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Is Fairness in Religious Controversy Impossible?
A Letter to the Rev. Daniel R. Goodwin, D.D., LL.D.,

by Oliver S. Prescott, Priest.

Philadelphia: James McCauley, 1879.


Your position in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, as the President of the Standing Committee, Deputy to the General Convention, Dean of the Divinity School, mover of the resolution in the last Convention attacking the Parish of S. Clement, a member of the Committee of Investigation, &c., &c., gives to anything that you may do an importance which may be factitious. Men can hardly help feeling that there must be something worthy of honor in a person whom men delight to honor. They do not judge his words and acts fairly, because their first feeling is not to judge of them at all. This is especially true when honors are conferred by ballot and when party feeling runs high: and, it is under such circumstances that calmness and fairness ought to be carefully cultivated.

Are we doing this? We find the old controversy between high and low Churchmen cropping up in Philadelphia. It has been fought over and over again almost everywhere, except here, and the result has always been the same, i.e., neither party has been exterminated, and yet men now go into it as if the result might possibly be different, and as if the very existence of more than one school in the Church of our Blessed lord were dependent upon the issue of a petty Diocesan squabble.

I shall very likely claim the privilege of writing to you again on the real merits of the questions involved. Just now I wish, in the interest of fairness, to call the attention of thinking men to two or three points which you make, and this by way of warning them against a too ready acceptance of your authorities and statements.

The title page of your pamphlet is imposing, but is it fair?

Mr. Henry Flanders undertook to prove that "Pennsylvania Protestant Episcopalianism," as embodied in a person and a pamphlet which shall be nameless, was not the religion of the Prayer Book and the Bible—that is to say, not the religion of the Protestant Episcopal Church anywhere, and he challenged the author to prove that it was. The challenged man was silent, but you came to his rescue and the rescue of his pamphlet, and you call the result of your research and learning "a defense of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania against the attack of Henry Flanders, Esq." Allow me to ask whether there is no want of fairness in the attempt to confound, in men's minds, the very small point which Mr. Flanders attacked with the great cause of Religion—the Religion of the Bible and of the Prayer Book—which he sought to defend?

Again: on page 26, you say: "What becomes of his (Mr. Flanders) boasted authorities, though culled from somebody's collection by the whole staff of S. Clement's Church?" Am I wrong in interpreting this as intended to convey an intimation that the clergy of S. Clement's have furnished Mr. Flanders with a lot of second-hand quotations? Now, if this were a fact, you could not have known it, and so your words would have been unfair; but it is not a fact, and therefore your words are open to a far graver criticism. So far as this matter is concerned, and it is a matter about which I have a right to speak, your pamphlet brands itself, bearing as it does on its face a bad blot. Every copy which you allow to go into circulation spreads abroad an untruth. If you were under sentence of temporal death, and should do as your Church bids, and should make a "full confession of all your sins," it would happen to you as it happened to those men at Ephesus, to whom S. Paul ministered, who believing themselves to be under sentence of spiritual death, "came and confessed and showed their deeds," and many of them who used curious arts brought their books and burned them. (See the Acts of the Apostles, chapter xix., verse 17, et seq.)

Again: you go out of your way in the passage quoted above and elsewhere in your pamphlet to sneer at your brethren in charge of S. Clement's, for doing a thing which they did not do, while at that very moment you were yourself guilty of doing that whereof you were wrongfully accusing them. On page 26, you speak of us as culling quotations from "somebody's collection," and on pages 25, 24, 15, and 14, you use quotations from several early Christian writers, culled by somebody from Jewel's collection.

Let me print some of the results of my examination of Jewel's collection, side by side with the collection in your pamphlet, that your readers may themselves be judges in the matter.

JEWEL says:

"Eusebius writeth thus; He gave us a remembrance instead of a sacrifice to offer up continually unto God."—Works, p. 725.

"Eusebius calleth our prayer a pure sacrifice."—Ib.

"We burn the incense of prayer; and we offer up the sacrifice which is called pure, not by shedding of blood, but by pure and godly actions."—Ib. 734.

"They shall offer unto him reasonable (or spiritual) and unbloody oblations, and the same he expoundeth the sacrifice of praise."—Ib.

"Chrysostom saith: 'The sacrifice of the Gospel ascendeth up without blood, without smoke, without altar and other the like.'"—Ib. p. 735.

"St. Hierome saith: 'Every holy man hath in himself the altar of God which is faith.'"—Ib.

"Augustine: 'Christ hath given us to celebrate in his Church an image, a token of that sacrifice for the remembrance of his passion.' . . . . . . . . . . . . 'The flesh and blood of this sacrifice before the coming of Christ was promised by sacrifices of resemblance, the same was performed in deed in the time of Christ's passion; but after Christ's ascension it is frequented by a Sacrament of remembrance. . . . . . . This visible sacrifice is a sacrament, that is to say, a token or sign of the sacrifice visible.' . . . . . . 'The thing that we call a sacrifice is a sign and representation of a sacrifice.'"—Ib. pp. 636-7.

