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Life of the Reverend James de Koven, D. D.,
Sometime Warden of Racine College.

by William C. Pope, M.A.

New York: James Pott & Company, 1899.

VI. Episcopal Nominations.

IN 1873, Dr. de Koven was nominated to the bishopric of Massachusetts, by Dr. Burgess, now Bishop of Quincy. He was defeated by a small majority.

The year following, 1874, a convention was called to elect a successor to Bishop Armitage, of Wisconsin. The day and date were Thursday, February 12, the place Milwaukee. Before recounting the events of that convention, let us weigh the character f him who was to be its central figure.

Dr. S. H. Tyng, Jr., said of him: "In these days of timidity for truth, as God gives us to see it, the career of such a man is both a a rebuke and a stimulus. His skill in all the learning of the ancients did not divert him from the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus."

Dr. Locke, who had been on terms of intimacy with him for twenty years, thus describes him:

"Dr. de Koven was not only one of the most brilliant orators, one of the finest scholars, one of the most clear debaters in the Church, but he was one of the holiest, one of the saintliest of all her sons. His life was lived upon a very lofty plain, far above the ordinary level. He was not an ascetic; he was not gloomy, but he conveyed to even the chance observer the impression of great personal holiness. He spent hours upon his knees, and from his childhood to his grave he was singularly free, as far as the keenest observer could know from even what are called venial sins. But with this very holy and pure life there was no spiritual pride, no assumption of superior worthiness. When you add to all this a thoroughly charming manner, a perfect culture, an intimate knowledge of all the graces of polite society, and a personal magnetism which gave him wonderful power over the young men under his care, who without exception idolized him, the greatness of the loss is overpowering."

A part of Bishop McLaren's tribute to him, is:

"For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

"His beautiful character, manifestly governed by the highest motives that can influence human action, was the fruitage of grace early received and never neglected. With an ardor like that of the virgins who watched the burning altars of Vesta, he devoted himself to preserving the purity with which he came from the waters of baptism, not without conflict, not without grievous trials, but with exemplary triumphs of faith. He was wise, pure and holy. He did not live unto himself, but unto God."

With what spirit de Koven went to Milwaukee to the council, we discern in a sermon he preached the night before the convention. When A'Becket went to England, the last time, he said he went to his death. He knew his own heart, for though he battled for the Church's liberties, it was not in saintly spirit. From a monastery in France, where he had been living, he had repeatedly anathematized his enemies, and spoken of the king as a malicious tyrant. On his arrival in England he excommunicated the archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury for officiating at the coronation of the king's son.

Mark the difference of spirit between A'Becket and de Koven, as shown in the sermon he preached in Milwaukee Cathedral, the night before the convention, in loving memory of Bishop Armitage, against whom there had been bitter feeling, on account of his efforts to introduce the cathedral system.

"I see a vision stately fair, of the one Church of God. Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as its chief corner-stone, I see it rise before me. Built in its walls as living stone are the martyrs of God, the bishops and doctors, the poor and unknown, little children and virgin souls. With many a blow and biting sculpture each stone is laid. Now one and now another is called to take his place, the Bishop was has gone to his rest, and you and I. As I gaze, the mists of earth, or else the tears that blind my eyes, or murky clouds that gather I know not whence, shut out the view. But as I strain my weary sight, lo! the clouds are rifted, and from heaven descending comes the New Jerusalem, like bride adorned for her husband. The two are blended into one. The gates are pearl; the streets are gold; the crystal waters shine; the tree of life is full of healing leaves. There is no wear controversy, or bitter words, or cruel misunderstandings, or mistaken divisions. There are hymns that do not discord, worship that never ceases, praise that never ends, and the LAMB OF GOD to be our joy and peace forever and ever!"

The morning following the sermon the convention met at 9 A.M., to adjourn in confusion late at night. The next morning it met to continue the strife of the previous day. The battle rages around a newspaper article entitled "Principles not Men," which had appeared in two Milwaukee papers on Saturday, January 31.

