IT is a rare thing in the world to meet with a perfectly frank, guileless, unselfish nature: a still rarer thing it is, to find one who, after setting out well, has preserved the moral integrity of his character spotless, to the end. The name of William Rollinson Whittingham is a name of which the American Church may well be proud. It is a name which will be respected and honored, so long as regard for good men shall last. The son of a mother, according to her own account, converted "by a singular providence from a state of complete worldliness," he was, like Samuel and S. John the Baptist, sanctified from the womb. His was the high privilege to have for a mother one in whom not only was the maternal instinct strong, and the intellectual powers well developed, and the will firm and resolute, but added to these gifts of nature there was a deeply earnest, religious life. The young mother looked upon her first born as indeed a gift of God; and in a spirit of gratitude for the change of heart which had turned her away from the world and its vanities, she gave the gift back to the Giver. She would entrust to no hired nurse the child consecrated to God. Her own arms carried him. Her own breasts fed him. When reason began to dawn, she cultivated her own mind that she might become his teacher. Mother and child literally mastered together the Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages. There never was a time when the thought of his consecration to the Sacred Ministry did not tone and shape and fashion the life of the growing boy. It is like the story of Monica and Augustine, differing however in the fact, that as the boy Was never permitted to leave the shelter of the paternal roof, so he never fell from grace, but from the first was preserved pure from the contamination of a sinful world. It is a notable picture, the devotion of the mother and the child, and suggests a deep moral. No hired nurse! The mother herself the teacher and the guide! The sense of responsibility and duty, and the grateful love! And the reward, a pure, guileless, innocent and unspotted boy, a lover of all things good and fair, fond of nature, with an intellect unclouded, and an imagination undefiled! Is it to be wondered at, that a boy so trained should grow up into a man of singular earnestness of life, unworldly, unselfish, generous in his impulses, with a heart as tender as a woman's, while in moral heroism he was as bold as a lion, burning with zeal for Christ and His Church, his single eye intent upon one thing, and upon one thing only, his Master and his Master's service?
It needs no great amount of faith to believe, that a life whose beginnings were of the kind indicated was from the first the subject of God's peculiar care. If Aeschylus, when speaking of Helen and the fall of Troy, could say that "a providence rules in the gift of a name," may we not believe that it was by no mere chance, as men count chance, that the child consecrated to God at his birth, nurtured with so much care in view of his sacred calling, found a place prepared to receive him, when he was ready to enter upon the work of preparation for the holy ministry. If the young Samuel, when faith was dead in Israel, revived it, and was instrumental in building up the schools of the prophets, where the youth were educated who shaped the fortunes of new national development under David and Solomon, are we to regard it as accidental, that the first impulse given to sound theological learning in America was the work of the boy (he was then less than seventeen years of age) who when asked by his examiners, amazed as they were at his ready answers, "At what college were you educated?" replied, "None; my mother has always taught me?" And when further asked in a spirit of credulity, "But who was your tutor in the languages, Latin and Greek and Hebrew?" proudly answered, drawing himself up to his full height, "My mother!" It is worth while in passing to think for a moment on the picture of the candidate for Orders as drawn for us by his biographer at this time:
When full-grown he measured six feet two inches; at the time of his entrance at the Seminary he was nearly six feet high, and his limbs seemed longer than they were; his face was thin, his features prominent, and his lips--had they been made of clay--too heavy. But lack of beauty of outline was redeemed by a mobile expression, and by eyes dark and brilliant, flashing at times with a peculiar expression, due, as an artist remarked, to the fact that the pupil was slightly above the centre of the iris. His hair, black and beautifully fine, thrown back from his forehead, fell in curls over his shoulders. 'So,' we are told, 'he wore his hair until after his Consecration, when a barber ruthlessly sheared his locks. 'It hurt me,' said the Bishop, 'to part with my long hair, but I thought the man knew better than I did what was becoming to a Bishop.
It does not make much difference, perhaps, by whom the "shearing" was performed; but the truth is, that the tonsure involved in the act was, in its own way, significant. The element of character which predominated from first to last in William Rollinson Whittingham was the prophetical element. He was a Nazarite from his youth; and a Nazarite in spirit to the end of his days. The prophet's fire was always burning in his heart; when it touched the heavy lips, they became eloquent. Teaching and preaching were the native element of the man. No one ever saw him who did not see him in the lecture-room or in the pulpit. There the Savonarola-like face became transformed as it is in Huntington's picture. The fleshly veil was for a moment lifted; we caught a glimpse of the heavenly light within, burning bright and clear; and the soul with all its passions and its powers, quickened and radiant in the light of a supernal beauty. Nor was it the hair only, but the whole dress and bearing which foretold the man of prophetic soul who was to dwell apart from men; and who, knowing himself better than other men could possibly know him, says of himself, in writing to a friend not long after his entrance at the Seminary:
You tell me to go into company and see human nature. I have seen enough and too much of it in these [Seminary] disputes, and on other similar occasions, without going into company. The fact is, I must choose between usefulness and relaxation, alias pleasure, so called. Useful in company, I cannot be; Nature--rather Providence--has utterly unfitted me for it. My awkward bodily frame, my feeble constitution, my hesitancy of speech, my unreadiness in conversation, my too susceptible feelings, all unfit me, totally unfit me, for company. On the contrary, by confining myself to a few friends, and by occupying myself in study, I do think that in time I may be useful.
