Project Canterbury



MORGAN DIX, D.D. (Oxon), D.C.L.









Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

MORGAN DIX, D.D. (Oxon), D.C.L.
Rt. Rev. William C. Doane, D.D.

SIDE by side with the catalogue of saintly heroes in the great chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews stands, in its dignified beauty, the list in the book of the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, and the motive in both is the same: "Let us now praise famous men." Whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews (and I never can believe that it was not St. Paul) makes it rather a panegyric of faith than of the men whom he uses as an illustration of that mighty power in shaping the lives and moulding the characters and making the greatness of heroes and saints. But in both these lists (and they have many names in common—Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Moses and David) there is a recognition of the instinct which prompts this service and is the motive of this sermon; the instinct to recall and record with an undying memory, "famous men by whom the Lord wrought great glory; leaders of the people by their counsels, and eloquent in their instruction; honoured in their generations and the glory of their times." It is the same thought which we have in the old prayer from the Scottish book commemorating the men who were "choice vessels of God's Grace and the lights of the world in their several generations." It is so universal and irresistible an instinct that one follows it, fearless of the cold criticism which scorns the literature [3/4] of epitaphs and obituaries; which dwells more upon the "evil that men do which lives after them" than on the good which is not "interred with their bones;" and which would really leave out the last two words of the old Roman proverb "de mortuis nil nisi bonum;" because even in the instances of ordinary lives one would rather be human to exaggeration in memorials of the dead, than cynical in enlarging upon their errors and faults.

I stand here to-day by the courteous invitation of this venerable corporation, the longest and the oldest I think, though not the nearest friend of Morgan Dix, and I am here avowedly not to bury him but to praise him. The task is easy because in the most critical study of his life there needs no microscope to detect its virtues and there is, I think, no magnifying glass that could make manifest his faults. I should be the last to claim for my friend that he was a human monster without faults. Every man has the defauts de ses qualites, the defects that belong to his particular character, but in him almost more than in any man that I ever knew they were the bright shadows cast by the clear sunlight of his inner nature.

I cannot stand here, charged to the full with the purpose of this sermon, in the pulpit of the Mother Church of our greatest City and of our greatest Diocese and not remember that since I was assigned this gracious task there has come to the American Church, and to the City and Diocese of New York, another real and grievous loss in the death of the great Bishop, Henry Codman Potter, to the memory of whose distinguished leadership in Church and State, of whose most unique and winning personality, of whose remarkable gifts of administration, of whose illustrious and dominant career, I, as his [4/5] brother and friend, must for a moment turn aside to pay a passing tribute, as to a man who, in the words of the Son of Sirach, "bare rule in his kingdom;" a man "renowned for his power, who has left a name behind him that his praises might be reported; whose body is buried in peace but whose name liveth forevermore." May God refresh his soul with the multitude of peace and make perpetual light to shine upon him.

Nearly sixty years ago when Dr. Dix was in Philadelphia and I was near him, in Burlington, we came into no little companionship and into no little close sympathy in matters theological and ecclesiastical, in studies and services, as well as in devotional and educational publications. So that St. Mark's, Philadelphia, and St. Mary's, Burlington, were administered along very similar lines. He had already begun to make his mark before his great life work began here in this venerable parish. Young in purpose and power, he was even then rarely matured in mind and character so that he came with a very fine and full furnishing to take his position in old Trinity, prominent and pre-eminent as a parish priest, as a pastor, and as a preacher; and combining with these, in a rare degree, the unusual gifts of administrative ability and power in business details. He was as old as a young man as he was young as an old man!

Graces and gifts of very varied nature went to the making of his composite character; an intense seriousness, amounting almost to solemnity was penetrated with a sense of humor refined and exquisite which played like summer lightning through what looked like the somberness of a threatening cloud. "He was poet and humorist, as well as theologian and scholar." Counted and called by those outside the closer touch of his life reserved and cold, this was [5/6] only the shell which, like the brown covering of the cocoanut, was rich inside with the whiteness of tender meat and the refreshing milk of human kindness when the shell was opened. I remember years ago when he was sitting as President of the House of Deputies—I think in Chicago—a young girl who was allowed the enjoyment of being present at the session of the House in the afternoon, on condition that she spent her morning in keeping up with her school studies, saying to her father when she had been asked what she had been studying, "I have been reading natural philosophy," and her father said, "Have you found out what is the centre of gravity?" to which she promptly answered, "Yes! Dr. Dix." Those who sat under him in his splendid presidency of that House, never surpassed in its ability, will realize this impression because he sat there serene and unmoved during all the hours and days of heated and high debate with a poise of impartial ruling which seemed almost automatic in its unruffled dignity; but all the while to those who were nearest to him, there was the lighting of the twinkling eye and the mobile lips which revealed his clear and quiet appreciation of the humor of the various utterances and events. Above all, that apparent coldness and stiffness of manner melted into the most gracious geniality in the relation of hospitality, of conversation, of free intercourse "off duty," and in the way in which he loved children and children loved him; while in the sacredness of his home life, on whose threshold one stands with reverent and uncovered head and with feet unshod from any intrusive step, the warmth of his great heart shone out like a flame on the hearthstone. Though wrapped in his studies, absorbed in his devotions, overborne with a multitude of anxieties and labors, there was the very [6/7] ideal relation of sympathy and comprehension which, as one writes who knew him best, "made him seem to his children always young."

