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Correspondence, Etc. between Wm. Bacon Stevens, Bishop of Pennsylvania, and Theodore M. Riley, Rector of St. Clement's Church, Corner of Twentieth and Cherry Streets, Philadelphia
from an undated pamphlet in the library of the General Theological Seminary, Chelsea Square, marked "Not to be published"

700 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, January 22, 1873


Absence from the city, sickness, and other providential causes have prevented my writing to you before in reference to the points concerning which we talked at our last interview.

In reference to conducting the services and offices of the church at St. Clement's, my requests are these:—

(1.) That no ecclesiastical vestments or ornaments be worn by any of the clergy other than those which have been generally used by the ministers of our church in this diocese and in these United States.

(2.) That the wine administered at the holy communion be not mingled with water.

(3.) That all genuflections, prostrations, bowings to or before the Lord's table be discontinued by the clergy and choristers.

(4.) That there shall be no elevation during or after the prayer of consecration in the order of the administration of the holy communion of the paten and the cup, and no kneelings or prostrations before the consecrated elements.

(5.) That there shall be no lighted candles on the communion table during the celebration of the holy communion, when such candles are not needed for the purpose of giving light.

(6.) That no prayers, sentences, rites, or ceremonies borrowed from other "uses" shall be introduced into the order of worship, which have not the express sanction of the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

(7.) That the hearing of private confessions and the granting of private absolutions other than in the exceptional cases referred to in the exhortation to the holy communion and the order for the visitation of prisoners shall be discontinued.

In specifying these points I indicate only the more noted invocations which have come to my knowledge, and do not by any means imply that I approve all other practices not herein specified, as such an inference would be wide of the truth. Hoping that you will accede to these official requests, and submit yourself to my judgment as your lawful ordinary,
I remain, very truly,
Your friend and Bishop,


THE REV. THEO. M. RILEY, Rector of St. Clement's Church.

ST. CLEMENT'S, January 25, 1873,
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 22d instant in reference to the special usages of St. Clement's Church.

At our last interview, you did me the kindness to intimate that you would give me such time to consider your demands as their gravity requires. In view of the many difficulties likely to arise in the solution of the questions at issue, from the far-reaching consequences of any step possible to be taken, I beg you will permit me such reasonable delay as will enable me to reach a result satisfactory to yourself, just to my own convictions, and to the proper interests of my parish and people.
I am, Right Rev. Father,
Respectfully yours,



February 11, 1873.


I am still most anxiously deliberating upon the matter of your letter of "requests."

For myself and for the assistant ministers of this parish, I may say we are extremely desirous to preserve a respectful and filial attitude towards the Bishop of the diocese. But it would facilitate matters very much if you would withdraw your request respecting confession, as that is a point upon which I and the assistant ministers of the parish cannot yield, involving as it does our discretion as priests, and the rights not only of our Order, but also of every penitent who desires to "open his grief."

I reiterate what I said in my last interview with you, that I have never taught, nor do I teach, nor shall I permit others to teach over whom I have jurisdiction, that confession to a priest is necessary to any man's salvation.

Believe me, Right Rev. Father,
Yours in the Lord,



708 Walnut St., Phila., Feb. 13, 1873


In your letter of the 11th instant, now before me, you say it would "facilitate matters very much if you (I) would withdraw your request concerning confession, etc."

Permit me to reply that the requests contained in my letter to you, under date of January 22d, were not made to be acceded to or rejected en masse, but each request embraced a distinct subject to be decided upon its individual merits.

Hence, I fail to see how the withdrawal of the request concerning confession can facilitate a decision upon the other requests which are totally separate and apart from it.

If, as I hope from the tenor of your note, you are prepared to return answers to the other requests, I beg you will do so; so that at least those questions may be adjudicated and set at rest. In the mean time, while I cannot withdraw the request concerning confession, I am willing to grant you more time for its consideration, and, therefore, on that point will not urge an immediate reply. Whether that request will be ultimately withdrawn or not will depend on a definite knowledge of the views and practices of yourself and your assistants in St. Clement's Church, and, therefore, with the simple and sincere desire to learn from your own lips or pen, I most respectfully ask that you will acquaint me with the methods employed in your parish of hearing confessions and granting absolution (other than those in the morning and evening prayer, and the office for the holy communion), and also the forms and ceremonies which are used on those occasions.

