Project Canterbury

The Wisconsin Issue.
By a Member of the Council.

June 6, 1874.

[no place: no publisher; 8 pp pamphlet]

The Council held at Milwaukee, Feb. 11-12, will be memorable in the history of the American Church. The issue involved brought out a large attendance of both clergy and laity, and the proceedings were watched with interest by many outside our own pale.


The question to be decided was neither more nor less than this: Shall the Diocese elect for her Bishop a clergyman commonly regarded as having Romanizing tendencies? For some weeks it had been apparent that there was a part willing to present and sustain a candidate of this character. It is not meant by this that all who were induced to join in the movement were aware of the exact views of the proposed candidate, or that they all apprehended properly the nature and magnitude of the question at issue. The more rational as well as more charitable conclusion is, that the majority were influenced more by admiration and affection for an individual than by the dictates of a calm judgment, or a just consideration of the best welfare of the church.

It is to be feared, however, that this does not apply at all. In years gone by, the Church in Wisconsin was little troubled with extremists in any direction. By degrees a change has come about, and without reciting its history, it is enough to say that a party has appeared, here as elsewhere, whose more pronounced representatives are men such as Bennett and Carter, Morrill and Ewer; men whom the Church at large certainly looks upon as departing seriously from her standards, both in faith and practice.

That an effort to place over us as our Bishop a man who is understood to tend in the same direction, should create excitement, is not to be wondered at; that counter-efforts should be put forth, was to be expected; that the contest thus engendered should have proved bitter and unseemly, is to be lamented, but


One-half of the clergy and two-thirds of the laity assembled in council, simply resisted an attempt to elevate to the episcopate a man whom they regarded as dangerously unsound in the faith, and whom, however admirable he may be in other respects, they could not look upon as a suitable guide and leader of Christ’s flock. It was not and is not pretended that his objectionable belief and teachings are in accordance with the standards of the church, as commonly received and understood, but only that they are tolerated by the church; that as Mr. Bennett, when put upon his trial in England, for teaching similar views, was not deposed, therefore a clergyman can lawfully hold and teach the same views in Wisconsin. This does not follow by logical necessity; but admitting that we must tolerate here what is tolerated there, this is very far from proving that we can properly or safely make such a man our Bishop.

Had the council not resisted this attempt, it would have been recreant to duty, and justly exposed to grave censure. For young men who may have been over-persuaded, or influenced by personal admiration, there is some excuse; for older men, with mature and cool judgment, it is difficult to find an excuse, unless indeed they claim to hold and justify such views themselves. It cannot be doubted, however, that many of them would admit that they do not hold such views. How then could they vote to make such a man a Bishop in the Church of God? It will not do to say hat amiability of character, holiness of life, devotion and zeal, learning and eloquence—all which may be conceded to their candidate—atone for unsoundness in the faith.

The blame then of the excitement and of all other unseemly exhibitions that preceded or attended the council, rests primarily upon those who put forward and supported a man whom they knew would be unacceptable to a large number of their brethren, for the reasons indicated. Those who opposed the election of such a man did it not because they had some favorite to present, or some party to serve, for they could have been united on any sound and suitable man who stands well before the church; and it is noticeable that several clergymen, without any previous concert, had simultaneously thought of Dr. Hoffman as such a man. Hence it occurred that he was readily accepted as the candidate of those who would adhere to our standards as they are.

But why would men who probably would disavow any “advanced” views themselves, support a man like Dr. DeKoven? Several reasons have been assigned, one of which is, that it was thought right, by some of his friends to


The Doctor, it was alleged, had been unjustly assailed, and deserved this support. The fact is, however, that nobody assailed him personally. It was earnestly urged that it would be improper and dangerous to make a man holding his views, our Bishop, because of the nature and tendency of those views. No slur was cast upon his personal character or private life. Until it was known that he would be supported for the Episcopate, no public comment was made upon his views, in Wisconsin. To attempt, therefore, to find justification for pressing him as a candidate because his views were then objected to, is certainly a singular proceeding.

Others said,


But such persons take counsel of their feelings rather than of their judgment. When Ives, Newman, etc., had gone a certain distance Rome-ward, it might just as reasonably have been assumed that they would go no further. There is always reason to fear that such men will go to the end. A false premise being taken, a logical mind, if honest, must accept the logical consequences, unless, indeed, the primal error is seen and abandoned. The better the man the more dangerous his example as an errorist. The temptation is strong to some minds to believe that those who are very amicable cannot be far wrong. Conversing with a girl just home from a Romish Seminary, fear was expressed that she might be improperly influenced in her religious views. Hastily disclaiming the existence of any danger, she said, after a pause: “But I think the religion of people who are so kind as they are, cannot be very bad.” This was the reasoning of a school girl, who little understood the purpose of their kindness.