The basis of Dr. Dix's nature, on which he built up the super-structure of his personality, was of direct descent. He is one of the many illustrations of the way in which blood will tell. Courage, and love of country, and power of command, and statesmanship, and the highbred courtesy that makes and marks a gentleman on the one side; and on the other, refinement and sensitiveness, and delicacy, and gentleness; both strains having in them the consecration of earnest religious belief and life. His career was one of quiet, steady, advance to the highest attainable power and position of the priestly office. To those who labor under the mistaken idea that the Episcopate is the goal of every clergyman's ambition, it is enough to say that had he wanted it, it was more than once within his reach; but to us who know better it is plain that this man, in the two high offices which he filled—as Rector of this great Parish, and as President—perpetual President he might have been, and pre-eminent President he was, of the House of Deputies—he reached the highest attainment of distinction open to any clergyman of this Church. Beside this, partly by his office and partly by the choice of others, he held high place in the various organizations and institutions of this city; and no man was ever more prompt and punctual in attendance on the meetings of the various corporations to which he belonged. His bearing, like the system of his life, had an almost military orderliness and precision in it, and this absolute self control gave him a command over others and saved him from the friction of partisanship, and in the contention of controversy from [7/8] ever losing the poise of his thought or the mastership of his temper, or the measured moderation of his speech. Intellectually, Dr. Dix was a man of broad and thorough education. He was really a scholar as well as a student; he was conversant with the whole range of classical reading, ancient and modern, in English as in other languages, and he kept in touch with all the literature of the day, enjoying even its lighter phases with his sympathetic sense of humor. Above all, in his private and priestly life the devotional element was the dominant influence. He was eminently a man of prayer. The window of his chamber was always "open toward Jerusalem," and he was "wont to resort to it." It was here that he found his rare power of dealing with individual souls, and his skilfulness and helpfulness in hearing confessions and directing lives with spiritual counsel. I suppose the fullest evidence of this power was in his organization, and direction for many years, of the Sisterhood of St. Mary, the largest and most fully developed conventual institution in our Church, and also in his composition for them and for others like them, of the "Book of Hours," which indicates the range and accuracy of his liturgical knowledge and taste. In an almost kaleidoscopic variety of theological thinking and teaching Dr. Dix maintained a rare steadiness of conservative and consistent views. Coming to the settling of his own theological convictions, just when the Oxford Movement was waking England into a new sense of what catholic churchmanship really is, he stood always firmly for the great rediscovered and reasserted facts of the catholic movement; and while in certain ways and to a certain degree his sympathy with the ritual advance kept him in touch with the more ornate services, his own inherent moderateness [8/9] kept his practices and those of the churches under him within careful bounds of rubrical obedience. With the modern movement of criticism of the Holy Scriptures he was familiar, and to a certain degree in sympathy, but he was almost an old fashioned conservative in his reverence for the old Bible, holding fast to the accuracy and authority of the written Word, as a revelation of truth written by man under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Such, it seems to me, were the prominent features in detail of this character, fully and fitly shown in a very marked personal appearance and bearing, which commanded notice and attracted attention everywhere. Erect, almost ascetic in appearance, with the keenness of intellectual and spiritual power in his face, his figure accurately framed his personality and indicated the character of the inner man.

When one comes to tell the story of his life and work, to try to paint a portrait of the man, the tout ensemble of all these features, it certainly must be composed of three distinct and dominant phases: his Priesthood and his Pastorate, his Presidency of the House of Deputies, and his position as a citizen of this city and of the United States.

