Project Canterbury

Popular Misconceptions of the Episcopal Church.

By William Reed Huntington.

New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1891.

Chapter VI. That it is a House Divided against itself.

THE great need of American Christianity is unification. The civil system of the country has been so knit together that we are able proudly to declare it "an indestructible Union of indestructible States." Our commercial system also has become so completely welded, part with part, as to defy breakage. It is in the ecclesiastical system alone that we note the mortifying lines of fracture. One people as respects the administration of law, one people as respects the transaction of business, we are still many peoples as respects the endeavor to win supremacy for the faith of Christ. In religion, disintegration is our curse.

The new consciousness beginning to dawn in the heart and mind of the Episcopal Church is the consciousness of a special call to play an intercessory and mediatorial part in the needed work of a general reconciliation. What makes it possible for an Episcopalian to take this line of remark without subjecting himself to any just charge of arrogance, is the fact that he bases his peace-making effort wholly upon historical, and not at all upon personal grounds. He does not say, "Trust us as reconcilers, because [81/82] our ecclesiastics are so much more astute, our theologians so much more profound, and our communicant members so much more devout, than yours." He simply says: "Look at the history of Anglican religion, as a history, and judge for yourselves whether it do not give evidence of a greater power of inclusiveness, a more promising facility at comprehending a large variety of types, both of character and of action, than any rival system has ever, among the people of our own race, exhibited."

But the power to assimilate types and to comprehend varieties is the very gift which we demand of the intermediary who is to help us in this task of composing our differences. The unity of which American Christians are in search is a "live and let live" unity. They perceive that the shutting-out policy is what has brought us to our present broken estate. What they are reaching after is the Church that shall be intolerant of these two things, and of only these two things--first, wickedness; secondly, the denial of what is confessedly central to the faith. Purity of character, as estimated by the ethical standards of the New Testament; purity of belief, as tested by the primitive Creeds--these are the only points upon which a united American Church would find it needful to insist.

But the overtures ventured by the Episcopal Church in the matter of unity are met with merciless ridicule, on the ground that the theological divergences and party differences within its own borders are so marked as to have become notorious. "Physician, heal thyself!" is the not unnatural rejoinder of those to whom Churchmen address their affectionate invitations to reunion.

[83] I propose to meet this rejoinder by taking the ground that it is the existence of these very divergences alleged, and the continuance of their existence within the Anglican communion, that gives to that communion its best right to make the plea it does.

It is popularly believed that the epithets "High Church," "Low Church," and "Broad Church" express characteristics which are the exclusive property of Episcopalians. This is a mistake. These expressions ought to be the common property of Christendom, for they represent phases of religion that are permanent. They are not the peculium of a "denomination;" they stand rather for differences in human character, in ways of thinking and feeling, as marked as those that distinguished Paul from Cephas, and Apollos from them both. The question is whether, in a truly national Church, which is what the American people are reaching after if haply they may find it, there ought not to be ample breathing-space for Paul and Apollos and Cephas. This thought is worth working out a little more fully in detail.

That man knows himself, and becomes known to others, as a being made up of intellect, of affections, and of will, is an obvious remark, and counts among the commonplaces. What is not so generally discerned or acknowledged is the fact of a causal connection between this threefoldness of human nature and the three varieties of churchmanship which the nicknames I have quoted make so familiar. High Churchmanship emphasizes the principles of authority, of governance, and of order. It stands for the function of the will in matters spiritual. Low Churchmanship emphasizes the value of states of mind, inward experiences, and [83/84] moods of feeling, in contrast with what is outward and sacramental in religion; it inclines to be impatient of forms, and suspicious of ceremonial. It stands for the affections.

Broad Churchmanship emphasizes the importance of the critical faculty. It magnifies the sacredness of the search for truth, is eager to submit whatever can be so submitted to the test of argumentation; and will never, without protest, hear reason disparaged. It stands for mind.

