An Encyclical to All Bishops Claiming To Be of the Apostolic Succession.
By Joseph René Vilatte.
No place: no publisher, 1893.
Whereas certain evil-minded men have caused the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church assembled in the year 1892 grievously to err in its decisions and pronouncement concerning the validity of my episcopal consecration:
I, Joseph Rene Vilatte, by the grace of GOD and favor of the Holy Apostolic See of Antioch, Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church of America, do call the attention of all Bishops, who believe in, and claim to be of, the Apostolic Succession, to the following report and resolutions, and to their refutation therein under annexed.
"HOUSE OF BISHOPS IN GENERAL CONVENTION,
Baltimore, 16th day of the Session, Oct. 22, 1892.
The following report, in regard to the so-called consecration of J. Rene Vilatte to the Episcopate, was presented from the Bishops sitting in the councils by the Bp. of Albany:
It appears that the bishops from whom M. Vilatte claims to have received consecration belong to a body which is separated from Catholic Christendom because of its non-acceptance of the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Chalcedon as to the person of our Blessed Lord;
That these Bishops had no jurisdiction or right to ordain a bishop for any part of the diocese under the charge of the Bishop of Fond du Lac;
That M. Vilatte was never elected by any duly accredited synod.
It further appears that M Vilatte in seeking the Episcopate made statements not warranted by the facts of the case, and seemed willing to join with any body, Old Catholic, Greek, Roman, or Syrian, which would confer it upon him.
And more that two months before the time of his so-called consecration, M. Vilatte had been deposed from the sacred ministry.
In view of these facts, we propose the following resolutions:
Resolved, That in the opinion of this House, the whole proceedings in connection with the so-called consecration of J. Rene Vilatte were null and void, and that this Church does not recognize that any episcopal character was thereby conferred.
Resolved, That a statement of the above-recited facts be sent to the Archbishop of Utrecht, to the Old Catholics of Germany and Switzerland, and to the Metropolitans and Primates of the Anglican Communion.
On motion, the resolutions contained in the report were severally adopted.
Attest, SAMUEL HART, Secretary."
I take each-point separately:
"It appears that the bishops from whom M. Vilatte claims to have received consecration belong to a body which is separated from Catholic Christendom because of its non-acceptance [1/2] of the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Chalcedon as to the Person of our Blessed Lord:"
I deny the allegation. The Bishops from whom I received consecration (i. e. Archbishop Alvarez, Bishops Dionysios [sic: handwritten insertion Gregorius] and Athanasius) do receive the doctrine of Chalcedon as to our Blessed Lord's Person. This I shall prove by a verbatim quotation from the "Profession of Faith to be read by persons to be Ordained and Consecrated." This is one of the articles following the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed: "I--, believe and confess that one of the three Persons, the Word of the Father (i. e. the second Person) descended from heaven of His own will and of the Will of His Father and that of the Holy Ghost, and was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Mother of God, by the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel. He took flesh by the Holy Ghost and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Divinity united with humanity, and at the end of nine months He was born of her in mystery incomprehensible to nature and the senses, without breaking the seal of the virginity of His Mother either at the time of his incarnation, or at any other time before or after. When He by whose glory the heavens and the earth are filled, was found laid naked in a manger, heavenly and earthly bodies glorified Him. He was wholly in the bosom of His Father and wholly in the manger without being separated. In His Incarnation His divinity was not mixed with his humanity, nor His humanity with His divinity. The Natures were preserved without mixture or confusion: His divinity was not separated from His humanity, nor His humanity from his divinity. The union is a miracle and a substantial union. The union of divinity with humanity was substantial and inseparable--And the Word was made Flesh and lived with us, as believed by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
My consecrators, then, like myself and you, Venerable Brothers, confess that our blessed Lord is "perfect God and perfect man," and thus the human nature and the divine nature were preserved without confusion.