As you emphatically declare in your letter that this question of confession involves the rights of your Order, as well as those of every penitent who desires "to open his grief," I doubt not that you will gladly comply with this request, because being a thing publicly taught and preached, you have, of course, nothing to conceal, either as to doctrine or usage.

Invoking upon you the clear guiding light of the Holy Ghost, and assuring you of my warm personal esteem,
I remain very truly yours,



February 13, 1873.


I desire at once to express to you my sense of the paternal kindness of the note just received from you. I feel greatly strengthened for the consideration of these most perplexing questions, by the assurance of my Bishop, that he has invoked for me the guiding light of that Spirit of all truth and love, to whom I have tried incessantly to look for a right judgment in the consideration of the issues which it has become my unhappy duty and necessity to discuss with my diocesan in the present unsettled state of the whole question of canonical obedience.

I am compelled to be out of the city for a few days, but upon my return I shall write you in reference to the special subject mentioned in your letter of the 13th instant just received.

With special gratitude for the very kind words with which you have assured me of a personal esteem which I shall at all times endeavor to merit,
I am, Right Rev. Father, Yours in the Lord,


March 5, 1873.


Having asked the withdrawal of your "request," for the discontinuance of hearing confessions, on the ground that what you ask involves the rights of my Order, as well as the rights of the people, I regret that I am now compelled to say that I am not in a position to preserve those rights unimpaired, while I am not formally recognized by you as a Presbyter of your diocese, by the canonical acceptance of my letters-dimissory (Section 2 of Canon 12 of Title I. of the Digest). I therefore most respectfully await your action in the matter, and beg to be excused from further correspondence upon the subjects in discussion between us until my formal reception into this diocese. Thanking you again, as I do from my heart, for the very kind expressions of your last communication, believe me,
Right Rev. Father,
Yours in our Lord,
Very respectfully,



EPISCOPAL ROOMS, etc., March 6, 1873.


My right to make the requests of you, which I did, does not rest alone on any canonical connection with this diocese, but on the fact that you are officiating in this diocese.

If, however, it will be more satisfactory to you to be formally recognized as a Presbyter of this diocese, especially if it will prepare the way for an early reply to my requests, I will at once do so. In signifying my reception of you to the Bishop of Minnesota, I shall date it on the 18th of December, 1879, at which time it came into my hands. The date of the letter-dimissory itself, as written by Bishop Whipple, is December 13, 1872.

Permit me again to urge you to delay no longer a reply to my letter (of the 22d January) in reference to the objectionable practices done by yourself and assistants at St. Clement's Church.

You have had ample time for full consideration of this matter, and I respectfully ask for a definite and prompt answer as to whether you will or will not comply with my official requests.

I am, with great personal esteem,
Very truly yours,



March 17, 1873.


The special duties of the season occupy my mind and attention so constantly as to make it extremely difficult for me to turn from them to the consideration of anything else at this time. It will be a great favor if you will permit me to wait until after Easter, before resuming the discussion of controverted points.

This is all the more necessary, because until I shall have received the certificate required by Section 2, Canon 12, Title I. of the Digest, I have no legal right, technically, to enter even upon their discussion with you.

Among my Lenten occupations is that of preparing classes for confirmation. If I may not hope to see you in person to confirm those whom I shall have to present, will you, as you did on a former occasion, permit some other bishop to officiate for you?

With every sentiment of filial and affectionate regard,
Believe me, Right Rev. Father,
Yours very truly,



708 Walnut St., Phila., March 19, 1873.


I have just received your note of the 17th.

Permit me to say in all earnestness and affection that I am pained by this persistent delay on your part to reply to my letter of the 22d January last.

It is more than three months since I brought the matter of that letter to your notice. It is two months lacking only three days since I made that communication to you in writing, and it does seem to me as if the different reasons which you have given in your last five letters to me are
only so many efforts to put off giving any answer at all.

Under these circumstances I renew in a formal manner, this, my official request, and insist, as your Bishop, that you give me definite and positive answers to the requests contained in my letter of the 22d of January last, touching the practices and ceremonies used in St. Clement's Church. In reference to the application for confirmation, I will only repeat what I wrote to you on the 28th of January, that "I shall make no appointment for your parish until these preliminary matters are settled." Hoping that these matters may be soon adjusted and that by your prompt compliance with the requests and judgment of your Bishop you may thus prepare the way for an early Episcopal visitation,
I remain with great personal regard,
Very truly yours,


REV. THEO. M. RILEY, Rector of St. Clement's.