Let it not for one moment be imagined that in saying this I am classifying men. Nothing of the sort. To set it down that all strong-willed men must be High Churchmen, all large-hearted men Low Churchmen, and all clear-headed men Broad Churchmen, would be the foolishest of follies. So, then, be it understood that I am not speaking of persons, but of systems, when I say of High Churchmanship that it emphasizes will-power; of Low Churchmanship that it emphasizes heart-power; and of Broad Churchmanship that it emphasizes mind-power. But just as we say of one man that he is of a "nervous temperament," and of another that he is of a "sanguine temperament," without at all meaning to imply that the nervous man has no blood, or the sanguine man no nerves, so may we very properly characterize this or that school of Churchmanship according to the quality which we conceive to be dominant in it.

The point, however, which I am particularly anxious to make is this, namely, that in a great national Church all of these various ways of apprehending and practising religion ought to find place. A national Church wholly made up of High Churchmen, or wholly made [84/85] up of Low Churchmen, or wholly made up of Broad Churchmen, would be a misfortune, if it were not first of all an impossibility. Human nature being what it is, a Church could not become national that should begin by insisting upon all its members conforming to one or other of these three types. It has been the peculiar blessedness of the Anglican communion that in the providence of God it has escaped this lust of delimitation.

There have been times in the history of that communion when High Churchmanship has had the lead; other times when Broad Churchmanship has been clearly in the ascendant; still other times when Low Churchmanship has controlled things; but never a time, thank God, when any one of these has succeeded in utterly exterminating the other two.

Look now, in a large way, at the religious state of things in this Republic, and let us see what we see. First of all, there is the solid Roman Catholic communion, which is High Church, through and through, and out and out. So tremendous is the emphasis laid by this system upon the principle of governance, the importance of control, the sacredness of order, that a single person's will is allowed to dominate the whole society, and one throne has been invested with the attributes of supremacy.

Secondly, there are the great "Evangelical denominations," so called: the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Methodists, and the Presbyterians. These are as consistently Low Church as the Roman communion is consistently High Church. With these, religion is eminently a thing to be "experienced" by each individual, alone and by himself. Anything like the thought [85/86] of corporate salvation, of being saved in the mass, so to speak, and because one belongs to the mystical body of the faithful, is hateful to them. The sacredness of the single soul's relation to God is what they cherish. So that this be jealously guarded, all matters of worship and sacramental privilege and ecclesiastical order may take their chances.

Then again, there are the "liberal Christians," as they delight to call themselves--a somewhat scattered multitude of people who incline to look at religion chiefly in its intellectual aspect, as a mode of thought. These souls are impatient of whatever is dogmatic, whatever is assumed to be settled and beyond controversy. They are for re-opening all questions at will, and protest against allowing "No Admission" to be placarded upon any of the doors of the mind. These inquiring spirits, taken collectively, make up what we may call the Broad Church.

So, then, it appears that it is not merely the "Episcopalians," but rather the entire Christian population of the country, who are to be classified as High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church.

The question arises, Are we prepared to give over the interests of American Christianity wholly and exclusively to any one of the three? Is it desirable that the religion of this country should be Romanized, or that it should be evangelicalized (if one may be pardoned such an awkward verb), or that it should be liberalized? There are many, and their number is increasing, who to this question are disposed to answer: No, it is to no one of these controlling influences that the Republic will consent to submit the moulding of its spiritual destinies. On the contrary, what is wanted [86/87] is a communion in which the orderly element, the emotional element, and the speculative element shall all have place, while yet to no one of them is permitted the unchecked sway and sweep that would enable it, at its good pleasure, to expel the other two.

It is because of its having gradually acquired, during a long history, this inclusive character, that the Episcopal Church is able without immodesty to volunteer its good offices in that effort to come to a better understanding which so many souls in all the communions are earnestly desirous of seeing set on foot. Such overtures would be impertinent indeed if this Church were really "a house divided against itself; "--but is it that? Come and see.


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