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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops.

Read at St. John's Chapel, in the City of New-York
by the Assistant Bishop of Connecticut the Rt. Rev. John Williams
October 26th, 1853

[As reprinted in The Church Journal, New-York, Nov. 3, 1853]

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


The three years which have elapsed since the last meeting of the General Convention, will constitute an eventful period in the history of our Church. Three of our Bishops have been called away from their earthly ministrations to give an account of their stewardship to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls.

The venerable Bishop Chase, though suddenly summoned from his labors, had attained to a good old age, and had left the impress of his zeal upon the period in which he lived. It was his vocation to be a pioneer of the Church. The Dioceses of Louisiana, New-York, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, have each, in their turn, felt the stirring influence of his enterprise. The Colleges of Kenyon and Jubilee will long stand, we trust, as beneficent memorials of his zeal, his faith, and his labors.

Bishop Gadsden, of South Carolina, fell a victim to protracted disease, and persevering labor in his Master's cause. He was an "Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile." He loved the Church, as the household of faith; and it was his destiny to spend his strength and his life in promoting the cause of his Divine Master.

Bishop Henshaw, of Rhode Island, was arrested suddenly by the hand of death, in the maturity of his strength, and in the midst of his usefulness. Fervent in spirit, prudent in counsel, zealous in his labors, we might have looked forward to a course of signal usefulness in his Master's cause. But God's ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts; yet we know that every act of His Providence, whether in mercy or in affliction, is ordered in infinite wisdom and goodness.

While we cherish the counsels and labors of these departed Fathers in our remembrance, we look with confidence to the good providence of God, so to direct the counsels and labors of those whom he raises up in their stead, as shall most effectually promote the welfare of His Church.

Since the last Triennial Convention, the following persons have been duly elected, approved, and consecrated as Bishops in the Church, viz.:--

The Right Rev. John Payne, D. D., was consecrated in S. Paul's Church, Alexandria, on the 11th of July, 1851, as Missionary Bishop of Western Africa; Right Rev. Francis Huger Rutledge, D. D., in S. Paul's Church, Augusta, on the 15th of October 1851, as Bishop of the Diocese of Florida; Right Rev. John Williams, D. D., in S. John's Church, Hartford, on the 29th of October, 1851, as Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut; Right Rev. Henry J. Whitehouse, D. D., in S. George's Church, New-York, on the 20th of November, 1851, as Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Illinois; Rt. Rev. Jonathan M. Wainwright, D. D., D. C. L., in Trinity Church, New-York, on the 10th of November, 1852, as Provisional Bishop of the Diocese of New-York; and on the 17th of October, inst., in presence of the General Convention, in S. John's Church, in the City of New-York, Right Rev. Thomas Frederick Davis, D. D., and Right Rev. Thomas Atkinson, D. D., were duly consecrated, the former as Bishop of South Carolina, and the latter as Bishop of North Carolina.

During the present session of the Convention, the Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D. D., has been elected Missionary Bishop to the State of California, and Rev. Thomas Scott has been elected Missionary Bishop of the Territories of Oregon and Washington.

In melancholy contrast with these accessions to the Episcopate, we have to record a most extraordinary instance of defection, and consequent deposition from that sacred office.

Full evidence having been adduced that Levi Silliman Ives, D. D., LL. D., late Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, had, in violation of his oath of consecration, abandoned his Diocese and the duties of his office, and had submitted himself to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, he was, on the 14th day of October, inst., by the unanimous voice of the Bishops assembled in General Convention, canonically deposed from the office of Bishop in the Church of God, and the sentence of deposition was duly pronounced on the same day, by the presiding Bishop, in St. John's Church, New-York, in presence of both Houses of the Convention.

