Project Canterbury









Of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York.











The election of Dr. DeKoven as Bishop of Illinois presents anew the question of the duty of the ecclesiastical authorities of the other Dioceses, now called upon to give their consent to his consecration. A bitter opposition to the nominee has been excited, based upon the charge that he holds Romish doctrine. The testimonials of Dr. Jagger, as Bishop elect of Southern Ohio, are also before some of the Standing Committees. He represents tendencies in the opposite direction, and as he has been shown to have been in strong sympathy with a prominent malcontent who has seceded from the Church, his loyalty to her authority and doctrine is by many considered doubtful. It is important that the action of the Standing Committees should be wise and impartial. There is danger of its being partisan and factious. The objections to the nominees in both cases refer to doctrinal opinions as to which churchmen are divided. None are made to the personal character or fitness in other respects of the nominees, who are both earnest and devout ministers, in regular standing in the Church, and able representatives, of the theological views they severally hold.

Are the Standing Committees guardians of the Church's doctrine? Are they so constituted as to be competent tribunals to pass judgment upon the soundness in the faith of those who fern the ranks of her clergy may be elected to the office of Bishop? If not competent, may the members, nevertheless, do as they please in the matter, act on grounds of personal sympathy, of partisan prejudice, of prudence so-called, or substitute what [3/4] they may consider their conscience, in the place of their official duty?

It has been asserted that all who in our ecclesiastical arrangements have to give or refuse their sanction before a Bishop elect becomes, a Bishop in fact, are utterly irresponsible for their action; that they may refuse their consent to his consecration for no better reason than that he has red hair or wears a wig. (See Ch. Journal of Feb. 4, 1875.) If this be so, that he holds opinions not palatable to the Committee is a still better reason; for to be strenuous for one's opinions implies at least sincerity and earnestness.

This view is clearly indefensible. Official powers are trusts; they imply duties to be performed with fidelity to some rule expressed in terms or implied by the nature of the office. By what rules is the action of the Standing Committees to be governed? Their members are called upon to bear testimony to the Bishops that the nominee is not, so far as they are informed, "justly liable to evil report, either for error in religion or for viciousness of life." This testimony is not given as the result of personal investigations. No provision is made for such inquiry. It is based upon testimonials from the Diocese which has made the election, to the same effect, to wit, that so far as we are informed, A. B. is not "justly liable," &c. This testimonial contains also the declaration that the signers of it in their conscience "believe him to be of such sufficiency in good learning, such soundness in the faith, and of such virtuous and pure manners, and godly conversation; that he is apt and meet to exercise the office of a Bishop," &c.

Ordinarily this evidence would be considered sufficient. But suppose that protests are forwarded to the Standing Committees, charging that A. B. holds certain controverted opinions which the objectors claim to be inconsistent with the teaching of the Church: may the Committees, ought they, to act on the canonical testimonials as conclusive, or is it within their functions to ascertain (1) whether the nominee in fact holds the views imputed to him, and, if he does, (2) to determine whether they are sound or not? May they frustrate the action of the electing Diocese and. say Elect a Bishop who suits us, or remain without one? [4/5] These questions are important. The rights of the vacant Diocese are involved, the rights of every Diocese, which sooner or later will be vacant. The rights of the Bishop-elect are involved, because, if the action of the Standing Committees is judicial, their refusal to assent to his consecration is an adjudication that he is "justly liable to evil report for error in religion or for viciousness of life." This indeed is denied. It is said that the Standing Committees "are not commissioned to try any man for error in religion, or for viciousness of life" (Memorial from Illinois), and therefore it is argued that "their refusal to consent to a consecration is not a conviction of offence."

It is argued that the Standing Committees are only to bear testimony; that they give testimonials. But persons testify as witnesses of what they know: If the members of the Standing Committees have any personal knowledge to bring forward, that is one thing; but it is not testimony of any kind to say: A. B. believes in purgatory, and I do not, and therefore I testify that am informed that he is justly liable to evil report for error in religion.

