Project Canterbury

A Letter to the Right Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick,
"Bishop of Arath, and Coadjutor of the Bishop of Philadelphia."

Bishop of Maryland.

New-York: Swords, Stanford & Co., 152 Broadway.



WHEN a person, dignified with the office and titles which decorate the title page of your Letter to the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, publicly addresses a number of others who at least by the courtesy of the community are held to be his equals, it is to be presumed that he has well considered that which he puts forth, and writes in soberness, good faith, and kindness.

On that presumption I have determined to offer a few remarks on the contents of your Letter, a copy of which "with the author’s respects," came to my hands a few days since.

You appear to suppose that the "Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States," are deeply interested in a "controversy beyond the Atlantic," which, you are pleased to say, "has taken a retrograde march;" and that the present state of that controversy affords "a crisis" "opportune for soliciting" our "co-operation" in certain measures which you, very naturally, have much at heart.

As observers of the times, watchmen set on the tower to note all that befals the Lord’s vineyard for its injury or advantage, we cannot be uninterested in any controversy that bears on "points of ancient faith and discipline," "popular errors and prejudice," and "principles" that in any respectable quarter are regarded as preliminaries to peace between the Church and that schismatic body, in England and this country, which professes obedience to the Roman Pontiff. There may be reason to fear harm from an incautious statement and defence of incontrovertible truths. There may be ground for hoping advantageous results from the concentration of attention on points too much neglected and too little understood. Ignorance of misrepresentation may turn controversial statements or arguments, to uses for which they were never designed; and the rash heat of combatants may carry discussion beyond the limits not only of discretion, but of safety. It would be neglect of duty, therefore, not to watch with interest the progress of any controversy in any quarter, involving the points of difference between us and you, however remotely. I can assure you there are those among us who look with no small interest upon the vicissitudes by which the churches of the Roman obedience in France, Spain, Germany and Russia, have been shaken almost to their foundations within the present century, and anxiously ask how the changes there going on so rapidly, are to affect the restoration of true Catholicity, and the downfall of that tyranny which has so miserably defaced and so long crippled the Western Church.

But, sir, if you suppose hat the "Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States," as Bishops, are directly interested in the controversy to which you appear to have paid so much attention,—if you think that our spiritual authority, or the purity and independence of our flocks are in danger, you mistake. You are misled by the error of some, who, standing in an opposite extreme, see your unhappy position in a line with ours, and fancy that the objects which their point of view brings into coincidence, are identical in fact. Because certain members of English Universities have seen, or fancied, that the Church in that country was in danger of losing its proud distinction of primitive catholicity, and have sounded no ambiguous note of warning, others, driven by fear of your sad estate into an unwise panic at any recognition of the truth and beauties still discoverable under the soiled garment of the captive Churches of Romish Europe, have clamored about Popery and Protestant apostacy. You are too well-informed to be deceived by this ignorant clamor. You know that the "very rock on which," in your estimation, "the whole edifice of Christianity rests," is undermined and broken, at least in their and our judgment, by those same Oxford theologians. You know that it is not a mode of explaining away the decrees of the Council of Trent or the Articles of the Church of England, a theory about inherent righteousness, or a tenderness for the weakness of infirm brethren in adoring saints and images and praying for the dead, that will bring about a union between us and you. You see the great gulf which neither can you pass, nor have the Oxford writers shown any inclination to bridge across, "the promise [you mean, I suppose, the oath,] of true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter, with power over all the Church, as the Vicar of Jesus Christ." Timidly and afar off, you call to us from beyond that gulf, to come over and enjoy the sweets of union cemented by the control of despotic power: but you know well that until we do, there can be no compromise, no coalition—that the wildest and boldest speculations of individual theologians, on our part or yours, bring no nearer the Church and the Trentine schism. Were such controversies as that now going on between the Oxfordists and their antagonists a test of readiness to coalesce, what should we think of the state of your German Churches? Speculations on every part of the Trentine system have been put forth by Romanists in Germany, bolder and more foreign from the accredited expositions of that system, than any views of the Articles and Homilies which the famous "No. 90" may or may not contain, can be from our common standards. You know little, Sir, of our liberty, if you think we are bound down by any narrower rule than the old Catholic Creeds and the Four great Councils, or by those, except in so far as they may be proved, as we believe they can in all respects, by Holy Scripture. If a fellow of Oriel College finds in the Homilies "the inspiration of the apocrypha," (your italics seem to mark they you set an especial value on that discovery,) as he thinks and professes that the Book of Common Prayer was the fruit of inspiration, he is welcome to his ‘trouvaille,’ and you to whatever advantage you can derive from it, remembering that the Book which he associates in the same secondary inspiration contained, when "put forth by the assistance of the Holy Ghost," the petition, "from the Bishop of Rome, and his detestable enormities, Good Lord, deliver us." We see no cause to tremble lest he run madly into the chains of transalpine despotism; still less, for any danger to ourselves from his defection.

