A clergyman of Western New York, having been much impressed by the remarks of the Rev. Dr. WHITTINGHAM, made at the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York in October 1837, in relation to the important subject of a division of the diocese, recently took the liberty to request of that gentleman that he would furnish him with the substance of them. The following letter was received in reply to his request; and, upon reflection, the subject appeared so important and the facts and reasoning of the letter so valuable, not in reference to our own diocese only, but to the general policy of the church in the United States, that in the judgment of himself and friends whom he consulted, it seemed most suitable to publish it in a permanent form, and one calculated for wide distribution and future reference.
JUNE 1. 1838.
MY DEAR SIR,
Our friend Mr. -------- this morning showed me a paragraph of a letter from you, in which you intimated a wish that I would in some way make public the substance of the remarks on the subject of the division of our Diocese, which I made in our last Convention. Of what I then said, I have now no distinct recollection, except that as a reason for deliberation, and action on principle, not expediency, I urged the importance of the position of our Church, not only in the estimation of her own members, but in that of disinterested observers in foreign lands.
I fear, my dear sir, that our brethren are not sufficiently aware of this characteristic of the discussion. Too many seem to think the question of division a mere question of dollars and cents, and miles and hours. Given, a supposed inability to raise more than a certain amount of money, and the evident necessity of providing for at least a certain amount of travel in the discharge of Episcopal functions, what plan of adjustment is most feasible? seems to be the form in which our ecclesiastical problem presents itself to the minds of not a few in different parts of the Diocese.
Surely this is a low, unworthy view of the subject! It is an open attempt to unite the kingdoms of GOD and Mammon, and introduce the sway of the love of money into the Church which Christ bought with his own blood! Not that they who take this view have such intentions. I doubt not, they err unwittingly. But I can as little doubt, that they do err, in putting foremost, in the discussion of so grave a question as that before us, considerations of a merely worldly nature--considerations that tend to debase the minds they occupy, and degrade the cause in which they are brought forward.
The truth is, we are called to decide a question of principle, fraught with most important consequences.
Many seem to suppose fundamentals wholly unaffected by the determination whether the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York is to remain under the care of one bishop, or to be assigned to two or more.
If Episcopacy itself be not a fundamental, this is evidently true. But then our position as a distinct communion is unjustifiable, and our pretence to be pre-eminently, if not exclusively, primitive and apostolic in our constitution, an empty boast.
If Episcopacy is worth adhering to as a ground of distinction from other Christian denominations, it must be because we find it in the Scriptures, and derive it from the apostles. The possession of a pure, well warranted ministerial commission is one thing. The preservation of that commission, limited to a succession of a particular kind, inseparably connected with a certain division and subordination in the discharge of ministerial duty, is another. We might resolve that for the time to come, our ministers should be all bishops, admitted at once to the highest grade of the ministry. This would not affect the validity of our ministerial commission, nor the certainty of our succession to the apostles, It would throw open the doors to many brethren bearing the Christian name, and break down many a landmark by which we are bounded off into a comparatively narrow compass. Why not do it, then? Because our Episcopacy would then no longer be the Episcopacy of Scripture or the apostolic Church. We should have the ministry, but with an altered character. The commission would be still ours, but we should have changed the functions. The Church would be no longer ruled and fed as she was when men taught by the Holy Ghost, provided for her wants. We should have departed from their practice, and substituted an invention of our own for the system which the guidance of the Spirit led them to adopt. It is on this ground we make the three orders of the ministry a fundamental of our polity. We might give up two, and yet keep intact our inestimable possession, of a ministry sent by Christ as He was sent by the Father, with power and obligation to perpetuate itself, even to the end of the world. But we hold fast to all three, even under the necessity of separation from many of our brethren, because we honestly believe that in so doing we follow the mind of Christ our Lord, and keep his most precious gift as it was given, and apply it to the ends for which it was designed, in the mode designed. We consider the twelve master-builders who laid on the everlasting Rock the foundations of our goodly edifice, the best judges of its plan; and adhere to that plan, as left by them, because they left it, at all hazards, without fear of consequences.