Again, it is argued that the Standing Committees simply vote on giving or refusing their assent to a consecration, which is simply another mode of expressing the view that they exercise a purely arbitrary and irresponsible power.

The canons provide for the appointment of a Standing Committee in each Diocese; certain matters are referred to them, certain functions entrusted to them, but their powers are nowhere enumerated or defined. It is only by an inquiry into the purposes of the office, the qualifications required of the incumbents, and the general scope of their duties that any trustworthy deduction can be made as to their legitimate jurisdiction. The result of such an inquiry, instituted for my own satisfaction, is given to the public in the hope it may be of service to others.


The Standing Committees are composed, in New York, and generally, it is believed, in all the Dioceses, of an equal number of clerical and lay members, chosen by the clergy and laity of [5/6] the Diocesan Conventions. They are generally a favorable representation of the clergy and laity of the Diocese; but they are not chosen--certainly not the lay members--with reference to any learning in doctrinal questions. They are not required to have pursued theological studies, to be familiar with the Thirty-nine Articles, and if they are required in any Diocese to be even communicants of the Church, I am not aware of it. And yet, being equal in number with the clerical members, they can paralyze all action. They are complete masters of the situation. Is this a tribunal suitable for the determination of questions depending upon controverted doctrine?

But with every step from the time a young man enters upon his novitiate as a candidate for orders, and at every advance of rank in the ministry, the Standing Committees have certain duties to perform. An examination of the canons in respect to these duties will help to give the true meaning to their special responsibilities.

The canons prescribe that a person who intends entering the ministry of the Church must be a Candidate for Orders for the space of three years, when he may be admitted Deacon; having been Deacon three years he may be admitted Priest. At each of these stages, on becoming Candidate for Orders, on applying to be made Deacon and subsequently Priest, his case comes before the Standing Committee. But his very first duty is to consult his Pastor and to give notice to the Bishop. It is after this that he applies to the Standing Committee for testimonials recommending that he be admitted Candidate for Orders. This certificate is that the persons signing it, either from personal knowledge or from testimonials laid before them, believe the applicant to be pious, sober, and honest, and that he is attached to the doctrine; discipline, and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and a communicant of the same; and that, in their opinion, he possesses such qualifications as fit him for entrance on a course of preparation for the ministry.

This first certificate of course raises no question of doctrinal opinion. The candidate is only entering on his course of preparation. His character is vouched for, his attachment to the Church, and a general fitness for the calling he to pursue; but [6/7] already is seen the line of separation between the duties of the Standing Committee and those of the Bishop. The Committee testifies to character, the Bishop examines into the more special qualifications for the work of the ministry.

The studies of the candidate are to be under the direction of the Bishop, and when the time arrives for his being admitted to Deacon's Orders he must again apply to the Standing Committee. He produces to them testimonials of the minister and vestry of the parish to which he belongs, and the personal testimonial of at least one presbyter of the Church, testifying to his piety, good morals, and orderly conduct. Upon this, the Committee certify that the candidate has laid before them satisfactory testimonials that he hath lived piously, etc., and "hath not written, taught, or held anything contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church," and that they think him worthy to be admitted to the Sacred Order of Deacons. This procedure is repeated when the Deacon applies for Priest's Orders, the certificate of the Standing Committee being similar in character.

Now, it is to be noted that all along the candidate's theological qualifications, his proficiency in his studies, his familiarity with doctrinal questions, is ascertained in an entirely different manner: Canon 4 of Title I. of the Digest provides for the various examinations to which the candidate is subjected during the whole course of his preparation. It is to be conducted by clergymen appointed by the Bishop, and at one of the three examinations required, he must himself be present. The scope of the examinations is prescribed, and in them all reference is to be had to the course of study established by the House of Bishops.

But with these examinations, by which the learning and doctrinal soundness of the candidate is tested, the Standing Committee has nothing to do. The report of the examiners is not made to them, but to the Bishop; and the Bishop, aided by his examining chaplains, but acting solely upon his individual responsibility, rejects the candidate or proceeds to his ordination.