But what encourages you to put on the Oxford movement the construction of a return toward Rome, is that the Rev. Mr. Newman and other "leading spirits of the age, have observed many indications of a general desire to return to something that is" (not, as you say, "only to be found in the Church of Rome;" but as your margin reads, very differently, in Mr. Newman’s own words,) "of late years practically in possession" of but "one religious communion among us, the Church of Rome, she alone, amid all the errors and evils of her practical system" having "given free scope to the feelings of awe, mystery, tenderness, reverence, devotedness, and other feelings which may be especially called Catholic." Suppose Mr. Newman right in his estimate. In the first place, you observe, he does not even intimate that the same feelings may not, and do not, exist, less practically developed, with a less free scope, in his mother Church, or even in the Protestant sects. Those who are familiar with the writings of Mr. Newman and his friends, well know how far they are from thus calumniating England and its branch of the Church Catholic.

But is it come to this? Are you so misled by the self-appropriated title of "Catholic" as to fancy that the "feelings," of which Mr. Newman speaks, even were they at present existent only in your communion, form any portion of its peculium? are bound up, by any indissoluble bond, with "the profession of faith, published by he authority of Pius IV., and the decrees of the Council of Trent,"—because they are described as "especially Catholic?" Sir, I will not, I cannot believe it. You know well that those feelings and their cultivation are associable with any form of religious belief deserving of the name. You may not know—your position is unfavorable to the acquisition of the knowledge—that they are associated with the faith of your communion only in so far as that faith embodies old Catholic verities, and that all in your system of belief and practice that is peculiarly Roman tends to diminish, degrade or deaden them. It is at once your misfortune and your advantage—your personal misfortune, and your corporate advantage—to combine Catholic truth with Roman error in one Mezerean compound. All the evidence—abundant and irrefragable—that supports the former, you have been taught to regard as pledged to the service of the latter. All the sympathy of every noble and holy tendency of our nature for the precious things that of old formed the treasures of the city of God, you cherish, for them indeed, but in what you think an undistinguishable conglomeration with the rubbish and filth of man’s inventions. Does any one advance a Catholic principle? or advocate a Catholic feeling or practice? You cry out, at once, no doubt in honest persuasion that such is the case, but with a narrowness of conception and observation almost laughable, that he is maintaining your cause, espousing your interests, joining, or, at least, preparing to join your ranks. Alas, Sir, might not we join with you, were such reasoning just, in claiming for the Church, multitudes which despise her beauties and her treasures, because they put forth doctrines which she teaches, or practice rites which she first taught them? No sect, however despicable, ever grew up without some fragment of Divine truth for nucleus. Is the possession of such fragment an evidence of its catholicity? It is the error which it has worked up around that solitary fragment that makes the sect. Suppose, then, it held the whole truth, but worked into it and on it the same amount of error, would it be the less a sect? Such is your position. With all or almost all the ‘depositum’ once committed to the keeping of the Church in your possession, your forefathers have daubed around a mass of untempered mortar to which you pertinaciously cling. Must we be thought to approve your doings, when we praise that inner treasure which lies concealed by the unsightly mass? It were a pitiful limitation of Christian charity, to restrict it from bestowing just commendation on Catholic principles and feelings even among the heathen, might they by any possibility there be found: but in Christian churches, as those of your obedience confessedly are, wherever they do not, as in England and this country, schismatically set up altar against altar, what should hinder us from pointing out with pride and pleasure every indication of those fruits which the Spirit worketh, however lamentably mixed up with superstition or false doctrine? Must we become partners in your prying, sensuous curiosity about the mode of Christ’s real presence in the Holy Eucharist, because we praise you for your reverent belief in that adorable mystery? Must we beheld responsible for your misprision of idolatry in holding up the element of the blessed sacrament for worship, because we commend your adherence to the catholic doctrine that the consecrated bread is more than a bare sign? Must we be claimed as advocates for monkery with all its abominations, or for Jesuitism, with its unspeakable iniquities, because we laud the "catholic feelings" of self-renunciation, mortification, subjection of the individual will, and devotion to the love and work of Christ, that furnished the spark of life with which those monsters stalked abroad to conquest?

We can have no objection, indeed, that you should find comfort in such vain imaginations: but when you see fit to communicate the consolation they afford you, to the world, through the medium of the press, it is time you should be undeceived.