Now this principle obviously applies just in proportion as our Episcopacy resembles that of the Apostles, in deed and truth, not name only. The Church of Rome has elevated certain deacons and priests to a position of higher prerogative and more extensive jurisdiction than that of any primitive bishops, and has placed at their head a bishop claiming to be GOD'S sole vicegerent in the whole earth. Here are the three orders, and a bishop of apostolic succession, and therefore valid commission. But is this apostolic Episcopacy? is it scriptural? Is it even sufferable in a Church governed and fed on the principles of the gospel? No Protestant can admit an affirmative answer. A valid Episcopacy, a ministry of three orders, has lost its claim to respect by its departure from the apostolic pattern. It is corrupted, and become abominable, while it is nevertheless an Episcopacy, and an Episcopacy with the three-ordered ministry.
It is not enough, then, that we have an Episcopacy in the three orders, unless our Episcopacy be the same as that of the Apostles. The same principle on which we are Episcopalians, requires us to be apostolic Episcopalians.
Now the question comes up, may not Episcopacy be materially, if not essentially affected, by the limits assigned to each bishop for the discharge of his peculiar functions?
The answer to this question depends on the notion entertained of the functions of a bishop. Were he a merely instrumental officer, kept by the Church to do, certain official acts, which must be done by some one, and for substantial reasons may be done by him only, the limits assigned to a bishop might be determined by his physical ability to go through the correspondent routine of duty, and within the range of that ability it would not be material whether he ordained, confirmed, and consecrated churches, for ten parishes or ten thousand. But, however this may accord with the loose notions of some who perhaps have given little thought to the subject, it is not the view of a bishop's office and ministry taken by our church. We hold to no opus operatum in Episcopal services, no racing against time and space, ordaining by the score, confirming by the hundred, and doing a visitation by the mile square. The solemn office for "the consecration of Bishops," in our ordinal, tells a very different story. There a bishop is commended to Almighty GOD as one set in the church "to spread abroad the Gospel, the glad tidings of reconciliation"--"to use authority given him, not to destruction, but to salvation"--"to give to the family of GOD their portion in due season." He is exhorted, in language of which it is hard to say whether it is more energetic or comprehensive, to "be to the flock of Christ a shepherd; to feed them; to hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcast, seek the lost; to be so merciful, as not too remiss; so to minister discipline as not to forget mercy;" and to qualify himself for this arduous task, to "give heed unto reading, exhortation, and doctrine; to think upon the things contained in the book of God; to be diligent in them, that the increase coming thereby may be manifest unto all men." He is made to vow, in the presence of GOD'S people, that he will "instruct the people committed to his charge;" that he will "teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and withstand and convince the gainsayers;" that he will "banish and drive away from the church all strange doctrine, contrary to GOD'S word; and both privately and openly encourage and call upon others to do the same;" and that he will "maintain and set forward quietness, love and peace among all men; and diligently exercise such discipline as by the authority of GOD'S word, and by the order of this Church, is committed to him." These are onerous engagements and responsibilities. They are not to be discharged as I have somewhere seen it proposed to have the duties of a West Indian plantation chaplain performed, by a cast-iron parson, warranted to wear long and run well. They call for the highest energies our nature can exert, and for their unceasing application, and under bonds the strongest that can be laid on man. The duties of a bishop, as our ordinal exhibits them, are not merely functional; they are literally the "care of the churches," under which the greatest of the apostles groaned.
Is such a care not essentially affected by the extent of limits in which it is to be, exercised? Will it, can it, be discharged alike effectively by the same man placed over a hundred congregations, or over ten? Are there not limits beyond which it cannot be at alt discharged? And from the nature of the case, must not those limits be far within the range of physical ability to go through the routine of functional duty?