God has blessed me with a quickness of preception and durable retention that by industry may be improved into instruments of usefulness for the Church at large. He has further blessed me in the opportunities for cultivating my mind altogether beyond what I had a right to expect. For this I am accountable, and with His assistance I will turn them to the best account.
Even so, the young prophet and teacher knew his mission; and he assumed, as we are told, a garb accordingly.
On his spare and angular frame his clothes hung loosely. Instead of a coat he wore a boy's roundabout, or jacket, over which was turned a broad shirt-collar, tied with a black ribbon. So he appeared before his examiners. And after this fashion he must have dressed all the time he was connected with the Seminary; for in September, 1836 (?), a friend, with many apologies remonstrated with him by letter and reported the complaints on this subject, which he had heard made by a company of clergymen. His answer shows that the remonstrance was without effect. With good reason, if health and comfort be alone to be considered, the young Fellow and deacon rejected the clerical choker of that day, and clung to his independence and black ribbon.
Like Thomas Carlyle, we believe in clothes. And our conviction is, that the young prophet, with his unshorn locks, would have been a happier man if he had never been forced to wear that clerical choker, and had not been doomed, as he was, to feel the pricking of the two pointed goads which reminded him continually of the yoke which, in being called to the priesthood, he was bound to bear. But of this, hereafter.
It has been sometimes said it was a misfortune that the home training of the boy was not supplemented by the broader culture and discipline of the college before the man entered upon the studies of the Theological Seminary. As a general principle this is undoubtedly true. And for some reasons it would have been better, perhaps, that in the present instance it had been so ordered. But, on the whole, we are inclined to think the withholding of the gift was for the best. God intimates His purpose as much by what He withholds as He does by what he bestows. Philosophical breadth, liberal culture, measuring one's self with others, are good things in their way and essential elements in forming the statesman and the politician. Not so, however, in the case of one whose peculiar vocation, as we shall see, was that of a prophet, and a witness against the excesses and corruptions of a rapidly advancing civilization. Whittingham was not meant to play the courtier, or to dwell in kings' houses. He had no fondness for fine clothes, civil or ecclesiastical. He hated pomp and ceremony of every kind. He was no reed, shaking in the wind. Better then that he should be kept apart undefiled by contact with a sinful world. Let it not be thought, however, that the loss of collegiate training involved a corresponding loss of sound learning.
At the Seminary he studied, not simply read, works on physics and logic; on this latter science his text book was Crousaz--an extended treatise in French in several volumes. In Latin he seems to have chiefly delighted in Horace; but to have read also Cicero, and Seneca and Pliny, and the Christian Cicero, Lactantius. Mention is made of Zenophon's 'Memorabilia,' to which he made an index; Thucydides, Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes, Theophrastus and Apollodorus. In his second year he took up German, and in the third turned more particularly to the study of Syriac. All through the diary mention is made of French reading, of novels, poetry, travels, history. The Waverley novels were then astonishing the reading world, rapidly succeeding each other. Notice of them gives the key to the meaning of the frequent phrase 'finished the evening.' Twice it is seen that one of these novels--on one occasion it was the 'Abbot,' on the other the 'Antiquary'--took but an evening from more than serious employment; the record is, ' read it through.'
The last feature just noted is worthy of attention. Nothing was more remarkable than the wide range of Bishop Whittingham's reading. He was in the best sense of the word a scholar. They mistook the man who regarded him as a mere theologian. All his life long he was a reader of polite literature. When in attendance at the last General Convention which he was ever permitted to take part in, he was the delight of the social circle that gathered around the dinner table of his host; women, charmed by his simplicity, were amazed to find that he was as familiar with the last novel as they themselves were. We are indebted to his biographer for recalling two instances of this liberal culture as exhibited in later life.
