Project Canterbury


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

"Ye are the light of the world, a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid."--St.Matt. 5: 14.

IN the only address that Phillips Brooks was permitted to give to his convention as Bishop of Massachusetts, the following paragraph occurs:

"Everything which I have to say tends to the strong assertion of the truth that the Church is bound to seek men, not merely to stand where men can find her if they wish, but to go to them and claim them. One application of this truth has forced itself upon my notice, with reference to the situation of our churches in some of the towns and villages of our diocese. The question of location is altogether the most important outward question which arises in connection with the establishment of a new parish. It is far more important than the question of architecture, important as that is. Better an ugly church in the right place, than a gem of beauty where men have to search to find it. But once more, we are driven to no such alternative. Rather our alternative is apt to be this: Whether it is not best to wait and struggle a little longer and a little harder, to set our church at last full in the center of the town's life, on the town square, where men cannot help seeing it every day--where it shall perpetually claim its right to be recognized and heard--than to take the pretty and retired lot down some side street which we can have at once, which can be bought cheaply or which some kind friend gives us for nothing, where the church we build will always seem to declare itself, not a messenger to the whole people, but the confidant and friend of a few specially initiated people, who know and love her ways, and who will find her, however she may hide herself. Here certainly we need more and not less boldness and assurance of what we are and what we have to do."

Years ago Charles Bradlaugh was asked why he attacked Christianity and the Church of England, why he did not ignore them. He said in substance this: You cannot ignore St. Paul's Cathedral; it is too big and too many people worship in it.

In the history of this Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an inferior site south of the Park was not taken, and this commanding height was purchased, that this church might stand forever somewhere near the center of the life of this great city, already stretching far to the north and the east.

In Washington an inferior site was abandoned for the noble and ample spaces upon the hills just beyond the present limit of population. Some years ago I asked Bishop Satterlee a question which I have often asked myself, concerning site and architecture. If we were obliged to destroy every church in the city of New York but six or seven, which churches would we save? My list would be this: St. Paul's Chapel, Trinity, Grace, the First Presbyterian, St. Patrick's, and St. John the Divine, and I am sure we will include the new church being built for St. Thomas' parish. I believe that a hundred years from now they will be still standing.

The time has come for us to emerge from our obscurity and abandon our policy of self-depreciation and self-effacing timidity. We hold the ancient faith of the Catholic Church; we have the Apostolic ministry; we are the heirs of the richest treasures of the past; we are the children of freemen rejoicing in the intellectual and spiritual freedom won in the Reformation; we have a matchless liturgy; a sane and reasonable Christian culture; we have rendered noble service to this Republic and we have given to the world our saints and heroes and martyrs. We must proclaim the truth that God has given us, not only in words and deeds of spiritual power, but in aggressive, organized life and in temples worthy of so great an inheritance. The churches should be at least as fine and costly as the homes of those who worship in them. Too often we have been driven in a carriage from a house filled with costly luxuries, to a parish church with soiled decorations, grounds uncared for, with windows that are artistic night mares--the whole building insignificant and unworthy. That day is past, thank God, for the shame of it is dawning upon the mind and conscience of the Church.

Set here upon this hill, this Cathedral is in the light of the world. Christ Himself is the World's true light, we must reflect that light so that it will shine out into all the world.

1st. This Cathedral is the object of great expectations. The eyes of multitudes, the hopes of many, are centered here. On every side we are listening to criticisms, to questionings, and to fears. Is not a Cathedral an anachronism in the twentieth century? What are you going to do with it? Will it be an empty tomb? But if we mistake not, the voices that are most numerous are those of generous and sympathetic interest, of eager desire to help, of great expectations. The problems of our intellectual, industrial, social, arid religious life are confessedly difficult. Thousands of people, Christian and non-Christian, in this broad land, will rejoice, if by this outward splendor, men will learn something more of the meaning and destiny of human life, and if the glory of this worship will lead to a closer following of Jesus the Saviour of the world.

We welcome all, both our critics and our well wishers. Our critics usually help us with wise suggestions, for they show us our deficiencies, point out our dangers, reveal perils. This great church should make us all, rich and poor alike, see visions and dream dreams. Many a poor boy and humble working man have had great visions of splendid achievements for the development of our national resources and the building up of great fortunes. We would enlist in Christ's cause and for His Kingdom all strong and sane and large-hearted dreamers, that in the revealing of many hearts, some of the great purposes of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, may be fulfilled.

Science and business, art and commerce, are all of them great democracies in which genius and vision find large scope. Their rewards are given to those who earn them without regard to class or station or race or circumstances. The Church must remain, what she always has been, a great democracy, where the poorest and humblest can find the highest spiritual victories, and be valued always for their gifts of spiritual life and character.

The authorities of this Cathedral must be open-minded. St. John is the Apostle of love, and open-mindedness is one of the beautiful flowers of Christian love. The rule of open-mindedness is: "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good." There will be many things which we cannot do, many which we ought to do but for which we may not have the means. Many things we will try, and then give up when they prove unwise or unnecessary. Some things will be successful and some will fail; but that is human life.