Looking, then, at the action of the Standing Committee, and at that of the Bishop and his examining chaplains; at the functions [7/8] of the two tribunals, through both of which the candidate is to pass, what is the true purport of the certificate, given by the members of the Standing Committee, that the applicant has laid before them satisfactory testimonials that he has not "written, taught, or held anything contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Protestant Episcopal. Church," and that they "think him a person worthy to be admitted to the Sacred Order of Deacons, or of Priests as the case may be? Does it mean that the signers of it are familiar with his opinions upon doctrinal questions, and are satisfied that he holds the tree view, for instance, of the Apostolical Succession, of Baptismal Regeneration, of the Holy Eucharist, of any or all the doctrines about which theologians differ? Does it mean that, although the views of the candidate have been suspected, the Standing Committee, have fully investigated the matter, and comparing his views with the standard authorities, they believe them to be sound?

If this be the meaning of the testimonials of the Standing Committee, then it is very clear that the legislators of the Church have been guilty of a folly never till lately attributed to them; they have provided judges to determine as to orthodoxy in doctrine, without taking the slightest pains to secure qualifications in the judges. In civil affairs, the public authorities certainly profess to provide that judges of the law shall have some knowledge of the law. They are selected from those who have had some education in legal studies, and whose qualifications are considered when they are nominated or appointed. But the lay members, of the Standing Committee are not by canon required to have any qualifications whatever. They need not know the theology, or even English grammar. All that the canons prescribe is, that "in every Diocese there shall be a Standing Committee, to, be appointed by the Convention thereof." In a matter affecting the interests of the Church at large, they leave it to the Dioceses, to determine as to the qualifications of this important judicial body. In the Diocese of New York the canons simply provide that the Committee shall consist "of four of the clergy and four of the laity, to be chosen by ballot." Undoubtedly, the lay members are generally persons of fair intelligence, but no one ever dreamed, I suppose, of inquiring as to their familiarity [8/9] with the Thirty-nine Articles when considering whether he should vote for them.

So much then for the qualifications of the judges, who, it is supposed, are to decide the orthodoxy of probationers for the ministry, or of a Deacon applying for the higher degree of the Priesthood.


But assuming them qualified and capable to decide any of the questions controverted between our own Church and other religious bodies, or between the diverse schools of theology in our own Church, what are the opportunities furnished to the Standing Committees for ascertaining the facts upon which the judgment is to be founded, the exact doctrine held by the candidate, the soundness of which is to be determined.

It is not now a question of abnegating the rights of the laity. I will, for the moment, consider them entirely competent to determine any and all questions of doctrine. But in England, where lay judges do sit to determine whether a doctrine complained of is according to the doctrine of the Church of England as established by law, they hear what is to be said for or against it, and the doctrine charged to be unsound is specified, and the language in which it has been expressed is cited. The decision is, for example, either that "the incriminated passages" are condemned as repugnant to the Articles of Religion, or that the language used may have been inconsiderate, yet that it is not clearly inconsistent with said articles. (Case of Voysey, 3 Pr. Council, 357; case of Bennett, 4 id., 371.) But our Standing Committees are not required by the canons to be furnished with any evidence whatever of the doctrines held by the candidate, but simply with testimonials of a prescribed form and tenor. Can they go behind these, and if so, how? If they suspend action and submit to the signers of the testimonials any scruples they may have, they must take what they can get in reply, for apart from the testimonials there are no means provided for ascertaining anything about the candidate's opinions. The committee of course may assume that some newspaper paragraph proves that he is a Romanist or a Rationalist; but if it professes to act [9/10] in an orderly manner, it seems plain that it, cannot try the soundness of the candidate's opinion, for the very conclusive reason that the canons have not furnished them with any means for ascertaining in a formal and proper manner what those opinions are.