On one occasion, during a visitation, he spoke to his host, for the time, of the beautiful avenue of pine trees which led to the dwelling, and of his being surprised by the number of varieties found in the same locality. ' Yes,' remarked the gentleman, with pleasure, 'there are about ---- different kinds.' The Bishop corrected him, asserting that there were more, and saying how many more. 'Our host,' to use the words of one present from whom the relation comes--'our host remarked, 'You are mistaken, Bishop; I have studied these woods for years, have taken great pains with that avenue of trees, and I never saw but ---- varieties.' The Bishop, "with, that impulsive energy so characteristic of him at that time, rose from his seat, and taking hold of the arm of his host, said, 'Now, let us walk out and I will show you.' I followed, and to the surprise of our host, and my astonishment, he pointed out shades of difference, noted by him, while slowly driving along the avenue for the first time, which the owner for more than a quarter of a century had overlooked.'
The other story is too lengthy to be given here in full. The sum and substance of it is, that the Bishop proved too much for a controversialist on a steamboat, by proving that Shakespeare was a student of the Bible and accepted its teachings, It is the person who was worsted who himself bears witness:
I have heard not a few lecturers on Shakespeare, but never a man who seemed more thoroughly master of his theme. I have heard all our prominent men in public life--at the bar, on the stump, in Congress--and I assure you I never heard a man more eloquent than Bishop Whittingham was in that speech delivered on the spur of the moment; I was thrilled.
To return to where we broke off. While thus devoting himself to classical studies and general literature, as if they alone were the objects of his pursuit, the young student was diligent in attendance upon his classes, took an interest in the Seminary Societies for the "Advancement of Christianity" and "Theological Learning." He was busy in writing essays on "The Primitive Sabbath," "Hades and Sheol," on "kosmoV," on "Accommodation," "The Quotations in the New Testament," and "The Theocracy of Israel," etc., etc. Again, his biographer tells a characteristic story, in which "the child proved father of the man."
When it was his duty first to read a paper before the Theological Society, his essay on the Sabbath was read for him by a friend, because he could not overcome his boyish shamefacedness. For this result of modesty he was fined.
It was a modesty which never forsook him all the days of his life. With an amount of learning which would make reputation for a dozen scholars, no one in private life ever heard him speak or act but with the simplicity of a child. If, on being called forth unexpectedly, he ventured an opinion, it was done in the way of apology, and never alluded to after the occasion which called it forth. It is simply inconceivable how it could have been so, and is only to be explained by taking into account the wonderful humility which formed such an essential element of the character of the man.
We have one fault to find only with the admirable biography which the Rev. W. F. Brand has just given to us. It is, like the subject of it, too modest; it says too little regarding the intellectual side of the character it so admirably portrays. While it lets us know something of the exhaustion which followed upon the wonderful industry and unexampled toil of the years spent more immediately in intellectual pursuits, it tells us little or nothing about the results of those gigantic labors. The Seminary library is almost altogether the creation of these earlier years. Whittingham inherited qualities on his father's side, as well as his mother's side, which made him one of the greatest benefactors to the American Church. He had his father's "habits of order and great industry." The son, as well as the father, besides caring for knowledge, had a love for books as books. The son inherited his father's "fondness as a catalogue reader and an attendant upon book sales." It has been a marvel to many how, out of his meagre salary as Professor and Bishop, a library of over 15,000 volumes of rare books could ever have been collected, and left as a legacy to the Diocese of Maryland. It was because all his lifelong the collector was a "catalogue reader and an attendant upon book sales." He was continually in receipt of catalogues, not only from America but from all over Europe, of old and rare books, and not unfrequently purchased them for an inconsiderable sum. The Maryland Library has some books in it of which there are only one or two copies in the world, and whose history, if written, would form one of the most romantic episodes in the whole range of Bibliography. Of the many wonderful qualities of the man, none, as it seemed to me, was more astonishing than his intimate and accurate knowledge of books and authors. It was a department of knowledge in which he had no peer in America; perhaps few equals in the world. It was providentially ordered that the first years of the future Bishop's ministry should be given to work among children. After graduating, as he lacked several months of being twenty years old, and could not take orders for a year and a half, he was permitted to enjoy "the academic privileges of a Fellow," and was made "librarian, with a salary of a hundred dollars" a year. The "academic privileges" would appear to have consisted chiefly in the liberty to labor without fee or reward (other than the hundred dollars a year) for the interests of the Seminary. It was during this period of waiting that he took part with Dr. Turner in translating "Jahn's Introduction." He did the greater part of the work, and added extracts from De Wette, Rosenmuller, Carpzov, Eichorn, etc. To eke out a living he was made Chaplain (when ordained by Bishop Hobart in 1827) of a charity school, at a salary of $300 per annum. He had for two years some three hundred children under his care, and published two small volumes of sermons (now out of print) preached at this time to the charity children. His success in the work led to his being appointed, in 1828, agent of the Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union, with instruction to visit the cities and principal towns in the United States, for the purpose of disseminating information. Broken health compelled him to resign his Secretaryship in 1829. The Executive Committee in accepting his resignation, bears witness to his fidelity to the trust committed to him.