In the old days men used to call Dr. Hook, when he was Vicar of Leeds, the great Parish Priest. There were others in England, there have been others of late years in America, but Morgan Dix was primus inter pares as a great priest in his day in America. Priesthood was engrained in his nature; and whether at the Altar or in the pulpit, his ministration was that of one impressed with the sacredness and reality of his office, and with the intense responsibility of the cure of souls. Whatever of outward form of ritual entered into his rendering of the worship at the Altar [9/10] was not a studied conformity to certain precise regulations of posture or of tone; it was just the utterance of the spirit that was in his soul. Absorption, intensity, reality, were plainly evident through all, with what has been truly called "a rare recollection of mind and concentration of spirit." And in the pulpit he was a prophet and messenger of God. His really was "the voice of one who cried." "His style of writing was incisive, clear, in the very purest English, and in sententious form and power of thought and of expression." "Rightly dividing the Word of God" and speaking as a messenger, a minister of the ministry of reconciliation, a steward of mysteries, he had no element in his preaching of sensationalism or concern with the passing interests of the day; and yet he was keenly alive to the great questions of duty and morality, and dealt with constant courage and outspokenness from time to time, with the vices of society, and the political corruption of the day. He taught New York society the religion that it specially needed to learn, not in abstract theological speculations, but in concrete religious truth. He was especially strong and insistent on the sanctity of marriage, which he illustrated in his own life, and enforced constantly in his teaching; and both in his promotion of the legislation of the Church on the divorce question and in his denunciation of its abominations, in the pulpit as well as in his public treatise so many years ago called "The Two Estates, the Wedded in the Lord, and the Single for the Kingdom of Heaven's Sake;" not a little of the better tone of public opinion as to the essential importance to society of the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of home, is due to his commanding and consistent position. "No man in America could make words serve him with [10/11] finer skill than Morgan Dix, and to those who knew the English tongue and literature his sentences were packed with subtle allusions and references that were a constant charm even on the printed page; but when he spoke from the pulpit there was, when he was at his best, the added power of a voice that could be resonant and sharp with reprobation, or full of melody and tenderest appeal. Withal, he possessed the power of the true judge's charge to the jury; his statement of the case was the best of arguments." Never in public and prominent place did any man earn more honour, or discharge more ably difficult duties, than did Dr. Dix as President of the House of Deputies. In the several Conventions over which he presided he showed, as the obituary minutes of May second say, "Courtesy and justice with that characteristic intellectual poise and spiritual detachment which commanded the confidence and regard of his associates." And ably as that place has been filled it will, I think, be universally conceded that he had no superior and perhaps no equal among those who preceded or succeeded him.

His position in the city of New York, assured first by his name and his descent, was certainly that of a foremost citizen whose counsel was sought and followed, and whose influence was felt and recognized in the many corporations of which he was either ex-officio or by election a member. You New Yorkers know better than I do how many, how varied, and how important these positions were; not merely his ecclesiastical position on the Standing Committee, in the General Theological Seminary, and in his respective places in the Conventions, but in the civic institutions like the Sailors' Snug Harbour, and so on, to all of which he brought the same regularity, [11/12] and faithfulness, and the same soundness and soberness of judgment which were inherent in his nature. Never losing or laying aside the consciousness or the appearance of his office, he was thoroughly at home in all details of practical and financial affairs, and deeply interested in every one of those many and manifold institutions. One who had most intimate knowledge of his personal life describes him as "combining thorough learning with great simplicity, unconscious humility with great firmness, industry, system, and power of accomplishment, with leisure to listen to and make time for any extra calls of service; serenity and sweetness of temper, the habit of prayer which kept him in constant and close communion with God, living his religion, with depths of love and tenderness, which had an almost compelling power of imitation to those who were brought into contact with him."

As I look at him through the keen eyes of a long memory, in services, in sessions of committees, in his study, in the street, there is a certain columnar dignity which lifts itself up against the sky, defined in face and figure, which stands, it seems to me, like a great statue of remembrance, a towering shaft, a pillar, an inscribed obelisk firm on the ground of human sympathies and interests, uplifted into the heavens, against which, in dark or daylight, it shows itself clearcut and distinct, quite apart from and far above the other objects on which the eye rests.

Dr. Dix had for many years contended patiently and bravely with physical suffering and weakness, but to the very last, in the pulpit and at the Altar, he was permitted to continue his ministries of teaching and worship, until, through a peaceful passing, he entered upon the higher and nearer service of his loving Lord, and, somewhere in that world, which to [12/13] our short sight is dim and distant, where "the servants of God" still "serve Him," where the Saints are still in communion with us on earth, he waits

            "Until the shadow from the earth is cast,
            Until He gathers in His sheaves at last,
            Until the twilight gloom is over past.
            Until the Easter glory lights the skies,
            Until the dead in Jesus shall arise,
            Until, made beautiful by love divine,
            He in the likeness of His God shall shine,
            Until we meet again before His throne,
            Clothed in the spotless robe He gives His own,
            Until we know even as we are known."

The Catholic Church throughout the world is keeping to-day the blessed Feast of All Saints. When she found that "the time would fail her to tell," name by name that company, "which no man can number," she flung into her calendar this All Saints Day; just as God flung into the sky the galaxy, the milky way of stars. "He knoweth their number and calleth them all by their names," the Saints as well as the stars, and the legend that is written on this Feast, in letters of crimson and gold, is first, the three great sentences of the Creed: "I believe in the communion of Saints, in the Resurrection of the Body, in the Life everlasting:" and then that great word of the Divine Master: "God," who "is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob," and the God of Morgan Dix, and of all the faithful departed, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him."

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