Thank GOD, our ordinal has established the spiritual character of the Episcopal office, rather than the ecclesiastical. Whatever anomalies may exist or arise in practice, tending to reduce a bishop in our Church to a mere official, the voice of the Church herself condemns them. She teaches that his charge, as a bishop, is eminently a cure of souls; that as a bishop, he is set over the whole flock, to watch over their souls, as one who must give account; that as a bishop, he is not merely to furnish pastors, and see that the flock is fed, but himself to feed them, giving each his portion of meat in due season.
Yet this character may be destroyed, by the enlargement of his diocese. It is the tendency of such enlargement to destroy it. Beyond a given limit, every addition to the number of parishes, every enlargement of the extent of territory, assigned to a bishop, must tend to falsify the description of his office in the ordinal, and to nullify the vows he took on admission to that office.
This lesson is taught by the whole history of the Church, if I read it right, that just in proportion as the boundaries of dioceses were enlarged, in just the same proportion the discipline of the Church grew lax, her children ignorant, her clergy worldly, her bishops proud, dissentious and ambitious; the pastors became lords, princes rose up among the lords, and a tyrant set himself over all, ruling with a rod of iron the starveling fleck which went unfed.
I can hardly think the fact will be questioned, that the boundaries have been enlarged. There are few now, corresponding in extent or number of souls with those of the first ages of the Church. Here and there one, like the bishopric of Sodor and Man, in England, remains to prove by its blessed pre-eminence in Christian peacefulness, godliness, and spiritual thrift, the excellence of the system of apostolical Episcopacy, in its purity. The names of a Barrow, a Wilson, a Heldesley, and a Ward, burning and shining lights conspicuous in the galaxy of worthies that adorns our mother church, show what kind of bishops have thought their labors well bestowed and fully engrossed in a diocese of thirteen parishes, and a hundred and sixty square miles. The spirit of innovation, and the process of mischievous lay-tampering in church affairs, recently led to an attempt to abolish this diocese, by annexation to a neighboring see. The Church of England rose in arms against it, as one man. From every quarter, the voice of indignant remonstrance against the destruction of its best diocese was heard. The ministry were forced to recede, and one of my latest English periodicals informs me that Sodor and Man is still to remain a monument of primitive apostolic Episcopacy; a specimen of what the Church might be, had she wisdom enough and grace enough to make the sacrifices necessary for a return to the old paths, in which the fathers trod.
Such a return her reformers would have been glad to make, had it been in their power, and they did do something towards it. Six new dioceses were actually erected in England, under the auspices of Cranmer, and a temporary provision for the wants of the Church at the same time made, by the appointment of six-and-twenty suffragan bishops. The venerable martyr, it is well known, regarded this as only the beginning of well-doing: but the love of money interfered and crushed his plans in the bud. The funds with which Cranmer would have had new bishoprics endowed, became the spoil of rapacious courtiers; the inconvenience attending the system of suffragan Episcopacy were soon felt; and while the temporary provision was silently abandoned, worldly men and worldly views effectually shut out all hope of extensive permanent improvement.
And yet the dioceses which the reformers were thus anxious to have reduced, were in extent of surface about one twenty-fifth of the size of the diocese of New York. England proper contains 50,260 square miles, and is divided into twenty-seven bishoprics. New York containing about 45,800 square miles is left under one.
But the dioceses of England are no fair representatives of the primitive apostolic Episcopacy. The present ecclesiastical distribution of that country is of irregular growth, subsequent to the Anglo-Saxon invasion. It has been settled by circumstance, not on principle, and under the baneful influences predominant more or less throughout the whole west, since the sixth century, the date of Austin's mission. We know very little of the original British church. Yet the providence of GOD has preserved to us enough of information to assure us that its bishoprics were on a scale very different from that of their Saxon substitutes. Seven, at least, are recorded to have existed in the principality of Wales, comprising a surface of 8,125 square miles of mountainous country, never capable of sustaining a dense population.