It does not follow from this view that the Church is careless in respect to the doctrines of those who are to enter her ministry, but only that the Standing Committees are not, according to her discipline, the judges in respect to such doctrines. She has provided for the instruction in theology of those who are to receive her Orders--for their examination by persons qualified for that purpose--and, lastly, it is with the Bishop that rests the final responsibility, under the sanctions of his high office, to confer, by ordination, the right to minister as Deacon or Priest.

It is said in opposition to this view that it makes the Standing Committees merely registering officials.

This does not refute the position. It is simply a suggestion by way of appeal. to our self-importance. You ought, it hints, to claim the functions of Bishops, Examining Chaplains, and others, or you are nobodies. What we are depends, as I suppose, upon the question I am trying to elucidate by examining fairly the functions entrusted to us by the Church. What we would like to be, if we took account of our great gifts and acquirements, is another question. I never supposed that the office of lay member of a Standing Committee was any other than a very modest one. Most of the duties cast upon us are of a routine sort. We are to see that the formal requirements of the Church are complied with, and these requirements are directory in their character, and nine times in ten might safely be disregarded. Their general purpose is to secure that persons who intend to take Holy Orders shall have the proper personal character, and shall have passed through a certain probation. The Bishops would ordinarily see to this, irrespective of canons or Standing Committees, and generally none would undertake to enter the ministry who were not actuated by worthy motives, and desirous of fitting themselves to fulfill its duties creditably. But as in large business establishments checks and safeguards are provided, not for the honest and faithful, but as a security against irregularity, and seeing that rarely any irregularity occurs, the [10/11] preventive checks and safeguards come to be thought of as mere routine and red tape; so of the ordinary duties of the Standing Committees. The probationers for the ministry are pursuing their studies under the constant supervision of the clergy, either in theological seminaries or under pastoral oversight, and when the days of preparation are over, and they are about to enter upon the duties of their calling, they bring to the Standing Committee their testimonials. These are not mere forms; they are the certificates of persons worthy of credence, and who are in a situation to know as to the character and fitness of the applicant. The value of them consists not in the certificates, but in the character of the applicants, which makes the certificates easy to obtain. The Standing Committee says: We consider them sufficient, and the Bishop, having made his examination personally or by his chaplains, from which he is informed very filly as to the theological acquirements of the candidate, appoints a day for his ordination.


This brings our inquiry to a point where a very famous precedent in the ecclesiastical history of the Diocese of New York may properly be noticed. It excited much discussion at the time, and a great deal of party feeling. I do not intend to disturb the oblivion which has settled upon the strifes of that day, except for light to guide us in the confusions of our own.

After having fulfilled the requirements of the canons, the person who is to be admitted Deacon attends at a solemn service appointed for the occasion. He is presented by a Priest in good standing to the Bishop, who thus addresses the presenter: "Take heed that the person whom you present to us be apt and meet, for his learning and godly conversation, to exercise his ministry duly to the honor of God and the edifying of his Church." The Priest is to answer: "I have enquired concerning him, and also examined him, and think him so to be." The Bishop than addresses the congregation as follows: "Brethren, if there be any of you who knoweth any impediment, or notable crime in this person presented to be ordered Deacon, for the which he ought not to be admitted to that office, let him come [11/12] forth in the name of God and show what the crime or impediment is."

On the 2d of July, 1843, Arthur Carey, who had pursued his full course of study in the General Theological Seminary, was one of a, number of persons so presented to Bishop Onderdonk to be ordered Deacon. Upon this address of the Bishop, Henry Anthon and Hugh Smith, Doctors of Divinity, arose and protested against the ordination of Mr. Carey, charging against the candidate unsoundness of doctrine as an "impediment" to his ordination. The charge of unsoundness was based upon opinions expressed by the candidate prior to and in course of his theological examination; opinions which, it was claimed, showed that he held the doctrines of the Roman Church in respect to the Sacraments, Prayers for the Dead, etc. The Bishop had previously, in reference to these very points, appointed a special examination of the candidate by eight clergymen, including the two objectors, which was conducted in the presence of the Bishop,

Upon the protests being made the Bishop rose and said: "The accusation now brought against one of these persons has recently been fully investigated by me, with the knowledge and in the presence of his accusers; and with the advantage of the valuable aid and counsel of six of the worthiest, wisest, and most 'learned of the presbyters of this diocese, including the three who are assisting in the present solemnities. The result was that there was no just cause for rejecting the candidate's application for holy orders. There is consequently no reason for any change in the solemn service of the day; and therefore all these persons being found meet to be ordered are commended to the prayers of the congregation."

