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An Open Letter to the Rt. Rev. Wm. Bacon Stevens, D.D.,
respecting what he says of Bishop Cummins and His Associates,
in the late Episcopal Address to the Convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania

By a Presbyter of that Diocese.
[Marshall B. Smith]

Philadelphia: James A. Moore, 1874.

RIGHT REV. SIR:--In your Annual Address to the Convention of your Diocese, as reported by the secular and religious press, I find the following words:--

"Since we last met in Convention an event has occurred which is unprecedented in the history of our Church. One of its Bishops has abandoned its communion and transferred, as he declared, the work and office which, by consecration, he received from this Church, to another sphere.

That other sphere has proved to be the establishing of a 'Reformed Episcopal Church.' This unfaithfulness to his threefold vows of ordination, this needless rending of the Church of Christ, he has crowned by an act unparalleled in the annals of Christ's Church the consecrating, by his single self, of a lawfully deposed clergyman to the work and office of a Bishop. Vigorous efforts have been made by this disaffected sect to asperse the purity of our Church and sow seeds of discontent amidst our clergy and laity. To this end, falsehoods, misrepresentations, perversions, have been resorted to through the press and the pulpit, in reference to our Prayer-book, our polity and our legislation."

[Since the above was written the decision of the Superior Court of Chicago, Illinois, has been rendered, to the effect that the Rev. C. E. Cheney, D.D., was not legally deposed according to the canons and regulations under which he was tried. All the canonical proceedings were pronounced null and void.]

If this remarkable language was used by you, it is certainly all the more remarkable as coming from a person noted for courtesy, and a thorough acquaintance with the force and meaning of words and expressions. I propose to show that the above language, though uttered ex cathedra, if uttered at all, is not in accordance with the facts of the case, and is an unwarranted aspersion of men whom you have until recently held worthy of esteem and honor, and against whom, even now, you can urge nothing in respect of piety, morals or attainments in "sound learning."

Those concerned in the great work now happily consummated have been too much engaged in more important matters to turn aside for explanation or discussion; but the time has arrived, however, when such language as yours should not be suffered to pass unnoticed. That language can injure none of us; but coming from one in authority, it gives official currency to a distorted and false view of the whole movement.

You speak of "this disaffected sect" as having used the pulpit and the press to asperse the purity of your Church, and sow seeds of discontent, etc. The fact is just the reverse of this. When the Presiding Bishop of your Church, by a monstrous reach of authority, based on no Canon of your Church, but on some supposed apostolic prerogative, declared any acts of Bishop Cummins "null and void," and even sent to him, at Chicago, a telegram designed to effect that object, which I saw at the time; when several Bishops hurriedly gathered in the city of New York, to do something, they hardly knew what, but, I fear, nothing very "apostolic;" when the press of the Protestant Episcopal Church, High, Low, and Broad, with a single exception, assailed our movement, week after week, with hard epithets, and cruel reproaches; we made no reply. Presbyters and laymen, some of them of your own Diocese, who are not now and never have been in actual connection with us, have written in our defense; but you cannot put your finger on a single printed article, in the secular or religious press, written by a member of our organization, until a month ago. As one of the originators of the movement, and an active participant in it all along, I speak from personal knowledge. No one, not even Bishop Cummins himself, thought of the present organization until after Bishop Cummins' letter of withdrawal was in print. The Reformed Episcopal Church grew out of suggestions made to him in my presence, after his letter had been written and printed, and was not the ground of his withdrawal, as your language would seem to intimate.

The event is undoubtedly "unprecedented," in your Church; both in the spirit of the man who withdrew, and in the conduct of those who had been his brethren in official station. Bishop Ives withdrew to Rome; but how tenderly did his brethren delay action, notwithstanding the grossness of his perversion. Bishop Cummins only reasserted those great truths of Christianity which were once valued by your Church above robes, and titles, and pomp, and pageantry; he simply withdrew, in the manner provided for in your own canons, after seven years of laborious and faithful service; and being surrounded soon after by men, not one of whom he ever persuaded to join him, organized a Christian Community; and, forsooth, he is "guilty of unfaithfulness to his threefold vows of ordination"! Was Cranmer guilty of this when he forsook the Roman Communion? I ask this, not because I believe the Protestant Episcopal Church to be wholly Romanized but simply because, if perpetual allegiance be due where the vows of ordination were assumed, then should the Church of England and all in Anglican Orders be in subjection to Rome today; for if the Orders you possess came not through the Roman channel, why was Cranmer, successively, Romish and Protestant "Primate of all England," and whence did those Orders come, if not from Rome? Did Rome confer Orders to be used against herself? O perjured reformers, Bishops of the Reformation age! Ye also were "guilty of unfaithfulness to your threefold vows of ordination!" It is true that Bishop Cummins withdrew from the Protestant Episcopal Church; but have you not a canon that provides a way for such withdrawal, and did he not conform to it? If to follow that canonical way of withdrawal involve perjury, then strike the canon from your Statute-Book, and remove all such occasions of offense.