But even supposing my consecrators to be monophysite heretics, that would not vitiate my Orders. Granting, for argument's sake they rejected not only the Council of Chalcedon, but its doctrines also, what follows? Do Romans, Greeks, Anglicans, deny the validity of the Syrian succession on that account? Do the Roman, Greek, Syrian and Armenian Churches deny the validity of Anglican orders on the plea that the Anglican Communion separated from Catholic Christendom because of its non-acceptance of the dogmatic decrees of the Divinely-inspired Seventh Ecumenical Council concerning the proper worship of the saints and holy images? Not so. The Anglican Church recognized even Nestorian Orders; and American and English Episcopalian priests have gone out to Persia under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury with the fullest recognition of the validity of Assyrian Orders, tho the Nestorians have been separated from Catholic Christendom since A. D. 431. In one word, heresy might rather be ascribed to those Christians who believe in the Apostolic Succession, but whose Book of Prayer or Liturgy not once contains the expression "Holy Mary, Mother of God--" or "We beseech thee to hear us, O Lord, thro' the intercession of the Holy Mother of [2/3] God and all the Saints", than to my consecrators. But why further insist on this point, my Brothers? the Syrian Jacobite succession is admitted by all the Churches, Latin, Greek, Copt, Armenian and Old Catholic. To prove this, is like trying to prove that the earth moves, or to disprove that Anglicans fraternize with every kind of heretic, both Oriental and Occidental. Vide Grindlewald, the Evangelical Alliance, and the Parliament of Religions.
"That these bishops had no jurisdiction or right to ordain a bishop for any part of the diocese under the charge of the Bishop of Fond du Lac."
I was not consecrated Bishop of the diocese of Fond du Lac, nor any part of it. I was consecrated Archbishop for the Old Catholics of America. Even had I been consecrated for the diocese of Fond du Lac, (which has no existence save for Episcopalians) I should have the same right as the Roman Catholic Bp. Messmer, a Moravian, Swedish, or Greek bishop in the same territory. It has never entered the head of even an Episcopalian bishop, as far as I know, to deny the validity of Bp. Messmer's orders because he had not previously obtained permission to be consecrated from Bishop Grafton or his House of Bishops! But worse and worse, according to this brilliant logic of the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, even our well-beloved Bishop Nicholas of San Francisco is a worse "fraud" (Ibeg pardon for using the word applied to me by the "Living Church") than I am. For he was consecrated in Russia, and sent to this country by the Holy Synod as Orthodox Bishop for the entire United States and Alaska, and that most certainly without the permission of, or even consulting with, the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Now were the Greeks, Bulgarians, Syrians, etc., who are equally Orthodox and Christian, to send their Bishops into this same territory to care for the Orthodox of their own nationalities, would that invalidate their Orders? Pas si bete! What our brethren of the Episcopal Church do not yet comprehend, owing to the taint of Romanism still existing in them, is that the American Republic, or rather the New World, is extra jurisdictionem of the five Holy Patriarchs--(In courtesy we reckon the Pope of Old Rome, tho' he has miserably fallen from the Orthodoxy of Christ). It is therefore open and free to Orthodox Bishops of every rite. Concurrent jurisdiction must be conceded by every Catholic mind. For even among Episcopalians, I venture to say there is not one so arrogant as to claim or imagine that all Roman, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Russian and other Christians in America must embrace Protestant Episcopalianism in order to become veritably and indubitably Catholic. Again, if in America the Old Catholics like other Orthodox, have no right to have a Bishop to minister to them, what right have Anglican bishops on the continent of Europe, in the Orient especially, and in Roman Catholic Countries here? Look at the "Mexican Muddle"!
"That M. Vilatte was never elected by any duly accredited synod."
Lumen de lumine! I was duly elected by all the Old Catholic families under my care. But granting the premises--I deny the conclusion. Does [3/4] the House of Bishops nullify the orders of S. Ambrose because he was not elected "by a duly accredited synod", but only by the voice of an unknown child?
