Project Canterbury

The Pastoral Letter of the Bishops to the Clergy and Laity

Read in Trinity Church, Boston, Tuesday October 25, 1904

Boston: Printed for the Convention by Alfred Mudge and Son, 1904.

BOSTON, October 25, 1904.

I hereby certify that the following Pastoral Letter has been set forth by the House of Bishops, in accordance with Title I., Canon 20, § iii., of the Digest of Canons.

Secretary of the House of Bishops.

From Title I., Canon 20, §

"It is hereby made the duty of every clergyman having a pastoral charge, when any such letter is published, to read the said Pastoral Letter to his congregation on some occasion of public worship."


Brethren Beloved in the Lord:

Grace, mercy, and peace, be multiplied upon you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It is eminently fit that this General Convention should end with this service, and with some words of equal pertinency to all of us. It is not merely inevitable that in our several parochial, diocesan, or missionary relations, we should have our several local interests supremely at heart, but also that we should see what is severally closest to us, with clearest vision and with most intelligent and affectionate interest. And if the General Convention served no other use, it would be of inestimable value in correcting this false perspective. No bishop, priest, or layman, who has sat in its sessions with other men, will go home thinking of those other men and their work quite as he did before he knew them. There has been a ring of profound persuasiveness in many voices with whose arguments or whose conclusions it may easily have been that we were not, and are not, able to agree. And, best of all, our eyes have been lifted to that wider horizon which encloses, not a part, but the whole; and our hearts have been moved, and thrilled sometimes, by notes from far-off regions where brethren have been bearing witness for Christ, whose persons and whose work have been too little in our thoughts or our prayers.

And this it is that has lent that pre-eminent interest to the General Convention of t904, which has been given to it [3/4] by the presence of His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are some of us here who have dreamed, for years, of such a visit as has lately been made to us, and, long ago, have despaired of the realization of that dream. There are others of us who knew the present beloved Archbishop of Canterbury when he was Domestic Chaplain to Archibald Campbell Tait, in 1878 Archbishop of Canterbury; and who little anticipated that Randall Thomas Davidson would fulfil our dream. And there are others still, who never knew Tait, or Benson, or Temple, or any Archbishop of Canterbury, who have thought of the Church of England as indeed representing a parentage from the loins of which we ourselves had sprung, but more and more as a mother with scant interest in our life and scant concern for our independent history. It has been the happy mission of that gifted and beloved Archbishop who has lately left our shores, to dispel, with a singular and most felicitous touch (whatever he has touched, or wherever he has spoken), this curiously provincial misapprehension. For, with a fine and high discernment which recognized, all the time, that the Church in Great Britain and the Church in America were parts of one larger whole, on every occasion, from that first sermon in Quebec, to his farewell words to the Society of the Pilgrims in New York, he has lifted our vision to grasp a wider horizon than that either of the British possessions or of these United States; and has made us sensible of that august stewardship for God, for the Catholic Faith, and for our common humanity, which, each alike, hold for the enlightenment and the well-being of mankind.

No American Churchman can afford to be indifferent to such a visit, nor to the gracious personality of him who made [4/5] it. The oneness of two great peoples has been cemented, and the oneness of vision in the doing of great tasks, that belong alike to both, has been immeasurably set forward.

And first among those tasks is that of making known to men and nations that sit in darkness, that precious deposit of which we have been put in trust by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No calling that appeals to young men to-day can offer so noble an opportunity as this. He must be a dull student of the times or of events, who has not been impressed by that amazing progress of our American civilization which has lately made of a relatively small and insignificant people one of the foremost nations of the world. This race of Orientals, having adopted the military and naval customs, costumes, and weapons of our western world, has suddenly wrought, both upon sea and land, the miracles of the mightiest armies and navies of the world. But is this all that we can give a citizen' of Japan, or China, or the Hawaiian or the Philippine Islands? It does not matter that, in some of these cases, our obligations are closer and more immediate than in others. After all, they are substantially of one kind; and whether the ignorance in which men grope to-day is darkness or semi-darkness, ours it is, who have found the Light, to carry its knowledge to them. There are many panaceas offered to us for the miseries that are in the world to-day; but it is for the Church forever to remember that there is but one, and that theirs it is who possess it to pass it on.