The following certificate under Section 2, Canon 12, Tit. I., was inclosed, but not mentioned in the foregoing letter.

708 Walnut St., Phila., March 19.

I hereby certify that the Rev. Theo. M. Riley has been canonically transferred to my jurisdiction, and is a minister in regular standing.

Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

[In 1872,

Bishop Stevens having consented after importunity to allow another Bishop to confirm at St. Clement's, Bishop Neely, of Maine, who was in the city, consented to do so; and at Easter, A. D. 1872, held a confirmation at St. Clement's of 18 or 20 persons. Bishop Stevens was requested, as appears in the correspondence with Mr. Riley, to give permission for another Bishop to confirm, if Bishop Stevens himself would not visit the parish, and accordingly Bishop Neely was written to by Dr. Stewart to know if he would give his services. This is his reply:—

March 14, 1873.


Yours asking if I will confirm another class at St. Clement's is received.

In reply I must say that while I would find no obstacles in the teaching or practices of St. Clement's (as I suppose them to be) to my officiating there, your Diocesan has expressed himself as so much offended with me because I confirmed there on a former occasion, even after his consent had been obtained thereto, that it would be quite improper for me to repeat the act.

I had supposed that although for certain reasons he was unwilling to administer confirmation there himself he had come to feel that after your representations to him, the service ought to be performed and that he would really consider me as doing him a good turn in officiating on that occasion. But it seems that he expected me to decline after all, and holds me as guilty of an indelicacy to say the least in consenting to perform the office.

I am not conscious of such an offence or of any breach of courtesy towards him; but henceforth his known feeling on that point must govern me as to any ministrations in his diocese.

Trusting, however, that by some satisfactory arrangement those preprepared for confirmation in St. Clement's may not be deprived of the blessing of that holy rite,
I remain faithfully yours,



Feast of the Annunciation B.V.M.,
March 25, 1873.


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 19th inst. Sickness in my parish, and other causes, have prevented its earlier acknowledgment. By the receipt of the canonical certificate inclosed in your letter I became for the first time legally qualified to deal with the issues you have compelled me to meet. The complaint made by you of my delay, I am compelled to remark, I feel to be unmerited, for I have felt all along that in a business of so much importance the legal and canonical position in which no reserved rights could be assumed or invaded was the only safe and proper one for the Bishop or myself. There being now no legal or canonical obstacle to my official action in reference to your initiatory letter, I beg leave to submit the following, which I might have sent earlier, had my position been canonically assured, and had I not hoped that this necessity for an inevitable conflict of opinion night in some way be avoided by your foresight and consideration.

Your letter of January 22d has been the subject of most careful consideration your "requests" touch several different points, with the intimation that these are not all in which you would like to see some change in the services in the parish church of St. Clement's. It is not easy to avoid seeing that if the first seven of the requests were complied with an indefinite number of others may follow, all claiming equal attention.

It is therefore necessary to come to a clear understanding of the whole matter in its principle.

None of these points are new to the church. All have been most carefully considered again and again; my present practice as Rector of St. Clement's Church, and as inheriting certain usages, is such as I feel it not, only my right but my duty to persevere in, as of most valuable assistance in teaching to my people the fulness of sacramental doctrine, which is unquestionably permitted within the wise comprehensiveness of our church.

In making your requests, as such you place the whole responsibility of compliance or of refusing to comply with your requests upon my conscience; that responsibility I am thus compelled to take. My conscience, enlightened I trust by anxious, honest, long-continued study, as well as by constant prayer for divine guidance, has already led me to take before God at His altar, and in His service, the position in which I stand at St. Clement's, nor can I imagine any process by which that same conscience could lead me to assume any other position in the presence of my Bishop.

Our American church is placed in the providence of God in a land of freemen, and she never contemplated the exercise of any special powers, except under the limitations of written law, enacted by common consent of her own Ecclesiastical Legislature, the Jus Liturgicum, like many other ancient prerogatives of the bishops, not being an exception to this principle of constitutional limitation.