Possessed of a vast fund of practical and experimental knowledge on the subject of Sunday-School Instruction, he was singularly qualified for the formation of a 'system of instruction' adapted to general use; his talents and industry fitted him in a preeminent degree for the preparation of books of instruction adapted to that system; and his devoted attachment founded upon an intimate and accurate knowledge of her character and claims to the Church which he adorns, made it with him always a chief consideration that in this Union, at every point of observation, should be discernible the features of that Church.
After resigning the Secretaryship of the Sunday School Union, he accepted a call to take charge of the Parish of S. Mark's, Orange, N. J., in 1829. Here he married the woman "who, in his eyes, ever remained the most lovely woman in the world." The Greeks have a word for which no equivalent is to be found in our English tongue, with our feebler powers of discrimination and analysis--it is the word storgh, applied to the love of parents and children, husband and wife, king and people, master and dog. It defines, as nothing else perhaps could, that affectionateness of nature which appears in the charming letters scattered throughout the two volumes of Mr. Brand, to his wife and children; above all, to the mother who bore him and brought him up. There never was a more devoted son, a more affectionate husband, a more loving father, a kinder friend, a more humane master. He loved his own and his own's own with a tender, compassionate and generous affection. Domestic life was to him the purest and best of earthly joys. Yet it never absorbed him or interfered with his vocation. His wedding day was full of work done in the service of his Master; it was so all his life through--home ties never held him captive when duty called. During his stay at Orange he had four calls elsewhere. He resigned at the last to become ''Editor and Superintendent of the Press" at the urgent solicitation of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York, backed up by Dr. Onderdonk (then Bishop-elect) and eight other prominent city clergy. It was a call he could not resist. His acceptance of it marks an era in the history of the American Church, only inferior to the great Tractarian movement in England. It was proposed to furnish, at a moderate cost, the "masterly productions" of the great writers of the Church of England. But the undertaking went beyond this. The fourth volume of the series was "The Apostolic Fathers." It was not the number of books published, however, but the impetus which was given to the reading of church literature which was of importance. Never before, or since, in America has there been such a demand for standard theological books. The first of October, 1831, Mr. Whittingham was elected Rector of S. Luke's Church, New York. He held the Rectorship until the 20th of May, 1834, when he was compelled to resign and seek rest abroad. Upon his return he was made Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the General Theological Seminary, where he found at last a sphere entirely congenial and worthy of his great abilities. He held the chair for four years, from 1836 to 1840. His election was the making of the Seminary. The enthusiasm created was unbounded. When out of the classroom he was to be found in the library, where the young men gathered around him daily. The influence then began for the Seminary has never ceased. His students were devoted to him.
To very many of the individual students he became a close, personal friend. He found out their troubles and relieved them, at least by sympathy. Often distresses in the Seminary are due to scanty, pecuniary means; he lessened such by giving of his own, and by obtaining relief from others. He watched over them in sickness; the sick student he removed to his house for better nursing there. Often he was the religious counsellor of men who would have hidden their doubts and their temptations from the mere professor. In April, 1886 (the librarian having resigned), Professor Whittingham was appointed to his old charge, and retained it so long as he remained in the Seminary. If he had no other claim, the Seminary would owe him a debt of gratitude for his many hours of unpaid labor bestowed on the library, for his care of it and zeal for it, which nothing but love could beget. Every volume was a personal acquaintance, and he was always on the watch to increase the number.
By letter and by personal application he was a constant beggar. So many were the old books found by catalogue--hunting and bought as he could--that he came under suspicion of violating the revenue laws.
It was at this time he was at the zenith of his influence. He was much sought after as a preacher. A story is told of the power of his eloquence which reminds me of the days of Chrysostom. New York, in 1835, was visited by a great fire. The Sunday after, Mr. Whittingham preached in Grace Church.
Immediately after the sermon a gentleman entered the vestry room, and asked of the preacher, 'Will you kindly lend me the sermon I have just heard.' The request was politely declined. When it was more urgently pressed, Mr. Whittingham said, 'My dear sir, I cannot lend this or any sermon, and for reasons that you, as a merchant, can readily understand; they are my stock.' 'But, Mr. Whittingham, you must now break your rule; I must have that sermon.' The tone and manner with which this was said were so impassioned that they forced the answer, 'I have told you that I never lend my sermons, and I will not; but this one I give you--here it is.' The gentleman clutched the manuscript and said, 'For this, I shall give you $20,000, to be expended by you in charities as you may choose.' The next day his check was received.
It is added by his biographer, as characteristic of the man, that it was never known to his wife and family, until the last year of his life, that he had received $20,000 for one manuscript.