We are not insensible, Brethren beloved in the Lord, that there are manifold difficulties in the way of such an undertaking, and that they increase with the complexity of our modern life. We have exchanged, we say, the patriarchal conditions of human society for those that we believe to be [5/6] more enlightened, not only, but more equitable. But it is a question which we in this Republic may wisely consider, whether, with greater freedoms, we have always won a greater purity or righteousness. At the basis of our social order is the Family; and while we are fond of girding at our Oriental brethren for their polygamic constitution of that institution, it is worth while to ask ourselves the question, whether the laws of this land are not in danger of bringing in, though by quite another road, a worse evil. The facility with which the marriage relation may be taken on and put off, is one of the menaces of our American civilization, to the possible perils of which Christian people are, as yet, very imperfectly roused. It is quite in vain that, whether as Churchmen or as citizens, we concern ourselves, in the various communities in which we live, with asphalt pavements, or electric lighting, or municipal water-works, if those moral sewers, which we call divorce courts, are not flushed with the tide of a purifying and cleansing public sentiment. Whatever may seem the hardships of a marriage law more stringent than that to which already we are wont, the monstrous injustice to unborn children and to that social order of which they are a part, of loose ideas of that tie, are more cruel and mischievous still. It is in vain that we remind ourselves that communities and countries in which marriage is, and must be, a life-long relation, are cursed with sins and vices which are tolerated, while unnamable. The fact remains that, when once there has been surrendered the great basal truth, that the family as an organic whole may not be modified save by death, you have surrendered all that makes the Christian household the ideal norm of the State, and the Family the august and enduring image of a Divinely constituted human society.

[7] And so we plead for the security and the permanence of the Family, and no less for all that can contribute to safeguard those whom it shelters. We cannot recall the founders of the Republic, without reminding ourselves that they were men and women who built the State upon their knees; and who, whatever the pressure of their needs or the peril of their tasks, found time to gather their households about them, and to begin the day with prayer. We are a long way off, too many of us, from any such custom to-day, and our duty it is, who are your Fathers in Christ, to entreat you, brethren, that you rebuild the family altar, and begin the nurture of your children with that teaching in which your mother, the Church, bids you to train them. There is a tragic significance in the fact that, side by side with the multiplication of tools, books, maps, pictures, and all the other paraphernalia of Sunday School instruction, there is, too often, a decline, if not a decay, in that teaching in the Bible and the Prayer Book, which ought to underlie all the rest. To this end, we entreat you to hold sacred, and by every endeavor which you can command to defend the Lord's Day from secular or frivolous intrusion, and to conserve its consecrated hours for sacred themes and uses. Discourage a literature, disuse recreations, decline companionships, which, innocent enough, it may be, in themselves, issue alike in a spirit which knows no hallowed hours, nor places, nor services, and which disparages all respect for them. The foundation of a civilized, as distinguished from a savage, society is order; but there can be no civilization, which is worthy the name, which has not behind it the propulsion of a Divine Order, taking its rise in sanctions not human, but divine.

Of these great truths it is the office of the Church to remind [7/8] us, and of her pulpits unceasingly to bear witness. There have been times, undoubtedly, when from the pulpit too much, in this direction, was expected; but such times are not our times; and it is to be doubted whether the reaction, just here, has not been excessive. Now, that is to say, in the priest or deacon who ministers to us, we do not expect much in the way of pulpit teaching or edification, because, as we frankly own, there is no time for his preparation for it. The Guilds and Brotherhoods and Friendly and Industrial and Benevolent Societies, which are often the chief notes of the modern parish, are so exacting in their demands upon the minister of Christ, as to leave him no leisure, whether for private prayer or for private study; and it ought to set both Clergy and laity to thinking, that there is so little in the modern pulpit, whether urban or rural, to summon earnest minds to any such exercise. In the State, in finance, in municipal administration, we all know that there is such a thing as "over-organization"; and with the multiplication of modern mechanisms in the Church, we may wisely ask ourselves whether we are not sometimes in danger of worshipping the net and the drag. "I often find myself," said a Rector whose parish was a marvel of organized activity, "recalling that feat in legerdemain, which consists in the juggler's setting one plate to spinning, and then another, and another, until twelve are swiftly revolving--soon to die down into motionless inertia, however, if the starting touch does not return to them; and alas!" he added, "I have not strength, nor time, enough for that, and for study and for sermon-writing, too!"

