Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XVI. 1853-1855.

Memorial to the House of Bishops.--Papers on the Memorial.--A Proper Radicalism.--Dr. Harwood on Origin of Memorial.--Reminiscences by Dr. E. A. Washburn.--Not daunted by Unsuccess.--Ceaseless Efforts for Unity.--A Favor to the Sisterhood.--Infirmary of Church of the Holy Communion.--Happy Service.--Quarantined.--The Pastor's Visits.--Ideal of a Sister of Charity.--Corner-Stone of St. Luke's Hospital laid.--Location.--General Plan of Building.--A Street Incident.--Bearing Injuries

This Memorial, originating with Dr. Muhlenberg, was a high and noble venture for the emancipation of the church as to all that holds her back from the full exercise of her great mission to mankind. It was presented to the House of Bishops, as a council of the Protestant Episcopate, by Dr. Muhlenberg, and others of the clergy in sympathy with him. Its central thought was the same as that, many years back, of "Hints on Catholic Union," viz., the prayer of our Divine Lord: "That they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us." The movement had a twofold bearing: "one, on the Episcopal Church, as such; the other, which was its ultimate scope, on that church considered in its essential elements, as the norm of a broader and more Catholic system."

Both as to its formative idea, and its widest development, the Memorial was powerfully and exhaustively set forth by Dr. Muhlenberg, in a succession of pamphlets which collectively make the chief bulk of an octavo volume of some five hundred pages. Apart from their direct object, these papers are worth perusal for their beauty and fervor of utterance, their luminous argument, their pertinent and instructive illustrations, and, together with their boldness, the absence of any acrimony, and the gentle and loving spirit, which, like a golden cord running through them, binds all together as a pure offering on the sacred altar of Christian Unity.

The following, from one of those expository pamphlets, rings out the essential argument of the whole. "Radicalism "some had called it. "Radicalism it is--literally," said Dr. Muhlenberg, "and of the right kind. It is going to the roots of things; and there verily do we need to go. Times do come when men must throw themselves boldly on first principles, when they must fearlessly carry them out and let them have their issues, despite the forms and conventionalities that have been planted about them, and have been fastened upon them, albeit for their protection. For such radicalism the time has come, such going to the root of the matter--aye, even to the 'ROOT AND OFFSPRING OF DAVID.' It is time that we looked to our planting there. It is time we turned to the Foundation, to the 'Corner-stone in Zion, Elect and Precious,' and called men to rally there. Nowhere else will they rally. The time has gone by for platforms and systems to be rallying ground. Change is at work on every side. The traditional, the hereditary, the venerable in the outworks of religion, have lost their hold on the age; to none of them, however we may choose to bind ourselves, may we hope to bind others, to gather force for withstanding the revolutions of the times. If the Faith itself is to be preserved 'whole and undefiled,' nothing remains to us, but to stand firm to it, to see it distinctly, to turn men's eyes to it, over and above all the accessories and appendages which we are so prone to confound with it, and on which we divide our strength. ALLEGIANCE TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST--this is the watchword now to be heard above all the signals of parties, sects, and churches. This alone will pierce the din and confusion of the times, and tell on hearts scattered abroad. The 'Temple of the Lord'--'the Temple of the Lord,' has long enough been heard from every petty quarter of Christendom. The Lord of the Temple, the 'Lord of the, Temple, must now be the cry to gather the people of the Lord, to do the work of the Lord, to uprear in its living majesty the Temple of the Lord. From whom shall the summons come, clear, unmingled with any other note, but from the chief ministers of the Lord? By whom, if not by them, shall it be sounded forth, apart from the noises and strifes of the synagogue. Shall the synagogue confine their voice? Shall they not stand in the highways and cry aloud? Shall they not be prophets? Is not now the word to them as of old--'O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!'"