We earnestly hope that the record of this deposition may conclude the list of apostates to the Romish Communion. For several years past, our branch of the Church of Christ, as well as our parent Church of England, has been harassed by the advocacy of doctrines, and of ceremonial observances, leading in the same direction. The movement was commenced under the imposing counsels of learned and pious men, but possessed of more fancy and feeling than of sound judgment and discretion. It has been continued mainly by men of similar characteristics; men whose prurient imaginations required the gratification of an imposing ceremonial in religion, and whose morbid yearnings after greater holiness, led them to seek for it in the asceticism of the Church of Rome.

There can be little doubt that they are now, in most cases, painfully sensible of their delusion. We may, therefore, justly pity their condition, though we must sternly condemn the disingenuousness which has generally marked the course of their defection, at the same time deploring the scandal which they have brought upon our Communion, and the unhappy controversies within its bosom, of which they have been the occasion.

The agitations which have thus disturbed the peace of the Church within the last ten years have been most deplorable in their consequences. Brethren in the bonds of the Church, who should have lived together in harmony and love, and whose only strife should have been who should do most for the elucidation and extension of their common faith, have learned to look upon each other with distrust; to doubt each other's sincerity; to aggravate each other's supposed errors; to ascribe to each other's opinions consequences which the holders of those opinions would utterly disavow; and thus, instead of regarding them merely as illogical reasoners, they have learned to brand them as corrupt in doctrine.

The Church press, too, and especially its periodical press, has had its share in this uncharitable work. We have no desire, indeed, to curb the legitimate freedom of the press, but we would rejoice to see a self-restraint exercised in regard to its bitterness and its licentiousness. We are aware that important truths are sometimes elicited, and more frequently sustained by free discussion; but we deplore the exhibition of all uncharitable feeling, and the use of all censoriousness of language. If in the good Providence of God the time shall have arrived for quieting the distractions in the Church, and for the restoration of peace and harmony among her members, we would earnestly invoke the co-operation of the press in promoting so auspicious a consummation.

The principles of sound churchmanship have no inherent tendency to Romanism, or to the opposite extreme. As they are deduced from the Holy Scriptures, and exhibited in the Articles, Liturgy and Prayer Book, they stand in happy equilibrium. It is only when one doctrine or office is magnified at the expense of the rest, that the equilibrium is destroyed. The tendencies to error and to extremes, lie in part in the different constitutions of men; in the diversities of their tempers, education and prejudices, and not in the system of Christianity itself. Some men rest upon the doctrinal soundness of their religion; others on its practical developments. Some are disposed greatly to magnify the efficacy of the Sacraments; others have been equally inclined to depreciate their efficacy. The only remedy for all these extremes is to receive and hold the doctrines of Scripture, and their summary in the Prayer Book, in due proportion, and not to magnify one doctrine or precept at the expense of another.

Again, there are differences among Churchmen, arising out of the different schools of theology in which they have been trained, and still other differences arising out of the various systems of metaphysics on which the different systems of theology are based. Now, in all these cases, a reasonable latitude of toleration should be allowed. It is impossible to make all men think alike and so long as they will receive, in good faith, the doctrines of the Gospel, as they are exhibited in the Prayer Book, a charitable indulgence should be extended to minor differences, arising from natural temperament, or from the prejudices of education.

With the Apostolic Church, Christ was all in all. A common reliance on the all-sufficient efficacy of His Mediation and Atonement constitute their strong bond of union. When difficulties began to arise on these subjects, the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds were successively adopted by the Church, as exponents of the common faith. They were regarded as the legitimate exponents for fifteen hundred years. But the Catholic Church had become divided, in the progress of centuries, and both the Greek and Latin branches of it had "sought out many inventions," and devised many superstitions and corruptions. At the happy period of the Reformation, the various bodies which adopted measures to promote it, abandoned these superstitions and corruptions, and endeavored to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. The Church of England, from which we are descended, took a prominent part in this work of reform, and completed it by establishing a code of "Articles of Religion," and a Liturgy of Christian Worship, which being adopted by us (with such changes as our political relations required), places us on the same platform of faith and worship which was occupied by the primitive Christian Church. Our Prayer-Book, then, amid all the varying shades of individual opinion, is the strong bond of union for our Church. While it is our most valuable help and standard for the interpretation of the Scriptures, it should itself be interpreted with all candor and fairness, and according to the sense in which it has been generally understood by the Church. This is especially the obligation and duty of all who minister at the altars of the Church. At their admission to the priesthood, they solemnly bind themselves to "conform to the doctrine and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church." They thus engage to refrain from any private and individual interpretation, for the Church which exacts the subscription, is the lawful interpreter of the sense in which it is to be taken.