"The great interest felt in the Wisconsin election," says the article, "is due entirely to the fact, that it is to be a question between the high church and ritualistic parties. . . . Dr. de Koven is not so remarkable a man personally, that his candidacy, apart from other considerations, would attract the attention that is being given to one of the poorest dioceses in the Church. To this article the following was appended and sent over the diocese as a campaign document:

"A systematic attempt has been made to give the impression that in the approaching election of a Bishop in this Diocese, the question to be settled is simply one of men, not of doctrines and principles. The undersigned do not so regard it. They have seen an article in the Milwaukee papers of January 31, which they think sets forth correctly the points to be decided in the coming election. They have reprinted it for general circulation in the Diocese, as a document well calculated to give a right view of the issues involved in the present contest."


LEWIS A KEMPER, D. D.--Professor of Hebrew and Biblical Literature at Nashotah, and Rector of St. Paul's Church, Ashippun.

WILLIAM ADAMS, D. D.--Professor of Systematic Divinity at Nashotah.

JOHN H. EGAR, D. D.--Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Nashotah.

ROBERT N. PARKE.--Rector of Trinity Church, Oshkosh.

JOHN WILKINSON.--Rector of Trinity Church, Madison.

MADISON BYLLESBY.--Rector of St. James' Church, Milwaukee.

February 2, 1874.

Three of the signers lived at Nashotah, one in Oshkosh, one in Madison, one in Milwaukee. Between Saturday, January 31, when it appeared in the newspapers, and Monday, February 2, when it was signed, only one day, and that a Sunday, had intervened.

Of these signers, one, the Rev. R. N. Parke, during the convention, withdrew his name from the document, and apologized to Dr. de Koven for the injury done him.

Another signer, the Rev. John Wilkinson, asked permission to read a letter he had recently received from Dr. de Koven. The Doctor said it was too late to ask that question, as Mr. Wilkinson had already, without permission, published a portion of the letter in the Milwaukee papers. He asked to read the entire letter instead of Mr. Wilkinson's extracts. With seemingly great reluctance Mr. Wilkinson handed the letter to Dr. de Koven who read it. This is the letter copied verbatim:

"RACINE COLLEGE, Jan. 14th, 1874.


"I have just received your noble letter, and sit down at once to answer while the impression of its frankness and brotherly spirit is fresh upon me.

"I thank you for it, and entirely appreciate the spirit in which it was written.

"When I met you in Chicago on the occasion you mentioned, I welcomed you back to the Diocese in a spirit of sincere admiration for your earnest labors for the Church, and because I knew that however much we might differ in view, we were both working for the same end, and at least in general agreement on all great principles. I knew, too, that we were at one in an honestly loyal endeavor to assist Bishop Armitage in the good work he was planning. Bishop Armitage's death has only deepened the opinion I had formed, that in spite of certain points in which we were not quite at one, the main purpose of his life was one which demanded my prayer and my efforts and my full coöperation.

"That God should have called him away as He did, seems something inscrutable.

"Will you allow me to say, however, that I am sure that doctrinally, you and I do not differ so materially as you suppose.

"You and I, so far as I recall, have never discussed any one of the doctrinal questions of the day. You only knew my views from the popular interpretation of my second speech in General Convention.

"I find that I am generally misunderstood, sometimes misrepresented, and without any opportunity of defending myself.

"I am accused in newspapers, and even by Bishops, of holding doctrines I detest, and practicing things I do not approve of. I had intended publishing shortly an explanation of my Eucharistic views; and when a distinguished lawyer in Boston spoke to me about the publication of a sermon I had preached in the Church of the Advent upon the subject, I told him of this intention as a reason for not desiring such a thing.

"Then came the death of Bishop Armitage, and the talk about the election, and I felt that to do so now, would only expose me to a reproach I do not deserve.

"Amid many kindnesses, I am sure more than I deserve, and a better opinion of me by some, than I can at all feel is properly my due, I have had to bear of late many reproaches.