From the numerous pamphlets that appeared in reference to this ordination, I quote from a "Letter" of the Rev. Dr. Tyng, then Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, who certainly had no sympathy with the particular views objected to, and seems to have thought them "a sufficient reason for exclusion from the Orders of the Protestant Episcopal Church." The reverend writer first considers whether upon the address of the Bishop to the congregation, an objection upon the ground of contraverted doctrine may fairly be considered an "impediment" which should [12/13] stay the proceedings. "It seems to me," says he, "when the Canons of the Church have provided three years' study for the candidate for orders, under the supervising direction of the Bishop, and three distinct examinations by the Bishop and presbyters into the results of this education, in order to ascertain and exhibit his mental and theological sufficiency for the work of the ministry, and then require him in the Seventh Article of the Constitution to subscribe the declaration of his faith in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the Word of God, and containing all things necessary to salvation, and an engagement of conformity to the doctrines and worship of the Church, the ministry of which he is seeking; that the door cannot be left open for any persons, at the very last, to declare their .dissatisfaction with him on this ground to the effect of arresting his ordination. . . . And if one may charge supposed Popery, another may accuse of Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Puritanism, or whatever seems to any to be grievous religious error, or a doctrinal deficiency amounting to just impediment to ordination in our Church. It must depend, then, wholly upon the character and will and personal theology of the individual Bishop, what effect each particular charge should be allowed to have... Our patchwork Church, no longer at unity with itself, would then exhibit the strange incoherence, that Bishop A. would not ordain Popish men, nor Bishop B. Calvinistic men, nor Bishop C. Arminian men, etc., and what would be the inevitable result but the breaking up of our whole Church throughout the land."

In this case the objectors were clergymen; but any persons in the congregation had the same right to object as they, and to call upon the Bishop to stay the service; not because they knew any facts which had been concealed from the Bishop, but because in respect to matters which he had already investigated and passed upon, the objectors differed from him.

But the point to which I cite the ease is presented by this question: Could any sane man, under similar circumstances, feel that the Standing Committee, which had approved the testimonials of the candidate, had been derelict in its duty? Could this approval have been appealed to by the Bishop as his justification for proceeding with the ordination? In all the wild [13/14] talk of the day I think this was never claimed. If instead of appealing to the examination of the candidate by learned divines in his own presence, the Bishop had fallen back upon the certificate of his Standing Committee, though Gulian C. Verplanck and Murray Hoffman were among its lay members, would not the exclamation have burst forth: Whoever heard before that the Standing Committees were the judges and conservators of the doctrine of the Church?

After the probation thus sketched, one who has been ordained Deacon, and afterwards Priest, stands accredited as "a faithful dispenser of the Word of God and of His Holy Sacraments." He is called, perhaps, to a vacant parish in another Diocese. He asks for a letter dimissory from his Bishop. The canons prescribe the form: "I hereby certify that A. B. is a presbyter in, regular standing, and has not, so far as I know, been justly liable to evil report for error in religion or for viciousness of life for three years last past." This letter the Bishop cannot refuse, unless he is prepared to put A. B. on trial for error in religion. The canons are explicit on this point. Every minister is liable to presentment and trial for "holding and teaching publicly or privately, and advisedly, any doctrine contrary to that held by the Protestant Episcopal Church," and if he "shall be accused by public rumor" thereof, "it shall be the duty of the Bishop "to institute an inquiry with a view to further proceedings. (Tit. 2, Can. 2.)