Under these circumstances, it should seem that the Church contains in her apostolic organization the elements of her perpetual unity, and the sure means of composing every violation of her harmony. We must appeal to her standard, and to the sense in which she herself regards it. No mere party in the Church can claim the right to be the expounder of her faith. Mere "man-followers," and the disciples of parties, are not to be regarded as her organs. Her authoritative voice speaks only through her standards.

But, though the Church is a unit, and speaks always the same language, there are, notwithstanding, many members in this one body; and, as among many men there must be diversities of intellect, as well as various modes of education, it naturally happens that there should be some diversity in their apprehension of the teachings of the Church.

The Bishops, however, fully believe that this diversity is not so great as is sometimes imagined. They are persuaded that much of the supposed difference of opinion arises from mere misapprehension. Such is the poverty of language, and such are the various conditions of the minds of men, that different individuals attach different meanings to the same words. Words themselves, too, may be equivocal, or they may become so by different conventional significations, which have been attached to them in some way. The science of theology has become peculiarly technical; and different schools and different denominations of Christians have each their Shibboleths, which they adhere to with great tenacity. Men who are candidly disposed are therefore liable to misunderstand one another; and the evil is greatly increased where captious and fault-finding tempers are concerned.

To prevent misunderstandings, then, it would be wise to avoid using, ourselves, such equivocal words and phrases in our communications, and to cultivate a candid and charitable disposition, that we may not unjustifiably misapprehend the meaning of others.

Twelve years ago, the House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the important doctrine of "Justification by Faith." It was drawn up by the venerable Bishop Griswold, then presiding Bishop. He evidently supposed that there was much diversity of opinion in the Church concerning the subject which he wished to explain and enforce: and he desired that the letter should be subjected to a thorough review by the Bishops before it should be read to the other House of the Convention. The Bishops who were then present will still remember the warm approval with which the production was received, and the cordial thanks which were tendered to its author by all his Episcopal brethren. If it is thought, at the present day, that there is very material diversity of sentiment in the Church, on this fundamental doctrine, an examination of the pastoral letter referred to will show that it may be inculcated in language so free from all technical and party phraseology as to secure the general assent.

In regard to the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, too much of the controversy which exists arises from the use of equivocal words, and from misapprehension. Parties attach entirely different meanings to the word regeneration, and ascribe to each other opinions which both would disavow. In proof of this, we may remark that all parties are ready to receive the doctrine as it is set forth in the Prayer Book, and as it is expressed in the Scriptures.

Instead, then, of spending our strength in unprofitable disputes about words, which only gender strife, it were better to devote our energies to the explanation of the great and fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and to the enforcing of their saving efficacy on the hearts and consciences of men. The lamentable fall of our first parents, and the natural corruption of all their descendants; the way of salvation, devised by infinite wisdom, through the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ; the necessity of a sincere repentance for all our sins; of an active obedience to all the divine commands; the necessity and efficacy of the Holy Sacraments, as a means of grace; the indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit, for the sanctifying of our hearts, and the renewing our natures: these are themes which may well call forth the warmest affections of our hearts, and the best energies of our minds, and which, instead of tendering bitterness and strife, are calculated to fill the heart with the purest Christian charity. This is a work in which all must co-operate with hearty zeal--in which all may assist in building up the Church in the most holy Faith. But the world around us is pervaded by forms of error, against which nothing but active controversy can be successful. It should be a controversy, however, dictated and modified by love. On the one hand we behold an all grasping Romanism, which gives no quarter, allows no truce, but demands an unconditional submission. On the other hand are various forms of error, still pervaded, more or less, by the true spirit of Christianity, but constantly breaking into fragments and steadily tending to latitudinarianism and infidelity. Amidst these erratic tendencies, the best hopes of Christianity are centered in the Church of England and in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.