And so the parish priest not unfrequently turns to books, or to ceremonies, which, if they have not the stamp of authority, have, at least, the charm of novelty. Let us not be afraid [8/9] of either of these--least of all of teaching, which in its effort to reclothe old truths with new vestments, borrows its regalia from the wardrobe of error. One cannot meet and answer such literature unless he knows it; but, most of all, he must not be so caught by the glamour of its novelty, as to make his sermon, or his lecture, utter one thing, while the language in which the most ancient and solemn offices of the Church are clothed, proclaims another. "An honest man," we say, "must, at least, follow his convictions." Yes, most surely; but he must not eat his mother's bread and yet revile her claim to a divine legitimacy. If one finds, whatever his office or place in the Church, that he has lost his hold upon her fundamental verities, then, in the name of common honesty, let him be silent, or withdraw.

For, after all, there never was a moment in the history of mankind when it more urgently needed the message of the Religion of Jesus Christ than to-day. The transformations which have come to pass in human conditions since Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem have been simply tremendous; and there are moments when men believe that, along the line of material betterments or of intellectual progress, the ennoblement of the race is to be found; but they who know the most of both these realms of human advancement know also how little they can say to the inmost wants of the human soul. It may easily be true--nay, often it is true--that, in some of the religious systems in which men have been nurtured, those wants have been so caricatured, and the essential hunger of humanity so grossly misinterpreted, that systems of theology which have been devised to meet such conditions have come, in time, to be regarded, by a larger intelligence, as simply grotesque. All this, we say, may be quite true, [9/10] but the fact still remains that man wants God, His pardon, His love, His help, and that His Church is here in the world to give these things. We are much disturbed, some of us, because of a contempt for traditions which others tell us they have outgrown; but, if we go beneath the despised tradition, we shall find that the need which was once believed to be beneath the tradition, lives there still, and that he is, most of all, unwise who ignores or despises it. The period of the Reformation was, inevitably, a period of the birth of new formularies as well as of the recovery of lost ideals; but the Church cannot afford to forget that, in exalting such formularies into an identity with the essential symbols of the Catholic Faith, she has been binding upon men's consciences burdens heavy to be borne. If modern Christianity insists on unloading the Church of some of these, we may not confuse that struggle for Apostolic simplicity with the profane iconoclasm which would pull down the whole structure of our Historic Faith. If we were asked, to-day, to define the mental and spiritual attitude of great multitudes of our fellows in this land, we should say that they had not lost faith in the Church's Divine office or message, but were rather waiting for her to bring them both into closer relation to the wants, and the facts, of human life to-day.

And this brings us to speak, finally, of those two great problems which, to-day, supremely confront the Republic. Both of them concern those who are less favored than ourselves; both of them have a menace, or a blessing, for our common well-being, according as they are dealt with. The representative of the first of them is the working man, as we are wont to call him--though the popular orator is wont, often enough, to remind us that most men and women belong [10/11] to that class. They do; and that fact might wisely make us more eager to understand our grave social problems than, ordinarily, we are. For, whatever may be our attitude toward labor and the labor organizations, against which latter, just now, many people are almost savagely inflamed, the fact can not be denied that, in what they have attempted or accomplished, they have moved mainly along lines which are the glory of our democratic institutions. However otherwise we may classify human society, that classification is universal which divides it into those who believe in the spirit of caste, and those who do not. Journey where you will, the peoples that are in the thickest darkness, to-day, are those in which most absolutely the spirit of caste rules; and if our fathers came to these shores to escape from the domination of that rule, whether it expressed itself in civil or in ecclesiastical tyrannies, shall we resent it, if, at last, the working man has caught something of the same spirit, and seeks to apply it to the constitution of that great industrial organism which is the most apt image of the modern state? Say, if you will, and as doubtless you often do say, that he has a mind to use the power of the demos, the people, as cruelly and as arbitrarily as kings were wont to use their power in the olden time; say, as doubtless you may, again, that more than once he has sought to exchange the beneficent despotism of the master for the brutal tyranny of the man; the fact remains, that behind these travesties of the eternal equities, there rises, often, the form of the Divine Man, reaching out and reaching down to the most utter degradation, that He might lift it to a seat beside himself.