DR. GOODWIN or somebody else says:

"Eusebius says: 'He gave us a remembrance instead of a sacrifice, to offer up continually unto God.'"

"He calls our prayer 'a pure sacrifice.'"

"And again he says: 'We burn the incense of prayer, and we offer the sacrifice that is called pure, not by shedding of blood, but by pure actions.'"

"And yet again: 'They shall offer unto him reasonable and unbloody sacrifices,' which he expounds upon the spot, 'the sacrifice of praise.'"

"Chrysostom says: 'The sacrifice of the Gospel ascendeth up without blood, without smoke, without altar, and other like.'"

"Jerome says: 'Every holy man hath within himself the altar of God, which is faith.'"

"Augustine says: 'Christ hath given us to celebrate in his Church an image or token of that sacrifice for a remembrance of his passion.'"

"The flesh and blood of this sacrifice before the coming of Christ was promised by sacrifices of resemblance; the same was performed indeed in the time of Christ's passion; but after Christ's ascension it is frequented by a sacrament of remembrance."

"And again, more plainly: 'This visible sacrifice is a sacrament—i.e., a token or sign—of the sacrifice invisible.'"

"The thing which we call a sacrifice is a sign and representation of a sacrifice."

These quotations from S. Augustine follow one another in Jewel's collection in the same order as in yours, and from a part of a single paragraph, though they are from different works.

Again: what are these quotations worth as denials of the sacrifice of the Eucharist? There is not one which I do not accept, and which I do not make my own. Because Prayer is a "pure sacrifice," it does not follow, that the Eucharist, which is the sensible embodiment of Prayer, is no sacrifice at all. If the "sacrifices of Resemblance," which promised the Flesh and Blood of Christ's sacrifice before His coming, were real, true and proper sacrifices—and I do not know that this has ever been denied—I do not see why the "Sacrament of Remembrance," in which the Flesh and Blood of this sacrifice is frequented, may not be a real, true and proper sacrifice also. But of this hereafter.

Again: on p. 23 you represent Mr. Flanders as saying, "The Bible tells us that Jesus took a piece of bread into his hands and said, 'This is my Body.' We are bound then," says Mr. Flanders, "to take Him at His word or"—I will not write it out. Your readers may refer to it.

Let this be taken as an illustration of your way of making quotations, and let your readers judge whether it be characterized by fairness.

Mr. Flanders says (p. 10): "If I were to take a piece of bread into my hands at a most solemn moment of my life and assert simply and positively that it was my body, I suppose that my friends would set me down as a lunatic or a liar.

"The Bible tells us that Jesus did this; we are bound then to take Him at His word, or judge of Him as men would have a right to judge of us."

Let me set your treatment of Mr. Flanders' words against your criticism of Mr. Flanders' treatment of some other words.

On p. 69 you quote from Mr. Flanders this passage: "What does the Church in the United States teach? or rather—for she asserts that she does not intend to depart, and has not departed, from the Church of England—what has the Church," etc. You then say, "the statement in the parenthesis may serve as an illustration of Mr. Flanders' free treatment of his authorities. The 'assertion' to which he refers is contained in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Mr. Flanders leaves out the important words 'in any essential point,' and transforms a confident appeal to the judgment of others into a positive assertion.

Let this illustrate the hastiness in rushing to conclusions and then asserting them as facts. There are no quotation marks enclosing Mr. Flanders' assertion, such as you have put before and after your own words which you sought to pass off as his, and, therefore, there was no claim made by him to verbal accuracy.

And how do you know that the referred "to the Preface of the Book of Common Prayer," and what right have you to say that he "transforms a confident appeal" "into a positive assertion?"

Have you never read that some ninety years ago a General Convention, sitting in Christ Church, in this city, writing to the Archbishops and Bishops of England, used these words: "We are unanimous and explicit in assuring your Lordships that we neither have departed, nor propose to depart, from the doctrines of your Church." May not Mr. Flanders have had this in mind, and are his words in parenthesis an unfair rendering of words quoted?

My dear Doctor, I regret sincerely that your pamphlet is what it is, and I wish that I knew of a form of words in which I could have criticised it, without seeming to be rude. It really presents nothing new, nothing which low Churchmen have not advanced, and high Churchmen again and again answered. It denies in words what you have confessed in deeds whenever you have attempted to change the Prayer Book. If I have said anything which facts do not warrant, and which fairness does not require, I wish it unsaid. Knowing poor human nature as I do, I do not hope to escape being considered by some, and it may be by many, as furnishing in this very letter an affirmative answer to my question. Still my desire is not to gain a controversial victory, but to defend the truth, and, if I may, enable others to see it.

Yours faithfully,

O. S. P.

Philadelphia, February 5, 1879.

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