From the first she has guarded with jealous care the rights of her parochial clergy against the encroachments of arbitrary power. When after long years of preparatory training and repeated examinations, they are once placed in priests' orders, and in full canonical charge of an established parish, their discretion in the management of their own parishes cannot be controlled or interfered with except according to the Canons. No charge of violation of any of the canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in these United States has been or can be substantiated against the people or clergy of St. Clement's Church. We are merely using the practical freedom which has been the unbroken heritage of our American church from the time of its first organization soon after the close of the Revolutionary War, and it is to be hoped that this priceless heritage may never be surrendered. No one can be better aware than yourself, Right Rev. Father, that on all the seven points embraced in your letter full liberty now exists in our church, and that the existence of this liberty has been triumphantly vindicated on the door of both houses of two successive general conventions. Our moderate use of that liberty at St. Clement's has been proven abundantly efficacious to our grateful satisfaction, under God's blessing in the revival of this important parish from the borders of extinction; arid in its present condition of earnest zeal, increasing devotion, healthy steady growth, with no agitation among ourselves against any of those things in which you request us to make a change, I an convinced that to make any such change would lead to discouragement, and loss of zeal and strength in that portion of the Lord's vineyard which has been confided to my priestly charge.

Duty therefore leaves me no alternative but to decline, as I now do respectfully but firmly and finally, to make those changes which you have requested.

In thus declining it must be remembered that I am only exercising one of the clearly indisputable rights of my Order, as a priest and rector of a parish, and therefore it would be equally ungenerous and unjust both to you and to me that this my conscientious determination should be interpreted as implying any disrespect, personal or official, towards my Bishop; whose canonical authority I am at all times ready to recognize in full accordance with my promise of canonical obedience, and for whom I have the most affectionate filial regard.

I am, Right Rev Father,
Yours in the Lord,

Rector of St. Clement's Church.

Bishop of Pennsylvania.

March 26, 1873.


No act of my life has given me more pain than that which now places before you my decision respecting the requests you have made in relation to certain usages of my parish. I have all along hoped that neither you nor myself might be embarrassed by an absolute decision respecting matters which generally when left alone right themselves if they require correction. No day has past since your first note reached me in which the guidance of God the Holy Ghost has not been invoked for the solution of these difficulties. My decision has been reached from the conclusions of my understanding and from the deepest conviction of my sense of duty to my Order, and to the general interest of the truth in its relations to those usages. I am distressed to reflect that the decision is, I fear, not the one which you desire. Could you know my heart you would be assured how free I am from any willingness to embarrass you; and how deeply anxious I have been to reach some basis of settlement which might satisfy you while not compelling me to the sacrifice of any principle. As no such basis has developed itself, I have been forced to the course taken in my official letter. If I could in conscience have taken any other course, it should have been taken. our great personal kindness, and the distinguished courtesy you have at all times shown me make my distress more poignant than I can well express to you. But having taken my stand with the sacramental Christianity of all the ages, as I believe in my soul the Church of England and our own church inherit it, I cannot now abandon its practical and as I believe lawful expression in the usages which I have inherited at my parish church.

And now I can only say with a greater man than myself, Martin Luther, here I am, I can do no otherwise, God help me. Amen.

I am, Right Rev. and Dear Father,
Yours in our Lord,
Very faithfully,


April 1, 1873.


In my letter of the 26th ult., I indicated to you the general principle upon which I feel compelled to decline making any changes in the usages of my parish. It did not seem best at the time to incumber the general question with matters of detail; I now beg leave to say respecting several requests made by you, that they must have been based upon some misapprehension, especially those regarding "elevation," and the introduction of sentences, prayers, etc, from foreign rites. The only elevation I have ever made is such as the manual acts of consecration and offering before God involve, with no reference whatever to the people, but to God himself. It does not involve any intention of inviting the special adoration of the people.

I also beg leave to say that to my knowledge no prayers, sentences, or other matter has been interpolated into the appointed services of the church. I should regard such interpolation as utterly uncanonical, unwarranted, and self-willed. At St. Clement's, we follow the letter, no less than the spirit of the prayer book, with the most particular care.

At some of the occasional services, such as meditations, etc., extemporaneous and other unobjectionable devotions are used, but only according to the liberty that prevails generally.

What you ask respecting kneeling (in any of its degrees) could not possibly be followed literally without confusion and unsettlement of the habits both of priests and people; for most priests kneel before their own communion; and many while communicating themselves; your request would forbid this.

These points seem specially to call for explanation, and I beg leave to offer this for the purpose of removing an evident misapprehension from your mind.

