A Pastoral Address to the Clergy and Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America from the House of Bishops of Said Church,
BEING assembled in general convention of our church, we embrace the opportunity of once more inviting your attention to her concerns.
In our former address, we held up to your view the leading principles of our communion in doctrine; discipline and worship; exhorting to a steady maintenance of the profession of them; and, above all, to a manifesting of their holy influence on practice. Whatever weight may be supposed to have attached to the important considerations then urged, we refer to the subjects, in order to continue and perpetuate any salutary impression which may have been made by them. But not going again over the ground of the same topics, we shall at this time confine our attention to some matters, which especially produce an intercourse between us, and both our clerical and lay brethren, within the department of the episcopacy.
The first matter which we have to mention--and this we address exclusively to the clergy--is the duty lying on them, of making to their respective Bishops, and where there are no Bishops, to the different standing committees, reports on the subjects specified by the 45th canon, thus qualifying the conventions in the different states, to make the reports exacted of them by the same canon, to the general convention. The imperfection of the latter description of reports, manifests too clearly the inattention in some places to the requisition, and defeats in a great measure the design of it. If the object should be thought by any unimportant, we do not hesitate to express our belief, that a continued series of the documents demanded gives more aid, towards forming a judgment of the progress or the decline of religion in different places, than some species of accounts which might be given with the like intent; bait which would be affected by a temporary interest taken in religion, and not producing any permanent effects. What occasions the default here complained of to be the more lamented by us, is the cause which it gives to apprehend, that there are not everywhere kept records of the transactions, of which the returns are to be made. The keeping of those records is exacted of the clergy independently of the objects of the canon referred to; and is occasionally of so much consequence to the fortunes, and in some instances, to the reputation of individuals, that we do not know how any clergyman negligent in this particular, can answer for it to God and to society. But even if he be punctual in the discharge of this part of his duty, he ought to suppose, that if his Bishop and his other brethren interest themselves in the success of the preaching of the Gospel, they will wish to know, and it is reasonable they should know, what is the state of it within his cure.
The next subject on which we address you, is the preparing and the presenting of young persons and others, for the holy rite of confirmation. It is mutter of grief to us, although we trust it is sufficiently accounted for by the extent of our dioceses, and by our known engagements, that this apostolic ordinance cannot be carried, under present circumstances, to ail the churches under our respective superintendence. In regard to those within our reach, it has not been unobserved by us, how zealous and how successful some of the clergy have been, in aiding our efforts in this branch of the episcopacy; and even in soliciting our visits to their respective churches, with a view to it. And if the same cannot be affirmed of all our reverend brethren, we are aware that, in some instances, it may have been less owing to indifference and neglect than to the difficulty of introducing a practice, which, until within these few years, was unknown in this country, however in itself coeval with our holy religion. Although the source from which it has descended to us, as a mean of grace, appears to our minds a sufficient reason for the upholding of it, yet our desire of this is much increased, by remarking its practical utility; in designating a time when it becomes especially proper to call the attention of young persons advancing, to maturity, to a weight of obligation which lies on them, independently of any act of theirs; but the pressure of which they are the more likely to feel in succeeding life, in consequence of their assenting to promises which had been before made by others in their names.
We combine with this, its kindred and instrumental subject of catechetical instruction; addressing what is to be said concerning it, as well to those who have not, as to those of the clergy who have the opportunity of presenting the members of their congregations for confirmation. We think it no small branch of the utility of this rite, that it gives additional calls to a species of instruction which is very important, but in danger of being neglected. For while what are known under the name of sermons have, at their command, a great variety of matter, calculated to display any talents possessed by the preacher, and to gratify the curiosity of the hearers, there is nothing of this in the humble office of catechetical instruction; in which he who gives it must be content to repeat the same truths over and over, in the same or nearly the same form; accommodating himself to that saying of the prophet Isaiah--"Line upon line and precept upon precept." And yet observation may abundantly convince any one, how much this is wanted by very many; who, although intelligent and informed in other matters, are incompetent to the giving of a statement of the evidences, either of the Christian religion generally; or of the doctrines of it as professed by the church in which they have been born and educated. Were we suspicious in regard to the soundness of her principles, we should be less solicitous in this matter. But believing them to be evangelical and rational, we wish that there may be more generally invited to them, the attention of those, who do not esteem themselves too wise to receive instruction in this line. It cannot but occur, that in the discharge of such duty, it is desirable there should be shown the reasons of the decisions of our church, on points concerning which we differ from other bodies of professing Christians. But in saying this, we should be misunderstood, if supposed to wish the duty performed in the spirit of uncharitableness. The greatest possible distance from this we hold to be consistent with the most determined attachment to what we receive as truths delivered "to us by the divine author of our religion, and his apostles; and with a temperate zeal to defend and to recommend them.