Even these, however, were neither primitive in origin, nor wholly conformable to the primitive model. The growth of Christianity in Britain was slow. We know that it had obtained no permanent settlement until toward the close of the second century; and we can then connect it with operations which materially altered the character of Episcopacy in the West of Europe. A band of zealous missionaries were then spreading the gospel in every direction from the valley of the Rhone, whither they had brought it from Asia Minor. They itinerated in large districts, and like our present missionary bishops, took charge of regions which they never dreamed of retaining as undivided bishoprics. In some cases, nevertheless, this was the result; and in the majority, the subdivision was slow, irregular, and never brought down to the primitive standard of diocesan jurisdiction. Still that standard was not wholly disregarded; and an inspection of the ecclesiastical map of France curiously illustrates the gradual change of diocesan Episcopacy. The 110 dioceses into which France proper is divided are of exceedingly unequal extent, comprising from 16 parishes to 1388, and covering from 8 square miles to 2500. Yet their inequality is not without discernible laws. There are three clusters of small dioceses, almost uniform in size, (at least all below a certain standard) from which as the rest recede in distance, they visibly increase in size. Ask history for the explanation of this arrangement, and she will tell you that these are the three spots first christianized in France, and that the lapse of centuries intervened before their genial influence had communicated itself to the more remote and larger bishoprics. Nismes in Languedoc, Lyons and Vienne in the Lyonois, and Aries and Aix and Marseilles in Provence, are the earliest domains of the gospel in Gaul, and round them cluster the small dioceses. The provinces of Aix and Aries, for example, including the exempt dioceses of Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon and Vaison, cover an area of about 5760 square miles. In this there are 15 dioceses, leaving to each 384 square miles; and ten of those dioceses average only 38 parishes each. The average of parishes throughout all France proper is indeed only 285 to a diocese; but as there have been great changes in the number and limits of the bishoprics in the Gallican Church? I do not insist on the general average. The particular district just instanced is as near as may be on the original footing. It is known that since the fifth century, its ecclesiastical division has remained nearly or quite unaltered.
On this scale, the diocese of New York would, by superficial measurement, divide into 119 bishoprics; by number of parishes it would constitute rather more than 8.
Does this seem startling? We have not yet got back to the apostolic Churches, nor ascertained the standard of their Episcopacy. The earliest of the Gallic dioceses can be traced up only to the end of the second century. Let us go where Apostles planted the Church and fixed the character of its ministry and the bounds of its Episcopacy,
Italy is the only part of the West certainly known to have been thus favored. Italy is distinguished from all the rest of the Western Church by the smallness of its dioceses. The kingdom of Naples, containing about 30,000 square miles, has 154; leaving to each an area of something less than 195 miles. Let no suspicion of Popery touch this settlement. It can be proved that the policy of the Church of Rome has been to diminish the number of bishoprics, and that it has actually gone on for ages consolidating dioceses within the papal territories, while without they have been reluctantly increased as a measure of reformation, at the urgent instance of the secular powers. Rome, too, loves money, and would have Episcopal work done quick and cheap.
But the very suspicion of Popery is easily avoided. Go back to the sixth century. Count and measure the Italian dioceses before the era of the beast. The data are full and accurate; and from these Bingham establishes the fact that within 50 miles square around Rome, (2500 square miles,) there were 20 dioceses, Rome itself included: leaving to each district a surface of 125 square miles. The 18 dioceses of the province of Umbria were even less; averaging 100 miles to each. All these have been consolidated by the Pope, by threes and fours, and proportionately reduced in number.
Here, then, we have a standard, by which the State of New York is divisible into from 370 to 450 dioceses, and that standard furnished by the only part of Europe which was unquestionably converted and settled on a Christian basis by an apostolic ministry.
No doubt this district was then one of the most populous in the world: but no disproportion in population would account for such a difference in superficial extent. It would require the whole population of the globe to be brought into the State of New York, to make an adjustment on that ground. Besides, we are to remember that as Rome was not built, so neither was it Christianized, in a day; and it must have been long, very long, before the infant Church bore the same proportion to its population that our Church bears to the population of the State, and no inconsiderable while before it even bore the same proportion to superficial extent of country that we Episcopalians now bear to our young territory.
