IN the autumn of 1873 the Rt. Rev. Dr. Cummings, who was the assistant bishop of Kentucky, abandoned the ministry of the Church. December 12, 1873, the Bishop of Kentucky (Dr. Smith) withdrew all authority committed to Dr. Cummings as coadjutor bishop, and forbade his exercise of any episcopal authority. By the canons of the Church an assistant bishop can only perform such episcopal duties as are assigned to him by the bishop of the diocese.
Shortly after the inhibition, Bishop Cummings and four presbyters held a service, by which they declared that the Rev. Charles E. Cheney was consecrated a bishop. What the form or manner of this service was I do not know, but we do know that Bishop Cummings declared in his sermon that, "there was no inherent difference between the office of a presbyter and bishop; that the office of a bishop was exercised by one who was a fellow presbyter, set apart for general oversight and superintendence." He repudiated all that we believe the Catholic Church has ever taught of this holy office. The person he professed to consecrate had been deposed from the ministry.
While we believe in the indelibility of Holy Orders, there is no instance where the Church has taught that one who had been deposed could be elevated to a higher office.
I need not recount the strifes and heartburnings which led to this breach of Christian unity, and which has filled our hearts with sorrow.
The Rev. Dr. Edward Neal, a Presbyterian clergyman honored for his historical research and beloved by all who knew him, attached himself to the Reformed Episcopal Church and built a church in Minneapolis. The Daily Press spoke of the services as "having in the congregation representatives of all the churches except the Old Episcopal Church."
The services of the Reformed Church in Minnesota ceased with the death of Dr. Neal.
As a part of the history of the time, I append a letter to Bishop Whitehouse, giving an account of a visit which, with Bishop Lee, I made to the Rev. Mr. Cheney; also a letter of Bishop Whitehouse in reply, and a second letter of my own.
FARIBAULT, May 13th, 1871.
RT. REV. DR. H. J. WHITEHOUSE,
Right Reverend and Dear Brother: I informed you in my former letter that on my way to Blairstown I saw in the paper the result of the trial of the Rev. Mr. Cheney, and the account of a meeting between yourself, the standing committee, and the vestry of Christ Church. I have felt deeply pained at the present aspect of affairs in the Church, and have feared that party feeling would yet lead here as it has in ages past, to schism. This feeling was the more painful to me because of my deep sympathy with all who labor among the masses, so few of whom belong to our Church, and my fears that a division in the Church would make it more difficult for us to do this work.
After earnest prayer to God the thought came to me, "it may be that I can save our brother and so save a division." I telegraphed you: "If not too late for friendly offices I can come immediately. Answer here." At Cedar Rapids the rector of the parish (on whom I called to thank him for his kindness at the time of my mother's death) told me that Bishop Lee was on a visitation, and that he would pass that place at the same hour that I would in the evening. I received no answer to my telegram. I again prayed for guidance, and then resolved that I would tell Bishop Lee all that I had in my heart. If he would consent to go with me to see you in Chicago, I should feel it indicated my duty. We both had appointments for the next day--the trains were at the door. His answer was, "I will go."
On reaching Chicago we drove to your home; you were absent. I asked your son whether he thought our visit to Mr. Cheney would meet your approval.
He answered that our best course would be to see the Rev. Dr. Sullivan, the President of your Standing Committee, that he knew the entire history of the case, that he was in accord with you, and that whatever he might advise would meet with your approval.
We saw Dr. Sullivan, who said that, while not at all hopeful of the result, he thought that our visit could do no harm and might do much good.
We went to the Rev. Mr. Cheney, who received us kindly. I led in most of the conversation. I told him the train of circumstances which led to this visit. That if I knew my own heart, I came solely from love to our blessed Lord, and to avert what I feared might prove injury to the Church, and peril to the souls for whom Christ died; that I did not come from you or your diocese, but as a brother to talk with a brother, and if it were possible avert what I believed would lead to a schism. I told him that, although a stranger to him, I knew many of his flock; that his senior warden, Mr. Phillips, was my friend, and that I appreciated, as all who love Christ must do, his work in gathering precious souls from the highways and hedges into the fold of the Church. I then told him that there were no words more precious to me than those of our dear Lord when he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins, and prayed that they all may be one, "as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me "; that divisions separated laborers for Christ, that they bewildered souls, they put scoffs on the lips of infidels, and were the greatest hindrance to the work which was to be done to prepare for the second coming of our Lord. I told him that the Catholic Church must be broad enough to include in her pale all who held the great doctrines of the faith; that for us to lose any from our fold would be an evil; we needed men of sesthetical tastes, men of conservative minds, men of burning zeal; that each under God could do his own work, all subject to, and obeying the same laws, and saying from their hearts, "Grace and peace be with all those who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth."
