A given passage of Scripture yields to all devout and well-instructed readers the same general truths of the faith,--doctrines which the Church has pronounced upon authoritatively and which the reverent mind receives without questioning. But between these doctrines, as through a lattice-work, each soul looks out upon a landscape of its own; sees new subsidiary truths, makes interpretations, draws inferences, indulges in pious fancies, according to the measure of its own aspirations and needs, and for the deepening and enriching of its essential life. The same thing occurs when church folk are gathered together for the celebration of a holy day. On the surface, at least, there is a certain unanimity of mind and heart,--a collective purpose to commemorate the salient facts which the day stands for; to con its unquestioned lessons; to mark them once again in the familiar phrases in which the past has enshrined them. And then, besides these great .chords which the service strikes and to which all hearts respond in unison, there is a multitude of individual notes, running high or low, beating quick or otherwise, as the case may be; so that each soul, according to its ability or need, is weaving into the festival's fundamental theme its own song of the day.
Such, I take it, is the ordinary collective experience of a congregation of religious men and women, engaged in the worship of God and in the commemoration of his saints. But now and then come extraordinary experiences,-- times when people find themselves in church, assisting in the celebration of the liturgy, but under the influence of some over-
mastering emotion, personal to all. It may be that the clamor of war is in the land, and the blood of the community is at fever heat. The flag has been fired on. The honor of the government is assailed; and our fathers and husbands, our brothers and sons, are in church for the last time before going forth to the battle-field to lay down their lives, if need be, in defence of their country. Or death has suddenly come among us, and some strong and beautiful soul to whom all looked, upon whom all leaned, has been smitten with the swiftness and fury of lightning. Whatever the emotion may be which dominates us--sorrow, danger, patriotism, fear, love,--our scattered thoughts flock together, and, tuned to one pitch, march as in a well-ordered musical progression.
Now I am sure that I am not beside the mark when I say that these conditions, both ordinary and extraordinary, find obtainment here this morning. And first, upon the person and work of S. Mary our thoughts unitedly and reverently dwell. In imagination, she rises before us with a gentle and tearful loveliness beyond the power of Guido's or Dolce's brush to express. We see her journeying from Bethlehem to the Holy City, "bringing," as S. Bonaventura says, "the Lord of the Temple to the Temple of the Lord." We remember her obedience in fulfilment of the law, and her poverty that made necessary the smallest temple-gift receivable. Alas, Mary! "too poor to bring even a lamb, and yet rich enough to bring the Lamb of God! " We recall the distressing vicissitudes which, in later times, and in certain parts of Christendom, her memory fell upon. We see her banished from her homestead in the Church, just as a cruel father sometimes drives a daughter from beneath his roof and says to her: "You shall not set foot in my house anymore! Your name shall never bespoken here again!" We mark the mischievous and wicked lowering-of-the-voice and looking-over-the-shoulder air which, after this, came at the thought of her. We remember how, for years, men did not speak her name, or seldom spoke it, and taught their children so, as though she had done some crime! And this, let it not be forgotten, was the mother of our Lord,--she who held in her arms the Redeemer of the world; who nourished Him in childhood with a mother's love; and followed Him in manhood with a mother's pride; and stood before His cross with a mother's anguish!
And then we think gratefully of the change that came; and how S. Mary was welcomed back to her rightful home and dower in the Church by a new generation that came storming on the stage; how again she was loved and reverenced, even above the apostles and other saints; how churches were built and associations formed, and christened in her honor; and how, at the hour of Evening Sacrifice, from all the chancels in the land, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis sounded out again to the glory of the mother--to the worship of the Son!