I am, Right Rev. Father,
Yours in our Lord,
Very faithfully,



700 Walnut St. Phila., March 31, 1873.


Your letter of the 25th, received the 28th, has been read with much care, though with great pain. From it I learn that you refuse conscientiously, "firmly," and "finally," to make those changes which I requested. This is a virtual declaration that you intend to continue to do all those things which in my official capacity I objected to, and the discontinuance of which I formally requested. You cannot but be aware that this brings you into direct conflict with the Bishop, who has been set over you by the Holy Ghost, and whom at God's altar you promised reverently to obey. It is with intense sorrow of heart that I feel compelled by my consecration vows, and in the exercise of that discipline, which, by the authority of God's word and the order of this church, is committed unto me, to advertise you that you have by this decision violated your ordination vows, taken an attitude of wilful disobedience to your canonical superior, and have

thus brought upon yourself the rebuke which the xxxiv of the thirty-nine articles declares ought to be given to one who through his "private judgment willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the church, which be not repugnant to God's word, and be ordained and approved by common authority." You have thus offended against the common order of the church, have hurt the authority of the magistrate, and have wounded the conscience of the weaker brethren. Be assured, my dear young brother, that though thus compelled by my office to rebuke you for your course, I do so with sincere regret. I fully appreciate and honor your warmth of heart, and the unreserved consecration of yourself which you have made to your holy calling. I still recognize in you a personal friend, in whose happiness and prosperity I shall always feel the deepest interest, and I earnestly pray that during this solemn and reflective season of Lent, when we are day by day brought nearer to the cross and to the grave, we may both feel the overshadowing influence of the season, and both have our hearts reconsecrated to Him who hung on the accursed tree, and both have the joyous light and hope of Easter fill our souls with exulting gladness.

Very truly yours,
Bishop of the Diocese of Penna.

April 3, 1873.


Your note of the 31st ult. I received this morning, and feel deeply the pain which, of course must attend the receipt of such a communication from one's Bishop, and from, moreover, one to whom I feel a most real attachment and gratitude for unvarying kindness. I must only ask, dear Bishop, that I may have the benefit of such reasonable doubt as still hangs over the whole question of canonical obedience; no court having, as yet, defined it; and the judgment of each of us in our several places being our only guide in determining questions in which it is involved. I must hope, also, that the language of the article which you quote, historically applies to a very different attitude towards the traditions and ceremonies of the church from that I find myself occupying. I believe myself to be a conservator rather than a destroyer or detractor of the church's venerable traditions and ceremonies. I do not oppose or refuse any such; there is nothing in my position, savoring of rebellion, against anything ordained and approved by the church; my diversities of usage lie in those things about which she has neither ordained, changed, or abolished; but which, by the common law of the Catholic church she has inherited. I do not hurt the authority of the magistrate in the sense of the article, because, in the days in which that article was written the inherent rights of the bishop were not circumscribed with their own consent (as they are now). If the bishops were now absolute I should at once submit to the merest wish of my diocesan; but in the American church presbyters have recognized rights which once were unrecognized by law, and American obedience is canonical obedience as the diversity in our American ordinal indicates. Upon that ground I ventured to preserve certain usages lest the withdrawal should work a great mischief and evil. Believe me, my dear Bishop, I feel very grateful for the kind words with which you closed your last communication to me. I trust that in the long run of things God may justify me before you, as I feel myself justified before Him, and may enable you to perceive how, from my point of view, my action was in the line of my duty.

Believe me with great respect and regard,
Yours in the Lord,


708 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, April 7th, 1873.


In reply to your two letters of the 1st and 3d inst., permit me to say that they do not change the aspect of the case, as between us, so far as any principles are concerned.

You still deliberately and advisedly refuse to comply with my godly judgment and counsel; and you still place your right as a Presbyter above mine, and in conflict with mine as your Bishop, so that there is no change in the attitude which you take towards your lawful ordinary.

There is no necessity, therefore, for any modification of my letter of the 31st of March.

Hence the judgment and admonition which that letter contains remains in full force.

The request which you make for a confirmation will be complied with; and I appoint Tuesday 22d inst., as four P.M., as the time of my Episcopal visitation at St. Clement's.

As you courteously volunteered to omit, on this occasion, any services or usages which might be objectionable to me, I have only to thank you for the concession, and request that the usual simple forms and services customary in this diocese at an Episcopal visitation, at evening prayer, may be used on that occasion.

Very truly yours,



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