Will that extremely remarkable Committee appointed by the House of Bishops inform me what Synod elects the Roman Bishops in partibus? or the Anglican Bishops in central Africa and Alaska? This charge, as is easily seen, might be perfectly true (as it is not,) and yet be perfectly irrelevant.
"It further appears that M. Vilatte in seeking the episcopate, made statements not warranted by the facts of the case, and seemed to join with any body, Old Catholic, Greek, Roman, or Syrian, which would confer it upon him."
This is a reiteration of Bp. Grafton's charge against me. Nego in toto as far as making unwarrantable statements goes. I claimed that the Old Catholic Church was an accomplished fact in America, and established on the Orthodox basis of the Seven Councils, the Seven equally-divine Sacraments, and the universally received Canons of the first millennium. I stated then, and still believe, that this faith is best for, and destined to be that, of thousands of my fellow citizens in this land. And since a Bishop is as necessary for the life of a church, as breath is for the life of a man, the Old Catholics in America were logically forced to procure a Bishop. This was also admitted by the Old Catholic Bishops and clergy of Holland, and by the Orthodox Greco-Russian Bishop of America. (Vide "Ecclesiastical Relations"). The second half of the charge becomes quite harmless, when once the sting of malice is extracted. How could I join the Old Catholics whom I had never left? I was an Old Catholic priest, and never a priest of the Episcopal Church. Again, how could I expect to gain the Episcopate from the Roman Catholic Church, for the Old Catholics are her avowed enemies? I may not be so learned as some of the bishops of the Protestant E. Church, but this fourth accusation would lead people to suppose me an arrant fool as well as a knave! Neither did I obtain the episcopate under false pretences; for Vicar General De Souza of Colombo, in the name of Archbishop Alvares, wrote back in reply to Bp. Grafton's description of the weak condition of the Old Catholic movement in America "financially and otherwise": "Father Vilatte will be consecrated Bishop were he the only Old Catholic in America". Bp. Reinkens, when in doubt of obtaining the apostolic succession from Utrecht, was prepared to receive it from the Armenians, who are in precisely the same theological position as the Syrians under the Patriarch of Antioch who sanctioned my consecration. Now, as Bp. Coxe has admitted, the Old Catholics need an undoubted succession, one admitted by all. Such a succession is admittedly possessed by the Greek, Roman, Armenian, Syrian, and "Old Roman Church" of Utrecht. From one of these sources then, I was obliged to seek the episcopate, and by the help of GOD succeeded in obtaining it from the Syrian Church, one of the most venerable, if not the most venerable in the world. By this, do not understand me to join in the Jesuit disparagement of Anglican Orders. I am establishing my own hierarchical position, and not disparaging that of others. Seeing therefore that this most ancient Syrian [4/5] succession was conferred upon me, its authority being indubitable, while it was not obtained under false pretences, I maintain that my episcopal consecration is as impregnable as Holy Writ itself.
"And more than two months before the time of his so-called consecration, M. Vilatte had been deposed from the sacred ministry."