The great importance of the movement demands the insertion of the original in full


''To the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Council assembled:


"The undersigned, presbyters of the church of which you have the oversight, venture to approach your venerable body with an expression of- sentiment, which their estimate of your office in relation to the times does not permit them to withhold. In so doing, they have confidence in your readiness to appreciate their motives and their aims. The actual posture of our church with reference to the great moral and social necessities of the day, presents to the mind of the undersigned a subject of grave and anxious thought Did they suppose that this was confined to themselves, they would not feel warranted in submitting it to your attention; but they believe it to be participated in by many of their brethren, who may not have seen the expediency of declaring their views, or at least a mature season for such a course.

"The divided and distracted state of our American Protestant Christianity, the new and subtle forms of unbelief adapting themselves with fatal success to the spirit of the age, the consolidated forces of Romanism bearing with renewed skill and activity against the Protestant faith, and as more or less the consequence of these, the utter ignorance of the Gospel among so large a portion of the lower classes of our population, making a heathen world in our midst, are among the considerations which induce your Memorialists to present the inquiry whether the period has not arrived for the adoption of measures, to meet these exigencies of the times, more comprehensive than any yet provided for by our present ecclesiastical system: in other words, whether the Protestant Episcopal Church, with only her present canonical means and appliances, her fixed and invariable modes of public worship, and her traditional customs and usages, is 'competent to the work of preaching and dispensing the Gospel to all sorts and conditions of men, and so adequate to do the work of the Lord in this land and in this age? This question, your petitioners, for their own part, and in consonance with many thoughtful minds among us, believe must be answered in the negative. Their Memorial proceeds on the assumption that our church, confined to the exercise of her present system, is not sufficient to the "great purposes above mentioned--that a wider door must be opened for admission to the Gospel ministry than that through which her candidates for holy orders are now obliged to enter. Besides such candidates among her own members, it is believed that men can be found among the other bodies of Christians around us. who would gladly receive ordination at your hands, could they obtain it without that entire surrender which would now be required of them, of all the liberty in public worship to which they have been accustomed--men who could not bring themselves to conform in all particulars to our prescriptions and customs, but yet sound in the faith, and who, having the gifts of preachers and pastors, would be able ministers of the New Testament.

"With deference it is asked, ought such an accession to your means, in executing your high commission, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,' to be refused, for the sake of conformity in matters recognized in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer as unessentials? Dare we pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the, harvest, while we reject all laborers but those of one peculiar type? The extension of orders to the class of men contemplated (with whatever safeguards, not infringing on evangelical freedom, which your wisdom might deem expedient) appears to your petitioners to be a subject supremely worthy of your deliberations.

"In addition to the prospect of the immediate good which would thus be opened, an important step would be taken towards the effecting of a Church unity in the Protestant Christendom of our land.

To become a central bond of union among Christians, who, though differing in name, yet hold to the one Faith, the one Lord, and the one Baptism, and who need only such a bond to be drawn together in closer and more primitive fellowship, is here believed to be the peculiar province and high privilege of your venerable body as a College of CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC BISHOPS as such.

"This leads your petitioners to declare the ultimate design of their Memorial--which is to submit the practicability, under your auspices, of some ecclesiastical system, broader and more comprehensive than that which you now administer, surrounding and including the Protestant Episcopal Church as it now is, leaving that church untouched, identical with that church in all its great principles, yet providing for as much freedom in opinion, discipline, and worship, as is compatible with the essential faith and order of the Gospel. To define and act upon such a system, it is believed, must sooner or later be the work of an American Catholic Episcopate.

"In justice to themselves on this occasion, your Memorialists beg leave to remark that, although aware that the foregoing views are not confined to their own email number, they have no reason to suppose that any other parties contemplate a public expression of them, like the present. Having therefore undertaken it, they trust that they have not laid themselves open to the charge of unwarranted intrusion. They find their warrant in the prayer now offered up by all our congregations, 'That the comfortable Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed, in all places, to the breaking down of the kingdom of Sin, Satan, and Death.'