As we dwell on these familiar concepts, which are the unvarying properties and paraphernalia of a service in memory of S. Mary, they melt and change into a panorama of that whole stupendous event in which the fortunes of S. Mary,--her degradation and her rescue,--are bound up; that movement in the history of the Church which began as a reformation and ended as a revolution, a catastrophe. Christopher North, in one of his delightful essays, describes what may sometimes be witnessed among the highlands of Scotland. "A Scotch mist," he says, "becomes a shower; a shower, a storm; a storm, a tempest, a tempest, heaven quake and earthquake!" In some such wise it was that a German mist which rose from the forests of Eisenach, grew from a needful shower into a flood in which heaven and earth were indistinguishable; which swept away everything in its course, and bearing on its turbid bosom not only the debris of church abuses, but the scattered treasures of the gospel, settled down into a wide sea covering half the world; with here and there an ancient spire standing above the murky waters, telling of altars and the accessories of a stately worship buried below. Only in one corner of Europe did dry ground appear. Thanks be to God, for the island Church which said to this continental madness: "Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!" Thanks be to God, that the Church of our forefathers was able to save for a far spreading civilization of the future the framework of apostolic faith and order; to preserve altar and sacraments, liturgy and creeds, vestments and crosses, the calendars of the saints, the Christian year. Thanks be to God, for the rescued memory of her whom we commemorate to day,--the gentle, suffering mother of our Lord Jesus Christ! May she ever be cherished and defended, not only as against those who would neglect her and do her despite, but as against those who, going to the other extreme, would fain transform her into a divine intercessor; who would take her out of the category of humanity and place her on the throne of heaven; who, by their ignorant and extravagant laudation of her, would so impoverish our vocabulary of worship as to leave us in the presence of the adorable Trinity--Father, Son and Holy Ghost, impotent and voiceless!
But while we meditate thus in unison on the familiar facts and lessons which cluster round S. Mary's Day, our thoughts stand marshaled at the rallying-point of a second purpose which has brought us here this morning; or, rather, we are conscious of a second stream of meditation, experience, emotion, running parallel with the first; flowing, as it were, with rythmic beat underneath the first, like the fabled river that ran underground. For this gathering here to-day is an extraordinary one, like those typical occasions which I spoke of at the beginning, when men and women make their oblations in the House of God under the spell of some contagious and overmastering sentiment which thrusts itself into the service; which is personal and imperative in its claims; which inspires and elevates all. We are met, then, not only to commemorate S. Mary,--to keep the anniversary of our Lord's Presentation in the Temple,--but also to celebrate a most signal event in the life and ministry of our Bishop whom we honor and love, an event of which this day is also the anniversary; to go back in sympathetic thought with him, through thirty years of laborious and unstinted service, to his Consecration Day when, after the similitude of his Master, he too was "presented" in the temple of God, that he might be empowered from on high, and so, with a "pure and clean heart," might guide the children of the Church that should be committed to his care, and be, himself, in his finite measure, a faithful "shepherd and bishop of souls."
Some one ought to stand here with wit and skill enough to voice adequately this celebration of thirty years; and with delicacy and tact enough to guide our thoughts past all rocks and disturbing shallows into wise and helpful channels. It is easy to point out some things that ought not to be attempted. To indulge in panegyric in the Bishop's own church and presence,--however just the tribute to him, however fond the task to us,--would be, at the best, an exercise of questionable taste and judgment. Moreover, it would be utterly lacking in necessity. For nothing that we can say, nothing that we can do, will add to, or subtract from, his permanent and well-earned fame. By his ancestry and up-bringing; by the environment of his young manhood; by the brilliant and manifold characteristics which, in time, disclosed themselves as essential elements of what we may call his personal genius; by his early elevation to the episcopate, and his long-continued services therein; by his unique gifts and capacities, overflowing in many directions into the reservoir of the general Church,--he has become "an epistle known and read of all men;" the possession not alone of the diocese of Albany, but of English speaking Christendom.
But again: we may not, we cannot, put into formal speech what is, beyond a doubt, the richest half of all the elements that enter in to this commemorative occasion. I mean those facts and experiences which lie within the reserves of our Bishop's spiritual life,--which are personal and idiosyncratic; the joys of illumination; sorrows "after a godly sort," working in him "carefulness" and the "clearing" of himself,--yea, working "indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, revenge," the full exaction of punishment! These are the things which stir him most profoundly as he looks back thirty years. Not his outward successes or failures,--his victories however glorious, his defeats however humiliating, --but the fortunes and vicissitudes of his soul; the crises that fell again and again on the firing-line of the endless battle between the "outer" and the "inner" man. These most precious harvestings of thirty years cannot be brought out into the garish light and held up for public contemplation and applause. The memorabilia of the soul are inviolate. We cannot take them on our lips; and yet, by that "touch of nature which makes the whole world kin," we know them in kind, and in our Bishop's remembrances of them to-day, we may claim a silent share.