I then said: "Admitting all you claim for your views--that they are true, and that you are bound to teach them, I see no way where you can do so much as by remaining in the Church where, in God's providence, you are placed. If you leave the Church a schism is made, if it involves no more than yourself and your flock; the work you love is imperilled, and even if for a time it could be maintained it would die with you. If your degradation from the ministry leads to the schism of many who think with you, you have created a new sect; you alone will be responsible; you have added one more to the divisions to be healed; grievous sorrow has come to the hearts of many in the Church, and I fear the greatest peril to souls to whom infidels will say, ' See these Christians who talk about love, who believe in one Saviour, and yet are wrangling and separating about the mint and anise of human opinions.'"
Mr. Cheney replied saying that he deeply appreciated my kindness and much that I had said. That he loved the Church, and could not voluntarily leave it; that his position was different from that of Mr. Cooper; that if he went, it was because he was thrust out; that his work among the English laboring classes had first led him to believe that the words in the baptismal office were the cause of much erroneous belief, and that many regarded baptism as a charm like a heathen gree-gree; that he struggled against this conviction, and tried to quiet his conscience by the usual explanations of his Church brethren. He could not. He believed the words taught error, and he omitted them. He said that he did not desire notoriety, and even his wife did not know he had omitted the words in the baptismal office; that this explained the reason why at the trial so many of the witnesses could not testify whether he did omit the words or not. He said he could use words which spoke of admission to the Church, or of being adopted into Christ's family, but he could not with a clear conscience say, "This child has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit."
He thought the court should have been selected in part from men of moderate views; he named the Rev. Dr. Rylance, the Rev. Mr. Morrison, and some others. He said that the sentence was one which made it impossible for him to submit. Its limitation was until he exhibited contrition, which the court knew he could never feel, as he had done what he had from honest conviction of duty; he laid great stress on this.
He said the sentence was very severe and equivalent to degradation, and that it was the first trial in the history of the Church for any omission of parts of the service, while it was well known that such offences had been common. He thought your manner toward him at a confirmation showed you did not feel kindly toward him. He spoke with deep feeling, and when he alluded to his congregation and to the Church, he wept.
In reply I told him that I deeply regretted that the case was complicated by anything outside; that he must permit me to tell him frankly that I believed he had made very grave errors. The protest which he signed was wrong. If his bishop had taught false doctrine, there was a way to have him lawfully tried; that he could have brought this to the notice of bishops who agreed with him in doctrine, and if they declined to present their brother because there was no ground of action, his responsibility would have ended; that I thought the appeal to the civil court a great mistake; that the interference of the press and the public had done grievous harm to the cause of religion, and I feared had done injury to the Church. But, I said, I cannot see wherein your difficulty lies as to the use of the word "regenerate." The child is not by nature a member of the Church; it is not in the kingdom of God; it has not been placed in a covenant relation with God according to the provisions of our Saviour. It seems to me that here, as elsewhere, the gospel which the Church uses to teach the people is the key to understand the service. The gospel in the baptismal office tells us that mothers of old, who loved their children as mothers do now, knew how kindly our Lord had received all who came to Him j they said in their hearts, "If He can receive and bless the poor, the sinful, and the wretched He will bless our babes," and so they went to seek Jesus. His disciples thought He had come to be their temporal king, and that these babes could have no part in the kingdom. It is the only instance in which we are told He was much displeased. He took them in His arms: He laid His hands on them; He blessed them; and turning to those who were to be chief overseers, and pastors, and rulers of His kingdom, said, "Suffer them to come and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God."
Now the whole question lies in this,--what is the "kingdom of God"? Here, too, He tells us plainly,--it is the net let down into the sea which gathers good and bad; it is the field where tares grow with the wheat; it is the visible Church where He bids children come and where He tells His apostles to receive them.