"Convinced that, for the attainment of these blessed ends, there must be some greater concert of action among Protestant Christians than any which yet exists, and believing that with you, Right Reverend Fathers, it rests to take the first measures tending thereto, your petitioners could not do less than humbly submit their Memorial to such consideration as in. your wisdom you may see fit to give it. Praying that it may not be dismissed without reference to a Commission, and assuring you, Right Reverend Fathers, of our dutiful veneration and esteem,

"We are, Most respectfully,

"Your Brethren and Servants in the Gospel of Christ"

Here followed the signatures of a number of presbyters from different dioceses. The most of them were appended immediately to the Memorial, and the others to a postscript in which the assent to the same is qualified.

The prayer of the Memorialists was granted by the appointment of the Commission which they asked. It consisted of Bishops Otey, Doane, Alonzo Potter, Burgess, Williams, and Wainwright.

On the fly-leaf of the Memorial, preceding the document, was the following from the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer: "It is a most invaluable part of that blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free that in his worship, different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the faith be kept entire; and that, in every church, what can not be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, 'according to the various exigencies of times and occasions.'"

The Rev. Dr. Harwood, mentioned in a previous chapter as associated with Dr. Muhlenberg in the conduct of the Evangelical Catholic, and from that circumstance more intimately acquainted than any other clergyman of the time with the circumstances under which the Memorial originated, thus speaks, both of the beginning of the movement and of what it achieved:

'"What do we mean?' Dr. Muhlenberg would ask 'We call ourselves Catholics? What are we doing for the people--for our brothers and sisters who never hear the Gospel preached; who will not come near our churches; who claim that the church is only for the rich?. . . . Our position is alike absurd and unchristian.' Then, moreover, he became more and more painfully impressed with the isolation of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and he felt that effort should be made to bring the Christians of this land into something like fellowship, on the basis of a common historic faith, and while he was giving much thought and time to the subject, he suddenly, with that impulsive energy which comes like an inspiration to a man of genius, said to a friend: 'Let us prepare a Memorial upon this to the House of Bishops, and if we can get no one to sign it, we will sign it ourselves, and send it in.' This is the origin of the Memorial sent to the House of Bishops in October 1853, and which is known, and will continue to be known, as the 'Memorial Movement.' The Memorial was prepared and met with ready approval. Only a few were asked to sign it. Scarcely any refusals were met with, and in due time it was presented to the House of Bishops where it was received with many expressions of generous sympathy. A Committee of the Bishops was appointed to consider the subject, to receive other papers that might be presented, and to report at the next meeting of the Convention. . . . The subject awakened immediate and general interest It was discussed in all our church papers, in tracts and essays, which were read before the Committee of Bishops. . . . Dr. Muhlenberg's enthusiasm never for a moment abated; and when the argument was exhausted, we awaited with some impatience the meeting of the General Committee in 1856. At that Convention the House of Bishops took action: and their somewhat famous declaration was passed. This declaration expressed the opinion of the bishops to this effect, that 'the order of Morning Prayer, the Litany, and' the Communion Service, being three separate offices, may, as in former times, be used separately, under the advice of the bishop of the diocese.' 'That, on special occasions, or at extraordinary services not otherwise provided for, ministers may, at their discretion, use such parts of the Book of Common Prayer, or such lesson or lessons from Holy Scripture as shall, in their judgment, tend most to edification.'