The spread of Romanism in this country is inevitable--not much, indeed, by proselytism, but by immigration. A few romantic and sentimental minds may be captivated by its imposing ceremonial and specious claims to holy living, but the hollowness of its pretensions, and the imposing parade of its impostures, cannot stand the scrutiny of an enlightened public opinion. In most Roman Catholic countries there is, probably, a wide-spread infidelity among the more intelligent classes of the community. They regard with contempt the impostures which the ignorant eagerly receive. The Roman Catholic religion, too, wears a very different aspect in Spain and Portugal from that which it exhibits in this country. Superstitions and mummeries there pass unquestioned, which in this country would not impose upon the credulity of its most ignorant devotees. The remission of several hundred years of the pains of purgatory by the dropping of a few shillings, and repeating a few Aves and Paters at the shrine of some supposed saint, which is so frequently advertised in the countries referred to, would hardly impose upon the most ignorant Romanist in this land of free opinions.

The wonderful immigration of Roman Catholics to this country is often looked upon with alarm by the friends of our religious institutions. Who knows but it is the way designed by Infinite Wisdom for their reformation? We would hope that Romanism cannot withstand even the popular influence of our country. Besotted ignorance cannot long prevail in a land of free schools. Servile superstition must gradually decline in a land of free inquiry. Priestcraft and imposture cannot long flourish in a land of newspapers. It should seem to be our wisdom, therefore, as well as our duty, to treat our less favored brethren with kind consideration--to improve their temporal condition, to enlighten their minds, and to afford them the full benefit of all our free institutions. Under their own organization they can hardly fail gradually to emancipate themselves from the thraldom which has been imposed upon them in times of ignorance and imposture. There can be little doubt that, from the very circumstance of their position, they will be making rapid advances towards a more intelligent and a purer faith, and it is hardly probable that more than a century or two can elapse before, by a gradual progress, they will relieve themselves from those superstitions and corruptions of the dark ages, which, in our parent church were thrown off by a more sudden reformation. We may be too sanguine in these anticipations, but it is certainly a consummation most devoutly to be wished.

There is, however, one saddening reflection connected with this anticipated change. It is greatly to be feared that the first reaction will be attended with a widespread infidelity. When men first find that they have been deceived in their religious faith, they are prone to come to the hasty conclusion that there is no truth in religion itself; and, if they find that their clergy have been privy to their deception, they will be in danger of regarding the sacred ministry as an imposture.

Among the different denominations of Protestants which surround us, a defection of the same kind appears to prevail to some extent, as a reaction from former principles. The sobriety of the Calvinistic doctrines, and the enthusiasm of the revival measures, seems too often to be succeeded by an alarming spirit of scepticism, rationalism, and all the various forms of unbelief. We have cause to apprehend that these evils are increasing, and that they will for a time continue to prevail. It should be the great work of the Church to resist and counteract them. Her contest for years to come is likely to be mainly with indifference and open infidelity. The great question is, how shall she prepare hereby to enter upon this controversy with reasonable prospect of success?

In the first place, after humbly and devoutly seeking the divine assistance, she should endeavor to compose or lay aside her own differences. They are of small account in comparison with the evil of infidelity, whether it be active or passive, open or concealed. Some of these differences may spring from mere partiality to men, some to an attachment to a peculiar religious phraseology, and some, indeed, may arise from a real difference of opinion in regard to secondary points of doctrine; but they are all of little moment in comparison with the defence and preservation of Christianity itself.