But if the neighborhood of Rome had alone presented this standard of Episcopal jurisdiction, we might suspect it, however early, of Popery by anticipation; or set it aside as an anomalous state of things, growing out of the unique position of the environs of the capital of the world.
It is not so, however. Turn where we will, as soon as we come upon the footsteps of an Apostle, we discover the same state of things. If there be a feature of external discipline in the Church, surely stamped with the character of apostolical, it is this.
I will trouble you with only one instance, but it shall be of the most unexceptionable kind, linking itself inseparably with one of the plain testimonies of scripture to Episcopacy.
There is no part of the Church of which the condition at an early date is better ascertained than that in the district of Asia Minor, known as Proconsular Asia. There is none in which apostolic presence and influence is more clearly ascertained. There is none which, like that, can bring the direct divine sanction for its constitution. There were the seven churches to which the Lord himself sent special messages by the mouth of John. The churches of which one was ruled by the beloved disciple until long after the probable departure of his fellow apostles, and another, down to the very middle of the second century by his pupil Polycarp; the churches which Ignatius visited, and to which he wrote.
Now these seven churches, together with Magnesia and Tralles, to which also, as independent dioceses, epistles are addressed by the martyr of Antioch, all lay within a portion of Asia Proconsular and Lydia, one hundred and five miles square. Nine dioceses in an area of eleven thousand and twenty-five square miles is an arrangement not in perfect agreement with the premature but as yet incomplete legislation of our General Convention, assigning a minimum of eight thousand. It would place thirty-seven dioceses, instead of one, in the state of New York.
But is this all? Does Asia Minor give a standard of apostolic episcopacy so wide of that found in Italy? Far from it. There were, indeed, nine dioceses, known to have been such in the first century of the Christian era, within that area; but there were, also, within the same area, twenty-three others, known to have existed by the records of the church; in all, THIRTY-TWO. This gives an average of three hundred and forty-five square miles, or ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO dioceses within the area of the state of New York. The country thus divided, was in part mountainous, and by no means thickly peopled, over its whole surface, although it included several large cities, and many very fertile and populous districts. It is by no means certain that we know all the dioceses it once contained; and this, with the difference in population, may account for the difference of the standard here found, and that in Italy.
Here the case may rest. When I find a spot on the earth more likely than those now produced to have been laid out into episcopal districts by men guided by the Holy Ghost, and find its standard of episcopal jurisdiction widely differing from that fixed by John, in Asia, and in Italy by Paul and Peter, it may become necessary to reconsider the question. Until then I shall remain, as now, convinced that apostolic episcopacy was not on the pattern which untoward influences from without, and heedlessness, and other worse faults within, have set up in the Western church, and seem but too likely to perpetuate in our own offshoot.
It is true, there have been efforts made to support the system of large dioceses. It would be strange if there had not. Much of the assault upon diocesan episcopacy has been directed against this feature of the institution as it existed where best known to the assailers. The temptation to show skill in the defence of a strong cause by maintaining its weakest points has led such advocates as Maurice, for example, to violate, as I believe, historic truth, in order to support the Episcopacy of their own church, instead of assuming the high and safe ground of adhering to the institution simply in its primitive apostolic form. Hooker---the judicious Hooker, is more wise. He waives the question of comparison, leaving others to inquire into the limits of the "restraint," with which he proves that the apostles committed the office of bishops to their successors.
That there was any precise, unvarying measure for those limits--so many square miles, or so many parishes, or so many thousand souls---I am far from affirming. On the contrary, we have proof that even at first the dioceses differed in size and importance, as much as parishes do now. Great as was the difference between the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Eugubium in Jerome's time, there may have been hardly less inequality between the charge of the bishop of Jerusalem or the bishop of Antioch and that of the bishop of some town in Asia Minor or in Italy, in the time of the apostles. Many presbyters and many thousand souls there must have been under each of the former from the very earliest period; and I see no reason to doubt that it was the design of the inspired founder-that the churches in those cities, under any imaginable increase should still remain entrusted each to a single bishop.