Would that none others were injured by the deception! But it is the worst feature of your schism, that its possession of the great body of catholic truth enables it to palm off on the unsuspecting its own innovations, by that name. Many of your own members are more catholics than Romanists—more attached to the substructure of old truth, than to the motley fabric of modern growth: but they know not the difference, still less the fact that the Church, in full possession of what they value, without the burthen of what they feel to be a burthen, is in vigorous life at their very doors. Such it is my happiness to have known; Christian with whom I pray that I may be found worthy to lie in Abraham’s bosom; but they were bound too closely in the seven-fold adamantine chain of your system to leave hope of transferring them to the green pastures of pure Scriptural Catholicism, where their souls might have roamed at large, and found comfort, without efforts at proselytism such as you indeed, set us a praiseworthy example of zeal and diligence in making, but one that we have ever been slow to follow. But it is on the multitude without your pale that the confusion of the Catholic faith and the Roman errors produces its worst effects. Your assumption of the denomination "Catholic," for which on the continent of Europe there is some foundation, and which has found admittance into common parlance in our language only within the last eighty years, deceives many into the belief that you are indeed the exclusive representatives of the one body of Christ which they know once existed pure, holy, and undivided, and long remained entire, distinct, and visible among the nations as a city set upon a hill. They hear you magnificent reports of an unshaken throne on the seven hills, and its widespread domination, and imagine that there must indeed be danger in isolation from that "centre of unity" and "lasting miracle of power." You teach them sound doctrine about the authority of the Church, and then ask only the trifling concession in behalf of your sworn master, that the French despot exacted of his people, "L’etat, c’est moi,"— "The Church, it is Gregory XVI." Resorting to the worst error of sectarianism, the deification of private judgment as an infallible criterion of truth, you present a few isolated words of Scripture as warrant for putting a man in the place of our ascended Lord and Master as the one Head of the Church on earth—and the work is done. The judgment which was infallible to settle the claims of the "Vicar of Jesus Christ," must thenceforth be surrendered to his infallibility, and the proselyte, bound hand and foot, delivered over to a power which, forsooth, is "not absolute," because "the Divine revelation and law put limits to it which none can remove;" that revelation and law, meanwhile, being subject to its own infallible interpretation! and which is "powerless against the truth," having only the prerogative of determining what is the truth!

Did you think, Sir, that men holding the stations of those whom you address, were for the first time presented with these fallacies in your letter? Did you seriously suppose that we needed a recommendation now to make a first acquaintance with the shallow, sophistical work of Milner, so modestly titled, with your endorsement, "The End of Controversy"? If such is your way of training for the awful responsibilities of the chief pastorship, it is not ours.

But it is not credible that you recommended so common a book, in the hands and mouths of very tyros, to the "serious perusal" of "the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States." Your pen then obeyed the inner impulses of the mind, and addressed the multiform public, Romanist and anti-Romanist, to whom, through the persons of certain convenient individuals, you deemed it advisable to convey the information that the "impulse given to the public mind" is one threatening, not to dissolve the unnatural alliance between the "Roman" and the "Catholic" parts of your compound system, exposing the one in its native ugliness, and setting the other free in all its beauty; not to tear off the mask from a pertinacious schism, and display the features of an imposture of Italian growth, where the fair lineaments of primitive antiquity had been assumed; not to open the eyes of the intelligent members of your communion to the nature of the thraldom from the full pressure of which they are as yet saved only by civil institutions, now hourly undermined by a stealthy foreign influence that once spread terror, dismay, and every form of suffering through the fairest parts of Europe; not to show the weakness of the pretended "mother and mistress of churches," and deprive her of her talisman of power;—but to "break the ranks" of which God has given us the captainship, and hurry "numbers" to "rally under the banner" of the Roman despot!

Charitable officiousness! You see our danger "from afar," and therefore "raise your voice"—to do what? To exhort us to avoid the disgrace of being left alone, by scurrying into the fore-front of our disbanded flock, and boldly daring to be first in the venturous leap.

Sir, I think more highly of you than to imagine that you could have judged us by your own standard, in assuming that we could consider such a proposal otherwise than as an insult. Almost every page of your letter makes it but too evident that pride, obstinacy, and personal interest are the motives by which you suppose persons in our situation to be swayed; and with the free expression of the kindest feelings you have intermingled but too many plain indications how little your judgment bears you out in entertaining such feelings for the persons whom you address. of this I have no complaint to make. We shall one day stand before a Master who was himself misjudged, and knows how to make allowance as well for the weakness of the innocently uncharitable, as for the errors of the ignorant and them that are out of the way.