"With regard to the Eucharist I only hold what Bishop Andrews held, and Overall, who wrote the Church Catechism; and in our day the saintly Bishop Hamilton of Salisbury, who died a few years since; and Bishop Forbes, still Bishop of Brechin, and John Keble, the author of the 'Christian Year.'

"It seems to me that the views of such men ought to be tolerated in the Church.

"I utterly deny Transubstantiation. I do not gold to any corporal or material Presence of the Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Elements. I worship Him, not them. I do not worship even His Holy Body and Blood as apart from Him--only the Divine Person of the Lord Christ, in the Holy Elements, because His Body and Blood are spiritually there; yet not (because His Person is Divine) confined to the Holy Elements.

"Again, and while you may think these views erroneous, in this I am sure you will agree with me; I do not hold this view as though it were the only view the Church permits, and as condemning others who may differ from me.

"In this mysterious subject I believe the Church most wisely tolerates a wide difference of opinion. She allows every view between Transubstantiation on the one hand, and Zwinglianism on the other.

"All I claim for my view is, that I have as good a right to hold and to teach it, as my Brethren theirs, and also that because of holding it, it is not right to hold me unfit for any place, office or duty for which I am otherwise qualified.

"I hold this view, too, in the interests of the broadest toleration of allowed differences, believing that within certain limits, our unity is to be found, not in necessarily exact agreement on doubtful points, but in joint work for souls and for our common Lord.

"So about Confession. I think the Church permits and encourages it under certain specified circumstances. Considering the steady practice of it by the most noble men of the Church of England, from the Reformation down, I cannot draw the deduction, which seems to me most illogical, which many draw, that because she allows it in certain cases she therefore forbids it in all others.

"But here is where I am misrepresented. I do not regard it as either necessary to the forgiveness of sins, or a necessary preliminary to Communion, or to be enforced upon any one. Indeed I think its voluntariness to be an essential element in its benefit to any sin-burdened soul.

"So, too, about ritual. I think every one should obey the law of the Church, and above all I believe in no ritual which symbolizes false doctrine. I think a simple ritual and a lofty ceremonial ought both to be tolerated, according to the needs of people, the place, and their varying circumstances. But charity for souls is beyond all ritual; and what will do most good, that ought to be aimed at.

"Excuse my writing so fully, your own kind frankness encourages me.

"With respect to the coming election, I pray to God that He may guide it for the good of His Church and do this, I believe, with an honest and true heart.

"Of what you write about the Diocese, I cannot tell--you may be right, of one thing only I am sure, and in this I think I am especially misunderstood--I could not be the Bishop of a party. I love my brethren too well, and sympathize too keenly with all the necessary differences of view, and those differences seem to me too so petty in comparison with the work that lies before the Church, and which must be done if this land is to be saved, to make that possible.

"And now, my dear Mr. Wilkinson, I thank you again for your letter. You will vote and act as your conscience dictates, and I would wish you to do no other way. However that may be, your letter cannot fail to make me honor and respect you in the days to come.

"Should you think proper, I should be glad if you would show this letter to Mr. Worthington, whose good opinion I greatly value,

"And beg you to believe me,

"Truly your friend,


"The Rev. John Wilkinson."

A third signer was Dr. Egar. The Rev. E. Spalding said he had learned since coming to the convention that the newspaper article, "Principles not Men," "had been written by Dr. Egar for political effect," in proof of which he produced four documents, which the next morning were put into the form of affidavits, and duly sworn to before a Notary Public. They were signed by four Nashotah Students, namely, Frank O. Osborne, Frank. B. Gilbert, F. W. McLean, G. B. Morgan.

The reading of these papers produced a profound impression. Dr. Egar said in effect "I deny the statement as a whole, and entirely the purport that is intended to attach to them."

On the afternoon of the second day Dr. de Koven advanced to answer for himself. As he took his stand in the front of the church, the confusion of the crowded cathedral subsided into eager silence. His calm, clear eye, and the mellow tones of his loving words were to his friends as subside and the song of birds after a tempest. He spoke for an hour and a half, at the conclusion of which he sat down in the midst of an ovation of loving enthusiasm from the dense multitude.