It has seemed to many that it would have been better for himself and the Church at large, if a man capable of such a mighty influence in the Seminary, had never been called away to undertake the duties of the Episcopate. This is not our judgment. It is manifest that Divine Providence had been training the earnest and devoted teacher and preacher for another sphere. If the reader will read the history of the past, he will remember that, from first to last, the pastoral idea was never lost sight of. When a Deacon he was the pastor of the lambs of the flock. Elevated to the Priesthood, he was not allowed to become a mere book worm; he had the burden of the pastoral care laid upon him. In the Seminary he was not a Professor only; his storgh made him the student's counsellor and friend. With all his great gifts and powers, he was never a writer. The mechanical labor imposed by writing was intolerable to him; it quenched the fervor of his impassioned nature, and the fire ceased to burn. We repeat what was said before: his mission was that of a prophet. When his heart indited a good matter, he must speak with his tongue. He was, according to the Hebrew conception, a Nabi, irrepressible in his divine enthusiasm; his intellectual powers were at the mercy, so to speak, of his feelings. When on fire, he thought with astonishing rapidity--it was like a lightning flash; when the glow subsided, the mental powers were exhausted in the effort, and the argument went heavily, sometimes haltingly. A man with such a temperament was not intended to be a recluse. He never could become a mere book worm. When the call came from Maryland, he could not refuse it. He left the work he loved, in the Seminary, to undertake a work for some reasons distasteful to him. But no man ever wrestled with the difficulties of the situation more manfully than he did. Society as such had no charm for him. Notwithstanding, he became all things to all men. He writes to his wife under date of December 7th, 1840, when on a visitation of his Diocese:
Wherever I go, there are so many with me, so much information to receive, so many questions to ask and answer, that I can scarcely secure time to fill up and sign necessary official documents, and keep my journal. Then, again, I am everywhere quartered on private hospitality; and courtesy, to say the least, requires me to regulate it with great attention. To go to a man's house, eat his victuals, occupy his chambers, use his carriage and horses, and employ his servants, and repay him by sitting down to write, allowing him just the privilege of looking at the Bishop, would be scarcely the thing. So I have to sit in the parlor and chat, and hear and tell news, and put questions, and give advice and instructions to the accompanying clergy, and discuss and solve theological questions, until late bedtime, and then go to my room, tired enough to find even writing up my journal on the washstand or dressing-table (for this is just the second time that I have enjoyed the luxury of a writing-table) a labor.
"He made him self," his biographer says, "all things to all men."
The cultured he gratified from the abundance of his learning; with the plain farmer he talked crops and manures; as if he had been bred a farmer's boy; among artisans or artists he gained a good will by an interest in their concerns, and by showing that he could give as well as receive information on such matters. One to whom we are indebted for the relation of his quickness to discern the many varieties in an avenue of pine trees, and so to captivate the owner, tells how an honest, plain farmer, with whom the Bishop was to lodge or dine, and who had feared that he could not get along with such a scholar, was completely won by the bookman, who could so well appreciate the excellence of his pet chickens, and knew so much about the different breeds, and all the concerns of the poultry-yard.
To appreciate Bishop Whittingham's work in Maryland we must take into the account the condition in which he found the Diocese, and how he left it. He found ij rent and torn asunder by faction, and assumed its cares and duties after a three-years' vacancy. Churches were dilapidated; parsonages neglected; glebes alienated.
In all his earlier visitations, when he could take any extra baggage--sometimes he had to 'take up carriages' as S. Paul did--the Bishop took with him surplices to make sure that the clergy should be decently habited. Not un-frequently mention is made of the use of them for the first time in such a church; even the lending of a white cravat to an officiating clergyman is noted. In the country, usually, the black gown had been the only distinctive mark of an officiating clergyman.
Such was the condition in which Bishop Whittingham found Maryland. How did he leave it? One of the leading Dioceses in the land. Before the war Maryland ranked foremost in the councils of the Church. Her laymen were second to none for learning and for a knowledge of the law of the Church. Her schools were flourishing; everywhere there was activity, and the stirring of an earnest Church-life. It was brought about, not without conflict, and long continued struggle. Men will differ in their opinion of the importance of some of the questions at issue; it is very worthy of note, however, that in every case the Bishop and his opponents became fast friends after the strife was over, and learned to love and respect each other. It is worth while to read the history of these early controversies in the Diocese of Maryland, as a witness to the power of Christianity in enabling men to forget past differences and to love one another.