In the next place, the Church must apply herself wisely and zealously to the work before her. She has to build up the members of her own household in the most holy faith. She has, also, to open wide the doors of her communion, and send the ministry of reconciliation abroad into the world to combat with infidelity and vice, and as fast as men become obedient to the Christian faith, to bring them into the Christian fold.

But to effect these objects she needs more clergymen, and they will need to be thoroughly educated for their work. In looking over the addresses of our Bishops in the journals of their respective conventions, we find a general complaint of the want of more clergymen, and instead of the candidates for orders increasing in number in proportion to the rapid increase of the Church, it is believed that their number is actually diminishing. The prosperity of our country in all kinds of secular business, and the prospect of wealth and distinction held out to young men of talents and education, may in part account for this result. But it must be admitted as generally true, that the pecuniary compensation of the clergy is entirely inadequate to their comfortable support, and that it has by no means kept pace with the increased expenses of living. It is then incumbent on the Church first to do justice in this matter, and then to take measures to increase the number of candidates for Holy Orders. There are strong worldly obstacles in the way of this increase; but they can be overcome by wisdom, zeal and liberality. The clergy can do much by directing the minds of pious and promising young men to the same sacred office; and pious parents may co-operate with the clergy in this good work. If a young man possessing the requisite qualifications, has not the pecuniary ability to procure an education, a wealthy friend, or the parish to which he belongs, may contribute to his support; or, what is still better, may found a permanent scholarship. A wealthy and pious parent may acknowledge the providence of God towards him, by devoting one of his sons to the sacred ministry; or, if the son should decline the work, he may redeem him according to the principle of the old dispensation, by educating some suitable young man in his place. Indeed, there seems at present little probability of affording any adequate supply to the ranks of the ministry, unless young men of talent and piety shall be selected from the less ambitious walks in life, and be educated in whole or in part by individual or by parochial assistance. The establishment of scholarships, then, permanent or temporary, for education at the college or the Theological Seminary, or both, appears to be called for among the first works of the Church. Some of the most distinguished lights of the Church of England have been educated in this way, and we shall do well to follow so good and instructive an example.

The work of the Church, thus far considered, is mainly of a prospective character. But she has a field of action already before her, well calculated to engage her attention, and to call forth her energies. We allude to the fostering care of her religious and literary institutions, the nurture of her existing parishes, and the establishment of new ones. Most of this work, however, can be best performed through the instrumentality of her diocesan institutions.

There is still, however, interesting work for her in her collective capacity--the work of foreign missions, and missions in the newly organized dioceses, which are they unable to bear the burden of them. This work the Church undertook, a few years ago, with great earnestness and unanimity, and prosecuted it for a time with a good measure of success. We grieve to say that it has not been continued in the same spirit with which it was commenced. Our foreign missionary operations have not been prosecuted with a liberality commensurate with the abilities of our Church, and our domestic department has languished in a lamentable degree.

Under our Diocesan organization, the Church has, indeed, made most encouraging progress, and in most of our dioceses, there is yet a wide field for missionary culture.--Diocesan missions must, therefore, for a considerable time, occupy a large share of the attention and efforts of the Church. But in the promotion of this work, it is seen that the weakest dioceses require the most labor, and the largest means for their support. In this state of things it is obvious that the stronger dioceses must assist the weaker.--Hence arises the necessity for the domestic department of our general missionary association.

In the wide regions of our Western States and Territories, limited only by the Pacific Ocean, and rapidly filling with a population from our own people as well as from foreign nations, there is a call for missionary labor, which may well challenge the highest energies of our Church. These highest energies have not yet been fully put forth. A more harmonious co-operation may be expected; more missionaries may offer themselves for the work; larger contributions may be made; and more fervent prayers may be addressed to the Throne of Grace for a blessing on our labors.