It is evident of the duty here stated as lying on the clergy, that it implies a correspondent duty to lie on our brethren of the laity, to aid this very powerful mean of giving religious instruction, and of impressing religious truth. The least that can be expected of heads of families, is to send the younger and the less informed members of them to profit by any opportunities of this sort which may be offered: But they have it in their power to do much more, by adding the sanction of their authority and their persuasion, to whatever may be usefully delivered. And here we cannot lose the opportunity of making the remark, that it tends strongly to show the importance of adorning the Gospel of our God and Saviour in all things; when it is considered that those heads of families who are notoriously deficient in the performance of their religious duties, however their judgments may, approve of pending those dependent on them to opportunities of instruction, naturally indulge indisposition to a duty, in complying with which, they cannot but feel the sting of censure on themselves.
We further address both our clerical and our lay brethren, on the subject of the recommendation of candidates for holy orders. As our canons now stand, the recommendations come to us through the medium of committees in the different states who must be previously satisfied, either from personal knowledge, or by documents laid before them. Although we have too many opportunities of knowing, that a considerable portion of the community are easily brought to testify what is not within their knowledge, and even what is contrary to it; yet we have no reason to doubt of the discrimination made by the committees, as to the characters on whom they place reliance. But what we have to recommend to their particular attention on this point, is the responsibility attached to the circumstance, that they think the person recommended fit to be admitted to the order for which he is a candidate. It is evident that their opinion thus expressed ought to rest on rational ground; and that to constitute this, the party's being unimpeached as to his moral character, and his being possessed of a reasonable stock of learning are not sufficient. In addition to these qualifications, his habits should evidence a spirit of piety, a disposition to the exercises of devotion, and meal for the extending of the influence of religious truth and duty. The want of these properties of character, is radical unfitness; and, therefore, what we recommend to influential members of our communion, and especially to our clerical brethren, is, that they avail themselves of opportunities to discourse with candidates for the ministry, on the qualifications of inward character suited to it; and particularly as described in the promises exacted by the office of ordination. In this way, it is possible to accomplish, in a degree at least, the object aimed at by those who advocate the making of the movements of the party's mind a subject of formal inquiry in his examination. It is well known, that our church carefully avoids every thing of this sort; as not answering its professed end, but producing unintended evils. It does not follow, that she lays little stress, or rather, that she does not lay the greatest stress of all, on the influence of Divine grace over the heart. And, therefore, where this is wanting, it will be a deserving well of the church, and even of the party, to suggest to him reflections which shall have a tendency to induce him to reconsider and finally relinquish his rash design, of engaging in a work to which he is hot truly called, however he may declare his thinking that he is so, before God and the church, as is required of him in the service.
It will not be foreign to the subject, if we entreat out brethren of the clergy to bestow pains, as opportunity may verve, in attention to the course of reading of candidates for the ministry, and in advising them concerning it; so as the more to secure their preparation. Our church is not possessed of any public provisions, which will enable learned divines to devote themselves, to this department of instruction. We conceive, however, that when a good foundation has been laid in the learned languages; and in general science, this deficiency may be, in a great measure, supplied by well qualified ministers, in their respective cures: and we invite their attention to the subject, from Our earnest desire of recommending and of doing whatever promises to aid in the securing of a learned ministry. We are aware that as St. Paul compared even miraculous endowments without charity, to "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," the same may be said, with still more evident propriety, of all possible learning, as well in theology as hi philosophy; without that grace of God which alone can render them subservient to his glory: On the other hand, the effects of manifest literary deficiency in a clergyman; are too obvious to be overlooked. It tends to drive some of the intelligent and well-informed members of our church to other societies, who may be more attentive to the qualifications for the Ministry in this respect; and to detach others from all religious profession; which tends to the increase of religion and infidelity. Even persons who may be but imperfectly qualified to judge of the attainments of their ministers, become alienated from them by their reputation for insufficiency.