The war brought new elements into the conflict, and from that day the once prosperous Diocese has been undergoing a decline. Englishman as he was, in blood and sympathy, Bishop Whittingham never could make allowance for Southern claims. With his notions of loyalty and obedience, he never could be made to understand that the President of the United States, according to the Southern view of the question, has no claims to recognition except such as the State, in its sovereignty, chooses to acknowledge. In theory, we believe the Southern view to be right; in working and in practice, a moral impossibility. There is a logic of events, greater than all written constitutions and Federal compacts. In such a case, it was the bounden duty of the Church in Maryland to keep clear of all complications. Let it be said, however, that the wrong, if there was a wrong done, was not all on one side. The men who, on the other side, dragged the Church into politics, had not the excuse of a mistaken view of duty. When sound Churchmen forgot their principles, and made the Standing Committee and the Convention of the Diocese a party in the political strife, the day of retribution was not far off. It came, and it brought with it shame and confusion of face. Most of all, to the generous, noble-hearted Bishop, whose faults, since they were of the head and not of the heart, had a claim to consideration and regard, even more than most men's virtues. Oh, what sorrow to those "who loved and honored him to see that guileless spirit drawn in alliance with-the powers of the world. It is the one page in these volumes on which we could wish that the Recording Angel might drop a tear and blot it out forever. Through trial and suffering we all pass to the light of the life eternal. The work of building up the spiritual fabric was done, the victory seemingly won, when dark and threatening clouds began to appear upon the horizon. Some men are wounded in the house of their friends. It was the misfortune of the Bishop of Maryland to be wounded by the friends which from time to time he received into his house.
A son of a New England Congregational Minister, who looked forward to the same Ministry, having rejected the teaching of his childhood, found a home in the house of Bishop Whittingham and was intimate in his family during several years, while serving as a Maryland clergyman. Fearing the approach of consumption, he went South, and suddenly he announced that he was a Catholic. Another, a descendant of a family Puritan of the Puritans, but who had received all his theological education under the Bishop s roof, after an absence of some years also became a Papist. There were others who, in the course of years, followed in the same path; and notably the Rector of a Baltimore Church, of more learning than anyone of the others, a man who had shared the Bishop's confidence and looked to him as a trusted guide.
Why was it? Our biographer suggests the answer.
The Bishop, in his zeal against Popery, had no great tenderness towards those that err in that direction. An English dignitary said to a clergyman who had sought counsel, 'Any man in English Orders who is tempted to be a Papist is a fool. Bishop Whittingham could not have been so rude; yet he sometimes as effectually hindered his influence for possible good. More than one doubter in Maryland has confessed that with all reverence and trust he could not open his grief to his Father in God. He feared too much his vehemence.
It was this vehemence which made it difficult for him to understand those who, in order that they might not lose their influence for good, were disposed to be patient with doubters: who felt it their duty to develop, as far as possible, the Catholic element in the Church, both in doctrine and practice, in order to prevent men going to Rome. The Rev. A. A. Curtiss, in his defection to Rome, was succeeded in the Rectorship of Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, by one who had little care or regard for ceremonial observance as such. But he found himself in a position where success depended on presenting, to the fullest possible extent, the Catholic teaching of the Church. In this way only could he hope to prevent many of his flock following in the footsteps of a pastor they loved and reverenced. The question at issue was not a question of principle, but of expediency. Between Presbyter and Bishop there was at all times the closest friendship and the fullest accord. There was a difference, however, of point of view. The zealous pastor had a regard, first and foremost, for his flock and for the dangers which threatened them. The Bishop had a regard for the Diocese, and could not afford, under existing circumstances, to set at nought the opinion of persons hostile to himself. It was a relief to the situation when the Bishop and his family withdrew from the Parish Church. The relief was only temporary. Enemies were on the watch. Men jealous of success, and with no sympathy for a young rector fighting at great odds, made the offering of a prayer from the Visitation of the Sick, in the Office of the Burial of the Dead, an excuse for presentation. It was in vain to plead that the Burial Office is interpolated by Bishops, Priests and Deacons every day. What does the inquisitor care for even-handed justice? The thumb-screw and the rack are, in the eyes of the Calvinist, of more value than the scales in which equity holds in even balance the motives which govern the actions of men. The hotbed of theological controversy has bred many a hideous caricature of Christianity; but the grimmest and most repulsive of all is the ecclesiastical ghoul, who could seize upon the occasion of a funeral to collect material for a brother's indictment. It is in vain to plead with the disciples of the man who made it a penal offense to give the names of Catholic Saints to children, that the Church of the Ages builds no adamantine walls, tempered with logical mortar, between the living and the dead; it is in vain to plead that there is no people so utterly without religious affection as not to love and reverence their dead; no Chinaman so bereft of religious instinct as not to burn incense at the shrine of his ancestors; no South Sea Islander so degraded as not to retain some trace of piety in