Reasoning in a similar way, others said of their candidate,


And he is so good a man, and he has been so unreasonably opposed, that I must vote for him. But where is the assurance that he would not press his views? Surely his friends do not mean to say that he is a dishonest man; that although he holds, and has in a most prominent manner avowed, a view of the eucharist of such a significance as to excite intense interest and much alarm, he would not teach it if he became a Bishop, nor encourage its promulgation by others! Still less can they mean, that for the sake of a mitre, he would keep back from the people a part of what he believes to be the truth!

It is quite conceivable that a man holding extreme views, might, for prudential reasons, for a time, or in certain places, refrain from giving them utterance. But the question is not simply whether Dr. DeKoven, if made Bishop, would or would not teach the localized presence of Christ in the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, and eucharistic adoration, or whether he would recommend habitual confession to a priest; the question rather is this: would it be safe or proper to elect a man entertaining his views, our Bishop? To do so would be to give them such an endorsement as would apparently justify every unstable, romantic mind in adopting them in their extremest form, if so inclined.

It is a noticeable fact, that in the discussions before the Council, no one (with an exception presently to be noticed), defended Dr. DeKoven on the grounds of theology. But the gentleman who nominated him urged that he had been “endorsed” by the Diocese in former elections to responsible positions. Some of these elections took place, however, before the extraordinary declaration made by him at the last General Council. If others did not, it is difficult to see that they indicate confidence in the soundness of his theology. Had all such expressions of regard been withdrawn from a man so much beloved, the charge of persecution would then have been made. There is a certain disposition in men, moreover, to tolerate what is disapproved until an impulse is given to do otherwise. No one likes to find fault for a defect where, in other respects, there is much to commend. So much in explanation—though not in absolute justification—of any seeming endorsement of Dr. DeKoven by those who nevertheless do not think him a suitable man for a Bishop.

On the other hand, some of his friends have urged that his election to the Episcopate


And it is no doubt true, as before intimated, that many who voted for him do not individually accept his views. But an issue having been made, on that specific matter, the church at large, and the world outside, would be quite justified in regarding his election by the Diocese, as its Bishop, as an endorsement of his views.

It has been asked: if Dr. DeKoven was regarded as being unsound in the faith,


Why did his brethren, who now charge him with serious error, wait until his name was mentioned in connection with the Episcopate? In the first place it may be replied, that discipline, even for the clergy, has become lax. Error has been suffered to grow and spread itself, all about us; suffered in the hope, perhaps, that it would die a natural death; or in the belief, perhaps, that it had not attained such strength or importance as to make it imperative to resist its further spread by the hand discipline. Then, as it regards Dr. DeKoven, he was not a parish priest. There was a natural reluctance to disturb him, as the head of a college reputed as doing good work. Perhaps he ought not to have been left undisturbed by those who were privy to his views; but it is impossible to say much on this subject without seeming to imply that our late lamented bishops were less vigilant than they should have been. Then it is not to be forgotten, that although Dr. DeKoven has not been presented for trial, his views have been arraigned by more than one reputable divine.

It should be noted here that his


Namely, by the Rev. Dr. Falk, a professor of Greek in Racine College. His speech on the occasion was creditable to his heart. He undoubtedly loves and admires the President of the College, and very likely thinks him entirely sound in the faith. This is not surprising. Dr. Falk was born and bred a German Lutheran. Now the Lutheran Reformation, as it took place in Germany, was quite a different thing from the English Reformation, which was a legitimate and canonical return of the English Church, under the lead of her Bishops, to her proper independence and purity. But in the other case, a portion of the German people, under the lead of the monk Luther, but without the lead of their Bishops, broke with Rome, primarily on the matter of indulgences, and formed a schismatical body, in the midst of the national church. [1] The doctrine of the Eucharist according was not a prominent question at all in the controversy. According to the common representation, the Lutherans adopted the dogma of consubstantiation in place of that of transubstantiation, but the ritual of the Eucharist was not greatly changed; insomuch that travelers in Germany to-day, it is said, on stepping into a Lutheran church, not infrequently take it to be a Romish place of worship. It is not difficult therefore to understand, that one one bred a Lutheran might readily accept all Dr. DeKoven’s views as to the doctrine and ceremonial of the Lord’s Supper, as corresponding with the Lutheran view and practice—which after all is more than semi-Romish. [2]


There seems to be a notion among the “advanced” and “advancing” men that toleration means a good deal more than toleration; that if a man of extreme views is objected to, he is persecuted. Probably the next claim will be that a prize ought to be awarded for the boldness of those who hang farthest and with the slightest hold upon truth over the abyss of error.