This, then, is the status, by the law of the Church, of every minister. He is duly accredited by his ordination, he must be at least twenty-four years of age, he is entitled to letters dimissory on removing from one diocese to another, and he is liable to discipline for holding and teaching false doctrine. All this means simply that he is a clergyman in good standing, with what that implies. This further appears from Tit. I., Canon 12, in reference to the settlement of a clergyman in a parish. A certificate of the election is to be furnished to the Bishop, who "if satisfied that the person so chosen is a qualified minister of this Church," approves the election by transmitting the certificate for record. I might show this also by the Institution Office. But it is sufficient to say that his ordination is made, by [14/15] the whole system of the Church, a voucher for his soundness in doctrine, and that nowhere is there any difference in his rights or privileges so long as he retains his status as a "qualified minister." A congregation may not like his appearance, his voice, or his "views," and in such case will choose some one else to be their pastor. This may be their loss or his, but that is all there is of it.


But our Priest is liable, after a time, to be elected Bishop. Neither the constitution nor canons specify any requisite for this high office, except that the person must be thirty years of age and of course, a qualified minister." He must be elected by the convention of an organized Diocese, and have the concurrence of the clerical and lay vote. Here the freedom of choice is absolute. Every member of the convention votes without restraint. The theological views of nominees, their intellectual powers, their personal qualities, their fitness for the peculiar needs of the Diocese, will be more or less taken into account. The choice being made the convention signs a testimonial in favor of the Bishop elect, somewhat more solemn in expression, but, in reference to the point now under examination, in precisely the same language as that of the letter dimissory which every clergyman removing from one diocese to another receives from his Bishop, to wit, that A. B. is not, so far as we are informed, "justly liable to evil report, either for error in religion or for viciousness of life." A copy of this testimonial is furnished to the Standing Committee of each Diocese, and before the Bishop elect can be consecrated the "major number of the Standing Committees shall consent to the consecration." Such consent to be by a testimonial to the effect "that A. B. is not, so far as we are informed, justly liable to evil report, either for error in religion or for viciousness of life."

What, at this stage is the duty of the Standing Committees? I do not say the power, because I concede that they act without restraint. But, as wielding an unrestrained power conferred for important ends, what is the duty of these bodies in reference to the matter?

[16] I have answered the question, to my own mind, by the foregoing review of the functions of the Standing Committees, in reference to the ministry of the Church in its earlier grades. They are the same in its highest. The nominee has .to submit to no examinations; he merely produces the testimonials the Canons require. That he is able to procure them is evidence that he is entitled to them. If true, nothing more can be required. That they are to be taken as true, except where shown to have been given by clear mistake, I hold to be beyond question. I consider it one of the wildest notions possible, that in a system so carefully arranged as ours for the education and training of the ministry, a clergyman confessedly entitled to fill every office in the Church except the highest, if this is to be excepted, accredited as qualified to preach, and to exhort, to teach the young, to guide the middle-aged, to assist the dying in making their peace with God, shall, when called to this highest office, have his theological fitness passed upon by men who possibly have never read any theology beyond that of the newspapers. A Bishop ought to be able to read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew; this is the rule in respect to Priests. But the testimonials say nothing about the proficiency of the Bishop elect in these languages. Are the lay members of the Standing Committee to satisfy themselves as to this important qualification by summoning him before them for oral examination, or is he to submit exercises in writing? The Bishop elect should of course hold that the Twenty-eighth Article expresses the true doctrine in respect to the Lord's Supper, but how are the Standing Committees to know whether he does or not, except from the fact that at his ordination he made an explicit vow that he would always " minister the doctrine and sacraments and the discipline of Christ as this Church hath received the same," and that the authorities over him in the Church have never accused him of violating it. Is it to be said that in sermons, controversial pamphlets, or reported debates the Bishop elect has used certain language which proves his unsoundness in doctrine? This indeed might be presumptive evidence of the language used; but are the lay members of the Standing Committees, as a rule, competent judges of its agreement with [16/17] the standards of the Church? In the Ecclesiastical Courts of England judges well versed in theological doctrine, trained in the careful interpretation of language, and aided by learned counsel on both sides, differed in opinion whether language used by the Rev. Mr. Bennett was contrary to the standards of the Church or not.