The core of the speech is found in a single statement concerning Christ's presence in the Eucharist. "I cannot say how it is present. I deny that it is by Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, or any other device of human reason. As to what is present, I say that it is the body and blood of Christ; and as to where it is present, I assert that it is in sacramental union with the consecrated elements to be the spiritual food of the faithful."

The power of his oratory is described by Dr. Locke, as follows: "The General Convention of this Church is not a body easily moved by flights of oratory or bursts of rhetoric. Cold, hard, dry argumentation is much more likely to move it. But to this man it listened spellbound. When he began to speak, a hush came over the scene; the reading, the notebook, the whispering, the coming and going all ceased; and every one, whether friend or foe gave mute attention. The gavel of the president would fall again and again, to mark the time allotted to each speaker; but the cry would go up, 'Let him go on.' And on in that resistless tide of eloquence he went. Again and again has this been witnessed. Who that heard him can ever forget his brilliant defence of his position in the Wisconsin convention, when carried away by the magic power of his words, the whole assembly burst out into a tumultuous shout of praise, and many ministers of other religious bodies, who were standing there exclaimed, 'With such a man to choose, how can it be possible to hesitate?

The convention adjourned till 7:30 P.M., at which time Dr. Adams completed his written speech, occupying an hour, during which he reiterated charges against Dr. de Koven, to which the latter was not allowed to reply. The vote being ordered, Dr. de Koven was elected by the Clergy, and rejected by the Laity. The convention then adjourned sine die.

When it assembled in June, he refused to allow his name to be used as a candidate.

Of this defeat, Bishop Nicholson, eighteen years afterward, thus spoke: "One James de Koven was thought in the judgment of a certain council of this diocese, not fit to be a Bishop in the Church of God. Perhaps no more painful wound was ever inflicted upon a great and wonderful and almost majestic soul. All the more remarkable was that action, when since that day, three men, all of lesser light and smaller influence, but all following in the same theological lines of de Koven, have been elected and have been accounted as fit! One of them speak to you this moment, feeling himself to be so infinitely beneath the standard of that great master in Israel--one who feels himself as not fit even to unloose the latchet of de Koven's shoes! Yet--it seems almost a marvel--you now call him fit, and welcome him to your midst as your leader and Bishop! Surely, the less longs to be blessed of the greater! And I do not know of any higher privilege, any loftier pleasure, that can fall to me in my future work in this diocese of Milwaukee, than to speak again,a and speak aloud for Racine College; and plead for its restoration, even for its permanent endowment. Let us work for this end, and make our reparations around de Koven's tomb, for the deed that once was wrongly done. I doubt not, some blight came upon the diocese, because of that madly partisan deed--and the blight is only now recovering. We will together make our reparations, and hope and pray some day to see de Koven's great Memorial where it should be, where his large soul and great prophetic eye saw it to be, the great Church University in our teeming Northwest."

On February 4, 1875, Dr. de Koven was elected to be Bishop of the Diocese of Illinois. The election was not confirmed by the Standing Committees. A correspondent of the Church Standard, in the issue of March 11, 1893, states that the election was uncanonical, and on that account was not confirmed by the Standing Committees; and that Dr. de Koven acknowledged to the correspondent that he regarded certain votes as "wrongfully cast, and that the election was consequently of doubtful validity."

It is true, objection had been raised in the convention to three clerical votes. The Committee on Privilege overruled the objection, and their riling was sustained by a concurrence of both orders. On the ballot, by which he was elected, there were thirty-nine clerical votes cast, thirty-four being necessary to a choice. (Convention Journal, pp. 28-21.) He was elected therefore, without he votes objected to, and with two votes to spare. As to what he thought the reason the Standing Committees failed to confirm the election, there can be no doubt. In a letter dated August 31, 1875, to the Convention of Illinois, he said: "I am well aware from the resolutions of one Standing Committee, and from rumor that the reason of this failure was that I am believed to hold unsound doctrine as to the Holy Eucharist."

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