Discarding, then, those essays which are inadmis-sable, or which fall outside the limiting circle of my ability or my desire, I must be content, even at the risk of dropping a little below the key, to dwell on some particulars which lie safely between the rumors of the great world outside and the whisperings of the deep soul within; practical, domestic matters which so closely concern us in our daily intercourse as bishop and people, that they have hitherto occasioned but little public remark, although, in some respects, they are of more importance than many things which have gone farther and sounded louder. If I were asked to indicate what, in my judgment, has been perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of Bishop Doane's episcopate for the thirty years now passed, looked at from an ecclesiastical and administrative point of view, I should answer: the gradual building up of a real diocesan episcopacy, in the midst of a long-settled and almost universally accepted system of parochialism, clerical and lay; a work of restoration on the lines of the ancient Church.
It should never be forgotten that, in the polity of the Church, the diocese and not the parish is the essential unit. The thought is not a new one; but when we put our minds upon it, and seriously consider the consequences that flow from it, it comes home to us with a freshness as though it were new. The diocese, I repeat, is the unit; not only ideally, sentimentally, but in law and fact. When the whole Church in this country assembles representatively in General Convention for the exercise of powers that are intrinsic and sovereign, the fact comes out very clearly and emphatically, again and again, that the dioceses and not the parishes are the units of its corporate life. The truth is one which runs back into the ancient principle that there can be no Church without a bishop. We speak of S. Paul's "Church," Troy; or Bethesda "Church," Saratoga. The phraseology will go, if properly understood. Parishes there are, many and diverse,--S. Paul's, Bethesda, what not, but there is only one Church hereabouts,--the Albany Church; the Church of God in the diocese of Albany, one Church with its bishop. If all of the other dioceses in the country were blotted out, and only the Albany diocese were left, the Church would still exist, complete in every conceivable particular. But if the Albany Church should chance in such a juncture, to be deprived of its bishop, and some political or revolutionary exigency should befall which, for the time being, would make it impossible to elect and consecrate his successor, the various parishes of the diocese, however numerous and important they might be, however active, however rich in spiritual gifts and graces, would be simply the mutilated and dismembered fragments of a Church.
Over against this idea is the popular conception that the parish is the unit. It grew up out of the peculiar circumstances which conditioned the peopling of our continent and the building of our nation. When we remember how the principle of the town meeting,--of Congregationalism, pure and simple, fastened itself at the start on American Christianity; when we note that this principle has obtained continuously in the numerous and influential religious bodies about us; when we reflect that there are many churchmen who have been brought up in the congregational idea, who have an ancestral pride in it,--men whose forefathers at Bunker Hill and Yorktown fought English churchmen and died in defence of the principle of local self-government,--it is not to be wondered at that there should be found, even in our Communion, a disposition to regard the bishops as superfluous officials, if not intruders in the polity of the Church.
When our Bishop came to his see, thirty years ago, the Church in this country was episcopal in law and in name, but in little else. Its spirit was intensely parochial; hard, narrow, instinct with neighborhood rivalries. Church work was sporadic, confused, lacking concert and unanimity of aim. In the thought of many throughout all the dioceses, the bishop was in the scheme as an awkward legacy. He had fallen to us. We had him on our hands, and we were in duty bound to plan for him and take care of him. As a ritualistic feature, he was rather ornamental; picturesque, but expensive! There was no earthly thing in sight for him to do, except a little confirming. Once a year, he was mounted, so to speak, on a great roll-chair and, with much labor and vociferation, was pushed about the diocese, in order that he might lay his hands upon the children. With his departing, all further thought of him vanished for a year. The parishes remained staunchly "protestant," but did not become "episcopal" again, until the earth had made another revolution round the sun, and the bishop's chariot was once more standing at the gate!
