Project Canterbury


Fond du Lac Consecration Results in a Challenge.


Bishop Clark's Condemnation of Rubrical Innovations Answered—Churchman Calls the Prelates Abbetors of Ritual Anarchy.

From The New York Times, April 13, 1901.

A controversy the outcome of which conservative churchmen say they would not dare predict has arisen in the Protestant Episcopal Church over the methods used in the consecration of the Venerable Reginald Heber Weler, Jr., as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wis., on Nov. 8, 1900. It is claimed that rubrics and vestments unwarranted by the Book of Common Prayer and the usages of the Church were used on that occasion. The seven Bishops who participated in the consecration offices have now challenged the Church to try them for the alleged breach of canonical law.

The Churchman, the representative organ of the Protestant Episcopal Church, published in New York, says that the Bishops who took part in the order of service used at Fond du Lac "have made themselves aiders and abettors of ritual anarchy in the American church." Responsibility for the service was disclaimed by Bishop Thomas M. Clark of Rhode Island, presiding Bishop of the Church, but the seven Bishops dispute the right or privilege of Bishop Clark to make any such disclaimer.

The Churchman to be published to-day will say that the letter of the Bishops indicates "nothing less than a possible state of anarchy between the meetings of the General Convention; with no one to represent the General Convention; no one to represent the American church. The House of Bishops is not authorized to do it; the House of Deputies is not authorized to do it; the result is diocesan individualism."

Bishop Clark on Dec. 1 issued this disclaimer throug the church press, signing as the Presiding Bishop of the Church:

As the recent consecration of the Bishop Coadjutor of Fond du Lac was held under the authority of the commission signed and sealed by me as Presiding Bishop of the Church. I feel myself called upon to disclaim any responsibility for the violation of the rubrics on that occasion and the introduction of vestments having no authority of use in the Church.


The most significant part of the reply and challenge of the seven Bishops who officiated at Fond du Lac is as follows:

"It is your privilege to hold the views expressed in your letter, but it is our duty firmly to refuse to them any 'official' character, and to express regret that a brother diocesan should have given us reason to complain of the manner in which his opinions were published to the world.

"And this we feel doubly impelled to do lest your action, no doubt inadvertently taken, may seem to establish a precedent to be quoted hereafter as justifying possible future assumptions of quasi-metropolitical authority without any basis of canonical law.

"But we are not disposed to shirk responsibility for any action we may have taken, under the plea that you as 'the Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops' were not authorized 'to disclaim any responsibility for the violation of the rubrics on that occasion, and the introduction of vestments having no authority of use in the Church.' On the contrary, we hold ourselves responsible to our peers acting under the canon law, and not to any other tribunal on earth. Disclaiming the spirit or attitude of challenge, we hold ourselves in readiness to accept any process of trial provided by the canons; and may we be permitted to add that we are still further ready in all humility and obedience to accept such judicial sentence as may be pronounced upon us in case after due process we are found guilty of any offense against the rubrical or canonical law of the Church."

The remainder of the letter is taken up largely with an academic discussion and denial of the right of Bishop Clark to sign himself as "the Presiding Bishop of the Church" rather than as the "Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops," as the Western prelates call him.

The letter is signed by William E. McLaren, Bishop of Chicago; C. C. Grafton, Bishop of Fond du Lac; Isaac Lea Nicholson, Bishop of Milwaukee; G. Mott Williams, Bishop of Marquette; Joseph M. Francis, Bishop of Indiana; Arthur L. Williams, Bishop-coadjutor of Nebraska; Charles P. Anderson, Bishop-coadjutor of Chicago.

Francis C. Cantine, a lawer, of 35 Nassau Street, writing of the Fond du Lac ceremony in The Churchman, says:

The service was manifestly conceived in a spirit of defiance to the ritual law of the Church. The performance was unchristian in spirit and unlawful in form. It grieves one to know that venerable fathers of the Church should be willing, for the sake of a brief indulgence in vainglorious apparel, to set at naught the law of the Church.

There is a common, or unwritten law of the Church in this country, which for above one hundred years has prescribed a dress to be worn by the different orders of the ministry in the performance of divine service. This unwritten law is, on familiar principles, as obligatory on the clergy as if it were expressed in the Constitution of the Church, and those of the clergy, therefore, who attach so much importance to their official vestments, may not lawfully ransack mediaeval garrets for worm-eaten vesture in which to array themselves.


According to the constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Bishops and Bishop-coadjutors shall be consecrated by the Presiding Bishop, or he shall commission three other Bishops to serve in that capacity. No one questions the legality of the election of Bishop Weller, and when Bishop Clark was applied to, he commissioned the Bishops of Chicago, Marquette, and Indiana to act in his stead at the consecration.

A service was then arranged which was afterward printed in pamphlet form. It contained most of the matter in the Book of Common Prayer, under the title "The Form of Ordaining or Consecrating a Bishop." It is claimed that every requirement of the Prayer Book was conformed to, only it is acknowledged that there were additions to the established order. Bishop Charles C. Grafton of Fond du Lac assumes responsibility for the authorship of most of the new parts of the service.