But do your notions of charity and truth allow the dissemination of such insinuations against those who are at least you fellow-men, and fellow-citizens, in the guise of friendship? Do they permit you to intermingle prayers and insults; offers never expected to be hearkened to, with solemn appeals to the Searcher of hearts; taunts and provocations and professions of affection in Christ, the spotless and guileless Lamb? You profess to desire no controversy nor discussion (p. 7,) but expect us, without it, to leave a position where we are either hypocrites and dissemblers, or established on serious conviction. You declare that you have no concession to make, no compromise to offer (p. 10,) and propose to us, who as in the sight of God are teaching the world to shun your errors, at once to condemn ourselves of ignorance and horrible presumption, by embracing them.

No, Sir, you do not wish us so to degrade the sacred profession of ministers of Christ. You would lament it, as a calamity, were "the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States," ready to take you at your word. Where should you shelter them from the contempt and indignation of the world? Whither should you retire to shun the ridicule that must cover a proselyter of such converts?

Nel circhio minore, ov’e il punto,
Dell’ universo in su che Dite siede
Qualunque TRADE in eterno e consunto,

and thither only might those wend whom such an appeal as yours could suffice to move to compliance with your proposition—a proposition unsupported by argument, and avowedly eschewing it! a proposition backed by no motives that are discoverable, save such as influence the basest of minds, of conscious traitors to the truth, or cowardly deserters! a proposition of surrender at discretion of the leaders of a host that has as yet shrunk from no conflict with the enemies of the faith within or without the camp, and in no conflict has come off without the victory! The Church that from a little island in the ocean has spread her arms around the globe, and sends her mitred heralds of the spiritual seed of Paul and John, throughout Europe, Asia and American to confront the emissaries of the Vatican, and gather the aliens into a purer fold, might well spare us, and hardly feel her loss: but should we desert her bosom, to take shelter in the embrace if a decrepit Italian prince whose sway, temporal and spiritual, crumbling and tottering to its fall, is only sustained by a thin tissue of visible tergiverisation and deceit, alternately truckling to grasping despotism, and tampering with restless faction and foul conspiracy, now giving utterance to imbecile and disregarded threats, and anon with low whine, or still lower efforts to cajole, endeavoring to retain the nominal control that is hourly withering away? Alas for Christendom, were the chair of Gregory XVI. its stay! a chair which you and I remember to have seen transferred at Fontainbleau, and there made subservient to a military tyrant’s nod! a chair which now stands on a volcanic soil, filled with the worst elements of combustion, and ready to explode in anarchy, infidelity, and all the horrors of revolutionary crime!

But were these things otherwise—were Rome’s affairs as really prosperous as her subjects so sedulously report—we have not so learned the gospel as to be moved by external show of stability and power. It is our most cherished blessing to have received that gospel as its first preachers taught it and maintained it, in perfect independence and unworldly poverty and simplicity. Our prayer is that we may be enabled to transmit it, in a church uncontaminate by alliance with secular interests or civil power, strong only in Him whose strength is made perfect in weakness, and looking to Him alone as its one all-sufficient head, centre of unity and stay. To Him alone, by the warrant of his word, expounded by the practice of his Church in its early purity, it is our privilege to go, without recourse to earthly or unearthly mediation, for the supply of all our needs. By Him alone, in the power of his pledged presence, it is our confidence that we shall make head in time to come, as by His blessing we have done, even to our own wonder, in time past, against Romish superstition on the one hand, and rationalizing presumption on the other. We have, we need, no foreign stores, of men or money, from which to draw; no foreign banner around which to rally; no word of command from across the ocean by which to move. With the sword of the Spirit, God’s written word put fearlessly in our people’s hands, and the shield of faith reposed in the One all sufficient Mediator between God and man, handed down in the brightness of its primitive lustre, we fear no darts of an open foe, no ensnaring embraces of dangerous friends. There is no temptation for us in dearly purchased safety behind the battlements of the Vatican, and as little terror in the thunders of its artillery. To the syren-song of invitation and the fulminated anathema we have but one answer, "We stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."

That you and your brethren in a bondage as dangerous as it is disgraceful, may one day be enabled to see your true position and come out from the domains of tyranny and corruption, is the hearty prayer of

Yours with all due respect,


Bishop of Maryland.
Vigil of St. Barnabas, 1841.


The writer of the foregoing letter was not aware, until it was in print, that the person to whom it was addressed is now absent from the country. Perhaps if better informed he might not have resolved on its publication; nevertheless, at this late stage, he is unwilling to suppress it, but allows it to go forth, if not to the notice of Dr. Kendrick, at least as an acknowledgement of his Parthian manœvre. W.R.W.

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