I have brought together all the canonical provisions which give to the clergy and laity, as represented in the Standing Committees any control over admission to the several orders of the ministry in the Church. I have sought to bring them into one view, because they are all parts of one consistent scheme.

From this review I have come to certain conclusions which are quite clear to my own mind.

First: That the Standing Committees have in no case judicial authority to determine the doctrinal soundness of any of the clergy of the Church, of whatever grade.

Second: That the basis of their testimony is in the testimonials furnished to them in accordance with the requirements of the canons.

Third: That these testimonials are a sufficient warrant for their acting upon the faith of them in all ordinary cases.

Fourth: That it is their duty ordinarily in reference to a Bishop-elect to testify, "that A. B. is not, so far as we are informed, justly liable to evil report for error in religion," if A. B. is a presbyter in good standing, against whom proceedings have never been instituted for error in religion.

Fifth: That they cannot properly refuse such testimonials, on the ground of error in religion unless the error in religion of which they are informed is one not known to the parties who gave, and when they gave, the testimonials laid before the Committee. Whatever doctrines, they, in giving the testimonials, considered as not constituting error in religion, the Standing Committees cannot so consider. They must take the testimonials furnished to them as sufficient in respect to the ground the signers of them intended them to cover.

For example: I do not think the more or less accurate [17/18] comprehension and holding by a candidate for ordination or by a Bishop elect, of the statements in which the Church has expressed her doctrine, to be within the purview of the Standing Committee's judgment. One may hold views of the sacraments so extremely attenuated as almost to deprive them of their character as means of grace, another a doctrine of the Eucharist hardly distinguishable from that of the Roman Church, yet, if the signers of the testimonials signed them advisedly and with full knowledge, the Standing Committee should act on such testimonials and leave the responsibility where it belongs.

I have not deemed it necessary to my purpose to consider the other subject embraced in the testimonials, viciousness of life. No diocese would be likely to elect a Bishop whose personal character could be matter of dispute, and if its clergy and laity had been deceived in so important a matter, they would, on being informed of the facts, be prompt to recall their testimonials. But the subject furnishes an illustration which may serve to make more clear the view for which I am contending.

There have been periods when the feeling on the subject of Total Abstinence has run to extremes. Some good men have even doubted whether it was lawful to use wine in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. If a presbyter of unquestioned purity of character and temperate in all things, but not sharing in these views, should be elected Bishop, in a time of excitement on this subject, would the Sanding Committee of another Diocese be justified in rejecting his testimonials, because the members thought the use of wine established viciousness of life. The question answers itself. No Committee would have a right to go beyond the tests required by the canons, and impose its own crotchets on the Church.

It has also been claimed that the certificate of the committees that they do not believe "there is any impediment, on account of which," the nominee should not be consecrated, leaves open a wide field of consideration; that under the word "impediment" they may raise any objection whatever which they may deem sufficient. But impediment refers to something in the candidate, not to the prejudices and aversions of the committees; it means something other than either error in religion or viciousness of life, [18/19] in the nature of defect in the individual himself, as for example want of the canonical age, irregular baptism, or the like.


I have so far said nothing of the rights of the Bishop-Elect. He is sometimes spoken of as simply a candidate running for office, who, if he fails, has no right to complain. I can understand a layman "inside of politics," suggesting such a view. I cannot understand how one of his own order can so regard it. In the pamphlet of the Rev. Dr. Tyng, from which I have already quoted, he suggested that putting a bar in the way of the ordination of a candidate for orders, Uncanonical in its character, might give the candidate a civil action for damages; but rising to a higher view, he asks: "May he finish his curriculum of study, and fulfil every requisition of the Church under whose care he is placed, receive the approbation of the chief ministers appointed over him, gain all the required certificates of unspotted character, . . . . . and yet be exposed to be arrested, in the very attainment of his desire, by the possible judgment of two persons in the assembled congregation, that he is deficient or erroneous in religious doctrines, or theological training? I confess this amounts, in my view, to extreme oppression. What young man of honorable and ingenuous feelings would be willing to expose himself to this possible disgrace, and this entire uncertainty of prospect? Or what Christian parent would be willing, in the face of such hazard, to commit his son to the faith and guardianship of a Church whose system of law was so insecure?" (Letter, &c., p. 8).