"The declaration proceeded to give authority to the bishops to prepare services suitable for congregations not acquainted with, nor accustomed to, the use of the Book of Common Prayer, and lastly a Commission on Church Unity was appointed, 'as an organ of communication or conference with such Christian bodies or individuals as may desire if All authority to mature plans of union with other 'Christian bodies' was at the same time disavowed. ... The Commission on Church Unity did not achieve any permanent results; but their declaration respecting the services, in due time, acquired the force of law, and the law is still upon the statute-book of the church. Dr. Muhlenberg had every reason to congratulate himself and to be congratulated upon the success of the Memorial. True, he could not create a spirit against the ecclesiastical spirit of our time and church, but to him more, far more, than to any one man, we are indebted for a sense of larger liberty in the use of the Book of Common Prayer, for the right to separate the separate portions of the service, and for the readiness with which special services for special occasions are prepared and made use of. He has called into life a larger liturgical spirit and a more generous latitude than had hitherto been known in our day and country. Results are rarely commensurate with hopes. There is always some disappointment, some regret at the scanty returns of- generous ventures. The appeal to the bishops and to the church, made by Dr. Muhlenberg in 1853, has never been forgotten, however, and I do not exaggerate when I say that, in this respect, he has left the impress of his Christian wisdom upon our entire church." [From an address before an Association of Clergymen of which Dr. Muhlenberg was, at the time of his death, the senior member.]

The following reminiscences, and reflections, touching the Memorial, by the Rev. Dr. E. A. Washburn, are of interest here:

"It was then" (at the date of the Memorial), Dr. W. writes, "that I first knew him personally, and never can I forget the impression he left on me. He was at his ripest age, the glow of youth had passed into a large wisdom, but there was child-like faith, the intuition of the heart, the broken torrent of eloquent speech, the grand Catholic aspiration. I loved him from that hour, and if I say what any think too enthusiastic, I can only reply that they did not know him. Every conversation on the Memorial comes back to me. It was his conviction that our church needed to act, with all its capabilities, in the vast growing field of missions, and of ministries for all conditions of men. But, more than this, he felt that the best way of reconciliation for our strifes was larger room for real work. We were now in the temporary lull of the Oxford excitement, when its greatest leaders had retreated to Home, before the next Ritualistic stage had begun, and he saw, with a prophetic eye, what others saw too late, ten years afterwards. High and Low parties were wasting their strength in quarrel over rubrics. The strife in his view was imbittered, because both were hemmed within the small arena of an inflexible system.

"The church needed unity in action, it must, instead of wrangling over theories of a Catholic past, show its catholicity in the time and conditions God had allotted it. In this thought he planned his Memorial. There was no loose freedom in it, but a thorough grasp of liturgical principles and a wise conservatism. No changes were to be made in the Prayer Book, no conflicting theories of revision were to scare the timid; but a liberty, within due bounds, was to be allowed in the use of the services. The clear, admirable papers from his own hand secured the sympathy of many of-the clergy, and the favorable hearing of the bishops. But the party fears on either hand, the jealousy of the Episcopal authority, by the Lower House, and the great power of inertia in the body, strangled a plan as wise as it was generous......We have learned the worth of our conservatism since. I dare hazard the judgment that had the Memorial prevailed, we should have been spared the two worst misfortunes since befallen us. No legislation can rid us of all our wrong-headed partisans. But the conscientious men of Ritualistic type, instead of defying law for chasubles and candles, would have thrown their devotion into noble work; and the conscientious men who have only added another Reformed Episcopal fragment to the atoms floating in Christian space, would have remained content with just freedom. A generation hence will wonder at the policy called principle; nay, at this very hour, a large part of the freedom which the Memorial asked is virtually gained."*

The unsuccess of the Memorial Movement, as to its intrinsic aim. in nowise checked Dr. Muhlenberg's endeavors, in other ways, towards what he believed to be the hope of the church. He ceased to expect much from Episcopal legislation, yet never remitted his efforts for Christian unity. Glancing, for the coherence of the subject, beyond the period which this chapter comprises, we find him more than ten years later, ardently attempting the formation, among some brother clergymen, of an Evangelical and Catholic Union; and before this he had purchased some lots on the east side of the city, purposing to erect there, as a realization, on his own part, of the idea of Christian fellowship, a "Church of the Testimony of Jesus," with a St. John's House or Inn of Charity appended--a thought subsequently abandoned for the grander embodiment of the same principles in his St. Johnland.