Another phase of this new demand on charity is that is is in keeping with the broad, free tolerant spirit of the west. This kind of talk is in keeping with that restlessness and uncertainty which carries so many minds away from all the landmarks of the catholic faith, and the toleration asked for is of all errors in all directions.

It has been urged also that in the choice of a Bishop


If we have any valuable principle in our ecclesiastical system, it is that which gives the laity a distinct and independent voice in our councils. Whether the laity of Wisconsin will meekly accept this new dogma which bids them, without question, to ratify the vote of the clergy, remains to be seen. It is doubtless good Romish doctrine.


To elect as bishop a man of these “advanced views would be disastrous first to the diocese. An attempt in this direction has already engendered strife and bitterness, and if the council of June is a repetition of that in February, the peace of the diocese cannot but be greatly injured and its growth seriously retarded. But the mischief will not terminate here. What we do concerns the million of our fellow beings within the state who are not within our fold, and the many millions more of the same class spread over our broad land. Never had a church a nobler opportunity than ours was reaching, for gathering a great harvest of souls. But the American people are not likely to accept the Episcopal Church if they must take it with a strong taint of Romanism. They are more likely, if tired of the kaleidoscope of modern sectism, and so far as they have yearnings for the catholicity of Christ’s flock, to wait for the coming of those old catholics, who, by degrees, are purging themselves from Romanism. [3]

The writer of this is not afraid that the laity will be turned from their stedfastness and render it necessary for the House of Deputies, or the House of Bishops, to stand between the Diocese and the encroachments of error. They are not likely to forget, if some of the clergy do, that Romanism, as a system of despotism over men’s bodies, souls and consciences, culminates in the overthrow of all civil liberty, dictation to civil rulers, the inquisition, and an enforced confessional; as a system of espionage, intrigue and meddlesomeness in jesuitism; as a system of impious arrogance, out-heroding Herod, in the papal infallibility; as a system of monstrous errors in such dogmas as transubstantiation and the immaculate conception, as a system of false worship, in Mariolatry, invocation of saints and the worship of the host; as a system of imposture, in such lying fables as the blood of St. Januarius, the Holy Coat of Treeves, and the worse than fabulous pretensions about the “Sacred Heart;” and finally in such a pernicious and corrupting system of morals as that taught by Liguori and the Jesuits. Nor are they likely to forget either, if some of their teachers do, that the church of their fathers regained her ancient independence and purity not without the fires of martyrdom.

But the writer does feel an earnest desire that his brethren of the clergy may meet and act in a spirit of wisdom and of moderation. Believing himself to have been in holy orders longer than anyone else now in the diocese, he deems it his privilege, and possible his duty, to speak that which he thinks.

One last word: There is a brother among us, the presentation of whose name, in the present juncture of affairs, would meet with more general acceptance in the diocese probably than that of any other. The friends of Dr. DeKoven have a rare opportunity to do a magnanimous thing, by withholding his name, and that of any one else who in any way endorses his peculiar views, and by uniting with their brethren in the nomination of one whose going in and out among us would tend to calm the troubled waters and make us once more brethren in heart as well as in name.

Chaplain at Hospital for Insane.
Madison, June 6, 1874.


[1] The true reformation of the German, and perhaps other branches of the Western Church, has begun, apparently, with the Old Catholics.

[2] I once applied for the use of a Lutheran place of worship in which to hold some missionary services, offering to pay rent. The trustees were willing, but were advised by some Lutheran ministers assembled there about that time, not to accede to the proposition, on the ground that the doctrine of the Episcopal Church, on the subject of the Eucharist, was erroneous.

[3] There is another phase to this matter. We quote from a secular paper:

“The Ritualistic controversy is not a new one to the Protestant Episcopal church, but the present crisis has new elements of danger which seem to be fully realized by the leaders of the contending parties. Not the least of these dangers is found in the fact that a new church [the Cummins schism] under the leadership of one who received his ministry and his bishopric in the old church, stands with wide open doors to receive the malcontents. Under these circumstances the religious world will look forward with great interest to the next triennial General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, will will assemble in this city a few months hence. Upon its action  largely depends not only the future of the Church as a body, but the individual denominational relations of thousands of earnest Christians in all parts of the United States.—N. Y. Tribune, May 30.

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