It should be borne in mind that these sparsely settled regions are rapidly filling up with an active population, a population which will soon be counted by millions, and which, at no distant day, may control the destiny of our country. It is, therefore, a question of incalculable importance, whether the minds of these teeming millions shall be blighted by infidelity, or corrupted by a false religion--or whether they shall be imbued with the pure and unadulterated doctrines of the Gospel. And if this is a question of importance, as it may affect the destinies of our country, of how much more importance does it become when we regard it as involving the everlasting salvation of millions of our fellow-men?

We have a good hope that the Church will soon estimate this subject as it ought to be regarded. We hope that she will arouse herself from her lethargy; that she will lay aside all party jealousies and local prejudices, and address herself to the subject of her domestic missions with a zeal and a liberality proportioned to its importance.

But the spirit of the Gospel does not limit our sympathies or our duty by the boundary of our own country. The Saviour commanded his Apostles to go forth into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.--The duty of proclaiming the glad tidings of the Gospel to the heathen, is still binding upon their successors, and upon all Christians. It is impartially binding upon us, according to our position and our circumstances; and in so far as it may be performed without the hindrance of other imperative duties. If the peculiar necessities of our own country constitute the first and greatest claim upon our charity; we can, at the least, acknowledge our duty to the heathen, by appropriating to their conversion a liberal portion of our means.

Our mission to China was established in view of the two hundred millions of heathen within the limits of that greatest empire in the world. It is a small light in a wide-spread region of darkness, but in the providence of God it may enkindle other lights which "shall shine more and more unto the perfect day." Events seem now to be in progress in the Chinese Empire, which may give an unlooked-for interest and influence to our Mission there. The civil revolution, which now seems to be breaking up the settled foundations of Chinese policy, may, in its progress, open a freer course for the diffusion of the Gospel; and the glimmerings of Christianity which seem to have been imbibed by the rebel chief, may, in the event of his success, and with the blessing of God, become the harbinger of his full profession of the Christian faith. Let us pray for such a consummation, and let us foster our Mission in China in the hope that it may be in a condition to avail itself of every opportunity for extending the Gospel of Peace.

Our Mission to Africa has hitherto held out more cheering prospects of success than our Mission to China. It is the ignorance of heathenism, rather than any settled system of State polity, which we have to contend with, and instead of holding us as "outside barbarians," the Africans look to us as in all respects superior to themselves. Under such circumstances, their superstitions and attachment to their idols will be more easily overcome, and the simple truths of the Gospel be more readily received through our missionaries. The deleterious climate of Africa does indeed present a formidable obstacle to our success. But we have men and women, who, like the Apostles of old, count not their lives too dear to enter on the work. May God give success to their labors of love, and may we ever be ready to aid them by our counsels, our influence, our alms and our prayers.

Brethren of the Clergy and of the Laity:--In concluding this address, we beg leave to call your particular attention to the state of the Church, as it is exhibited in the reports from the several Dioceses. In these reports we find much to encourage us, and much to stimulate our future exertions. A commendable degree of harmony, and an earnest spirit, seem generally to prevail in all our Dioceses. The great want of the Church seems to be a more adequate supply of clergy and of candidates for Holy Orders. Coming as you do, brethren, from every portion of the Church, and acquainted with her necessities, it was to be expected that this matter should occupy your serious deliberations. The resolutions you have sent us, recommending a more adequate support of the clergy, and the devising of measures for the increase of their members, may well challenge our most earnest attention. We commend the subject to the paramount consideration of all our Dioceses; and we are prepared devoutly to unite with you in prayers to the great Head of the Church, that He would raise up and send forth a more abundant supply of laborers into the vineyard. In separating, brethren, (many of us never to meet again in this world,) let us earnestly pray for each other's welfare, and for the peace and prosperity of the Church of Christ. The Bishops, in parting, give you their fervent benediction:--

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.

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