I assert, without fear of contradiction, that a Roman, Greek, Syrian or Old Catholic priest cannot be deposed by a Protestant Episcopal bishop, except in case such a priest had abandoned his Romanism, Orthodoxy or Old Catholicism (as the case might be) and having become a convert to Anglicanism, had submitted himself as such to an Episcopalian diocesan. This I had never done. Hence Bp. Grafton could not depose me. There is absolutely no parity between my case and that of a Canadian, English or Colonial Anglican minister who submitted to an American P. E. bishop. Because their faith, book of prayer and sacraments, and articles of religion are one and the same. On the contrary, I have always used the Roman Missal, and Ritual, either in Latin or French, and observed the Orthodox Faith of the Seven Councils and Seven Sacraments; and, I repeat, have never embraced Anglicanism. But, granting the fact of the deposition and the power of the deposer, am I any the less a Bishop? No. The formality of deposition was gone through with in Wisconsin, while I was far off in Asia, and from its date it could not have been known either by myself or by my consecrators. The deposition, too, had been forbidden by an Orthodox- Russian Bishop. In any case, it could not hinder my reception of the episcopal character, for an unknown sentence is ineffective, and even if it had any value, the consecration cancelled it. My first knowledge of the deposition at Lucerne was communicated by the American P. E. clergyman of the place on my way home to America. Besides what is deposition? Simply speaking, it is nothing more nor less than perpetual suspension from the priesthood. But this does not prevent other Bishops from removing or ignoring it, and elevating the restored priest to the order and rank of Bishop. I know it has been claimed by some American Episcopalians that a deposed priest is an "ecclesiastical corpse." This is absurd, and in direct contravention of the Indelibility of Holy Orders. If a deposed priest were a "corpse" how could he ever be restored to the priesthood? Deposition, I repeat, is simply perpetual suspension, and the sentence can be removed, or even (in divided Christendom) ignored by other Bishops. For example, the deposed "corpse", Dr. Forbes, was made Dean of the General Theological Seminary in N. York for many years. The alleged "corpses" Bishops Herzog and Reinkens are recognized as living Bishops by all Anglicans. Dr. Curtis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilmington, Del. was deposed as an Anglican priest 20 years ago. If he would return he would now be welcomed as an Anglican Bishop. Such a plea is drivelling idiocy. Finally, Mission and jurisdiction in divided Christendom have power only over those who acknowledge them. Otherwise why did the Anglicans send bishops to Hayti and Mexico, to Jerusalem and Constantinople? I do not claim or desire to have jurisdiction over Roman [5/6] Catholics, or Greeks, or Protestant Episcopalians. My jurisdiction extends over the Old Catholics in America (i. e. those Catholics who like myself attach themselves to Western Orthodoxy). Let me emphasize the fact that America is quite an open field.
"In view of these facts, we propose the following resolutions:
Resolved, That in the opinion of this House the whole proceedings in connection with the so-called consecration of J. Rene Vilatte were null and void, and that this Church does not recognize that any episcopal character was thereby conferred,
Resolved, That a statement of the above-named facts be sent to the Archbishop of Utrecht, to the Old Catholics of Germany and Switzerland, and to the Metropolitans and Primates of the Anglican Communion.
On motion, the resolutions contained in the report was severally adopted.
Attest, SAMUEL HART, Secretary."
I think, Venerable Brethren in the Apostolate, that I have shown the premises and the conclusion of the above report to be unchristian, absurd, and contrary to fact. One may charitably hope that these resolutions and the report drawn up by that wondrously sapient Committee were sprung upon the House when it was aweary and desirous of dissolving the seance. Certainly had each bishop of the P. E. Church in council been attended by his theologians, as is the case in Roman Councils, no such foolish and illogical document would ever have seen the light, to make the House of Bishops of the year 1892 the derision and laughing-stock of "the Archbishop of Utrecht, the Old Catholics of Germany and Switzerland, and the Metropolitans and Primates of the Anglican Communion."
In accordance with the Bishop of Springfield's resolution, the above-mentioned Committee is continued, and requested to collect all available information concerning my consecration to be presented to the next General Convention. It is sincerely to be hoped that such information will be presented, together with this letter, as shall cause the next General Convention to withdraw its unjust and untrue judgment in my case, and set itself right with all right-thinking men. A copy of this letter will be sent to the Bp. of Springfield with the request that it be presented to the next General Convention. Copies will also be sent to the Archbishop of Utrecht, as the Primus of European Old Catholics, the Archbishop of Upsala, the Metropolitans and Primates of the Anglican Communion, the Holy Synods of Russia and Greece, and to the Eastern Patriarchs.
And thus I pray: "Judica me Deus et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me. And, "Our Father, who art in heaven," etc. A lowly brother and fellow Bishop,
JOSEPH RENE VILATTE,
Archbishop of American Old Catholics.
DUVALL, Kewaunee Co., Wisconsin,
First Sunday in Advent, 1893.