to find lessons for ourselves in the leading thoughts of the service.
Let us put the second thought first, and speak of Worship. It is for the worship of Heaven, that the service of the Church here is to fit us, and if, judging by the Apocalypse, worship will be with the redeemed an occupation, a continuous activity, it is plain enough, that we shall be preparing for it in proportion as it becomes a prevailing and continuous element of our life here. The meditation upon holy things, the reading of the Scriptures, prayer by ourselves in our homes, does not fulfil the idea, or accomplish the preparation. Nor can the passive hearing of sermons, however willingly and earnestly listened to, come up to that heavenly vision of an active and voiceful, congregational, multitudinous service of praise and adoration. Now no one can examine Cathedral institutions, or witness Cathedral services, even our own, imperfectly as we are [5/6] carrying out our ideal, without observing at once this distinguishing prominence of worship, this striving after the heavenly pattern and ideal. While the Word of God is preached, and while some forms of ordinary parochial life may exist, beyond and above these rises the higher, more purely unselfish, self-forgetful life of worship, foreshadowing and hastening the day, when the great multitude shall stand before the throne, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and the cry shall go up, “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” And what I have to bring home to you, beloved, who worship here, is this, that such an ideal requires of us especially the spirit of worship, the love of God’s House not for our own sakes alone, nor for the good it shall do to us, and to our children, but, much more, for God’s honor, andglory, and praise. I am not now thinking so much of those pecuniary offerings of yours, upon which the richness and beauty and daily continuance of the service depend, as of your participation in it. Have we here the spirit of worship, or do we think only of ourselves, our own ends, our own small ambitions, our own good? Even if the time shall come that this Cathedral shall be built, and endowed, and in a large degree supported by the Diocese, as we pray it may, even then the great thought and purpose of it will not be fulfilled, without there being a congregation here of men and women and children, too, who love the mere act of praising God, and who can lose sight of [6/7] their own individual interests and aims in the service of thanksgiving.
Such a congregation will never have a mere Sunday go-to-meeting religion or be a Sunday-go-to-meeting congregation, attending only on the Lord’s day, and when they will hear preaching; will never leave it to cherubim and seraphim, to cry continually, Holy, holy, holy. This falls short of our aim, as it does of the heavenly pattern. One may not say, that the daily service is a distinctive feature of cathedrals, because it is found, and out to be found, in many a parish; but it is an essential part of the system, at least twice every day in the year to echo back from earth the cry, that goes up forever in the courts above. While we must not forget to make mention of the little company who this year, and often, I am sure, at some inconvenience to themselves, have attended the daily service, we desire too that others may be led to imitate them, and that in this respect the spirit of Worship may grow and bear fruit. The sacrifices of time and convenience and pleasure, that you make for this end, will not only be an acceptable offering in His sight, who gave infinitely more than His time or convenience for you, but will also raise you more and more toward Heaven.
Coming back now to the first thought indicated, namely, that of perfection and universality, suggested by the hundred and forty and four thousand of all the trives of the Israel of Faith, observe how closely and well this suits our Cathedral Day, and the nature of our duties. Their scope is generous, comprehensive [7/8] and far-reaching. It altogether transcends the limits of ordinary parochial life. Perhaps it will be easier for us all to realize this in the day that God shall grant us an edifice, which, grand in its proportions and fitted in all respects for its manifold functions, shall of itself ever suggest and teach the truth, that the Cathedral is for the many, for all, for the City, for the Diocese; not to gratify the tastes and the feelings of the few, or of any one order or class. Undoubtedly the institution of a collegiate body of Clergy should belong to the American as to the English Cathedral, and will yet be realized, to the great advantage of the Church intellectually and spiritually; and with it goes hand in hand and equally the missionary purepose, the idea of a life as truly forth-putting and wide-reaching, as it is one concentring about the person of the Bishop. The Cathedral principle contemplates engaging not merely the interest and the activities of other clergy than those of its own immediate staff, but of other than the members of its own regular congregation. It contemplates the fusing together, for certain special purposes, of all the energies of Church people in the See or City, and an aggressive work, not upon and in antagonism to ech other, God forbid, but upon the world of ignorance and sin and unbelief all about us. The true Cathedral thought will not be realized, nor will it vindicate itself as an institution by its success, as it can and ought to do, until, thoroughly understood in its distinctive features by Churchmen on all sides, it shall [8/9] engage their nterest and co-operation, and that without destroying their relations to their own particular parishes. There is no reason, why hundreds of Church People in the City should not contribute to Cathedral support, and assist in Cathedral works, as already very many in the City and Diocese are doing with respect to the Child’s Hospital, without leaving their parish Churches, or doing any the less for their support. That is to say the parochial and the cathedral sstems are not necessarily antagonistic or hurtful to each other. On the contrary, each is needed to supplement the other. Those who, remaining faithful to their parish obligations, gave also assistance to the Cathedral, would find all that they gave or did abundantly repaid to them by the increased life and vigor and growth resulting on all sides.