remembering, with religious veneration, his progenitors and benefactors; but what is the voice of Nature, or the promptings of instinct, or the claims of piety to the man, the fundamental tenet of whose creed it is, that the image of God is blotted out from the human soul, and man, as man, is utterly corrupt and sinful? You speak to the deaf when you point such an one to the fact that the object of Divine Revelation is not to forestall or destroy the religious instinct, but to preserve it from superstition, to enlighten and direct it. There are men who under the plea of conscience know no pity. They would mete out justice without mercy to all men. With such men Bishop Whittingham was at war all his life. Who more conscientious than he? Who more exact in every detail of duty? Who more just in all his dealings? Who was ever purer, more unspotted, more without taint or soil? If any had a right to be severe, he had the right. And he was at times severe. He could call down fire from heaven with any other man. But wrath in an instant turned to pity, when he saw the mischief he had done. He could hold a burglar in an iron grip, and in his rage tear his hat to shreds; but when the transgressor pleaded for forgiveness and pointed to his uncovered head, his own best hat was not too good for the rascal's crown. "Children of the Devil" he once thundered out in the ears of the students of S. James College, as he jumped out of his carriage to quell a college rebellion. The effect was electrical. Nor less delightful to the quick ear of undergraduates ever ready to catch a slip were the words that followed when wrath turned to pity, and the good Bishop said: "My children, my dear children, mean ye to break my heart?" It was of this prerogative of mercy the Standing Committee of his Diocese sought to rob him, when they endeavored to bring him to trial for not carrying into effect the Canons of the Diocese. It was the climax to the insults he had all along received from the men who from the day he entered the Diocese had sought "to turn his glory into shame." They would not let him pronounce "the declaration of absolution" for the penitent; they would not allow him to minister to the flock and feed his children with the bread of life. They would strip his office of all that made it most glorious in his days, and turn him into a mere confirming machine. When young and strong he could bear it, but at the end of his days, to be branded as a law breaker, to be stripped of the one prerogative which alone made his office glorious in his eyes, the prerogative of mercy, it all but broke his heart. Thank God that ever David lived to write the Psalter; without it how hopelessly perplexing some of the darker problems of life would be.
It is, I suppose, fortunate upon the whole that Ecclesiastical Courts, by their travesty of justice, make themselves contemptible in the eyes of men. The one thing which the ordinary clergyman seems incapable of learning is that private judgment and opinion is one thing, official character and legislative function another and a different thing. The cry, "something must be done" (Christianos ad leones) is enough. "Something must be done," no matter whether it be in accordance with law and equity. The end will justify the means. The Court called to try Bishop Whittingham in his own Diocese did not find him guilty of what his enemies charged against him; but they must "do something," and to deliver their own souls they passed judgment on persons who were not before them. It was a cowardly and unrighteous act. It was in vain the men falsely accused pleaded for a trial. The prophets' work alas! was done.
So far we have confined ourselves to the relation of the Bishop to his own iuimediate sphere, but there was work to do during the term of his Episcopate, beyond the Diocese. The troubles with which Bishop Whittingham had to contend during the last years of his Episcopate were, after all, but the feeble mutterings of a storm which had spent its fury long before, and which he had braved with all the powers of his heroic nature. It would be unprofitable, as well as idle, to unlock the closed gates of the past, and bring to light again the party struggles of bygone years. Let the dead bury their dead! He who will take the trouble to search the sad and painful record of these causes celebres cannot fail to be attracted by the utterances of one of the ablest and the most learned among the Bishops on the bench. They are masterpieces of logical argument. It is not the powerful argument, however, which impresses us so much as the manifest moral conviction, the deep earnestness, the utter truthfulness of the pleader. This man is no mere pleader, he is no trickster trying to make the worse appear the better cause. He is honest; he is sincere. While admitting the weakness, he does not believe in the guilt of the accused. Such testimony is worth a hundred witnesses. It was, as we believe, to hear this testimony that the Seminary was robbed of one it could so ill afford to lose.
Nor was this the only occasion when this man of irreproachable integrity and life was called upon to bear witness in behalf of others suffering from the rancor of party. The same brave spirit that resisted the attack made on the Bishop of New York, came to the front again when the Bishop of New Jersey was placed in peril. Again, it is not the powerful nature of the argument in the judgment rendered that forces conviction so much as the sincerity and perfect integrity of the man. It is the prophet we hear, not the pleader, bearing witness in behalf of justice and righteousness before man. But the righteousness which he sought to maintain was evangelical righteousness, not the righteousness of the law. It was a righteousness in which justice was always mingled with mercy.
I should regard myself (it is his last appeal in behalf of Bishop Onderdonk as prostituting my character as a member of this Council, if I listened for one moment to the suggestions of expediency where justice and mercy alone are to be regarded. A burdened minister of God's high justice, and a proportionably privileged administrant of the mercy that is his dearest attribute, I cannot crawl in the dust and lay my ear to listen for the howling of the wolves that howl around my Saviour's fold.