I shall have failed sadly in my satire, if it has left in your minds an impression that the bishops were mainly at fault. If fault there was on their part, it was that of inertia; of contributory negligence. Almost without exception, they were notable men, godly, well-learned, competent and willing to be bishops in deed as well as in name; but they were tangled fast in the stubborn web of parochialism. With all their gifts of learning and piety, they were, in the actual workings of that selfish and repressive system, hindrances rather than helps. If the parish priests under them had had authority to confirm, as is the case in the Greek Church, the various congregations would have developed more rapidly than they did in numbers and spiritual life. Not the least of the evils that attended was, that confirmation grew to be regarded on all hands as the differencing note of the Church. Priest and people alike would have been scandalized to learn that confirmation,--valuable as it is, as all elements of the Christian system are valuable,--is in reality one of the least important functions of a bishop.
But in the year sixty-nine,--the year and day we commemorate,--and, in the new-born diocese of Albany, there began to grow up steadily and surely a real diocesan episcopacy. It is not pretended that there were not similar growths elsewhere. But this, if not the first, was among the very first; and of them all the most conspicuously successful. Nor is it pretended that the diocesan idea has been fully realized among us How could it be, in a territory that, geographically and ecclesiastically considered, is not a proper diocese but a kingdom; a see whose administration is a crushing burden to lay on any one man? "But that," as Mr. Kipling would say, "is another story." Scanning our diocese, for a period of thirty years, what do we see? We see a Bishop who succeeds in breaking down, to a very considerable extent, the narrownesses and provincialisms which crib and cabin parish life; and who accomplishes this largely with the cheerful co-operation of his people; not all at once, but by degrees,--lovingly, faithfully, persistently; each new enterprise, it may be, hanging fire for a time, but always in the end succeeding, always justifying itself. We see him free to call the clergy and the laity from any part of his wide domain for assistance in diocesan work, and we see them responding more and more without regard to the petty bonds of parochial allegiance. We see rising in his see-city the stately enclosures of a bishop's church, which becomes at once the home of a reverent worship and the centre of a manifold and radiating missionary activity. We see a School, built, equipped and carried on for the education of girls,--an institution which in thirty years trains thousands of pupils. We see a Sisterhood organized, and its members sent through the diocese in merciful mission, doing a work among the sick and the poor which only women can do, and which can be done best of all by women set apart, living a communistic life, under rule, and protected by the garb of their order. We see hospital, orphanage and industrial work, and buildings in which to house these most precious interests. We see an endowment fund, amply planned and growing to completion,--a bulwark against the changes and chances of years to come. This in brief is the story. Order out of confusion; church energies rallied on converging lines; worn-out methods discarded, and new and better ones employed; everywhere organization,--"the iron ramrod and the equal step.
And we remember that all this is the development of an idea sound in law and fact, old as historic Christianity, fruitful in possibility as the mustard seed that expanded into a tree, viz., that the diocese is the true limit of Church sovereignty, life and power. However many things there may be that are noteworthy in our retrospect today, this among plain, practical matters, must be reckoned second in mark to none.
There is a great temptation to pursuer this theme; to set forth in order the things which have been believed and done among us,--things which the diocesan idea has drawn in its train, or which are of independent historic note. But it would be, I am persuaded, a great mistake to pile this day with the lumber of diocesan annals; to sink coffer-dams, filled with statistics, into the stream of our rejoicing. It does not improve a Beethoven symphony to stand in the midst of the orchestra and explain its harmonies. Much, doubtless, remains to be said, but the time is not propitious. Even while we speak, we are conscious of a river that is sweeping by us with singing flow, and we turn our prow into the current. With a fixed and affectionate intent, we follow our leader in all his memories of thirty years, both glad and sad. Wherein he rejoices, we rejoice: wherein he grieves, we grieve. Even in those recesses of awakened recollection which we may not enter, our pulses beat with his. In all that belongs to this most interesting and sacred commemoration, we feel that we are sharers with him; co-workers, co-rejoicers; that we are bound up in the bundle of his life in the Pentecostal Church, we are to day "of one heart and of one soul," and have "all things common."