But, dear brethren, in order to the realizing of any such harmonious and beautiful and grandly useful system as this, it is just as needful that we here should be broad and generous in our ideas, as that others should be. The cathedral system, as you are aware, is much discussed at present. Men write about it, and talk about it. Some suggest one thing, and some another. Some attack it out and out, and say we want nothing of the kind. Let us not enter into the discussion of details this morning; but of one thing we may be sure; the system will never vindicate itself, or bear noble fruit, where it sinks down into the comparatively [9/10] narrow lines of parish life. There should be here in all respects a freedom, and openness, and largeness of scope, that transcend and break down all such lines. Of this principle we are such, although, at this stage of the system’s growth and life in our country, it is hard to speak confidently of details. We have to work the problem out. The principle we have. Let us in all things apply it, and light will come. We must in all things be broad-minded, missionary, hospitable, cathedral-like. One can hardly look over the list of names of the Hospital Aid Association, and especially of the Managers of the Child’s Hospital, and see the wide representation there, and not observe, that in that branch of our Cathedral life the broad principle for which I am contending is alread exemplified. But it remains to be seen, whether in other respects too the principle may not be more largely applied. Certainly, if this is to be not a mere Bishop’s Church, with a substantially parochial organization, which is one thing, but a Cathedral, which is a very different one, then it seems to me, that every Churchman in the City must not only be made to feel that this is his Church, his spiritual Home, but made to feel too, that the Cathedral operations, which ought to extend over the whole City, and into every street of it, may also welcome his labours and his counsels. But evidently this will never be brought about, unless we ourselves first [10/11] understand and feel and love the breadth and openness, the freedom, the comprehensiveness of our system. It may require some sacrifice on our part, the renunciation of some of our old notions and habits, the learning of some new lessons.
But enough, brethren, for to-day. I would not keep you longer by what may seem to you only private thoughts of my own. If they are right thoughts, then take them to the altar with you, and make them into consecrated motives, that this our Cathedral may sooner become what its broad plan intends. Meantime I offer you two more thoughts.
First this. To one who is not an artist, a painter’s or a sculptors studio may be an interesting place, but can hardly be a satisfactory one. There are too many fragments, too many unfinished things. There is too much dust, too much disorder. Only an artist mind sees the ideal through it all. And in so new and so great a plan as this, the uninitiated mind may well at first be perplexed and dissatisfied. This Cathedral is a mere studio, a mere workshop, yet. But faith, beloved, is the artist eye that sees the whole as one day it shall stand, complete and full, a glorious creation, a thought embodied.
Again, when we read St. John’s vision of the Church in glory, it seems to be, as we say, all poetry, no reality. Indeed, we can hardly [11/12] discover any connection between this our prosaic, imperfect, disappointing life and work in the Church and that glorious fact there. Let me tell you that, on the contrary, what we call poetry is the only reality; what we call reality is this very imperfect disappointing, but, thank God, evanescent, passing, world of sin. The poetry, the sunny, full-orbed unspotted, glad thing of our imagination—nay, of our faith—is that eternal and blessed, ever solid fact, to which we, who are God’s children indeed, are moving on, that
“—Sweet and blessed country,
Which eager hearts expect.”
If, by His grace and loving kindness, you and I shall come to stand among the mystical hundred and forty and four thousand in God’s infinite Cathedral above, we may not find them, indeed, literally clothed with white robes and palms in their hands, but we shall look about us and say, “After all poetry has become truth; faith has become reality; this is the substance of the things that once I faintly hoped for; would that my hope had been more confident and clear.”