No doubt, too, the altered condition of society would warrant a departure from the precise pattern of a primitive diocese. Increased facilities of travel and intercourse; by letter and through the press, have altered the relations of distance. Steamboats and rail-roads, daily mails and newspapers, enable a bishop to exercise the same kind of superintendence over a larger surface and a greater number now than in the first century. Let this be taken into due ac count, and it will appear that the subdivision of New York need not be by hundreds to reduce it to the primitive standard.
Nevertheless, there will remain ascertainable limits, and those limits will be very far within our present practice. All the facilities of travel and intercourse that exist or may hereafter be created cannot enable one man profitably to exercise the spiritual care and oversight which, according to the scriptures and our ordinal, devolve upon a bishop, beyond a certain extent. Men have not changed if roads have. Their spiritual wants are the same now, as in the days of the apostles. The extension of education, if, on the one? hand, it affords advantages to the teacher of religion, on the other, increases the requisitions of ability, zeal and faithfulness in even larger proportion. Advance in refinement is more than counterbalanced by loss of simplicity and docility. Gainsayers and scoffers, reared in the very bosom of the church, are more dangerous, if not more numerous than those of the times of Paganism. Worldliness and formality in religion, insincere and insufficient profession, make the pastoral office more difficult than when the fiery love of persecution hemmed in the little band of believers, and kept faith, hope and love in continual exercise. Souls cost as much, even now, as in any previous age. The same wisdom, zeal, and labor must be laid out to win them, though in a different way.
If this be true, a bishop, however rapidly he may be enabled to travel, however extensively to correspond, must have limits to his usefulness, fixed by the nature of his office. I have appealed to the practice of the early church for its construction of the moral and religious question--What those limits are? The answer has been clear. When all reasonable allowance for altered circumstances of society is made, still the spiritual oversight of a bishop on the apostolic plan, must have been far less than would be assigned to one having even the eighth part of our church in this state.
It is idle, worse than idle, to contend that the office is not changed by such an enlargement of its duties. In name arid style it is not; but we most justly disclaim attention to the name and style when engaged in the proof of the scriptural character of Episcopacy. It is the thing we profess to love and preserve. The thing is different in a diocese of 300 parishes and in one of thirty. The bishop of the former is the overseer of the clergy, not of the church. His intercourse with the flock is indirect, occasional, irregular. As to time, indeed, his periodical visits may be regularly made, at stated intervals; but what are they, when made? Opportunities for the discharge of such duties as the ordinal implies? Seasons of renewal and refreshing to the pastor and flock, collectively and individually, from the stores of their spiritual father? Occasions of examination into old or new abuses, neglects or oversights, in the affairs of the congregation or the conduct of the people? Eras of the commencement or resuscitation of plans, originating in consultations with the bishop, or at his suggestion? This is impossible. Were the bishop all his time in motion, he could barely give each parish one day in the year: and what is a day, a single day, for the accomplishment of these objects?
The bishop, then, of such a diocese as ours, is constrained to confine himself, in a great measure, to the mere routine of functional duty. Ordinations, confirmations, consecrations, and such other public services as can be huddled into immediate connexion with these, consume a proportion of time, and demand a degree of physical and intellectual energy which few beside our present beloved diocesan would be found able and willing to afford. Even he can now barely accomplish his triennial visitation, and meet the extraordinary demands for occasional service. One less active and robust must of necessity form some plan of concentration, to bring together engagements now multiplied and scattered. The result would be the English system of visitations, in which the clergy are convened at designated points, there receive the bishop's charge, fill up their answers to his printed queries, and disperse to their distant flocks. If this is not saying to the "destitute of daily food, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," I am at a loss to know how the apostle's rebuke is to be incurred. It must be the result of our present system, if carried out. Are we prepared for it?