He had an intense conviction of the possibilities of the Episcopal Church, rightly applied, to meet the demands of the times as to Christian freedom and fellowship; and to the last of his life, "That they all may be one," was his watchword and aspiration, the spirit of his daily actions, and his theme with any who would listen to him, whether in private or public. If he never presented literally, a second Memorial to the House of Bishops, he did virtually, with powerful and eloquent appeal, to the church at large, through his great works of heaven-born charity, and the pure catholic spirit with which he infused every one of them.

Once, indeed, and with the expiring forces of his life--for he was just entering his seventy-seventh year--he drafted, and with his own hand wrote out a monograph on the Potentiality of the English Bishops, of which more particular mention will be found later. He never rested the theme, but constantly to his life's end, felt, uttered, acted it, as under prophetic inspiration. Prophets are greater after death than in life, being rarely duly esteemed until time and circumstances begin to verify their words; and it may be that it is for the church of the future to do full justice to the Memorial and its author in relation to it

A signal favor was bestowed upon the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion, in the year of the Memorial (1853), in the foundation of a beautiful house, for their especial use, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Swift,--valued and well-beloved members of the congregation,--as a memorial of their only daughter, Virginia. She was a sweet little girl, and greatly attached to the first Sister, in whose arms she died, on the evening of the Epiphany, 1850. This house is of fine brown-stone, rubied, and in architecture like that of the church, which it joins within one enclosure. This, and many accompanying kindnesses on the part of its founders, should be especially remembered to the credit of their faith and generosity, at a time when prejudice was strong against such communities, and the very name of "Sister" a reproach.

Early the following year, the Sisters took possession of their home, and then had the happiness of removing their surviving tenement-house patients into the house they had vacated, which adjoined their own, and was made to communicate directly with it This building had been suitably equipped for the accommodation of eighteen patients, with rooms on the ground floor for the Sisters' School, composed of the poorer children of the parish. The Church Dispensary was carried on under their own roof.

During the four years that were yet to elapse before St. Luke's should be ready for use, something over two hundred patients were nursed in this Infirmary of the Holy Communion. The larger number were incurables, but not nearly all. The Sisters cared for their charge in the main, without any hired assistance, even to laying them out with their own hands, in death, and a very blessed service they found it. The memory of those days of their "first love" was always very precious to this early band of volunteer workers, and the Infirmary was, further, a valuable seminary for the future St. Luke's.

Dr. Muhlenberg took the greatest pleasure in the work, throwing his warm Christian love and sympathy into every part of it. At one time a woman was admitted, whose malady, unexpectedly proved to be small-pox, and the disease spread; there were some five or six cases in all The Sisters were quarantined for many days, by the fears of the congregation. They were debarred attendance at church, and for the most part excluded from all outside communication, save with their pastor. No such considerations could deter him from constant intercourse as well with the sick as with their Sister nurses; and his visits were like sunshine in the inevitable gloom of the situation. On one of these occasions, he found a young probationary Sister, rocking, as he lay wrapped in a blanket within her arms, a little boy, very ill with the loathsome disease. She was singing a hymn for him, and the poor child smiled as he looked up to her face and forgot his pain and restlessness. Dr. Muhlenberg came down from the ward enamored of the picture--"The very ideal of a Sister of Charity." It is comfortable to add, that the Sisters themselves passed through the exposure unharmed.

There were extremely interesting religious services in that little Infirmary: many baptisms, more than one confirmation, and frequent communions. These, in .connection with the opportunities of unobtrusive personal service afforded, its freedom from the annoyances of hired employees and other disturbing elements inseparable from larger hospitals, were greatly enjoyed by the Sisters and so frequently the subject of congratulation that Dr. Muhlenberg often said to them, "Ah, you will find nothing like this in St. Luke's." Nor did they. Admirable and beautiful as is that Institution.

The corner-stone of the Hospital was laid by Bishop Wainwright, May 6th, 1854. In some verses of a hymn written for the occasion, Dr. Muhlenberg thus expressed the spirit of the Foundation:

"The lepers cleansed, the palsied healed,
Restored the maimed, the halt, the blind,
Thy Gospel thus of old revealed,
A Gospel still, thy poor shall find.