And it is just at this point, men and brethren, that the office of the Church stands disclosed. There is a wild dream [11/12] in many intelligent minds of what, in the face of our great American industrial problems, legislation is going to do to solve them, which is as unreflecting as it is pathetic. It does not seem to occur to those who count supremely upon the compulsion of a law that, until you can count also upon a hearty conviction of the essential equity of a law, the cleverness of those whom it affects will be principally concerned in evading it; and it may wisely be remembered that the mightiest Manhood that ever touched human problems--mightiest because it was both Divine and human--was least of all concerned about legislation, and most of all with making a way into the heart of man for the divine law of brotherhood.

It is along this line, it belongs to us also to remind you, that we are to find the solution of those other problems with which the Church is called to wrestle, and which are not industrial, but racial. In the House of Bishops, there was adopted, during the sessions of this Convention, this Minute, which we believe may well reach the ears of a wider constituency:--

"The Bishops of this House put on record their conviction that, while waiting for the adoption of some plan that shall deal more effectively with the great problem of the religious care of the colored people of this country, the conscience of the Church needs to be aroused to the absolute inadequacy both of means and of methods for the discharge of this tremendous responsibility, and to be awakened to the care of this great multitude of people who, although of another race, have been bought with the blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and are in sore need of the teachings of His Gospel to uplift them to a sounder faith and a purer life."

[13] Such words confront us with the gravest problem of our American life to-day, and the most increasingly menacing. It is idle to deny, or to ignore, the fact that the people of the Republic, North and South, are radically divided, not alone as to the facts which the words just quoted affirm, but as to their meaning; and we rejoice to be able to congratulate the General Convention that it has appointed a Joint Commission with authority to call to its aid the best wisdom in the land, and to probe the questions which affect not only ourselves, but (most of all) a race now numbering some nine millions of people, and brought to these shores by no choice nor consent of their own. If, by giving them freedom, we have only given them the power to work mischief, and if lynching has come to be defended as a necessary protection to families, then surely we are face to face with a situation at once desperate and dishonoring. We may not ignore it: we cannot disown it. It is a part of our social situation, and if the Church can have nothing to say about it, then she simply disowns her duty, and her Master.

It is because we do not believe that she will do this, that we call upon our people to bring to this perplexing situation the best wisdom they can command; and, most of all, to recognize its racial and sectional complexities without prejudice or prepossession. Some way must be found, and that speedily, to bind together these black brethren and ourselves in a fellowship of mutual confidence and mutual service; and if the Religion of Christ has not been rightly used to this end, it is time that we turned to the great Head of the Church for His heavenly inspiration and besought Him with prayer for His unerring guidance.

It would be impossible to conclude this Letter without [13/14] recognizing a coincidence in our assembling in the City of Boston, when there was sitting, elsewhere in the same city, the International Peace Congress. There are those among us who can remember when Peace Societies were left mainly to the advocacy of our brethren of the Society of Friends; and when many of us regarded their annual assemblages with good-natured contempt. Nothing is more inspiring in the whole history of our common Christianity than the tremendous revulsion of feeling which, in this regard, has come to pass. The creation of the Hague Tribunal and the recognition, if not the formal adoption, of international courts of arbitration, by some of the foremost empires of Europe, have indicated the recognition of an altered sentiment in regard to the arbitrament of war, of the most profound significance. Late and slowly the civilized world surrenders those notes of barbarism which it has inherited from pagan times. Late and slowly it seems to dawn upon the minds of statesmen and scholars, alike, that the argument of brute force is but a brute's argument, after all. But all the while, from its first dawn in the cradle of Bethlehem, when to the shepherds on Judaean hillsides the angels sang, "Glory to God and peace, good will to men!" down and on, through all the bloodstained ages that have followed, there has run the thread of a Divine purpose, beating down the barriers that divide man from man, and race from race, and hastening the time when the Fatherhood of God shall mean no less the Brotherhood of all His children.

And so, men and brethren, we see our calling. May God give us wisdom and courage to rise to its transforming level! The world, all round its vast circumference, throbs and aches with the hatreds of men. Class against class; Christian [14/15] brethren who, too often, alas! have no other word save one of disparagement or ridicule for other Christian brethren; race arrayed against race; and contempt for all who are less favored than ourselves;--this, more than any other, is apt to be the dominant note in our ecclesiastical speech, in our literary criticism, in our international courtesies. Surely, to breathe upon us a nobler spirit has our Master come into the world! May we hearken for the calling of His voice, and strive to do His will!

Project Canterbury