The Churchman, in describing this service says:

"After the Epistle, our Prayer Book reads, 'Then another Bishop shall read the Gospel,' but these gentlemen preferred to take a walk, so they have a gradual and a sequence, after the mediaeval manner, while the hungry sheep look on and are not fed.

"But there is worse to come. In the body of the Nicene Creed not only is one clause signalled out by capitals, thus subordinating belief in God the Father to belief in the Incarnation, but there is injected a statement, 'Here the people kneel down,' where, by the Grace of God, most of us stand upon our feet. * * * The rest of the service was after this beginning. Rubrics are omitted, altered, added, according as the whimsical fancy of the antiquarian compilers dictated."

The vestments used in the service by the Bishops are described as surpassing in gorgeousness anything ever before seen in the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. The mitre and the cope were both used.

As the matter now stands, the controversy can be only academic unless Bishop Clark chooses to exercise authority as the Presiding Bishop. If he lets the matter rest where it now is, the question may be raised at the General Convention of the church which meets in San Francisco next Fall. That convention could institute proceedings which would result in a trial of the seven Bishops concerned in the service at Fond du Lac. The judges in such a trial would have to be Bishops. The Church Standard, to be published to-day, will say with reference to this challenge by the Bishops:

What the Bishops "while disclaiming the spirit or atitude of challenge," thus boldly and openly declare themselves to be "in readiness to accept," is a trial under the canons by a court consisting of seven Bishops—selected out of eleven to be chosen by lot—on a charge of the "vioation of rubrics and the introduction of vestments without authority of use in the Church." That charge has been publicly made, and in reply to it the seven Bishops, speaking each for himself, practically say: Prove that charge if you can in a court of the Church, and if a court of the Church shall decide the disputed questions in your favor, we promise to submit in all humility and obedience to the judgment of the court.

That is the proposal, frank, straightforward, manly, loyal, churchmanlike, and Bishopike, which is now set plainly before the Church. In no other spirit ought it to be accepted than that of manly, straightforward, loyal, and brotherly readiness to accept the judgment of a canonical court on a matter which has been for many years a cause of constant contention, if the decision should be in favor of the right reverend respondents.

In regard to the objection of the Western Bishops to the alleged assumption of judicial authority by the Bishop of Rhode Island, it is pointed out by those familiair with the Canons and Constitution that the title, "The Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops," is not to be found in the Constitution, nor is the expression "Senior Bishop" there. The only title to be found in the Constitution is that of "Presiding Bishop."

The Churchman says on this subject that "the Presiding Bishop would seem, under our system, to be the one representative of the whole Church, Bishops, clergy, and laity, in the interval between the meetings of the General Convention. This is a protection to the whole Church, and to take away this representative would be to take away his precious rights.


Bishop Grafton is regarded as the leader of the "High Church" party of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. He was for a long time a member of the Order of St. John the Evangelist, commonly known as the Cowley Fathers, which is an ultra high Church organization. He has written a letter in which he seeks to justify the usages observed in the Fond du Lac service. Regarding the use of the mitre and cope, he says:

That which has aroused the most feeling, and out of which the most party capital is striven to be made is the use of the cope and mitre by myself and so many Bishops. Now the cope as well as the chimere is a recognized part of the Episcopal habit. Both were provided in the case of Bishop Weller. The cope was made obligatory in cathedrals by the twenty-fourth of the Canons of 1604. It is worn by a number of Bishops in Scotland and England, notably by the great Bishop of London, who stands next in rank to the Archbishops.

When some of our American Bishops, who do not wear copes here, are in England, they conform and wear it. There are a number of American Bishops who wear copes in this country. No well instructed Churchman can, then, dispute its legality or its loyal use. So it is with the mitre. We have on this point a report made to the House of Bishops. The subject of vestments was there made a matter of inquiry, and referred to a special committee. In the journal of General Convention, 1886, Page 795, a primary report is given. We will quote their opinion as given to the House:

"The first Bishop of the American Succession (Bishop Seabury) was accustomed to wear the mitre in certain offices: and the first of our Bishops ever consecrated in America (Bishop Claggett) continued its use. It has not been generally followed, but in the opinion of this committee this historic fact justifies any Bishop in resuming it. As to the expediency of such resumption they express no opinion."

This report justifying the use of the mitre is signed by the Right Rev. A. Cleveland Coxe, the RIght Rev. William Croswell Doane, and the Right Rev. H. C. Potter.

It is pointed out that while the Western dioceses evidence a tendency to become more and more ritualistic, and closer in their forms to the Anglican Church, they diverge from the English Church in their opposition to a primate or head of the Church in this country. An Episcopal clergyman told a NEW YORK TIMES reporter yesterday that there was in the Church at large an inevitable tendency toward placing an Archbishop at the head of the Church in America.

An influential member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York said yesterday that the arguments the Western Bishops use to justify their service are citations of historical usages in the Church of England in the Middle Ages. He thought that this mediaevalism would not be seriously regarded, and that it would die of its sheer un-Americanism.