"Thy church with sympathizing heart
For every form of human ill,
Shall yet do all the brother's part,
Shall yet thy charge of love fulfil."

The site is upon the Fifth Avenue, between Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Streets, the plot being two hundred feet by four hundred in length.

The architect was Mr. John W. Kitch. In making the plan of the house, he was directed to start with that which had been already determined upon, viz., a central Chapel immediately communicating with the wards. He worked this admirably into his design, and by corridors running lengthwise outside the wards, find connecting with the Chapel, made the latter highly conducive to the ventilation of the building. With its ample windows, it became a reservoir of fresh air flowing into the wards, and by means of the double stairways, which connect all the stories permeating the whole house. The building occupies the northern part of the plot, the principal front being on Fifty-fourth Street. It thus faces the south, extending longitudinally from east to west two hundred and eighty feet.

The general plan of the building is a narrow parallelogram, with a wing at each end, and the central Chapel flanked with towers. The elevations of the several fronts, even to the members of the cornices, are of square brick, the architect being required to build at the smallest expense consistently with durability and a becoming appearance.

"The plan of the building," said Dr. Muhlenberg, "I was desirous should provide rooms for the good women, the Sisters, who, under the Pastor and Superintendent, it was tacitly understood were to have charge of the sick. On mentioning this to one or two of my most intimate friends in the Board, they thought it decidedly inexpedient, not so much from any feeling of their own, as from existing prejudices, which were so strong, that they feared any provision for 'nuns,' as they would be called, would seriously damage the whole enterprise. The Clerical Board of the Hospital made objections on the same score, and required that nothing should be done in regard to it without their unanimous consent. But a better understanding soon came about, and by the time the Hospital was opened, fears of 'Puseyite Sisters,' no longer came in the way of an agency which in its domestic and Christian administration soon proved itself invaluable."

As in the building of the Church of the Holy Communion, so here with the Hospital, the main design was the architect's; but Dr. Muhlenberg's taste and judgment were continually brought to bear upon the details; now, it may be, arching an ugly square door or window, or again ingeniously converting some awkward and useless appendage into a shapely convenience.

His out-of-door exercise, as the walls rose above the foundation, was very frequently in the direction of the Hospital. In one of Ms many walks through Fifty-fourth Street, a little incident occurred that illuminates an especial grace of his character. As he passed along the unpaved street, he accidentally overset, stumbling as he did so, a pail of water which was left in the footpath. Instantly, an ill-looking boy, who had been playing with some others in the road, rushed up, shouting, 'I say, old man, what did you do that for? That water had to be fetched, I tell yer." "Why did you leave your pail so dangerously in the path?" said the Doctor's companion, with some indignation. "And how dare you speak so rudely to the gentleman? "" Well! Well! Never mind," Dr. Muhlenberg replied. "It is a pity the water is spilt. Will sixpence pay for getting some more, my boy?" handing the coin as he spoke. The young rough took the money with a gruff, "s'pose so," and ran off, hugging himself, no doubt, at his good bargain, while the man of God, without comment kept on his way.

The foregoing is a slight and trivial illustration of the spirit which, ruled in him, habitually, as to the endurance of an injury. He could always accept kindly and gently a wrong that involved nothing beyond his personal discomfort or loss; frequently saying to those anxious for his interest, "Don't trouble--only let us do right! The great thing is to do right!" In a transaction, some years later, whereby he was unjustly deprived of a considerable amount of money, he expressed so much satisfaction at the peaceableness of the arbitrament--having feared a dispute--and gave God thanks so heartily, that it might have been supposed he was as much a gainer in the business, as he was actually a loser.

Yet no one looking on would have said there was weakness in this. It was evidently, and affectingly, the Christian in his strength, nobly acting out the principle of the command: "If any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also."

Project Canterbury