Nobler words were never spoken by mortal man! "The howling of the wolves without the fold" had no terror for him. Worldly expediency never influenced him. To discharge the duties of his high office, as "the burdened minister of God's high justice, and the proportionably privileged administrant of the mercy that is His dearest attribute"--this was the only thought that ever entered the pure shrine of his consecrated spirit. Men called him impracticable; so in their sense of the word he was. They grew weary at times of his "protests," and they attributed it to self-will. Not so! It was his nature, as we have urged all along, to act on the highest principle, and to bear witness at all times to the truth. It is not claimed for him that he took broad and liberal views of things, nor that he was at all times tolerant and patient in dealing with those who differed from him, nor that his judgment could always be relied upon when his feelings were greatly interested; what is claimed is, that he had a mission given to him as Elijah and John the Baptist had, and he discharged that mission to the glory of God and the good of his fellow men. There was much seeming waste in such life; much, in the way of witness-bearing and protest, seemingly thrown away; but this is our judgment, based upon an outside view of things. We cannot see how much the presence and attitude of such a man in the councils of the Church prevents in the way of expediency and temporizing. We cannot tell how or when the seed sown, and for the time being apparently lost, will in after years, when passion and prejudice have passed away, grow up and bear fruit. It is the moral heroism of the man which is of value, just as self-denial and simplicity of life are of value in an age of luxury and worldly success.
The relation of Bishop Whittingham to the unfortunate Mexican fiasco is a notable instance of the way his feelings would sometimes warp his judgment and lead him to act even contrary to his own conscientious convictions at times. He inherited an intense dislike of the Church of Rome. He looked upon the Roman Church very much as Hippolytus did. He had no sympathy with its worldly policy; his soul loathed its double dealing and its tampering with the truth. Its whole system was a thing utterly foreign to his nature, and his convictions of duty. He was always ready for a crusade against the Pope. It was easy, then, for those who were interested in Mexican affairs to draw him into a relation to matters which, as a Churchman, he could not sanction, and as a man of integrity and honor he could not defend. We find him writing to his brother Bishops after Bishop Lee's return from Mexico:
I find his report of the state of things in Mexico so little consonant with action under Article X. of the Constitution as, in my judgment, to throw the work quite into the missionary field. * * * I could not see how it could be possible for us to recognize a handful of our own converts and the attendants--however numerous--at their services in a foreign Church in the true meaning and intent of the Article of the Constitution under which only we could act."
This is just what sound Churchmen have felt upon the subject all along. How can a few Mexican adventurers or a rabble hired by political and ecclesiastical grievances be called in any proper sense of the word, a Church, and above all a National Church? They may be indeed a fit subject for missionary enterprise, but surely nothing more. It is manifestly right and proper that, if any considerable number of our own people go into Mexico, we should follow them up with the ministrations of the Church, since Rome treats them as excommunicate. But with no propriety can we call them a National Church. Again, Bishop Whittingham writes to Bishop Kerfoot, under date of September 21st, 1875:
I have been grievously disappointed at the evidence of the existence of any Mexican Church, properly speaking, or in the sense of Article X. of our Constitution, and amazed and shocked at the looseness and shallowness of the very little I have been able to obtain of evidence of doctrinal holdings and ecclesiastical doings by the conductors of the movement.
To the last he labored to have things set right; he accepted in good faith pledges given regarding the acceptance of the Mozarabic rite (somewhat modified), and left the work to others. The pledges given have never been fulfilled, for the reason that there are no responsible persons to carry them into effect. It is, from first to last, a painful business, and a warning to those who, under the plea of hatred of the Bishop of Rome, undertake to violate established principles of Church order, and play the part of busy-bodies in other men's matters. There was, too, a peculiar temptation to Bishop Whittingham in the Mexican business, in the opportunity it afforded for carrying out the long desired wish of his heart, to see the Mozarabic rite revived in the west, as a Catholic liturgy; and so establish a practical argument against Roman claims. The last few years of his life had been given almost wholly to liturgical study. He made great advancement, and had succeeded in getting together one of the best liturgical collections in the country. He was busily engaged, nearly up to the time of his death, in work upon the text, and, had his life been spared, would have made some valuable contributions to this department of theological science.
His liturgical notes and criticisms, it may be added, form but a very small part of the literary treasures which Bishop Whittingham has left behind him. It would be a fitting contribution to a memorial to his name, if some wealthy laymen, in acknowledgment of his great service to sound learning, and his superabounding labors in behalf of the Church in America, would ask that a literary executor be appointed, and place at his disposal the necessary means to prepare and publish these remains of a great scholar.
Our thanks are due to the Rev. W. F. Brand for the admirable and exhaustive memoir jnst given us. It is really a narrative of a very active and somewhat varied life. The story is told without any attempt at dramatic effect. The facts are left to speak for themselves, and just enough is added to place the events narrated in their proper light, so that the reader may form an intelligent opinion regarding them. The Biographer has kept before his mind that he is writing history, and has given, by the method adopted, a really valuable contribution to the history of the American Church.