2nd. But you say to me, Tell us your dreams? Give us your programme? What do you propose to do for the fulfillment of these great expectations? I am afraid of boastful promises. In my experience, programmes are too long. Too many artists and humorists and singers and orators and preachers are crowded into an overburdened hour. Our dreams are concerning the harvest. Now we must plant the seeds that God gives us. He alone will give the increase, and other people must tell us in the years to come what the growth has been. What seeds are we trying to plant? Jesus said that "the seed is the Word of God" and the word of the Kingdom. It is the gospel of the Incarnate, the Crucified and the Risen Christ--the same truth preached in every parish church, in every chapel and cabin and along the wayside wherever Christ's true servants are telling of His redemption.

But how will this Cathedral minister that gospel? By divine worship--the worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This is a place for the worship of the Incarnate Christ. We need in our American life to-day the mystery of worship, "seeing Him who is invisible"; the abandon of worship, "simply to Thy cross I cling"; the inspiration of worship, "Lord, here am I." We come first of all to give ourselves, then to receive. We yield all to Christ that He may fill us with Himself. So only do we enter into the meaning of the sacraments. To create that atmosphere we must have in this Church a quiet reverence; there must be nothing fussy nor trivial nor unreal; no sensational clap-trap nor spectacles adorned with tinsel, neither do we want the cold formation and lifeless mechanicalism of many of the services in foreign Cathedrals. We want warmth and color and enthusiasm, but all restrained by the vivid realization of the felt presence of our Lord.

Then we must have here a wide evangelism. Here prophets must speak forth freely the manifold wisdom of God. This cannot be a partisan pulpit. There must be a message here for every human need. The authorities of the Cathedral will never knowingly break the law of the Church. The Church herself is capable of providing her own discipline. But the Cathedral is the place for special functions and services, for the pleading of great human causes, for civic and national meetings, for missions and religious gatherings of every sort, and the Episcopal authority may well arrange for its wider use than would be either necessary or desirable in parish churches.

Again we must organize for Christian service, not for the sake of titular dignities nor ecclesiastical sinecures, but for service to the people and to the world. This is an American Cathedral. Cathedrals have existed from very early times. Human nature is alike in all ages; the Church and the faith abide. We are heirs of Anglo-Saxon traditions. The past is full of useful customs and precedents. It is stupid to ignore the lessons of the past. For generations the Church of England ministered to a homogeneous race, the English people. To-day she is compelled to forget her insularity, and deal with the many races found in her world-wide empire. But we of the United States have never been an homogeneous race. From the beginning of our history many nations have sent their children to these shores. All these people desire to become good Americans. They are ardently democratic. They are eager for knowledge. They are dreaming of a free Republic with poverty diminished and life perfected in the brotherhood of man and in the federation of the world. We must see to it that these high resolves are leavened with the righteousness and truth of Jesus--for only so will these ideals be adequately fulfilled. We must organize for sympathetic service with these ideals. We must have men here who understand the practical and aggressive idealism of our American life. For that purpose I am convinced that we need more scholarship. The Church to-day needs most of all wide scholarship. After all, it is the chemist or physicist in some quiet laboratory--it is the scholars of modern science, who have revolutionized the practical life of the world. Bishops Lightfoot and Westcott, two of the profoundest scholars in England, dealt with a surprising skill with the strikes of Durham miners. Maurice, a professor of philosophy, led the movement of Christian Socialism, and it is not without significance that the present radical Prime Minister of England has appointed Dean of St. Paul's, Dr. Inge, a writer on Christian Mysticism.

Andlastly we must always think of this great church as the home for Christian missions. There is only one mission--the Father sending His Son Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ sending us into all the world. That Mission is personal and corporate; "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" "Our Father . . . Thy Kingdom come." The unity of the Christian Church will come through the sacrificial service of missions. These seven chapels are signs of our earnest purpose that all nations may come into the unity of the one Kingdom. Years ago Stanton Street was linked by Bishop Potter to Morningside Heights. Now the Bronx and Richmond and the whole diocese will share in the blessings that flow from this church. We are modest. This is the Cathedral of the Bishop and Diocese of New York. Washington is the National Cathedral. May it rise in all its beauty and wield its own far-reaching influence! But New York is the second city in the world. It is, and always will be, a great world center. All nations flow into it. From it must go forth faith and light for the whole world.

From St. Peter's in Rome the word of authority has been spoken; the word of the power and glory of the Church, of the law, the Rock, the Keys. From St. Paul's in the heart of London has been preached a personal salvation, the faith that justifies, spiritual freedom in the Church which is Christ's Body--the gospel of Jerusalem, the Damascus road, Antioch.

From the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, standing at the gateway of the Western world, we would proclaim a gospel that adds to the authority and the freedom, the zeal of Ephesus and the mystic vision of Patmos, both born of love, so that the light and life and law and love--the complete salvation of Christ Jesus the Eternal Word, may rule the faith and the hope of all the future.

Project Canterbury