The Rev. Dr. McVickar, writing in reference to the same transaction, lifted the topic still higher: "The rights of the candidate . . . . I hold, on the broad ground of Scripture, to be 'vested rights'--deep and solemn, and not lightly to be disregarded, either by churches, bishops or committees. Under the Christian dispensation, in the Church Catholic, the door of admission to the ministry of reconciliation, however guarded, is yet an open door . . . . and he who 'inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost' humbly and duly seeks entrance by that door which Christ hath opened, the Church, wo betide the man [19/20] who shuts that door against him for any cause short of heresy, immorality or open unfitness!"

It is true that the refusal by the Standing Committees to consent to the consecration of a Bishop-elect is no punishment in the technical sense. The nominee is not displaced from the ministry, but the refusal is no less an outrage and an injury, if there be no sufficient grounds for it. It may perhaps be taking too high a view to consider an election as Bishop by a convention as "a call" to higher ministrations, but no right-minded clergyman ever refused or accepted such a call without searchings of conscience. If he concludes to accept the office, the responsibility of opening the door to him or shutting it upon him is one which I cannot but think should be considered as somewhat different from that a Senate exercises in confirming the nomination of a postmaster or tax-collector.

The views I have taken conflict, I am aware, with those of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, as implied by its action at the last General Convention in the case of Dr. Seymour. The House assumed jurisdiction of the whole subject, exercising the same authority that a caucus might have done. Had its attention been drawn to the true line of demarcation between its sphere of duty and that of the House of Bishops, perhaps a great scandal might have been avoided. Without reference to any question whether Dr. Seymour held unsound opinions or not, the spectacle of the representative body of the Church in the United States making their approval or disapproval of his consecration as Bishop depend upon the controverted fact whether he had or not, while presbyter, allowed the visit to students under his charge of another presbyter in regular standing in the Church, was one to make many persons feel that evil days were upon us. Is a hue and cry all that is necessary to defeat the consecration of a duly chosen Bishop-elect?


In conclusion, it seems to me that in all the ordinary cases that are presented, the Standing Committees cannot go behind the testimonials furnished to them; and I cannot see that any member need scruple to act upon them. By approving them he may [21/22] indeed "assent" to the consecration; but he assumes a more serious responsibility in refusing to assent; for in so doing he takes upon himself the whole load, the larger part of which the Church has laid elsewhere. He may have scruples in himself endorsing all the views which he attributes to the candidate, but he does not do this by simply approving his testimonials. He only testifies that so far as he is informed the nominee is not justly liable to evil report for error in religion; not that all the opinions he holds are undoubtedly sound, but that his teaching has not been such as to bring him under censure. To act on any other theory will inevitably introduce partisan likes and dislikes as the main elements in the question. It is safest to leave to every diocese the right to choose its Bishop from the entire body of the clergy in good standing, and to the Bishops the responsibility of surveying the whole ground, and proceeding to consecrate the person chosen, or of declining to do so, according as they shall, under a due sense of their responsibilities, determine. This course leaves to the three parties concerned in the matter their proper rights--to the vacant diocese the free right of election; to the other dioceses the right to see that the nominee is a member in good standing of the body to which the choice is confined; to the Bishops, as the Supreme Council of the Church, the right to exercise their high functions. On any other view, the Standing Committees may keep a diocese for ever vacant, and prevent the jurisdiction of the Bishops in the matter from ever coming into operation.

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