I called his attention to the fact that since the days of Whitfield the word "regeneration" in the common language of men had been used as synonymous with conversion. The Church uses it in all parts of her service, and in her homilies as including Baptism; and while men may differ as to the definition of "regenerate," I see no reason why any one who admits the existence of the visible Church, and that baptism is the door of entrance to the Church, could not use it with a good conscience.
To this he replied that his difficulty lay in that we thanked God that He had regenerated the child by His Holy Spirit; that he could say, "received him by adoption," but that in the ordinary use of language these words conveyed solely the idea of a spiritual change which his experience did not show had been wrought.
Bishop Lee called his attention to the Gorham decision; to the example of men like Bishop Griswold; to his right to explain the service; to the meaning of "regeneration"; to our Saviour's own words in describing the new birth, and spoke with deep feeling of his sorrow at even the possibility of a schism. I will not attempt to give his words, but they were such as come from a heart full of love for Christ, and for the Church, and full of love for our brother.
It is due to Mr. Cheney to say that he declared that he suffered deeply at the position in which he was placed; that he said he did not wish to see a division; that he was not in any sense a leader of a movement. He admitted that he might be in error; that conscience was often educated into a definite form, but that still he was bound to obey his conscientious convictions in all sincerity and honesty, and leave the end with God. He said he would rejoice at any solution of the matter, but that he could not lie before God and say he was sorry when he felt that he was doing his duty.
We were all in tears during most of the interview. "We knelt together, and I prayed earnestly that God would take the cause into His own hands, and would forgive all who had sinned and give wisdom to all who had erred; that He would especially bless and guide you.
I left sad at heart. I believe on this question our brother's mind is morbid, but that he is honest in his conviction.
I can only pray God to give us wisdom and overrule all for His glory.
H. B. WHIPPLE.
CHICAGO, May 16th, 1871.
My dear Bishop: I returned last evening, and to-day received both your kind letters, one returned through the post-office and the longer one direct. I thank you very heartily for the kind, though seemingly fruitless, effort. There is small hope that any change will be produced. A schismatic movement has been for two years a recognized purpose, and instead of its being precipitated by the contingents of this act of discipline, the ideal has been reduced to an ill-looking reality of individual secession, and the party largely demoralized. There will be no schism of any count, though of course the smallest tendency to such a folly is to be deprecated. If it does occur, it will stand on the page of history as the most aimless and unprincipled of all separations from the Anglican Communion. You probably heard that the secession of one of our Brethren is confidently declared in prospective connection. I shall continue to act as we have done without haste or irritation, and wait as long before pronouncing the final sentence as may avoid just imputation of fear or vacillancy. There is no alternative left in Mr. Cheney's unyielding contumacy.
I hope I may be at liberty to use your admirable letter more publicly, if occasion should occur.
May God preserve and restore your valuable health, and with renewed thanks for your clear and affectionate efforts, I remain,
Faithfully your friend and brother,
HENRY J. WHITEHOUSE.
FARIBAULT, Aug. 25th, '71.
RT. REV. H. J. WHITEHOUSE, D.D.,
My dear Brother: I enclose your letter which was sent in reply to my account of an interview between the Bishop of Iowa, the Rev. Mr. Cheney, and myself. At that time I declined to have it made public because I had sought the home of Mr. Cheney, and I had no right to narrate to the public the matter of the interview. As I went into your diocese without your knowledge, I owed it to myself and to you that I should give you a clear statement of what occurred at that interview. I went simply as a peacemaker. It seemed to me that it was possible for Mr. Cheney to assume a position whereby you could modify or postpone the sentence. It would have been an unwarranted breach of courtesy for me to have visited Mr. Cheney to censure him, and a gross violation of every brotherly feeling to you or to your diocese for me to have censured yourself or the court to Mr. Cheney. I did neither: I plead as a brother with him to avert, at any sacrifice of personal feeling, the possibility of schism. My feeling was one of deep anguish, and I used such arguments as I thought would best allay all irritated feeling.
In going to Mr. Cheney I was aware that there was reason to believe my motives might be misinterpreted; but I should do so again on the bare hope of saving a division.
The article you have sent me does not convey my own impressions of the interview, an account of which was written the day it took place. If you deem it necessary to use my letters, you may do so. I only ask that you use the three letters with this. I prefer silence as the best healer of irritated hearts, but having visited your diocese as I did, you are entitled to all the facts.
H. B. WHIPPLE.