We avail ourselves of this opportunity, to make a solemn call on both clergy and laity, to put in our power, as circumstances may enable, to carry into effect the official authority vested in us, for the relieving of our church from the scandal of any minister--if there be any such--who may dishonour his calling by an immoral, or an irreligious life and conversation. Wherever the evil may exist, the canons are competent to "the putting away from ourselves of that wicked person." We are far from the wish of becoming ourselves, or of encouraging others to become inquisitors; and much less of hazarding the being false accusers. But where reports are confident, and said to be sustained by facts; as, on the one hand, justice both to the church and to the individual requires the purging of character from infamy; so, on the other hand, there is no consideration conducing to the success of the Gospel ministry, which does not loudly call for the cutting off from it of every minister, whose evil manners counteract its very design. And we do not hesitate to say, that those of his brethren who do not discountenance his irregularities, counteract by such indifference, in their private deportment, the effect of any instructions and exhortations which they may deliver from the pulpit. It is to little purpose, that an offender is severed from a congregation, if he be sent to dishonour, the communion elsewhere. Its not being done canonically, and as an effective removal from the ministry itself, is one of the impediments to the establishing of a consistent system of discipline. We are persuaded, that for the sustaining of a competent ministry, every member of it, when entrusted with the pastoral charge of a congregation by their voluntary act, ought to have security for permanency in his station; until removed, after a fair trial, for some error in religion or for some viciousness of life. But how far the winking at an evil liver, by those who are especially looked to for the taking of measures towards the removing of him, tends to the doing of this in a way, which might be beneficial if it were sure to light on unworthy persons only, but which may be a precedent leaving to a good man no security for his reputation; is worthy of being considered by all those who have at heart the well-governing of our communion.
Considering the description of subjects on which we are now addressing you, it would be an omission not to entreat you to aid us in our endeavours to carry into effect the canons of our church generally, and especially the provisions made for the using of her services agreeably to the rubrics. And although this is a matter which belongs more immediately to the clergy; yet we think it not unworthy of the laity to discountenance deviations, if made by any minister in contrariety to his solemn promises at ordination. We, ourselves, are not only under a common weight of obligation with all the clergy, but make an especial promise at our consecration, of "conformity and obedience to the doctrine, discipline and worship" of our church. Now one part of the discipline is the looking to the maintenance of order by others, in those three departments. We have been sensibly affected by some instances of the breach of promises made to us, under solemn appeals to God, and invocations of the testimony of his church. We should hold ourselves wanting to our subject, if we were not now to declare our disappointment, and to invite to the irregularity the disapprobation of all persons, who entertain a sense of the obligations of integrity and truth. We do this the more readily, as there have not been wanting occasions, when displeasure has been manifested in the premises with good effect, by judicious lay members of congregations, on which the irregularities have been obtruded.
We have one more subject to bring before you: and it is the propriety of taking measures, towards all reasonable security, for the perpetuating of the episcopacy. It is well known, under what inconvenience our church laboured from the want of it, while these states were dependent colonies. It would be extremely unpleasant, to be under the necessity of having recourse again to the episcopacy of our mother church. Neither do we know what civil considerations might interfere, to impede reiterated recourse of this description. The decease of several of our right reverend brethren, the disability of others of them from indisposition, and the advanced years of those who survive and are in health, induce the present call on you; which is to increase our number, so far as it can be done with propriety, and particularly with entire satisfaction as to the persons to be chosen. We wish not to lessen your responsibility in this point. But that being supposed to be regarded by both you and us, we take the liberty of holding out to you the importance of the object, and to appeal to your own sense of the expediency of what we propose. The attendance of but two bishops on this and at the last convention, and the unavoidable causes preventing the attendance of others of our right reverend brethren, afford too strong a proof of the propriety of what we now suggest. For although two of our reverend brethren have been recently chosen to the episcopacy; and rejoicing in this event, we intend, God willing, to proceed to their consecration very soon after the rising of this convention; yet we shall not consider the addition of them to our body, as sufficient for the exigency, or as affording the measure of security which the case requires.
Finally, brethren, we assure you of our prayers, and invite yours, that this and every other measure, designed for the glory of God and the good of his church, may be blessed by him to that end.
Signed by order of the House of Bishops.
WILLIAM WHITE, Presiding Bishop.
New Haven, May 1811.