I will not follow out the system to its full development in a ma sure hierarchy, with ail its gradations of spiritual power and office, as I have already trespassed unpardonably on your patience, It may suffice to remind you that the creation of archdeacons, and subdivision of dioceses into archdeaconries, was an invention of the Western Church, subsequent to what Bingham calls "the middle age conversions," and growing out of the enormous limits of the new dioceses then formed among the Gothic nations.
I own I look with extreme anxiety upon the discussion of the question now before us. The crisis has arrived, when we must decide between the primitive simplicity of the church in the very first ages, and the hierarchical character which her ministry assumed after its contaminating alliance with the civil government. Hitherto the providence of God has not imperatively called us to the choice. There were obvious reasons why existing civil boundaries should be assigned our dioceses in their first establishment. The unparalleled development of our church, which has gained even on the rapidly growing population of our new country, has wholly changed its position. Where feebleness of numbers counterbalanced extent of territory, the members have doubled, quadrupled, decupled, while the surface covered has been greatly enlarged. And this change is still going on. Every ten years doubles our clergy and our parishes in this State. While we are debating, our situation is changing. Silence itself is a decision, and if we do nothing, we settle a question fraught, it may be, yes, it must be, with spiritual advantage or injury to millions of our descendants, and directly or indirectly to the whole church of God on earth. It is of no use to temporize. We cannot, in the slang phrase, "let well enough alone." If the present measure of the diocese is well enough, will it be so next year, with one tenth more parishes? If that increase is endurable, will the addition of another tenth in the year following still continue so? But suppose, because we must divide, sooner or later, we conclude to do it now, shall it be done on what a good brother of ours calls the centripetal principle,--as little as may be, that is, into two, and only two. But on this plan, division of dioceses is to be a periodical business in our country, at least for a longtime to come, and all the difficulties and dangers of the work to be gone through almost as often as a presidential election. Ten years hence, each half of the diocese will have as many parishes as the whole has now. They will again be too many: or if their greater concentration should prevent the evil being felt as soon, perhaps fifteen years might be suffered to elapse, when 360 parishes, even if spread over no more than 24,000 square miles, would be found to require dividing.
Thus should we be kept constantly in an uneasy, unsettled state, with a wide door open to all the evil passions that can destroy the spiritual prosperity of a religious body, and for the sake of what ? Certainly, of no principle! Certainly, not on the score of scriptural precept, apostolical example, or primitive precedent? No: but for the maintenance of an imperfect, anomalous form of Episcopacy, forced on us hitherto by uncontrollable circumstances, and now advocated on grounds of expediency and worldly policy.
I have heard, with shame and sorrow, whispers about making bishops too cheap; destroying the respectability and dignity of the Episcopal office; letting loose a mob of bishops upon the church; and cutting down dioceses till they can not support men of talents, nor command their services. Are these considerations to bring into the legislation of the church of the living GOD? to weigh with men claiming a commission to serve Jesus of Nazareth, derived through the fishermen of Galilee, and the tent-maker of Tarsus? What is the respectability and dignity of the Episcopal office, if not its divine origin and end; and how will these be affected by the multiplication of bishops? Are they not all sent of God? all to save souls? all to preach the word, which is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword? It is a calumny on our communion, to presume that men fit for the Episcopate will stand out for high wages, when called to the service of the church. It is a misconception of the nature of that service to suppose that talent and learning alone are requisite, or that any amount of these will be as fit a preparation for the Episcopacy, as an humble, meek, laborious zeal. It is unfaithfulness to GOD our Savior, to put worldly estimation, the opinions of the multitude, the changeful breath of popular favor, in counterpoise to a clear knowledge, or even a strong presumption of his will. As such presumption, the Church Catholic teaches men to regard the practice of his first followers. Oh that we might unite in a determination to follow out that practice, in singleness of heart, looking to God for the results! Truly yours,
W. R. WHITTINGHAM.
Seminary, May 10, 1838.