You refer to "an act unparalleled in the history of Christ's Church, the consecrating, by his single self, of a lawfully deposed clergyman to the work and office of a bishop." If the Church of Christ be confined to your Church, and the Church of England and its branches, this may be true; but if, on the Prelatical theory, it embraces other Episcopal Communions, history will not sustain your position. If I am rightly informed, you are among those who consider the "Old Catholics" of the Continent a valid Church organization; whence, then, do they derive their Episcopate? Undeniably from the Jansenist Church of Holland: in the records of "consecrations" of bishops in that Church, beginning with Cornelius Steenoven (consecrated Oct. 15, 1724, as Bishop of Utrecht, by one Bishop and two Presbyters), I find that the following Bishops were also consecrated by one Bishop with the aid of Presbyters: T. Van der Croon, consecrated Archbishop of Utrecht, Oct. 28th, 1734; K. J. Rinkel, consecrated Bishop of Haarlem, August 11th, 1873; J. H. Rienkens "Alt-Katholiken" Bishop, Aug. 11th, 1873. In the latter case, all the parties concerned had been either "lawfully deposed," or were under "historical excommunication."

On the "Prelatical theory," which you hold in common with nearly all the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Office of Bishop Charles Edward Cheney must certainly have higher claims to recognition than that of the "Old Catholics." Bishop Cummins withdrew from the Protestant Episcopal Church, but not from his office, thus following the precedent of the Anglican Reformers; and not until notice of the reception of his Letter of Withdrawal had been received, did he take any part in the "act of consecration." On the organization of our Church, Dr. Cheney was in due form elected a Bishop; and the proceedings were conducted substantially as in your own Church, except that in the "laying on of the hands of the Presbytery" the more ancient custom of the Churches of Alexandria and Ancyra was followed. The Bishop officiating, and two of the Presbyters uniting with him had never been either disciplined or deposed; and the other Presbyters, knowing that "deposition," except for Scriptural reasons, amounts to nothing, had been deposed at their own request. The brother consecrated, if "lawfully deposed," which we, in common with many persons in your Church, deny, was of irreproachable morals and unquestioned piety; and was certainly as eligible to that office, even on your own theory, as was the layman Ambrose, who made the See of Milan historic by the exercise of his office. Thus much for the question as viewed in the light of that poor fable? "Apostolical Succession;" if there be such a thing, our Church possesses it equally with yours; as to its utility, that must be determined by those who set more value upon it than any of us do. The office of an "Overseer," or "Presbyter-Primus," not the pedigree, is the prime element in our Episcopacy; and if the thing is good are we to be assailed for valuing and possessing it?

As for the rest of the charges and allegations in your address, I leave them for others to answer. The Reformed Episcopal Church is an accomplished fact. As a witnessing Church, having no warfare with yours or any other Christian Church, except as we are compelled to act on the defensive, and bidding God speed to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, we shall go on with our work, in the name and in the strength of God.

Our ideas of the ministry and of the Church are substantially those held by yourself when Rector of St. Andrew's Church, Philadelphia, as I find them in a printed sermon of yours now before me, and from which, in conclusion, I make the following extracts:--

"Education will supply the mind with knowledge, Art will adorn it with its graces and beauty, Oratory will make the tongue eloquent, personal accomplishments will make the man admired, and the hands of the Bishop may give him the outward authority 'to minister the word and sacraments;' but none of these, nor all combined, will make him a minister of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ This is the work of the Holy Ghost."

* * * * *

"Thus every element of ministerial power is the special gift of the Holy Ghost; and a ministry stripped of this power, however much it may boast of its apostolicity and its Christianity, is no more a ministry of Christ, save in its outward name, than the Flamens of Jupiter, the Priestesses of Vishnu, or the Muftis of Mohammed."

* * * * * * * * *

"It is the spirit, however, which gives value to the form, and not the form to the spirit; even as it is the soul which gives value to the form of man, and not the dust and ashes which gives value to the immortal spirit. And as the body of man, though the highest manifestation of physical beauty, sculptured by the hand of God himself, is, when the breath of life goes out of it, but a carcass tending to corruption; so the most ancient, most glorious forms of the Church are nothing but a ritualistic carcass tending to decay when devoid of the life-giving power of the Holy Ghost."

Very respectfully, etc.,


Presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
PASSAIC, N. J., June 6th, 1874.

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